Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meeting Sterling!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Day 1 of visits!

This is going to be long…it was a long and very busy day.
We got up at 4 am on Wednesday to head to region to meet Sterling. Well, actually Brian got up; I never went to sleep. We finished the packing the little things and waited for Nico to call and tell us he was downstairs. I tried to take a shower but apparently hot water doesn’t work at 4am. So my day didn’t start out to great. I had gotten ZERO sleep and I couldn’t even shower. At just a few minutes past 5 we got the call and Brian started taking our things down to the van.

Once packed, we headed out of the city and towards the “highway”.  Nico and I had a really interesting conversation regarding history, world languages and foreign studies. Brian slept.
It was a loooooong ride. The only positive was we, well I, got to watch this amazing sunrise. We were driving pretty much due east the whole morning and I was able to get the entire sunrise. The pictures aren’t fabulous…they were taken with my phone, but the rural part of the country is very beautiful. I can’t tell you how many corn fields we passed. At one point we were stopped by a herd of cattle who were roaming the highway headed out to pasture with their “cowboys” herding them. Amusing to say the least. We also passed countless roosters, goats, horses, and even a lamb (more to come on him later.) We stopped only once for Nico to smoke other than that we drove for 5 hours straight. Brian and I napped on and off but it was really hard. It was a REALLY bumpy ride…no kidding. The road seriously needs repaving.

Along the  ride, I of course had doubts. That is mainly because I am a control freak. The “what ifs” started playing in. What if Nico stops and leaves us on the side of the road and takes our money? What if Nico is driving us a really long way just to get paid more? What if the next time Nico passes a car another car hits us? (Nico’s driving is infamous – I promise I will never complain about that again. More on that later too.) And on and on. Every time I had these thoughts something would happen to set my mind at ease. You can’t make this stuff up. Seriously. God is everywhere. I actually started taking notes on my iPhone notes app so I could remember all of them. 

First thing to help me relax and remember God was the sunrise. You can see from the pics it was really stellar. I could go into a whole metaphorical discussion on the sunrise and how it was Sterling’s last sunrise in an orphanage and how the sunrise represents our new family and the coming of a new chapter in our lives. But if you know me well, you know I’m not that sappy. Sure it crossed my mind, but I was more impressed by the grandeur of the scenery and the gentle reminder that the sun was more representative of Christ watching over us than of any of that cheesy poetic junk.

Then, Abracadabra came on the radio. For real. If you know me well, you know I am a Steve Miller Band Junkie. My sister, Lisa, loves this song too. She’s probably the reason I am a SMB junkie. But anyway, the song came on and I knew that it too was a sign. Really…when do they play Steve Miller Band on the Ukrainian Radio station?

Then as I started to feel like we would NEVER get there (Nico had a navigation unit I assumed he was using and I watched it go from 90 minutes away back up to 2 hours and 47 minutes away – turned out he wasn’t using it) we passed a cross and a picture of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. I’m glad I studied my Cyrillic alphabet because believe it or not I can decode Russian. My decoding skills probably equal that of a 1st grader, but I can read words. The sign was for a Monastery. In the middle of the countryside I find a sign for a Monastery. Hmmm….more signs.
And then as if all of that wasn’t enough, we passed the lamb. Laying by the side of the road grazing while resting. Fresh new baby lamb. So white and so beautiful. I woke Brian up to point him out he was so gorgeous. No picture though (did I mention Nico’s driving?!) No symbolism lost on me. Considering everything else we passed this morning, I immediately thought of the Lamb of God. And then, I relaxed. After that I fell in and out of sleep for about 90 minutes.
We were to meet our lawyer on the outskirts of our region and switch vehicles. Nico would drive back to the city and we would continue. However, Nico got lost. Apparently, this region is not known for its adoptions. So, we kept pulling over to ask people for directions. Eventually we made it. Albeit an hour late, but we were alive.
Then chaos ensued. At least for me. My team was gone. I didn’t know these new people from Adam and they weren’t exactly the friendliest outgoing people either. Serge and his team are so NICE. These people said hello, growled about our luggage and then we drove. No small talk. No questions. No interest. I was close to tears. I assumed (and had been told by the team) that we would find an apartment first, drop our stuff and then head to Sterling’s institution. Well, an hour later we were in the village his institution is in sitting outside of a nondescript building that I KNEW I did not want to spend the next 4 weeks in. They asked for our dossier, got out of the car and left us sitting there. Absolutely frightening. I was so close to tears. I made Brian call Luda who called the two who were with us to make them come explain to us what was happening. The driver, Valentin, didn’t speak any English (he said “OK”, “good”, “come”) but couldn’t converse with us. The lady came back out, her name is Tatyana, and explained everything.
The building we were at wasn’t an apartment building (HUGE relief…) it was the Department of Children’s Services for Sterling’s institution. She explained that we had to get permission to go see him. This gave me the opportunity to explain that we were told we were finding an apartment first. She told us no and explained why. It’s best to catch government officials in the morning. She wanted to get ALL of our paperwork done TODAY. (And she did!) She also explained that for this institution, since we were the FIRST EVER to adopt from it, the Chair of the Department of Children’s Services was going with us. I thought to spy. It was more to help with paperwork. Anyway, we had no space in the car for her – because we had all of our luggage and we hadn’t gotten an apartment first. So, Brian and I had to decide on 4 bags to leave in a building with complete strangers. So, we dropped off the stuff that would stink if we lost but it wouldn’t kill us (the stroller, the bag of toys we brought to play with, a bag of food and our coats.) Then the chair, don’t ask me to spell her name, but I know it, got into the car and rode with us the whole maybe 3 miles to the institution. She wasn’t overly pleasant in the beginning but warmed up to us over time.
By the time we pulled into the orphanage gates, I was already running on no sleep, no food, and no shower. I was emotional and grumpy and I felt like the people we were with didn’t give a hoot about us (I was wrong.) But, when we pulled in and saw the “internat” we were pleasantly surprised. It is a beautiful building with amazing gardens and grounds.
As we made our way inside, it was clean yet bare. Smelled clean and was welcoming (the lights were out in the hallway and there were no paintings or anything but it was actually  A BILLION times nicer than our apartment stairwell…) We made our way through the hallways and were ushered into a small room. At this point we still hadn’t been told anything other than if we said “YES” to the adoption we would do ALL paperwork today. So imagine our surprise when we turned into the room and saw this:

There in a chair MUCH too big for him sat Sterling (Sasha). He eyed us as we eyed everyone else in the room. There was Brian and myself, our driver and our lawyer (we found out that is Tatyana’s role in all of this!), the Chair of the Department of Children’s Services, the institution’s director (so nice!), Sterling’s nurse, Sterling’s doctor and I think that’s it. So there were 8 of us in a tiny little room. I’ve watched so many videos of introductions and ours was NOTHING like any of those. So don’t bank on your experience being even remotely close to anyone else’s. We sat down, they introduced Sasha (Sterling) and started in on the things that are “wrong” with him. Much to our surprise a lot of information given to Reece’s Rainbow was either not accurate, was translated oddly, or he outgrew the diagnoses.
This is what we learned as FACT (at least by the team here): he has Down Syndrome (not a surprise), he has only a heart murmur and sees a cardiologist every year and does not require surgery and he has strabismus. Those are his ONLY diagnoses. No epilepsy was mentioned. No atrophy of the optic nerves was mentioned. He was transferred to the institution in March (well before his 5th birthday which confused the whole team but whatever). He just potty trained recently (since he got to the institution) and he just started walking in the past year. We were told his parents gave him up at birth and that both had signed away their rights so everything would go smoothly. Then they asked if we had questions.
It’s hard to see in the pictures but he has a rash on his face. So, I asked if he has allergies. Lo and behold the boy is allergic to citrus…you people do know we are from Florida right? LOL. Anyway, he got into an orange last week and so he still has the remnants of the rash on his cheek. Other than that no allergies. Through questions we also learned: he takes no medications, he is potty trained (so they say), he is non-verbal, he knows and recognizes his name (hmmmm….we will see about that…he didn’t respond to it once for us today), he knows and recognizes his caregivers, he sleeps great at night, goes to bed around 8pm, takes a nap around 1pm (not a fan of nap time but will rest) and can feed and dress himself with assistance.
Once our questions were answered we were told it was paperwork time for the “adults” and were shuffled out of the room with our son and his nurse (Oksana – super sweet) and sent to play in a small, very plain play room. Oksana was supervising our visit today. From now on we will not need supervision – I guess we “passed the test.”
We took a Sully stuffed monster, a double decker bus we bought in London and a Magna Doodle. Guess his favorite toy…NONE OF THE ABOVE. We had a water bottle and he enjoyed that much more than any of the other three. He doesn’t have the skills to write or hold a writing implement (not a surprise) and doesn’t know what a bus does. He liked Sully and held onto him but he really loved that water bottle.
Some things we know we will need to work on:
·         He puts EVERYTHING in his mouth. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. He spent the entire play time chewing on a string on his coat until Oksana tied it back behind his jacket where he couldn’t see it. Then he chewed on the Magna Doodle cord, the diaper bag strap, a bubble wand…anything he could put in his mouth. Did I mention it was EVERYTHING?

·         He has no communication. He doesn’t speak (he babbles) and he doesn’t sign. So ASL starts tomorrow. J I also made a PCS book for the trip, just in case. Thank HEAVENS!

·         He is BUSY,BUSY, BUSY! Most of the pictures are blurry because he won’t sit still. He wants to go! All the time.

·         He loves the “Let’s throw it down and watch Mama and Papa pick it up game” which we played today because we were being supervised. That will stop tomorrow too. (Why hello ESE teacher inside of me…I’m glad you came along for the trip!)

·         He loves to snuggle. J This was the biggest relief. After about 10 minutes in the little room he got off the couch to walk around. Then he walked over and crawled into Brian’s lap. All on his own. This got a nod of approval from Oksana – and apparently was what she was looking for. He didn’t stay long…he never stays long…up and down and he eventually did the same thing to me. Walking over and pulling himself up into my lap. Then I got my nod of approval and a SMILE! And I think this is why we “passed.” After this he “played” willingly, offering up giggles and big smiles. He really is just the cutest thing (until he pulls my hair…which we will also be working on…)
Developmentally, I would say that Sterling is somewhere in the young toddler range of most of his abilities (except communication…) I’m going to take a stab (we will see what the test say when we get home) but he is probably functioning around a 15-20 month old level. Aside from toilet training, he has no discernible skills that a 5 year old should have. He just started walking in the past year and only toilet trained in the last 6 months. He is TINY. No really, he is little. His feet are so small. All of him is small. I had a tape measure but wasn’t comfortable measuring him in front of Oksana, but I will do that tomorrow. He is in NO WAY ready for Kindergarten. We might have to do UCP this year. (Thanks Jamie for all of the encouraging words about WG UCP!) When we were leaving the states we had every intention of him coming with me, but I also said it would depend on him. He is not ready. He is too young developmentally. So, when we get home we will transition slowly to UCP before I go back to school. Of course, this is the plan now…we will see where he is in 5 weeks. J

Sterling left our play time at 12:10 for lunch and the “adults” finished “making paperwork” at the same time. Miraculously we must have made a good impression because we were invited to stay for lunch. Which we did. And we will not again. Let’s just say – neither Brian nor I cared for anything we ate. However, at lunch we learned some more about the institution:
·         The institution only houses boys.
·         The “boys” range in age from 5 (Sasha is the youngest) to 45.
·         There are 118 boys under the age of 18 at the institution.
·         This institution is for mental delays only.
·         The girls attend a different institution in a different city.
·         The institution has its own farm on premises. The boys tend the garden, grow their own vegetables and fruits (and herbs!) and raise their own pigs. Only the old boys get to do this.
·         We are indeed the first to EVER adopt from this institution.
·         They are VERY HAPPY we are there. J Told to Tatyana by the orphanage director and then to us. They are so glad that we are taking Sterling home with us.
·         The older boys are VERY interested in us. After all, they have never seen anyone ever come to take someone out. L
·         The degrees of mental delays of the boys is vast…most talk, sustain conversation, they play football (soccer) and wanted to ask us TONS of questions, but our driver shooed them all away.
Anyway, after lunch we headed to the notary down the street after dropping the chair lady back at the department building and waited at least 90 minutes to get those documents notarized and complete. Then we had to go pick up our bags from the office (nothing was touched) and drive the 50 minutes back to the City Center to find an apartment. By this time it was already 5pm.
The first realtor we went to only sold apartments but we hit the jackpot on the second. So, we traversed City Center, Brian and Valentin lugged the luggage up 4 flights of stairs, we met our landlady (very nice) and settled into our nice apartment. (Pictures later….)
We allowed ourselves $110/day for lodging/transporation/food. And we are going to need it. Because the apartment is nice (BUT NO WI-FI – so don’t hate me if I don’t blog everyday!) we are paying $60/night for it. Our driver to the institution and back everyday (or as often as we go – we have no obligations) is 250 grivnas ($31.25). So we will have $18.75 to feed ourselves each day. Which is toally doable. Especially since there is a grocery store across the street – (we can eat at home as we have a full kitchen!)
Anyway, we don’t have Wi-Fi at the apartment so our hanging around online will be at a minimum unless we buy a USB modem (going to look into it) then we can pass it on the next family and earn our money back. You buy the modem and just add minutes for data. Until we decide on what to do we will using the Wi-Fi at McDonald’s. THIS IS A BLESSING! There are 16 McDonald’s in this country! 12 are in the Capitol City. We are LUCKY that one is here! So, everyday after our visit we will go sit on the patio and add pics to facebook. I cannot blog from my phone, so our blog will always be a day behind! I will write it in word (that is what I am doing now!) and upload it to blogger the next day…just remember when you read you are reading the previous day’s info!
So, sorry that was soooooo long – but our day was JAM PACKED! We were lucky to get pictures posted to Facebook. But now that we have a plan we will make it work! Hope you liked the pictures of Sterling! More to come tomorrow (or until we figure out whether to do the USB modem thing!)

Hugs and Kisses!!!


  1. Erin, about the 'everything in his mouth'...Eli did this too and I got him Chewlery. They are laynards with silicon biters and they are great! They come in a lot of colors, can be personalized...and are pretty cheap. They are easy to sanitize so they are cleaner than most things that go to the mouth. The website is, when you get time (i know you dont have a lot now) but let me know what kind/color/personalization you want and ill get the first one to him. Also, now that you have some idea of his sizes...i have those clothes I told you I would save for him. Lots of jammies and stuff for cooler weather. I can have it to your house so its there when you get back if you want. Let me know...and in case you dont already know, hes amazing!!!

  2. OH MY GOODNESS OH MY GOODNESS..... Wow!! I don't have any words. So glad you are OPENING up a new institute. So glad that it is not a dreary sad place. So glad you found lodging... BEAUTIFUL BOY... Oh My Goodness......

  3. He is beautiful and I am sure with you as a Mom he will open up and learn so many new things. Each morning I get up and run to the computer to see your updates. My little brother is adopted and I know some of what you are going through. It is so exciting! Thank you for sharing all of this with us!

  4. First, I have to say, SUPER CUTE :D What a handsome young man you have there!
    Second, Thank you so much for all the details. It really helps those who have not been yet to have at least somewhat of an idea of what to expect. I am sure, like you said, that everyone experiences something different but just hearing it all makes a little of the worries go away. I am so happy to hear that the boys seem to do well there and that they are not kept inside all the time but are able to work with their hands and feel productive. Can hardly wait to hear more.

  5. Wonderful update, Erin!!! Praying for you all.

  6. He is adorable! So much more grown up than the baby picture you had. Jake and I hope that all continues to go well. We are so excited for your family!
    -Lisa B

  7. He's adorable! So glad you are there! Keep the updates coming... we're not too far behind you (just going to a different city!)

  8. Erin- feel free to e-mail me or call. We must be fairly close to you b/c the same driver& facilitator work with us as well! We have prayed for Sterling for a long time!
    Here's our Ukraine phone number 066-781-21-92 It shouldn't cost you anything to call as we all have the same provider!

  9. He is adorable....SO happy for all of you and SO happy the paper work went smoothly!!

  10. I don't know how I missed following your story - but I'll have a ball going back and reading from the start of the trip to where you are now on your wait. I hope the rest of your trip goes smoothly - he's such a darling boy!

  11. p.s. - I will also be interested in buying your USB modem. My husband teaches classes online, and even though we've been told that the internet availability in our region is reliable, we just can't take chances, and we'd like to be able to Skype from the orphanage, etc. Contact me about it when you get home.