On Friday afternoon, while having our hurried, brief and last official visit with the orphanage director, we were told that we could take Alina out of the orphanage any time between then and Sunday since they finally had all of the documents necessary to close Alina's file. The director handed us the small slip of paper shown below. It was up to us to decide the date and time of her "Gotcha Day".
Permission to take Alina forever
We were scheduled to take the Sunday night train out of Zaporozhye back to Kiev, and decided we should do a little bit of last minute sight-seeing (since we had done NONE yet) and shopping on Saturday morning, before we had Alina with us full-time. We agreed we'd go and get her Saturday afternoon and spend that night and most of the next day with her before heading out Sunday evening.
On Khortytsia Island
Our cab driver, Igor (pronounced EE-gur) picked us up at our hotel mid-morning that Saturday and took us on a ride through Zaporozhye along the Dnieper River, and over the bridge to historic Khortytsia Island, a 16th to 18th century fortified military camp and home to the Zaporozhye Cossacks (very interesting for others heading to Zap).
We then asked if he could take us to a market where we could purchase a few celebratory items to leave with the nannies and the groupa when went to get Alina.
We ended up at the largest store you have ever seen under one roof, think WalMart and Sam's Club combined, and then some (and we'd just been remarking how wonderful it was to experience the outdoor markets and small mom-and-pop grocery stores in Ukraine compared to the big mega-stores so common in the States). But this store had everything we needed: chocolates, champagne, balloons and little toys for the orphanage and some diapers, food and snacks for Alina for the next several days.
My description of Gotcha Day itself will be brief. It took more time to drive to the orphanage than it did to walk in and come out with her.
We had no idea what to expect from Gotcha Day. We'd heard descriptions from other adoptive parents of send-offs which ranged from very small, quiet and almost somber goodbyes to full blown parties including both celebration and ceremony.
Playing it safe, we figured our experience would be somewhere in between. So we brought items to give along with our sincere thanks, and planned to spend as much time as we were allotted to express our gratitude to the caregivers and say goodbye to the other children and the only life Alina had ever known.
We brought a large bag filled with gifts, our camera and a small bag with Alina's outfit, coat and a few toys for the ride back to the hotel.
It was a pretty day, with big blue skies and lots of sunshine. Chris took a couple of short videos with his Blackberry before we entered the room:
The door from the locker room area to the main room was open, and it was unusually quiet in there that afternoon. We didn't recognize the woman who came to the door, but she knew why we were there and motioned for us to wait outside the room.
Just like the moments before we visited Alina for the first time by ourselves, we once again waited in silence, standing just off the short hallway leading to her room. We were both looking around, trying to focus on each little piece of the room where we'd met Alina and spent most of our time with her so far. We looked at her locker, the one with her name taped to the front and a sticker of three small balloons--one blue, one yellow, one red. (Her locker was now empty). We looked at the board with the nursery rhymes used for circle time and the board of pictures of children who had already been adopted from her groupa, at the lace curtains and the tiny blue benches. We wanted to take in everything about that moment. Leaving felt as sacred as meeting face-to-face.
All the other times we visited, Alina came clipping out on her own, but that day one of the nannies we didn't know very well came to the door carrying Alina, who was wearing only a diaper. The woman handed Alina to me, turned and walked back into the room, closing the door behind her.
I took that as a cue to dress her. We took our time, talking quietly to Alina as we put her new clothes on her. She noticed, and I think she understood that the clothes and shoes and coat were hers.
We sat there for a few minutes trying to determine if we should peek our heads in and ask if they would like us to bring Alina back in the room to say goodbye to everyone, or if we could bring in the gifts we had for them. We didn't know if there was a little party planned, or if there would be some other formal time to say our goodbyes.
Just then, two of the women who really seemed to like Alina came out into the locker room area. They each gave her a long hug goodbye. I picked up the bag of gifts and motioned that we would like to give them to the caregivers and the groupa, and one of the ladies motioned to the table, indicating that we should leave the bag there. I hugged each of them before they went back into the groupa's main room.
As Chris put on his coat, one of the other nannies came into the hallway, patted Alina on the head and waved goodbye to her. She turned back around and shut the door.
And that was goodbye.
These are the moments directly following:
Images of the day we took Alina out of the orphanage...forever:
This was the beginning of Alina's new life. From our adoption blog:
It was an exciting and emotional day. And it all hit us at once last night. We have saved a life. This precious little ruby, this innocent child, has been hidden away since birth. What if we had not come for her? Our hearts are so full and grateful for her and for this journey. At the same time they are aching for the life she has missed out on for three long years, and for all of the other little ones we had to leave behind yesterday--especially the ones with no families coming for them.
At this point, it is all too fresh to write about clearly. We are honestly moved beyond words...
In our hotel room that night