Thursday, May 27, 2010

I-800 pre-approval!!!!

It's done! It hasn't left their offices yet, but maybe tomorrow it will move on towards the Embassy in BG by way of the National Visa Center. IF we are really lucky (!!), our representatives in BG may have an appointment next Friday at the Embassy for the next phase.

It's only been since April 7... What a messy hurdle...It took us 7 weeks to complete this part of the process. We did have an RFE to deal with:(
For most families this part of the process takes between 1-3 weeks to complete.

We just heard that a supervisor at USCIS made history by making a decision in a case a lot like ours - requiring the same kind of document that was outlined in our RFE (request for evidence). The official "ruling" happened today, though they've been acting according to it for 7 weeks. All the extra work they made for themselves by not being proactive, all the extra work for foreign governments to go back and re-open individual cases to create this document after they had done the "usual" and worst of all: all the affected children had to wait the extra 5-6 weeks. I can't do a sad enough sad face for them...

But at long last our paperwork moves and we are one step closer to having Nikolas in our arms again. We miss his laugh!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Friday email surprise....

We applied for our I800 before we left to visit Nikolas. We received an RFE(request for evidence) from the National Benefits Center(USCIS) for some documents that we were missing an English translation and one other document. If you receive an RFE you have 45 days to get the requested documents back to NBC. We were getting nervous about the turnaround time.

But...yesterday we got an email from our agency! YAY! They received it and sent it on to the NBC officer. So by next week we should hear something. Please let us move on to the next step!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


We have finally (okay, Donna gets the credit) figured out that we need to tell Tam each night before he goes night-night whether Donna is going to work or not. In our extended trial of 3 nights, he hasn't cried in the morning at all. YAY!!! It's the same routine except that he knows ahead of time.

As we said goodbye this morning, Tam imparts the following wisdom: "Don't crash. You drive straight. You go straight to work. That all you need." WHAT!!??!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Day 5 & 6

non-spoiler alert: unexciting stuff ahead, or at least nothing about Nikolas...

Day 5
Back in our very nice apartment in Sofia, we had only one item on the agenda: to sign paperwork at a notary. With that taken care of by 10am, we did some walking and shopping and took a tram, though the wrong one, back towards our apartment. We found that the tram street was a pretty high end shopping area that ended at a very nice park, complete with the first and only lawnmower of the trip. Most of the shops handled us speaking English quite well. At the park, there were a good number of children friendly vendors including a bungee/trampoline combo and a clear vinyl ball floating in a fountain pool that a kid could get inside and jump around or run like gerbils... The view of the mountains to the south of Sofia from here is almost otherworldly!

Some unusual observations:
  • there are quite few stray dogs in Sofia - apparently only very recently have they formed packs and attacked anyone.
  • There are smokers everywhere!
  • Propane gas is available at most gas stations for appropriately outfitted cars.
  • Park benches are occupied by high school age couples after school. After 5pm or so, the couples age and are frequently accompanied by beer.
  • Beer is available in 1.5L & 2L plastic bottles. Even the better Bulgarian varieties.
  • There was an 8' section in the pretty high end grocery we found devoted entirely to varieties of salami, dried or cured pork, etc. both in pre-sliced and traditional sausage shapes. And there was more in the deli case.
  • There was an even longer section devoted to a variety of yogurts - many with the % of milkfat listed prominently. They were super yummy!

Even with the distractions of shopping for Nikolas, Tam, souvenirs, breakfast for Day 6, etc. we were definitely down. After some take away dinner (which felt like a very rare thing), we crashed.

Day 6
Up at 3:45am for a 4:30am pickup, for a 655am flight. Sofia airport was wonderfully empty. We got into Paris on time and made our connection to Miami. They fed us twice - which wasn't quite as yummy as Alitalia, but since we were getting in at 9:45pm (body time)... There we had to make it through Customs with Barry trying to use a Customs declaration in French - everything was right except the two addresses - ooops! Wouldn't have been bad, except that we had to make a connection to RDU in less than 2 hours - including collecting luggage, checking in, and getting back through security. The real wooooosh kicked in when we made it with about 20 minutes prior to boarding. We made in home at about 3am (body time). Tiring under vacation circumstances, let alone for emotionally wasted parents...

Some warnings to future travelers:
Plan on both physical and emotional exhaustion after you have to leave your child. Obvious, but you'll have a legitimate need to grieve at leaving him/her at the orphanage, and again when you leave Bulgaria. There is only one thing that will help: time - to love and be loved by your family & friends, pray if you do, and rest. With time to reflect and move past the anger and denial phases, you can then free your energy and attention to return to "normal" life and recover from the plane trip(s), changes in diet, etc. We were "lucky" to have a 7 hour drive from the orphanage to Sofia - both for cat naps and for getting the anger out about why the process had to be the way it is.
Make our mistake of trying to resist this and you may fall through the enveloping sadness into depression. Ain't pretty! Feels worse :(
Even with the feeling gone, it stills takes a lot more energy to perform the tasks of "normal" life. Things as simple as typing this show the effects (even typing accuracy is way down!) - let alone being creative about how to play with Tam, what to cook, etc. The complete cure is going back and getting him!

So, about a week and a half later, we are facing the extent of our wounds, opening up about them, and beginning to help each others heal.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Days 3 & 4 with Nikolas

Day 3 (sorry that we got behind by a day)
Wednesday started with a very-happy-to-see-us Nikolas. We introduced him to Oreos in addition to his "usual" smuggled in morning fruit and collected some bonus points ;) We also allowed him nearly unrestricted access to water and he almost went crazy over it. He drank from a glass glass, actively helped pour it from our 2 liter bottle and ... He quickly was asking for "more" in English as well as signing, sometimes to the exclusion of anything else. This had 2 consequences: 1) he peed, a LOT, duh! and 2) we got to see that drinking had the unintended consequence of clearing out his nostrils :( It seems that his swallowing is in need of some muscle training or some additional surgery - depending on the source. We'll see.

Overall, this was a very emotional day - complete with high highs and lowish lows. He began reaching out for us for the 1st time, to be picked up, to be held, to be hugged. Later on, he initiated some really wonderful snuggles and squirmed onto our laps without any prompting. He giggled a LOT! During chasing, playing hide & seek, airplane rides with Daddy - such a simple, innocent and joyful noise! He still loved balloons, both tied off and as little random rockets. After a couple demonstrations of how a balloon sticks to hair after rubbing a couple times, he was trying to imitate/recreate it himself. He also wanted to run out the front gate when we went outside to play. The fun bag was still a huge hit, though coloring and playing with a ball were far less interesting than earlier on. He did want to clean up things back into the fun bag too.

On the flip side, he clearly felt comfortable enough to start expressing his displeasure at things not going his way. It was a little disconcerting to deal with a 2 year old (or younger) reaction at his size (still not huge!). Especially when we told him "ne" (no), he would immediately withdraw and sometimes escalate. His body language is incredibly expressive: at one point, he was expressing mad as a leaning slump in a corner, with some stomping. When that didn't get him his way or better attention, he slid to the floor and acted and cried like he'd really hurt his butt. That did get us over to him, maybe unfortunately... We tried not to reward it, but... At one point, he got very upset when we tried to take off his shoes - still no idea why. We didn't fight that one long - just quickly measured the length of his foot for shoe size for later and put 'em back on. (gotta pick the battles!) He also started to rebel against washing his hands after peeing - this was a 180 change - previously, he had done very well with this and even helped turn on the water, helped find a towel, etc. At one point, he was so adamant in his refusal that Daddy had to wash his hands for him. He Really didn't like that! Resulted in his second slide-to-the-floor-and-kick-his-feet temper tantrum of the day! We made it to a carpet for this one though, so we could let him work it out without much risk. YAY! okay, not so yay, but...

It was certainly tough to see him struggle, to see him attempt to digest what it meant that we would stand our ground with a "ne". But we will certainly take all his steps away from the institutional mindset, attitude and body language. Early on, it was hard to pick him up because he was soooo compliant; he was just dead weight - no clinging, no lifting legs to wrap around our waist, no shifting of weight to "help", etc. He was just used to being trained. And even negative behaviors that expressed his preferences were a sign of him coming out of that institutional shell. And maybe he was beginning to express pain, suffering, loss, and unknown other things that he has managed to keep inside. (at his age!) It certainly feels better to have him just love on us while we're loving on him, but if he has a backlog of pain, it may be more important for him to feel it, express it, and have us love him through it. And it makes it all the more important for us to get back to him quickly.

We were very fortunate that we were able to give the speech therapist that serves the orphanage a ride back to her neighborhood. Along the way, she shared a very broad and integrated understanding of Nikolas's needs - everything from straight speech therapy exercises from a professional to tactile exploration to self esteem building to speech demonstrations from us to welcoming him by doing some things like he does. (We've already introduced Tam to the "ahhh" noise that Nikolas makes. And he likes it and says that his brother says it! It's the overly dramatic sound we could make when we finish a refreshing drink... But N does it when he's happy. It's friggin' awesome!) The conversation reaffirmed a LOT of what we had planned and opened our eyes to some connections between activities that were obvious once she talked about them. It was also great to know that she would be going to the orphanage a couple times a week for a while at least.

Day 4
We only got to spend the morning with him on Thursday :( We were both pretty apprehensive (and generally sad) about how he would handle us leaving and being told that we wouldn't be back for a while. We got to see his bed (really pretty nice), put his his puppy stuffed animal on it and play upstairs for a change. He really liked watching from above while the other kids play outside. Likely, that bird's eye perspective was completely new to him. Our translator read Nikolas a book that Tam has grown to enjoy: "I'll Always Come Back" and part way through Nikolas wanted to get down to play. (It's not a long book, so it's hard to know why, beyond the lack of actual story...) We also got an opportunity to walk down the street with him. He is an awesome walker! With his steady pace, solid grip, and immediately turning to us when dogs barked, pointing and getting excited when we came close to a donkey, he was just a joy!
At one point, with the director present, he ran into a neighboring room, grabbed a caretaker's shoes from the floor, ran back in and threw them down on the floor. Clearly he was feeling independent! She turned to us and asked us how we had turned such a good boy into this in just three days. We hope he doesn't fight the inevitable re-training from the caretakers too much.

When it came time to say goodbye, we were worse off than he was. The director offered to walk with him out to the car, but we declined. He had so enjoyed leaving and riding in the car that he would have been even more saddened that he couldn't go with us. He cried a little, though less than us, and held the director's hand for a really long time standing outside the front door.

To have been so blessed with Tam, to have the opportunity to adopt another amazing little guy, to have him be in an orphanage with such an incredible director, and to have such a wonderful translator - it all helped make the sadness at leaving Nikolas less sharp. Still pretty bad... We'll be doing care packages to him and the orphanage regularly.

All this brings us to a sad compromise: we have decided to make this blog private for a while. We ran afoul of the "rules" (unprinted ones) earlier by posting to a Yahoo group what the powers-that-be deemed "too much or too soon". We began moderating comments here after an underinformed individual posted one revealing such. The big concern is that there are (confirmed) far less benign people out there who might use what we are sharing here against us. They have, in fact, slowed at least two other families in their final stages. Fundamentally, that is unacceptable and unconscionable. If Nikolas weren't in such need developmentally, if we had a way of actually conversing with those who would do him harm by keeping him institutionalized longer, if... if... if...
We greatly value what others are sharing on their blogs and certainly want to pay forward. We will attempt to include everyone we know is following this when we privatize. If we miss you, we apologize in advance. Please email us: And once Nikolas is home, we'll bring it back with even more details and photos (and if you're really lucky video!!!)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Day 2 with Nikolas...

We are still waiting to see if our I800 was approved by the NBC. There was one document left out so it was rejected the first go round. :( So we are hoping in about 2 weeks we should know something!

On Tuesday (April 27) we started out in the same playroom as Monday. He was happy to see us. Donna's mega-great idea of the "fun bag" containing the few toys we had packed in our clothes suitcase and our carry-on. We also got really lucky before we left Sofia and came across a toy store that was in its first day of operation. We got an eight pack of Play Doh and an extruder accessory. The Play Doh rocked! Not only for the squeezing and extruding, but for the stacking and playing with the little containers. As it turns out, handing Play Doh containers back and forth with Donna is remarkably therapeutic and a developmental accelerant. After a few rounds of Donna thanking him each time he gave her a container, Nikolas started copying - quietly but REALLY REALLY exciting. After a few more passes, he was loud and clear enough to be heard across the room! This was just plain amazing!! Until this, he was at best speaking in very specific 3 word sentences, about cars or dogs, etc or sticking to baby talk. All this in the first 2 hours...

We then got permission to take him down the road a little ways to a nature preserve. As we left, we were swarmed by 10-12 eager little people! Once I gave in and picked up the closest cutie, the chaos really began. Lots of pushing, shoving, jostling, some knocking down even, and no end in sight. One of the caretakers had to pry a little girl off of Donna's jeans pocket - specifically she was holding on to it with her teeth! YAY! We finally made a run for it and the caretakers took control again. We had a great time running around, playing and blowing flowers. Nikolas has an amazing laugh. We brought one Play Doh with us. At one point Barry took the Play Doh away from him to put it back in the container. He got a serious pouty face and squirmed away from Barry. Donna gave it back to him and he perked right up. This was our first taste of Nikolas showing us that he really wanted something and did not like to hear the word "ne" (no) After a little negotiating (non verbally), we got him to put it back in himself and then held onto the container. Win-win!

When we started to get ready to leave at 7:00 Nikolas became very sad. Even with a translation that we would be back in the morning to see him, it didn't go smoothly. What happened next broke our hearts. Nikolas started to cry..not a little, but a lot. We kissed and told him how much we loved him. As we walked to the car we could hear him, even through the new front doors that sealed quite well. Donna cried, of course. The director, who was showing our translator where the other two orphanages in the area were located, told us that since Nikolas had been there (5 months) he had shown no emotion. Barry held it together until she told us this... This was the first time that he had, and boy did he! Really tough end to a great day though... We were getting through to him - we wouldn't want to change a thing! We had an incredible second day with him!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Home, but missing Nikolas

What a trip! Sorry that we were not able to do more posting while we were in Bulgaria, but we will make to up for it now.

We were supposed to travel on April 17-24, but because of the volcano ash we had to postpone until April 24-May1. We were not taking any chances so we decided to fly in through the southern part of Europe. We left for Miami on Friday night. From Miami we flew to Rome and then on to Sofia. We arrived on Sunday afternoon, but our luggage did not. :( So we had to stop and fill out paperwork hoping that it would turn up in the next few days. We did not care about our clothes, but did care about all the stuff for Nikolas and the orphanage. Our translator met us at the airport. More on him later. So after exchanging some money and dropping another person off at their apartment we made it to our apartment. We loved our apartment. We had internet and space to move around. Could not have asked for more! (except maybe an alarm clock!) We had dinner at a great pub. It was a little cool, but we sat outside. Be prepared just about everyone in Bulgaria smokes...inside and out of restaurants. Donna cannot handle the smoke so we sat outside. When we got back we called the airport. They had one of our bags!! YAY! We could pick it up on Monday morning.

Day 1 of meeting Nikolas...Monday, April 26
Monday morning we got up very early. We had to be at the airport to pick up one piece of luggage before making the 7 hour drive to his orphanage..yes you read that right: 7 hours. We arrived at the orphanage around 1:00pm; it was early and got lucky with traffic. We had an opportunity to sit down and talk to the director. She is fabulous! We fell in love with her. We were able to ask any question that we wanted. She had notes from the caretakers that she read to us. She didn't know some of the answers to our questions so she went to get a caretaker to make sure that we had the right answers. After about 30 minutes she went to get Nikolas. She entered the room with him and just like that we were in love. She held his hand as she talked to him in Bulgarian. She explained that he had special guest. He came over to us very shy. We took his hand and started to talk to him. He looked up at us still not understanding how his life was about to change. We kept the interaction very simple. Holding his hand and looking into his eyes. One of the questions that we asked was if they told him that we were his mommy and daddy. The director told us no, but if we knew we wanted to continue with the adoption that it was ok to tell him. We said that we did. So right then and there she told Nikolas who we were. He smiled. He was very tired because it was past his nap time so we said goodbye to him. Our hotel was 40 minutes away from his village so we went down the road to a nature preserve until he got up from his nap. He got up around 4:00pm. The director again went to get him. We were able to be with him while he had a snack. He ate every bite!! Super steady and smiling and doing what would become his signature sound of happiness: a sudden little exhale. After he finished we were able to take over a playroom. We had a blast! We got on the floor and played with him - lots of ball and car rolling back and forth. We did a lot of hands on play. Blocks, play-doo, and drawing. There were some kids in the hallway that lead to the playroom. He heard them and we thought that he might want to go play with his friends, but what he did surprised and made us laugh. He went to the door and closed it so that no other kids could get in "our room." To put it simpify he melted out heart. We were allowed to stay until 7:00. It was hard to say goodbye, but we had a great day with him and knew we were going to see him tomorrow morning. They told him that we would be back tomorrow.
The world became a different place - there was another boy who knew we loved him and wanted more...
The hotel turned out to be really nice. Dinner at the hotel was awesome - we had a great conversation with our translator. The food was super yummy including what we guessed was whipped butter with caviar mixed in. An entire bottle of Bulgarian wine was 10 lev = $7.50 and it was yummy. We struggled to get on the internet - finally we went to the lobby and checked email and it was after midnight before we got to our room to wind down. And there was a LOT to wind down from!
Day 2 tomorrow with pictures....