Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Where to begin?

Let’s see, since I last updated our sweet Callie girl turned 5! We had a jampacked summer full of so much fun! We moved. We went to the beach. We stayed up too late catching fireflies with Russian friends. We went to the zoo. Callie had her first overnight trips to Annie’s house. We went to the mountains for the 4th. We played in the lake. We went fishing. We hung out with friends. We played in the pool. We played in the backyard. We went to Jaime’s wedding in PA. Callie started Kindergarten. Callie had her first sleepover at a friend’s house. We took some family pictures. We played ring around the rosie in a field. 








Callie is beyond fluent in English. She can count to 50. She knows her ABC’s and can identify the majority of her letters. She knows all her vowels and the sounds they make.  She is memorizing bible verses and hearing her little Russian accent tell me about doing to others just undoes me. It’s precious. Her fine motor skills are advancing – she can now draw pictures with purpose and write her letters. She’s getting a steady hand with the pearler beads.

 




She’s a wonderful big sister who loves to play with Audrey & Harper. She’s mostly patient with them, but has no problem tattling. She believes in fairness and equality and the most disruptions occur when she thinks one of those has been broken. 



She LOVES to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and up until this week could care less about anything else on TV, but in the last couple days she has said she likes Doc McStuffins. She went from being terrified of animals to letting Annie's doggies lick her and run with her.


She’s getting less picky on food. She’ll eat almost anything these days except most vegetables (tomatoes are still a hit) and chicken. Spaghetti and macaroni are still the favorites. Her hair has grown 6”, but because it’s corkscrew curls, it doesn’t look like that much. When it’s wet, it’s partway down her back. She loves baths with her sisters, but prefers showers alone.  



She has gained 9 pounds. She is a solid 4T in the waist now, but is still tall for a 5 year old so pants are still a challenge. Thank goodness for Gap slim fit with adjustable waist! She just had her first ear infection. The rest of the house had a little cold we thought she avoided, but she must have caught it enough to have some fluid in her ears that got infected. 






 


Saturday is the one year anniversary of Callie being officially ours in Russia! We didn't get to pick her up for several more weeks and we didn't get to the US until 11/18.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

First Birthdays

If you ask Callie how old she is she will hold up 4 little fingers and proudly exclaim, “Foah!” And when you ask her how old she will be when she has a birthday, there is no hesitation with a full five fingers and her little “fiyav”.

Her birthday is in 2 days. She’s asking every day now how many more days until her birthday. With all the other life activities right now, we aren't able to throw her the bash she deserves this week, but we've told her she’s going to get two parties. One party will just be mama, papa, Audrey and Harper on her birthday. She will get Spaghettio's with cucumbers and strawberries on the side. Then she knows that in a couple weeks, she can have all her friends come to the new house we will have a big party! Every day she picks out different invitations and I can’t figure out what theme she really wants (So sorry to family who haven’t gotten an invitation! I need to get on that).

She is so excited. She seems to be completely overwhelmed with the thought that she is getting a party. She keeps saying, “Callie party?” and when I reply with “Yes, just for Callie!” her little face lights up.

Mama is a little sad. I’m mourning the day of her birth. I’m mourning the other 4 times April 4th rolled around on the calendar and there were no balloons, no cake, no favorite foods and no mama to give her hugs. It has taken 4.5 long years for my sweet little light to finally have a mama and papa who tell her every day how special she is and how loved she is. We are so blessed to be able to share this birthday with her and we pray every day we have many more to share together.

When she leans over her little cake with her name on it and blows out 5 little candles, I’m likely to have tears running down my face. I can’t always keep her safe and protect her heart, but I know for that moment in time, her world will be safe and she will feel loved. This will be the picture of redemption. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sleep Tight

For the three and a half months Callie has been home now, she has slept on a small cot just beside the bed in mama and papa's room. Having spent her entire life sleeping dormitory style with at least 10 other children in a row of beds, we knew sleeping in her own room, her own bed, would be a big adjustment to overcome. We could not force her to spend those first scary nights alone in her room and we didn't want to start the habit of her ending up in our bed, so the cot became a familiar extension of the comfortable little pallet on the floor she took to so well to those first couple of unfamiliar nights with us in an Moscow hotel room. 


We had fully prepared to begin transitioning her to her own bed when she showed signs of attachment. She had spent some time napping in it during the day, so it wasn't totally foreign. However, due to many outside circumstances and for a variety of reasons, we have found ourselves selling our house and gearing up to move the family onto a much better situation for everyone. Despite her doing so remarkably well with her adjustment, we have been careful to prepare her for every change and implement them slowly. We knew that moving would be a huge obstacle to her attachment and adjustment. With awareness of that, we decided not to push and not to change the familiar sleeping arrangement she was accustomed to until we were settled in the new house. Of course, this wasn't an easy decision for us since one of us (9 times out of 10, Jessica) has been with Callie every night from her bedtime at 8pm to when she falls asleep, with no break, since picking her up that night in Russia from the orphanage.  Because of this, our available free time together is limited to 7pm-8pm - when the twins go to bed to when Callie needs to go to bed. It's hard since we work all day and need time in the evening to reconnect and be still together for a moment without children.

But last night, a break through... rather, a miracle! Callie, of her own accord, asked to go "nite-nite" in her big girl bed. We were a bit startled and caught off guard, but welcomed any chance. So we quickly gathered the baby monitor and set a trail of ambient light leading from her room downstairs to the open door of our bedroom and said have at it! We talked about the house being quiet and about how she could go to mama and papa's room if she got scared. After several testing bathroom breaks, she went to sleep in her very own bed by herself! That sleep continued until 3:30am when we were awakened unexpectedly by a toddler bedside in our room. No warning, no noise on the baby monitor, nothing, just a little person whispering "mama!". We directed her to lay on her cot and all quickly went back to sleep and that was that. When we asked her in the morning what happened, her only answer was "scared". That however doesn't seem to deter her as she remains adamant about wanting to go to sleep in her room again. So as I write this, I'm upstairs just outside her room, quiet, watching her on the webcam trying to repeat last night's brave performance!

Morning update: She made it until 5:50am and then came downstairs. She didn't want to lay in her cot and instead knee'd mama and papa in their kidneys until we were all up for the day at 6:15am.

We have 6 more weeks in our house so we'll see how she does! She's very proud of herself and excited so I think she'll do just fine!

Sweet, precious, spunky, brave girl.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Tour of Vladimir, Russia

So I had the idea of putting together this post now that Callie is home and we can speak more openly about her heritage. I've had many people curious about where she came from and I wanted to put together a little showcase to give you a better understanding of her town and heritage, which we hope we can preserve as an important part of her.




Callie was born in a small town near Vladimir and when she was about 18 months old was transferred to the Vladimir Baby House which is where we found her.

Being the capital, Vladimir is a good size city of around 300,000 (not all that much bigger than where we live in the US).  Though not a common tourist destination, Vladimir is part of the "Golden Ring" of ancient Russian cities, has several ancient cathedrals, and its heritage dates back to 900AD. In fact, the Grand Prince was crowed in Vladimir's Assumption Cathedral up to 1200AD when this was moved to Moscow's Kremlin and the famous Assumption Cathedral there which was loosely modeled after Vladimir's. 


Old bridge of some historical relevance, though I'm not sure what exactly. As seems to be customary in Europe, locals would affix "love padlocks" to the rails of this bridge.


McDonalds, the only familiar sign of western civilization we encountered in Vladimir. Even though most Russian's could understand simple English and use a few broken words, we hardly ever encountered anyone to which we could carry on a conversation with in Vladimir. ATMs that would exchange money were common enough (most only in Russian), but paying with credit cards of any variety was not common and most transitions occurred in cash. This McDonald's was one of the few places we found both credit card machines and an English picture menu.

Assumption Cathedral (1160)
The principle church during Vladimir's reign as political capital of Russia and where the grand prince was crowned before this responsibility shifted to Moscow's Kremlin


Back view of Assumption Cathedral.

Monument to Prince Vladimir I and Fyodor the monk in Pushkin Park.


Building of the Gubernia's Administration (1785) 
Sits between the Assumption Cathedral and St. Demetrius' Cathedral.
Housed local administration during Soviet era. 
Now home to the Art Gallery and Hall of Pre-Revolutionary Estates. Seems as though it was undergoing renovation


St. Demetrius' Cathedral (1197)

View perched atop Vladimir vantage point overlooking the Klyazma River

Muronskaya Bridge and Klyazma River leading to Suzdal I believe.


The Northern Trade rows (aka "the mall").
Located within walking distance of our hotel in downtown Vladimir, this supplied us with a grocery store and all the shopping necessities we needed.

Golden Gates (1163).
Located in the city center, these gates once marked the entrance to the city and were an impenetrable fortress.

More local architecture

Trinity Church (1913)

Vladimir Oblast assembly hall

I believe this is the site where the Tartar-Mongol hordes breached Vladimir's defenses in 1238. The city has struggled to recover since then in the limelight of Moscow.

19th century water tower. Houses the Museum of "Old Vladimir".

View of the Assumption Cathedral and Pushkin Park from afar.

What trip to Russia would be complete without your local Vodka factory?

A typical Vladimir street and city horizon

A Vladimir side street.

View from afar of what I called Vladimir's industrial area we drove past everyday on the way to the orphanage. What you see isn't a nuclear power plant, but rather a thermal one that produced power and steam for the town. Large steam pipes snaked their way above ground all over the town between buildings as the primary source of heat for the winter.

Entrance to Callie's orphanage... down a narrow, rough alley between two high rise apartments adjacent to some sort of military installation. Located about a 10 minute car ride from our hotel in downtown, the orphanage was on the outskirts of town in a noticeable more poverty stricken area than the old world that surrounded us in the city center.
The main gate to Callie's orphanage. This would be locked after 5:00. The entire orphanage grounds was surrounded by a rather creative fence built entirely from rebar.
Once inside "the compound", the building located in the center was 2-story designed in an "H" configuration with a groupa living in each of the 4 quadrants and common area in the middle. Callie's groupa lived in the far quadrant you see pictured above.

The Google earth image shows square "H" style building located in the middle of the high rise apartments. The red line shows the path we took everyday between the two buildings (pictured above) and down the alley to Callie's orphanage. The large complex below the orphanage was some sort of military/police training grounds though I don't know what. Vladimir is home to the 27th Guards Missile Army and the Strategic Rockets Forces, the latter commands the Soviet nuclear fleet. 

The rather square "H" style building was surrounded by 4 playground areas at each of the four corners. The kids would rotate around from play area to play area with the exception of one quadrant that seemed to be overgrown and off limits (see our trip 1 report about the forbidden slide). The vibrant colors seen here were a staple throughout in insides of the orphanage perimeter.

Here is the driveway leading back out of her orphanage to the alleyway. Every morning we would get dropped off here.

View of the high rise apartments that surround the orphanage grounds and tower over them. I often describe the orphanage as an "oasis" in the middle of otherwise run down apartments that would be best described in our culture as projects.

We hope to one day go back here with Callie and let her take it all in. We tried to document our experience through pictures and videos as much as we could since we imagine she won't remember much of it. We are thankful for this place and this staff for doing their best with what they have. Just in talking to them and seeing the grounds, the care and attention they try to give the kids is palpable. But when I see how much Callie has blossomed with just 3 months of love and focused attention, my heart breaks for the 40 other kids we left behind here and the millions of others in less friendly orphanages and on the streets around the world. No matter how great this place was, NOTHING replaces a family for a child.

-Rob and Jessica