Saturday, April 4, 2015

One Year Since Goodbye

It is Holy Saturday today, and tomorrow Alexander will be celebrating his first Easter with us.  We don't know how much (if at all) Easter and other holidays were celebrated in his orphanage, so this might well be his first Easter celebration ever. 

While we are happily planning fun family times this weekend, it was a very different kind of day on April 4 2014.  It was the last time Sean visited with our little Soshko in the orphanage, and he had the very difficult task of telling our sweet boy goodbye until he was allowed to come back to take him home five months later.

The last orphanage visit, April 4, 2014
It was a heartbreaking day, and one that still makes us emotional to think about.  We knew it was going to be hard, but nothing prepared us for the reality of that farewell.  It is a gross understatement to say it was "hard" to walk away from our son, leaving him in a place where he was neglected and malnourished and the size of a child half his age. 

Alexander LOVES snow and is enjoying the last of the late winter/early spring snow showers.
Back in April of 2014, we felt like we would never get to the end of our adoption journey.  But thankfully now our little guy is home and safe and growing and learning, and we get to celebrate Easter as a whole family this year, with all our members under one roof!  Thanks be to God! 

We are so rich in snuggles!  And toys on the floor, but don't mind that...
Please don't forget all the little ones still waiting for a family, especially those who soon will be aging out of the chance for a family.  Pray for them, share them, and if you are able, consider giving financially or taking the first steps toward growing your own family through adoption

This past Tuesday marked exactly 1 year since Sean and Alexander met for the first time.

And may you all have a very blessed Easter season! 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Adventures of a Family of 8!

Sean and Alexander (who we've been calling Soshko--it's the English phonetic spelling of the Bulgarian nickname for Alexander, and what his caregivers called him in the orphanage) got home safely from Bulgaria, we all settled in, siblings became friends, and we moved to a new state 700 miles away.  Life has been intense adding a newborn and an almost 5-year-old with special needs, who doesn't speak English, to our family within weeks of each other mere months before navigating a major move.  So... the blog went by the wayside for a bit.


Time to catch up!

The rest of the pick up trip went well.  Soshko became an American Citizen when the plane touched down in Charlotte.
Chilling with Daddy's sunglasses on the plane

We had a very sweet reunion at the airport when Sean and Soshko got home.  On September 17, around 5:30 pm, we were united as a family of 8!

First photo as a family of 8

Soshko was a bit stressed, having spent the last couple of hours on the plane crying.  But when he realized he was done with the plane, he soon cheered up and grabbed hold of Rosemary's hand, happily skipping with her all the way to the car.



I buckled him up in his car seat for the first time.  He looks so small here!



And we went to McDonalds for supper on our way home from the airport.  Our first meal together as a family of 8.  Soshko had been eating mainly yogurt in Bulgaria, so we ordered him a smoothie and a yogurt.  He enjoyed them, but he enjoyed feeding spoonfuls of his smoothie to his siblings even more!

 

A week and a half later, Leo and Soshko were baptized together in a small, quiet ceremony by our wonderful pastor Fr. Andrew Trapp of Transfiguration Catholic Church.  What a blessing!  Neither of the boys cried, although after the water was poured on his head, Soshko tried to splash in the baptismal font full of water for the rest of the service.

Soshko celebrated his first real birthday, where he turned five years old.  He loved the cake, balloons, and party hats.  But he didn't like wearing party hats on his head.  Instead, he decided they were for stacking inside each other and placing around the house like safety cones!

This is what happens when your sister picks your candle...
And both of our new additions celebrated their first Halloween and Thanksgiving with us.

Sean took the big kids trick-or-treating while I cuddled the little ones at home.
We all shared the loot!
Thanksgiving lunch after the great experience of delivering Thanksgiving Meals on Wheels.

Leo and Soshko met both sets of their grandparents from out of state.





 Joey turned 10!

And I turned 33!
Photo courtesy of Joey :)

Sean got an offer for a great new job in New Jersey, so Advent and Christmas was spent packing and moving from South Carolina.
 

But even with the chaos of moving, we were able to celebrate the birth of Christ and have a happy time with friends and family.
 
Photo by Miss Rosemary :)
 A couple of days after Christmas the movers came to whisk us away to our new home.  We stopped to hunt geocaches along the way, like this one at the Ben Salem Lock in Virginia.

Finally, we arrived home sweet home on New Years Day! 

A couple of days later, Rosemary turned 8!
Like Soshko's boots?  One of the perks of having a big sister.

And now you're all caught up with what's been going on here with us for the last 4 months.  Soshko handled the move unbelievably well, showing no signs at all of stress or insecurity during the transition.  Sean is enjoying his new job (today he finishes his first week there).  The kids and I are settling in and enjoying SNOW and a real winter at last!
It's all fun and games until someone gets hit in the face with a snowball...
That's all for now!
God bless,
Samantha

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Trip to the Mall on the Metro (9/11/14)

Today’s big adventure was a trip to the Mall of Sofia.  Rather than taking a walk to the mall or a taxi, we (again, myself, Soshko, and the Clauses) took the Sofia Metro.

But first, the number of smoke breaks for yesterday's hospital trip – I honestly cannot tell.  Dani was in the hospital the entire time and therefore could not/would not smoke.  Marty was not in the hospital so he probably had more freedom as to his smoking.  However, before we came back, they both had a smoke.  I would contend that before I came down, they probably both had a smoke, and I would guess that Marty could have had two smokes while we were in there, so that means that….six could have been reasonable.  But in the end I cannot say, so unfortunately, we all lose.  Thanks for playing!
OK, so the metro is probably familiar to many folks who live in a big city, but it is a little scary considering that you can’t read the Bulgarian and have a very loose (at best) concept of where everything is.  So, with some research and careful planning, I was able to find the route on the metro to go from the closest metro station to the metro station outside of the mall.

Now that’s great….but you have to do it, not just plan it.  Ah….that’s the tricky part.

First issue to deal with is that Soshko was not feeling cooperative and to be honest a little on the tired side.  The last couple of mornings, he had awoken at 5:00 or so and was not napping or going to bed in a commensurately appropriate hour in the evening.  So, feeling a lucky, I strapped the Ergo (our little person carrier) to my back sans Soshko in the hopes that he would prefer to ride on my back rather than walking.

Yeah, that didn’t work out.

Soshko was fantastically rebellious all the way from the hotel to the local metro station.  It was to the point that I had said that if he didn’t get better by the metro station, I would abort my end of the deal.  So, once I saw that he was still rebelling a little at the station, I decided to go anyway.  Way to make a plan and stick with it!  You get a golden star by your name!

One thing that was a pain in the rear was that Soshko insisted on holding this plastic container of mostly empty water (yeah – I’m going to leave that misplaced modifier…really wonder what empty, or mostly empty, water tastes like).  He would have a grip on the container for about 25 steps before it would start to slip from his hands at which point Soshko would let go of my hand and then readjust the water bottle before moving onward.

Another thing is that Soshko insisted on pillaging Levi’s toy music box again.  The Clauses agreed to relinquish the toy in the hopes of a peaceful trip; Levi was doing awesome.

So anyway, here we are where Soshko insists on me holding his wrists while we walk.  And most importantly, hold the wrist with the water so that he could operate the toy with his other hand.  Every few steps he needed to adjust his water hand and it made walking slow going.  Every five minutes or so we had to slow down for tantrum meltdowns.  So, I just wanted to let you know what is going on the background as we got through this next part.

The metro station that we were at was one stop away from the main hub, the crossroads of the two lines.  Oh yeah, I guess it would be helpful to explain that there are two lines.  Oh, you know what, you can see what its like for yourself:

OK, so we started at the Lavov Most station (probably translates to Lions’ Bridge station) and we needed to go to the Opalchenska station.  So, the route we needed to take was to go one stop to Serdika and then change lines and go one stop over to Opalchenska.

One difficulty was that the signs for the trains did not show what was the next exit (e.g. Serdika).  Rather, they showed two other places that I guess was to show the two extremes.  Kind of like if you were in Kansas City and you were at a train station.  You wanted to go to Denver and the two trains to choose from were Washington DC or San Francisco.  You would choose San Francisco.

Well anyway, we fumbled through it and figured it out.  The signs were very easy to follow when it came to switching lines in Serdika.  We figured which train to wait for, took it, and arrived at the Opalchenska stop which is approximately one block from the Mall of Sofia.

“Blah blah blah,” a girl said to us.  It was in Bulgarian.

“I don’t understand,” one of us responded.  I think that it was Josh, but I could be wrong.

“Oh, uhm.  Do you know where the mall is?” she asked.  Obviously in English since I knew what to write.  At this point Soshko collapsed onto the floor into a fit and I couldn’t keep up with what happened next.  But I was amused that even the locals had issues trying to find this thing.  Eventually we figured out where the mall was.

The mall itself was quite interesting.  There were three levels with stores and a couple of lower levels for parking.  Overall, it was quite large and quite busy.  At least in my neck of the woods, malls tend to be dying out, so this was a pleasant surprise considering that I wanted this to be the stop for our metro mission.

We spent the first 15 minutes or so trying to get a feel for the place.  We all agreed that it was much larger than any of the malls that were around us.  Soshko had his first ride on an escalator and his first meltdown in the middle of a mall.  Once he calmed down a bit, we got him strapped to my back where he went to sleep for about 10-15 minutes.

Even though it was much larger and livelier than other American malls, it also was very much the same as any other mall.  There wasn’t anything that set it apart from other malls other than the size.
While Soshko slept, I hit a bookstore and picked up some goodies for the kids.  I also picked up, on recommendation from the store clerk, two Bulgarian metal albums.  When I read through the lyrics later though, I realized why – again – that I chose to listen to Christian metal.  Overall, the sound is enjoyable (for those that like metal) and is well done, but I’m just not a secular metal kind of a guy.  These may turn into souvenirs….

Oh well, Soshko woke up just as I was checking out.  He was loud.

We then tried some of the Italian gelato, in the hopes that Soshko would enjoy it.  He is the first kid that I know of who would turn down ice cream…really!  It probably was that the temperature threw him for a loop and that he probably did not get much sweet/cold stuff at the orphanage.

After that we went to the Happy Grill, a chain restaurant in Bulgaria that has pretty nifty menus with pictures of the dishes.  I think that the menus also are in Bulgarian and in English.  Anyway, Soshko was more than happy to oblige in a sit down at a restaurant because he knew that he was getting food.
Unfortunately for me, I did not have any food for Soshko, so I was hoping that they would have some yogurt or something that he would like to eat at the Happy Grill.  I did pack a yogurt (and honey), but when I tried to feed him at the subway in an attempt to diffuse his tantrum, he refused to eat it.  Not having any other option to store it, I had to toss it.

Well anyway, just for further background, most of the sauces in Bulgaria are yogurt based.  So, in other words, I was pretty certain that they had some yogurt in the kitchen, so I felt pretty comfortable in ordering some yogurt for Soshko.  Here comes Ms. Sunshine, our waitress and….

What?  No yogurt?  No really, I can’t order yogurt?  I was in a pickle.  Considering that he had been eating bread all along, I reasoned that I might be able to get by feeding him bits and bobs from my plate.

Once everyone’s food arrived, Soshko started to pipe up in anticipation of some nice yummies.  I offered him some fries from my plate, and he wouldn’t have anything to do with them.  I offered him water and he wouldn’t take it.  He was starting to get restless and I started to give up hope.

Until...

He started to grab towards the sauce ramekins on Chelsea's and Josh’s plates. 

“He can have them.”

Score!  I gave him the first forkful and he liked it.  Between forkfuls of the sauce I wolfed down my lunch.

After lunch, the Clauses needed to go shoe shopping for Levi so Soshko and I joined along in their hunt for some better fitting kicks.  Once found, we headed back to the hotel the same way we came.
One thing that I figured out about the little guy is that his tantrums do not last forever.  If I can just stick with him and wait it out, he usually comes around.

Well, off to bed for me!

St. Christopher, Pray for us!
God bless,
Sean

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

T-Minus One Week

In one week we will be gracing the halls of the Sofia Airport and begin our return home.  Until then, I have one more week in single parenthood with Soshko in a foreign land.


Today, we have the next step in our immigration process.  Actually steps.  We have to go pick up Soshko’s and Levi's passports and then subject them to the medicals.  Marty and Dani will be our guides (and mind you, I am in this journey as well with the Clauses – so in more than one way I am not alone in this journey).  

So, I am opening the betting window for number of smoke breaks for Marty and/or Dani.  I’ll set 6 as the line for both of them and tell me if you want to go over or under.  Well, by the time that I send it out, I’ll have an answer, but I’ll give the answer in the next post.

A couple things that I am learning about Soshko:

-          Likes to sleep with a light on.  Drives me nuts, but if that is how he rolls, I’ll work with it.
-          Totally fascinated with playing in the sink water.
-          Insists on changing a diaper if he is even the slightest bit wet.
-          Lives off of yogurt currently.
-          Break dances in his sleep.
-          Loves all things to do with food from implements and containers to the actual food stuff.
-          Really wants to go in a car, but I have to keep telling him that I don’t have one.
-          Exceptionally careful for a four year-old.
-          Thinks it hilarious when I throw a diaper at the bin and miss.
-          Has good hearing.
-          Loves music.

Well, the first order of business is exercise, both will and lungs.  Soshko had the most strange form of exercise where he yells at the top of his lungs while simultaneously squirting water out of his eyes and riding an imaginary bicycle.  I had to help him with the bicycle part.  He loved it so much that we did that until lunch!  He will be one fit little dude.

Obviously we were dealing with a tantrum, and I expected to run across several of these along the way.  Even though, it still wasn’t easy.

Well, we had some lunch down in the PECTOPAHT around 12:30ish, an hour away from when we had to meet Marty and Dani for our next steps.  After wolfing down some tarator and some bread we got ready to meet Marty and Dani.

For some odd reason, we tend to be late meeting Marty and Dani.  For almost anything else, we are totally on time.  I wonder why (here’s looking at you Soshko!).  Anyway, they had the passports already, which were, guess what, Bulgarian passports!  I wonder if we get to keep them…that would be kind of cool.  Well, we’ll see.

Anyway, on to the adopt-o-mobile to go pull blood and some other stuff.  Our transport for today (and also on Monday) was a van that had, oddly enough, seven seats.  That isn’t the odd part – the odd part was the configuration of those seven seats: 2-3-2.  Soshko and I were in the caboose, Clauses in the middle, and Marty and Dani up in the front.

The hospital was very inconspicuous; it looked like a store front.  It was like a hammer-space (example for Dr. Who fans: the Tardis).  Once inside, it was suffocatingly antiseptic.  Hospitals must have universal standards on how to make it feel like this is a place for sick people or make you feel sick if you are not.

First step was the poking of the kids for blood.  This is a “surer” test for TB than the often used skin test.  The US requires that all adoptees must be tested for TB and, I believe, be negative.  However, because the skin test can show a false positive for those vaccinated against TB, the blood test is preferred to reduce the chance of false positive readings.  For you statisticians out there, which test has a higher power?

Anyway, Levi and the Clauses went first.  I’m pretty sure they just got Levi, but not sure, so I was a little nervous for myself.  It went really quick, like less than five minutes.  Then it was Soshko’s and my turn.  I took a deep breath….I hate needles.

We sat in a chair while this doctor/nurse/hospital worker (but probably not janitor) readied the needle.  I held Soshko and hoped that they were only going to stick him.  They applied a tourniquet above the arm and proceeded to stick him in his arm.  He squirmed and screamed.  And then he stopped.

“Is that it?” I asked.

“No, we didn’t get enough,” Dani replied.  Oh yeah, Dani was in there to translate.

That meant they probably needed a juicier vein.  I began to sweat.  I held onto Soshko just hoping that they would go for his other arm (“hey guys, he has two arms!”).  They must have read my sign language well, so they applied the tourniquet to the other arm.  I held him tight as the need approached.  Again he screamed and squirmed.  But this time when it was done, they had a vile of his blood ready for testing.  Those vampires.

Slightly reminds me of a scene from Johnny English.

Playing with Levi's musical toy
But hyperbole aside, I felt sorry for the little guy and a little miffed in the lack of communication to me during the process.  To cheer up Soshko, the Clauses gave him a musical toy to play with while we went to our next stop.

Which was the pediatrician.  There was no waiting room like in the USA.  It was a waiting corridor and was shared with other doctors in the hall.  Actually, there was a waiting room for the pediatrician, but it was more like a bullpen; the next kid and family hung out while the rest of us hung out in the hall.  Actually Soshko and I were in the stairwell.  

It took a while before Soshko was seen to, but he did fantastic waiting.  He would press the button on the little musical toy and would intently listen.  At the cadence of a piece, without missing a beat, he would push the button again.  It was as if he knew what the end of the piece of music was on the little toy.  

Oh, and by the way, that toy is one of the better “music” toys that I have ever run across.  The pieces were standard classical pieces with rather accurate harmonies and rhythms.  Not only that, but there were several pieces, not the standard two or three.  I just might need to track down one of my own.  You know, for the kids….not like I’m going to take it to work…really….I….wouldn’t....

Another amusing incident was while the Clauses and Levi were with the pediatrician.  Soshko and I were in the bullpen ready to head in to the pediatrician.  There were a few kids there that were also waiting, but there was one in particular that caught Soshko’s attention.  A girl of about 3 or 4 was there playing with some of the pediatrician supplied toys.  Soshko was spellbound; a smile would periodically grace his angelic face.  I think that he likes girls and women in general because he was taken care of by mostly women at the orphanage.  But I think that it was more than gender – I think that it was that she was his size.  I really wanted him to know that he will have many little people to play with at home.  And not just the Fisher Price toys.

The pediatrician exam was pretty quick.  The doctor, who was very nice, just looked at him and said, “He looks fine.”  They measured him and weighed him to get a better look at his current health.  The last time he was measured was around December of last year.  According to the charts, he was around the size of an average 4 year old.  Granted, an average Bulgarian 4 year old and he is actually closer to 5 than 4.  So, he is probably still on the shrimpy side, but I’m working on that everyday.  It looks like he's gained about 6 lbs in weight and an inch in height in the last 9 months.

After a little downtime which consisted of Soshko running water in the sink and waving his hands in it, we were finally able to go to the Billa grocery store.  I wanted to go earlier which is what spawned the temper tantrum earlier.  Specifically, I wanted him on my back or in the stroller, and he didn’t want either in the morning.  He accepted the stroller for the afternoon walk.

Which was somewhat problematic.  In order to get to the Billa, there are several flights of stairs to get there.  Elevators were available but not always operational.  Luckily, with the use of two elevators, I only had to manage one set of stairs to the Billa.

Afterwards, the trip back was somewhat perilous: I had two bags of groceries a kid in a stroller and my now quite sizeable man-purse.  Taking it slow we made it back just in time to Skype a bit with the family before going to supper.
This is Soshko's position of choice when he finishes eating.
Although the day started really stressful, we found a good end to the day.  Supper was good – I got a tip from the waiter that there was a secret dish not on the menu, curry chicken with rice.  Not only that, it was at a good price (6.90 BGN).   Sam has been a tremendous and wonderful support as I’ve been exploring the adventure of taking care of Soshko.  I miss her and all the family.  I am consoled knowing that there is only one more week before we are home.

St. Christopher, Pray for us!
God bless,
Sean

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sofia Walking Tour

Sean had another action-packed day with Alexander today.  Alexander learned how to give Sean a high five and is starting to understand some English words.  On Skype Sean even had to spell some words so as not to give Alexander the wrong idea (for instance, O-U-T).

Sean and Alexander went on the Sofia Walking Tour with Josh, Chelsea, and Levi today and ended up walking for a solid 4+ hours!  Here are some pictures of the adventure, courtesy of Chelsea's fantastic photography skills.  THANK YOU Chelsea!





 And we got to Skype for a good long while after Soshko went to sleep for the night.  Here's hoping they both sleep through the night tonight and wake up ready for their big day of appointments tomorrow.  They will be picking up Alexander's passport and then going for his medical exam to clear him to enter the United States.  Never mind they're letting people with Ebola into the country, but... one more step closer to being able to come HOME!

Fast asleep on Skype

Monday, September 8, 2014

Second Day Back on the Job

Today was passport picture day!  That means, we (because my friends Chelsea and Josh are here for their son Levi at the same time) had to finagle our way into getting passable pictures of our boys for their passports.  It really does not take long, but then again, we are dealing with government.  That means that there has got to be some waiting in there somewhere.


So at 9:30am our driver and translator, Marty and Dani, picked us all up at the hotel to go to the passport place.  It was literally a block or two away from the hotel, but because there was construction on the lion’s bridge (or is that Lions’ Bridge?) we had to take the long way around.  We were about five minutes away from Marty’s smoke break before we made it to the passport place.

We stepped in and it was a whole mess of people and counters and these little closet cubicle thingies that apparently were used for taking the passport photos.  Soshko and I stood in line for a grand total of 3 minutes before we had enough.  Yeah, that’s right – even though Soshko was the one falling down and whining and fussing, I was the grand orchestrator.  One word: Ventriloquism.  Dani said that we could step outside.

After hunting rapidly disappearing rain puddles on the sidewalk for about five minutes, Soshko and I were summoned to go take Soshko’s picture.
We were taken into one of those cubicle closets to do the picture.  Really, the whole place was so busy that the only thing I remember was busyness.  That and that it reeked of Old World government buildings; very stately.
I don’t remember much because there wasn’t much to remember.  Besides the busyness, there was a whole bunch of Bulgarian and someone trying to force Soshko to look into the camera.  I have a feeling that I could have helped, but maybe not in that environment.
After that funfest, Chelsea and Josh were going to go for a walk.  Knowing that I needed to get some stuff as well, I volunteered to tag along.

First off, I want to simultaneously apologize and express deep thanks to Chelsea, Josh and Levi.  I want to apologize for stepping in on their plans to do the walking tour of Sofia.  Soshko was not in the mood for walking that long, and he was definitely not in much of a mood for much of anything.  So I had that wet blanket feeling going on.
But also goes out a huge thanks for the moral support for shopping.  I have to admit that I am intimidated by shopping in Bulgaria because it is assumed, by many, that you speak Bulgarian.  And even though I know a little bit, enough to ask if they speak English, I’m still a little shy of it.  Just having other Americans doing the shopping in the same boat as me is inspirational.


Anyway, we managed to hit a couple of shops, and that's as far as I got in writing a blog post about our adventures before Soshko made it known that he had other plans, such as learning how to raid the hotel room's mini bar/fridge.  He's needed a lot of attention today, and in lieu of finishing this blog post tonight after the little guy went to sleep, Sam convinced me to hit the hay early instead.