Andrei continues to grasp the English language much faster than I thought he would. When I say grasp I mean that he's understanding us and responds correctly. For example if we ask him if he wants more juice and he does, he'll shake his head "Yes" and open his mouth (hey, he's a toddler). If he doesn't he'll shake his head "No". He's not yet hitting English words perfectly (except for his famous "Bye-bye"). But you can tell he's right at that cusp before an explosion of words. He does baby sign language for "More" and says "Mo-Mo" which is pretty darn good. He also will make the sounds of a few animals when asked "What sound does a ______ make?" Stef's favorite is a sheep in which he gives a very good "Baaa".
The other interesting thing is that he loves to watch the garage door shut. And quickly figured out the button we press to close it. So now when we come in from an outing, he asks to press the button himself (by lifting up his arm with his forefinger extended). We lift him up and he presses the button and then immediately (almost to the point of giving himself whiplash) flips his head around so he can watch the door shut. Ahh, the things that entertain a toddler.
His most negative thing is when he doesn't get his way he now gives a nice "ARRRGH" sound. Followed by flailing arms which invariably hit himself in the face. Of course he use to throw a temper tantrum so I consider this an upgrade.
However, we've discussed that fact that we may be giving him too many strong "No's" and are going to try to bend down to his height (some eye to eye stuff) and just explain... "we can't do that now" or whatever and give him an alternative. I've been trying to also replace his all too often desires to be picked up with just kneeling down and hugging him and kissing him. Mostly this works but he tries to squirm onto my bent knees. It's not that we don't like to hold him, it's just that he's kinda heavy and his needs for being held are way too often.
But overall he's doing extremely well and is making some of the obvious bonding connections. His enjoyment being held and baby-ed is great and loves checking to see our reaction when he does something good. He'll also look to us when we takes a spill to see if he's okay. And we're getting better at recognizing just a normal toddler wipeout versus a fall that actually hurts. But it's cute when he looks at me after falling (usually when running to throw the ball to the dog). He'll have this sort of concerned/unhappy face on as if to say "Is that a bad one?" Normally I'll shoot out the "You're okay, hop up." And he then proceeds to get up with now a massive smile on his face.
So last night Stef and I were talking about what happened the day before on his nap, which by the way are getting better, that I wanted to blog about. First let me say that his first English word is "bye". Which he uses at every possible time you can use the word "bye". When we leave a store Andrei says and waves "bye" to everyone. And of course most people think it's cute to see a little one wave so they wave too, which naturally makes him wave and say "bye" even more. I must admit it is very cute, but as I always say, I'm a bit biased.
He said bye to his grandparents when he left the room, he said bye to them when they left the room. He loves watching the garage door shut and says bye to it when it shuts. "Bye" is obviously a very popular word.
So the Good Sleep story happened during nap time when Stef was putting him down for the nap. He's still a little restless and tosses and turns a bit and then finally gets ready to dose off. Well just before he makes his final rotation in the crib he reaches out his little arm and touches Stefanie with his tiny hand patting her on the shoulder and says "Bye-bye" and then rolls over and falls asleep.
As Stef was retelling me the story it was hard for her not to shed a tear. It clearly was the cutest thing he's done in the three weeks since he's been with us.
Well, just after we discussed this cute episode we got, by far, the most terrifying thing we've run across with Andrei. About 45 minutes after he fell asleep at night he woke up with a horrendous wailing. He was almost screaming so, of course, one of us (it was Stef) went in to comfort him. But the wailing continued. I went into his room to see what was wrong, after all he always calms down when Stef holds him.
But he was crying away (and loudly). I said, "Maybe he's sick." So we check his temperature and it's fine. But the crying is continuing. Stef hands him to me (sometimes he just likes being comforted by the other person). But no, that does no good. We set him back into the crib and rub his back (which also helps most of the time). But still no success. He doesn't seem to even know we're there and won't respond to us.
Then all of the sudden he stops and quiets down and falls back asleep in like 2 seconds. So we sit there for a minute or two and then leave. He's fine for about 40 more minutes when all of the sudden he wakes up again screaming away. Again not even acknowledging our presence and trying to squirm away from us holding and comforting him.
Okay, now we're really panicking. I'm thinking maybe we should call the pediatrician's emergency number. Both Stef and I are getting scared and asking each other what to do.
He finally calms down again (after about 10 more minutes of screaming). And Stef says, "Maybe it's Night Terrors". We grab the "Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5" by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Side note: If you have a kid under 5 and don't yet have this book, BUY IT!!! It is without a doubt the best most complete source of information (medical, physiological, etc.) about little ones out there.
In the book on the bottom of page 375 I read about Night Terrors (which I had heard about but did not understand what they were). The book says "...Occasionally your preschooler will be in bed, appearing to be awake and desperately upset...but he won't respond to you."
Ahh, YEA that's what's happened.
It goes on to say we've witnessed something called a Night Terror which is both mysterious and to parents extremely distressing.
Well, YEA again, so what do we do????
It turns out nothing. We just have to watch that he doesn't hurt himself. The good news is that is ends as quickly as it began. And even better, he won't remember the episode the next day.
I HIGHLY recommend (almost to the point of insisting) that if you adopt a young child that you read up and fully understand Night Terrors. They are more common for adopted children and although not something that needs to be addressed (by therapy or anything like that), they are very scary for the parents. And as such it's a good idea you are well grounded in how to recognize them and what to do (which again is basically nothing since even holding and comforting the child usually makes them worse).
But just as the pediatricians say, he didn't have any issues the next morning and was his happy cheerful self when he woke. Of course I'd prefer not to go through that again and our hearts hurt for our little man, but we are feeling okay knowing it was something normal (if not a bit rare) and that there were no long term effects.
The holidays for us were I guess typical for most people: lots of fun and a bit of "work" too (or any other word you may choose to substitute). It's nice to have family around but when entertaining guests it's also quite a bit of work. And with only having Andrei with us for about a week before extended family arrived (and that week we were all sick) it was especially a challenge for both Stef and myself. But we made it through Christmas and now can get back to the routine we had started to set up.
I will say that Andrei did extremely well with one set of grandparents and we had gone out to restaurants left and right and he performed like a champ. We've tried to establish some ground rules around eating (i.e, being well behaved) at the house and that seems to translate quite well when he's out on the town.
We still let him do his thing and eat the way he wants to eat and be as messy as he wants to be. After all he's a toddler! Interestingly enough he's a bit of a neat freak. Well, perhaps neat freak is too strong a label. But he does as he gets close to finishing with his meal reach out his hands for us to wipe them off. It's pretty amazing. He doesn't like his face cleaned though, but, hey, who does?
His eating habits are also quite funny. He'll try just about anything but if the taste (or texture) isn't to his liking he starts to spit it out and continues to do so until every little bit is out of his mouth. This is about the only time when he actually will allow us to clean his face with a baby wipe. I guess he figures we're helping the cause of "evil food" removal.
His first set of grandparents left today and as I said it will be nice to settle down and get comfortable and back onto a normal routine. But we did work hard to at least try to maintain the pattern we'd like him to be on even throughout the holidays. And he's really settling into that. I'm really sort of shocked at how fast he is settling in.
His bonding to us was extremely apparent with the arrival of the grandparents. He really was pretty apprehensive with them and only allowed to be picked up by them on the last day of the week long visit (and even then only briefly). Sounds kind of rough but Stef was pretty pleased (as I was) that he was that way because of course our first job is to establish that special bond of Mommy and Daddy. And clearly we are on the way toward that goal. However, I'm not quite sure we are there yet since this was only our first visit with other people in the house.
But over the next month we're going to have another set of grandparents and various close friends (most with little ones themselves) so we should get a good sense for how he's doing. Health wise he's fine. He's a bit shy on the iron side so his pediatrician is having him take some iron additives just for a month and with his improved diet we're hoping he'll be fine. We also need to provide a stool sample which I'm like 99.9999% sure will show a nice case of Giardia infection. But that's pretty common in Russia and very easy to treat so I'm not concerned.
I'm going to try to catch up with some of the developmental things we are seeing Andrei do (literally on a daily basis). With the holidays over my goal is to get back to daily posts or at a minimum every other day. So stay tuned.
Haven't been writing mainly because when we're not having fun with Andrei or learning how to be parents (obviously going to be a long process btw) we're trying to take it easy as we get over these wicked colds we got.
So how about a weekly update.
Each day brings some fun, some new learning (for both him and us) and some issues. The issues mainly are around those darn naps or even going to bed at night. Although miraculously he continues to sleep a solid 12 hours at night. He may rouse once during the night but gets himself back to sleep extremely quickly. Our approach to naps is just to maintain at least some "quiet time" even if he does not sleep. And that does seem to make him pretty good in terms of crankiness for the afternoons.
It's really cool to see him learn new things each day and his ability to grasp things (of course I bias) is really amazing sometimes. For example, today we stopped at Chili's for lunch and he got one of his fav's macaroni and cheese and a glass of milk. The milk came in a little plastic cup with a straw. Well, he's never seen a straw before and never worked one. He could tell it went into his mouth but at first didn't suck enough to get the milk going (we could see it move up the straw but not all the way to his mouth). It clearly wasn't like his sippy cups he has been using.
So we're telling him "suck more" which was funny enough because of course he doesn't understand a lot of English yet. But he had this look like he sort of understood the concept of the straw so he kept sucking a bit more and all of the sudden some milk hit his lips and that was enough. The kid lapped up milk through that straw like he was born with one in his mouth.
The other cool thing he's picking up on is (to a lesser degree) spoken English and baby sign language. We're only using a few key sign language words ("more" for more food or drink, "done" again for eating, etc.). And he's mastered those two words which he really loves. He has a major sense of accomplishment by using the sign for "more" and seeing that he can communicate effectively with us. His spoken vocabulary is still very limited with most of it in Andrei language rather than the English language. But he's vocalizing well and we're working on simple words daily and know it's just a matter of time.
A past story
It's funny how many people think of Russian orphanages from some mental picture of those videos we all saw of Eastern European orphanages during the 1980's and 1990's. Well of course things are quite a bit different in Russia and continuing to improve as their economy is improving. The one thing I will say is that if you are currently in the adoption process when you get a tour of the orphanage you will most likely be pretty amazed at how well stocked the institutions are. Although they could always use additional donations, the breadth and quality of toys, both physical and educational ones, learning tools, rehabilitation tools, etc. are pretty good.
In the baby home Andrei grew up in there was a Montessori room, separate rooms for sensory therapy, music room, gymnasium, etc. This baby home housed about 120 kids (up to 3 years of age) including some more severely special needs children. All the cribs were new and clean, the rooms and areas about the baby home were all very clean and extremely well cared for.
If you're just starting out on your adoption journey you should know that this baby home is not an exception but the norm.
Stef and I are just getting over the hump of a wicked cold Andrei gave us. It started just as we got to Moscow and it has been one major sickness. I'm certain that is primarily caused by the added stress of the trip and being first time parents. But at least we're on the downhill side of this one (I know there will be something like one per month for awhile here).
He had his first visit with his pediatrician today. His doctor has a number of other adopted kids in his practice (although mainly from China) which is nice because it's not like Andrei is the first internationally adopted kid he's seen. And the Doc was quite impressed with the level of development our little man is at currently and with his health overall.
We broke up the vaccinations into two visits (one group today and one in a month) so Andrei didn't have to get the needle too often. Although the four shots today did not make him a happy camper. But he responded far better than I thought he would and within about 5 minutes after those pokes he was happy and giggling again.
His eating is doing better although as the comments on the last post suggested, his finicky eating is pretty common among toddlers. The only other issue we're having is nap time. Oh baby, does he despise naps. Our pediatrician told us not to stress about it and if he can just have some quiet time that'll work. Because he has not been napping (just crying constantly regardless what we try, rubbing back, lying in the room with him, leaving the room, etc.) he is extremely tired by bedtime. The benefit being that he sleeps solid for 10-12 hours a night. Which we're so thankful for due to our colds.
This week should be much better for us since we're feeling better and should be able to do more. We've only been able to take him out to the grocery store or Target (and Costco of course, you know me, got to go there). So this week we want to do some park action, maybe a restaurant or two, things like that.
Rules are rules
I made the comment about customer service (or the lack thereof) throughout Russian commerce. And historically I've commented favorably or at least with understanding to the Russian culture (primarily from the Soviet times) which is the cause of their sometimes ludicrous customer service. Although I'm a strong proponent of appreciating and even accepting different cultures especially when surrounded by it ("When in Rome..."), the Russians are making a major error in maintaining Soviet style interactions in the commercial world.
They have to realize if they wish to play in the global free market system, then they must adhere to those rules and not their own. All other countries have their own blend of business relationships or way of doing business, but they all maintain a standard of customer focus. Be it Japan, Germany, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, you name it they all "get it". Russia does not. Period. And their growth as a major economy will suffer as a result.
One of the other funny things that I dared not say while our adoption was in process was how completely random the adhesion to rules are. We would walk thru the exact same security checkpoint in the exact same airport and have completely different requirements both times. And I'm not talking a small change here, I mean completely different.
The referral process itself is sort of random in how rules the MOE insists must be followed are actually, well, followed. Technically you don't get referral information until you meet with the MOE on trip #1. You are told by your representatives (coordinator, translator, etc.) to "Act surprised when you see the photo of your child", because of course you have already received that information. And technically you cannot visit an orphanage without this meeting with the MOE. Although from personal knowledge I can tell you that rule is also broken.
I guess this profusion of broken rules bothers because I have a real low tolerance for hypocrisy. And the Russian way of claiming rules must be followed to the letter and then breaking half of them themselves is kind of annoying. Mainly because there is no rhyme or reason to which rules are broken. Throughout Latin America (and a good part of Asia) there is a significant amount of corruption that is part of the system. Rules are set up but then bypassed with the correct amount of "grease" applied. Although not perfect, the system is workable due to the consistency of the corruption. You can depend on the graft and therefore plan accordingly. Sounds crazy but it works.
With Russia there is little or no way to plan for anything. I don't know, perhaps that's why Stalin's Five Year Plans always failed. Winston Churchill's famous quote about Russia is all too true over 50 years later.
"Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
We're all settling into the new routine but boy did Andrei give Stef and I some cold! This is the worst one I've had in years and of course it's merely the first of a constant string that my son will bequeathing to us. He seems to be doing great in terms of being happy and active. The number of temper tantrums have gone way down. Thanks I'm sure to the fact that we ignore most of them. We're also getting better and identifying which tantrums are just plays for getting what he wants.
He's eating well, although he seems to not be eating as much as we'd like him to. We're just shooting for the recommended diet for his age which is only around 1,000 to 1,300 calories a day. But he barely hits that. He doesn't seem to like vegetables too much but is crazy about fruits and the strangest of all, doesn't really eat meat that much. Here he is enjoying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana for lunch.
Since we got back early due to the 10 days waived, we had to reschedule his first pediatrician visit and due to the holidays they were only able to get him in as early as Monday. So we'll ask the Doc about his diet then, although we've heard that we shouldn't be too worried about getting a perfectly balanced diet in during the toddler years.
Don't argue with the Russians
So my story today comes from when we were in Novosibirsk and trying to change our flights to Moscow due to the waived waiting period. We were on Aeroflot and had enjoyed their flights even more than US carriers (better food, better service, etc.). Well that may be true of the actual flight, but the customer service at the local ticket office leaves a lot to be desired. First off, ALL Russian customer service leaves a lot to be desired! And this little exchange is similar to just about every dialogue between a customer and a company (or government) employee.
Well we're in this Aeroflot office and we're trying to change our tickets. The girl behind the counter tells our translator that she needs the final page of the ticket package. It's merely some page that shows the itinerary. Please note, we have our tickets but not this one page at the end. So we tell her that and then she says that we cannot change our tickets, that we must have that one page. We tell her we haven't got it the travel agent only sent us the tickets. She says she won't change them without the itinerary page. We say we don't have it. This goes on for a good 20 minutes.
Finally we just tell her forget it and book us new tickets and we'll just refund the tickets ourselves. Which of course we really couldn't do because they were not fully refundable tickets and getting a credit on Aeroflot isn't that valuable to us. But at this point I could really care less about the $600 or whatever those things cost us.
The point of this story is there is no point to arguing with a Russian government official or whoever is in charge for the Russian company you are dealing with. They just have no concept of dealing with a customer. So just don't bother.
So I thought I'd tell a past story with each current daily story of how Andrei is doing. The past one is really all that much of an ancient story. It's about our trip to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. First off, I was really disappointed with the whole thing. I was expecting this beautiful building with marble floors and columns, marines marching around or standing at attention. You know, something impressive.
The building looked like some rundown post office or school building. Yes there were guards but not in cool "spit & polished" uniforms. But the staff was extremely nice and helpful and congratulated us, wishing everyone the best. There had to be about 20 kids in the room with their new parents. It was really a fun scene.
We met Chris and Danica which was really cool!!! Chris leans over and says "Are you Steve and Stefanie from the Dad's Adoption Blog?" I say "Yea" and he introduces himself saying he reads our blog and says their the Justice Family Blog, and I'm like "Dude, we read your blog!" It was kinda funny. Boy do they have their hands full, they adopted twin girls. And I thought we had a challenge keeping up with our little guy. But they were smart and brought along grandma as an extra set of hands.
Just a side plug. Their blog always has some great detail of the process and what goes on (one of the reasons it's one of our daily reads). So if you haven't yet, you might want to take a look.
Day 1 for Andrei
The first day went fine till about nap time. It was really obvious that the jet lag has a massive effect on a toddler. Andrei had plenty of fun during the morning. He had a nice breakfast and had a blast playing with some of his new toys. We also took a walk outside in our yard and he was really into it. He enjoyed walking around and looking at all the plants without any snow on the ground. I bet his little mind was saying, "Where's all that cold white stuff?"
He also met our dog Chianti and our cat Merlot. We were a bit worried about his reaction to them, although we had seen both dogs and cats at the baby home and knew the kids had seen and even played with pets before. And he really was great with them. Chianti is a Yorkshire Terrier and has very long hair but Andrei didn't once try to pull it. Instead he petted him gently and even fed him a dog treat!
We also took him for his first shopping experience: Target. Which he thought was fantastic. He did a great job sitting in the cart with those little seat belts on. He loved looking at all the stuff on the shelves. And he even helped pick out one of those little water toys that tell you if the bath water is too hot (they change color on the bottom of the toy).
Then he had his first real American lunch...Macaroni and Cheese!!! And yes it seems the rumors are true, every kid no matter where they are from loves Kraft's mac & cheese. He's been allowing us to feed him from day one so we're now letting him feed himself since he's doing pretty well with the bonding.
Nap time is where he hit the wall of jet lag. He went down for his nap fine but only got in an hour before he woke up and was cranky for a good 3 hours before he fell asleep for good (as in the rest of the night). So he missed dinner but we felt it was better for his body to try to get all the sleep he has missed and get his internal clock right. So he fell asleep at 5:00 pm (followed closely by Stef and then me). I woke up around 11:00 pm but then back to bed by midnight.
It's really awesome!!! We got home about 11:00 pm Pacific time, it's now past 2:00 am and we're finally getting tired. I'm planning on closing down the blog with a month long series of daily posts that will both summary and epilogue ending on January 9th coinciding with our official starting date of the adoption process on May 9th, 2006 (a full 20 month long adventure).
Okay, okay, it's a bit theatrical but remember I was born in Los Angeles.
Well, it's truly official. Okay, so it's not quite officially official since we still have to enter the United States and pass through immigration to provide Andrei with U.S. Citizenship status. But it's official enough for Stef to allow me to post a picture or two. Actually here's a little slide show that shows our little man is signed, sealed, and delivered to us.
Well we made it to Moscow, we have our appointment at the US Embassy on Tuesday and then fly home the next day. We've taken in Red Square today (Sunday). It is just so incredibly beautiful.
Andrei is just doing fabulous. He has a few meltdowns every now and then but they seem to be exclusively because he doesn't get his way all the time. I think he's a bit confused on who is the parent.
But he's sleeping over 10 hours a night!!! So, yes, we are too and that is just wonderful because we're able to keep up with him during the day. We're at the Marriott Grand and it's really a terrific place. They really take care of the adopting parents and they've just been super nice and made things ultra easy for us. I know it's pretty expensive but if you can swing it I highly recommend it as well worth the money.
We have found plenty of internet cafes with more reasonable prices but of course I have to leave my little guy so I'm still not going to be updating all that often.
Today is the big day, we go to pick up Andrei today (and yes "Little A" over the past several months stood for Andrei). We're keeping his Russian name.
I just found internet charges in Moscow are really really high (someone told me like $40 for a 24 hour period). So I may not post too often while we are there. But once we have that visa in hand, Stef has given me the green light to post some pictures. That happens Tuesday our time.
We're having a blast. Andrei is doing so well and really getting use to us. I'm sure however the flight to Moscow will be a little rough for him. But he really seems to get tremendous comfort when Stef holds him.
We bought him some little Russian snow boots today. We never got a chance to measure his feet on trip #1, so we didn't really know his size and just decided to buy those here. I also really wanted to have him wear something truly Russian that we could have as a keepsake.
We're heading out to the opera tonight. Novosibirsk has the largest opera house in all of Russia. And since we attend the San Francisco Ballet each season we're really looking forward to this.
We head out to Moscow really early Friday morning. Stef wants to wait till we have his visa in our hands before we post any pictures (which even I think is a bit over paranoid) so I may try to work on her a bit.
The people who read my blog are typically involved in international adoption. I'd venture a guess that about 99.999% are parents of an adopted child or soon-to-be parents. And those people are very lucky indeed. The folks with kids already know how fortunate they are (or at least should). But those of you who are still in the process and are not yet parents are even luckier.
Yes, you are.
You see, although it may seem like an eternity, in a very short while you will experience a rush the likes you have never had before. Shortly after the court hearing or perhaps after you have the decree in your hands or maybe sometime after that, you will all of the sudden realize that there's this little person you'll be able to help enlighten and at the same time regain experiences you may have lost at some point during the speedway of life. You'll have someone with whom you can impart some of the wisdom you've gathered and in return view the world again as if it were the first time you've seen it.
It's a rebirth for you, a chance to see why life is the most amazing thing in the universe. That kid is going to prove to you that everything around us is just so F'ing cool!!! We spend so much of our limited time on this planet rushing to get to work, getting our shopping done, etc. etc. etc. When you see how a kid (at any age) looks at something they've never seen before with all those little synapses in their brains firing away, making connections, processing colors, smells, tastes, and textures. The planet is at a crossroads because of humans but humans also have the ability to learn from our mistakes and clean things up a bit so that our kids will be able to have kids.
The human experience is a pretty cool thing and to repeat a great quote from one of my most favorite movies and something that is somewhat of a mantra of mine...
Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and take a look around every once in a while you could miss it.
So consider yourself lucky, because there's someone who is going to help you take a look around.
Here we are outside of the court house just after the decision. Stef is still being a bit paranoid and won't let me post a picture of Andrei until we have his visa from the U.S. Embassy. So just bear with us.
We start running around on Monday to get the necessary documents (decree, passport, etc.) here so that we can head to Moscow and the embassy.
He is doing just great and we're working hard to make it an easy transition for him with as little stress as possible. Thankfully we've had great support and feel the bonding process is progressing nicely. Obviously I'm a bit bias but this is one great kid.
"The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it."