Today starts at 6:45 AM - we'll meet Bob and Beth at 7:20 for the walk to our 8 AM visit with the children. It's overcast and damp following last night's heavy rain, breezy and quite cool: Remarkably, we can see our breaths as we walk! On the way, we discuss our curiousity to see the kids at a different time of day.
The four of us go for Nicholas and Aidan. Aidan is sound asleep in his crib when we arrive. One of the care-givers lifts him gently from his crib and carries him to the changing table. He wakes slowly, stretching and yawning while he gets a clean diaper and a clean sleeper. The care-giver talks to him soothingly, stands him up and stretches his arms up over his head. He watches and listens to her attentively and smiles behind his sleeping nuk.
Aidan, Alli and I go for Molly. She emerges from the sleeping room dressed only in a t-shirt, and her care-giver, a young girl we've not seen before, motions to us for a diaper (remember, we bring four diapers per baby per day). The care-giver diapers and dresses her in no time and we're on our way....
The kids are pleasant but subdued. Aidan's runny nose is back, and he REALLY dislikes having his nose wiped. Otherwise, he entertains himself standing at and crawling under the coffee table, admiring Alli's necklace and figuring out the magic of a nuk with a handle. Molly plays and gabs. Over the last few days, we've allowed the kids to empty the toys from the backpack (once we remove the cameras, the umbrellas and Alli's purse). Molly seems to catalog each toy by sound and taste, and each toy's value appears to increase depending on her brother's interest in it.
After the visit, I take Molly back to her room and, once again at the direction of the care-giver, she goes in the playpen, where one of the other children is spread-eagled and sound asleep. In the boys' room, Alli and Beth feed the boys breakfast of porridge (with mashed banana and 1/2 egg yolk) and a shot glass of peach juice. The boys are hungry & the girls have trouble keeping pace. It's nearly 10 by the time we leave. On the way home, we stop for pastries and bananas, so it's nearly 11 by the time we return to the rooms. We are meeting Olesya for lunch at noon. Alli showers while I journal, then dresses while I shower and shave. Bob & Beth stop by at 11:45 and we head for the Spinach Tea Place....
Olesya goes over a few last-minute instructions/details for court while we eat lunch. She walks back to the hotel with us and waits in the lobby while we change. Although our appointment is at 2 and Bob & Beth's at 3, we'll all walk over together. Olesya asks us to meet her in the lobby at 1:35.
Lunch for court employees is from 1 to 2. We arrive at 1:45 and wait in the downstairs lobby for about fifteen minutes before walking up the four flights to the judge's chambers. The four of us present Her Honor with the plants we bought yesterday. She tells us they have a saying in Kazakhstan: "Plants are like children,'" and she promises to take good care of the "children" we have entrusted to her.
Moments later, Alli and I are called into chambers. The judge is wearing a very nice robe. We are joined by the prosecutor, a representative from the Guardianship and Trustee Committee and the judge's secretary (who will record the proceedings long-hand). We are expecting the head doctor from the baby home, but she is running late and the judge instructs us we will get started rather than wait.
I remain standing while everyone else is seated (I am also the only man in the room). The judge asks many of the same questions from the pre-trial hearing including a few new ones:
(1) she asks me to tell her the childrens' given (Russian) names
(2) she asks if I believe the children know we are to be their parents
(3) she asks if we have noticed and changes/improvements in the childrens' development
since we began visiting and if so could I explain what they are
I do my best with the Russian names - no ears bleed, no panes of glass crack, so I guess I do OK.
I tell her I believe the children recognize us when we visit, understand that we are now part of their daily schedule and look forward to our visits. ( I do not say I don't think they know we are to be their parents, but really, how could they know such a thing? Moreover, I did not say but thought later: Though the care-givers call us Mama and Papa, identify us to the children in the same way and encourage the children to call us by those names - which has not happened to date - I don't believe the children understand the new meaning attached to the words. In their experience, "Mama" is synonymous with care-giver and virtually any other woman with whom they have contact, while they have little if any contact with men other than other childrens' adopting fathers, thus even less of an understanding of "Papa.")
Finally, I relate Aidan's inability to sit up unassisted when we first arrived and report he now sits by himself and stands with assistance. Further, I report Molly now stands with assistance
(however unwillingly at times). In conclusion, I report both children have made great strides in their overall mobility (Molly still does not crawl but moves from belly to back and from seated to all fours and back to seated without help; Aidan does the same and will pull himself up from our laps to look me in the eye or admire Alli's jewelry), their animation when engaging us (better eye contact, a better sense of recognition, etc.) and their efforts to communicate (both are more verbal than ever).
The baby home doctor arrives while I am finishing and concurs with my evaluation of their improved development, remarking she scarcely recognized the children upon her return from a recent two-week absence from the baby home (during which she was on a business trip to the US). She states her opinion that approval of our petition for adoption of these two children is in the best interest of the children.
I'm directed to sit and Alli is asked to stand. She's asked first if she agrees with everything I have said in response to questioning. She's then asked if she is aware of the childrens' medical conditions, whether we've consulted with our doctors at home about their conditions and if we are prepared to seek immediate medical attention as required upon our return home. The representative from Gurandianship and Trustee Committee (Jana) introduces evidence of each child's medical conditions (we reviewed them during our medical review on June 10) and then evidence the children had been offered for adoption to the local citizenry but had been turned down because of their medical conditions. Alli is asked if we still want to continue with our petition for adoption, and questioning ends with whether she is willing and prepared to dedicate the time and make the sacrifices required to raise two children. Alli answers in the affirmative and Jana echoes the head doctor's earlier opinion re: the best interests of the children will be served by approval of our petition.
When questioning is concluded, Alli takes her seat and the judge reads into the record the contents of our file (as to the names of the documents, not the specific content of each). One of the last documents was added following the appearance of Molly's birth mother in court last week (you'll remember Aidan's mother did not appear and could not be loctaed). We are asked if we would like to see her picture, and we are shown a black & white photocopy of her driver's license.
We are asked to wait outside while the judge types her decision. Dr. Irina, head doctor from the baby home, extends her hand to each of us and offers her congratulations: The only words we can make out are "Mama" and "Papa." Jana, the representative from Guradianship & Trustee Committee (the body with jurisdiction over all orphans, among other interests) also extends her congratulations. When we return to chambers - all previously assembled - the judge reads her decision approving our petition and the prosecutor follows with several sentences affirming her consent in accordance with the laws of the government of Kazakhstan. Olesya says simply, "And so, congratulations," and we are parents! Fifteen years of marriage without children, fifteen months of paperwork & planning, evaluation & travel, visitation & legal proceedings have brought us to this moment and the emotions are overwhelming. Alli and I exchange a tear-filled hug, then hug Olesya, Dr. Irina and Jana. Still crying, we sign and date our acknoweldgement of the judge's decision and we are done. Olesya hands us a copy of the judge's decision (in Russian) and while Bob and Beth are in chambers, we photograph each other holding the decision beneath a sign bearing the judge's name.
When Bob and Beth are finished, it's photo time: one with each couple and Dr. Irina, Jana and the prosecutor, one with each couple and Olesya, then one with both couples and the judge and, finally, one with each couple and the judge. When we conclude, Olesya says what I'm thinking:
"I would like a cold beer!" We adjourn to a local shop for pastries and a beverage and a toast to the new parents. Olesya remarks we are the first group with whom she has ever worked who celebrated right after court! We adjourn @ 4 with plans to reconvene for dinner @ 6. Alli and I head straight for the internet cafe to share our great news via e-mail and a special Blog entry.
Dinner @ The Pancake Place and Dana joins our merry band. Pictures afterward (we press the waitress into service) then our nightly walk with Dana, during which we make plans for dinner and the soccer game tomorrow night. Bob and I agree to start the day in the gym at 8:30.
Back in the hotel, I spend the evening journaling while Alli sleeps. It has been a long and truly memorable day. I wake Alli so we can brush our teeth and go to bed. It's 11:30....