‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Beginning

Matilda, Queen of Iceland. 
We are home. It was a long, eventful journey back - including an unexpected visit to Iceland for two days - but we are home.

I wish I knew where to start or how to articulate all that has transpired this week, but I feel woefully inadequate to the task. It still doesn't feel real in many ways, and I think that is true not only for me, but Matilda and Nastia as well. (Note: I checked. and it is kosher for me to post Matilda's name, because it is not her birth name. Matilda is the new name she chose for herself - new life, new name.)

I cannot show her face yet, but the photo at right captures her personality quite well even without her face showing. She is, indeed, an adventurer, a conqueror, and a brave climber of mountains - literal and figurative. This gorgeous shot was taken in Iceland last Saturday, just before their 3pm sunset. No filters , no fancy camera - just my iphone and the mysteriously luminous Icelandic sky. Immediately this photo felt iconic in light of her journey - a journey to a new home, a new land, a new life. And there she stands, vigilant yet hopeful, leaning into her own future.

When we first learned of our unexpected layover in The Land of Ice, I was disappointed, but Matilda was downright despairing. No amount of spin or reworking of the storyline would lift her out of that state of desolation. She was firm, her stake irrevocably thrust into the heart of her own misery. But as time passed, I started to see that this delay was anything but disappointing, random or ill-favored. It was a gift and a blessing of stillness before the onslaught of our new life.

We arrived in darkness, but the morning revealed a place of unspeakable beauty and calm. We walked for hours on end. We drank in the brilliant skies and the mysterious light that fell like a tender offering on everything.

Even the landscape buzzing past us on the bus that day was magical...

The place felt at once familiar and foreign. We hiked hills, walked long roads of ice, and travelled into town, where Leif Erikkson stood guard.

The whole accidental interruption felt anything but accidental. It felt like Grace.

The sky, the sea, the glaciers and mountains.

The horizon of ice and snow.

The dark night laced with a billion snowflake-stars.

The people we met. The conversations.

The immense silence...

It felt like the whole universe had paused. 

And just like that, it was over and we were back in time again. We were back on a plane, headed to Boston, and our blessed 'pause' dissolved into the mysterious enchantment from which it came.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All is Well, and We're Headed Home

I wish very much that I had had time to write while here, but it was just not to be. Being a single mom means there is no tag-teaming during an adoption. And with the rules of her country, I had to stay here an entire month. That meant a month in one small hotel room, together 24/7, with no break from one another except brief stints in the bathroom each day (if I was lucky.) It is obvious that if we both were able to survive this imposed semi-imprisonment together, we can survive anything the future holds.

I can't say much publicly yet, but I will say this: Latvian adoption is infinitely more humane a process than Russian adoption. Everything from the social workers to the orphan court staff, to any and all Latvian officials, to Embassy staff, to the attorneys and other supports were nothing short of kind, honest, helpful, understanding, and, shockingly humane. I say shockingly because, after having suffered through three long and painful adoptions in Russia (only one successful), I came to expect and anticipate that international adoption was and would always be frustrating, unjust, fraught with dishonest dealings and misunderstandings, tyranny, abuse of power, and horrifically inhumane treatment - for the child and the parent.

I'm so glad I was wrong.

Seeing how Latvia handles and cares for its' children makes me even more angry about Putin and his many hundreds of government minions across Russia. My anger is so immense for this man, my outrage over his mistreatment of his country's children so vast, that it often keeps me up at night still, going on nine years. I could not possibly put a number on the prayers I've prayed and tears I've wept for Russia's children, and yet even one prayer or one tear is still one more than Putin has ever prayed or shed for them.

This time in Latvia has been an incredible blessing, even though I fought that blessing for the past four weeks! Being away from Nastia was excruciatingly painful. I feel so awful for my poor mother who had to endure one of the most tearful outpourings of grief I've ever experienced, and while enduring the world's worst skype connection, no less.  I missed Nastia so badly one day, that I honestly contemplated just getting on a plane and risking losing this adoption. I know that may sound extreme, but I'd rather be honest, so that other moms about to walk this path know how hard it can be. Being away from your children for that long is worse than torture. And I will never do it again.

Thankfully, the many prayers of friends and my mom, and the many words of support from the same, got me through that dark night. Nastia, experiencing her own terrible darkness at home, survived, too. And I'll venture to say now that we are both likely the stronger for having walked through it.

M is doing very well. She is grieving the loss of her foster family very hard, but that is good. It means she was strongly attached to them and bodes well for all her relationships in the future. She is still unable to call me 'Mom' more than maybe three or four times a week - but we are getting there. She is a fascinating little girl - more clever than I imagined, powerfully strong-willed, sensitive to a fault, curious about everything, fun-loving, gentle hearted and wanting to save every homeless animal and person she comes across. She is very very moody, but fairly quick to recover. She loves God passionately, and my favorite part of every day is when she stretches out her hand in the dark to find mine, and says her prayers aloud:

'God? It's me, M. Thank you for all the good things you gave to me today.I wanted to ask you some favors. Please send angels to every animal and person in the world who is alone or hungry or hurt or has no home. Send Special angels to [fostermom], [half-sisters], [bio-mom], [little brother in orphanage], Nastia, my new mom, Grammy, Emily, LeeAnne, Sarah and Maeve. Please help everyone in the world to feel as happy as I am. And say hi to My Dad, Keri's Dad, and Nastia's Dad in heaven. Amen.'

This is her prayer every night, with few changes. The fact that a little girl who has experienced so much trauma and loss in her little life can voice such a prayer is mind-boggling to me. And yet, it is her prayer, and I am so grateful she can feel and speak it.

We are leaving in a few days. We'll be home just in time for Christmas, and none too soon! I'll be able to post more once home, since I might finally get a moment to myself!  I'll try to find some photos to post below.

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Oh, and P.S: Happy 110th Birthday to my Grammy, Margaret Sweeney Howard! I hope you're enjoying the fascinating show playing out here in your family, below, from your perfect vantage point in Heaven. I love you.

M in Old Riga, before the snow.

Christmas Market in Old Riga

The Cathedral and Christmas Market

Santa takes a break for some mulled wine.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Just Not Enough Time

View from our table at our favorite cafe, KID.
It's been nearly impossible to blog while here. I had high hopes of posting daily, but Matilda is a 24/7 kind of girl. She is not one to play on her own, read on her own, even watch a movie on her own. And she has great difficulty falling asleep at night, so by the time she actually falls asleep, I am completely spent myself. I hope I remember some of this trip once home. It's been very intense and nonstop, with little to no reflection time. I fall asleep mid-prayers every night. And hit the ground running when she wakes every morning.

Matilda is doing well. Highs and lows, but nothing unexpected. I am trying to keep to a routine, which is hard for this very ADD personality of mine. but I'm doing ok with a daily schedule, and keeping her as busy as possible. We have fed more ducks, walked more streets and built more snowmen than anyone else in Latvia, I'm sure. But it's nice to be outside all the time. It's been snowing for days so its very beautiful. Riga is an exceptionally beautiful city.

The hardest part of this trip has been being away from Nastia. Although she had anticipated taking this as a chance to prove her independence and maturity, it did not turn out that way. She has taken my absence much harder than I ever thought possible. She stopped going to school, stopped answering her phone so no one (including me) could reach her, and pretty much isolated after her brief stint at my cousin's house. I spent yesterday in tears most of the day when I couldn't reach her for hours - after her school had called and told me she had signed herself out after attending a mere 20 minutes. Then her teacher emailed me and expressed her concern, too, after failing to convince her to stay. The stakes are high - she will not graduate if she misses many more days. When I would speak to her on Skype she said she was 'too sad' to handle school. And she would tell me how depressed she was and that she didnt care about anything anymore. And the worst part is she puts on this stalwart, happy facade for everyone who stops by or speaks to her. Everyone thought she was doing fine, while she is telling me she is too depressed to do anything while I'm not there.

My guess is that my being away triggered some very old abandonment issues with her birth mom. We've known these were not resolved at all because she still has terrible nightmares of being abandoned even after 8 years home. And this trip came SO suddenly. One day I'm told I'll be lucky to get here in January, and the next moment I'm being asked if I can get here in 48 hours. I do know this: I will never ever ever go away from my daughter for such a long trip until she is much much older emotionally. I can see it has hurt her heart very much. And mine, too.

Matilda is good. The testing behavior is tough, and the incessant talking back and rude tone she uses with me - but I know she is going through her own deep grief, too. I try to redirect her quickly and gently and then move on to fun activities. If it gets really bad, I tell her it looks like she needs some rest time back at our room for awhile. And then we read books or watch a movie. 

It's hard to establish rules with a child who has lived in many different environments. It's hard to establish your role as parent when your new child detests having help from others. But this was just as it was for Nastia. Been there/done that. It's just not that fun - or easy even if you've been down that road before. I'll be glad to be home so we can really establish a routine and I can more easily encourage her reliance on me. for now it is a 24/7 test of wills and power play.

More when I can. The little blonde tornado of energy is out of the bathroom.

Getting my daily Latvian lesson from M at our favorite cafe.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Adopting Matilda

I'm hoping she will stay settled in front of the DVD player so I can finally catch up! This may be very boring to read, as I'm going to try to get as many details down as I can, so I won't forget in the future!

And by the way, I am able to use Matilda's name because it is not her given name and therefore it isn't sharing identifying info. It won't be her legal name until about March/April.

So, I left last Sunday and cried all the way to the airport. It was a thousand times harder to leave Nastia than I thought. I didn't even have the courage to tell her how long I'd actually be away (28 days) because she was already heartbroken when I told her a few months  ago that it would be three weeks. So, lots of gut-wrenching crying, including on the plane. I flew to London first and had a few hours there before heading to Helsinki, Finland. I WISH I had had more time in Helsinki since it is honestly one of my favorite cities in the world - but alas - our plane arrived late and I had literally 15 minutes after getting off the plane to make it through passport control and to my next flight. I raced like I've never raced before, computer, backpack, and carry-on in tow, with my legs buckling under me from exhaustion! I passed an arrival/departure sign that said my gate had already closed 10 minutes ago, but I was determined to get there and BEG to get on the flight. (There were no other flights to Riga that night, and I'd miss my court date.) I got to the gate and the attendant asked if I was 'Kiri Caw-heel' I nodded yes, out of breath, and he grabbed my bags and ran me down to a bus to get me out to the plane. Thankfully the plane was delayed as the runway was being de-iced or something....so, I made it!

The airport in Riga is very small. I called Nastia the moment I landed, and then I got my bags, exchanged some dollars for lats, and took a taxi to the hotel. At this point I hadn't slept more than 3 fitful hours in the almost 24 hours of traveling and 3 separate flights, so I was incoherent, I think. I got my key and went up to the room, fell fast asleep.... for 18 hours. ( Yes, eighteen!)

My attorney's assistant Dace (pronounced DAT-say) came to pick me up at 3pm Tuesday. I hadn't even eaten, but thought showering was more important. We drove to the Orphan Court and she filled me in on what would happen at our appointment. It was much more informal than I thought. She said we'd first meet with Matilda's social worker and go over her history and answer any of my questions. Then we would go to our court session, where I would be given guardianship of Matilda for the next month. What she didnt tell me was that I'd see Matilda upon arriving at the Social Worker's office! I turned a corner and there she was! She was VERY shy, and hid behind her Fostermom. I went to her and hugged her, told her how happy I was to be with her again, and then gave her the space to adjust. Everyone there could see how nervous she was. I met the amazing E, her fostermom, and one of her foster sisters K. It was so wonderful to meet E.

Next I was ushered into the SW's office with the translator, the SW and E. They read Matilda's whole file to me. Most of it I already knew, but more details were given about the day she and her sisters arrived into state care and what occured afterwards. Matilda had already recounted much of that day to me, because she remembers it so vividly. It was surprisingly very much as she remembered it.

Next, the SW answered my questions and then they allowed Matilda to join us. Soon we were told it was time for court. We walked down a long hallway into a little office, nit much bigger than my livingroom. At a long table opposite me sat the judge, Social worker, another SW, the transcriber, and someone else. Next to me on one side was the translator and on the other was Matilda. E sat to the left of us. They asked about my life and home, then asked how I came to the decision to adopt her, and then a few more questions. Did I understand the legal and moral obligations inherent in adoption? (Yes) Was I ready to commit to Matilda and be her mother for the rest of her life? (Yes) Was I prepared for the inevitable difficult times? (Yes.) Then they turned to Matilda. 'Do you want this woman to be your mother? (yes). Are you prepared to follow her rules and accept her authority as your parent ? (yes.) 

They sent us out of the room for their deliberation. As they all had smiles ear to ear, we knew it wouldn't be long. Not even 90 seconds later, they called us back in and read their verdict. They congratulated us, and we were free to go!

We went back to the hotel, unpacked her small suitcase, and then she spent a good 45 minutes examining every inch of  the hotel room. 'This is like a castle!' And later 'I think i am a princess! I want to stay here forever!'  I gave her the small gifts I brought for her and then she opened the care package that Nastia had made for her. She lingered over every little item. It was so sweet. We looked over her childhood photos (just a handful) and she showed me her school papers and every little thing she had packed to bring with her. She was pretty anxious after we went through everything and was already missing her fostermom, so we called her for a quick chat. Then we headed to the restaurant across the street that our attorney had recommended. Little did I know I'd be eating there every night this week! (huge salad buffet for 3.5 lats -cant beat that!)

I honestly already cant remember the next few days, so I'll have to check my facebook statuses and build a record from that!  I do know that over the past 5 days we have fed the ducks at the park 3 times, visited the Christmas Market, wandered thru Old Riga, read books and watched movies, visited the Art Nouveau Museum, attended a Latvia vs Russia Hockey game, and eaten FAR too much. At least we're eating healthy! Latvian food is great. We've had salad for lunch and dinner every day, and a free buffet breakfast every morning!

Here are some photos from this week. I can't post any showing Matilda's face, so most of these are buildings:

Very cool yarn shop in Old Riga
Our favorite restaurant (KID) is in this building, right across from our hotel.

Painting in 20 degree weather!
First day of the Christmas Market
Beautiful cobblestoned streets at every turn.

Riga is beautiful, by the way! Why isn't this a prime tourist destination? I have no idea! It's like Prague meets Germany, with just a pinch of Russia thrown in!