Monday, May 31, 2010

Q & A on Transition and Assimilation

There have been some great questions from readers on how Alina has adapted to life at home. This is a long post, but there are many things in it that I have been wanting to write about here for the past several weeks. I am happy to answer any other specific questions or to provide more detail on the items below (or others, should anyone have different questions). This should be a pretty good start, though :)...

I'm really curious how Alina is doing with English & your family with Russian.

Alina appears to understand much of what we say in English (she definitely understands gestures, tone of voice and facial expressions). We learned some key words and phrases in Russian (the kids even know a few)--which we used a lot at first, always along with the English word or phrase. We started adding signs to very basic words (thank you, cup, sorry, tired) while we were still in Ukraine, and have continued to use signs on a limited basis when appropriate. She seems to pick up signs quickly.

Are there are any distinct characteristics/habits Alina (still) has that reflect her upbringing in the orphanage? How much of a snuggle-bug :-) has she become (or not)?

We have been surprised that the orphanage environment has not been more of a defining influence on Alina. She has such a survivor spirit. In her, we see a person, separate from any diagnosis or label or circumstance. We see that underneath it all, she is a little girl becoming who she was always meant to be. She has so many interests and abilities and, like all children, is full of potential. (All of the kids in the orphanages, even the ones with significant needs or those who have been otherwise strongly affected by their environment, will develop and grow with love and a chance at life on the outside--and all of these children deserve the chance to fulfill their potential within the safety and support of a family.)

We have not noticed "orphanage behaviors" (such as teeth grinding, hoarding, banging, rocking, etc.) in Alina.

She does not have attachment issues that we can see, though she has definitely had to learn how to be loved. She was at first really confused by affection (especially little kisses on her cheeks or forehead and snuggling). She has always been happy to lay her head on someone's shoulder or be rocked when she was sleepy. But she is really starting to work the consolation love--if she gets hurt (or gets her feelings hurt), she milks it for all it's worth--with all of us.

She's so very busy, that catching her for snuggles has become an art. But she is starting to come to us more and more for consolation and for general closeness. Within this past week, she has started sitting on the couch when we watch the news in the morning or watch t.v. as a family at night. She will climb right up and sit right next to someone, trying to cuddle in under their arm. (She doesn't stay there for long :), but she is starting to initiate contact, which is a great sign).

Each day she is changing and coming into her own. She has been in a very restrictive environment on a strict routine. Her upbringing in the orphanage is sure to have had an impact on how she relates to the world.

She is a child unleashed. Having seen the walls of two or three rooms all her life--and not being encouraged to explore and experience life like a child should be--she seems to be making up for lost time. She wants to do it all--often at once :)...which means that we have had to step up our child-proofing and monitoring!

She seems to prefer a firm touch to a gentle one--even with hugs and such. In Ukraine, parents tend to praise and scold loudly. People move more swiftly in general, and with purpose...sounds familiar. In Ukraine, people work hard. They are often on the move, busy doing something. Again, that sounds like our little girl. As we learn about Alina and the things that make her unique, we see links and connections every day to something else, something we are not familiar with. So some things we see in her may just be how she is, but they also may be related as much to being from a different country (and obviously to her biological parents--how they are) as much as they are to her having grown up in an orphanage thus far.

From orphanage life, in particular, we see:

-A somewhat atypical image of food/eating: she eats like it is a business, or a race to the finish. We assume this is because there was only a certain amount of time--and food--allotted for meals in the orphanage. Alina laughs when we put more food on her plate or tray and cries briefly when we take the plate (even after she has to be stuffed!). Again, likely because she was rarely (or never) offered more food once her portion was gone. She wants to eat as soon as she sits down in her high chair, and she fusses until we bring the food (with a sad little face and her palms up, like, What? Am I going to get any?).

-Pieces and parts of daily life there: washing up, for example. Alina has no idea what to do in a bathtub. She loves to splash the water with her hands and also wants to stand up and march in it. She needs many reminders to sit down ;). If we give her a wash cloth (or a diaper wipe), she washes herself. She's thorough. She gets her feet, behind her neck and ears, under her chin. We assume she was given a cloth to clean herself sometimes, or that she was studying closely while she was cleaned.

Bedtime routines, also: she started off not wanting anything in bed with her. She didn't want or need comfort items, although she is learning to like them. Initially, she tossed everything out of bed (blankets, soft toys, pillows). She has started wanting to put her head on a pillow and to be covered up. She will also hold a teddy bear or doll at naptime...if Bridget has one also :). We assume she was put in bed in the orphanage without toys or other items.

-At the orphanage, most everything Alina ate or drank had been warmed. She prefers food and drinks warm, but will not refuse anything. She just makes a funny face, like, I don't know how I feel about this, but I'm not going to complain too much--they might take it. Alina and Bridget have been enjoying tiny kid-sized ice cream cones after dinner, and Alina practically inhales hers (always finishing before Bridget has even made it down to the cone), but she makes a funny face the whole time!

-She thinks she has to do literally everything on her own. She pats her own back when she is having trouble swallowing something, wipes her own nose and dresses herself. She lays herself down and takes off her diaper when it is time for changes. She puts herself in time out when Bridget cries, even if she had nothing to do with it :).

How does Alina relate to you as authority figures?

She knows, without a doubt, that mom and dad are the authority figures in the home. She responds quickly when we ask her to do something, or to quit doing something. She will also listen to the kids, well, other than Bridget :). It is clear to us that she very much likes to be praised, and does not enjoy being scolded. She tests the boundaries once in a while (tossing her cup from her high chair or grabbing Bridget's hair, for example), and a firm No is usually enough to illicit a sad face and moment of silence from her. When we first tried to discipline Alina, she would stop and smile. That morphed to stomping her feet with a grin or a giggle. But recently, she has been full-out crying when she is put in time out (i.e., removed from the situation--whatever it is that is causing trouble--and asked to sit in one particular spot on our couch for a very short period of time). She knows when she is doing something she is not supposed to do.

Does she cry or ask for the caregivers from the orphanage? Does she seem to miss the orphanage?

I'm curious about how much you reference back to her home in the Ukraine with pictures/stories/songs/etc. & how she responds.

We only visited Alina at the orphanage for 5 days, so we did not get to see much of what her daily life was like there. We did notice that her caregivers seemed to enjoy her very much. While they were firm with some of the other children some of the time, they were fairly patient and would often smile or giggle when they "redirected" Alina (when she tried to get into the shelf full of shoes, or when she made a mess while eating, for example). There were a few of the women who were very nurturing with her and seemed to like her very much. They called her "Alinka" (pronounced Uh-LEEN-kuh).

We have a memory box for Alina, which includes pictures we took while we were in Ukraine, a few items we purchased there (a painted box, a small metal plate like the ones she used at the orphanage, a Ukrainian flag, a few books); the one picture we have of her when she was little, and the Angel Tree ornament we received for donating to Alina's grant fund on Reece's Rainbow.

The green dress--the one she wore every day we were there--is also in the box. (It is ripped and missing the buttons on the back, but we traded a new dress so we could take it with us. The day we left the orphanage, one of the caregivers brought Alina out to us in a diaper. That's what we had to leave with--a little girl in a diaper. Other than the baby picture from her SDA file, that green dress is the only thing we have of her childhood, and it was a shared item...she had nothing of her own.)

When we walked out the doors of the orphanage, it is like she never looked back. She was already starting to look to us for comfort by the time we left Zaporozhye.

She does love it when we speak Russian to her, though. She always smiles when I say "good job" or "I love you" or "thank you" in Russian. Unfortunately, we don't know any songs or hand rhymes in Russian. She is beginning to enjoy the English versions of things like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider", "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes," especially if Bridget is right near her enjoying them, too. We suspect that either her hearing is not great, or she did not get a lot of exposure to music/songs/fingerplays at the orphanage.

We have really enjoyed learning about Ukraine, and have already included many things from our time there (including food items, music, traditions) in our lives here at home.

While it is hard to grasp that there is no place for Alina in her society, we treasure her Ukrainian heritage nonetheless. We understand that her parents didn't have much of a choice in whether or not to keep her, and we have to assume that they agonized over their decision to place her in an orphanage. We also believe they knew that it was her only chance at a better life.

I only wish they knew that we made our way to her, that she is now safe, and loved and cherished--and that her future is so bright...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Life at Home Since Alina's Arrival: Thoughts from Her Siblings

Emmy, almost 8

What is it like having a new sister?

I'm glad to have a new roommate in my room! It was lonely when I was by myself before Bridget was born. Then once she was there, it was better, but there was still space. It is more crowded, but now it's like a big party in our room :)!

It is exciting having a new sister because we had never seen her before. We had no idea what she would look like and be like.

Tell me about Alina...

Well, she's playful, sweet and loving...and a big eater! She does things that a lot of little kids might not know how to do, like dressing herself and pretending to pour tea into a cup. She just knows a lot.
She's my sister and I love her.

, 11

What do you think about having a new sister? What is it like having her here with us?

It's fun and exciting to see the new stuff that she does (like exploring, showing her imagination). It's sort of crazy times two--with Bridget--and a lot more humor.

What is good about Alina?

How much she knows right now, how fun and cute she is to play with.

Have things changed at home since we added another child?

Nope, not really :).

, 13

Tell me what you think about having Alina home...

It's awesome. She's cool and she's funny and she's sweet. And it's good to know that we saved someone's life. It's good to share
{with others} that people with Down syndrome should get a chance. And Bridget has a buddy now.

What has been hard about the adoption?

It was hard that my parents had to leave and be gone from us, but it all paid off. I don't see a downside
{to adoption}.

, 14

What is it like now that Alina is finally here?

Having her home has been really smooth. It's like she fit in right where she was supposed to. Having her here didn't completely change our schedule. And it is a really good thing for her. She really needed us.

How do you think she has changed since she's been here?

In the beginning, she seemed unsure in her new environment but she's adapted to us really quickly--and in this short amount of time she's a part of our family.

What do you enjoy about Alina?

I love her smile and her laugh. Some people give a half-hearted smile or laugh. But she doesn't waste them. Every time, she means it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Alina & Bridget

Many people have asked how the two little girls in our family are adjusting to each other--and how they interact. So here it is, a post devoted to our dynamic duo :)...


Bridget and Alina went from not knowing each other to doing everything together. For a three year old, that has to be confusing--and for two little girls who have been forced into a forever partnership overnight, they are doing exactly what we had expected--and hoped for. They are busy being kids, and in the process are learning about being sisters.

When we first brought Alina home, the two girls were very much in their own individual worlds. They played side-by-side, rather than together, were sometimes amused by the presence of the other and sometimes seemed to be simply tolerating each other.

Within the span of one week, they were already beginning to expect (and enjoy) that they would both be doing whatever we were doing, that they would both be going wherever we were going.

Surprisingly, there has been very little jealousy, if any.

We've had our moments, as you would expect, when one of them takes a toy, pulls hair or pushes the other. We have our squabbles that would be typical of any toddlers permanently inhabiting the same spaces, playing with shared items, interested in getting help and attention from the same people. And yes, that mop has been used as a weapon--by both girls.

But our two youngest girls are working it out.

Bridget has figured out that Alina (while she usually means well), is rough. She tends to take a wide arc around her little sister and gives Alina the Heisman when she needs to get by her. She has been saying, Nee-yet, Nuh-Nuh! (No, Alina!), which is very funny to hear. (She is also often overheard saying, Nuh-Nuh, CUTE!)

Bridget and Alina take care of each other. If one is out of Cheerios or crackers, the other will usually share willingly. They point to each other's empty bowls. They offer each other sips from a cup and wipe each other's noses. Bridget has a delicate touch, and Alina seems happy to be "helped" by her. Alina, on the other hand, comes at Bridget with an intense expression, and Bridget looks stunned as Alina firmly presses a sippy cup to her lips or wipes her nose with vigor.

But Alina coughs and Bridget shouts, CUP! Okay? If Bridget wakes up before Alina, she tells me, Mommy, Nuh-Nuh...check! (check on Alina!).

And when Bridget is in school and Alina goes somewhere with me in the car, she points to Bridget's carseat, saying Buh? (where's Bridget?).

When they are playing with each other, Bridget and Alina like to take care of baby dolls, spread out a napkin and dishes on the family room floor, and "clean" house :).

They are double trouble, for sure :). They're also double the LOVE.

Up next: Notes from our family discussion on Alina and answers to questions about Alina's transition and assimilation process.

Friday, May 28, 2010


We have enjoyed getting to know Alina over the past six weeks! Here is what we have learned about our newest little girl:

Alina is self-assured, adaptable and good-natured. She is curious and active, with definite ideas and seemingly boundless energy.

She is alert—and very observant. She smiles and laughs easily. She’s interested in people and enjoys social interaction. She likes to give “fist bumps,” and “fives” and “high one’s” (with her index finger). She waves at every. single. person. she sees at the grocery store.

Alina likes to try to do things for herself. We believe she began walking just over 6 months ago, so she is still really a “toddler” and can be wobbly at times. That does not stop her from trying anything. She does not hold back—she’s on a mission, and does literally everything with purpose.

Alina is very sharp--she is a quick study. She understands how to play with toys (which buttons to push, how they work). She is a little Houdini, and has figured out how to get out of her crib and how to take her Onesies off by slipping them over her shoulders and down. (Notice the ribbon tie on the picture works! For now.) Chris keeps saying, Don't show Alina how you did that! (unhooking a safety latch on the cabinet, or getting her out of the harness on her carseat, for example). She watches once, and it is over :).

Alina is an interesting mixture of active and content. As seen in the last post, she plays with gusto. She works hard at playing. She plays for long periods of time (by herself or with others), and has a very good attention span (if, of course, the object or activity is something she is interested in!).

Like most children, she likes to be praised and does not like to be scolded.

Alina is expressive. (Who knew, from her profile pictures??)

She enjoys: eating, books, phones, pretend play (baby dolls, cleaning, kitchen), things she can carry (purses, bags and buckets), and playing “dress up” (i.e., dressing and undressing).

Her speech is delayed (though we are not sure exactly how much since her native language is Russian!), but her total communication is quite good. She not only understands much of what we ask of her in English, but she is also beginning to communicate some of her wants and needs using a variety of strategies (facial expressions, sounds, gestures, signs). She is beginning to repeat sounds for us as well.

Since Alina has been home, she has learned to say: book, more (“muh”), cup (“puh”), mama, hi, and “Buh!” for Bridget.

She is signing: more, apple, gentle, sad, and cup. She waves “hi” and “bye-bye”.

Alina keeps us running...and smiling...and giving thanks on an hourly basis.

She is a delightful child, who is so full of life and potential. She is a wonderful daughter...

...and we feel lucky to be able to call her our own...

Up next: Alina & Bridget--how they are adjusting and NEW PICS :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Name is...


That is what Bridget is calling herself...Jibby. Or Jibit. I can't even type it without giggling. (Jibby is Bridgey. Jibit is Bridget.)

Her speech is much better than we once thought it might be, and she can say lots of names clearly. Why, oh why, couldn't we have selected a name she would be able to pronounce ;)?

Whistle While You Work

So we have discovered that Alina is a little "worker bee"--she works/plays hard.

She loves the cleaning set I got for Bridget last year (Bridget likes it, too). And she is thorough. When she mops, she gets underneath and behind the furniture. She moves stuff to clean under it, too.

We sat down as a family tonight to talk about life with Alina, how things have changed (or not) since she arrived, and how we feel about her.

I have pictures, details, descriptions and stories to share over the next few days. I'll answer the questions people have asked about her assimilation process and about how the rest of the group has done with a new little sister.

Feel free to ask any questions through the comments section here or via email. I'll try to get to each request :). Please stay tuned...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Video--Gotcha Day

While we were in Ukraine, Chris took several short videos with his Blackberry.

I hope to share more of our trip, of what we did and saw while we were there. But as I was looking over the videos Chris uploaded onto my computer last night, the following seems like a good place to start, even though it is not at the beginning of our trip.

It is the beginning of Alina's new life.

The day we took Alina out of the orphanage...forever:

Video--Gotcha Day

While we were in Ukraine, Chris took several short videos with his Blackberry.

I hope to share more of our trip, of what we did and saw while we were there. But as I was looking over the videos Chris uploaded onto my computer last night, the following seems like a good place to start, even though it is not at the beginning of our trip.

It is the beginning of Alina's new life.

The day we took Alina out of the orphanage...forever:

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Two Weeks In...

Tomorrow, we will have been home for two weeks. Alina and I will celebrate by going to the International Adoption Clinic for her comprehensive check-up :). I have spent the past few days writing out all the important details that we have learned about Alina's health history and development in preparation for the appointment. I will also take along her vaccination record and notes from the head doctor at the orphanage where Alina had been living. I will post a re-cap of her appointment here sometime next week.

It is hard to believe that we met Alina less than a month ago. We feel like we have known her forever.

This little girl is so busy and curious. She is such a bundle of love.

She is very sociable and giggles easily. She has had nothing of her own, yet she willingly shares her food and toys. She is a sturdy little girl who craves affection and gives it right back. When she comes in for a hug, she lunges toward you, grinning with her arms wide open. She rarely cries, but when she does, she is easily consoled.

A few details that several people have asked about:

Alina was confused at first by physical affection. We gave her space to start, and when we first began to hug and kiss her, she looked at us like, what is that? and moved slightly away. Within a few days, though, she realized that having people love her felt pretty nice. One day at the orphanage, she scratched her arm and I came right over to ask if she was hurt. She looked up, appearing to be a bit confused by me kissing her arm. She paused, then smiled, then went right over to Chris and lifted her arm to his mouth so he would kiss her boo-boo, too. She's all about the love now. Instead of leaning away, she leans toward us. Loving a child who has been abandoned and hasn't known love, and having them love you back--it feels like Heaven.

Alina is eating, drinking and sleeping well. She seems to like most everything we have fed her, except Brussels sprouts (not a surprise) and mashed potatoes (a surprise). She does prefer food and drinks to be warm (everything was warmed in the orphanage), but she won't refuse items that are cold. She is drinking apple juice, water and rice milk from a sippy cup. (She can drink from an open cup, but needs supervision because she tends to play in it, or pour some of it if left unattended. She wasn't given milk in the orphanage, as far as we know, so we are introducing dairy slowly.) She naps once a day, for about two hours, and sleeps soundly from about 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Alina doesn't love diaper wipes. Scratch that. She loves diaper wipes, just not when we are wiping her bottom with them :). We don't know what they used in the orphanage (maybe a warm cloth?).

She doesn't mind baths, although we assume she had never had one until she got here. She really likes to splash the water, so her baths are quick :). We also assume she did not have any sort of dental care in the orphanage. She cleans her teeth with her tongue when she lays down to sleep at night. It is sweet and sad. She has let me brush her teeth right from the start, which is crazy. I have no idea why it doesn't bother her. Her gums bled a little at first, even though I was super careful. They are not bleeding anymore. And yes, the pediatric dentist is on our list of visits to make soon.

Alina doesn't watch t.v. (although she likes the remote and knows exactly how to use it--they had a t.v. in her groupa's room), but she does seem to like one show: American Idol. It's true. I have no idea why Dora the Explorer does not hold her attention, but American Idol does. (Dang, I wish I had the whole season recorded!)

The staff at the orphanage was able to tell us two things about Alina (in English): Alina clever.... and Alina messy. Holy cow, were they ever right on both accounts :).

Alina is doing so well developmentally. She is very sharp and able. Her spoken language is her largest delay as far as we can tell, although she is making lots of sounds (like Boo, Woo, Oof, Ha Ha, Huh!), and she has started to say some words in English, too, like HI! and more ("muh"), which she has also learned to sign. Alina understands much of what we say to her in English and is fairly compliant :). She loves to hear Russian words--she smiles when she hears them--and will do everything we ask of her in Russian. She's lucky our Russian-language skills are limited ;).

Bridget and Alina spent about a week sizing each other up :). Bridget realized quickly that Alina tends to stumble and will squash her when she falls, so Bridget would gladly wave and smile at Alina, but kept a safe distance from her "little" sister. For the first week or so, I would say that the girls tolerated one another and were amused by each other. They both seem to know that the other one isn't going anywhere, and they seem to be happy with that :).

They are really beginning to enjoy each other. They will wave to each other and smile. They like to hold hands, or touch their index fingers together. They "share" food items and cups (which is lovely, in truth as well as in sarcasm). Bridget tries to help Alina by making sure we are aware of her apparent needs and status on a moment-to-moment basis.

Bridget calls Alina sissy and nuh-nuh, but it is usually uh-nuh-nuh. Things I hear often: uh-nuh-nuh...mess; uh-nuh-nuh...cup; uh-nuh-nuh cryin'; uh-nuh-nuh, cracker.

There have been some very funny moments already with the two of them. On the way home from dance class last night, Alina and Bridget were in their carseats, both double fist-pumping to AC/DC "You Shook Me All Night Long". It was classic.

Bridget and Alina are very similar in some ways: they both like dolls and books and food and being around people. Despite very different body types, they are also almost exactly the same height and weight and wear the same size shoe.

Our three-year-olds are also polar opposites in some ways. Bridget tends to be very dainty and gentle. When she falls or drops something she says Oopsie in a sweet little voice. Alina is a bit of a bull in a china closet. She is not the most gentle creature, but then again--neither am I :). When she falls or drops something, she says OOF! It is hilarious.

Bridget likes to be clean and gets grossed-out easily (she is often heard saying Ewww! for one reason or another). Alina is a disaster half the time. Bridget keeps a napkin beside her yogurt in the morning and wipes her mouth throughout. She isn't always clean, but she tries.

Alina, on the other hand, eats her yogurt with wild abandon--just how she does most other things :). She has it everywhere from her eyebrows to her elbows.

Yesterday, Bridget looked over at Alina (right when I took the above picture) and whispered, mess. Yep, she's a mess alright :). A beautiful, busy mess, who we are lucky enough to call our own.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Tired & Happy

I have so much to much on my mind and in my heart. And I promise that I am trying to put words and pictures together to share some of it here.

At the moment, I have just finished cleaning the kitchen up after it bedtime yet :)?

We've jumped right back into life at home. I shouldn't be surprised that things are busy, now that we have six children under fourteen. Chris is already back to traveling for work and all of the kids have been sick at one point or another since we have been home.

It took at least a week to shake off the exhaustion of the trip overseas and back. And now, what we've got is just plain old exhaustion :).

So, I am going to put the youngest girls down for a nap and take one myself! Tonight, I will write (and post) all about Alina, and how she is doing at home.

I'll end with an image (in words, though I wish I could have safely photographed the moment): Last night, on the way to take Sara to dance class, Bridget and Alina were in their car seats behind the passenger and driver seats in our minivan. I looked in the rearview mirror to see their little hands stretched toward each other, index fingers touching. They were both smiling from ear to ear.

It had been a hectic day, but a split-second glance--seeing the two of them like that--was all the reminder I needed that we are living exactly the life that was meant for us.