Saturday, March 23, 2013


Gabe's dear friend and the only mother figure he's ever known, Olga, came to see us a couple days before we left Moscow.  Olga has been visiting Gabe since he was just a baby in the orphanage.  She instantly fell in love with him, his dark brown eyes staring wide-eyed up at her from his pram as she volunteered to take him for a walk on the orphanage grounds.  She stole away with him in the trees and took him from his stroller for probably the first time ever and watched delightedly as he oohed and ahhhed over the grass and nature around him.  She's been coming back nearly every week since then.  Four and a half years.  In a perfect world, in a perfect Russia, Olga would be Gabe's mother.  She wasn't able to adopt him, so she set out on a mission to find him a family who would love him the same way she did.  Mission accomplished....

She brought some homemade chicken noodle soup for Gabe because he had been sick.  He just loved how she fed it to him.
I love how he's looking at her in this one.  He loves her too, just as much as she loves him.

Olga brought gifts for Gabe and for me and Brian and Vika.  He just loved these hand puppets.

Showing him how the noise maker works.  I love each of our expressions.

Like any child, the packaging is always more fun than the toys...

So much love.

Gabe's Russian mom and American mom.
Gabe helping Olga get her coat on.  Saying goodbye was very emotional for me.  
How do you say thank you to a woman who helped you complete your family?  How do you thank someone for making the ultimate sacrifice-finding him a foreign family for his own sake, knowing she wouldn't get to visit him weekly anymore?  There are no words adequate enough.  I love you so much, dear Olga.

Olga took some photos with her camera. 

We will always remember you, dear "Vola", and I promise Gabe will always know who his dear  Russian mother is.

Red Square

The day before we came home we had the chance to visit Red Square one more time with a reporter from Time Magazine.  He wanted to chat with us about our situation for part of a story they wanted to publish.  His photographer was out of town that day, but he was nice enough to use my camera to snap some photos of us on the iconic square. He was such a nice guy with an interesting story.  He was born in Moscow and moved to the U.S. as a child.  When he became a reporter he decided to move back to Moscow to be with family and do his job.  Yet another fascinating person to get to know.

Gabe kept wanting to run off on his own, and fell down.  He wasn't used to the uneven ground.

"Paka Paka, Russia!"
"Say Cheese!"

We took them inside the GUM to defrost :-)
Looking at these photos brings back so many memories and also reminds me of how far Gabe has come in only a month's time.  I remember how he tried to run on Red Square, and how it made me feel sad for him because he had no sense of staying with his mom.  He simply didn't know that I was "his person", the one that would keep him safe and guide him through this big crowd.  When he fell down and got hurt, and then cold, I just wanted to hold him close and tell him it would all be okay, that I wasn't going anywhere and I would always make sure he was warm and safe.  Now, he understands.  He comes to me when he's hurt.  He holds my hand when I tell him to.  He looks for me when we are apart.  We aren't 100% there yet, but we've come oh so far since those days in Russia.

Mr. Astakhov

I am mad.  It's as plain as that.  And sometimes I go from mad to desperately sad when thinking about those children I left behind in Russia.  Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of them.  Six months ago, I could at least have the hope that some of them were going home to families who would love and cherish them, but now, because of this man and those who would say they are patriots, these children have all but lost hope of ever finding a family of their own.  Mr. Astakhov is the Children's Rights Ombusman of Russia.  And what experience did he bring to this appointed position?  None.  That's right.  Zero experience working with children or advocating for children.  Zero experience in child development and disabilities.  Do you know what he does have experience in?  Being a talk-show host.  That's right.  The man responsible for keeping thousands of children shut away in orphanages is a former talk-show host and attorney.  This man is responsible for children's rights in Russia???????  The same man who took his wife to France to birth their children, while staying in a fancy mansion, and sending a son to the U.S. to go to school, is the one claiming foreigners are killing and molesting Russia's orphans.

Do you know what I see, Mr. Astakhov?  I see families who have adopted "your" orphans who have gone to hell and back to help them work through the many, many emotional problems they have from institutionalized living.  I read about how they give, and give, and give love to a child who shows absolutely no love or any emotion in return for months, or even years.  I have a friend whose family has been dealing with an infestation of scabies that their child brought with them from the orphanage for months.  I read experiences of babies, babies, who don't even have words to express their feelings, arch their backs, repulsed by any attempt to snuggle or be held close by their adoptive parents.  In each of these cases, and there are so many I haven't even mentioned, these parents chose to hold on, to keep trying, to use every available resource to bring their child out of a place of hurt, abandonment, and emotional void to  place of love, affection, trust, belonging.  If you could see the love these parents have, to willingly adopt these children knowing these were all possibilities, knowing they could be in for the hardest thing they've ever done in their lives, but still saying "yes", you would be ashamed.  Absolutely ashamed of yourself for even hinting to the idea that they had ulterior motives for adoption.

Adoption is born out of the worst kind of tragedy.  It can become the most beautiful thing a person can witness, but make no mistake, adoption is born out of unimaginable grief, sacrifice, and pain.  No one wants to become pregnant with a child they can't keep.  No one wants there to be mothers who can't mother.  Not one of these adoptive parents is under the impression that once they pick up that child their life is going to be a bed of roses.  In fact, in the back of our minds, we are probably expecting the worst so we won't be disappointed if things aren't as we'd hoped they'd be.

Mr. Astakhov, if you would take one moment from your world of money and politics to really see the nearly sixty thousand families who have taken these children and made them their own, I would hope you would humbly bow your head and admit that you are wrong.  What you have chosen to do to these defenseless children is horrific.  In the name of country you are sentencing these children to early deaths.  And the worst part is, you probably already know that.

Russia is full of people who love their children, but it is run by politicians who would use them as political fodder for their own twisted purposes.  And tonight in America, there are hundreds of families going to bed with tears on their pillows, having met the children they have spent months hoping to adopt, knowing they will probably never see them again.  Their promises to their children broken through no fault of their own.

So tonight, I am mad.

Article here in The Moscow Times that tells just what kind of a man Mr. Astakhov is.  I hope that one day the Russian people will rise up against their government for the sake of their children.  Freedom is a right for every man, woman and child.
Photo printed in The Moscow Times. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What We've Been Up To

We've been keeping very busy around here.  

Gabe loves, loves, loves being outside.  He likes to try out the tricycles and Jake's balance bike.  I'm guessing by the end of summer he'll be able to peddle himself.

Jake has been teaching Gabe the finer points of Sesame Street and Signing Time. 

My mom and step-dad came to visit and meet Gabe.  He loved them so much!  He had to try on Grandma's  glasses, of course.

Grandma brought headlamps for all the kids.  They were a huge hit!  Gabe started reciting his little "poems" he makes up and loved running around the house with the other kids.  Now we read his books before bed each night by the light of his headlamp :-)

Having fun eating a snack.
Napping.  He sleeps just like Jake, with his arms behind his head.

We took Gabe to the first part of church last Sunday.  Do you think his siblings were proud to show him off?!  He did great, too.  

Daddy and his son, just hanging out.
Eating dessert after dinner on Sunday evening with some good friends of ours.  
"Fixing" our kitchen table with Jake.  Don't you love his camera smile?

Getting an x-ray of his tummy.  The poor guy has been having tummy troubles and we're trying to get to the bottom of it.  Test results will come back this week.  He is such a champ at the doctor's office.  He lays right back and lifts his shirt for the doctor.  Each doctor we visited gave him a new pair of exam gloves because he loves them so much.  He still has upcoming appointments with the heart doctor (he had open heart surgery when he was an infant), Ear, nose & throat doctor to check his hearing and tonsils/adenoids, and eye doctor.  His pediatrician has a social worker on staff who has been helping coordinate all his appointments, which has been so nice!  I just love our pediatrician. 
We've had some really nice days lately and taken the kids for  walks around the neighborhood.  He really liked riding around in the wagon and then pulling Leah himself or just the empty wagon. 

Jake loves to steal Brian's phone and take a gazillion photos on it,  this one being one of the better one's he caught :-)

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Airport

It is so hard to play catch-up on the blog, and generally I just try to start from today and go forward, but there are still some moments from my time in Russia that I want to have written down.  Today, I wanted to write about the day we came home.

This was Gabe the night before, in the airport in Los Angeles.  Think he was tired?

It is sightly disturbing how much this looks like a pup on a leash!  But that leash saved Gabe from getting lost many times in all the airports!  Thanks for loaning it to me, Jeana!
Many things happened at LAX, and difficult news came to Jeana during this time, which made us almost completely spent by the time we got to the hotel.  I could see that Jeana was being tested almost beyond her limits.  After speaking to my wonderful sister-in-law Melanie, she asked if we wanted her to contact some Elders in our church there to come and give us all a blessing for this next stretch home.  It was humbling to say yes, we needed some extra help.  

We ate some pizza and tried to not let the exhaustion get to us before the Elders arrived.  I remember sitting there, watching them enter, and having the distinct feeling of my Savior's love for us.  It was as if the Savior himself was walking into our room.  I will never forget the feelings of confirmation of Jesus' love for me and Jeana as individuals in that moment.  He was telling me that even though He himself wasn't there, He was there through his priesthood.  We had been blessed in Russia to find members of our church there, and now here, too.  What a gift it is to know that wherever we go in this world, we can always find those that hold the priesthood and can administer to us when we need our Heavenly Father's blessings. 

The Elders blessed Jeana first, and tears streamed down my face as they blessed her with strength and comfort, to be able to endure just a little more until she was home, but to also be able to have the strength to take care of her sick children when she arrived there.  It was a beautiful blessing.  

I was next, and I remember being told that Heavenly Father would always be there to help me with this new change in my life.  they also blessed my health, since I had been quite sick the past few days.  After they had blessed me, I stood up to shake their hands and thank them, and Gabe ran right over to the chair I had been sitting in, sat down, folded his arms and bowed his head.  Then he tapped his head with his hands, telling the Elders he wanted a blessing too!  So they blessed him, and he stayed so still during the whole thing, so serious.  It was a moment I'll always remember.

Vika, too, wanted her "turn", and was also given a beautiful blessing.  We thanked the Elders and let them out.  We already felt strengthened just by having them there with us for a while, but it wasn't just the company, it was the spirit that strengthened us.  I knew everything would be okay, and I no longer felt so alone and overwhelmed.

We woke up the next morning and I felt better than I had in days.  I put Gabe in the tub after I showered to let him play while I got ready.  That boy could stay in the bath all day if I let him!  He is always sad when it's time to get out, even if his water has turned cold!

Need I say more about how much he loves this?!
After we got all ready I packed our things up and was about to call Jeana's room when I nonchalantly opened the curtains, just a habit from our hotel in Moscow.  I wasn't expecting anything really because we had been used to it being dark until about 10:00 am.  I was greeted with sunlight and blue skies as far as the eye could see and palm trees for goodness sakes!  I nearly cried! What a sight for sore eyes! 

The window was really hazy and dirty, but you get the idea!
I took Gabe by the hand and headed right to Jeana's room to make sure she had her curtains open, and was met by Vika at the door with her usual smiley face on.  They had some good music going, and we all danced our way into the morning.  

We headed downstairs to find some breakfast.  Oh it felt so good to eat familiar, fresh food again.  I had to laugh when I panicked in line when I realized I didn't have enough rubles in my wallet to pay!  Hello, Becky, you don't need rubles anymore!  

We sat at a table near the front entrance to the hotel and ate our breakfast.  I watched Gabe as he looked around and paid particular attention to the television commentator rambling on in the background.  He seemed to realize that so much of this was unfamiliar now, so I held him even closer to reassure him that it would all be okay.

After we finished breakfast, we couldn't help but wander outside to stand in the glorious sunshine.  We just stood there, holding our kids, soaking in the sun's deliciously warm rays.  Oh, it felt so good!  Gabe seemed to like it too, gazing down at his arm and watching the sun dance on his arm.  We took the kids on a little walk around the outside of the hotel.  When Gabe's feet hit a soft patch of green grass, he immediately bent down, picked a bunch and threw it in the air.  He giggled as it came drifting back down at his face.  I remember thinking this was just the first of many fun outdoor moments he's going to have this first year home.  

Finally it was time to head back to the airport.  We managed to get all our luggage to the right place and had a little bit to wait.  I took Gabe walking through the airport.  He got mad at me when I wouldn't let him hug strangers.  This little guy will have so much to learn this first year as well.

The plane ride to Salt Lake was a breeze.  Gabe fell asleep as soon as the plane started to take off, and he slept the entire ride.  This was such a blessing because I thought for sure he would not be happy about getting on another plane.  But he was a champ and acted like it was all old-hat.

 In Salt Lake we were surprised to be met at our gate by my sister-in-law!  What a great sight to see for weary eyes!  She brought the kids each a little American flag, which was something I had forgotten to pack for that important airport greeting back home.  A small thing, but a huge symbol.  Thanks, Amy.

It was time to finally say goodbye to Jeana.  I didn't even know what to say to her, so I just hugged her and through my choked-back tears told her "go home..."  I was so happy thinking of her walking to her husband and girls and loved ones.  She had endured so, so much.  Her poor little Kaelyn had been admitted to the hospital the day before we left Moscow for RSV and pneumonia.  Her other sweetie Bryn had gotten sick too.  It is so hard as a mother to be away from your children, especially when you know they need you.  And now Vika, too, had been sick with a fever.  Not exactly the homecoming you would imagine for yourself, but she soldiered on and made it.  I wasn't sure how I was going to live day to day without her right by my side!  It was so much fun having someone there all the time to laugh with, cry with, shop with, and experience this whole ordeal with.  I am so glad that she lives relatively close so that we'll be able to keep in touch and see each other.  

Finally, it was time to head to Boise!!!!!!!  Amy saw us to the gate, and we got settled in to our seats in the very last row.  Gabe wanted to sit in his own seat instead of my lap, and I gave him my little travel pillow and he was almost asleep before we even taxied to the runway.  He slept the whole way to Boise, too.  

It's hard work flying half way around the world!

As we approached Boise and I saw the familiar landmarks-Lucky Peak reservoir, Gowen Field, and downtown Boise, my throat tightened at the thought of seeing Brian again and feeling home again.  I knew it would be the biggest sense of relief.  We got off the plane, loaded down with our carry-on bags, and headed to the exit.  As I turned the corner to exit through security, I glanced quickly ahead and saw so many people waiting for us I couldn't look for a moment because I knew I'd lose all control of my emotions!  I looked down at Gabe, with his little flag in his hand, and asked him, "are you ready for this, buddy?"  He just looked at me and smiled, not knowing the welcome that was coming, or the significance of the moment.  

My dear friend Aubrey.  This girl has done so much for orphans with Down syndrome.  One of those people you meet for the first time and it feels like you've known them forever. Thanks for being there, Aubrey!

Leah with her friends, waiting to see mama again, finally!

My sweet Kennedy, nervous and holding it all in.

Hi there, my princess Leah.
Some of the neatest people I know...thanks ladies, you are awesome!!!!

Here we come!!
Jake and Brian when Brian first caught sight of us.  Each of the kids had a rose for me, a sweet gesture by Brian, who used to give me so many roses when we were dating.  

Finally, we got close enough that I looked up, and when I saw my kids standing there, jumping up and down with such big smiles on their faces, I dropped everything and ran to them with Gabe.
Gabe's wondering, "who are all these people??!"

Little Leah got to me first.  She seemed so big compared to the little guy I had spent the last week with.
My sweet Kennedy had tears running down her face.  No need to be brave anymore, Kennedy, mom's here.  
Gabe and Papa together at last. 

This girl made me a mother, and I couldn't love her more.
Leah was bouncing all over the place, but she wanted to make sure I saw her rose that she wanted to give me.  

I was expecting Channel 7 to be there, because we had gotten to know a reporter there ever since last summer, but I didn't know there would be other cameras and reporters.  I was kind of taken off guard, but the message remains the same: the orphan crisis in Russia is real and dire, especially for those children with disabilities. My hope is that all of this political attention to the issue would lead to real change and homes where these children are loved and accepted.  
"Hi Papa, so good to see you again."

Kennedy meeting her little brother for the first time.
"Thumbs up!"

My great neighbor and friend.  

The "triplets" finally meet together for the first time :-)  
"See you, everyone!  I've got my dad now!"
Some more dear friends had already gone down to baggage claim and got my suitcases and loaded them into our van for me.  They told me "your limo is waiting," but I thought they just meant my minivan.  When we walked out of the airport and saw an actual limousine waiting for us, we were shocked!  Our wonderful friends had gotten this for us as a very thoughtful way for us to be able to all visit together on the drive to our home.  It was so perfect, the perfect gift.  We spent that ride smiling so much, laughing at the kids being silly together.  Brian and I glanced at each other and laughed and wondered at all the extra noise one more little body can add to a family!  Jake and Gabe gave each other fist bumps from their car seats, and Kennedy kept exclaiming at how cute Gabe was.  It was such a fun, meaningful ride to our home.  

Before we knew it, we were pulling up in front of our house and it was time to unload.  I lifted Gabe out of the limo and into his new life.  He squinted in the sunshine and seemed to like his new surroundings.  When I put him down, he took off running down the sidewalk!  It was the epitome of freedom!  Brian chased him down and brought him back to the house, laughing the whole way.

We had made it.  Thirty-four days in Moscow and we were finally home.