Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Congratulations - It's a Girl!

After nearly 12 months of anxiously planning, preparing documents, and waiting for our daughter, we heard a simple statement yesterday that put huge smiles on our faces --- “your petition (to adopt) is approved”.  As our translator communicated each word from the judge, we waited for the final positive statement to be said.  When it finally came, I am sure we were all three grinning from ear to ear.  There were many hugs as we left the judge’s office.  Yes – court was held in the judge’s office as there are not very many courtrooms in Gorlovka!  The only downside was the phone which rang continuously.  She just picked up and put down the receiver each time without even looking! 
The whole process took about an hour, with the court consisting of our judge (who was feeling better but not great), the prosecutor (who asked most of the questions), the court reporter (who hand wrote all of her notes), and two witnesses.  The witnesses were citizens who were called in to hear the proceedings.  They didn’t get a vote, but they could ask questions. Neither did.  On our side, we had Helen, the psychologist from the orphanage.  She testified that Snezhana had turned down many families before us because she did not feel a bond with them.  In contrast, she feels that Snezhana has developed a strong bond with us.  After each visit, Snezhana met with Helen and told her how much she wants to be part of our family and live with us in Colorado.  In addition, one of the city officials, Oksana, testified that we met all of the Gorlovka city requirements for adoption.  She was present during our first meeting with Snezhana and she was impressed with how prepared we were.  We had written a letter to Snezhana, telling her about us and asking her questions about her favorite things.  She felt that we would be supportive of Snezhana and would put her needs first.
The prosecutor then asked us each some questions.  She wanted to know why we chose to adopt and specifically why we chose Ukraine.  Matt told her about Ukraine Orphan Outreach and our experiences with the children who visited the U.S. during the summer camps.  She asked why we wanted to adopt a child who was so old, and I told her that both of us had lots of experience working with children of that age and that we would enjoy seeing her develop into an adult.  They asked about our home only briefly.  We had brought lots of pictures, but when we offered to show them, we got a resounding – “Nyet!”  I guess nothing was going to slow down the proceedings.   They did ask about schools – would there be accommodations for her.  Matt told them about the special programs in our schools for children who don’t speak English.  The judge was surprised, and pleased.  They asked Snezhana if she wanted to be adopted by us, and she said yes.  They asked her about her family, specifically her grandfather, who telephones her sometimes at the orphanage.  She said that he was old and sick and couldn’t care for her.  They asked her if she did well in school and she said “Da! I am a good student!”
When it was all over, a tremendous sense of relief came over us.  There is still a 10-day waiting period (actually more like 14 days due to the Ukrainian holidays).  And there are still paperwork issues that may arise.  But, we enjoyed a wonderful celebration with Snezhana and her friends at the orphanage last night, and we are so happy to finally be able to share details and pictures with everyone about our new daughter.
Her name is Snezhana Kristen Hooker.  We love the name Snezhana and were so glad she didn’t want to change it.  It translates to Snow Princess or Snowflake, and her grandmother was the one who gave her the name because she came home from the hospital during a blizzard (her birthday is in March).  She chose her middle name from a list of about six that we came up with (with some of your help!).  We hope she will continue to use Snezhana, but if she chooses not to then Kristen is not a bad choice.  She is 13 years old and a talented artist.  She likes to draw and do all sorts of crafts.  Her favorite subject is history, and she has travelled to Italy three times for a hosting program.  She still speaks a good bit of Italian, and the experience definitely opened her eyes to new foods, etc.  She seems to love to travel and looks forward to seeing many states in the US very soon.  Her favorite books and movies are adventure stories and she loves Peter Pan especially.  Her favorite color is yellow and she is a thumb- and arm-wrestling champion. 
We are heading home (provided we can get through the winter storms in Germany) and hope to be back in Ukraine in early January to finish the process.  We cannot wait!!!  Thank to you to everyone at home who has helped and encouraged us along the way, especially to those at work who have made it possible for us to be here much longer than we originally thought so that we can finally write today’s blog entry as new parents!
Hooker family is all smiles after court!

Snezhana gets a hug of congratulations from the orphanage's psychologist.

A toast to Snezhana from her group at the orphanage.

A big smile from Snezhana Kristen Hooker!

Friday, December 17, 2010

No Court Yesterday

The cold weather has led to a rash of illnesses in Gorlovka, including (unfortunately) our judge who is currently in the hospital with "pneumonia".  We showed up for court yesterday, only to find no judge and to be rescheduled for Monday afternoon.   Our hope now is that she is up and around soon, feeling better, and ready for a speedy court!!!  It was heart-breaking to watch our girl tear up as she learned that court would not take place.  She is so ready to come home.  We were in the courthouse less than 10 minutes. 

While Monday is only 4 days away, the disruption has an impact on bringing our girl home.  The end of the 10-day wait now falls squarely in the middle of Ukrainian holidays, and we will not be able to get a new birth certificate or passport issued during that period.  We are likely facing a return in January to pick up our girl.  And just 24 hours ago, we were planning to celebrate New Years at home together.

We tried to make the best of it.  We spent the rest of the day at the orphanage playing with our girl and one of her friends.  We had planned on being busy all afternoon with court and passport photos and parties, so we didn't bring any new games or crafts to do.  We spent a lot of time just looking over all the pictures of home again (which was surprisingly comforting for all of us). After that, I was amazed at the ingenuity of the kids.  They were bored with our standard games, so they took the colored pieces from Trouble and made a game out of a magazine maze discussing different occupations.  We were bored with Uno so we made houses of cards.  We played tons of Tic-Tac-Toe. The kids outside smoothed an ice track for "skating".  It was really fun to watch.

The kids are amazing and we are so lucky to have good friends, family, and coworkers that make it possible for us to be here for this extra time.  We are hoping to get back on track soon everyone.  Be advised, though - your Christmas presents and cards will be on Russian Orthodox schedule this year!

Just like the people inside, the dogs formed a line at the courthouse.

One of the kids at the orphanage finds new things to do with a deck of Uno cards

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We Have a Court Date

We finally have a court date!!!  December 16 (Thursday) is the magic day, and we can hardly wait.  We were visiting our girl at the orphanage when we got the news, and she could tell by our expressions that something great had just happened.  In that moment, I totally blanked on the Russian word for “court”, but the minute I said Thursday, she put it all together.  We were all ecstatic, and it was such a joy to watch her get excited and give us a great big hug.  She wants this as much as we do!!!
We had a wonderful visit at the orphanage yesterday afternoon.  We were able to spend our 4 hours there in our girl’s room, which was a lot nicer (and warmer) than the “dining” room where we have been meeting.  She had set up a table in the middle of the room so that we could do puzzles and games (it wasn't there the day before).  And she has all the things we've made displayed around the room (puzzles, coloring book pages, crafts).  Her latest addition was a series of coloring book pages we completed the day before taped on her door.  It is very cute!  She also asked if she could invite her friends to play games with us after we did our puzzle, so we played several hands of Uno and some games of Trouble with her and two of her friends.  It was wonderful to watch her interact with them.  Much giggling was involved!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Crafts - Ukrainian Style

Thank you to everyone for the many prayers, emails and comments regarding the hearing we attended last week.  Another formality, I suppose.  But for those of you who have been on this side, each formality comes with an almost paralyzing fear that something could go wrong.  However, we were able to breathe a tremendous sigh of relief when we learned the outcome was positive.  Approval to continue with the adoption was given within 20 minutes.  There were very nice comments from the Deputy Mayor, which made us all smile.  The Mayor signed off on the required documents, and they were off to SDA (State Department for Adoption) while the ink was still drying.
So ---- as many of you have guessed, we are now in a holding pattern just waiting for our court date.  Things are moving slowly in part due to the typical end-of-year craziness in the courts here in Ukraine.  In addition, there are also implications for the elderly in 2011 associated with new tax laws, so the courts have additional cases to hear in December.  Net result:  we have not yet been assigned either a judge or a court date.  We are still hopeful this will happen soon. 
While we are waiting though, we have gotten to spend lots of time together as a (dare I say it) family.  Most of that has been spent at the orphanage, and all of the caretakers have been very nice to us.  Our first few visits were spent in the “visitor area”, a room with a couch, two chairs, a table, and one light.  No heat, though, which would be a nice addition.  We played several frosty games of Uno there.  Fortunately, after a few visits, they felt comfortable with us venturing upstairs and they have let us use one of the rooms in which the kids eat their meals.  It has two long tables with bench-style seating and is a great space for games, puzzles, and crafts.  It is still cold, but not nearly as cold.  And, both lights work.  Awesome!
Things are relatively quiet at the orphanage right now as about half of the kids are away at camp.  Even still, it is fun to sit in our room and listen to the kids playing outside the door.  Sometimes they sing along with the videos they are watching on TV.  Sometimes it sounds like they are running at full speed up and down the halls.  The orphanage we are at started out as a hospital.  It has long hallways and lots of small rooms.  Our girl shares a room with one other girl (who is away at camp).  They have nice bunk beds, a sink, and a bookcase.  She has been decorating with all of the things we’ve been making so her room looks pretty festive right now. 
We’ve had about 4 hours a day together, so we’ve tried to do several activities each time just to keep us all from getting bored.  Our staples are Uno, Trouble, Yahtzee, and puzzles.  We mix it up with craft projects, some of which we brought from America and some of which we purchased here in Ukraine.  The latter have definitely been interesting.   Some new friends took us to a store with lots of Christmas decorations and some packaged crafts to make (everything you need included in the kit).  My favorite so far has been the penguins.  Pretty straightforward – Styrofoam balls for the head and body, felt coverings, and some felt pieces for the feet, etc.  The body covering was the only tricky part.  Instead of the pressed felt that you see in the US, the felt came as loosely matted strands that you “attached” to the Styrofoam by poking it into the balls with a small flat blade (included, thankfully – don’t know what we would have improvised with).  This will come as no surprise to some of you, but I managed to poke my finger pretty good with this.  It made me wonder – is this kid-tested, mother-approved?
For all you South Carolina folks, I made the red penguin in the picture below and, yes, he resembles a Carolina Gamecock!  We made up for it by making a set of carol singers the next day (another Ukrainian craft) and one of them is orange --- Go Tigers!
Penguin craft - are there red penguins???

I call these carolers - they were fun and quick to make but a few more instructions would have been helpful

We made dozens of beaded candy canes and then had fun making shapes out of them!

Salt clay craft our girl made for us at school - very pretty!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Prayers Needed

We learned today that we have a critical meeting tomorrow at 8:00am.  We are nervous, but hopeful that this will take us one step closer to getting our process moving. Please think of us, especially tonight!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

First Meetings

So much has happened since we arrived in Gorlovka on Thursday night, that I hardly know where to start.  On Friday morning, we met with two social workers to discuss our suitability to adopt from the Gorlovka orphanage.  There were lots of questions about our background, our families, our home, the school system in our city, and what training we were required to take for our home study.  While the questioning was nerve-wracking at first, these women truly have the children’s best interests at heart.  They explained that they became attached to each child and how happy they were that one of them would now become part of our family.  Laughter and smiles were pervasive throughout the interview, and we left with a very good feeling.
Next, we visited the orphanage and were asked many of the same questions by the Associate Director and the psychologist.  After two hours, we had told our full story three times, and we still hadn’t met our potential daughter yet.  A headache was coming on, and I felt like I was on an extremely important job interview for the role of adoptive parent and I wasn’t sure if I would get the job or not. Finally, though we got to meet our girl (she had been in school).  It was a bit awkward due to the large crowd, including translator, social worker, Assistant Director, psychologist, and the three of us.  We showed her photographs of us, our home, our family and our friends.  We also gave her a letter we wrote introducing ourselves.  The letter included lots of questions of things we would like to learn about her – her favorite foods (not eggs), favorite color (yellow), favorite subject in school (history), favorite movie (Peter Pan), etc.  We were so happy that she asked us questions too.  She asked us what we liked to do for fun, what kind of movies we liked, who our favorite authors are, etc.  She really liked our house and our dogs from the pictures.  And she seemed very comfortable with us!  The first day didn’t result in an immediate yes to the question of adoption.  But, she clearly wanted to spend more time together, which made us very happy.
Over the weekend, we’ve had two great visits to the orphanage.  On one hand, we feel a bit sorry for our girl, as most of the kids are away at camp right now (only 5 kids remain in the entire orphanage).  We are the cause of her staying behind.  But, she doesn’t seem to mind!  We’ve mostly spent time in a small room with no heat and only minimal light, but it is private and has a sofa, chairs, and table in it.  The orphanage caretakers are all friendly and seem genuinely happy for her.  Thankfully, our translator has been able to come with us for these visits, and she is very good with explaining everything in English and in Russian.  On Saturday, we talked some and then played Uno and Yahtzee.  On Sunday, we talked some more and then made some beaded jewelry.   On Saturday, she mentioned that she loved art, on Sunday she had a sketchpad with her to show us some of her artwork.  That was very special that she thought to do that, and she is an excellent artist.

Tomorrow we have the important paperwork to do.  There are some additional documents needed because of a family situation (which I will explain later), and she still needs to write a letter saying she wants to be adopted.  Hopefully, once those things are done, we can file for a court date.  We aren’t sure when it will be, but we are obviously hoping for as soon as possible.
While visiting the orphanage and doing paperwork has been our primary focus, it has been very fun to have another family here in Gorlovka and we have made the most of it.  We’ve had great fun at breakfast and dinner getting to know each other better.  This morning, we were all able to go to a local church service run by some missionaries from Florida.  They have been in Gorlovka on and off since 1992 (mostly on for the last 10 years.  It was wonderful hearing praise hymns like “Shine Jesus Shine” in Russian!  In addition to an extensive mission through a baby hospital they helped establish, this couple also works with the orphanage we are adopting from (Hope Orphanage).  They set up sponsors for the kids there and take them shopping periodically and buy them gifts for holidays like their birthday and New Years.  They also stock a small store on site, so the kids can buy small items like Cokes and shampoo using credit they earn from chores.  Finally, they have activities at the church for them, like a spring tea.  This is a wonderful ministry, and I am sure the kids love the individual attention!  If you are interested in sponsoring a child (right now 19 out of 53 currently need sponsors), check out their blog at http://sparrowshope.blogspot.com/.   We can tell you more when we get home, too.
Finally, tonight was really fun.  We came back from the orphanage to find the staff and our friends sitting together in the common area, sharing a cake in honor of Ira’s birthday.  Ira works at the front desk and is young, beautiful, and speaks excellent English.  This was such a treat to be a part of their celebration and talk with all of the people here more.  They were so welcoming and there was lots of laughter!  I loved it.
So far, despite gloomy weather, we have had wonderful days in Gorlovka, thanks to the kindness of friends (old and new).  We are truly lucky! 

This store is very popular in Gorlovka - sort of like a SuperWalmart.  One of my favorite snacks to buy is still the Bacon-Flavored Peanuts!  Lots of interesting snack choices here and some wonderful fruit.  About a 15 minute walk from our hotel.  

Christmas shopping at the Amstor - other than the Cyrillic letters on this signs, I might think I am in America!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

With a Little Help from Our Friends

Tonight we have in hand, the magic document – our permission to go to the orphanage in Gorlovka and visit our girl.  Nothing special associated with picking up the referral (thankfully).  By 5 pm, we were heading out of Kiev in a taxi on the way to the airport.  About 10 miles from the airport, however, I noticed we were losing speed and our driver began drifting to the right.  I wondered if he knew road conditions were getting bad up ahead.  But, no, it was simply that we had no more gas.  Our driver coasted several minutes or so (Matt thinks this was really just us sliding on the ice) before finally stopping.  We had seen many cars broken down along the way on our previous journeys, and we had even heard the story of friends whose taxi driver stopped to help another stranded car while taking them to the airport. 
You have to appreciate how people help each other here.  Within minutes, a good Samaritan had come to our rescue.  Our driver, a Ukrainian boy scout, was prepared for the situation.  He brought out a long strap (many of you have seen this before), hooked us up to the tiny car of our new friend, and together we were off.  A few minutes later we were at the gas station waving good-bye.  Our taxi driver added about a quarter of a tank of fuel, and we were on our way.  Thank you so much to our kind rescuer!!!  I just hope our driver had enough fuel to make it home.
The flight was uneventful, and we were met at the airport by our facilitator’s driver.  Within 45 minutes we were checked in at the Pension Ukraina in Gorlovka.  The hotel is really nice, and we were so surprised to see a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers in our room, courtesy of our wonderful friends, Carol and Roger, who are also in Gorlovka for their adoption.  We can’t wait to see them at breakfast in the morning and thank them for this wonderful welcome. 
We spent the last hour looking over our magic referral document.  Thanks to Google Translate, we were able to read through it (a single page – mostly names and stamps).  We learned that we need to visit our girl within a reasonable time (by when?) or the SDA needs to be notified (by whom?).  The document doesn’t give specifics and doesn’t say what will happen if we don’t visit, but we don’t intend to find out.  We plan to visit around 11am tomorrow, and we can’t wait! 
I was proud of Matt’s translating skills.  Without Google, he figured out that the document ends with a reference to our dossier, which has 83 pages.  So for those of you who wonder what we’ve been doing much of this year, it can be summed up pretty well in 83 notarized and apostilled pages, now neatly bound in twine!

Welcome to Gorlovka!