Psalm 68:5-6

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.

God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

I am Stepanie Nance. My family adopted two little boys with Down Syndrome from Ukraine in 2010. I hope to educate and to inspire you. I hope to make you laugh and to make you cry.

Come along for the ride. It's a wild one!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The rest of my day.

After my downtime this morning I was refreshed enough to make my way to visit the boys. I didn't feel like walking to the bus stop, so I called a driver. I needed to call him with a message anyway so I might as well get a ride, right?

The driver arrived early, like always. He showed me the shortcut to the orphanage that I had been wondering about. He answered some more of my questions about life in Ukraine. Since it was still early for my visit he asked me if I would like to see where he lives. Of course!

I got to meet his 20 year old sister, who has been married for four years and has a two year old son. It is so hot here the kids often go around the house naked, and this little chubby love was naked as a jaybird! I got to meet his mom, too and show her the photos of our family.

They have two freestanding homes right next to each other very close to the orphanage. One of them is being renovated right now. They would like to rent some rooms out to adopting families when it is done. Cheap. Let me repeat that, cheap! The yard is one big garden of things you can eat. I've never seen such a pretty vegetable/fruit garden. Raspberries, beans, carrots, tomatoes, cherries and more. Just beautiful. He said it is his grandma's garden, so she must live here too.

When I got to the orphanage and stepped in to get Zhenya, he was sitting in the playpen in a diaper. Did I mention that it is HOT here? One lady went to get him dressed and the other three ladies were sitting down eating a snack or their dinner, not sure which. They motioned me to come over and they dished out a big plate of tomatoes and cucumbers for me! Wow! They passed the mayo, of course, some salt and some bread and we sat and ate together. There was another plate of something...guess.

It looked like thinly sliced, creamy, white cheese. But no. Some of you know, don't you? Salo!! The ladies tried to tell me how delicious it was and almost begged me to try it. I'm so disappointed in myself that I didn't at least try a little bit. I told them "Americans Nyet Salo." After walking through the meat markets, I just couldn't do it. hahaha!! I really thought I would finish this adoption and go home without being offered some salo. Then she served me a cup of hot chai, which I guess is their word for tea. It was HOT. I drank it. It was good. I started sweating (more) profusely!

Zhen was dressed and stood in the playpen while I ate with the ladies. He didn't seem to mind. When I was done we sat and played in the same room for a while until it was time to go get Theo. Masha was in an untethered walker and she followed me everywhere I went! Anna was in a tethered walker. Do you the the stretched out pair of tights in the photo? Behind the date stamp? That is what they use to tether the walker so the kids to go too far, I guess.


Today I decided that I would visit with Theo and Zhen at the same time. We would just sit on the couch if that was all I could handle. The woman that got Theo dressed for me started to walk out with me. I got the impression that she was going to help me with the boys. Well, OK. When we got to the bottom of the stairs I saw the big strollers the nannies use to cart the children around. Everyone was inside today so I asked her if we could use it and she shrugged. I think that was a yes! She put Theo in and I put Zhen in and we headed for the door. Going down the crappy stairs was fun.


We walked around the back of the building today because it was shady there. We walked and talked and had a pretty good time. He ignored Theo, thank goodness. Then we sat down so that I could give Theo his chai. Zhen sat in the stroller like a good boy while I gave his brother a drink. He kicked off a shoe. We laughed about it. He is really much more comfortable with some space in between us. I'm going to have to steal the stroller again soon.


After I handed the boys over at dinner time I headed for the bus stop. I have found a shortcut to the bus stop. When I leave the grounds I head straight across the street and cut through the buildings there. What an eye opener! There is a HUGE school there (must be a high school) with a dilapadated concrete track and a field in back. These people really LOVE concrete it seems. There is a walled off place that is either a preschool or elementary school. Nine and ten story apartment building surround the schools. Graffiti everywhere. Broken glass. Overgrown grass and weeds.


All I can think of when I'm walking through this place is that it was once someone's proud accomplishment. A model neighborhood. Now it just seems sad to me. Good intentions gone terribly wrong have a particularl ugliness.





Zhen watching us eat! Notice the stretched out tights? That's Anna in the walker.
The nannies regularly pack four children in these and they have the children who can walk trained to help push it! How about the difference in their size? Isn't that something?
This empty building is out in back of the orphanage. I wonder what they have planned. It looks pretty new. This is how all the buildings are constucted here. Concrete blocks and a type of quarried stone that is found around here.
Hello dreamboat!

Look at this pretty and unusual flower I found!

Friday, July 30, 2010

My mental health day.

Do you have a child that ever tries to fake being sick so they can stay home from school? I do. Let me tell you, he is pretty good at fooling me too! He usually perks right up after lunchtime and then I threaten to send him back to school and scold him for faking me out again.

Over time I have become less rigid and more forgiving as a parent and as a person. That's bound to happen when you have many children, I think. I have come to understand that sometimes this child needs a "mental health" day. That's why he perks up after a while...the mental break is working! It is a good thing!

Sometimes we all need a mental health day. A time to take the pressure off and just "be." Today is my mental health day. I'm taking this morning off. I swept and scrubbed some things this morning(another type of therapy, yes?)but I'm not getting on a bus to see the boys until later this afternoon.

Guilt? Yes, I did feel guilty for a little while. But here is the truth, I cannot help them much where they are anyway. All I do is mess up their schedule. Plus, our visits have been greatly shortened now that James is gone and I'm visiting only one boy at a time.

Also, things are not as well at home as I would have hoped. I wish that my poor husband could have a mental health day because he certainly deserves it. He has been tossed out of the frying pan and into the fire.

I'm going to go spend some time with my Lord. That is probably the best thing I could do for anyone else right now. I'll leave you with a photo of my beautiful Zhen Ezekiel. This boy is going to need many prayers, much support and understanding. More about that some other day.


Too pooped for pics

Apparently I'm highly allergic to Ukrainian mosquitos! I woke up scratching last night and couldn't get to sleep. I'm so thankful that I brought some hydrocortisone cream!

So since I was so wiped out today, I thought I would just go to bed early. ha! I've got some issues at home that I had to take care of. I finally made some dinner at about 8pm and then more issues at home.

I have a fourteen year old son who has caused some trouble. An eighteen and nineteen year old sons who are leaving for college around the time I'm supposed to get back. I have a husband who needs help with school enrollment and school supply shopping for the other children. Oh, and he's leaving town again this weekend...back to work means back on the road.

I'm just waiting for our travel agent to email me back or I would be sleeping right now. I've got to get a ticket for my son who is helping me get home with the boys.

I took some cool pictures today, but no time to download them. Tomorrow.

Today was the first time that I have come to pick up Theo and found him in the playpen! There is a woman at the orphanage that I think is responsible for playing with the children. She is rather loud, talks to me a mile a minute in Ukrainian, and I just love her! She showed me some photos that she had taken of James and I with the boys. How about that?

Well, she was in Theo's room today playing with the most severely disabled kids in the whole place. I got teary watching her talk and play with the kids. She loves them, I just know it. I'd love to be able to understand what she is saying to me.

I did manage to communicate to her that we changed Alec's name to Theodore. It's funny, because the ladies can't say the "th" sound so they could not understand how to say his new name. I gave them some speech therapy! A little later in the afternoon when she was headed out the door for the day, she came to me and said "Thay-o-dore." I gave her a smile and thumbs up!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Let's take a walk...

I'm feelling pretty lazy now that my husband has gone home. There's so much to share, so much to write, so much to remember. Where do I even start?

I got a very late start this morning. There was a side projects that was on my mind that I needed to figure out. Got that done this mornin, then I had to force myself out of the apartment. I can't quite figure out why I was so reluctant to get going. Maybe it is that the visits are getting harder. Even though the judge has named us as their parents, they are under the care and supervision of the orphanage, so we play by their rules. Still.

I had my camera out on the walk up the hill to the orphanage. I snapped some photos of snails (they are all over the place here), flowers and the forest.



This forest area must be some sort of park. People are always walking dogs, hiking, picnicing, drinking, playing guitars and so on. If, and that is a big if, I were in the mood for a hike, I could hike through here and over a butte (bigger than a hill but smaller than a mountain) and end up at our apartment. I think.

Here is the footpath in front of the orphanage grounds. I walk this path four times a day.

On the outside looking in. I know, the graffiti almost spells Nance. I promise I haven't been tagging!!

Here are the gates. They are padlocked at night though there is a smaller gate to the side.

Walking up the driveway. Can you believe how green it is here? It's lush, almost like a jungle. The humidity is in the high 80% range much of the time.

Here we finally see the front door. Almost. It is behind the smaller of the two evergreen trees. Do you like the flowers? I'm so thankful for them. This place is so dreary, I can't imagine how much more dreary it would seem without them.


Zhen. I'm just another woman to him. He really, really misses daddy. And his face is a mess. Dermatitis...that's what the orphanage doc says. 75% of the kids here have it.


So. I know that I should just take it easy and slow. I should just love on the kids while we are here. Hold them and take it easy. But I just can't help myself! I see Theo growing stronger every single day!!

I'm working with weight bearing excercises with him. He gets so excited when he stands up straight and tall. No rubber chicken Down Syndrome legs on this boy! There are so many physical benefits to being able to stand. Just ask Barbara at TherExtras.

Today he felt so strong in my arms that I thought we might try the swing! He is honestly baffled here. He just wasn't feelin' it today. We will try again soon. (Doesn't he look like a tiny convict in his stripes, shaved head and cap?)

I don't know why, but I got a kick out of him grabbing his shoulder.

This is the smile that I get when I blow zerbers on his neck. I'm pretty sure that you can lower your blood pressure just by looking at Theo when he smiles.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cool things about Ukraine

Can you help me make a list? I'm starting a list of cool things about Ukraine. I don't ever want to forget this place!

  1. If you forget to put on your deodorant one day...no big deal.
  2. You are never more than a block away from a little grocery store.
  3. .....

Those of you who have been here, leave me a comment and help me flesh out this list. Those of you who have not been to Ukraine, leave me a comment anyway. I'd love to know who you all are!!

Introducing...

Zhen Ezekiel Nance
Theodore Honor Nance


Court was...interesting. The courtroom was about the size of a nice walk-in closet! There was the judge, two witnesses, the orphanage attorney, the prosecutor, a court reporter, the social worker, our facilitator and the two of us stuffed inside. We had to stand up to open the door! Instead of the judge stepping out to deliberate, we had to leave. She couldn't get to the door anyway.
Apparently she like the answers to the questions that were asked because she made a decision in our favor! It also could have been that she was very busy. The hallway was full of people waiting for her attention as well. She spoke so fast that our facilitator could not translate for us!
You may wonder about the boys' names. All of our children have two middle names and these boys were not supposed to be an exception, but the paperwork here would have been a mess had we insisted. We can always change them officially when we get home, if we feel the need. They are, Zhen Harrison Ezekiel Nance and Theodore Honor Alexsey Nance.
I just said good-bye to my husband. He is flying to Kyiv tonight and leaving again early in the morning for the good old U.S.A. Wesley, you had better have a burrito waiting for him!
Being alone has never really bothered me. But, then again, I've never been quite this alone before. I wonder how I will like it?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Saying good-bye.

Sorry, no pictures today. :( It's late and I need to get some rest.

Well tomorrow is court. Don’t know whether to be nervous or not. The adopting dad we met from Israel told us today that it will be about nine people in a tiny, hot, sweaty room. Our facilitator told us today that this is a new judge for her. She said the judge is a good judge, but that she has never been in her court before.

My mind is really a mess. I have so much to think about, ponder, and consider. I feel like I don’t have time to sort things out because we are always running to catch a bus, trying to entertain the boys, or trying to get back home.

I’ll have more time to think after tomorrow. Tomorrow evening I’ll be saying good-bye to my husband who will be headed back to the U.S.A. He’s in a terrible rush to get back to work. We really thought we would have court last week so he didn’t really plan to stay here this long. It was just completely out of our control.

It has been such a treat to have this time alone with him. We’ve not spent this much time along together in 19 years! That makes us sound really old, doesn’t it? This could have been the honeymoon that we never had, except that…how do I explain? The whole trip has been a struggle to survive. It’s sort of like the Amazing Race, if you’ve ever seen that show. You should have seen us trying to buy an airline ticket the other day! Trying to cross the street is like playing Frogger. Too funny!

Now I’ll be on my own for a couple of weeks. I won’t be spending quite so much on food without the husband! I’m happy with some cheese, bread and yogurt. But on the other hand, I won’t have him taking (sneaking) photos for me with his phone. I’ll be much more conspicuous with an actual camera. I also won't have him to gesture to the bus drivers to let them know where to let us off. *sigh*

I'm sure I'll have lots to share in the next few weeks, anyway. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

As promised...

More photos, of course and a special treat at the end!

We had a rough day with Zhenya. He was very sad today. It is getting harder and harder to entertain him during our visits. Sometimes we just sit and snuggle. Today he wanted daddy to hold him tight. I don't know what he will do when dad leaves on Tuesday. :(

Alec likes to swallow air. At first I thought it was reflux, but now I'm leaning toward thinking it is a behavior. Here I'm massaging his face. He's got no muscle tone there either.


When this boy smiles he can light up the whole place!

Zhenya loves cars, machinas they call them here. I only brought one toy car with me and all the cars at the stores here are junk. He's rough on toys. He needs some Tonka trucks, I think.


Dad was experimenting with his camera, I guess. His eyes are amazing, even in black and white!

This bunch of ribbons was the best $1 I spent while getting ready for this trip.




I think I told you that I tried carrying Alec in a sling the other day. Well, when I showed up to bring him back to his grouppa, the caregivers got all bent out of shape. One grabbed me by the arm and sat me down on the couch and tried to tell me that carrying him in the sling was causing problems. The next day he was covered in this green stuff, an anti-septic called mercurochrome. Heh. Sorry ladies, he was covered in these pus filled prickly heat spots long before I even got here.


If you need a reason to smile today, watch this:

video


Saturday, July 24, 2010

We have a date!

So, we got our court date a few days ago and forgot to tell everyone! It is this Tuesday!!

We had originally hoped that it would be yesterday, but these things are completely out of our control. James is leaving immediately after court. He will fly to Kyiv Tuesday night and head for the U.S.A. early the next morning. He is so ready to get home. He misses the children like crazy!


The four of us! I've given up on wearing makeup here, sorry. Almost given up on my hair as well. This feels a lot like camping, right down to brushing your teeth with bottled water.


Do you like this Ukrainian orphanage ball pit? I told this place was a dump.

Here we are at the market. Here you will find many sights that are appalling to the American senses.

Fresh meat anyone?


I don't hear about scores and scores of Ukrainians falling ill because of food borne illness. But, this still just feels wrong. I asked James to take photos to document this "cultural" experience.


*Gulp* Along with all kinds of meat and slabs of fat you could buy milk, cream, and fresh cheese. Nope, none of it was refrigerated.

Ahhh...back to the children! Zhenya is trying to figure out how to open a book. So cute! We tried to do quiet activities with him this day.

He loved bouncing this balloon back and forth!



Look who's reading now!! This little punkin' just loves to learn. I can tell!!

This blue elephant toy is a hit with Alec. I let him keep it one day when we handed him back to the caregivers after our visit. Big mistake. We did not see it the next day.
So, the next night I got on the internet and looked up the Ukrainian words for blue, elephant, and toy, and I wrote them down in our handy-dandy notebook. The morning after that I showed the caregivers the notebook. Thank goodness it was one of the nice ones! She looked everywhere, even in the cabinet where they keep the toys that the kids never get to play with. No sign of it.
Well, I just stood there. I was not leaving without the elephant toy! Pretty soon the lady got on her cell phone and chatted for a moment. Ah-ha! She must have called the right person, because she went into the room where all the cribs are kept and came back with the elephant! Yay!
Lesson: don't give anything or leave anything with your child that you want to get back. You may never see it again!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ups and downs.

Our visits with the boys are pretty unpredictable. I just never know if Alec is going to be relaxed and happy or tense and hurting. This morning he was in a good mood, even though he spit up a couple of times. Tonight he was not so happy. I do a lot of walking and rocking him. He makes great eye contact with me when he's relaxed.

His head is not really this big, he's just leaning forward. Yes, unfortunately his legs are that skinny. He is able to bear some weight on them, though! :)


He crosses his pinky and ring finger! How cute is that? He does it a lot.

I bought this scarf, on clearance of course, thinking that I'd get to visit some cathedrals. But, we have not done any sightseeing to speak of. (Some places require women to cover their heads.) It makes a perfect baby sling though! We tried it out today. I'm thinking ahead about how we are going to get around in Kyiv and in the airports.

Daddy and Zhenya enjoy playing on the slide. Zhenya expects dad to lift him up to the top each time. Well, today I put my foot down. That nonsense has to stop. If he wants to go down the slide he needs to learn how to climb up. He acted like we were trying to kill him at first!! He got the hang of it after a while. Honestly, the poor kid has rubber chicken legs so this was a real workout for him.

One of the many faces of Zhenya.

This kid looks so different at times. He has a lot of personality in there.


James and I walked hand in hand with Zhenya this evening. We found that he enjoys stomping on manhole covers. So we walked and stopped at all the manhole covers and all of us stomped on them. Fun times!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

These children...

One day our facilitator told me that they prefer to call the orphanage a children's home, detsky dom. Because it sounds nicer. I hate euphimisms. Why must we try to hide the truth? While the orphanage may be a step up for many of the children, none of these children belong here.

I'll repeat that: none of these children belong here.

The healthy/typical children are damaged by this environment. They do not get any positive physical touch or loving kindness. The sick/disabled children have it even worse. None of the children in Alec's group ever get to go outside. Some of the caregivers really love them, most don't really seem to care all that much. It's no wonder that they don't get healthy and strong. Everything is stacked against them in this room.

When I step in there I see precious little boys! I just want to scoop them up and comfort them. They got stuck in the wrong room and it wasn't their fault. They need therapy so they are institutionalized. They are not getting any therapies and so they won't survive the institution. You see? It's vicious.

Here is Peter. This handsome boy has some heart problems, much like Ralphie did. He needs a family quickly so he can have his medical needs met and so that he can know the love of a mommy and daddy. He's one of about 7 or 8 Reece's Rainbow children that I would have loved to bring home to our family.


Each of us can only do so much, but together we can really make a large impact. Would you consider whether Peter might fit nicely into your family? He is going to be transferred to a mental institution when he turns four. Wouldn't it be nice if he could go to school instead?
More information about Peter and other children with Down Syndrome who are at risk HERE.

Lonesome

This is a very lonesome place. Even with my husband with me. We just don't fit in here. I feel like everyone can tell that we don't belong.

That's not true though. Every now and then someone will start speaking to us. As we were walking to the orphanage, a truck stopped and asked us for directions (I think!) this morning. I had to tell him "I don't understand" in my very best Russian.

We had lunch at a cute restaurant down the street from our apartment yesterday. I thought maybe I could deciper something from the menu. Not. The only word I could pick out was fries. We felt sorry for our waitress. We think they drew straws to see who would have to wait on us.

Good thing we had our phone on us and a friend on the end of the line who speaks Russian. He was able to order chicken kabobs and a garden salad for us. It was delicious!

We did a little grocery shopping, too. That's fun when you can't speak the language. It involves a lot of pointing and gesturing. We have to make a sign for them to write down the price for us or show us their calculator so we can pay.

The shops are interesting. There are little grocery stores or mini-markets on almost every block. But, if you want meat you have to go to the meat store. Same with bread, go to the bread store. Same with fruits and veggies. Actually, you can get a great selection of fruits and veggies on the street by the orphanage. We gave one tomato guy 6 grivna, less than a dollar, and he put 5 big tomatoes in a bag for us! How's that for a bargain?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The drama never ends!

We recieved a call last night to be at the orphanage at 9am sharp. We were to go with the orphanage attorney to get some paperwork fixed.

Apparently, then name one of the boys tax ID (sort of like a social security #) does not match the name on his birth certificate. This mistake might never have been caught it we weren't attempting to adopt him.

(I don't remember if I shared that there were some other paperwork problems. The boys needed updated statements that they do not have siblings to be seperated from. This involved a trip to Yalta and a trip to Kerch, the cities of their birth, which happen to be in opposite directions. We didn't have to personally go, but we did have to pay for the car. Surprise, surprise.)

So this morning we took a drive with the attorney to get this whole thing fixed. When we got to the gov't office we sprinted after the attorney, who by the way was wearing fantastic high heels. How can they walk so fast in those things? We caught up with her upstairs where she was at a window arguing with a woman. It wasn't looking good.

Pretty soon she walked away and shrugged her shoulders at us, no English. We raced back to the waiting car not knowing what was going on! Of course my active imagination kicked into high gear. What if we couldn't adopt him? How would I handle that? What would I be willing to do in order to save him?

The attorney told the driver where to go next and called our facilitator and chatted away for the longest time. Finally we got to talk to our fac! Turns out there are more forms that need to be filled out to get this thing fixed. It will get done. We just don't need be there. Phew!

After running around for an hour we got to see the boys. They were both really great today! I know there are challenges ahead, there are many now. Alec needs physical healing first and foremost. Zhenya needs emotional healing, and that damage is much harder to understand. You can't see it from just looking at him, but it is there and it surfaces from time to time.

Teaching Zhenya how to play airplane!

Daddies love to tickle.

Zhenya insisted on laying down to play with this car? We suspect that he thought someone might take it away from him. He's in the playpen because we have nowhere else to set him down. He is not allowed to sit on the ground or in the grass, which he would probably try to eat. :(

Here you see the latest in orphanage fashion.

Complete with pants that go up to your armpits! :)

Yes, his upper arms are that thin. He is surprisingly strong, though!

Here's proof of progress! New windows! I'm please to say that the new windows are first going in to the rooms where the children play and sleep. Not sure, but I hope that our orphanage donations are paying for this. Look! There are even a few air conditioning units visible. This is money well spent.
 


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