Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Birthday Epic-ness :)

It was my birthday recently. And the kids made it amazing. I'm not just saying that. I mean, it was AMAZING. I felt so loved and special and so honored to be their mom. Last year we skipped all Christmas and birthday stuff because the kids had just gotten home and we didn't want overwhelm them.
This year, we had a blast and even did a party for Levi's birthday (which included a group of ten eating at his favorite Ethiopian restaurant and then a movie and snacks/cake/ice cream. He got some awesome gifts (including a cell phone from me and Abe......WHAT?!?!?!?) and birthday $$$ from some of our family.
The day before MY birthday, Levi started asking me if we could go cash his birthday checks. I was like, "Hunny, our schedule is full today; we can go tomorrow, okay?" He started panicing and begging to go to the bank and saying, "Mom, it HAS to be TODAY! Pleaseeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!" and I realized he must want to spend some of it on my birthday. So we made a run to the bank (much to his obvious relief.....so precious!). That night I worked till 10pm and Abe took them shopping for my birthday while I was gone.
Fast forward to 3am the next day when I got up for work. My house was decked out with streamers. :) Even the banister and the lampstands. And Mia's bed area (Mia didn't seem too big on all the dangly and twisting streamers over and in front of her bed haha!).
When I got home at 8am, Abe, Levi, and Z were waiting at the door for me. The kids were literally jumping up and down with excitement. They grabbed me in a 4-person bear hug and then Zahria gasped and said (her acting needs help :)) "DADDY! We forgot the presents!" Then she grabbed my hand and dragged me to the livingroom, where a MOUNTAIN of presents was on the couch. Abe said, "Get out your tissues," and Zahria started handing me packages.
Levi had bought me a bear figuerine. It was a boy bear, holding a heart that said, "I love you", and standing on a bigger heart. He said, "Mom, that's me, and the heart I am standing on is yours!"
Insert tears. And hugs.
Zahria started handing me her gifts. Paracord to make cool bracelets that we both love. Two stunning bracelets that I have been drooling over. A Starbucks giftcard for $6. A wooden board that she cut and painted herself (it said, "Happy Birthday"). $15 cash for a nose ring. And a card that made me cry all over again.
Abe gave me a wall decal that I loved.....it's a music staff and notes running all over it and it's beautiful. We hung it up in our room of course. 
I mean to add--we don't give our kids an allowance. They earn all their spending money, and they tithe off it. So it doesn't accumulate quickly. They have spent a lot of hours earning their money. So for them to spend it on me.......it seriously was amazing. They understand GIVING. And they were so happy and excited.
Levi's other present was last. It was huge. Like, flatscreen TV huge. Now Zahria is our giver. She will give you the clothes off her back, her favorite doll, her food, whatever she has. She is constantly giving away her stuff. She LOVES to give. She loves to spend her money on other people.
Levi is different. He holds onto his money for himself. The only time I have seen him spend it not on himself was for Christmas when we all bought each other gifts. He always buys himself cool clothes or gadgets, but he does not spend money on other people. So for him to buy me two gifts was huge. And this gift.....well, clearly by the size alone, it wasn't cheap.
I opened it and started bawling. Inside was a framed photograph.....six horses running through a duststorm. It was BEAUTIFUL. Levi and I had falled in love with it at a store one day (we stared at it forever) and he knew how much I loved it. And I knew how much it cost. That picture alone was $50. He had $30 of birthday money and $20 that he had earned. So he spent ALL his money. On me. My child who isn't willing to let go of a single dollar took everything he had and bought me a gift. A beautiful, precious gift.
I cried and hugged him while he grinned and said, "Mom, you love it?!?!?" and then we ran to my bedroom and hung it above my side of the bed. It looks incredible.....and totally matches the room.
Best. Birthday. Ever.




Friday, January 10, 2014

Natalie Jasmine, I love you.

I've been trying to write this post for a few weeks now, but we didn't want to post it until we had told everyone that we needed to in person.....but more and more things keep happening and this post gets longer every day.

So here's a Natalie update for you.



12/20/13

We got our homestudy in November. We mailed our dossier (all our paperwork) to Ethiopia, minus our immigration approval to bring Natalie into the U.S. We couldn't apply for that until we had our homestudy, so we mailed our dossier separately and then filed for our immigration (I-600A). This means we sent $1,000, an original copy of our homestudy and a few other pieces of paperwork so that we could get a national background check (fingerprints) and request an I-171H (the paper that allows Natalie into the US). About two weeks later we got a letter stating that our application had arrived and was being reviewed. A week or so after that we got a letter for our fingerprinting date. Our fingerprinting was supposed to be December 17th, but since I was going to have my patch testing that week, and Abe had a big project at work going on, we decided to try and jump our appointment. On December 10th, Abe took the day off from work and we drove up to USCIS together with the kids. (I had promised the fingerprinting lady two years ago that when our kids finally came home, that I would bring them up so she could see them......we had been there a couple times for Levi and Z's adoption, and she knew who we were and was SO excited to see us and the kids. Can't wait to bring Natalie so she can meet her too!!!) Anyway, we jumped our appointment, and were still able to go in and get our prints done. We drove home.......only to pick up the mail and see a letter dated December 6th, saying that our homestudy had been denied and our application was on hold. Insert confusion, anger, and frustration. After multiple emails and phone calls, where I alerted (or caused panic to) my agency, I tracked down my USCIS case officer and left voicemails and tried to figure out exactly what was wrong. Apparently, our social worker did not include some NYS mandated sentences regarding the fact that we meet NYS adoption/foster care requirements and the homestudy also did not say that our home was suitable for another adopted child. An honest mistake, but one that cost a LOT of time....time we already don't have......and it was beyond ridiculous to pay thousands for a homestudy, have it take FOREVER to get it completed by our agency, and then to have it be wrong. Our homestudy paperwork was completed and in our agency's hands the first week of September --ONE week from actual referral-- and yet we didn't get our homestudy back till the very end of November.....and then it didn't even meet state guidelines. It was an accident, and those happen, I get it, but my daughter is sitting in Ethiopia with no language and no education, and my frustration went THROUGH. THE. ROOF. We got an addendum from the NYS homestudy director and mailed it. We're still waiting for our actual I-171H from USCIS.


Anyway. We've also been getting pictures and videos of Natalie recently that have us worried. And heartbroken. When we got her referral pictures, she looked so sad and lonely. Then when we got pictures after she knew about us, we had excited smiles and bright eyes. We got videos where she hugged the air and grinned and repeated her ABC's a million times, in between signing a thousand "I love you"'s. That was September and October. By November, the smiles were less wide. The eyes a little comfused, but still hopeful. Then December came. We got updates from our agency, and pictures from friends. And they've been making us cry. NOT in a good way.


My little girl has been at her current location for a year. She's seen other kids come and go (including her best friend). And as far as she understands, it should be about two months after referral that we should be coming for court. And she's been waiting. September. October. November. December. She's waited twice as long as the old timeline. (She has no idea about PAIR of course, or what it entails.) All she knows is that she waited and believed. Then she kept waiting, kept trusting us to come to her. And we didn't. And we shattered her belief that she is loved by us. Natalie doesn't have language or an education. No one can explain anything to her. They can't tell her that it isn't our fault, that we have done everything we could, that we are fighting so hard for her. They can't explain to her that we love her. That we WILL come. All she knows is that she's been waiting; she made herself vulnerable and loved us, and we abandoned her. And the pictures we get now make us cry. She looks just like the embassy picture we have of Levi. My baby girl's smiles have been replaced by stony stares. Her eyes speak of the pain of betrayal. Of lost hope. Of anger.


I can't stop crying for her. Zahria is inconsolable. She breaks down sobbing multiple times a day saying, "I want my sister home!!!". Levi is upset and says over and over, "Natalie needs to come home! She's so sad. I miss her. Mom, I'm so sad." Abe's eyes are glassy and he just holds me while I cry, and then we beg pray. And pray. And pray.


I called my agency to find out what was going on with our PAIR paperwork. We had originally hoped to fly in February for court. There were no promises on that, but it seemed reasonable. I called and asked what our PAIR status was. And then my family coordinator dropped a bomb on us.



 
They only have half of Natalie's PAIR paperwork. So from Aug 30th-December 28th, they've only gotten 50% of her required documents. I understand that PAIR was implemented in September and that the new requirements mean Natalie's paperwork has to be redone. I understand that takes time. In understand a lot of this is out of my agency's control. But at this rate, that means her PAIR paperwork won't be done till April. Or May.
 
Deep breath. Stay calm. 
 
I asked them when we could expect to go to court. Their answer? 4-6 months AFTER the PAIR submission. WHAT?!?!?!?!?!????????????????
 
Then embassy is roughly 12 weeks after court. Although I know a family who just waited 18 weeks. Sooooooooooooo...............we are talking next Christmas. A year and a half (almost) after our referral of her.
 
 
COMPLETELY. UNACCEPTABLE.
 
 
I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to call them back and demand more specific timelines. Demand that they fight harder and bring her home sooner. But it won't do any good right now. That doesn't ease the hurt though....for her, or for us. She has no language. Barely any education. She's sitting there, alone, confused, and feeling abandoned. Unable to communicate. Unable to be assured that we love her and that we WILL come. My kids are a wreck. My husband is a wreck. I'm a wreck. Our family is divided and it's killing us. I want to fly over and scoop her into my arms, and get right back on a plane home. But I can't.
 
 
Well, I can't do half of that. I can't bring her home. Technically I CAN fly over and scoop her up into my arms. Right? What's to stop me from getting on a plane and flying halfway across the world?
 
 
So that's exactly what I am going to do. Abe and I never even discussed it, never thought twice. It was basically like, "Hunny, this is what they told us for a timeline!!! Babe, she thinks we abandoned her.." Abe, "Go get on a plane." BOOM. I bought tickets (12/20/13). And it "just happened" that it was the last day of a sale for Ethiopian Air. $1500 round-trip. DONE. In country expenses....roughly $1,000 total: I picked up 40 extra hours of work within the next two weeks to help cover the expenses. I'm working every day 4am-8am like always, but now Saturdays are 4am-2pm, Sundays 4am-11:30am, and then lots of weeknights 8pm-10pm.   

 
Just to clarify: this is NOT my court trip (I wish it was!!!!). I do not get to bring Natalie home. I am only going to show her that she is not alone. That we love her. That we will cross oceans just to proved to her that we haven't abandoned her. To give her hope. To reassure her. And to easing all our aching hearts.
 
 
 
12/22/13  EMERGENCY UPDATE
 
Four families from our agency have come home from Ethiopia TB positive. FOUR. Whole familes (adults and kids). Children can carry TB but can't pass it (I'm not a medical expert, but this is what the experts say.....something about their lungs aren't big enough to support the spores transferring). So four families are TB positive and are now on meds for latent TB (if you don't treat it, it becomes active and spreads) for 9+ months and will never be free of it. All families from our agency. And children can't pass it. If we do the math, that equals out to the probability of agency in-country staff members being sick and spreading it. Since TB is spread in enclosed places, let's assume it's a drive and/or a guide. Because that's a common factor for the adoptive families.
 
Awesome. Or not.
 
So I just put in a request for a specific driver. One that is NOT rumored to have TB. Driver is approved. Now please pray I get the guide I would like. Cause I'm not gonna lie, I don't scare easy, but this is serious. And I am a little scared. But nothing can scare me away from comforting my daughter. Yes, I am still going. <3
 
 
 
 
12/28/13  EMERGENCY UPDATE
 
A bill was proposed to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia requesting to end all international adoptions immediately. The bill was approved for review and a decision either way to be made in ten days (probably highly influenced by the Hana Williams murder......an Ethiopian adoptee who was murdered by her family here in the U.S.....if you google her name, you can find the story.) A bill like this has NEVER been approved for review.
 
Ensue adoption uproar.
 
Panic.
 
Rumors.
 
Fear.
 
If adoptions were to close in ten days, that means it is OVER. For thousands of families and children. Including us. And we don't have our PAIR paperwork or a court date, so there is a snowman's chance in a desert that we would get grandfathered in to any deal regarding families who have already been submitted to court.
 
So basically, if it passes, it's over for us at this point.
 
At this point, the adoption community is fighting back. Since so many negative PRs are going around Ethiopia about international adoption, families are trying to get positive adoption stories out in the Ethiopian public. Stories especially about specials needs. Older kids. Siblings.
 
Then weird things started happening. We were asked permission for our Natalie adoption video to be shown on national television.....in Ethiopia. A trusted individual is trying to buy air time and show our video. To try and inform the public about positive adoption and to promote positive PR.
 
WOW.
 
 
 
 
12/30/12  EMERGENCY UPDATE
 
 
I've been wanting to email my agency and ask them what the deal is regarding our family's situation. No PAIR, no court, and a child who desperately needs us. A child who would NOT be adopted in country, should we get shut out. A child who I will fight to the death for. A child that we will move to Ethiopia for, if it comes down to it. I will not leave. NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER.
 
I didn't email because my agency was closed for the holidays. And because there are 200+ families on the waiting list and I am sure most have emailed in a panic, asking what will happen. Why would my agency bother to contact me back when they were being swamped with calls and emails? And what good would it do? They were probably as confused as concerned as the rest of us, and with not much more information.
 
Around 10:30am we got a mass email from our agency explaining what they knew. Then about 11:00am I got a call from a blocked number. I almost ignored it....but when I answered, it was my family coordinator from our agency. She was calling even though she wasn't at work. Bad sign.
 
Long story short: our agency is panicking. Nothing like this has ever happened before and to be safe, they want everyone who can be, submitted to court. We don't have our PAIR paperwork, which is mandatory pre being submitted to court. However. This is an emergency. And our agency is trying to submit us to court this week. WITHOUT our PAIR papers. Normally court submission takes a week, so they are already in a race against time, as we don't HAVE a week left before this decision is made. They are doing everything they can to submit us to court, even though if we DO make the deadline, we WILL fail, because we don't have our documents. But the thought is, if we can at least be submitted, then we will be on the court's radar, and if adoptions DO close, we have a small chance at getting grandfathered in. If we aren't submitted.........well, let's not even go there. We are also pushing the older, special needs facts, to try and help show why it's desperately important for us to bring Natalie home. The other hope is that we pass court by the grace of God and when we physically go for our court trip, we have our PAIR in hand by that time. That's a shot in the dark.
 
I asked about our PAIR status and was told that of 12 documents, 4 are missing. 3 are not in our agency's control. I WAS told that even though it took September-January to get the current 8 documents, sometimes all the documents come in at once, so there is still no telling as to when all 12 will be in hand.
 
 

 
1/2/14  UPDATE
 
Nothing has changed. No news on our court submission. I AM still flying over. 32 days. People are asking, "What happens if you fly over and then can't go back? What happens if you go and never bring her home? Isn't that worse for her to see you and be abandoned?"
 
I'm still going. My daughter needs to know that I love her. That I came for her period. That nothing could stop me coming to her. Whatever happens, my daughter will KNOW that I love her. What is out of my control is out of my control. If I can't bring her to America, that's not in my power. But this is. So I will do everything in my power to show her she is not alone.
 
Also, God did not bring us this far to lose her. I refuse to believe that. I am choosing to believe that she is coming home, and NOT next year. God is bigger than all of this. And I am the most stubborn and willful person I know. Team that up, and this is a no-brainer.
 
 
 
Please pray for us. And thank you. So much! LOVE YOU!!!! 
 
 
 
...............As I was saving this blog post, I got an email (6:38am) from my agency: a medical update on Natalie. ".....it was reported that *Natalie* fell accidentally and received a laceration on her forehead." My poor baby. Please pray that she is okay!!!!!!
 
 
32 days. 
 
 
 
 
1/10/14 UPDATE
 
 No PAIR. No court submission. No I-171H. But I did get a couple new pix of our girl and she was watching some videos of us and there was ONE smile. Right into the camera. Straight into the depths of my heart. 

24 days. <3