Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thursday night and then Friday

After having dinner at Pizza Roma in Sofia on Thursday evening with our friends Paul and CeAnne, the four of us made our way back down the boulevard towards our apartment building. The wind had become bitterly cold, and we were walking right into it. Also, all of the shops that we had passed earlier on our way to dinner were now closed for the evening, even the pastry shop. CeAnne and I would have to wait for our sweets.

I spent most of that night in the apartment sending emails back and forth with my younger sister, who is such a source of strength and support, and also sending emails to my close friends about how our visits at the orphanage had went.  Earlier in the week at the hotel, the free wifi provided at the hotel turned out not to have very strong signal so I had been unable to stay on the internet long enough to get an email out to anyone. I was definitely making up for lost opportunities in that department now that we were at the apartment.

Rob and I also got a chance to talk to our daughter that night. I literally cried with happiness at the sound of her voice. She wanted to know when Daddy and I were coming home, but more importantly, what kind of presents we were bringing her. I remember being the same way when my parents went out of town as a child. She did ask a few questions about her brother like whether or not he liked the ball or the stuffed dog that we had brought him.

Rob and I finally crashed somewhere in the wee hours of the morning completely exhausted from our busy day. When we awoke in the morning, I prepared some oatmeal that I had brought with me from the states for breakfast and then we decided to leave the apartment for a few minutes to look for souvenirs of our trip. Rob and I found a great little, and I mean little, shop near the apartment in a group of underground shops near the subway station. The shop was so small that once Rob and I were inside with the sales woman, no one else could enter the store. We purchased several pieces of pottery there, some small dolls, and a beautiful wooden carved plate. Our sales woman could not speak any English, but we managed. And, I think we got some really good deals in the process. We headed back to the apartment with our purchases to meet our coordinator from Vesta.

After our meeting with Rosie, Rob and I hooked up with CeAnne and Paul again, and we decided to head down the boulevard to do some more shopping and sightseeing.  As we began walking down the boulevard, we noticed a trolley going down the street covered in Christmas decorations. To our delight, the trolley stopped and who should walk out of it to greet some children in front of us, but Santa Claus! This definitely put us in the Christmas spirit. We soon found a small shop that had lots of Christmas linens, ornaments and other holiday fare. Rob and I bought a few Christmas decorations, including a snowglobe for Julia, and then the four of us headed out to find a restaurant for our empty stomachs. We ended up eating at Pizza Roma again for our next meal, and once again, it was delicious. After we ate, we continued down the boulevard looking at shops and then finally toured a 10th century church.

We stopped in a few more shops and then began making our way back to the apartment. But, CeAnne and I were keeping our eyes peeled for the pastry shop. We were not going to miss our opportunity again! Can you blame us?  Let's just say we all had a hard time making a decision!

After leaving the pastry shop, we walked back to our apartment building. CeAnne and Paul were leaving for the airport on Saturday much earlier than Rob and I (5:30 am) so we said goodnight to our friends so they could get some rest. I really wished that we could have stayed up all night and chatted together over coffee and pastries, but I also knew they needed sleep. However, Rob and I did set our alarm so that we would get up in time to see our friends off even though our flight was not leaving until 2:00 p.m that afternoon.

We were sad to see our new friends leave. It is hard to explain the bond that we formed through our shared experiences that week. We were truly glad to have gotten to know them and spend so much time with them.  After they left, Rob and I suddenly felt very alone. We began packing all of our things, including our souvenirs and waited for Ettie's call to say she was downstairs to take us to the airport. Ettie arrived at noon, and we said goodbye (for now) to Sofia.

Three hours later, Rob and I arrived in Paris, France where we stayed the night. Our flight back to the states left at 8:30 the next morning, and by Sunday night around 7:00 p.m. we were back home in Tennessee.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thursday in Bulgaria

On Thursday morning, Rob and I got up early to pack our bags as we knew we would be leaving the town in which our son was located in Bulgaria and heading back to Sofia after lunch that day. Both of us seemed to be dragging our feet by the time we made it downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. I know a great deal of this had to do with lack of sleep the night before, but part of it was dreading what was about to happen that day. It was hard to tell over my cold crepe with jam that morning which was the more prominent reason. Lack of sleep can affect one's cognitive abilities as well as physical response time, and basically, my brain was a little fuzzy that morning.

Rob and I had a difficult time trying to get to sleep the night before as I was missing our daughter in the states terribly, and there was a great deal of noise on the street outside our hotel room for most of the night. We had been told by our translator that the town where we were staying was having a big festival over the weekend, but apparently, the locals had decided to start celebrating a little early. People were laughing and talking loudly on the street below and an incessant car alarm kept going off on the street below as well. One would think that being on the seventh floor of the hotel would shield a person from such street noise, but we had no such luck. Neither did our new friends, Paul and CeAnne, in the hotel room down the hall. We would find out later that they were also up until about 4:00 a.m. because of the street noise, and at one time, they counted over 20 cabs lining the one-way street in front of our hotel, picking up and dropping off new fares.

At any rate, by 9:00 a.m. all four of us were down in the hotel lobby with our luggage ready to check out of the hotel and head to our last visit with our children at the orphanages. Our driver and translator, Ettie, then asked us to pay for any charges that we had acquired in addition to our room rate as Vesta had already paid for our rooms. Rob and I had drank a large (32 or 48 oz) water from our fridge and a box of green apple juice (yes, it was green in color and made from Granny Smith apples), which ended up being about $2.00 USD. The water alone would have been about $10.00 USD in many American hotels. What a bargain!

After settling up with the front desk at the hotel, we headed out to the car to cram all of our luggage in the small compact sedan that we had been traveling in all week. The car also had a luggage carrier on top, but on this day it did not want to completely close or lock. Rob and Paul climbed up to get a better look and finally managed to get it closed and locked after rearranging the luggage several times. Then, we were off to drop CeAnne and Paul off at the orphanage where their little girl was, and by 9:30, Ettie was dropping us off at our son's orphanage across town.

Ettie came in only for a few minutes that morning before our son was brought into the room, and then she left to take pictures and get information of other children available for adoption in the orphanage where Paul and CeAnne's little girl was located. This was the first time all week that we had been left with our son at his orphanage without a translator for the whole visit, and this was our last visit with him on this trip.

I am not sure if he sensed that we would be leaving that day or if for some reason he too had not gotten a good night's sleep, but his demeanor was different that day. He did not interact with Rob and I as much as he had in the previous visits and gave us very little eye contact. He did not seemed interested in playing with any of the toys and items that on previous days had made him burst into laughter. He seemed mostly interested in opening and closing the doors to the social worker's office that day, and Rob and I could not seem to change his mind about that.

And, then as quickly as it had begun, our visit ended abruptly without any warning. A teacher from downstairs came to take our son away for lunch before we could even try and hug him goodbye. Our translator had not returned yet from the other orphanage so we were unable to stop the teacher or make her understand that we were not coming back later that afternoon. There we sat in stunned silence.

Ten minutes or so after son disappeared with the teacher, the social worker for the orphanage came back up to her office. She knew only a few words of English, and we knew even less Bulgarian. However, she was doing her best to try and communicate with us. Finally, she looked at me and said "Four o'clock?"  I knew then that she was asking if we were coming back later for our usual afternoon visit, and I also realized that the staff had not known that this visit was our last. I said, "No." She then said, "Sofia?" and, I knew that she was asking if we were going back to Sofia that day, and I said "Yes." She then motioned for Rob and I to follow her downstairs toward the door where we would wait outside for Ettie. Rob handed her the gifts that we had brought originally for the director of the orphanage, but we had decided the night before that we would give them to the social worker since she was so kind and we had not met or seen the director of the orphanage while were were there. We also handed her the toys and blanket for our son. We then proceeded down the long hallway leading to the stairs and eventually to outside.

After we were standing at the bottom of the steps outside the orphanage, the social worker turned to us and said in broken English, "Bulgaria and back to United States. United States and back to Bulgaria." Rob and I nodded to tell her that we would be back. She then disappeared inside the orphanage, and Rob and I stood in the cold waiting for Ettie.

Ettie arrived a few minutes later with Paul and CeAnne and then she drove us back into the town to have lunch at the the Vanilla restaurant in the mall again before we headed back to Sofia. For whatever reason (maybe stress relief), we all decided that today would be a perfect day to have dessert. Ettie had creme brulee, Rob had strawberry ice cream, Paul had a fruit plate, CeAnne had a dessert crepe with fruit and chocolate, and I decided on apple pie with ice cream. Now the name of the restaurant was Vanilla and the picture of my dessert showed a white colored ice cream with the apple pie so one would assume it was vanilla. In Bulgaria, never assume anything. It was pistachio!

After stuffing ourselves on dessert, our weary band of travelers got back in the car and began making the three hour journey back to Sofia. We were all full and exhausted so no one talked. The guys napped, CeAnne snapped some great photos of the countryside as the car sped down the highway, and I just stared out at the scenery trying to take it all in and wondering when our next trip to Bulgaria would be. The trip seemed to go much faster this time, and we arrived back in Sofia before nightfall.

We were all staying in the same apartment building as we had been in during the earlier part of the week, but we were in different apartments. The four of us decided to meet up after an hour or so of rest and to do a little exploration of Sofia and grab some dinner. The weather had gotten much colder that day, and our translator had told us that the weatherman was forecasting snow for Friday or Saturday so we all bundled up for our little outing.

We headed around the corner from our apartment building and down Vistosha Boulevard. Rob and I were amazed at all the high end clothing stores and other boutiques on this street, including Versace, Emporio Armani, Boss and LaCoste. Every now and then these posh stores would be accented by a small currency exchange place or a small liquor store on one side.

As we traveled down the boulevard, CeAnne and I spied a delicious looking bakery and made a mental note to come back and find some yummy things for dessert tonight or breakfast in the morning. We then began looking for a restaurant for dinner, and finally spied a sign for a place called Pizza Roma down a side street. The sign led us through a small alley and into a courtyard where we found the restaurant at the far side of the courtyard. To our delight, the restaurant had English menus and the staff spoke very good English. We spent dinner in deep conversation about our experiences at the two orphanages and the challenges that we knew we and our children would face together in the future.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wednesday in Bulgaria

Wednesday morning in Bulgaria began as the two previous days before it. Rob and I had settled into a pattern largely because of our schedule. We would wake up and get dressed in our hotel room and then go downstairs to the hotel restaurant to exchange our meal tickets for breakfast. While we thoroughly enjoyed the lunch that we had previously in the hotel restaurant, breakfast was another story.

Breakfast was served buffet style every morning, and every morning the same items were on the buffet. To drink, there was coffee, water and an orange drink that I can only compare to Tang but much sweeter (think a flat orange soda). To eat, were several cured meats that looked similar to salami, some limp, undercooked bacon, boiled eggs, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives. You could also make yourself some toast, but there was only white bread for the toast. For those of you who know me well,  you know that I only eat whole grain bread and have not touched a slice of white bread in years so toast was out. I also enjoy feta cheese and the assorted vegetables, just not for breakfast. I guess that I prefer much more traditional Western fare for breakfast.

Did I mention that Bulgarians also have a fascination for corn flakes? They use is as a breading on their chicken planks (tenders), and it was the only cereal served in the hotel at breakfast. The only problem was there was no milk. Rob, on that fateful morning, decided to try the cornflakes and poured a liquid over them from a carafe that was white in color and appeared to be milk. Alas, it was actually some type of yogurt drink and very sour, and it managed to sour Rob's appetite that morning.

After breakfast, Rob and I would then meet our driver and translator in the lobby of the hotel. Our translator Rosie would then go over our schedule for the day. On this particular day, we had a slight schedule change. Rob and I were to visit our little boy in the morning as usual, but later in the day, we were to take him to get his visa photo made in the marketplace across the street from the hotel. So, we drove the twenty minutes across town to our son's orphanage and went in for our daily morning visit. I brought the usual toys for our little boy to play with and a box of baby wipes. Because of his cleft palate issues, our little boy drools a lot so I wanted to be prepared.

For the first time all week, the orphanage doctor had removed the patch from our son's eye, which she was using to treat his strabismus, so we could finally see both of his beautiful brown eyes at the same time. I also think this helped him to see us better. Our little boy and Rob began playing with the balloons again, but he quickly wanted to move on to something else so we got out the Doodle-Pro. This lasted for a few minutes and then I gave him a box of crayons and a coloring book. Our little boy was really not sure what to do with these items, so I demonstrated how to use the crayons on the coloring book. He then took a crayon drew a few squiggly lines on the coloring book and put the crayon back in its box.  After that, he began dumping the crayons, all twenty-four, out of the box and meticulously putting them back in the box. He did this at least fifteen or more times while I sat with him. This proved to me and Rob that his fine motor skills were much better than we had been told.

There were many repetitive things like this that our little boy did over the course of the week, like opening and closing the door to the social worker's office twenty or thirty times each visit. At first, these repetitive behaviors alarmed me and Rob because we had never seen a child do such things and it was difficult to get our little boy's attention at times when he was in the middle of performing these tasks. However, after being home and showing the videos that we made of him during our trip to several professionals, we now understand that this was probably our son's way of stimulating himself and his idea of play. No one has ever shown him how to color in a coloring book, no one has ever sat down and read a book with him on a day to day basis, and no one has ever shown him how to play with a toy fire engine or truck. No one has ever taught him how to play. The realization of what we knew to be a strong possibility regarding his development in this area and others was difficult to see and to hear, but we also understand now how these things can be mitigated and how great improvement can be achieved over time.

At a little before noon that day, our morning visit ended. It was lunch time for our little one so one of the orphanage staff came to take him away for his meal. Our driver had also arrived outside to take Rob and I back to the hotel where we met up with our new friends from Oregon for lunch. On this day, we decided to eat in a restaurant called Vanilla that was in a small mall right next to our hotel. After lunch, we went back to the hotel to take a short rest before meeting our driver, the social worker and our son in front of the hotel at 1:00 p.m.

hoodie and an oversized coat to keep him warm. Rob took his hand and began to lead him across the street to the marketplace where the photo shop was located. As we neared our driver's car, our son began to cry inconsolably, so Rob picked him up in his arms and carried him the rest of the way to the photo shop. This time, our little boy did not try and wriggle out of Rob's arms, but, instead, he seemed to be content taking in all of the new sights. This was the first time that our little boy had ever been outside of his orphanage. I can only imagine what he was thinking of all the new things he was seeing, the sounds that he was hearing, and all of the new smells that were permeating his nose.

We entered the photo shop with its bright lights and noise, and Rob put our little boy down so the social worker could lead him to the chair in which he had to sit in order for the visa photo to be taken. Our little boy was very cooperative for a child who had never been in a photo shop. After several takes, the perfect picture was acquired by the cameraman, and Rob and I held each of our little boy's hands as we led him back over to the other side of the street to get in the car.

Rob and I got in the back seat of the car with our son while the social worker sat in the front seat with our driver. As soon as the key was turned in the ignition and the engine started, our little boy began to scream and cry. He also began trying desperately to get out of the car. Did I mention that he had not been outside the orphanage before? This also means that he had also not been in a car before except for the trip to meet us at the hotel. I think this explains his crying episode when he saw the car as we were walking to the marketplace. He screamed and cried while Rob held him (there was no car seat in the car) all the way back to the orphanage, which was about a twenty minute drive. The only time that he stopped crying was when the car would stop at a stop light. I can only imagine that the drive itself and being in a car for the first time zipping through the city was a huge amount of sensory overload that terrified our little guy. I tried to distract him as Rob held him fast so he would not injure himself during the trip. When we finally arrived at the orphanage, the crying stopped as soon as the car did and then we went inside for our afternoon visit.

I really don't remember a lot of specifics about that visit except toward the end of the evening. After being with our son for about two hours at the orphanage, the social worker asked us through our translator if we would like to walk our son downstairs before we left. This was big since we had not been allowed all week to leave the small office area for any of our visits. Rob took one hand and I took the other as we led our little guy down the hall and then down the stairs. He has a lot of difficulty managing stairs, but Rob and I are hopeful that a little PT when we get him home will go a long way in that department. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, Rob bent down and hugged him goodbye and then I followed and did the same. Rob then turned to open the door for us to leave, and a strange but good thing happened. Our little boy started to cry. When we got outside with our translator, Rob asked me, "Did what I think just happened really happen?" I responded that if he meant our little boy was crying because we were leaving then the answer was "Yes." It was a little glimmer of hope that some attachment had formed and that we were making progress.

There is a long walkway that parallels the side of the orphanage that we would take as we would leave each evening. The orphanage wall that is next to the walkway is lined with rows of large windows, so we could see our little boy and the social worker as they walked down the hallway and toward the dining area. Rob ran down the walkway and to another flight of stairs at the opposite end of the building. He then ran up the stairs and tapped on the glass of the door as our little boy and the social worker walked near the door. Our little boy laughed to see his daddy being so silly. It was another touching moment in a very long day.

At dinner that evening, we had a lot to think about from all that had transpired that day. Our new friends from Oregon also shared the latest about their visits that day with their daughter. It had become our nightly ritual and how we all would wind down from the day.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Loss of words

As you probably noticed, I stopped blogging during our stay in Bulgaria. It was never my intention to cease writing about our experiences while in country and with our little boy, but frankly, I was very quickly overcome with a loss of words or the simple desire to put pen to paper so to speak. Our schedule while in country was a very grueling one, and our visits with our little boy, while much needed and desired, were emotionally draining to say the least. By Tuesday evening, Rob and I both were not sleeping very well, which did not help where my writing was concerned. I think that the jet lag was partially to blame and the rest of the sleeplessness could be attributed to stress.

No matter how much you prepare for that week of being with your child for the first time, there will be those things that crop up that take you completely by surprise. For us, some of those things came about quickly and were heartbreaking to say the least. Our little boy is precious but being in an institutionalized setting for the last three and half years has taken a toll on him. We learned shortly after my last post while in country that he had been moved to the orphanage that we were seeing him in only a few months earlier. Before that he had been in a place called the baby orphanage in his city that is actually one of the largest orphanages in all of Bulgaria. However, because of lack of funding and other issues, this orphanage which is home to over 240 children ranging in age from zero to three years is staffed by a little over 20 caregivers. Over half of these caregivers go home everyday at 3:00 pm leaving a skeleton crew to care for the children in the evening. Even with the best staff in the world, this would be an impossible situation.

The orphanage where our little boy now resides is mainly home to 40 or 50 toddlers and has a much larger staff. Because of the caregiver to child ratio in this orphanage, the children have much more one on one time and are actually in more of a pre-school setting. We were not able to meet the director of our son's orphanage during our stay, but we were able to meet daily with the orphanage's social worker who was a very nice woman who genuinely cared for the children. Through our translator, she was able to answer many of our questions regarding our son's care while in the new orphanage. She was also curious about his new family to be and asked us questions as well, which I appreciated. She was very excited to learn that our daughter's name was Julia and commented how our son's name had the same meaning as Julia's in Bulgarian. It was in a small room outside her office where we would meet with our son and our translator each day.

On Tuesday, our second day of visiting with our son, we were allowed to speak with the orphanage doctor who had been handling our son's medical care for the last six months since his move to the new orphanage. From her, we learned that our son's palate was not completely repaired as we had understood before our trip and that he still had a hole in his palate. The orphanage has scheduled his next surgery to repair the palate in April of 2011. Our son is extremely small for his age, which is partly due to lack of one on one care, but the orphanage doctor also believes that his size is directly related to his palate issues as well since it can cause problems with feeding. She also explained that this is why our son's speech has been delayed. Rob and I were prepared for the delay in speech although we were not completely prepared for the total lack of it or our son's loss of weight since the earlier pictures of him were taken. We realized that he would need speech therapy after the palate was repaired, but it appears he will also need feeding therapy. He has only been fed soft foods for the last three and half years because of his palate issues, and this can cause sensory issues post surgery when new, more solid foods are introduced into the diet. Children with these type of sensory issues related to food are typically defensive with the introduction of new solid foods and foods with different textures. When I asked the doctor and the social worker that day what our little boy liked to eat, the social worker informed me that he had a very good appetite and liked all foods, including chicken and pork....it just has to be mashed. At least that was some good news.

After the doctor left, Rob and I decided to try and have some fun with our little guy, so I pulled out a bag of balloons that I had purchased at Target the day before we left for Bulgaria. The balloons had been a suggestion of another mom that follows my blog, and it turned out to be a great one. Rob blew up one of the balloons so we could show our little boy how to bounce it back and forth in the air. He quickly caught on and began bouncing the balloon to me, Rob and our translator. Rob being somewhat of a comedian then decided to blow up a balloon, not tie the end, and let it go. Our little boy loved it! For Rob's efforts, he was rewarded with a huge belly laugh. And, when the balloon landed at our son's feet deflated, he immediately picked it up and gave it back to Rob. Without using words, he said to Rob, "Daddy, please do this again."

As you can see, the day was a mixed bag of emotions with both highs and lows. Someday, when our little boy is legally ours in the eyes of the Bulgarian government and we have passed court, I will share with you more from this day, including video of the great balloon caper. I also want to share more of our trip to Bulgaria with you in my next post. And, I promise that it won't take me another month to write it!