Saturday, November 22, 2008

Random Musings

Nikolai seems to get cuter everyday. He is so funny. He has started playing peek-a-boo himself, pulling the blanket over his face (or at least close to his face). His grandfather also taught him to “high five” and Nik will stop in the middle of eating or playing and raise his hand until someone responds. Some meals are hard to get through with all of the high fiving. He LOVES music. We went to lunch with my parents at one of my favorite restaurants in Old Town Alexandria on Friday. Soon after we sat down he started rocking side to side and it was only then that I noticed the quiet music in the background. He seemed to like the classical guitar pieces the best. After lunch I took him into the bathroom to change him. Luckily there was no one else there as it had a great echo and Nik enjoyed shouting out some of his favorite sounds. I joke that he is slowly composing a baby opera as he has a few favorite series of sounds that he repeats for a few days and then chooses new series. He is getting really good at pulling up to a stand and has started cruising on furniture, crossing one foot over the other. He is still working on getting down from a stand without assistance.

I cannot believe how people’s opinions about what a 9-month old should eat vary. The international doctor feels all foods should be pureed smooth. The pediatrician said he can eat anything as long as it is cut into square or triangular pieces. We are sort of splitting the difference. He eats pureed or mashed oatmeal, rice cereal, snow peas, green beans, carrots, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocado, banana, apple, pear, and papaya. He also eats pieces of avocado, ripe pear, soft tofu, egg yolks, baby puffs, and cheerios. He has a funny habit when eating puffs or cheerios of holding one in his right hand the whole time. He eats this one last. I think this makes him feel more in control of the end of food and the end does not catch him off-guard. For some reason he does not like carrots, but will eat about half of a ice cube’s worth before refusing to open his mouth.

It is much easier to take care of a baby everyday now that I am rested and no longer sick. Still I sometimes have trouble getting lunch for myself. My neighbor Marina, who is from Kazakhstan, has been really sweet and has cooked me lunch twice. The first meal was beef stew with a lot of dill. The aroma reminded me so much of Kazakhstan it made me miss our time in Astana. I bundled Nik up to walk over to Marina’s house and return her pots. In Kazakhstan children must be completely covered and kept very warm or else you are likely to be scolded by perfect strangers. It is not unheard of for young kids to be dressed in snow suits when it is 70 degrees out, so I was very conscious to dress Nik warmly to go to my neighbor’s house. She said she liked his hat, but didn’t his grandmother knit him any booties for his feet? (which were already covered with tights and socks!). So funny. It will be such a gift if her family remains in the townhouse complex until Nik is older so she can tell him about Kazakhstan. Her kids speak Russian and English and were excited to meet Nikolai too. When Marina speaks Russian to Nik now, he gets upset. I do not know if it really is the fact that she is speaking Russian or if it is just that she gets close to him and she is still a stranger. Marina showed me the correct way to open a pomegranate – it’s amazing and I intend to share with my family and friends.

Nikolai was evaluated by the international adoption doctor on Tuesday. His language and puzzle solving are slightly delayed, but he is actually advanced in gross and fine motor skills. This was great news. He also has gained 1.6 pounds since he came home. Unfortunately the doctor thinks he probably has a submucous cleft palate as well as the cleft in his jaw. This may mean surgery soon as well as in six years. With all of the screening tests required and the need for a craniofacial evaluation, he is going to be at the doctors a lot. The doctor also recommended vision and hearing screening with two separate specialists who evaluate babies. It is not likely that this would be covered by our insurance, although possibly the hearing evaluation since he has cleft issues. I really do not think he needs it, though, as he seems to hear subtle sounds and imitates us fairly accurately (when he chooses to imitate). We just said uh oh! and he repeated it back exactly! These are two sounds different from his normal ba, ma, la, da, etc.

Nikolai is missing some vaccines, so he had three shots – including a flu shot – on Wednesday. He has had hives all over his legs since then, poor baby. We gave him some Benadryl yesterday and more today, which seemed to help a little. It made him crazy though. It sort of reminded me of the Simpson’s episode where Maggie gets into the coffee. He crawled and cruised around babbling constantly and giggling. He also seemed to get hyper focused and would repeat whatever we said including a few new sounds. I am glad that we did not give him Benadryl for the flight home like some people recommend – not that we really considered it anyway since we do not think medication should be given with no reason.

Monday, November 10, 2008

First Week Home

The past week went pretty well. Nikolai is so cute, sweet, and happy. I realize we are spoiled and I cannot imagine how hard it would be if he was a difficult baby. As it is we are exhausted and get frustrated with his moments of screaming (like when we try to put a new diaper or clothes on him). Nikolai slowly has adjusted to the time zone and has gotten close to sleeping through the night. However, he still wakes up between 4 and 5 am wide awake and wanting to play. It is better than 1 am like the first few nights, though. Unfortunately he and I have caught bad colds. His breathing was so labored on Friday that we took him to the doctor, who prescribed asthma medication to open up his lungs. The combination of a bad cough waking him up and the medication has messed with his (and our) sleeping pattern. He does better during the day and likes to eat and play.

Nikolai has experienced many firsts this week – first ride in a car seat, first trip in a stroller, first football game with dad, etc. He is pulling himself up on everything and seems to prefer to stand – even if it is on the tops of his toes (ouch). We brought Nik to church with us on Sunday since it was youth Sunday and the youth had been very anxious to meet him. Chris went early before the 8:15 service to help out with the three services. I brought Nik to the 11 am service. We were greeted at the door by a mass of excited junior high and high school students. I often say that Nikolai is a flirt – he likes attention and will generally smile at new people. We realize that this can be a sign of attachment problems, but have not worried yet since he has only been with us for two weeks. We were pleasantly surprised that at church Nik kept laying his head on my chest and averting his eyes from all of the new people. Maybe he is attaching to us! He loved the music at church and shook his shoulders back and forth during the hymns.

We have not really established a consistent schedule yet, especially for lunch time and the afternoon. We learned tonight that what little routine we have begun is VERY important. Nik was winding down a little late tonight – around 8:15 when in the past we had had a hard time keeping him awake past 7:30 pm. We decided to skip the bath since he was not too dirty and I am out of energy with being sick. After trying to get him to sleep for nearly 45 minutes, we put him down on the floor to crawl around thinking he wanted to play a bit more. He made a beeline for the bathroom and tried to climb in the tub, crying the whole time. So we gave him a bath and he went right to sleep afterward. Note to parents – DO NOT try to skip bath time again.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Our Week in Almaty

I apologize for the long post…

Traveling - Saturday and Sunday 10/25 and 10/26

Our first big adventure happened before we even left the house. Our flight was at 9:54 pm on Saturday, so we waited to pack until Saturday morning. No problem – we were ready to go by about 2 pm. At that time we decided to check the tickets one more time and make sure we had the time correct. We did have the time correct, but not the day! The tickets were for Friday the 24th and then Saturday the 25th from Frankfurt. This despite our having been provided an itinerary by the travel agent for the dates we requested – leaving on the 25th. So we panicked a little, bought a new ticket from Frankfurt to Astana since it was not too expensive and we figured it would be easier to find an alternate flight to Frankfurt than to Astana. We then left for the airport immediately. The person who arranged for our tickets got in touch with the travel agent and she got us seats held on the Saturday 9:54 flight out of Dulles. She also got us seats on the flight to Astana on the 26th (yes – the flight we had already repurchased on our own).

When we got to the airport, we were told that the seats that had been held for us on the 9:54 flight were in business class rather than economy like our original tickets, and the new fare would require an additional $16,000! The flight was apparently oversold by about 20 people in economy, so there was not much they could do. The gentleman helping us looked at the earlier flights, and found that there was one economy seat on a flight leaving at 7 pm, so we decided to fly separately in order to save $8,000. As he was booking the seat for Chris on the 7 pm flight, apparently he had kept hitting refresh just in case and a second seat opened up. We could tell he was happy about something, but he did not tell us until he had gotten the second seat booked. Miraculously he also managed to get us seats together on the 7 pm flight to Frankfurt, and then cancelled the double-booked flight to Astana. The new tickets did not cost us anything, despite it being our mistake for showing up a day late. Franz Jean-Jacque helped us for literally a half hour trying to ensure we had an affordable option to get to Astana on time and he will forever be part of our family history. The customers in line behind us were not nearly so appreciative of his efforts, but you cannot please everyone J. The rest of our travel was largely uneventful. We had an 11 hour layover in Frankfurt, but were able to get some sleep in the lounge chairs that line the halls of Terminal 2. If anyone ever is in Frankfurt for an extended period and wants to relax – go to Terminal 2. It had lots of chairs, good restaurants, and was largely deserted (unlike the B portion of Terminal 1, which we had found to be miserable during our first trip to Kazakhstan).

Forever Family Day – Monday 10/27

We arrived in Astana at about 6 am on Monday. Our plane got in right after a large flight from Moscow, so getting through passport control took forever. When we finally got through, Zhana (our interpreter) and Murat (our driver) were waiting. They took us to a hotel so we could rest a bit and shower. We had been told that no apartments would be available and that we would have to book our own hotel for the few hours in the morning. This is usually something that is done for parents if apartments are not available, but we figure they were annoyed since we had originally planned to got through Almaty and then changed to Astana to avoid one flight (I hate flying). Most hotels that offer ½ day rates would not answer the phone or were booked, so we ended up at a hotel with reasonable but not cheep rooms. Their website advertised that they had ½ day rates, but no one on the phone would confirm that. When we arrived at the hotel we found that they would not offer a ½ day rate and we paid for a full night’s stay. Murat was outraged at the hotel clerk; we felt it was unfortunate because it seemed like a waste to spend so much money just for a shower, but it was still cheaper than a flight for two from Almaty to Astana, so it was ok. The hotel room was fine, but really made us appreciate the apartments we had stayed in – even the old (and rather dirty) apartment in Almaty.

We showered and then organized all of the gift bags for the baby house (8 caregivers, head caregiver, baby house main doctor/director, doctor, and secretary) as well as for Zhana, Saule, and Murat. We were then picked up around 11 am and taken to the baby house. Since Monday was a holiday, few of the normal employees were there and the baby house director had made special arrangements to be there. Incidentally - Republic Day (which is really on October 25, but celebrated on the Friday before and Monday after as well) is a day when Kazakh people celebrate new beginnings; it was the day that the Kazakh SSR signed their declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. This sentiment is quite fitting for the first new day of our family.

We went first to speak with the baby house director to express our gratitude and answer any questions she had. We gave her her gifts, which she looked at right then (we had been told no one would open gifts in front of us). She said she liked the scarf and pendant, and that the stationary was a very unusual gift (good unusual). We left gifts for the caregivers and secretary who were not there today. We also gave her our cash donation for the baby house and the items that our friends and family had given us for donation (toys, diaper cream, diapers, crayons and coloring books). The director was appreciative of the toys and said they were very good and would ensure the children had good development.

Nikolai with his favorite caregiver

We then went upstairs to get Nikolai! His (and our) two favorite caregivers were the only ones working in the room (Aitugan and Zhan). Zhan picked up Nikolai and changed his diaper and dressed him in the clothes we brought. They then handed him to us. He did not smile or anything, but was not worried either. The caregivers looked more upset. We had stored the gifts we had brought in the playroom, so when we went in there to get the two caregivers’ gifts, Nikolai got really excited (poor baby). We then brought in the gift bags for the two caregivers. Aitugan called Adilet’s name and tried to get him to go to her; he halfheartedly held out one hand. She said that was a very good sign and that Adilet had been looking for his mama and papa since we left. She is really sweet. We then went back downstairs to say goodbye to the doctor and baby house director. The director picked up Nikolai and showered him with kisses. I think she kind of scared him and he reached out for Chris. Then we bundled him up and we were off! I had meant to try to get more pictures of the baby house, but everything happened so fast I only got one picture.

Playing at the hotel

We were thankful that we still had the room at the hotel as we had almost two hours until our flight to Almaty. We were dropped off at the hotel, and they said we could get some lunch and feed Nikolai. This seems like a simple statement, but since we had just arrived that morning, had a limited amount of tenge, did not know the restaurants in the area, and have never had a 9 month old baby before, it was fairly daunting to us. Luckily we had brought some formula and baby cereal with us from home, so that is what we fed him. He seemed to like it. The whole process was quite messy, though, and when we went to rinse out the bib and cloth napkin, we found that the room no longer had water. So we packed everything up in a blue diaper bag to deal with in Almaty.

To Almaty - Monday 10/27

When Zhana, Saule, and Murat brought us to the airport, they gave Nikolai a gift – a small dombra. It is wonderful and was thoughtful of them. Getting checked in for our flight, bags checked, and through security was a blur as I was carrying a baby and operating on about 2 hours sleep. We were grateful that Saule and Zhana came with us and spoke to the people at the counter and directed us where to go. We had to show Nikolai’s new birth certificate to take him on the plane; it shows us as his parents!

The plane ride was fine. We had made some Hipp tea in a bottle just in case take off and landing hurt Nikolai’s ears, but he was content sucking on a pacifier and did not seem bothered. After an hour on the plane, though, Nikolai no longer wanted to sit still and play with toys, but wanted to move around. He crawled and stood on our laps but that was the extent of his ability to move. Luckily (and I will never say that again in reference to a flight) we hit pretty bad turbulence on our descent to Almaty. The planed was blown side to side as well as up and down. Nikolai loved it! After a bought of being blown around he would giggle and move his shoulders side to side as if trying to make it happen again.

We landed safely and were met by Dima, who had driven us to the apartment our very first night in Kazakhstan back in September. He took us to the Partners’ office to fill out some paperwork. We then went to the Ramstore to get some food for the night. Finally we arrived at the apartment, which is the same one we stayed in when we were in Almaty last.

Nikolai was happy and wanted to play with everything on the rug. We laid down a sheet to keep him off the dirty floor. He is crawling really well now, and can pull himself up to a stand on anything. He has also learned to clap, but otherwise seems the same as when we left. He was excited to see some of the toys he had played with before, like the singing caterpillar and stacking cups.

First night with a baby

The first night, as expected, was pretty bad. Nikolai slept well from about 9 pm to 1 am. At that time he woke up and we assumed he was hungry since he is used to being fed a lot of cereal at midnight. So we gave him some cereal and tried to get him back to sleep. I think the stress of the day before plus the sugar rush from the cereal made him wide awake. He finally fell back asleep around 3 am, but awoke every hour after that. Finally at about 6:30 am Chris was in the shower and I could hear Nikolai moving around. Suddenly I heard a thud and got up to find he had fallen down between the mattress and the crib side. I knew the crib in the apartment was fairly flimsy, but I had not noticed this flaw. He was shocked by the event, but did not get hurt and did not even cry. Although it is horrible to say, he looked pretty funny with his arms and head sticking out from the side of the crib, especially with his wide eyes looking up at me. I brought him into the bed to try to rest a little longer. He laid there for a little while, but then discovered he liked the game of crawling over my legs (and towards the edge of the bed) so I reluctantly got up. We reworked the crib, adding lots of rolled up towels and blankets to cover over the spaces where he could get caught or fall.

Doctor’s Visit – Tuesday 10/28/08

We did well sticking to his normal schedule in the morning. Nikolai even went down easily for a nap at 8. He was still asleep at 10:30 when we had to wake him up to get ready for the doctor visit. The visit was easy – they just weighed and measured him, listened to his heart and lungs, and checked his ears, nose, and throat. We had been wondering about his measurements – 70 cm long and 8.06 kg (17.6 pounds). Other than wanting to grab the stethoscope and thing to look in his ears, Nikolai did well – he likes attention.

Church in Central Park

After the appointment, we decided we wanted to take a walk somewhere, so Dima told us how to get to Central Park from our apartment. The park is only about a block away. It is wonderful! We have not been very ambitious about sight-seeing in Almaty since we are so tired, but I really wanted to see one building that I had seen in models (while in Astana) but I did not remember what it was called. It turns out that this building is the Orthodox Church in Central Park! It is beautiful - like a cross between a fairytale castle and a Russian church. The park also had an interesting memorial to people who had died in wars and a monument remembering the defense of Moscow during World War II. The trees in Almaty have just turned so the park was all decorated for fall. Teenagers and families with little children were all over the park. Nikolai loves to watch kids, and birds – and kids feeding large groups of pigeons was particularly interesting.

Embassy Visit - Wednesday 10/29/08

We were picked up in the early afternoon to go to the embassy to file the I-600 paperwork in order to get a US visa in Nikolai’s Kazakh passport. The embassy is across the street from the Partners’ office, so Dima parked at their office and then told us to just wait outside. We saw a another family go into the office and I recognized them from following their blog since we started the Kazakh process. Then one of the younger people from the office (Asel I think?) came out leading two other families and their new babies. She led our funny parade across the street to the embassy. We went inside and joined a few other families with little babies from other agencies. When they called our name, we went up to the window, told them when we were leaving and they handed us Nikolai’s passport with the US IR3 Visa along with a folder with all of the original or official copies of the important paperwork that had been submitted in support of the adoption. This included Nikolai’s original birth certificate, the adoption decree, and various other items. Considering how difficult it is to deal with USCIS and file the I-600A in the US, filing the I-600 was surprisingly fast and simple.

We then went back to the office and paid for the rest of the stay (apartment, registration fee, etc.) The staff were sweet and really seem to care about all of the children. They addressed each of the babies individually and commented on them. One of the staff picked up Nikolai, who was a little unhappy having missed his morning nap and wearing the overly warm snow-suit. He would not smile for any of them – so unlike our flirty boy. Then we were done and they said “your adoptions are complete” and we could leave.

Thursday 10/30/2008

We asked Dima what he thought we should see in Almaty and he suggested the Tzum store, Central Park, art museum, mountains, and history museum. We had no interest in shopping and were not prepared for the mountain trip with a baby, so we decided to go to the history museum. We were not overly excited about it having been to two museums in Astana, but felt we should see part of Almaty and if nothing else would enjoy being driven through the city. It turns out that the museum is amazing and very different from the one in Astana. The first floor included paleontology and archaeology exhibits with lots of fossils and artifacts. The second floor had an exhibit similar to that in Astana with a yurt and examples of traditional clothes, tools, decorative arts, and household items. The third floor was really neat and had little exhibits representing the cultures of the groups of people who live in Kazakhstan (Korean, Tatar, etc. ). Nik did well through the trip and only got a little fussy a couple of times. The biggest problem is that he loves to hear his voice and there were many places with good echoes in the museum so he would yell Ah! to hear the effect. People kept looking at us, so I eventually gave him his pacifier (sorry baby – I promise we will encourage your talking once we get home). The top floor was an exhibit celebrating independent Kazakhstan, which we went through quickly.

Happy Halloween - Friday 10/31/08

We decided to lay low on Friday since we were going to be picked up at 1 am to leave for home. We packed and took another walk to Central Park. We also got some giant Kit-Kat bars (one of our favorite things in Kazakhstan) to celebrate Halloween.

The Trip Home – Saturday 11/1/08

Friday night was the first night that Nikolai did not wake up at 11:30, so we had to wake him up at 12:30 to get changed and fed. We were running a little late and had not left the apartment at 1 am when we were supposed to be at the end of the drive with our suitcases. Now I understand why it looks like the people in the apartment before just left without even throwing out perishable food – we apologize to the family who came after us. Dima came upstairs at 1 and carried one suitcase out to his car, and we were downstairs about 8 minutes later.

The flight from Almaty to Frankfurt was pleasant. We had business class tickets (courtesy of Chris’s company – thank you TDI!). Plus we had a bulkhead seat with a bassinet. It was dark and quiet and Nik slept more than half the flight. Otherwise he had a meal and played quietly. He had done so well with takeoff and landing on the flight from Astana to Almaty with just a pacifier that we did not prepare a bottle. But I think he was too tired during the landing in Frankfurt to actively suck on the pacifier – he chose to scream in stead, poor baby. The flight from Frankfurt to Dulles was much harder. Nikolai cried for the first few hours, and then was unhappy the rest of the time. A nice lady sitting next to us gave him a few crackers, which kept him happy for a bit. He slept the last three hours of the flight, but that was it.

He's a US Citizen!

Nikolai became a US citizen as soon as we landed. We therefore were able to go through passport control in the line for US citizens. The officer opened the sealed “brown envelope” and stamped our customs form with something to let the customs officer know where to direct us. Incedently, the brown envelope is just a normal brown mailer – we expected something much more formal and impenetrable. We had heard that getting through immigration could take a long time, so we had told our parents we would call them when we were getting close. But it took no more than 10 minutes to fill out a form and get the required stamps that will result in Nikolai’s Green Card automatically to be sent to us. Then three of us were off! We stopped by my parents’ house on the way home. Chris’s mom had come down from Pennsylvania and was staying with them. Nikolai charmed them all and then we went home!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


"I can hold the spoon myself!"

"Papa is so funny"

Our little German Shepherd - trying to herd both parents back into the same room

“How nice of mama and papa to put this toy here for me!”
(Seriously – this is the only cabinet he has shown any interest in)

Monday, November 3, 2008

We're ALL Home!

We all made it home safely on Saturday afternoon. Chris and I adjusted to the time difference pretty easily, but apparently Nikolai is still on Kazakh time. He wants to sleep all day and play all night (we are very tired). Today is our second day home and it has been a little better, so I do not think it will take too much longer to get him on a more normal schedule. He has a bad cough, but otherwise is a very happy easy-going baby. We are so in love.

Chris’s mom came into town to meet Nikolai and stayed with my parents. They spent the morning on Saturday making baby food! We are so lucky to have such supportive families. So far Nikolai pretty much likes everything. His favorites are snow peas and pears, and of course formula and rice cereal. He was a little perplexed by the sweet potatoes and could not yet handle the skins in the blueberries.

As someone who has gotten stuck in the China slowdown, I always get annoyed with people who respond to the despair of waiting China adoptive parents with statements like “it is all part of God’s plan” or “it will all be forgotten when you meet your daughter.” These statements dismiss the feelings of people who are facing not only an unexpected 4+ YEAR wait but also much uncertainty about whether or not the adoption will ever really happen. However, since the cutest, most wonderful little boy ever has come into our lives, I cannot help but think that God did have a different plan for us than we originally thought. If it were not for the China slowdown, we would not have pursued a Kazakhstan adoption and we would not have our son – a frightening thought indeed. I will never say it in reference to anyone else’s situation, but for us, it was all part of God’s plan.

We did not have internet access while in Almaty, but I did continue to write posts, so I am going to post them all at once soon.