Thursday, August 28, 2014

Catching Up!

A Welsh family update is l-o-n-g overdue!

Has it really been over seven months since we last shared on the blog? The time has sped past, and so many things have been going on in our lives. Kevin and I are both hoping to get back to blogging and use this outlet to share things that are on our hearts.

First, let me catch you up on Masha...she is an absolute JOY in our lives! She has fit into our family so easily. This little sweetie, who had asked the Ukrainian social worker so many times for a Mama and Papa, has adjusted beautifully. From the beginning she has been eager to be a part of everything…chores, school, outings…she makes sure she is a part of it! She came home into a schedule full of basketball games, track meets, all kinds of school activities, and doctor appointments—all in a language she didn’t know--- and she has thrived! Of course, we slowly saw her acquisition of English growing over time; then one day in June, she announced to me, “I can’t speak Ukraine any more!” And I realized she couldn’t. (I think it was more bittersweet for me than for Masha; she just stated it like a fact and moved on.) And she is very talkative! She doesn’t have all the intricacies of the language down, but she’s completely understandable…and adorable with her Ukrainian accent J

School Easter egg hunt

Another huge change this year for us came with the birth of our first grandchild! Our son Jordan and his bride Erica gave birth to a precious little girl, Ila, in April. She was early due to some complications for Erica, so we spent the weeks ahead of her birth praying for her and Erica’s health. Ila spent a few days in the nicu, but she is healthy and beautiful and just perfect. This grandparent thing is pretty sweet!

Sweet baby Ila

The day before Ila was born, we were awakened at 3:30 am with a phone call. I expected it to be Jordan calling to tell us Ila was on the way. But instead it was a call that a barn on one of our real estate properties was on fire! Kevin raced to the house, only to find the barn was a total loss. It wasn’t until he called home that we both realized all we had stored in that barn…childhood treasures (ours and the kids), furniture (my grandmother’s dining table, Kevin’s granddad’s worktable, a toddler bed Kevin’s great-granddad had built for him). It hit us pretty hard. There are still times I remember something I hadn’t thought of previously that was in that barn. Still, the Lord reminded us that all of these things were just that…things…and we don’t need to be tied to perishable things. We were thankful no one was hurt and that the barn was easily rebuilt.

Thankful for volunteer firefighters!

The biggest transition for us right now is that we are back to homeschooling… mostly. We had homeschooled for 17 years before we put the kids (the 6 at home at the time) in a wonderful Christian school two years ago. Mary Cate, our oldest daughter, knew she wanted to homeschool now to finish a little earlier than she would have at school. For the others, we prayed back in the spring that the Lord would make it clear to us if we should keep them in school. This is nothing new as we pray this prayer every year. This past spring, however, I began to feel like the Lord was preparing me for homeschooling, especially the four youngest of our children. It seemed that every adoption-related issue we were having could be better addressed at home, full-time. Also, Judson, our teenaged son, wanted to be homeschooled because he absolutely loves working with his dad any chance he gets (like rebuilding a barn!). With homeschooling, he can do that around his schoolwork. By June, our answer was clearly before us, and we filled our shelves with curriculum once again! Our only child still in school is our ever-social Anna Grace, still at the same school and loving it. She is involved in lots of extracurricular activities and doing well, so it made sense for her to stay.
The Homeschooled Bunch

So what’s next for the Welsh Bunch? Kevin and I make it a point to pray daily for the Lord to open our eyes and our hearts to needs around us. He has been faithful to answer that prayer! There is never a shortage of opportunities to serve IF we are seeking them. In fact, one of the Welshes is leaving soon to head out on an exciting mission trip! We’re excited to share about it in an upcoming blog post and introduce you to a ministry that we have been blessed to support!

The Welsh Bunch (the part that's still at home anyway)

But that one will have to wait til next time!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bringing Masha Home, Part 4...Home at Last!

Thursday afternoon, December 26, we were complete and ready to go home. Our flight out of Boryspil Airport was at 5:55 am. It would be a long day of travel, but a welcome one. We spent the rest of our afternoon and evening exploring Kiev, buying last minute gifts, and then packing. We tried to sleep a bit before being picked up at 2:45 AM. It was a joy to wake up extremely early that day. We rode to the airport with another family leaving near the same time. We walked into the airport at 4am, checked our bags, got our boarding passes and a final warning from the attendant checking us in to have ALL adoption paperwork ready for passport control! We headed through security without a problem and waited in line for an officer. I noticed how STERN and suspicious they all seemed. More than usual. Maybe it’s the early morning. Maybe it’s the coming to work in the bitter cold of Ukraine. Maybe it’s the training they have. I weighed my options quickly and noticed there was one lady officer. I switched lines. We all three proceeded. She wasn’t chatty but she did pass us through without any proof of adoption. What a miracle. Another adoptive parent going through did not fare as well. She was stuck while they read every document she had. We walked to the gate. Masha’s eyes lit up, and she yelled, “AIRPLANE! AMERICA?” Yes! And we were just as excited as she was to get home. Our first flight was from Kiev to Frankfurt. Luckily we had a 3 hour layover. Masha’s reaction to the plane ride was awesome. She was so excited to go up in the plane and see the lights of Kiev disappear as we flew higher and further away. As we said goodbye to Ukraine (or more probable “see you later”), I know we will return either to adopt again or to visit and show Masha her homeland.

Don't you think her shirt is perfect?

Now back to the happy-to-have-a-3-hour-layover part. It is beyond comprehension to me that you take off from one airport, land at a connecting airport, and are bussed to a terminal where you have to go back through the security process. This is Frankfurt. But to make it all the more pleasant you get to walk 3 miles between gates and terminals (can you feel the sarcasm??) So we set out on our HIKE to the connecting flight and made it with 90 minutes to spare.

The final leg of our journey back to GA began at 10:45 am on Friday morning from Germany. They let us board early with Masha and get settled in for a 10 hour 15 minute (ugh) flight home. It seemed endless. I was amazed at how well Masha did traveling. But...How would she adjust to home? New house? Siblings? All that would be new….clothes, toys, bed, totally different food. Would she enjoy tagging along with Mama and Papa all day every day? We would soon find out. But not soon enough for me. That LONG flight home wears you out.

After 10.5 hours in the air we land in Atlanta and prepared ourselves for Customs & Immigration. Lines were long. And lucky us, we got an overly suspicious and inquisitive officer.

Officer: “WHY were you in Ukraine?” (Embassy packet/Ukrainian passport/adoption paperwork in his hand)
Me: “Adoption”
Officer: “How much money do you have on you RIGHT now?”
I answered.
Officer: “What do you do for a living?”
Me: “Buy and renovate and sell real estate.” (Wondering what does any of this have to do with ANYTHING?)
Enter Officer #2 in full body armor and all weapons to match….
Officer2: “You have a packet?!”
Officer 1: “Yes.”
Officer 2:  “I will handle this….follow me.”
Much more pleasant, even fully armed for who-knows-what in the basement of Atlanta Immigration.

He led us to Immigration and set us up to meet with another officer. Within 15 minutes we were cleared and ready to go. Before we went to customs and baggage pick up, Mary Cate took the opportunity to change Masha into a traditional Ukrainian outfit we bought for her. (We had met a sweet shopkeeper in Kiev who took Masha and let her try on clothes while a sweet lady from Odessa translated for us in the store. We shared about adoption as she asked questions and also were able to share about where our motivation comes from. What a blessing!) Masha’s outfit is beautifully handmade, and Michelle had no idea that she had it. She was about to see her for the first time after 3 weeks of being apart J

What JOY filled my soul to walk out and see our family and my BEAUTIFUL wife and (again) new MAMA beaming!

Another child home!

Masha was also filled with joy to reunite with Mama and to meet her new sisters and brothers for the first time. She seemed so genuinely thrilled to be here J

My heart was so filled to overflowing and, as I looked at this scene of family all TOGETHER, I thought about Psalm 127. I looked at all these arrows we are raising up and lighting on fire for HIM. How joyful to have a quiver full!

Or IS it full?.... ;)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bringing Masha Home, Part 3

               ~I (Michelle) have to insert a little story here…while Kevin was waiting on Masha’s passport, I was waiting in the US for something else…a little 10-digit number that the Embassy would require Kevin to have! The day before Kevin left to return to Ukraine, we discovered that Immigration had mistakenly sent us the forms they should have sent to the National Visa Center showing that we had been cleared by Immigration to bring Masha home. We had had these papers since September and didn’t even realize it. Thus began a week-long battle to get Fed-ex to deliver them overnight (didn’t happen) and get the NVC to get them logged in and processed. I called multiple people every day, only to be told the papers weren’t delivered, weren’t in the system, call back in 48 hrs, etc., etc. All for a simple number! I was in tears a couple of times after these calls, feeling like I couldn’t make people understand the urgency of needing this number. The US Embassy in Ukraine contacted the Visa Center as well, along with the Immigration officer who had originally worked on our case. It took a week, but we finally got the number before Kevin had to have it in Kiev! I filled out the Embassy forms online, with the much needed number, before Kevin got to Kiev. And then, the next day, the Embassy emailed us and said, “Since you didn’t have a number from the Visa Center, we just created one for you. Could you please re-do the online forms with our number?” Sigh.~

At 10:30 pm on 12/23/2013 we left for Kiev! She is OURS! WE are HERS! She has taken our name and stolen our hearts. We arrived in Kiev around 3 am, and she still had not slept. She just beamed with a constant smile. We were dropped at the apartment and told to be ready to roll again at 6 am. Our facilitator said he would sit in the car and wait (I told you they don’t rest and they do WHATEVER it takes). We tried to rest and get about an hour’s sleep before having to get ready to go to TB testing. We arrived at the medical clinic on Tuesday morning and met up with another family who was having the same test done on their little one. The nurse got info from us, then escorted the children outside in the bitter cold to try to get them to cough fluid up from their lungs, which they cannot possibly do since they are so young (it must be over 1 cm deep in a specimen cup). Then a decision was made to extract it, but we had to wait for the doctor to be available. This TB test is a VERY invasive test that is done by inserting a tube through their airway to extract the fluid from their lungs…THREE days consecutively to is torturous! Plans were made after completing this first one for the next two days. I was sitting in shock that this is required.

         After 5 hours at the medical clinic, our driver heads back to our apartment to drop us off, and we pray for a meal and some rest for the afternoon. Mary Cate and I decided to go to the coffee shop and get some food and a drink and just relax for a bit. It was obvious as we sat down and opened a menu that Masha had never been in a restaurant. Her eyes got so big with excitement as she looked at every picture pointing out each and every thing offered at this café. I got her to decide on a smoothie and waffle with strawberries and vanilla ice cream. She devoured every bite! After all these hours and trauma of the morning, I am thinking “nap.” I assumed Masha was as well, but no, she was so excited about everything. She wanted to explore and color and watch tv and paint and play. So Mary Cate napped. And I played. (On a side note…I wonder what’s the fascination on the Ukrainian Animal Planet with alligators? Do they associate all Americans with Swamp Brothers and Turtle Man?!) Day one in Kiev was just about done and so was I….I was exhausted, awake for 39 hours.

Eating ice cream at TGIFridays in Kiev

Avoiding sleep! 

         Day 2 began after 8 hours of much needed sleep. We awoke Christmas morning to go for a repeat of Tuesday. We went to the medical clinic with 2 other families. This day was much different than the day before with only the three families in the 400 sq ft hallway instead of the dozens of people the day before (and the day to come). Christmas morning was spent at the medical clinic, three families and the Doctor and nurse. We were done fairly quickly and were free for the rest of the day! We decided to eat/shop/nap and prepare for the next day to come. We prayed Thursday would include undergoing one more TB test, examination, and x-rays by the doctor, getting a medical packet for the embassy and Masha’s visa, and then going to the apartment to pack.

          Day 3 began with our friends the Taylors (the ones we shared an apartment with when we first arrived in Kiev) being dropped off at our apartment to spend the day hanging out while we tried to accomplish all the final steps in one day! It was great to see the Taylors again! As the morning progressed, it looked as though the medical stuff would be completed, but when would TB results be in from the independent lab several miles away? As we sat and waited (having been told around 1 pm would be the earliest), I prayed silently as I sat in the hallway, “Lord, please see these things done and amaze us once more. Have our facilitator come into the hallway and tell us the results are back early and that we have packets ready and can go to the embassy to try to get a visa.” We had flights booked for 5:55 am on Friday morning and we sat in this hallway of this medical clinic in Kiev with no visa in Masha’s passport. The US Embassy had offered to even stay open late if needed to get us processed.

And in the next instance, our facilitator walked in and said, “Let’s go!”

It was all done. Unbelievable. An hour earlier than expected. Praise the Lord!

     We departed for the Embassy and were told that we could go in but they wouldn’t start processing again until 2pm. We went through security around 1:15 and down the steps into the main building to meet another security officer who gave us a number to put us in the queue. We sat to wait until 2pm. We were called to the window around 1:35 pm and the process began…early…and at 2:05pm, they handed me Masha’s passport with the visa and all the sealed immigration paperwork! Tears filled my eyes as I KNEW that we are FINALLY in the HOME stretch. I have seen so many times My Savior open the door wide for our little Masha to come HOME.

Passport, visa, and immigration papers...Ready to go!

And that trip home was about to begin!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Bringing Masha Home, Part 2

The phone call from our facilitator telling us good news also gave us the following bad news…

Our wonderful (yes, you detect sarcasm!) US Center for Disease Control requires a TB test, but for months, there has been a shortage of the skin tests. Most families have been fortunate to have this requirement waived, but it seems the CDC decided to put some children through a harsher TB test. To do this test, they must cough up fluid from their lungs (phlegm) into a cup. As bad as it would be for Masha to have to endure this test, there was another difficulty here as well. I was told I should just go home and come back in 2-3 weeks! At 3 pm on Monday…when the miracle of the passport being picked up was occurring…another member of the team was instructing me to go home because of this roadblock with the TB test! Here’s why…Three days in a row were needed to do the test, and the first opportunity would be on January 8. For the first time ever the medical clinic would close on Christmas Day, in a country that celebrates Orthodox Christmas on January 7th! So with that closing, and their being closed on New Year’s Day and Orthodox Christmas, January 8th would be the soonest to do the test three days in a row.

The facilitator tells me they have exhausted every avenue, pulled every string, and used all their influence.

It would be impossible to finalize on this trip.

Buy tickets and let them know when they needed to get us to the airport to leave.


AGAIN I would have to have them explain to this little angel that we had to leave her there a little longer. And we wouldn’t be coming to see her each day.

I messaged Michelle at home and told her the news. I couldn’t even wrap my brain around it. I wanted to ball up and cry. I told her to please pray for me. Pray for Masha. Pray for a solution. I was devastated. I emailed our travel agent and got options going for travel and left to see our girl at the orphanage for the last time in 2013. I was in tears. I am amazed at how this little girl has grabbed hold of my heart. As MC and I sat and visited with her, she had no idea of our leaving without her. The attorney walked through after obviously having talked to our team. She frowned with a sympathetic face and waved at me. My heart was breaking. Two more times the phone rings with the team giving me options to return to Ukraine in a few weeks. They apologize for the delay, but it is beyond their control. I prayed again for a MIRACLE.

Ten minutes later the phone rang and the same lady who had told me to go home announced, “We’ve just had a miracle!” A doctor and a nurse had agreed to come in on their day off for us! We were to go to the hotel to pack and wait for our facilitator to arrive and drive us back to Kiev……TONIGHT! Praise my Lord who answers prayer and loves all His children!  

Our facilitator left Kiev around 4 on Monday evening and drove down for the long journey to where we were to pick us up and take us back up to Kiev (about 750km round trip). He arrived at the hotel around 9:15 pm. We check out and head to the orphanage to get our girl, arriving late Monday night. I felt like I was in a dream. It was FINALLY here! Time to actually walk out of here with Masha! We headed in and straight upstairs to meet with the lawyer for the orphanage who stayed very late for us. She was very happy to greet us and talk about plans to get Masha’s passport stamped and signed and put on a bus to be delivered to us the next day. She then took us to see Masha. She.was.beaming! Huge grin across her lovely face. Hair fixed. Bag of keepsakes packed (an ornament she had made, picture book we gave her of her new family, a doll from us, handmade beaded needlework of Mary and Jesus from one of her care takers.) She has NOTHING basically. No clothes. No toys apart from the doll. No real possessions to speak of, other than what we’ve given her and the nanny’s needlework. But now she has a family!

We were in the living room area of her home, and the double doors to the bedroom where there are 15 identical beds were open. We could hear talking, laughing, and crying. Anticipation of another friend who has a family while the rest are left to wonder "When will my turn come? Or will it?" Mary Cate changed Masha into the new clothes we brought for her, and three of her friends came out to sit on the sofa, watch all of this unfold, and say goodbye to her. 

What was going through their precious little minds? I can tell you! Our facilitator shares that the toughest thing for him is always enduring the same question…”When are you bringing MY mama and papa here for ME?” How heartbreaking! As Masha walks out, her 3 friends who had come out to see her off watch, and we heard cries from the bedroom from the 11 others inside. I pray for them and for the team as they wait for someone to step up and say “yes” to them, too.

Is it YOU
Is God calling you to adopt?
Will you hear and answer the cry of these orphans who LONG for a mom and dad to call their own?

Masha BEGGED the social worker repeatedly to please find her Mama and Papa. What if we had ignored what God had laid on our hearts and was calling on us to do? It has definitely been far from an easy thing to do. But, He NEVER promised easy. Only that He would go before and with us. 

And oh, how He has been so faithful to us and to Masha!

At 10:30 pm, we left the orphanage for good and were off to Kiev....

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Bringing Masha Home, Part 1

After a quick week back at home, Mary Cate (our 16 yr old daughter) and I arrived back in Kiev on December 15 after uneventful flights from Atlanta and Frankfurt, Germany. (Joyfully but narrowly making our connection just 10 min before departure.) We walked into the familiar -2*C air of Ukraine full of anticipation at being back so quickly to get Masha. We were taken to our apartment in Kiev for the night and then picked up mid-morning on the 16th for the 4 hour drive to her town to pick up our court decree. 

At 2:30 pm on December 16, 2013, we received the decree legally making Masha our daughter! And so with that done, we headed off to the hotel to let our facilitator sleep before the next day of running nonstop from place to place to put all wheels into motion to finalize. (Sleep is a precious commodity for our Reece's Rainbow adoption team who seems to never be able to stop. They tirelessly work for each family in country to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible.) MC and I dropped our bags and grabbed a taxi to go see Masha as quickly as we could. Her face lit up as we opened the door to their living area. All the travel, all the expense fades away when you see the joy in the face of a child who has spent their childhood LONGING for a family. We visited with her for 3 hours, and the time just flew by. We left and went to our hotel for sleep and an early morning start to Masha’s hometown (about 120 km from where she had been living the past couple of years).

Sisters and crafts

Masha's birth town is one of the oldest in the country, dating back to the 11th century. We departed at 7am trying to make it to the town at the opening of business. We needed to get her birth certificate changed to her new name and listing us as her “mama & papa” (as she calls us). Our facilitator is yet again AMAZED as we head back with a new birth certificate less than one hour after arriving in town. One and a half hour’s drive back to the town Masha is in, and the day continued---notary office, tax office, orphanage, passport office, government office, courthouse, orphanage (again), passport office (again), bank (to close Masha’s government funded account)--what a blessing to be able to give the orphanage a large amount of money from Masha!--and then back to orphanage for the last time today. With that long day done (11 hours nonstop with no food), we went to the café to eat and begin days of waiting and visiting Masha at the orphanage.

Masha's snack time at the orphanage

We were told the passport would be ready maybe on Friday, and then it would arrive back in her town to be signed and stamped at the local office. After waiting, Friday turned to Saturday. Somehow her name was misspelled by ONE letter on a document from the tax office, and we found out that the one letter mistake had delayed us until at least Monday. Our facilitator said his hope was to be granted “special permission” to pick up the passport, bring it with him to pick us up, and get it signed and stamped himself. We waited….and prayed. 

Monday at 2 pm, I had had enough, so I called our facilitator and was told he had been granted the permission!

BUT there was BAD NEWS too...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Meeting Masha, Part 3

On the morning of December 5th, our facilitator called and said we were indeed having court that day at 3 pm. She also told us we would be heading back to Kiev that evening, and we could leave for the US. We already had plane tickets on hold with a travel agent, so we let him know we would indeed be leaving Kiev the next morning. We spent the day packing and making sure we had everything just right for security checks.

Our facilitator called at 2:30, ready to pick us up outside our hotel. As we drove, she told us what to expect in court: the people who would be there, the order of the proceedings, the questions we would be asked, and how to stand/sit/answer/address the judge. We went to a building that looked like any other court house you might see, and went upstairs to a foyer area. We were then ushered into a long “court room” which looked more like a conference room…at one end was a row of tables and chairs where the judge and other officials would sit. Perpendicular to that were tables running the length of the room and piled high with stacks and stacks of papers. We were given seats along the wall. Our facilitator and 3 other women came in. One was a prosecutor, and she would bring any case against us that might be cause for the judge to deny our petition to adopt. She looked stern, and we wondered if she had anything to say against our case. The other women chatted happily with our facilitator. Eventually, the prosecutor looked up, smiled, and joined in their conversation. This made us feel so much more at ease.

We stood as the judge entered along with 3 other court officials, and she took her seat at the center of the row at the end of the room. The questions began with our basic information: name, address, occupation. The judge also asked why we wanted to adopt, if we knew Masha’s background, and if we felt we could care for a “such a large family.” She asked about our previous adoptions and how we planned to help Masha make the transition into a family. Then the orphanage director was called on to testify. She told the judge that she had witnessed good interaction between us and Masha, that we knew of her background and needs, and that she thought we would be great parents for Masha.

Next, a social worker was called on, but this was a different woman than we had met that first day. This lady again confirmed that she thought we would be a good family for Masha. The judge asked the social worker about Masha’s life in the orphanage. The social worker said she had had no visitors during her time there. That was hard to hear that no one had come to see this little sweetie. Then she added that every time a social worker went to the orphanage with a family for another child, Masha would ask, “When are you going to bring a Mama and Papa for me?” I looked at Kevin, and again we both teared up over our girl’s lonely heart longing for a family. 

Lastly, the prosecutor was called upon. This is where were kind of holding our breath. What if she had some reason to say we shouldn’t adopt Masha? Our fears were soon relieved as she also gave the judge a favorable recommendation! The judge spoke for just a few minutes and told us she was going to make her decision. We had been told she would leave the courtroom for this, but she didn’t. She needed no recess to make the decision…we would be granted the privilege to adopt Masha!

When court was over, we asked our facilitator about going to the orphanage to say goodbye. The orphanage director was standing there, and she advised against it! What?! The director told us it would be an emotional goodbye, and that she would explain everything to Masha. This woman had been so kind to us and our girl, she did know Masha better than we did, and we really had no reason to doubt that she was right. As much as we hated it, we would have to leave the country without saying goodbye to our girl L We ended the day by traveling back to the notary office.

That night as we drove to Kiev with our two facilitators, we discussed the process that remained…returning to finish paperwork and obtaining her passport, getting Masha out of the orphanage, getting her processed through the US Embassy in Kiev, and bringing her home. We talked about all of the upcoming holidays and how it all could work out. I cannot begin to count how many times over the last month we have studied the calendar! We still thought we wouldn't be back until January. The facilitators dropped us off at the airport in Kiev where we hung around for about 7 hours before our long flights began to head back home. We landed in Atlanta in the afternoon on December 6th. We were so glad to be home! 

As we left the airport, I checked my email on my phone and noticed one from our facilitator. It could be worked out for us to come back, ready to go, on December 16th, which meant leaving again on the 14th. We would barely be home a week! But the possibility of getting our girl home sooner was going to be worth it!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Meeting Masha, Part 2

We were waiting to meet our daughter for the first time. I had a momentary recollection of delivering babies and waiting for that moment for the doctor to hold up that new little one to see. There was that much anticipation (without the physical pain J ). The doors opened from the direction we had originally come in through, and suddenly there she was! Along with a dozen other people…all speaking Ukrainian, except for our 2 facilitators who were rapidly translating everything for us. We were first introduced as “new friends” to Masha, as the potential adoptive parents are given the option of meeting the child before officially saying they are adopting. Of course, we knew instantly we weren’t saying “no” to this little doll! We gave her the gifts we brought for her…a stuffed bunny, a bag of Skittles, and a little purse with hair accessories which she proceeded to clip all in her hair, even though it was already beautifully braided. The nannies brought us so many things to show us how smart Masha is…her handwriting booklets, things she had cut and colored, and some other crafts. The nannies had her stand and recite poems for us, which we thought she did beautifully, even if we didn’t know her language. We were impressed with all her handiwork and recitations, but we just couldn’t take our eyes off of her. She had the sweetest, shy little smile…and she totally knew what was happening. She knew she was getting a mom and dad, without a doubt. Even our tough-exterior, Russian-mob-looking facilitator looked at me and said, “I’m going to cry!” We only had a few minutes to visit with her before we had to say goodbye for a little while.

Our first time meeting each other!

Then we were whisked into an office with our facilitators, the social worker, and the orphanage director.  We were told all about Masha’s life…how she came to be there, her medical history, her diet, her social interactions. And we were asked if we wanted to adopt her. YES! Of course, we wanted Masha to be our new daughter J

The rest of the day was spent running all over the place. We went back and forth between the notary, the court, the social worker’s office, the orphanage, and I don’t even remember where else. It was a tiring day, but we were exhilarated. We returned to the orphanage just after dark for a short visit with Masha. We were shown areas where we could hang out with her, and then shown to where her group was playing. She immediately came running to hug us, and she called us Mama and Papa! Yes, this little girl had been waiting for her family to come!

Masha brought out all the gifts we had given her earlier that day. We sat on the floor with her and colored princess pictures. We also showed her a photo album we had brought for her. In it were pictures of everyone in our family, as well as pictures of the rooms in our house and the exterior of our house. She repeated all the names as we flipped through the pages, and we could tell she was studying each one. We showed her the girls’ room she’ll share with two of her new sisters, and we pointed out which bed would be hers. She quickly noticed the baby dolls in the room. She loved the picture of our little dog. And we taught her the word “home”…so sweet to hear her say it.

The visit seemed to end all too quickly, but we were told the times that we could come back every day. We said good bye and promised we’d see her the next day. We left and headed to our hotel with our hearts bursting for this precious little girl we were falling in love with!

Our daily visits were anywhere from one-and-a-half to three hours, depending on which time of day we went. We spent lots of time coloring and drawing, playing on the iPad, doing puzzles, looking at the picture book and practicing names, and playing in the long halls where the children ride bikes and have indoor toys they can climb on. We spent one frigid afternoon outside on the playground, swinging, sliding, and blowing bubbles. The playground was in disrepair like the exterior of the building, but Masha had fun running from place to place, and I think she enjoyed being the only child out on the playground! We took her new small toys to play with each day (a new puzzle, coloring book, etc.), or we played new games on the iPad. We could tell how bright Masha is, and that the nannies in her orphanage had spent a lot of time teaching her. These visits went on like this for several days, and we were enjoying getting to know our girl. We had been told that our facilitators were trying to get our court date set for December 12th (which was at least a week earlier than we had thought originally), so we were enjoying our visits, thinking we had over a week left before court.

 Masha and Dad

Painting fingernails

On the morning of December 4th, we were awakened by a phone call from our facilitator who told us our court date would be the next day, December 5th! What?! We were shocked. We all had no idea how it came together that quickly, but we were excited. Then Kevin and I began to try to figure out how that would work for actually bringing Masha home. We had already discussed with our facilitators the 10-day wait and all the holidays that we coming up. While we were excited that we could have court so early and go home sooner than expected, there was a potential down side to this early court date. If the offices and agencies we needed to help us finalize everything were closed for various holidays, it would be middle to late January before we could come back to Ukraine to get Masha and bring her home. That part was hard to think about. We also wondered how we could help her to understand that we would be back and just when that would be.

We went to lunch at a small restaurant across from our hotel and then looked in some shops nearby. There was one little shop that was the equivalent of an American dollar store…a little bit of everything and cheap. We found some more coloring books and drawing pads. We also found some colored paper. We decided to help Masha make a colorful paper chain…a loop for each day we would be gone and a tangible way for her to count down to us coming back by tearing off a loop each day. We found some tape and scissors to help with the project.

When we went to visit Masha that evening, we cut strips of the paper and began assembling the paper chain. She loved it! While she and Kevin were putting the first few together, I pulled out my phone to check the number of days/loops on the chain. 42! That meant it would be six weeks until we could be back and begin to finish up the adoption process. We decided to add on a few more just in case we were delayed in coming back for some reason. Masha was having fun, but Kevin and I just kept watching that chain grow and grow. To her, it was an entertaining craft; to us, it was a symbol of being separated. We were glad we made tiny loops, because that number seemed so big to us. We finished and hung the paper chain on her little cubby door; it went all the way to the bottom. We decided to wait until we said goodbye for our departure to explain the chain to her. Only we didn’t know we wouldn’t get to say goodbye.