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Sunday, July 31, 2011

More kids from Kazakhstan

The Hausermans

Today we were visited by Mark and Andrea Hauserman from Ohio; we first met the Hausermans in 2004. They were in Ust-Kamenogorsk adopting a sibling pair at the same time we were adopting Tanya. Their two were also Kidsave kids who they had hosted the summer before so we had a lot in common. While in Ust, we all had bonding visits together each day with our kids in the orphanage gym/playroom. The kids hung out with us, playing and snacking their way through each 2 hour visit...this picture shows our Tanya having a juice box while Andrea plays with her two kids, Ivan and Sveta.

Fast forward 8 years and these kids who were then between age 6-8 are now all teenagers. It was like a mini Children's Home reunion with 6 KZ kids in our house, all from the same orphanage in Ust-Kamenogorsk. While the adults chatted and grilled hot dogs and burgers, the kids spent time looking at pictures and talking about their memories. It was a lovely visit with old friends but the best part of all was seeing how far these kids have come! All suffer from a history of trauma and most of them have special needs of one kind or another...but they're healthy and strong, happy and bonded, safe and loved. They have a home and a family...something none of them had in KZ. I believe that single factor makes all the difference...who could deny that a family trumps an institution as the preferred place to raise a child? Well, it depends on who you talk to.

Kazakhstan is closed for international adoption now for various political reasons. No children are being adopted internationally from KZ currently; only a small percentage of kids in KZ orphanages are adopted domestically...so that means when a child enters the orphanage system, they are probably there to stay. It's not up to me to judge whether the decision to close international adoptions is good or bad...the Kazakh people clearly cherish their children and view them as the future. I know that many government officials feel that international adoption takes their youth away from their homeland, never to return. I get that, I really do...and yet...where would these 6 kids be if they were still in KZ?

Two of them would be aging out of the system as adults at age 16; the other 4 would have 2-3 more years in the boarding school before they hit the streets. Here in the US, our kids all receive special education services that do not exist in KZ; they also by law can remain in the educational system until age 22, giving them more time to fill in some of the gaps in their learning. They have access to social services, therapy, and medical treatment that aren't available to them in Kazakhstan. Most importantly, they have us.

According to the statistics listed on the Kidsave International website (http://www.kidsave.org/need.shtml), staying in the system takes a heavy toll on children:
    The longer children live in institutions or foster homes without a stable, loving adult connection, the bleaker their future becomes.
  • 1 in 10 will commit suicide
  • Less than half will finish high school
  • 1 in 3 will be homeless
  • 50% will end up in jail
  • 1 in 4 will become parents before the age of 20, and their children will likely end up in orphanages or foster homes
  • Many will turn to drug trafficking or prostitution to survive
 I watched them today, these 6 children of Kazakhstan. I saw them laughing, renewing connections, exchanging phone numbers. I felt the ease of affection, the bonds they have forged with family. While it's true that there are no guarantees and bad things can happen to kids here in America, too, I have to feel that we've at least leveled the playing field. For these 6 kids (and a few others KZ kids I know and love), the future is brighter than it would have been...and they'll never be alone again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another kid from Kazakhstan

See the boy in this very blurry picture? He's my son Madiyar's best friend...and he's from Kazakhstan, too. This was taken while we were in KZ adopting our boys and Borya was also in the process of being adopted. He wasn't a Kidsave kid but he was definitely a boy who stole his American mom's heart at about the same age/time that my Madiyar and Aniyar stole mine. Just like my boys, it took years of trying to bring him home...well worth the wait and he brought a fab little sister with him to boot...oops, once again, I digress. Borya lives in Pennsylvania now but he's currently visiting us here in MA. The two boys are spending a month together, the first two weeks here with us and the next two weeks at Borya's home.

Here the boys are as we drove from PA to MA just last weekend. They're big 16 year olds now, not the 8 year old boys their moms met and fell in love with...but they're still in touch with each other and that's important, especially for these boys whose family consisted of their group mates in the orphanage system. Maybe it's not such a big world after all if we can keep this connection alive...and wait until you see what (or who) else we have coming up this weekend!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

8 years ago this summer...

a group called Kidsave International did a good thing, bringing a group of 15 children from an orphanage in the Republic of Kazakhstan to three different states in the US. They were coming to the US for a summer of fun, placed with families who would show them a good time.  At the very least, the kids would have experiences in a new country, live in a home for at least a little while and maybe even find a forever family. Some of the children went to Ohio, some to Michigan, and another group to Boston.

My husband, only child, and I were there when the five children from Kazakhstan stepped off a plane in Boston in the company of their orphanage caregiver in 2003. After several miscarriages, it was clear that expanding our family beyond our one child would take more than biology so we opened our hearts and took a leap of faith. Even though we didn't speak a word of Russian and we'd never heard of Kazakhstan before, we agreed to host the only girl from this group of 5 for a summer visit. That decision changed the course of our lives forever...and we weren't the only ones who were changed...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

On the first night Tanya spent in her home, she looked like this:

She was exhausted and scared and still managed to be as sassy as any 6 year old could ever be. We knew right away that she belonged in our family...and we started the paper chase for her adoption before she even finished her summer visit with us. It was hard to let her go back to Kazakhstan at the end of the summer but we knew (prayed) that we'd see her again in a few months, just as soon as our adoption petition was approved.

We were confident that the other kids who came to the US with Tanya would be adopted, too. They were 4 of the cutest boys you'd ever find anywhere on the planet and their host families clearly wanted to adopt them...so no problem. right? Well, not so much...but again, I'm ahead of myself. This pic shows Tanya with our Kate and two of the wickedly cute boys she came to the US with...Aniyar and Madiyar...who are now are sons. Sadly, the other two boys who traveled to the US never returned...but 3 of the 5 kids who came to Boston for that summer visit did get their forever family and it was us. (As if that weren't enough, we also met and adopted another of Tanya's groupmates, an 8 year old boy named Max, bringing our number of KZ kids to 4...plus the girl who desperately wanted a sister who started it all, our Kate.)

There's more to this story of the larger group of Kidsave kids, our own children, and their friends from KZ...it's what I'll be writing about in the next few days. Stay tuned....I'm thinking you won't want to miss a thing. I know I'm glad I haven't.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Missing monkey...

We returned home from our travels yesterday with 5 kids in our minivan...but they weren't exactly the same 5 we started out with. We ended our vacation with an overnight stay in Pennsylvania with friends who also have kids from Kazakhstan; we had a lovely visit with Anne, Fred, and their 6 kids before heading back to Massachusetts. To make things even more interesting, we brought Madiyar's best friend James home with us and left our Tanya in Pennsylvania to visit with the Giberson girls. The plan is to let the kids all hang out for a couple of weeks and then switch them around again...a good way for our kids to maintain ties to friends and to their culture as well as giving them new experiences. It's good for everyone...except for one little thing.

I miss my baby girl! 
She's never been away from us for this long since we adopted her over 7 years ago. Sniff sniff...I don't think  she's I'm ready for this after all. I miss my sassy/sweet monkey. I miss her jokes, her hugs, and her beautiful smile. I miss her funny faces...

and her mad skills at Guitar Hero...

and I'm not the only one...there's a big sister here in Massachusetts who wants her baby sis home again. There's no one to play with in a house now decidedly full of boys...outnumbered 4 to 1 and no one to do makeovers with...sigh.

 We know you're having fun, monkey...but we can't wait to have you home again!

Love, Mom, Dad, Kate...and don't worry, the boys will miss you, too, just as soon as they take a break from video games...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

So hot!

Sea World!

The next stop on our summer vacation and the temps are hovering around 100 degrees F. Water is a good thing; we've been petting dolphins and stingrays and staying damp whenever possible.

We're also just plain being foolish...click play on the bar below and observe the following:

Heat stroke...no other logical explanation...but we're having fun.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vacation Update

Thought I'd review the highlights of our family vacation as we proceed. First the background info; with airfares sky high, (Ha! Aren’t I funny?) we decided to drive our van to Florida this summer…then thought about the two of us with our 5 teens in the van for 3 days…and decided to split the difference, driving from Massachusetts to Virginia where we loaded said van and teens onto the auto train. We did just that last weekend.

We had 2 sleeper compartments on the train, with our large family, there’s no way to fit us all into one sleeper so Craig and the boys were in one compartment and the girls and I were in another in a different car. Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve traveled with just my girls and it felt like a party! Here’s some of what we did:

Played cards
Took pictures of us on the train
Got yelled at by the little old lady two compartments down for being too noisy. (It was 4:30pm, not midnight, for Pete’s sake!)
Giggled with my girls about being yelled at for being rowdy. (Usually I’m the one complaining about the racket, not encouraging it!)
Was reminded by one of my girls that the train was full of old people…not like us party animals! (So nice to not be in the old fogey club yet.)
Did pedicures (My toenails are now teal blue…)
The girls happily went off to an evening showing of Justin Beiber’s movie “Never Say Never” while I stayed alone in the compartment for over an hour of peaceful solitude before dinner. No, I didn’t go visit the boys. I locked my door and savored every second. After all, this was supposed to be a vacation!
Ate steaks cooked to order in the dining car with our 5 kids, definitely better than the peanuts and soda served on the airlines these days.
Retired to our sleeping compartment around 10pm. The girls vowed to watch movies and/or party for hours; they were asleep by 11:00.
Woke up in Florida, were back in our van by 10:00am rested and ready for our vacation to really begin. Gotta love trains!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Yes, we really are in Florida!

We're on vacation in the very hot Sunshine state after a trip down on the auto train. It's in the 90's with a heat index of about 110 degrees. We're staying with family, some of us at Craig's mom's house and some of us at at my mom's place. It's not a perfect arrangement but it is cost effective. Every day is an adventure, some better than others with 5 kids and 2 parents tooling around in our aging mini-van...here's an example of the drama in our lives. This was shot at noon time just the other day:

Yes, I know the video is sideways but I can't for the life of me get it rotated. My advice is to tilt your head to the left and enjoy. Too much time in a van with 6 other people + 100 degree heat + hunger pangs = a big glass of teenage whine from the drama queen.

Aniyar and Madiyar at the touch tank
When we finished whining (after lunch), we visited the Marine Science Aquarium....saw dolphins, sea otters, turtles and sharks and touched all kinds of sea critters. Some of us were braver than others. Some of us were afraid of the itty bitty crab and needed several tries before touching it. Wondering who I mean? I'll let you guess...but he's wearing a sleeveless white t-shirt.

Max’s birthday!

Our middle boy turned 14 on Saturday and we celebrated in high style for a teen boy. I’d say it was definitely a successful b-day for a boy whose favorite things are shoot-em-up stuff, video games, and food. 

  • We started the celebration with a lunch trip to the Willows, an old-fashioned amusement park here in town.
  • Later there was a birthday dinner designed just for our boy…mostly meat. Max loves barbecued pork ribs so he got a full rack of his very own and a promise that for one night, Mom wouldn’t nag him to eat his veggies. The rest of us shared ribs, fried chicken, fresh fruit, and green salad.
  • After dinner came presents and that’s when the real fun began…because Max got the coolest water guns ever, an Xploder 1000 and an Xploder blaster.
    • These babies work a lot like air-soft paintball guns but they shoot water-soaked gel pellets.
    • The pellets are biodegradable, good for the garden soil, and don’t hurt like paintballs…in short, a Mom approved weapon!
    • The other kids were gracious but green with envy when Max opened his gifts. Oh, don’t worry…Mom had a plan to cheer them up.
    • Since it’s not much fun to have a water gun fight alone, his siblings each got blasters of their own and a mega battle ensued. Even Dad was in on the action! There was shooting, screaming, little blue water balls all over the yard…and laughter that rang throughout the neighborhood. The fun went on until dusk, about the same time they all ran out of ammo.
Only his 6th. birthday with us, his first 8 being spent in Kazakhstan...I like to think we've had almost enough time with him to offset some of the trauma he suffered in his early years. I hope when he's grown, his happy memories outweigh his sad ones. For now, I'll bask in the comment he offered that this was his best birthday ever...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Independence Day

No pics of our own to share, just this Google image...because it wasn't a great night for photos...but the memories were awesome. We grilled steak tips, had watermelon and corn on the cob....then we walked a few blocks from our house to the waterfront. We watched the fireworks our town provides and they were cool, but it was the gift I got as the sky lit up that was the best.

Aniyar started it; he was a bit nervous and on the look out for bugs and other critters who might disrupt the order of our lives. He climbed up into my lap and wrapped us both in the sheet he had brought along as mosquito protection. After a few minutes, I noticed Madiyar edging his chair closer to us; soon he was wrapped up with us and the 3 of us were huddled under our little bug tent. I had one arm around the teen beside me and the other around the one in my lap...how many teen boys consent to cuddle with mom, I wonder? Maybe just the ones who didn't have a mom to cuddle with when they were little...maybe just the ones who have finally found a home...maybe just the ones who can finally trust...maybe just the ones who can finally be kids.  They stayed there through the whole show, all of us cuddled up tight and enjoying the pretty lights...and the healing.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Moving on...in so many ways

At the end of each academic year, our schools hold a moving on ceremony to transition each class to their next grade. It's a nice opportunity to celebrate the collective and individual successes of the students. It's also a chance for proud parents to snap photos and kids to strut their stuff as they move up in the pecking order, proud to be another year older and wiser. For our family, the phrase "moving on" has a deeper personal meaning.

Four of our 5 kids joined our family through adoption. All 4 come from Kazakhstan, a country on the other side of the earth; they all used to live in the orphanage system there. They all have suffered trauma and/or abuse. None of the 4 were babies when they joined us; they all have memories of their past life, demons to battle, and loved ones to miss. For our family, the moving on ceremony serves as a very real reminder of how far our kids have come in their transition from past to present. This is why I sit through each year's ceremonies with tears in my eyes...and this year was no exception. Here's how our kids finished up the 2010-2011 year:

My 6th grader!

My youngest son has only been in the country since early 2009. He struggles with FASD , PTSD, and a host of other issues related to trauma and abuse. In his first few months with us, he had to be hospitalized for his own (and our) safety due to his violent outbursts. He had to repeat 5th grade and is still below grade level academically...but he is moving on to middle school next year. I shed happy tears as I watched this sweet, smiling boy stand on a stage and sing songs with his classmates, something his anxiety would have prevented in the past. My heart swelled with pride as he was presented the 5th grade athletic award and his certificate of completion for elementary school. So much progress for our boy!

The high schoolers had their own ceremony in the morning. I barely had time to get settled in my seat when they started receiving accolades! I spent the next hour laughing and crying like a fool. The kids love it when I embarrass them by behaving like a proud mama...well, at least they didn't pretend not to know me.

Our Kate took home 3 awards this year, one for Significant Academic Achievement (think "Dean's List"), the 10th. grade English award (it's her 3rd year running to receive her grade's English award), and the 10th grade Science award. Kate's my one and only bio child so I can safely say she gets her love of literature from me. The science brain, however, clearly comes from her father. I should also mention that this girl is my baby, my diva, my drama queen, the only child who not only wanted siblings but much prefers her crazy life as one of 5 kids. How could I not get teary eyed as I watched my baby, now a beautiful young woman, confidently sashay up to claim her awards and enter her junior year of high school? And yes, dear, as one of your classmates said, you did look dope in that dress!!

Our Madiyar has been with us since 2009. When he first arrived in the US at age 13, he had a complete disdain for all things educational. He told me school was boring and he would never like it. He was far behind academically and was overwhelmed by the expectations of his grade level. His behavior was disruptive and his social skills were weak. As a result, he had to be removed from regular classes and taught one-on-one initially. Fast forward to this past week...our very proud young man took home an Academic Achievement Award (think Honor Roll), the Significant Academic Progress award (voted on by all the faculty), and the 9th. grade Fine Arts award. How could I not sniffle through that one?
My new 11th and 10th graders with their awards

The afternoon ceremony was for the lower school, grades 6 & 7, so I was back in my seat with my camera in hand for my two middle schoolers. It was another time of smiles and sniffles and memories for me.

Our Tanya has been with our family the longest of our KZ kids; she came to us at age 6 so she's had all of her education here in the US. Tanya has always loved school but due to her prenatal exposure to alcohol, learning and memorizing is difficult for her. This academic year was especially tough for Tanya. Even though she worked very hard, she was failing most of her classes for the first two trimesters. In the last trimester, with incredible support from her teachers and a monumental effort from our girl, Tanya's grades rose dramatically in all classes. Not only did she pass everything, she actually got an academic achievement award (again, think Honor Roll)! She also received a REACH award, a high honor at her school; she was nominated for this award by her Ancient Civilizations teacher who had been a witness to Tanya's improvements. (Her first trimester grade in Ancient Civ was 11%; she finished the year at 71%. For a child with memory issues in a class that's all about memorization and comprehension, this is akin to a small miracle.) There I was bawling like a baby...so proud.
Tanya and friend...look at that award winning smile!

Our Max came to us at age 8; he started school in the US in first grade so he's had most of his education here. He's inquisitive and a quick learner; he's been in our family long enough to feel secure and he was pretty stable through elementary school. However, he still struggles with anxiety disorder, PTSD, and abuse and abandonment issues. When he's anxious, he's angry...and this year, he's been anxious a lot of the time. He's also very disorganized and lacks focus; he has a diagnosis of ADHD. This was his first year of middle school, lots of changes and transitions...and change is tough for my boy. Then there's puberty...and so the year's been a bit of a wild ride...but he ended 6th grade on a very positive note, earning an Academic Achievement Award (Honor Roll, remember?) and receiving the 6th grade Science award for his scientific curiosity and "thinking outside of the box"! There I was, crying again as I watched my "I hate school, it's so lame, I'm just gonna fail anyway" boy proudly accept his recognition. Oh, my...I went through a lot of tissues...especially when he told me that he was  proud of himself!  It just doesn't get any better than that.

My proud new 8th and 7th graders

Moving on...that's what these kids are doing. They're all faced firmly forward and moving into a bright new future. They're dreaming big dreams of the places they'll go and the adventures they'll have along the way. I'm so glad I get to be a part of their journey!