Seeing Jackson’s Room

Tomorrow is the official day that we get custody of Jackson, but we won’t be able to take him out of the orphanage until Friday, which we just learned, because something about the need of the main doctor of the orphanage being present before we take him out. Another two days of waiting which is so hard, but at the moment our Embassy appointment back in Kiev is still tentatively scheduled for Monday or Tuesday of next week. We are anxious as ever to break Jackson out, but we are excited things are wrapping up!

Here’s a quick language barrier story for you:  When going to the grocery store, Scott and I try to not stand out as best as we can, but its not always possible.  The biggest trick is getting through the check out.  Today I was bound and determined to get out of the store without having to explain to anyone in the form of charades that I don’t speak Russian.  So, we go to the checkout and the lady asks a question, like she always does.  I always say “Nyet” (no) because I assume she is saying, “Do you have your Kroger plus card?”  Usually after this the cashiers don’t say anything and continue checking out our items and then I glance at the cash register to see how much money to give them.  Today though, the lady kept asking question after question.  I kept saying “Nyet” and finally after a few minutes, I gave in and shook my shoulders and said “English”.  She started smiling and laughed (very unusual for the culture here!) and we left the store.  Scott and I keep laughing about what she was could have been asking me and how she reacted when I answered each question with “Nyet”.  🙂

Today we got a glimpse of Jackson’s room that he spends each day in.  It is about half of the size of the music room that we play in.  It is up the concrete stairs and down a few dark corridors.  The front part of the room contained lockers for each child and a small little bench for the kids to sit on to put on their shoes.  Inside the main part of the room were a few toys, a slide with stuff stacked on top of it, a climbing ladder on the wall, a little TV in the corner with cartoons on it, and two little square tables in the middle of the room with chairs.  There was a kitchen to one side and a bathroom to the other side.  I believe that the cribs were off in another doorway.  It’s hard to believe that this is where he has spent his life!

All of the kids in Jackson’s groupa were having their potty time when we walked in.  Each child has a bucket and they sit on it until they go.  It was cute to see these itty bitty kids pulling down their pants and sitting on their designated bucket.  I wonder how the nurses trained them so well!  When we walked in a was a little chaotic and at one point I saw one child grab the empty bucket next to him and put it on his head- yuck!  Also, I don’t know how well the kids do at aiming and not spilling the bucket- which would explain why some days Jackson’s clothes have a distinct smell of urine on them.

After that, our visit with Jackson was normal.  He cracked us up while playing Ring Around the Rosy because he kept falling the exact same way that Scott would fall.  He was saying “down” consistently and at the end of our visit we grabbed some stuffed animals and played Ring Around the Rosy with them and Jackson said “All fall down”!  We hadn’t heard him repeat that long of a phrase before!  He was also full of kisses for us and for the stuffed animals, and always made sound effects with each kiss!

We’ll try to get a video up tomorrow, it’s upside down so Scott needs to figure out how to fix it. That’s it for now. We’re off early tomorrow to get paperwork final and secure our custody as the new parents of Jackson Scott!

Reflections on Orphan Sunday, from adoptive parents

Today is Orphan Sunday and Scott and I wanted to take some time to explain what this means to us.  Scott and I felt like we were called to adopt our first child in July 2009, based on the Bible verse James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Here is a video we found and some statistics below it:

Orphan Sunday from Greg Buzek on Vimeo.

By population, orphans would be the 8th largest country in the world:
1. China – 1,321,851,888
2. India – 1,129,866,154
3. USA – 301,139,947
4. Indonesia – 234,693,997
5. Brazil – 190,010,647
6. Pakistan – 169,270,617
7. Bangladesh – 150,448,339
8. ORPHANS – 145,000,000
9. Russia – 141,377,752

Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms.  But once you do, everything changes.  (David Platt)

We are not experts in adoption, nor do we have all the answers, but we can only speak as to what we’ve seen and experienced with Jackson as an orphan:

  • Jackson has gone a long time without crying because when he was a baby and would cry, nobody fulfilled his needs.  He still has not shed a tear with us yet.
  • Jackson loves to be rocked and we can only imagine how many nights he had to rock himself to sleep.
  • Jackson has never met a “stranger”.  Everyone who he has ever come in contact with has been to the orphanage specifically for him- nurses to take care of him, doctors for check-ups, Tatyana and Serge advocating for his adoption, and visitors coming to play with him.
  • Jackson has only been in a car once- the time they transferred him from the hospital to the orphanage.
  • Jackson has never stepped foot outside of the orphanage gates.  Sometimes when we play, he’ll run up to them and just peer beyond the iron gates.
  • Jackson has never had two consistent people, like parents, take care of him.  He is used to nurses being on a schedule, changing every eight hours, and having the weekends off.
  • Jackson has never had anything of his own.  He shares the toys and even his clothes with the other kids.
  • Had Jackson stayed in the orphanage and graduated out of the system, there is a 10% chance he would have committed suicide within the first year.  If he did survive, he likely would have joined a gang or become a criminal.

This is just a small example of the lifestyle of an orphan.  Each child’s journey is different and things are improving in some of the countries.  However, there are still 145,000,000 million orphans throughout the world.  I don’t mean to get on a soapbox about adoption, but I do want to bluntly say that if you profess to be a Christian, then you need to be doing something about the orphans and the fatherless in the world.  Whether it is through adoption, supporting a family who is/has adopted, being a foster parent, or mentoring kids in your community, you need to be doing something.

The statistic of 145,000,000 orphans might sound staggering.  It is difficult to imagine a number that big. It might make you wonder if one person really can make a difference, but I’ll leave you with my favorite adoption quote:

Adopting a child won’t change the world, but for that child, the world will change.

For more information on Orphan Sunday, please visit:

Day 27: Scott Gets Head-butted!

Most of our visits seem to blend into one another since we are all wearing the same clothes and playing with the same toys.  But, I guess Jackson wanted to make this one memorable for Scott!  After playing outside and eating grapes inside, Scott was playing with Jackson on the floor and lifting him up in the air to be an airplane.  Scott brought Jackson down and for some reason, he head-butted Scott!  Hard!  I saw it all in slow motion and Scott starting bleeding from the mouth.  My first thought was that we were going to have to go get stitches and use our traveler’s medical insurance that we bought!

Scott jumped up and grabbed the first aid kit from our backpack and started cleaning up the mess, but luckily it turned out he just had a small cut on his lip that is healing fine.  I grabbed Jackson and sat with him on the corner of the carpet away from the toys.  We wanted to instill in him that what he did was wrong and that there would be consequences.  We sat on the edge of the carpet for about 20 minutes in “time-out” with no toys.

Jackson sleepingAfter a while, Jackson got restless and started getting cuddly.  He started rocking himself back and forth.  I think this is his way of self soothing.  Kids in orphanages aren’t allowed to have personal items like a blanket, stuffed animal, or pacifier, so they will find other ways to sooth themselves like sucking their fingers or rocking.  So, I let him rock in my arms for a few minutes.  Then I look down and Jackson is snoring in my arms!  It was cute to see him sleeping.  Also made me wonder if he’s ever been rocked to sleep, or just always set down in a crib and fallen asleep on his own!

So, that was our exciting visit.  Scott said that it was bittersweet because we finally got to see our son fall asleep, but it took a head-butt to get there!

A breakthrough in our marriage :)

When I was growing up, eating leftovers was a common occurrence.  No need to fix a new meal if there was still some left from the night before.  Right?  Well, after Scott and I got married, I realized that not everyone had this same outlook as I did.  Whenever leftover night would come up in our house, Scott would just kind of mumble.

Tonight here in Kharkiv, it was dreaded leftover night.  But, something amazing happened- not only did Scott happily eat the leftover chicken, he even finished the portion on my plate that I couldn’t!  This has NEVER happened before!  Maybe my cooking is improving here in Ukraine??  Or is he just getting tired of the limited cuisine and my special treat of mixing chicken breast, rice, and soup in a cup seasoning really enticed his taste buds!

Well, really, that’s all the news that we have for today- we are pretty boring people!  Jackson was his normal self today during our visit.  We were practicing saying “Please” when he was eating grapes, but then he regressed into whining for another one.  We took them away and he got really mad at us!  But overall, another nice visit. Just five more to go!

Another day with Action Jackson..

I’ll keep this short today, as this night has flown by fast and we’re about ready to call it a night. We have found a couple of new ways to keep us entertained. We had been renting some shows and movies off iTunes, like we did tonight, but we also learned that the “English Club TV” channel which teaches Russians and Ukrainians English throughout the day, also shows one English movie each evening and in the morning. And they are actually pretty good movies too. We’re casually watching 16 Blocks, a movie with Bruce Willis. Any movie in English is a relief when you are over here as long as us!

I believe we have five more regular visitations with Jackson before we can grab that boy out of the orphanage. Our ten day waiting period is over on Tuesday, November 9th, but we realized that day we will be grabbing paperwork and then on Wednesday we have the option of taking Jackson out of the orphanage or later when we leave for Kiev. But we will plan to take him out as soon as we can which should be Wednesday, November 10th. We are going to throw a going away party and buy a cake and stuff for all of his friends in his groupa. That should be an exciting day, but it will be interesting to see how Jackson responds once we get in a car and take him back here to our apartment for a few days. Those first few days of official parenthood should be interesting as our apartment is definitely not child proof, but I’m sure we will learn to manage.

Today’s visit with Jackson was in the afternoon. His new clothes we got him have already been swapped with the infamous Painter Bear and overalls attire. Jackson was full of energy today and really kept us on our toes. He was really testing us by misbehaving tonight, but I think we’re slowly and surely showing him we are an authority over him and not just a playmate. He pouted a lot tonight when he was really upset with us taking toys away that he was hitting things with. He even did his extravagant “fake cry” act. We have yet to see any real tears come out. A sad reality is that most orphans don’t cry, because when they cried when they were younger they eventually stopped because no one was there to fill their needs which is why kids cry in the first place. But little Jackson is trying to real hard to muster up some real tears for us when he’s upset. Give him time. 🙂

Back to a morning visit tomorrow. The change in schedule every other day makes life at least a little bit more interesting! Here’s a pic of the three of us today. This is the best shot we could get, it only took us about 30 shots to get this one. Jackson hates our flash! We put this shirt on him just for the picture.

The Howell Family!

Mama’s boy!

Jackson must have known that I was getting jealous of all the attention that he shows his Papa!  Today he was definitely a Mama’s boy.  We visited him in the morning and he was wearing the clothes that we had given him last night, complete with last night’s baby food stain.  No painter bear shirt!  I got a few other shirts that I might take later this week for him.

Jackson is starting to expect a snack from us, especially the jar of baby food.  So, that’s how he started out today.  I also found a pail with a lid, so I stuck some small toys in it and took it to the orphanage today.  He latched onto it!  He loves new things and does not like to put them down!

Towards the end of our visit, Scott got out his iPod.  The two of them were looking at videos, and one came on of Jackson and I.  He looked intently on it and then pointed at it and said “Mama!”  Yay!  After a while Jackson decided that he needed to hold the iPod, so Scott carefully let him do it.  And- I kid you not- that kid opened up his pants pocket and put the iPod in it!  It cracked us up!

After he was done with the videos and pictures, he got really cuddly.  He hasn’t had much physical touch during his life in the orphanage, and I think he is enjoying cuddling with us.  Usually I’ll rock him like a baby and Scott and I will sing kids songs to him.  Today he came up to me and laid on my shoulder and we rocked for a long time.  Scott said Jackson’s eyes were getting heavier and heavier.  All of a sudden he jumped up and made a bee line for the door.  We soon learned why, it was because he heard the nurse in the hallway mention lunch.  So, he was a Mama’s boy for a little while, but still all boy at heart who jumps at the opportunity to eat!

Mama's Boy

Monkey see, Monkey do.

Today we switched things up a bit and visited Jackson in the afternoon instead of in the morning.  It has been getting dark around 4:00 and it works out better for the family that we share the driver with to go visit their older daughter in the morning.  So, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays we will start to visit Jackson in the afternoon and in the morning on the other days.

We were wondering if Jackson would notice that we came at a different time.  He didn’t really act too differently.  We could tell that he didn’t have as much energy as he does in the mornings and he could better focus on activities.  Also, he kept burping something nasty smelling. 🙂

We played with our normal toys, including the empty paper towel holder, which has become one of his favorite toys.  We also gave him baby food again, which he pounded in no time flat.  It’s a good thing because he is a skinny boy.  I changed him out of the blue painter bear shirt and put him in some clothes that we bought here.  Apparently I didn’t do the best job because his little pants kept falling down!

Jackson was having a fun time imitating Scott today.  He would repeat some of the words that Scott would say and then I noticed that he was imitating him.  Scott stood up and put his hands on his hips, so Scott’s “Mini-Me” stood up and put his hands on his hips.  Scott pretended to be a horse, and soon enough he had a little horse crawling around with him.  The cutest part was when the two of them were sitting next to each other on a long bench.  Scott would scoot closer to Jackson, and Jackson would scoot farther away.  They did this until the were all the way at the end of the bench.

Here’s some pictures of the fun today!

Getting to know you, Getting to know all about you!

Each day we are learning more and more about our little guy Jackson.  Here’s a list of what makes Jackson unique:

  • In bringing him a Halloween shirt yesterday, we learned that he likes to dress himself, and he’s pretty good at it!
  • We brought him baby food a few days last week.  Now he thinks he is too good for the crackers or bread that we bring him and he looks in our backpack for more baby food.
  • He’s not used to people wearing glasses being close to his face.  Usually the nurses keep their distance from the kids, so there has been many times he’s gotten a good grasp on my glasses.  If you wear glasses… beware!
  • If something needs fixed, Jackson will yell “Mama” in this weirdly deep voice.  This is everything from a toy needing fixed to his overalls coming unfastened.  I think he calls the nurses “mama”, so he’s not really looking for me particularly to fix the problem, but rather someone to help.
  • Jackson loves to sing and to hear music.  He’ll start to sway and dance to it.
  • It is difficult to discipline him because he laughs the cutest rolling laugh.  Scott and I have been trying to establish authority with him, so as soon as he does something that we don’t approve of, we’ll lay him down to keep eye contact with him and with a stern face say “Nyet” (no).  He laughs for a few seconds and then starts to whimper when he realizes that we aren’t laughing with him.  Then he gets up and gives us a hug.
  • Jackson loves to watch babies.  We keep him away from them in the playroom, so he’ll just sit with us and watch them.
  • Jackson picks up his toys at the end of our visit, and he makes a big production out of it.  He is very thorough and sticks with it until the very last puzzle piece, but he puts each piece in the bag in a different way.  He brings some over in his mouth, sometimes he’ll balance some of the blocks on the puzzle pieces and walk with them, and today he started putting them in his shirt and dumping them in the bag.
  • We gave Jackson a sippy cup.  He carries it all around the playroom, but he doesn’t really understand the concept of sucking from it.
  • I’ve never seen a kid eat a banana so quickly!  I think he devoured it in 6 bites.

Here’s a picture of Mama and with Jackson being ornery today:

Mama with Jackson

Happy Halloween! Ukraine Style.

Well, I figured I would bump Lindsey off here for one evening. I’m starting to get jealous of all of her posts and how popular they have been. 🙂 Also, I apologize for not updating yesterday, but after being here in Ukraine for nearly three weeks and being on a very consistent, yet repetitive schedule in the morning with Jackson, there really wasn’t all that much to write about. Last night I was hogging up the computer downloading a rented movie from iTunes. Thank goodness for Apple! They have been our only source of American English television entertainment while we have been over here. Netflix, Hulu and most other sites are blocked. I mostly listen to podcasts during the week when we are visiting Jackson or taking naps. And as for movies, they take about 4 hours to download on our 3G cell phone modem we are using, which is why we weren’t on the computer much last night.

Before I get into today’s visit with our boy, I’ll shortly explain how tiresome this country is becoming for us. We absolutely love our mornings with Jackson, but we get home around noon and our day usually just consists of eating lunch, taking a long afternoon nap, walking a mile or two to the grocery store and carrying back big jugs of water (We can’t drink the tap here or we’ll get sick), and then watching Ukraine’s MTV shows like “16 and Pregnant”, “Disaster Date”, and “Room Raiders”. All with Russian voiceovers of course, so you can barely make out the English in the background. Then at night, we try to Skype our families, Lindsey plays a little bit of “Angry Birds” on my iPod, and then we call it a day.

Fun eh? 🙂 It’s actually not that bad. We are definitely getting a lot of rest before we take Jackson out of the orphanage, but this culture and the area is getting a little boring. The outside smells like smoke, it’s dark by 5 P.M., and there’s not really much to see around here in Kharkiv. There are plenty of buildings around and a McDonalds, but that’s about all you get here in this city. Well that, and the river across from our apartment. They have a nice walkway by the river with benches and a lamp post that people are always strolling along by. But, by evening it turns into what I like to call “Lover’s Lane”. There’s not a night that goes by when we are walking home where you won’t see a couple smooching on a bench, or a girl cuddled up in the arms of their teen heart throb. Heck, walking home tonight, there was a couple standing in the middle of the walkway, smooching away in front of everyone. PDA is obviously a.o.k. here on Lover’s Lane! Oh, and that reminds me – love was also apparently in the air on the other side of the shared wall to our neighbor’s apartment a few nights ago. So much so, let’s just say we had to leave the room in laughter. Oh, goodness!

So, yeah. We’re about ready to go home and get out of this place. Where I can once again speak to Americans, where I can once again, enjoy a meal that is not instant or tastes funny, and where I can once again take a hot shower that lasts for more than 5 minutes! I know this will all be worth it in the end though!

As for our visits with Jackson. That little guy is really testing us, which is cute. We are really focusing now on keeping him sat down and focusing on one activity. Jackson doesn’t always like this so much – he’s thrown a few fits, but overall he’s been very good once corrected and will stay still. Usually by the end of our visit he gets very cuddly with his Mama and Papa. We are so excited that in just eight days we will take him out of that orphanage and start the process of getting him home (and us) safe and sound. Anyway, Jackson wanted to show a little bit of his Halloween flare that we dressed him up in, mullet and all, for you this evening. I hope you enjoy!

Happy Halloween!

Court Results!

Today we had a normal visit with Jackson in the morning.  He must have known that something was in the air because he was very calm today and got very snuggly towards the end of our visit.  Today was the day that the children have their 6 month check up, so our visit was cut a little bit short.

We had court at 3:00 pm.  Man, Ukrainians cut some things so close!  Our paperwork from Kiev arrived on the 12:20 train this afternoon and even after they dropped us off at the courthouse at 2:00, they were still collecting paperwork.  Tatyana “prepped” us by asking some of the questions that the judge usually asks adopting parents.  She wanted to make sure that she had the answers so that she could correctly translate it back to the judge.  We waited in a long dimly lit hallway for about an hour.  Girls in high heeled boots kept walking back and forth with their heels clicking with each step they took.

About five minutes before we went into the court room, Tatyana leaned over to Scott and I and whispered, “Wow, when I get nervous, I start to forget how to speak English.”  WHAT?  Scott and I’s jaws just dropped!  haha!  Any amount of nervousness that we had just quadrupled.

The judge called us in and there were 8 people in the room.  She read through a book and we had to respond a couple of times that we understood what was happening, even though we didn’t know what she was saying.  She asked Scott and I questions individually and we made our way through it with Tatyana’s translation.  She later told us that the judge was speaking in Ukrainian and she was translating it to Russian and then English in her head.  After we answered the questions, she read some more, asked the other people in the room if they had any questions, and then read through our documents.  She had our dossier.  That thing has literally been around the world and back!

The preceding was over then and the judge said that she would have her verdict in ten minutes.  We went back to the dimly lit hallway, but then she called us back in about 2 minutes later.  She read some stuff and Tatyana translated that, “The court has satisfied your request to become parents of Bohgdan and that his name will be changed to Jackson.”  We were so happy!

Now that we have the judge’s decision, we must wait 10 days.  This waiting period is put into place so that if any of the biological family members have any second thoughts, they may voice their concern.  We do know that Bohgdan’s grandma and sister still visit him, but we are confident that God is in control of the situation.  In the meantime though, they have told us not to mention anything to the orphanage about already having court.  It’s just the way things are done here.

To celebrate (and because it’s Friday) Scott and I went to our usual pizza place.  Since last Friday, they have turned it into a sit down restaurant with a waitress.  We got our usual large pizza with the works, 2 beers, and a celebratory ice cream sundae!  With the generous tip we left, it was still around $10!  To top it off, the waitress really made my day by giving us a frequent visitor card and she retroactively punched it for our previous visits!  Only two more pizzas before we get the next one for 1 Hryvnia (about 12 cents)!  She must have known what a penny pincher I am!