PK and the Gang

Bringing Eastern Europe to Eastern North Carolina

Archive for the month “December, 2016”

Where the Love Light Gleams

A merry Christmas to you all from Clan Arthur! Christmas season is still in full blast in Poland. The entire country shuts down from about 2:00pm on Christmas Eve until the 27th of December and everyone celebrates the first and second days of Christmas. This does my historian heart good since most people I know (and most every media outlet I can think of) believe December 25th is the 12th day of Christmas. It’s the first and continues until Epiphany on January 6th. The Christmas season here, depending on who you ask, can even extend well past January. Many Poles set up their trees on Christmas Eve and there are those who swear it should stay up until early February for the Feast of Christ’s Presentation at the Temple.

Even before Christmas Eve, though, Christmas is in the air. Czestochowa has, like many European towns, a Christmas market. While some markets last weeks, Chestochowa’s is open for five days – the 16th – 20th. Becky, PK and I decided to make the most of it. We went three of the five days; sometimes to just walk down the strip of little stalls and sometimes to see if anything tickled our fancy. Our first night Saint Nicholas, in full bishopric regalia, was wandering around and he said a blessing over PK and then gave Becky some candy. I tried taking a picture but a family who spied the Saint came rushing up, I got jostled and the picture was blurred.

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I wish you could experience this cheesy goodness. Heck, I wish I could experience it again!

The stalls were selling wonderful mulled wine that helped take the edge off of cold. I bought some poppyseed cake (a Christmas tradition here. I’ve been assured poppyseed brings good luck, so I better eat my way through the whole loaf). Our favorite purchase, though, was oscypek (oh-sip-ek). This is a brined and smoked sheep’s cheese that is pressed into decorative shapes. It’s a favorite thing to have at Christmas markets in Poland and the best way to have it is grilled over a fire. Becky, PK and I all tried some and it got universal praise. Unfortunately, the next day that we went back, mouths watering for the salty, smokey, squeaky goodness, was the last day and the stalls selling it had already closed. We did get a kick out of seeing carp for sale at the market. We know it’s traditional for Christmas Eve dinner and that some families keep said carp alive in their bathtub for a few days before the meal, but the carp didn’t seem to thrilled with the idea. Several days later, we passed a fishmonger’s shop and the line to buy already butchered carp was out the door!

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Carp waiting for Christmas Eve dinner

Before the country shut down for nearly three days, the crew all made a trip to the shopping center across town to stock up on supplies. There is no way that we could have pulled off a full Polish Christmas Eve dinner in our flat. It involves twelve dishes (one for each apostle), is meatless (so, I’m out because fish and I don’t get along), and involves several baked goods (which would kill Becky with her wheat allergy). Deciding to embrace the Polish spirit, we did buy what we needed to make barszcz (a beet based soup better known as borscht in the States), however, it was a different kind that the Christmas Eve tradition of plain soup with small, tortellini like dumplings called uski. We also tried making kompot, which is a type of fruit punch but the dried fruit we bought to make it ended up being mostly prunes. In the interest of self-preservation, we decided not to drink it which wasn’t a big sacrifice because the taste was off. I wouldn’t mind trying again…later…when I can read packages with ease.

Christmas was…uneventful in many ways. Honestly, guys, it’s hard being isolated by language, unable bring presents because of your luggage weight restrictions and knowing you are a continent away from family. A cranky two-year-old doesn’t help much either, although, she was a trooper through Skype calls with family. Mommy and Daddy did manage to surprise her with a stuffed chicken she picked out in the store and promptly forgot about and a Paw Patrol Weeble (who knew they still made Weebles?) and the nuns had given us a bag of small presents before we left the orphanage. I had a couple of gifts during the course of the day. First, was the fact that PK and I have developed a morning ritual of cuddling, watching TV, having breakfast and looking out the window. It’s been nice these past few mornings but on Christmas it felt a little magical – she’s my gift and this Christmas might not have been much but it’s the first of many, many more.

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Our peg family

The second gift was that my sister told us during a Skype call that she had been working on something for us. She’s been painting peg dolls (they’re awesome) and had been commissioned by a wonderful, though anonymous, lady who has been following the blog to paint a peg version of our family. When this lady was little, she lived in Japan for a few years and the family had wooden versions of the children painted and given to their grandparents. When her grandparents died, she received the dolls and because they mean a lot to her, she wanted PK to have a set of her family. Since I don’t know who our sweet benefactor is, let me just express my thanks here. Becky and I love them and we know PK will love them when she realizes they aren’t just a picture. It is so sweet of you to think of us in this special way and it really was a bright spot in our day.

PK decided to give us a run for our money going to bed last night. We eventually got her down after what was at least 45 minutes of different tactics. It was rough on everyone. Eventually, she went down and everyone had a good night’s sleep, which does wonders for attitudes. We woke up this morning and had a good day and decided to head out of the apartment. It wasn’t until we were walking up the Avenue to see a few nativity scenes that I realized just how much being in the apartment for 48 hours straight had been getting to me. The wind on our face perked us up even more and PK happily chirped to anyone who would listen as we walked. She has gotten very good at loudly saying “Bye-bye!” to anyone we pass and has an amazing radar for dogs, better known to her as “How-hows.” When she sees one she leans out of her Tula to get a better view and does her best how-how to try to get their attention (although, we passed a greyhound on the street once which was all bundled up for the weather and that failed to register as a dog to her).

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The nativity of the scary angels

When we got to the square, we saw our first nativity, which featured some very scary angels and the Mary mannequin might need to see a doctor about a very messed-up hand. We then decided to head to the monastery to see their nativity and found ourselves caught up in a large crowd. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that we must be heading there in time for one of the St. Stephen’s Day masses. While Mommy and Daddy tried to blend into the crowd, PK decided to say good-bye to people we passed or babble loudly in what was a fairly quiet and reverent procession. I sense a theatrical streak. The monastery was so busy, we quickly went to the nativity in the courtyard, snapped a picture, looked at the tree decorated by the other orphanage in town and headed back home.

I found myself scanning the crowds as we walked tonight. I do it on occasion here but the urge was strong tonight. You see, PK’s biological mom lives in the same town. Her story is PK’s story and will eventually be PK’s to share if she wants to. Just know that Becky and I have a massive amount of respect for this woman we have never met and wish her every happiness in her life. Walking in a sea of faces, I tend to wonder if that lady I accidentally bumped into might be her. Or perhaps that woman who is having a very animated phone call. A part of me hopes that in the hustle and bustle of a city street, our eyes might meet for just a moment, maybe PK would babble something cute and that sound from a little child might bring a smile to her face and we would, unknowingly, have a connection to the person who gave us the greatest gift we could hope to have. I suppose, though, I will have to be content with the idea it could happen just like I imagine, get into some comfy sleep pants and get ready to stealthily enter our room and try to jump into bed without waking the little one.

 

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Our Polish Life

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Jasna Gora – the home to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa

Since the visit from our facilitator, adoption center official and psychologist, and PK’s court-appointed guardian, life has been fairly quiet. A relatively lazy day usually accompanied by an outing somewhere. Yesterday, walking home from a visit to Jasna Gora, the monastery that is home to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Becky and I were talking about how strange it is to only have the two of us to really share the day with. Except for Skyping with family and a random talk or two with our agency and facilitator, Becky is the only other English-speaking person in my world, and, I, hers. This makes conversation interesting. We can’t share what’s happened during the day because the other person is, at most, a room away and so we already know what’s gone on.

Today, we said that our next update should focus on sharing some of those things that we would share with each other if we were experiencing this adventure alone. Submitted for your enjoyment…aspects of our daily life in Poland.

Animal sounds: PK loves to look at books and her favorites are flap books. We remembered this from our last trip and brought two over with us: Dear Zoo and Where’s Spot? Multiple times a day, we go through the books. She lifts a flap, we name the animal, make the sound, and do the ASL sign for it. She’s picking it all up though she’s annoyed giraffe’s don’t have a sound and lions sound more like they say, “LOLZ!”

Bathing: Our flat has the amazing bathroom that I mentioned in a previous post. Bathing has been interesting though on a few fronts. Before we left on this trip, our social worker warned us that Polish kids tend to hate baths and when PK first started living with us, man, was that the truth. She’s gotten to where she loves them and has her hair washed like a trooper. God help you, though, if you can’t get the shivering little thing dried off and dressed fast enough. She will make sure that you know she is displeased. For the adults, the difficulty comes when we have somewhere to be in the morning. There is a shower head but no curtain so, unless you are either very skilled or very thin, water is going to get EVERYWHERE if you try to take a shower. On a day with nothing to do you can draw yourself a bath. I’ve learned to enjoy a bath again, even if the tub is a bit narrow. A morning where you have to get out of the house, however, doesn’t allow for this luxury. The method we have resorted to is drawing a shallow layer of water in the bottom of the tub so you don’t freeze to death, grabbing the shower head (it’s on a hose) and trying to wash yourself as thoroughly and quickly as possible. Becky is naturally better at this than I am. I am still scarred by a certain tub experience in the UK where I attempted this and everything except me got throughly wet. My family enjoys the show Everybody Loves Raymond and there is an episode that seems especially poignant during one of the Barone family trips to Italy. Ray finds himself in the same situation as I have and ends up getting help from a distant relative. I believe I may have paid money during my first Polish shower-bath experience to have the help he did. To see the clip, click here.

Crossing the Street: Poland takes their jaywalking laws seriously. Thankfully, it is clearly marked where you walk and when you walk. If the crosswalk light is red, you don’t cross (and people actually follow this). When the light is green, hoof it to the other side. Simple enough in theory. The trick is when you factor in traffic. Not every crosswalk has a traffic light attached to it. Big intersections, like the one to Jasna Gora, do and so you feel safe heading across the street. Smaller crosswalks often lack this curtesy. You’re still expected to walk when the light is green but that doesn’t mean a car won’t start pulling through the intersection as you start to cross. I’ve had a car stop about two inches from my kneecaps. Becky and I are pros now and can now step in front of a moving bus and not think it’s that big of a deal. Note to self: Revert to my old habits back in the States where cars sometimes don’t even stop for the stop sign in front of my museum.

Other Street Etiquette: The Poles are a warm and hospitable people, at least the ones that I have come across. However, they reserve their smiles for people they are actually interacting with. My Southern habit of smiling and nodding to everyone on the street is just not something that is done here. I can understand this. I’ll give you that the Polish method is actually more genuine. This is something that is harder for me to break than walking blindly into an intersection on faith. I’m the guy who walked down the streets of Brooklyn happily smiling at people who’s looks showed they knew I was either insane or a hayseed. I’ve dialed it back a bit here, though, to blend in a bit more. Still, I get strange looks for my slight, quirk of a smile and bob of the head.

TV: For our last bit this evening, I’ll focus on the one thing that still blows my and Becky’s minds. I like to think of us as a bit cosmopolitan. We’ve travelled. Becky’s lived overseas while she got her Master’s. Still, neither of us has lived in a non-English speaking country. We know that there is no good reason for Poles to watch TV in English. We speak so little Polish that the TV is on for background sound more than anything. There is the occasional movie in English. I’ve seen a good portion of Cloud Atlas now, as well as a very bad Nicholas Cage movie called Next. The thing that we have a very hard time wrapping our head around is something called lektor. When a foreign TV show or movie is shown in Poland, 9 times out of 10, instead of getting voice actors to dub the original language or showing subtitles there is a deep-voiced man saying all the lines in a monotone.

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Our current home away from home

After doing some research, we’ve learned that it’s a holdover from the Communist Era and because it is what people are used to, it’s what they do. Besides, it’s cheaper than paying voice actors. When Friends first came to Poland, they first hired six voice actors but it was a flop. When the networks got rid of the voice actors and got a lektor in to do the show, ratings sky-rocketed. Children’s programs almost all feature voice actors. From what we were able to find, it’s a way to try to get future audiences to prefer voice actors because it is what they are used to. Time will tell what the voice of Polish programs will sound like in another 15 years. In the meantime, if you would like a glimpse at what lektor-ing is like click here for a bit of a familiar film we captured a few nights ago. You may need to turn your volume up.

I hope that this doesn’t sound like we are complaining about certain aspects of our life. Becky and I are thrilled to have this time alone with PK in her country of birth and get to know and experience some of the culture. It gives us stories and knowledge to share with her about her original home town and country and helps us open our eyes and remember that we are global citizens. One way is not better than the other; they are simply different. This is our life and the little quirks that make it interesting.

Parenthood: A Week in Review

Seven days. Today makes seven days that Becky and I have been parents. I know that several of you have been asking about us and there’s been a lot of radio silence on this end but I felt like it was important to jump into the wonderful insanity with both feet and focus on the three of us. I’m sure you’ll understand.

What’s it been like? Wonderful. Stressful. Confusing. Amusing. Tiring. Basically, insert the full range of emotions. We have been learning who PK is and she has been learning us. We’ve also been learning our apartment and Poland. It’s been a lot to take in but it is an experience I wouldn’t trade anything for.

Below is an overview of our lives from the past week. We’ve gotten several questions from folks about different aspects of life and I think it’s only fair to tackle those first.

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PK checking out her new pad.

Is PK feeling better? PK is back to her spunky self. It took a couple of days to completely get over her stomach bug but she’s back in fighting form. We had an appointment with the orphanage doctor on Monday night. We bundled her up, hopped in a cab (I think the cabbie thought we were dropping her off at the orphanage under the dark of night), went to the orphanage and found out that the doctor was unaware of this appointment. We eventually found Sister Director who made the doctor look at PK. Diagnosis: She looks tired. No milk for a week. Sister Director then commandeered an orphanage volunteer who spoke English for one last round of motherly/nunly advice and sent us back to the waiting cabbie. I won’t forget the sweet, bittersweet smile of Sister Director as she closed the door (literally) on this chapter of PK’s life; nor will I forget the look of confusion and relief on the cabbie’s face when we brought PK back with us. I can only imagine the story he told his family that night.

How’s PK sleeping? She’s sleeping pretty well, over all. The first night was rough but what first night as parents goes smoothly? We’ve been learning what sort of bedtime routine works the best both for nights and for naps. We have figured out that she NEEDS a specific pacifier to go down, as well as a drink. When she goes down for her nap in the afternoon, she typically sleeps for two hours. At night, she will tend to wake up in the middle of the night once and want to come lay with us. Last night, we might have gotten away with a full night in the crib if we had noticed, bleary-eyed, at 4:30 in the morning that part of her crying might have come from the fact that in the middle of the night she managed to somehow slip both legs into the same leg hole (It was quite a surprise this morning to find our “mermaid girl” as Becky called her.) Still, she didn’t put up a fuss when she was with Mom and Dad. Current lullaby: La Vie en Rose.

How is PK eating? Constantly. PK is a little wisp of a thing but she seems to have the eating power of a 14-year-old boy.  I’m considering taking out a second mortgage in order to keep her fed. When she first came to us, her favorite things were those corn puffs that I shared a picture of in the previous post. Becky and I call them corn swords. While she still likes them, she doesn’t eat them as much now that she has other snacking options, especially the Polish form of Cheetos puffs. Still, there’s only one thing that we have found that she doesn’t seem to like – Gerber’s Turkey Risotto. Three bites, a quick regurgitation and she was happily munching on anything else she could get her hands on. She feels like she’s won the lottery when she eats what we eat, whether that is penne, carrots, or pickles. Our challenges are getting her to slow down enough to eat (she prefers to graze when she can) and to drink. She drinks well when she’s tired but that’s about it.

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Life is full of new discoveries for our little one.

Is everyone communicating well? Oh, yes. PK is picking up more English everyday. She seems to understand most everything we say. Sometimes that is shown through her coming to Momma when called, sometimes through her locking eyes and running in the other direction. She may be more than a little stubborn. There’s a few Polish sentences and phrases we use and will probably still use when we get back to the States. I remember my Da summoning my sister and I from a crowded room after church by calling out, “Vamonos!” I foresee myself calling out, “Chodz!” Her baby babble has also started taking on a different sound on occasion. Sometimes it’s pre-Polish, sometimes it’s pre-English, and sometimes it’s what I think of as Ponglish. She’s picked up a few English words here and there. Half the time we get “Tanks” and the other “Dzieki” for “Thank you.” Her Polish “Pa pa!” has turned into “Bye-bye,” though she delivers it in the manner of the horrible flight attendants from an old SNL sketch. She loves looking at books, and flap books in particular. We open the flaps and name the animal, make the sound (difficult for giraffes and camels. Giraffes remain silent. Camels spit), and do the sign for each animal. She’s picked up on a few of these and it’s cute to see her looking through the book on her own and hiss and sign snake…though about half the time, she will also do this for the frog. At least they’re both cold-blooded.

How are the proud parents? Good but tired, as to be expected. I find myself asking questions that I have never asked before, like: “There is a booger on my cheek…is it mine?” The pack-and-play for PK is in our room. This means that Becky and I sneak in like a Delta force strike team when it’s time for bed and also that, when I’m about half asleep, I have to remind myself that the clicking sound I hear is PK sucking on her pacy and not a Predator on the hunt.

PK is more of a momma’s girl right now, though she warms up a little bit more to me each day. Becky has her hands full constantly with the little one and so I field more of the support work for now. Still, there was one day and PK insisted that all three of us be together before she went down for her nap and she will occasionally want me to take her to the window or look through her flap books (I’m particularly proud of my monkey sounds and I think she approves).

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The cookie made for PK. Gingerbread is very popular in Poland at Christmas and the cookies are often made with a hole so they can be used as tree ornaments. This thing is almost too pretty to eat.

Yesterday, we had a visit from PK’s court-appointed guardian, one of the members of the adoption center, and the adoption center psychologist all stopped by as well (with our facilitator/translator, thank goodness) to assess how things were going. Everyone was very happy. We passed with flying colors and were told that parents who enjoy history, literature and culture are good parents for kids like PK because we’re more sensitive and gentle (we’re still not entirely sure what that means, but it’s a compliment so we’ll take it). While PK was shy with all of the new people in the room, she knew they were there for her and talking about her. Her guardian even brought her a cookie that her son made. After the crowd left, PK switched on full DIVA mode and was nearly unbearable for the rest of the day. It’s weird to think that now we are done with appointments until January. We get to just be a family.

Today, she’s been back to the PK we know and love. After she gets up from her nap, we’re heading out to the town’s Christmas market. We can’t wait to see her reaction. She’s handled new situations (like the city square with all it’s blinking lights and people) like a champ. Thank you all for your sweet messages of support and encouragement. We can’t wait to be able to show you her face in the new year and to bring her home with us for you all to meet!

 

 

 

Special Delivery

When we last talked, we had an order from the court to do a staggered introduction of PK into our apartment. It was a plan that we all thought was great and I was impressed that the court system, and our judge in particular, care enough to come up with a creative solution for our little nugget.

The next day, Friday, we started the day cleaning. Not only was PK coming but Sister Director was as well. As Becky said as she frantically passed me in the hall, “There will be nuns, Matt,” and there were nuns. Sister Director and a nun we have dubbed SuperNun joined PK. Sister Director made sure everyone was settled and left but SuperNun was going to stay to make sure things were going well but stay mostly out of the way.

I need to take a minute here to give SuperNun the credit she is due. Her actual name is a variation on the Polish form of Hedwig and for my Potterhead friends out there, she’s just as stealthy, reliant, and possibly magical. She is a friend of the Sister who was PK’s main caregiver when we were here before and when we first met earlier this week, she took a quick family picture to send to our missing friend. Once, when PK was having a hard time and was all emotion and tears, she instituted the quickest “distract and get out” technique I’d ever seen. This day, she showed her true ninja-like skills. While Becky, PK, and I were playing, a quick observer would notice a phone slide just into view in the doorway and snap a picture, or Sleep Sheep ( a soothing musical toy) would slide into the room like Tom Cruise in Risky Business playing a gentle tune. Occasionally, I’d hear a snap and see the wizened form of SuperNun, in all her 4’8″ glory waving to get my attention from behind PK’s back with mimed instructions of what she wanted up to try.

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Behind this chair, there be nuns.

One of these missions was to have PK walk with us throughout the flat. We headed to the back first and then towards the front of the apartment, where Supernun had been before. Not knowing what would happen if PK saw The Wimpled Wonder, I stepped into the room first and noticed her hiding behind a lamp in the corner. Becky and I high-stepped PK through the room and up to the kitchen. After a quick exploration, we headed back in the direction of the toys. Where was SuperNun going to hide this time? We got halfway through the room, my eyes peeled for her but it wasn’t until Becky and PK pulled ahead to the next room that I saw her lean out from behind the chair and wave at me. I snuck up to Becky to quietly inform her, “There’s a nun behind our chair.”

The rest of the morning passed like a dream. Becky and PK were inseparable, I got a kiss before they went, and through Google Translate SuperNun and I had a good conversation about PK and also a quick, crash course in parenting Polish words…as well as a few laughs at the expense of my pronunciation (I got them on the second try). Sister Director returned and told us that she would return around 2:30 in the afternoon to drop PK off to hang with us alone for a few hours. Saturday, they would bring her by and she’d spend the night with them checking on us Sunday to see how it went. It was exciting and terrifying all at the same time.

When 2:30 rolled around, Becky and I were edgy like someone waiting for their prom date to show up. Closer to 3, Sister Director came without PK. Through my computer, she let us know that PK had a stomach bug and had started vomiting after lunch. The doctor thought that she’d probably be ill until Monday. Everyone knew that it was important for us to be a constant in PK’s life now so we were invited to come and spend Saturday at the orphanage. “For a long while, until she sleeps” the message said. We thought a few hours until nap would be good. With tears in her eyes, Sister Director told us she was so sorry and we told her that we understood and would see her tomorrow.

Yesterday, Becky and I got up and headed to the orphanage. PK leapt into Becky’s arms (have I mentioned that she really is attached to Mama?) and didn’t raise a fuss when we went to the yellow room. We could tell she wasn’t feeling totally herself. We mostly laid on the couch and watched TV in the morning (I have now watched both Tarzan II and The Suite Life Movie in Polish). About lunch time, they brought down a bowl of soup big enough for an adult. The little one ate about 1/2 and the nuns were disappointed. Normally, she eats the whole amount. They then brought in warm yogurt and XL Nilla Wafers. She didn’t want the yogurt but she ate two cookies. They came in later to check and see if she needed a diaper change and, we thought, take her for her nap.

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While PK ate 13 of the regular size corn puffs yesterday, today she’s gone through at least four of these. Tea box for size reference.

Instead, they told us they would be right back. 30 minutes later, they returned with her and said that she had eaten a banana and three more cookies. Before they left us again, I managed to get directions to a restroom. When I returned, I told Becky the directions I followed. Later, we found out we somehow went to two different restrooms. I take pride in having the better experience. By now, we were nearing on two o’clock and Becky and I were getting hungry. We’d had breakfast, a cup of tea at the orphanage and I had a chocolate biscuit left for us by the nuns (that Becky was allergic to). PK, however, had more food at her disposal. She ate 13 of the little corn puffs she loves so much (think Cheetos but without the cheese) and three more Nilla Wafers. At five, we were checked on again to let us know the doctor was coming on Monday and we could come visit her again on Sunday. Again we thought that perhaps they’d take her for dinner, but, alas for our bellies, no. We were told that they were disappointed in the fact that she hadn’t actually drunk anything all day (we tried but she wasn’t having it). We all know that she needed fluids with a stomach bug and they tried for about 15 minutes before they left with instructions for us to get her to drink.

Becky and I had now been in one small room with a puny almost-two for over 8-hours. We were hungry and a little stir-crazy. If it had been at our apartment, we would have had at least had multiple rooms to visit to break up the monotony. With our mission before us, we were determined to get her to drink so we could also eat

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Our Stoner Feast…and it cost us less than $25

and drink. We begged, we bargained, we used Dad voice. Through a combination of methods, we fed her 3-4 oz on hibiscus tea with a spoon but none of us were happy and tears had been shed. When the door opened at 6:00 for her to be taken for dinner, bath and bed, Becky and I both declared that the woman who came for PK was the most beautiful lady we’d ever laid eyes on. On the way home, we stopped at a grocery store and bought what must have looked like a stoner’s feast – lunch meat, bread, cheese, ALL the chocolate, potato chips – and went home to collapse.

This morning, we were prepared to have another long day at the orphanage. Armed with some of stash from the night before, we headed to the orphanage. When we got there, we were in for a surprise. Sister Director met us and in her limited English told us that we, she and PK were going to our house. With the help of the all-mighty computer, we found out that they were sending her home with us (to be dropped off by Sister Director) along with a bag of clothes, food, and diapers, as well as a Christmas gift from the orphanage. By 10am, Becky and I were home with PK. Alone. She lives with us. We just have to go back to the orphanage at 5:30

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Part of the deal of getting PK, is getting Auto. He goes everywhere she does and she sleeps with him.

tomorrow evening for a doctor check-up.

The day has been good so far. We fed her lunch, tricked her into drinking something, and
she napped for about an hour. She catches on to things fast and is stuck to Becky like a burr. Drinking can be tricky right now. I know that later, she’ll drink when she’s thirsty but having been sick, we’re trying to keep her topped off. We just successfully utilized a two-man approach where Becky held PK and I held her bottle (because God help you if you try to make her hold it right now!). It’s new for all of us and God only knows what bed time will be like, but today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

Court (or, our heroes feel the love from home)

As many of you know, today Becky and I had our first court appearance in the steps to become PK’s parents. To be honest, we were shaking in our boots. First, it’s a huge change in life, suddenly going from two to three. Second, there’s not a lot out there about Polish adoptions – you rely mostly on blogs and other parents you know. Of course, like everything in this world, horror stories are the most common thing you see. So, there Becky and I were imagining walking into a room presided by Cruella DeVille.

God was definitely with us the whole day. This morning we had the best visit with PK ever. Laughs and smiles were had and she didn’t really make a fuss coming to us. We had a few hours to come home, attempt to eat (though nerves didn’t allow a whole lot of that), read through our home study like we were cramming for an exam, run through the apartment trying to do a weird combination of cleaning/baby-proofing, then change into our fancy clothes and go to court.

Our facilitator, it should be said, is amazing. I’ve told Becky I feel like she’s a bit like a helpful fairy. At points in our quest, she descends and makes things magically happen and then disappears until our next objective. We were the last court case of the day and while waiting, she talked to us about some things to remember in the Polish court (e.g. no matter who asks you a question, you look to the judge when you answer) and then just spent time talking with us to try to soothe our nerves. She introduced us to the prosecutor (because there’s always a prosecutor in the courts in Poland). She seemed nice but a bit disinterested. I took that as a point in our favor.

We were finally called into the court room. It looked a bit like an old classroom. The floor tiles were that institutional white with flecks and the walls were that strange shade of green that seems to appear somewhere in every school I’ve been to. The “judging tribunal,” for lack of a better word, was on a dais in the center of the room. On our left was an older woman who looked like British comedienne Jo Brand. Our judge, a younger woman who looked very put together with bright, red nails, was in the center. To right was a gentleman whose age was difficult to pin down. He looked horribly bored. Also on this platform was the court stenographer. I hope that they are compensated well for their job because Polish court stenographer requires a very special set of skills. On the same level as us was the prosecutor, still looking fairly disinterested. In the center of the room was a lectern – the dock – where we would have to stand when we testified.

Becky, our facilitator, PK’s legal guardian (who is also the director of the facility and is known as Sister Director), and I stood while our identities and basic information was confirmed. It was about that time that Becky and I felt this peace fall over us like a mantle. I knew things were going to be all right and I knew that there were so many people at home, some that I didn’t know, who were praying for us.

Sister Director was called up first to represent PK and her interests. She stated PK’s history, her development, how PK cried the first time we were together but it has gotten better every time since, and stated that in her opinion, it was in PK’s best interest to be adopted by us. She mentioned that PK has some tendencies to shyness and because of this and her history, the judge asked Sister about whether it would be in PK’s best interest to ease into family life. We didn’t quite get the translation of Sister’s answer.

Becky was then called up to stand in the dock. She was asked her age, occupation, why adoption and why Poland, if she was aware of PK’s history and medical information, if she still wanted to proceed, how we were getting through the communication barrier, how she felt she was doing at reading PK’s moods and non-verbal language, if she would be all right with a staggered integration into family life. The judge thanked her and told her she could step down and then it was my turn.

It’s a surreal experience to walk into the dock, feeling like your life is on the line. Probably a good thing I decided against criminal master-mind as a career choice. I’d been told Dad’s get questions about finances and that sort of thing. I’d spent the previous night cramming all our financial information into my brain. I was ready…and I didn’t get any questions like that. Maybe those are saved for the final court date that makes the declaration of adoption, or maybe I just lucked out by being the last case on a full day. I was asked my age, occupation, if I knew PK’s history and medical information, did I still want to proceed, could I read PK’s non-verbal communication, was I OK with staggering PK moving in,  and did I like being surrounded by children.

After my testimony, we were asked to step out of the room for several minutes and then were asked back in where they declared the plan that we had been talking about. PK and Sister Director will visit our house tomorrow and Saturday. Sunday, if everything is going well, she’ll move in. However, if we need a few more days to get her comfortable, we have that option as well. Becky and I both think this plan is great because she is fierce but she can be delicate and we want this to be as positive experience as possible.

We’ll be visited at least three times by adoption officials, social workers, a court appointed guardian and the like but we can handle that. Today’s experience also has reduced the scariness of our January 3rd court date…though there will still be nerves because that’s the ig day wen PK should become an Arthur!

We cannot thank you all enough for your prayers. Like I said, we felt you there with us, standing behind us, lifting us up, and cheering us on. Becky and I are so lucky to have you all in our lives and are constantly touched by the love you have shown us and PK.

Now, on to the next adventure!

 

 

Poland – The Beginning

We left home five days ago. The time has passed insanely fast in a “we’re still jet-lagged enough that we may try to grab a snack at 2am” kind of way. Honestly, this is the first time that I’ve had to really set fingers to keys. I want to get things down before they all meld into one. I write this blog for myself and PK in the future as much as I do to keep friends, family, and others updated. Anyway, here’s an overview of our time:

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Our culprit

Friday, the 2nd – About two hours before we were supposed to leave for the airport, Rex the Idiot-Wonder Dog escaped. Cue panic, Facebook blasts, a small emotional breakdown on our parts, a fall in the woods bringing about a sprained finger, and an effort from friends and family to bring our fur-boy home. A massive thanks to everyone who was a part of that, whether you drove around looking for him, wandered through woods, or just kept your eyes peeled as you went through your day. Thankfully, my sister managed to see him (standing in the middle of the highway looking happily at the cars headed for him) and load him into the back of her SUV and bring him back. We were able to get Rex back in the house, finish the last minute rushing around and get on the road mostly on time and only forgetting a few things that were laying out in plain sight. (From what we’ve heard, Rex is behaving for our housesitter.) We got on the plane and off to France without much incident.

Saturday, the 3rd – We landed in Paris, went through a security check-point (where they literally looked at our passports, stamped them, and handed them back) and got to our next gate which was also being used to board a plane heading for Malaga, Spain. I heard at least four languages being used amongst passengers to figure out which flight was being boarded at that point. From what I could tell, everyone who was supposed to go to Warsaw got to Warsaw and the folks flying to Spain got to Spain…but I’m not sure. Thankfully, our hotel in Warsaw was just across the street. We checked in, napped for a while, got food, and passed out again…only to wake up at midnight in Poland (6pm for our East Coast audience). We watched a couple of strange documentaries on an English-speaking channel and managed to go back to sleep until morning.

Sunday, the 4th – Our least interesting day so far…fly to a town near Czestochowa, ride in a car to Czestochowa, check in at the hotel, let a few folks know we were alive, meet with our facilitator (who is amazing), and sleep.

Monday, the 5th – Here’s the interesting bits and, let’s be honest, why you’re reading – the parts with PK. Dressed in our Sunday best, we loaded up in a taxi and had a meeting with the adoption officials here in town. It was short, pleasant, and the conversation turned to dogs like it did when we were here before. We also found out that the sister who had been PK’s caregiver for most of her life is no longer with the orphanage. We were a bit sad about not seeing her again but also a little glad that we weren’t going to be the ones to break up what was obviously a very close relationship.

We then went to the institution where PK lives. We had a meeting for about an hour with her legal guardian who is the director of the orphanage. Then we got to see PK again. While Becky and I both knew that she would be bigger, we were amazed at how much older she looks. She has grown, but she’s still tiny. We think she’s around 17-18 lbs. and she’s got so much more hair. They brought her in the room with the cutest, little topknot. We stayed in the room that we were in before with her for our first visit. She didn’t come straight to us, which is good. It means she’s loved, she’s attached to her caregivers and that there’s not a real worry about attachment disorders. Unlike the first trip, however, she did let me touch and hold her during this first meeting which is big (at least to me).

We left after about an hour with her and moved into our apartment. It is amazing, spacious

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Our bathroom – I think I had dorm rooms smaller than this

and room for me to explore (so I can only imagine PK’s reaction when she moves in…hopefully that will buy us some time before the “What do you mean, I’m not going back to the place I’ve lived all my life” panic starts). We have a kitchen, good-sized bathroom with a washer, two sitting rooms and one bedroom (which has both our bed and a pack-and-play for PK). Before we could even really get settled, we were back to the orphanage. This time we went to the playroom that PK spends a lot of her day in. We got to see her in her element along with the boys that I have to believe were the stars in a story PK’s caregiver told us when we were there last. They’re a wild cast of characters. We spent time in the room with everyone and then the other children left. This has been my favorite visit with her so far. She’s so comfortable in that room and we got to see her as she really is. She smiled, almost laughed, smacked a kid for “breaking” a toy she likes, and then was happy from our arms to make sure we knew who in the room was misbehaving. They also brought out the picture book we left when we were there last. It had pictures of us, Rex, our house, grandparents, aunts, uncle and cousins. They’ve obviously gone over it with her a lot because she toted it around with her in the room and sat down with us to look through it. When it was time to leave, Becky, our facilitator and I headed to a shopping center to get groceries, baby things and supplies. I’m a huge fan of the exchange rate. Three huge bags full of stuff for less than $100. If only it were like that back home!

Today, the 6th – We woke up to snow! Not a lot but New Bern would definitely have run on at least a 2 hour delay, if not completely shut down. We got to the orphanage and went with PK to the first room we played with her in. She obviously isn’t completely warmed up to us yet but I honestly think there’s a vibe in the room that she just doesn’t feel. We can carry her fine through the halls but when we get to that room, she loses it. Honestly, neither visit today was a fairytale. The room is at the bottom of a staircase and when she hears voices on the other side she starts crying and pointing to the door. I can understand. Who wants to be trapped in a room with two big people who are making complete fools out of themselves to entertain you but don’t speak your language when there are perfectly fine and normal caretakers just on the other side. We can distract her for a bit but as soon as there are voices on the stairs, she makes her intentions known. This afternoon’s visit felt rough to me and I started tossing up flare prayers that something would click. Apparently, she watched me while I was doing this and looked concerned, so she seems to have some legitimate feelings for me. Either that, or she doesn’t appreciate another theatrical person stealing the show. Our salvation came a few minutes later in the form of some clickable blocks. She quieted down, started to play and talked to us in her babble for longer than she ever has. When we returned her to her room, she was fine, hopped into the nun’s arms, turned around and gave us a smile and a wave. I’m not sure whether she was trying to trick the nun into thinking everything had been candy canes and rainbows or trying to stick it to us. From all the literature, I know two-year-olds can be plotters. Regardless, we’re starting with those blocks tomorrow and, honestly, I’m glad to see any part of her personality. She is small but she is fierce and she will be a force to be reckoned with one day. World, be on the look out for my girl.

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Entering the Square from the Monastery side. We live just down this street on the other side of the square.

Our walk home was full of debriefing our feelings and then being caught up in the wonder that is Czestochowa preparing for Christmas. The square in front of the old town hall has a huge, real Christmas tree, a train, huge bear, rocking horse made of tinsel and lights, and the town hall has falling snowflakes projected on it. I felt a bit like a kid walking around and I can’t wait to show PK. For now, though, I’m happy about to sit down to a dinner of sausages. If you think of us over the next couple of days, please cover us in prayer as we continue to get to know each other and specifically on Thursday when we have our first court hearing. For my East Coast friends, that happens at 8am your time. We’ve been told it will last about an hour and, if things go well, PK and come and start living with us!

 

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