Sasha came around the corner the other day wearing these glasses and a big grin.
Dad & Steph prepare dinner for the Rafael, Karen, Molli, Steve & Kids; Annika, Katia & Sasha prepare to decorate the Christmas tree; Molli, Katia, Annika, Sasha and Fletcher pause for a break in the midst of the hunt; Sasha with Santa
Sasha’s baptism November 28, 2007
Sasha got baptised on Sunday! We’ve attached a few pictures of the big day, first of his Minnesota Godparents, Uncle Ken and Aunt Jackie, then of Sasha on Aunt Jackie’s lap, then Sasha with his Mom, Dad and sisters in front of the baptismal font, and finally getting baptised.
Rocking our world September 9, 2007
We haven’t posted for a while because, well, it’s everything we can do just to keep up with Sasha. Whether he’s sampling the dog or cat food, rearranging his sisters’ things, jumping into the pool while we’re not looking, tumbling down the stairs, or just filling drinking a cup with hand soap and then water and then drinking the solution (who knew you could make thousands of bubbles with just your mouth, without blowing thru one of those little wands?), this guy is a handful. And we (at least Molli and I — the girls are less sure) feel like the luckiest people on earth.
Here are a few photos from Sasha’s first month here. He has finally agreed to wear a swimming suit when running through the sprinkler or swimming in the pool, much to the relief of his sisters.
Reconnecting with Sasha; A week in Almaty August 1, 2007
This is Katia, Annika and Steve, attempting to fill Molli’s big blog-writing shoes as she spends a week with Sasha in Almaty.
Molli arrived last Friday morning in Almaty and then met up with Sasha and Masha Friday night. We had wondered how Sasha would handle leaving the orphanage. We wondered if he would cling to the only life he’s known, the only friends he’s had, and the only caregivers who have nurtured him. As it turns out, when Masha picked him up at the orphanage on Friday to take him to Almaty, he took her hand, started walking, and never looked back.
Molli, Sasha and Masha spent Friday evening together, and then Masha left early the next morning, leaving Molli and the Sash-meister alone to figure out how they were going to spend the week ahead of them before coming home.
The breakfast buffet guests on Saturday morning witnessed a funny scene. Molli got Sasha a plate of food and set it on the table in front of Sasha while she went to get some food for herself. When she got back, Sasha had already eaten half of his food. Not only that, but he had eaten half of his hard-boiled egg, including the shell! He looked up at her with a smile, flakes of egg shell dangling from his lips. Figuring that some juice would help Sasha wash down the shell, Molli gave him a sip. Unfortunately, a little went the wrong way, and back out it went . . . along with the egg and egg shell, splattered across the table.
I get the sense from Molli that Sasha would be immensely entertaining if you weren’t trying to overcome an 11 hour time change and a very difficult foreign language, and keep him out of trouble. He likes to pretend the bathroom is a phone booth. On the first night in the hotel, Molli and Masha overheard him saying on his toy cellphone, “Hello papa, it’s me. I’m here. Come get me.” Then after he had gone quiet for a few minutes, Molli went into the bathroom and found that he had disconnected the shower hose from the plumbing in the shower.
Since that morning, Mol and Sasha have spent a lot of quality time together, filling their days with meals, bathroom breaks, walks, an occasional tantrum, an even more occasional nap (Sasha has a very strong preference for napping only in the stroller, while his mother is showing him around Almaty), and a couple visits to the U.S. Embassy. On Monday, they went to the Embassy for Sasha’s physical. Mol was a little concerned after she saw two children come out of the doctor’s office crying, but Sasha got thru the exam, including the blood draw, without a fuss.
Tuesday, they returned to the Embassy for their exit interview, which went off without a hitch, so they were ready to come home . . . if they could get a flight. We didn’t think they’d be able to, because there’s only one flight per day from Almaty to Amsterdam (where their connecting flight was leaving from), and we had learned earlier from Northwest that no spots were available on the Wednesday KLM flight out of Almaty (NWA doesn’t fly out of Almaty). Mol was pleasantly surprised to hear that they could in fact get seats on the flight out of Almaty, potentially getting them home two days early! Unfortunately, though there was room on the KLM flight out of Almaty, Northwest didn’t have any space on any of its flights from Amsterdam to Minnesota. What’s more, because Sasha didn’t have a U.S. passport yet (just a Kazakhstan passport with a visa to travel to the U.S.), he wouldn’t be able to leave the airport for the two days but instead would have to wait in the terminal for his connecting flight on Friday. So . . . they’ll be leaving Almaty Friday morning, and getting to Minnesota Friday mid-afternoon.
We just talked to Mol and Sasha (and Nana Mary, too) through the miracle of Skype. Sasha usually answers the phone, and after I’ve exhausted my vocabulary by using the three phrases I know (“how are you?”, “say ‘awesome’” and “do you want M&M’s?”) and asked where his mom is, he puts the receiver to her ear and promptly begins pressing all of the buttons on the phone. He got back on the phone toward the end of our conversation tonight and, since Molli had told us about how she had bought him a “horse” (really a camel, but let’s not split hairs), asked him where his horse was. So of course, he put the phone to the horse’s ear . . .
We hope all is well with you. Thanks for your support.
Katia, Annika and Steve
We Are Back July 16, 2007
Our Version of American (Kazakh) Gothic–the end of our time in Petropavlovsk
Okay, I can’t stop. We have been home for a week and as I was going through the 155 photos that were taken in our last days in Kaz, I realized I have to resurrect the blog. There are too many cute pictures of Sasha and his gang, as well as the interesting and enchanting aspects of Kazakh culture we experienced. How could we deprive you of all that? I will post at least two more times before I leave to go retrieve our young man. I leave MN on Wed July 25, arrive in KAZ Friday July 27, then do paperwork with Sasha and will return to MN Friday August 3. Read and enjoy!
Writing and Crying . . . the July 3 Blog Creation
So, after the emotional July 3, we faced the emotional July 4 . . . our last day with Sasha in Petro. We had planned a party for his group, which was a good distraction, but balloons and tissue paper, while fascinating to a two year old, can only distract adults for a short period of time. Steve and I knew we were flying away from Sasha on this day, and the sugar coating of the party didn’t help the bitter pill of leaving go down very easily.
In preparation for the party we had gotten gifts of developmental toys for Sasha’s group, as well as balloons (possibly more interesting than the developmental toys), a new LOUD truck, and snack (including Teddy Grams) for his gang. We also had gift bags for all the caregivers and a photo album of the group for the group. Needless to say, we were a bit overloaded with bags as we entered the BH.
As we staggered up the exterior stairs we could hear the wailing of a kido on the interior stairs. There were caregiver voices talking calmly and a certain amount of kid noise in general. When we had rounded the corner and headed up the stairs to Sasha’s house, we encountered his family on their way down the stairs to a walk . . . they had forgotten about the party. So we helpfully added more chaos to the scene by having Sasha start yelling to us, “Mama! Papa! It’s my mama and my papa!” the caregivers turned the little posse around, the crying child stopped, another started, and Sasha bolted toward us and our bags of loot . . .
Masha helped us maneuver all the bags into the Music Room where we blew up the balloons. Sasha joined us for this, and was incredibly adept at removing gifts from the bags . . . until he spied the noisy truck, pitifully camouflaged in a plastic bag. Oh, what joy a noisy truck brings! The noisiness! The truckness! The fact that it is in a bag that is tied around it! The challenge of working with it while it is still in the bag! The joy of ignoring the three adults telling you to not touch! Noisy trucks tied up in bags are a great gift indeed. . .
By the time we had blown up the balloons and gotten those, as well as the bags, down the hall, the caregivers had their charges seated and ready for our snack. Sasha, of course, was not interested in the snack because he already knew about the noisy truck and the other bags of loot. The empty chair in their dining area is where Sash should be sitting . . . but he had gone off into party excitement mode, and no adult was going to convince him he actually had to sit down and eat.
Just a note on Sasha’s posse . . . we had the pleasure of getting to know these little ones, and they completely rock. Each has his or her own personality, but above that, each is a toddler, who is just getting to know the world. We got to experience the sheer joy of blowing the seeds off a dandelion with them; we had intense ant watching, the fun of BIG swinging, going down the slide—on your stomach, the back and forth exchange of a wilted daisy with smiles and spa-see-bahs (thank yous) abounding. They are Sash’s siblings; the kids he helps more than harms, and with whom he has gone through his life. We love them for who they are to him, and we fear how much he will miss them.
Actually, being seven days and half way around the world from them, I am surprised at how much I miss them. There must be some teacher gene that allows us to fall in love with kids immediately. We learn how to find their strengths and challenges, then we engage with them—it is not something I am capable of turning off, and on that playground when Steve and Sasha were together, I loved playing with his group. They are each little wonders, ready to explode onto the world and it is fun to be a part of their discovery. I wish there were a way for us to keep up with what happens to them, but I don’t think that is possible . . . we will just keep them in our hearts and photo albums, and be thankful we knew them for a short time.
On this last day together we were able to give each kid a gift to open . . . and this was an interesting thing to observe. There were kids who had no idea what to do with the brightly colored tissue paper—it was hilarious to see the gift/wrapping/balloon action. Note, I have considered bringing balloons on the planes with us as we travel home. I am not saying all the passengers would enjoy them, but I am sure Sasha would, and really, who needs to be happy on those plane rides? Me. With wine and balloons, I think we have a winning combination.
After the party we played with Sash outside as his group went out for their walk. Through out our play Steve and I kept asking Masha to explain to Sash that we needed to go home to get ready for him to come to be a part of our family. We hoped that he would understand what was going to happen, but any time you try to project actions into the future with a three year old, you are asking for misunderstanding.
Masha tried to talk to him, and he was adorable. She would say, “Mama and Papa need to go home for a little while . . .” and he would say, “Nyet”, then she would say, “They need to get ready for you to come home,” and he would say, “Nyet.” The conversation continued along these lines and while it was sweet to have his firm denial that we would be away from him for a while, it was heartbreaking to think of the confusion that he had/has ahead of him.
One hilarious aspect of our play time on the last day was the presence of an inflatable swimming pool. Sasha quickly learned that we would not return to the entrance of the BH to see the pool if that was what he asked. On the other hand, if he asked to go to the bathroom, we had to go by the pool, and if you are right by the pool, why not just play a bit? He needed to go to the bathroom about six times this morning. On one trip he returned to the playground with the entire bill of his hat wet. We assume he will wear a life vest at all times once he comes home.
I need to go to the bathroom . . . .
The end of our Petro time involved negotiating our enormous phone bill with our landlord, Ivan. There was actually no negotiating, it was just, “Here is the enormous bill, I need some money”. Both Ivan and Masha were impressed with the numbers we racked up, and we were impressed with the amount of paper our bill took up.
Sasha and Masha took us to the airport in the afternoon and stayed with us until we boarded the plane. This was very sweet of them, and a huge help because our bags were over the weight limit. On the way to Petro we paid $110 in excess baggage fees, so we were expecting something similar, but since we were with Masha, the baggage guy (who had all gold teeth—seriously I don’t think there was a natural one in there) said that if we paid him 800 tenge (~$8.00) he would get the bags loaded without using the scale. We jumped for our money and happily found a 1,000 tenge note for him . . . a huge win in the excess baggage category.
Alexander Maier Kozachok! July 3, 2007
3 July 2007
Sasha is ours! We had our court date today, and we realize now that we may not have communicated well how chancy this bid for adoption was. Since Sasha has five siblings spread all over Russia and Kazakhstan, and the government of Kazakhstan has a strong preference against letting one sibling be adopted without the others, the odds were stacked against us.
Despite the policy against adoptions of fewer than all siblings in a family, we went ahead with our argument that no one had adopted the entire family while they were waiting during the past two and a half years and that an adoption of all of the children together was less and less likely as time went on and the kids grew older, so that Sasha would remain in institutions his whole life if the siblings were to be “kept together”. His sisters in Kazakhstan are ages 17, 14 and 13 (in two separate orphanages that are different than Sasha’s), and he has two other siblings that were “adopted” by their father after he got his life more together, and they live in Russia.
You may have read the blog from June 20 about his oldest sister Valya who talked with her sisters Lena and Natasha about letting him be adopted. They all agreed that it was in his best interests, so Valya came to meet him and us, and wrote a letter saying she thought he should be adopted.
Svetlana (our lawyer), Molli, Rezina (the representative of child custody), Dr. Rimma and Masha
Court went more smoothly than anticipated—it lasted about an hour. Steve was clear and focused, I was a bit more emotional, but as always, we balanced each other out. The hard part was waiting for the judge’s decision. It was a long, hot and sweaty hour, but in the end she called us in and said the court approved of the adoption, that Sasha’s name would be Alexander Maier Kozachok and his birth city would be Petropavlovsk, and that Steve and I would be listed as his parents on his birth certificate.
Steve with the Ladies
So, we have a son. He is everything a person could want in a child. He is smart, kind, funny, curious and . . . Sasha. This is the way this journey was supposed to culminate, and for all of you who have been on this journey with us, thank you for your love and support.
This has been a trying year in many ways, but to be here, today, and to know that we have this gift of a child . . . the other problems fade . . . they are nothing compared to what happened today. Annika and Katia have a brother; many of you are aunts and uncles again today. And we should warn all the grandparents that Sasha is going to give all of us a run for our money.
We saw him for a brief moment today after court and the obligatory champagne toast with the director and those who helped make this happen. As always he was a sunbeam on chubby legs. We are so lucky . . . our lives have changed forever.
There will be a party with our friends tonight and a party with his group tomorrow morning, then a good-bye that is already breaking my heart. For now, the tears are out of joy, and sheer wonder that this child of God is joining our family. We can worry about tomorrow’s tears tomorrow.
2 July 2007
This was another good day, but the feeling is bittersweet. Our court date is tomorrow morning at 10:00 (if any of you are inclined to be up and giving off good energy at 11:00 p.m. central time, feel free to send it on over to all of us) and we have other business to take care of, so we may not see the Sashmeister. We fly out to Almaty on Wednesday at 2:00 and will have a party with Sasha and his group at 10:00 but won’t be able to stay too long . . . so today was our last real play day.
We have evolved into a sense of comfortableness in our relationship and it is not easy to leave that behind, even if it is for only three weeks. The huge benefit of leaving is being able to see Katia and Annika (and all the rest of you) again, hence the bittersweet feeling.
Our lawyer, Svetlana, is flying in today to meet with us and prepare for court. She and Masha will be here in just a bit, so you will get more photos than words today. The highlights of our time today: Steve captured the Mama hug on film, Sasha saw chee tee ree (four) machinas, Papa and Sash played 1-2-3, Sash had his snacks and was generally cute and agreeable all day.
At the end of our time Masha talked with him and told him that we won’t be coming tomorrow in the morning, and that we will try to come in the afternoon, but that also may not happen. She told him he shouldn’t worry about us, that we will see him on Wednesday, and he said in his little voice, “I will worry.” Those three words have tears running down my cheeks . . .
We hope to report good news after court tomorrow—keep us all in your prayers!
Papa Helping Sasha Open His Superman Lunchbox
Seeing Masha Again! (It was two whole days.)
Papa’s Scratchy Cheek
This Seems to be a Great Watering Technique
Vada and Conversation with Mama
I will worry.
Bonding and Playing and Gifts Oh My! July 1, 2007
1 July 2007
Today is Sunday and the BH is “closed” on the weekends, so you don’t have to visit, but you can if you want. The last two weekends we paid Masha extra to come and visit with us, but this weekend we didn’t, and it has been a good experiment of us figuring things out on our own. Since the BH is closed we have to get past this elaborate lock that holds the gate shut.
When we get to his “house” he is in the playroom and his little shoes are in the “dining room”. Every day he sits down to get his little sandals on, and every day I help him, and every day his caregivers tell me “He can do it by himself!” Ahh, the pattern never gets old.
Today I made the mistake of helping another little guy with his sandal, and he yelled at me to stop . . . these Amerikanskies aren’t very bright, are they?
We go outside right away, and even though all of us talk to each other, we don’t always understand what the other wants . . . there are moments of misunderstanding, but Sasha has a great personality and he recovers quickly from disappointments. The goldfish, juice and m&m’s are the first areas to address now, and he is finished with that (the best part of the two hours) in about four minutes.
Today we tried asking him if the green m&m was blue, and he grinned up at us and said, “Nyet. Gree.” This is pretty clear evidence that he is one of the smartest three year olds in the world.
We have a lot of fun on the playground, and it feels more like being at the local park now. Usually just one of us is with Sash, and the other is playing with other kids or chilling in the gazebo. Today the boys went off and did “Man Stuff” which included looking in the garage, finding rocks, then throwing them, banging things with sticks and possible discussions about how men and boys go to the bathroom.
This bathroom question comes up regularly. Sasha is potty trained, and he is good at knowing when he has to go. Here all the kids in his group sit on a potty to go to the bathroom, and if we bring him up to his group room he does just fine. The other day Steve tried to take him to the public bathroom on the first floor of the BH. It was awesome; Sash took one look at the toilet, firmly said, Nyet, and walked quickly away.
So here is our question for you parents of boys: when does a little guy move to the standing up, rather than sitting down method of peeing? Being parents of girls, this has not come up until now. The even deeper question is about bathrooms on a plane. I have a good 16-18 hours in the air with the little man, and I am thinking we will have to go to the bathroom at some point. Is there a different protocol for a small, bumpy, flying bathroom? Reply to our email or the blog . . . any insight will be appreciated.
As we wind down our playtime Sasha helps us put all our toys in the tan bag, then proceeds to find this manhole cover very interesting. This manhole cover can be very interesting for five to ten minutes. We look at it, stand in it, put rocks in it, throw rocks out of it, stand near it and hope to see a machina . . . there is a lot to do at the manhole cover.
Once we peel him off the manhole cover, we head inside, where he finds the very interesting broken tile. This, too, is fascinating. He takes the tile “puzzle” apart, puts it back together, makes a very satisfying noise by clinking the tile pieces together, scrapes at the sand that is below the tile . . . you get the idea.
It is awesome that he has a great curiosity, and that he has people (us) who will take the extra 15 minutes for pit stops before going in, but the most awesome thing is that these seem to be delay tactics to avoid ending our time together, and that rocks.
This bonding time has served its purpose: we know each other well, and we belong to each other. We are his and he is ours, and it is all a gift.
The Other 22 Hours
While Steve toils endlessly in our “office” I have found good things to distract me. My favorite (that just came to an end) is the book Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. If you like to read, get this book. Her writing is amazing, and the story gripping. When I read the last page I had book grief—that sad feeling when a great book is over. But I thwarted the feeling by opening back up to page one to start again.
My other endeavors have been acquiring all the gifts we need to give people after court on Tuesday. I had an inkling that many gifts were involved, but not exactly how many and of what caliber. So Masha, great cultural guide that she is, has been helping me shop. We have the nine caregivers (I only brought enough stuff for six . . . and I think all the gifts have to be the same . . . . grrrr), the Director of the BH, the assistant to the director, the representative of the department of child care, and the judge. Yes, even the judge gets a gift. Other friends of ours were given a list that had even more recipients, including the Chief of Police. Suspiciously, their translator said she’d take care of delivering the gifts to about half of the people, and away went the gifts.
So the gift-giving shopping is almost done, and now we get to move on to the fun gifts—the toys and loot for Sasha’s group. We will have a small party with them on Wed. before we fly out and give them their presents then. They are headed for play-doh, floor puzzles (not as great as the broken tile in the hall, but they will have to do), a noise and light making truck they can ride, and serving ware for their pretend kitchen.
The most important gift we need to get is for Masha—she has been a godsend and our good experiences here are directly connected to her. Now that we know her better we want to get her some things from the U.S., so I will bring her loot back to her.
We are off to meet friends for some pivo . . . we will check in again tomorrow! Ciao!
Happy Birthday, Dad – Grandpa – Bob! June 30, 2007
30 June 2007
Happy Birthday, Grandpa Bob!
I can’t wait to meet you! Love, Sasha
Before Sasha Time today I want to wish my dad a happy birthday. He and my mom have gone above and beyond the call of grandparenthood as they stepped into our shoes while we are here. This trip has lasted longer than any of us predicted, and they have done a fantastic job keeping our furry and chaotic world spinning for the girls. The girls are happy and healthy because of their efforts and we cannot thank them enough. As grandparents they are imaginative and patient . . . as can be seen in the following photo.
We could not add Sasha to our family without their support (and sacrifice of one entire month of retirement). Being a bit frazzled as we left for Kaz, I did not leave a thank you gift for them, so if any of you reading this would be able to drop by a bottle of wine and a big smile from me and Steve, we would appreciate it. We will return the favor by bringing you the best Kazakh wine we can find . . . or the fermented camel’s milk, if you would prefer.
We had our first Masha free visit today, and it went great! We have our routine, and he didn’t seem to be more frustrated with us, so we will do it again tomorrow. Sasha resurrected the drinking vada from the vada bottle cap—and let me do the pouring—so he wasn’t drenched with vada today.
You may have noticed that Sasha calls Steve Papa—we learned that “Dada” here means “Uncle” or any random man. So when he called Steve that in the beginning of being here we made a conscious effort to switch Dada into Papa. In all my photos Steve is Papa, but we think he will become Dad once Sash hears the girls saying that . . . sorry for the side note, but I just realized that I keep referring to him as Papa . . .
Papa played vitamina today, and everyone wins in Vitamina!
Here is a kind of random photo, but I love this little girl. We don’t know her name, but refer to her as eyelash girl. I gave her a morning glory and she gave me this sweet smile . . . adorable!
The Other 22 Hours
We went to dinner at the Blinidom with two other families who are adopting and it was great fun. The menu (like all menus) was in Russian, but that didn’t stop us. There were no photos of the blinis, and that slowed us down . . . but we fought back with the words we know. We said things like Reevka (fish) dva (two), saucison sa siram (hot dog with cheese) dva, and siram, pomidore e champinon, dva and blini fruta, adin (one) we had great hope that we would end up with seven dinners someone would eat.
After that ordering triumph we turned to the ПИВО (Pivo). Our friends the Flynnsons clued us in to this important word—it means beer. We have been drinking beer, but just what we have bought at the store, so we didn’t need the word for it . . . until last night. We found the ПИВО page, and I started using my advanced Cyrillic alphabet knowledge to sound out МИЛЛЄР M-ee-l-air, and then laughed that I had just ordered a Miller . . . we went on to order five other ПИВОs, most of which were new or foreign.
When they arrived, I enjoyed my Meelair, and it was the only beer that was served at lower than room temperature. Those crazy Americans love their beer cold! (I did secretly enjoy the fact that it was cold—it might not have held up as a warm beer.)
Ahhhh . . . . Meelair Time
Dinner beckons, so we will check in again tomorrow—Happy Birthday again, Dad! We will talk to you in a couple hours!
I almost forgo this photo. If you are having trouble sleeping try to imagine yourself as the young white kitten . . .