Court tomorrow!

We have recently found out that we will have court tomorrow (Friday) at 3:00 pm.  Please think about us tomorrow morning as you are starting your day.  That’s 8:00 am Ohio and Florida time and 7:00 am NW Indiana time and 5:00 am Seattle time 🙂

Scott and I are a little bit nervous for court, just because we don’t know what to expect.  We’ve read lots of blogs and most of them make it seem like a routine process.  We just hope that we don’t say anything that sounds silly or do anything wrong!  Tatyana is our lawyer and will be interpreting for us.

Today’s visit with Jackson was comparable to a trip to the zoo!  Haha!  There happened to be 6 kids and parents in the room that we usually have to ourselves.  Jackson gets very interested in what the other kids are doing or eating, and doesn’t pay attention to the mountain of toys that we brought him or the baby food, banana, or crackers that we were feeding him.

To top matters off, today was the day that the orphanage director picked to come observe how Jackson is bonding with Scott and I as parents.  It was a disaster!  Haha!  He took a nose dive right at her feet in which every parent and nurse in the room gasped.  Also, I’ll never forget when I was walking back from cleaning up the baby food mess from Jackson, Scott, myself, the painter bear shirt, and the chair… I look up to see his little chair in a sideways mid tip and it looked like slow motion of him falling over sideways.  Of course, the orphanage director was there to witness that disaster as well.  Oh what a day… 🙂

Hopefully court goes smoothly tomorrow!

Chicken fiasco and our little pickpocket.

Choo! Choo!First before I start – No court today. At the moment it looks like court will now be on Friday. Things got a little delayed for whatever reason, but with the 10 day waiting period falling over a weekend, we’re not gaining any extra days that we will have to stay here so far.

So, I wanted to start the post today by doing a little bit of venting about how hard it is to cook a good meal here in Ukraine.  It’s so hard to be able to find ingredients in the grocery, let alone be able to read the packages they come in.  We only have a stove top and a microwave to cook with.  Luckily, we were able to find the “instant food” section of the grocery and have been eating Ramen, Soup in a Cup, and instant potatoes.

Last night, Scott and I took a chance with some chicken.  Please realize that all food that we eat here is at our own risk, since there is no FDA.  So, I was just going to cook the chicken on the stove top and mix it with some rice.  Unfortunately when I thawed the chicken, it included more than what I had bargained for!  Not only was it VERY bloody (gross!), but the package included the entire chicken.  It literally looked like they just used a sharp saw to cut the chicken into pieces.  That dinner went straight to the trash can and we went with Plan B.

At our visit today, Jackson started testing the limits a little bit more with us.  We enjoy this because it shows that he is starting to bond with us and to treat us as a more of a parent figure, rather than people who come and play with him for an hour every day.  He threw two temper tantrums today, typical of a two year old.  The first one was when we took away the plastic golf club that he whacked the mirror with and the second was when Scott put away his iPod.

We had the iPod out because we were showing Jackson his performance from yesterday.  He really enjoyed watching it over and over again.  When Scott put it away, he whined and cried, but we distracted him with a new activity.  About five minutes later, Jackson went over to Scott and started patting him down.  It was the strangest thing, until we realized that he was looking for the iPod!  It was so funny to see him looking in Scott’s pockets and down his shirt for the shiny little black toy!

Of course he did other cute things today like playing with the train we gave him and saying “Choo choo” and giving out kisses.  He was rocking the blue painter bear shirt and overalls, like usual, so our pictures are all starting to look the same!

A Flower Bribe & Jackson in Concert!

Today was a very special day with our visit.  Let me start with the car ride.

Valentino picked us up at the normal time.  Most of the time we go straight to the orphanage, but sometimes he makes a stop at this old building and he says, “Documents- Administration.”  We all just shake our heads and wait in the car.  This morning he was in there for a long time!  We knew that the other family was waiting on a signature on some documents and the paper was just sitting on someone’s desk.  We figured that Valentino was helping get the signature.

All of a sudden Valentino comes running out of the building and hops in the car and starts looking all around him at the booths on the side of the road.  He pulls a U-turn in front of one and runs inside.  He comes out a few minutes later carrying this big orchid in a pot.  He puts it in the car and drives back to the building and runs inside with the orchid.  About five minutes later, Valentino comes strolling out of the building with the signed papers.  I guess he knows how to get stuff done around here!!!  It was hilarious!

So after the orchid adventure we arrived to the orphanage much later than what we usually do.  Scott and I made our way to the music room where we usually play with Jackson at.  We could hear someone playing the piano and when we walked in, we saw that Jackson’s groupa was putting on a presentation for the other nurses and a few visitors!  Jackson ran up to us as soon as he finished his song and we hugged him and led him back to the other kids.  He finished up the presentation, but kept an eye on us the whole time!  Scott and I never imagined that we’d get to experience this part of parenthood so quickly, the part where you are standing with a video camera capturing the little one’s performance!

Here are Jackson’s performances.  He’s the little one in the middle with the jean overalls and striped shirt:

Just Another Day in Paradise

Yep, today was just another day in paradise, haha, just kidding!  Maybe if the weather was warmer and there was a beach nearby…

Today we played outside for our entire visit.  It was only about an hour because it takes the nurses like 10 minutes to change him into his outdoor clothes and to put his jacket and scarf and hat on him.  There were lots of little kids playing outside today and he likes to run up to them to see what they are doing.  The nurses were walking the other kids in circles around the building.  Every time they came by we would wave and say hi.  One precious little girl would stay and wave a long time!  A few of the kids called me Mama today!  It melts your heart!

Jackson was being cute in his own little way today.  Again he was imitating EVERYTHING that we did, which included throwing and kicking leaves and sitting down on a bench.  There was an older lady outside with the other kids today and he ran right up to her and she picked him up.  She started bouncing him on her leg and singing a song.  He loved it.  Then she asked him, “Where’s Mama?” and he turned around and pointed at me and yelled “Mama!”  Yay!  He did the same thing with Scott when she asked where Papa was.  He’s catching on so fast!  When the nurse took him away today he started crying and waved goodbye to us all the way into the building. Here are some pictures from the day.

A Tribute to our driver, Valentino

I’m dedicating this post to our crazy driver, Valentino because without his driving we wouldn’t be able to see our little buddy each day!  However every time I get in Valentino’s silver BMW, I get carsick.  I’m afraid one of these times I’m not going to be able to hold back!  Let me explain…

Scott always said that he wanted to go to King’s Island or Cedar Point with me before we became parents, and unfortunately it never worked out before we left the states.  But now I feel like we’ve fulfilled that activity together because the best way to explain Valentino’s driving is that it feels like a roller coaster ride, with the same amount of speed, quick turns, and G forces.  And his BMW can handle it!

In Kharkiv, there are trolley tracks in the middle of the road, and no marked lanes.  The rules of the road are that you can pass on the left side or drive on the trolley tracks as long as you get back on the right side before you hit another car  or trolley head on.  I try to not look out the front window for fear of what I might see coming at us!

When you pass on the left in rush hour like traffic, it means that you have to drive very fast to pass the cars and cut cars off in order to get back into traffic.  Everybody usually stops and lets him in because they think he is important because of his car, if they don’t get over, then he usually sounds his siren.  Yes- the BMW is equipped with a siren!

Valentino does not like to sit at red lights.  Therefore if he sees one about to change and cars slowing down, he will pass the cars who are stopped at the red light and drive around them and then proceed through the yellow light.  If he needs to turn left at a light that is changing, he will go ahead and create an additional left turning lane and gun it when he turns left so that he can get ahead of the other cars turning left.

The last point about Valentino’s driving just blows my mind and I’d rather not know the details.  In Ukraine, it is common that the police will pull you over and demand you to pay them money for them to let you go.  We’ve heard about it happening to other American families and it did in fact happen to the family we share Valentino with.  They were on their 90 mile afternoon drive to the orphanage of their older daughter and got pulled over.  They told us that when the cop came up to the window, Valentino flashed a “special card” and the officer immediately started apologizing and backing away from the car!?!  What in the world!?!

Here’s a few notes about our visit with Jackson today- he is doing lots of imitating!  On our first round of ring around the rosy, he decided that today was the day that he would start falling down with us!  We didn’t have to prompt him or anything.  Also, we sing Itsy Bitsy Spider with him and do the motions.  He usually just stares at us but today a few times he started to do the spider motion with his little fingers.  Scott usually chases Jackson around the room with his arms out and today Jackson turned the table and started chasing Scott with his arms out.  He repeated a lot of the sounds that we were making like “Up” and “Mama” and “Ruff ruff ruff”.  No pictures today because they basically look like all of the previous days. But if you missed the video from yesterday, be sure to check it out! We are anxiously awaiting court in a few days. Please pray it goes smoothly and that the questions we get asked our not too tough to handle.

The plumbing works.

Today was another visit with Jackson.  It’s Saturday, so there is a different staff that works at the orphanage.  I think that they are more like babysitters on the weekend.  We gave Jackson crackers like usual, and we gave him a jar of baby food and a spoon.  He went to town on the baby food!  He can feed himself, which is typical of orphans.  They are usually given a plate of food and have a short amount of time to eat it before it is taken away, so learning to use utensils is a skill of survival.  He is so cute though when he uses a spoon because he concentrates so hard on it!

There weren’t any nurses in the room with us, but there was this VERY old lady who takes care of the orphanage on the weekend.  She wasn’t very nice and she kept saying “American”.  She also yelled at Jackson and really got in his face.  He wouldn’t make eye contact with her!  We talked to the other American family who we ride to the orphanage with and they said they had the same experience when she came into the room and the dad actually told her to go away!  Don’t worry little buddy, we’ll break you free from that place soon!

After that, we soon learned that the weekend staff did not put a diaper on him like the regular staff did during the week.  Indeed the plumbing does work!  Jackson is “forced potty trained”.  At certain times of the day, all the kids have to sit down on buckets and once they go to the bathroom, they are allowed to get up and go onto the next activity.  Kind of like house breaking a dog, in a sad sort of way.  So, he is not able to communicate with us when he needs to go sit on the bucket and he got a little wet today.  Once the old lady saw this, she quickly whisked him away and muttered something about “American”.  And that ended our visitation.

Here’s an adorable video of Jackson’s laugh:

Day 4 & 5 . Finally we played outside!

They say after awhile that your adoption trip can start feeling like the movie “Groundhog Day”. And that is the truth. However, let me make the point first that it is very worth it! Each day we have to be ready and out of the house for our driver to pick us up and take us to the orphanage. We only get one visitation a day for “two hours”, but it’s been more like an hour and a half tops before the nurses come in and take Jackson out from the playroom. We are assuming they are taking him to lunch. We’re going to try to push some boundaries and figure out what his actual schedule is throughout the day and try to figure out where he sleeps. There was a few funny highlights from yesterday. We have found that Jackson really enjoys ring around the rosy. He doesn’t completely get the whole falling down part, but he laughs when we fall with him and tries to get us to do it again multiple times by holding out his hands. Another really funny moment from yesterday was when we were singing “The itsy bitsy spider” to him. He enjoyed watching us sing it, but at one point with his eyes focused on us the entire time, I kid you not, he started moonwalking backwards towards our backpack on the other side of the room! We were laughing so hard, and then realized he was trying to be sneaky as he grabbed out our bubbles to play with again. 🙂 Last, the best moment of the day was when a couple of other children came in with another lady. She might have been adopting these children but we are not sure. Well, with all of the kids around Jackson got very excited and all wound up! At one point I watched with my own eyes as he ran over to the carpet, got down on the ground, and did a somersault! He’s going to be a Olympic winning gymnast, I just know it! Haha.

Today however was a very special treat! It’s fairly cold here in Ukraine with the temperatures barely reaching the 50ties. It’s also been rainy and cloudy the past few days. With that said, we are really getting tired of the play room. He’s too young to go to the room where there are tons of older toys apparently, and there’s only so much we can do now. However today, Jackson came in all bundled up with a winter jacket and hat! We were allowed to play outside! We had so much fun! For the first time we had no nurse supervision as well. We let Jackson take the lead and he walked us all around the outside of the orphanage. They have all kinds of swings, teeter totters, and other kinds of playground type of equipment. He was having so much fun! He’s very good walking up steps with a little bit of help and easily made his way around. He would also hold our hand when we tried to get him too. On several occasions during our outside playtime he ran into many of his little friends and jabbered back and forth with them. It was so cute! We eventually went inside as it was pretty cold out, and for some reason they did not put any gloves on his little hands. When we made our way back inside he was behaving very well. We fed him a banana which he gobbled it down quickly and then we brought out crayons and a coloring book that we brought. He enjoyed coloring and looking at the different colors. We tried to repeat the names of the colors to him and sometimes it sounded like he was trying to repeat them. He’s such a smart little man! We are so thankful for this day, as I believe it was one of our best play dates so far.

On a couple of more serious notes, we learned today that our court date has been scheduled for next Wednesday, the 27th! After that there is a 10 day wait period before we can take Jackson out of the orphanage and return to Kiev to get his passports and visas. Please continue to pray that everything continues smoothly and that we can get our little boy home to Ohio as soon as possible!

Finally, I won’t go into full details at this time, but possibly in a week or so. But I wanted you all to know how grateful to God we are to have Jackson in our family. God really has been to work here in Ukraine in more ways than you might imagine. We have made a very special connection with a family from North Carolina who is headed home as we type this from Kiev. We have never met  them face to face and only spoke with them until recently, but the Lord has used our two families in an incredible exercise of trust and faith. Praise the Lord for all of his miraculous ways! God truly has had his hand on this adoption from the beginning and has strengthened both of our families in different ways because of it. We serve an incredible Almighty God!

Day Three with Jackson!

Today Scott and I woke up to sirens going off in the city this morning and lots of rain!  We never did figure out why there were sirens, but we looked out the window and people were scurrying around like always.  No one seemed alarmed, so we went on with business as usual.

Today at the orphanage there was a different nurse in the room with us when we played with Jackson.  There’s always someone in the room and sometimes it feels intimidating, like they are watching and judging us. This nurse was a lot more interactive with Jackson.  She sat in a chair and waved her finger at him a couple of times.

The new nurse also showed us where they hid more toys in the room.  She got some blocks out and we were very excited to see Jackson use his motor skills to build stacks of blocks.  He got them up to five blocks high and then would hit them down.  Usually orphans are developmentally delayed, so to see him building towers was an awesome thing!

We also solved the cracker-throwing problem.  I realized yesterday that Jackson is not used to having adults come down to his level and to hand him pieces of food.  So today we brought a tupperware container of crackers and pushed one of his little chairs up to a bigger chair to make a table.  I set the crackers on the lid of the tupperware container to make a plate and he gobbled them right up.  Didn’t throw any of them!  I did get in trouble with the nurse though because I was breaking the crackers into pieces and she wanted him to bite them with his teeth.  Oops!

We also experimented with drinking from a cup today.  I packed a sippy cup that has two handles on the lid.  The nurse indicated that we should only give him a little bit of water.  The kids are on a strict potty schedule, so the nurses don’t like to give them something that will get them off schedule.  I poured the water into the cup and gave it to him with the lid off.  He drank it perfectly and didn’t spill a drop.  Such a big boy!

Other activities that we did were to read the Sesame Street book again, play with the car, blew bubbles, and hit a balloon back and forth.  We found out that he loves “ring around the rosy” but doesn’t get the whole falling down part at the end.  We’ve been trying to identify ourselves as Mama and Papa, so we stood on different ends of the rug and he ran back and forth between the two of us and we would point and say Mama or Papa.  At the end of our visit the nurse told Jackson to pick up the toys, and he did it!

The orphanage director came in again and observed our activity with Jackson.  She is a heavy set woman with short curly black hair and glasses.  And she wears bright pink lipstick.  She’s almost like a Grandma, or Great Aunt figure to the children.  She just shook her head and smiled, so hopefully we are doing okay. 🙂 The other family that we ride to the orphanage with said that this is one of the nicest orphanages that they’ve seen in their Ukraine adoption journey.

Here’s a couple of videos from today.  Today he was wearing the blue Painter Bear shirt again.

Day two with Jackson!

Today was our second visitation with Jackson.  It went very well and we are learning a lot about our little tot.  When we walked in today, his groupa (a group of about 10-15 kids who are kept together) was just finishing up their music lesson.  The other kids are adorable!  Well, not as cute as little Jackson, but I might be a little biased.  Jackson ran right up to Scott and jumped for Scott to catch him.  It was great to see that he recognized us.

Today we brought bubbles to play with.  When we first blew them, he kept nose diving straight into them!  He thought it was funny!  Then, we taught Jackson how to pop the bubbles by clapping them.  We also brought the Sesame Street book and the car from yesterday.

We have been trying to be consistent with Jackson when we visit him.  We’ve been trying to only feed him snacks when he is sitting in a chair.  When we gave Jackson cookies and crackers today, it only took a few times of him getting out of the chair before he realized we’d only give him more when he was sitting.

We did have a problem with him throwing the pieces that we’d give him.  It’s hard to communicate with him when he doesn’t understand what we are saying.  After throwing about 8 pieces on the floor, I did hear the nurse in the background yell at him and tell him to eat, which he did.  We started signing the word eat to him and saying the word “Please” before we gave him more.  Hopefully he’ll catch on soon!

I’m having parental spouse envy too.  🙂  Jackson ran up to Scott this morning as soon as he saw him and he enjoyed playing with Scott today.  I did figure out that since there are no men in the orphanage, it’s a hit or miss how the kids will react.  Some get really scared and others bond well.  Jackson is only used to seeing women and he has bonded with them as being figures of discipline.  So, I think that he still has that mindset with me and he is slightly more reserved.

I also got jealous of Scott because we were pointing to ourselves and saying Mama and Papa.  They do not say Mommy and Daddy here in the Ukraine, rather the nurses refer to us as Mama and Papa.  So we kept repeating Mama and Papa to Jackson and at one point he did repeat the word Papa.  We were so excited to hear him repeat what we were saying, even if he doesn’t understand yet.

Today we were also reminded of how there are many negative forces that do not want adoptions to succeed.  We have to cautiously trust people here and when they ask for money, we have to pay.  Some goes over the table and some goes under the table.  Our first taste of this has been with our driver here in Kharkiv.  We were told to budget $5 per day for transportation to the orphanage, so imagine our surprise when the driver asked for $50!  I said, American dollars, each day???  Wow!  We contacted our agency and it was soon resolved that we would share the driver with another adopting family here in Kharkiv for $25 a trip.  That was more acceptable.  The facilitator here in Kharkiv said that the orphanage is in a dangerous part of town and/or we could be robbed by a taxi driver.

So we got to meet the other adopting family today.  They are from Israel and speak English.  They have been in and out of Ukraine since the beginning of August.  They are visiting a three year old girl in the same orphanage as Jackson.  Then, the driver takes them on a 90 mile trip to another orphanage where they visit the 5 year old sister.  Every day.  And the driver was charging them $250 a trip.  Whoa!  Oh, I forgot to mention that the driver is the husband of the facilitator.  Shady…

We also heard of another family who was referred to a child and didn’t feel comfortable with it.  Their second appointment is tomorrow and they were told that there are no available healthy children, so they have to look through the dreaded blue binder.  Please pray that this family would have clarity about what they are supposed to do.  There are many kids in the orphanages, but some of them haven’t reached the 14 month wait period in order to be adopted internationally, or some of their parents still have some custody rights, which makes them unadoptable.  So, as you can see, adoption is “interesting” here in Ukraine, but Scott and I are trusting God for each step of our journey since He has lead us this far.

Okay, this is getting long and you are probably just coming to see pictures.  A few random thoughts and then I’ll give you the pictures:  The toilet paper smells like strawberries.  I’ve never played such an intense game of charades as what we’ve done trying to communicate with our driver.  There are tons of stray dogs here.  We found Ramen at the store and it costs as much as it does in the states! We are going to need to buy a can opener because we can’t figure out how to use the one here in the apartment.  We went to a pizza parlor last night for our anniversary and pointed at one to order it- total cost was $3.50!

Okay thanks for reading, here’s some pictures and video:

God’s Gift – Jackson Scott Howell

Today will forever mark not only our second wedding anniversary, but the day we first met our little son, Jackson. For over a year we have prayed and prepared for this little one and God delivered in full today. Jackson’s original Ukrainian name is Bohgdan, which in itself translates to “Given by God”. With that in mind and the significance of a day like this, how can anyone doubt our God had a hand on this adoption since before the beginning of time. We serve an awesome God and we are honored to have been blessed in such a way as this. Bohgdan (who we will rename Jackson Scott) is 2 years & 2 months old (26 months) and though small at 20 pounds he is healthy, happy, and very active. So without further ado, please meet our son to be:

IMG_0803 IMG_0801

Bohgdan was born premature much like me at about 32 weeks and weighed only 4 pounds at birth. From birth until he was 5 months he was in the hospital, when his grandmother gave up custody, because she is 70 years old and was not able to take care of him. Bohgdan also has two sisters, one 12 years old, and another 20 years old, who are not orphans because they live with their grandmother. The only thing on his health record was a heart condition, however it turns out a lot of orphans including Bohgdan were diagnosed with this same condition last winter after getting a sore throat. Take that information as you will. As well, a recent CWA child who was adopted also was given this diagnosis and nothing turned out to be wrong with the child. With all of that said, we are told he has been checked by a doctor recently and was given a clean bill of health. And all procedural tests came back negative.

As for our short one hour meeting with him today, Bohgdan was very friendly and happy to play with us today. He speaks a lot of simple words (in Russian) and was repeating simple phrases like during a game of “Peek-a-Boo!”. I will not lie though, he is definitely a boy! He was very active and ran around the play room, hamming it up for our cameras! He enjoyed riding a toy horse and running around pushing over this inflatable toy they had and laughing affectionately while doing it. However, it was good to see that once this guy was done showing off he did settle down a bit. We were able to sit him down in a chair for over ten minutes while reading a book and feeding him some cookies. 🙂

We return back to the orphanage tomorrow morning for a longer two hour period. After that we are praying and hoping to get on the court’s docket by next week at the earliest. After court, there is the usual 10 day waiting period. Please pray that Jackson will continue to bond with us as a family and that the U.S. approval on the medical records goes well. (The U.S. rarely gives the kid a good rating to any orphan, so we expect them to say that they do not recommend him. But as many adoptive families know, you just have to put your trust in the Lord and move forward if God is calling you  to adopt.) However, regardless we are in it now until the end and plan to do what it takes to bring our boy home soon! Here are some more pictures from today, as well as a video. Thank you family and friends for all of the support. We still need it to make sure things go smoothly and fast in the weeks ahead. God Bless!