Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Alone at Christmas

It's almost Christmas and I have been thinking back to the orphans in Ukraine that I spent time with last winter. When we were at Orphanage #4 in Odessa I remember that my first reaction to the place was one of loneliness and bleakness. In fact, I posted about it at the time. Of course, there are kids all around but it always seemed lonely to me.

I put together a little video here with some pictures from Ukraine. I start with some of the familiar landmarks in Kyiv, such as the SDA, Independence Square, and St. Sophia and St. Michael's monastaries. From there, we go to Odessa by the Black Sea, and Orphanage #4 where Sergey lived, and finally, Andreyevo-Ivanivka, where Valya lived.

The thing I wanted to mostly show was some of the kids I met, all older, some of which will be kicked out of their orphanages about a year and a half from now. Most of you reading this have no interest in adopting an older child, and I understand. But there really are some great older kids that would love to have a family.

There's an estimate that there are about 147,000,000 orphans in the world. That's a lot of kids; it's even overwhelming. But we can help, one family at a time.

Our friends, the Nasekos family, whom we met while we were in Odessa, posted recently about From Whom? Please take a look at it.

If all of you reading this committed today to adopt an older child, you would have them with you next Christmas. What a gift that would be for them, and for you...

Music Credit
Alone by Matthew Mayer from his CD Crossing the Bridge
He's from South Dakota.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Shoeboxes

Our family has put together Christmas shoeboxes for years.  Samaritan's Purse has a ministry called Operation Christmas Child that distributes these donated shoebox gifts to children all over the world.

We were surprised to learn that our two Ukies were also recipients of these boxes.  We expect the gifts to be sent overseas but I never expected to meet anyone who had received one.  And here our own children had received some over the years.

This year we put two of them together, one each for a boy and a girl, and we had Valya and Sergey select the items to put in them.  They remembered the things they had liked.  For example, Valya's had some underwear, a little bit of makeup, jewelry, a stuffed animal and a doll.  She also included a picture of herself and a letter.  Sergey's had a variety of toys, personal care items, and some clothes.  We paid an online donation and we got barcoded labels so now we will be able to track where our two boxes go in the world.

Whoever gets these boxes is in for a treat.  Our boxes are actually boot sized and packed with things that our kids knew that they would like, from experience.

Valya poses with her box.  She included a picture of herself and a note.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

We Left One Year Ago Today, Nine Months Home

I don't have to tell you how time flies, you already know that, of course. One year ago today we left for our first adoption trip, the first of two. 2½ months later our adoptions were complete. It seems like yesterday. Our SDA appointment was on Thanksgiving Day 2008. We spent it in the food court at the underground mall called Globus, in Independence Square in Kyiv. Amazing.

Last Sunday, the 15th, also marked 9 months home with our Ukies. On Friday the 13th I was thinking back to the Friday the 13th in February this year, the day we completely finished our tasks in Ukraine. We flew home the next day. Also amazing.

Nobody leaves expecting their adoptions to have problems or to take a long time. But sometimes you get blindsided over there and run into issues you never expected. Well, you do what you have to.

I suppose with time my feelings for Ukraine and our adoption trips will fade, but right now they are still very strong. With the help of our blog and our pictures (we have 3,104 of them!), I still remember everything like it was yesterday.

I want to give a brief update of how our family is doing lately. If I had to summarize, I would say we are taking the bad with the good. While things are usually good, we have had incredibly frustrating times as well. Not totally unexpected but still frustrating as parents. This also isn't necessarily because 2 of our 3 kids recently came from orphanages, but because we now have three teenagers whose total age range spans only 13 months.

Our Ukrainian kids are very dramatic. If something crosses Valya the wrong way she will stomp off to her room and slam the door. It doesn't take her long to get over it though and she often will be out in 5 minutes or so. Sergey is more moody. He is intensely jealous of Valya. We are learning to be more balanced in the attention we give to the children, but on any given day, who knows. We cannot leave the two of them alone. Ever. Because they will fight, or at least be mean to each other. While it appears that Valya is trying to be more conciliatory toward Sergey, the same cannot be said yet of him toward her. He is very wounded and he usually takes it out on her. Not to say that she wasn't guilty after we first arrived, but it seems she is moving beyond that. Mark is, I think, finally adjusting to the new kids. He has always been quiet, and still is, but he doesn't seem to react as adversely as he used to when they are wild or annoying. He gets embarrassed easily and angry when he sees them do immature things in public, like when we are around people at church or at their school.

But, that being said, it is usually good. Our Ukies each have 7 years of orphanage that needs to be purged from their systems. Maybe it will take 7 years. I don't know. We are in this for the long haul.

You all want to see pictures, so here's quite a few.

This summer, Sergey and I attended an airshow in Sioux Falls where we saw the Blue Angels. Sergey had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the airplane displays and aerobatics.

B-1 bombers are enormous. You can't appreciate it unless you are standing underneath one.

All three of our kids had sports seasons that just ended. Mark was in cross country, Valya was in volleyball, and Sergey was in basketball.

One of Mark's cross country meets was on his birthday. Here the team is singing Happy Birthday to him, and praying before returning home. The team always prays after a meet.

This is the first time that Sergey has been in an organized sport. Besides new basketball skills, he had to learn things like teamwork, commitment, and sportsmanship. In the third picture, he makes a pretty decent screen. He has come quite a ways since playing basketball with me at his orphanage last December.

Valya loved volleyball, though she says that she would rather play soccer next Fall. Time will tell.

I wanted to include this picture because the girl that Valya's arm is around, her family is adopting from Ukraine soon. Can't say much about it now but it is very exciting. Nancy and I met with her parents a while back, and they told us, You know what sealed it for us? When we saw Nancy at the school for registration. Nancy, Valya, and Sergey were at the school before it started to register for classes and they had to wait in long lines. While waiting, the kids where hanging out, hanging on Nancy and just being affectionate. The family noticed that and made the final decision to adopt up to five older kids from Ukraine.

Valya and some teammates watch the varsity team play. Interesting tidbit I can share with you about Valya. I had no idea before but she is only half-blooded Ukrainian. Her mother was French and her family immigrated somehow to Ukraine. She remembers her mother speaking French in her home and still remembers a few French words. Interestingly, our last name is also French. Prêtre is French for priest. Curious about G-FY-G? Glorify God.

This summer, the kids had summer school in the morning, home by 12:00. Here they are playing a card game after school.

Here we are playing Dutch Blitz. Don't play it as much as I expected we would. Everyone has their own thing going on usually. The other night Valya and I were playing Dominoes, the first time since we were in Odessa.  I commented to her that the last time we played this game, we weren't able to talk together.  She remembered.

We were thrilled to have our friend M stop by last summer. She is a volunteer at Sergey's orphanage and she let us stay with her in Odessa last December while we were on our first adoption trip.

M has sat on the floor at Orphanage #4 countless times playing games with the children, like in the third picture below. It was strange in a way having her in our home doing it.

In anticipation of M coming to visit, our church's VBS week designated their offerings for her. Sergey was a VBS helper and is showing here that they exceeded their offering goal for her.

Kayla was a senior at Mitchell Christian and was a tutor for Valya after she arrived. She was interested in helping because she wants to work as a translator some day. Her dad is one of the teachers at the school and has been on several missions trips to Russia, and can speak it some. He was one of the few people who could speak to her when we got back because Valya couldn't speak any English then.

Valya is quite the drama queen. When she becomes really fluent in English I imagine she will want to get involved in drama in high school.

She is a country girl. When she was a young girl, before the orphanage, she lived on a farm with animals. Sergey, on the other hand, loves the city. I wouldn't be surprised if he moves to New York City when he finishes school. He loves the Yankees and he says he loves NYC. We'll see. He was thrilled when the Yankees won the World Series this year.  We had let him stay up later than usual on school nights so he could watch the games.

Nancy is also a country girl, through and through. Me not so much.

Valya, Sergey, and I took a trip to the Black Hills this Fall to see my mother and stepfather. She has a cabin that she visits several times a year. Nancy and Mark stayed in Mitchell because he had a cross country meet. The kids enjoyed watching the little critters like squirrels and chipmunks. One interesting thing, I don't know if it's true of all Ukrainians or just our kids, is that all animals they refer to as "she". Like the squirrel below, we would probably say It is cute, or He is cute, but both of our Ukies would say She is cute. Sergey set up a trap with a bird feed scoop, put bait in it, and patiently waited for a chipmunk to go under it. When one finally did, he pulled the string and trapped it. I told him he shouldn't handle it because it might bite him. Well he didn't listen to me. It did.

A short walk from grandma's cabin in the Black Hills is the McVey Wildlife Management Area. It is very beautiful.

While in the area we stopped at Mt. Rushmore. Valya had never been there before. We had taken Sergey there when we hosted him in August 2008.

We spent an afternoon at the historic Evans Plunge pool in Hot Springs. Sergey has a lot of upperbody strength and was doing pretty well with the rings. Valya only this summer learned how to swim. She is fearless in water now.

On the way home, we stopped at Wall Drug. When you are traveling across South Dakota on I-90, it is a welcome oasis in a sea of grassland. Here we were all being pretty silly.

Valya gave a presentation in school called Ukraine Traditions.  She described Ukrainian folk life.

Here is a video of a Ukrainian poem that she read as part of the presentation.  It is a poem about why the Ukrainian embroidery uses red and black threads.

Two Colors
Dmytro Pavlychko

When I, still young
Set out to go into
The world unknown to me,
My mother gave me a shirt
She embroidered in
Black and red,
In black and red thread,
In two colors, so poignantly dear
Two colors on the linen shirt.
Two colors in my soul,
Two colors,  so poignantly dear.
Red is love,
And black is sorrow.
Life took me to distant lands,
But I always came back.
The roads of my life
Are the colors on
My mom's shirt,
Red and black,
Roads of happiness
And roads of sorrow.

I think this poem is fitting for Ukrainian orphans that are adopted and move to other coutries.  Though they become citizens of other distant lands, they are still Ukrainian and nothing will ever change that.  I remember once when I was being interviewed by the deputy mayor of Mikolaevka about Valya's adoption.  She had asked me if we would help Valya to always remember Ukraine.  I told her that while we could take the girl out of Ukraine, we could not take Ukraine out of the girl.  She liked that.  I blogged about that last December.

In this reading by Valya, you can hear her say Dva Kolori, Two Colors, several times.

When we were at Lifelight, Valya became friends with ALL of the Everfound band members, in fact, with their whole family.  They are Russian immigrants and live in Colorado now.  There are 6 children, 4 of which are in this band.  They speak Russian and opened their show with a song in Russian, which Valya knew from Ukraine.  They travel with the whole family so Valya got to know their parents as well.  She ended up working in their merchandise booth most of the weekend.  Now she has a picture of Yan and her on her nightstand.  He is about 1 month older then her.  She has all of their phone numbers but I don't think she has called any of them.

In August I joined our church praise team for a concert on Main Street here in Mitchell.

A couple of weeks ago we saw Michael W. Smith in concert in Sioux Falls.  Over the years I've seen him in concert many times.  This tour is by far his best one, in my opinion.  If he comes to your area, you should go.  On this tour they put together a choir of local volunteers to join him.  Nancy's sister Val and her daughter were in the choir.

A couple of weeks ago, Nancy's uncle Glenn passed away.  He was a brother to her mother, the youngest sibling, who also passed away a couple of years ago.  Glenn was a widower, and before Nancy's dad passed away in the year 2000, he had asked Glenn to watch over her for him.  So for several years Glenn was often around, staying with his sister and keeping her company before she passed away.  We've posted pictures of our kids with Glenn on our blog before here and here.

Glenn was buried at a country church, not far from De Smet South Dakota, where Laura Ingalls Wilder once lived and is the setting for some of the Little House on the Prarie books.

Valya and Nancy watch the commital ceremony.  She had never been to a funeral before.  Sergey didn't attend because he had a season ending basketball tournament.

I wanted to include the next two pictures to introduce you to two of our relatives, Jon and Jill Nelson, from California.  Uncle Glenn was Jon's grandfather, and he and his family were in South Dakota for the funeral.  Jon and Jill will be leaving soon for Ukraine to adopt one or two kids.  We have a link to their blog on the left.  We were surprised when they commented on our blog while we were in Odessa. We hadn't known then that they were pursuing adopting from Ukraine.  Jill is a correspondent for World Magazine.  In this picture, you can tell from her boots that she will fit right in with the other young women of  Ukraine.

Here is Valya with Jon and Jill and one of their kids.  We had a great time visiting with them at the hotel about Ukraine and our adoptions.