Thursday, October 6, 2011


They called me mama. It might have been the best thing I have ever heard. Today was the big day where we were able to explain to the children that I am not just a fun American visitor, but a mama who came to love them and take them home.
The day started out with just Sam. Sofia had to go to school to complete her equivalent of an IEP, so she can receive special services in school the next few months she is here, in order to catch her up with her peers (she missed out on a lot while institutionalized). We picked Sam up from the house and headed to the park again. We had a great time. He even asked to go to the "toiletna" :) When I took him to the restroom, he started doing his crazy man thing and flushing the toilet, touching everything, and getting into the garbage can. I took both of his hands firmly in mine, pulled him towards me, looked him in the eye and said "Ne" (no, the only thing I can say). He then immediately calmed down, smiled at me, put his arms around my neck and let me hold him. Aww. Loves. But since his pants were halfway down I set him on the potty and let him go. And even after that, he was a calm little man and allowed me to carry him back to the playground and then he just let me hold him and he put his little head on my shoulder. This happened yesterday too. I can't figure it out. Maybe its a sensory thing? Maybe he likes having limits or being told what he can/cannot do? I don't know yet, but if that's all it takes I'm not complaining, although it will be nice to know what the issue is so we can prevent it all together.
Then for the afternoon visit we picked both of them up at the house and took them to the office, so the social worker could explain to them everything that would happen over the next few months. We all sat around this big table (very formal) to talk, and the kids were given crayons and coloring pictures. Sam can't see well enough to color anything yet, so he scribbled for about 2 seconds then got down and started to play. Sofia's one coloring paper had different depictions of families on it, like a mom and dad, grandparents only, one with lots of kids, and one with a single mom. She was told to color her family. (She had not been told that she had one yet) The other paper had 3 different pictures of families, and Sofia was told to color the one with the happy family.
While the adults were talking, she was coloring. It was all sort of formal and you could tell she was shy and uncertain of what was happening, so she was intently coloring her pictures. When she was almost done with her pictures, the social worker started talking to her and telling her what was going to happen. That sometimes people have children and can't care for them, then someone like me wants those children and chooses them. The SW told her that I have been approved to be their mama, and soon I will be coming to take them home. She started smiling really big and said "yes, yes", but wouldn't quite look at us yet. Then she showed us the pictures she colored, and she had colored the picture of the single mom, and she made it with blonde hair :) She also picked the "correct" happy family, the family sitting on the couch snuggling.
Then the SW asked her if she wanted to see the photo album I prepared. She said yes and came and sat in my lap and we went through it. The first few photos were of me, then of my parents, grandmas, sister/brother, family, then photos of our house. When she first went through it, she would point to the picture and say "Autumn" (that is what she had called me all week) whenever she would see me. The SW would then say, "yes, mama Autumn". We explained to her the rest of the photos. She would look up at me and smile. She saw the photo of her room and smiled really big, and said "this is my room". She was pretty quiet but smiled the entire time. Then we had her get off of my lap, and sat Sam there and went through the album with him. When he got to his bed, he said "that's MY bed. It has a pillow." LOL.  He held it up to his little eyes and studied the photos the best he could. Then all of a sudden, Sofia had a change in her expression, like a lightbulb went on. She came over and got in my lap, and started going through the photos again. She opened it and pointed to the photo and said "Mama!". She looked at me and smiled, and just kept saying "Mama" over and over again, then she gave me a hug. She went through the photo book so many times, pointing out everyone, and always made sure she pointed to "Mama". When she came to the kitchen, she said "this is where mama will cook" (oh great!). She would smile and nestle her head into my neck, then start looking at photos again. She pointed out Baba and Dyado (Grandma and Grandpa), and Chucho Mike (uncle mike). She actually said "Aunt" Melissa. When she kept going through the book, she would turn her whole body to face me and just smile so big and lean into me, and I hugged and kissed her. She was talking about how she was going to America and that I was coming back to get her. She was so happy. The whole car ride back to their house, she would call my name - "mama", no longer Autumn. She said it like 50 times. So awesome. She had been telling people over the last few days that she was going to America, but I don't really think she understood that she had a mother until today. She was so happy.
Sam was happy too :) He was smiling while looking at the photos, and was so excited about his bed and pillow. When it was time to go, the SW told him to go over and hold mama's hand, and he walked right over to me with a smile on his face and held my hand :)
We also told them about their new names. Here, it is not common to have a first and middle name, so we explained to them that in America people have 2 names, and we told them what theirs was going to be. Sofia was happy with her name.
So now they know that they have a mama, and a family who wants them. They know that they belong to a family. Tomorrow morning is our last visit, and I will be so sad to leave them, but so ready to return and pick them up!
More photos tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Day 3 craziness!

Another good day. I am learning so much about the kids every day, even though we are only together for a few hours. Today I had my first real taste of what it's going to be like when its just me and them (them and I? whatever). I was able to take them to my hotel room for a few hours and play, just the 3 of us. Let me say that it is not going to be easy! We were there for only about 2 hours and I was exhausted at the end. I know all of you parents are thinking, no kidding. Especially the adoptive parents. And I knew it, too. But its one thing to have head knowledge and another thing to have experience. The funny thing is, I have read about this over and over, reading other adoptive parents blogs. And, that's what I was expecting. Not a big shock to me at all. But boy is it different when it is happening right in front of you. I could feel those posts I read come to life. As great as everything is (and it is still GREAT!), my children still have delays, because up until a few months ago they were raised in an institution. I won't use the word "neglect", because I didn't see their previous circumstances, but they are definitely behind in their development due to lack of stimulation and I was able to see that a few times today.
The kids get overwhelmed easily, because they have had limited experiences. And when they get overwhelmed, they don't melt down and cry, they get crazy. Like someone put a firecracker in their behind.  (They're not unhappy or mad or grumpy - actually they were so excited when we pulled up this morning and so excited to hang out for the day!) For instance, before we picked them up to come to the hotel, I thought I had child-proofed the room so there wouldn't be anything to get into - wrong!! (I have been saying that alot lately) Those kids were ALL OVER this room within seconds, turning lights on and off, flushing the toilet over and over, picking up the telephone, grabbing my camera, locking and unlocking doors, putting their fingers in light sockets. They were like toddlers but with better fine motor skills. You name it, it was happening. I could have sworn that someone was in the wall with candid camera. I mean, who would have thought it with a 6 and 7 year old? But you have to watch them at all times. And run after them. Now, they weren't misbehaving or "being bad". They weren't trying to be defiant or not listening to me. Their little brains were just on overdrive and they couldn't regulate what was happening to them (another thing I read about but never really understood until I saw it). And, to top it all off, even when I was talking to them its not like they could understand me. I can say "yes" and "no", but after hearing "no" a few hundred times, the novelty wears off. The good news is, after an hour of pure craziness - when the newness was gone - they were able to settle down and play "normally". Not because of anything I said or did, but because the overstimulation wore off. I have seen this happen in the park we visit as well. The first time we were there, they ran around in opposite directions like little banshees (sp?) and couldn't figure out what to play with or how to play with it, when there were so many choices. But on the subsequent visits, when the environment was predictable, they were able to play and enjoy themselves. I am so glad that it doesn't take long for them to be able to do that.
Anyhow, back at the hotel (once we all calmed down), it was fun. Well, I think it was fun for them the whole time LOL, just not so much for mom. We had a snack of goldfish, then we played with some toys. I brought a little purse that came with a toy phone, pretend eyeshadow/blush, a pretend credit card, and a little mirror for Sofia. I also added a tiny lip gloss, nail polish, hair brush and barrettes as well. Sofia knew immediately what everything was (except the credit card), and she put "makeup" on her and then me. Then I painted her nails, but couldn't communicate to her that it takes more than 30 seconds to dry, so there are little spots of pink nail polish around the room. Oops ;) They both had a great time playing with that phone. Did I mention that phone makes noise and lights up? Ugh - I vowed NEVER to start buying those kinds of toys ;)

Oh and yes, they are wearing their clothes from yesterday :) They wanted to wear the new clothes, even though Sam's are 3 sizes too big. And it's not really cold enough for Sofia's jacket :) I told the group home they could just keep the big clothes for one of the other boys, but they ended up back on Sam today. Oh well!
I brought little cars for Sam and also a bouncy ball that lights up when you bounce it hard enough. I was excited about the cars because yesterday he was playing with a toy car at the office and loved it. Today, he didn't want anything to do with the cars - of course. But he did like the ball. He planted himself on the floor in front of the metal trash can and would make the ball light up and hold it up to his face, or right beside the trash can so he could see the reflection. He can look at something forever if it is giving him any kid of visual stimulation. I can't wait to get his eyes checked out.

Then Sofia found the remainder of my coffee from breakfast (you get straight up espresso here!) and started playing with it. At this point I was like whatever, I'm picking my battles, have at it. So she put sugar in the few millimeters of remaining coffee, then would stir it up and feed it to us with the stirrer. She seemed to enjoy "cooking". She then added water to it and put it in and out of the little fridge in the room, acting like she was cooking something. She also made sure to include her brother :)

Then it was time to leave for lunch - HALLELUJAH! This is another area where I can see some institutional behaviors :( My mama heart aches when I see it. My kids are always asking for food. When we were in the room, right after we had our snack, Sofia kept saying the same thing over and over, like 20+ times. So I had to call Toni and ask what she was saying. She was saying "When are we going to eat?" and then "I'm hungry". Once Toni explained to her that we were going to lunch soon, she was satisfied and stopped asking. I can make Sam stop doing ANYTHING if I put food in front of him. During his crazy-man session this morning he stopped cold when I gave him the goldfish. I couldn't even get him to come over and sit on the bed and be cozy and eat, he was just so intent on that food.
They will finish WHAT EVER is put in front of them. The whole plate of food. The staff tells us that they will eat and eat, and don't realize when they're full. As crazy as they were in the beginning at the hotel, they were total angels and sat perfectly in public when we went to the restaurant for lunch. This is either because they knew their food was coming, or they know how to act in public. I think its because they were waiting for their food. This particular restaurant serves huge portions, even for kids (I think that is common here in Bulgaria), and they both cleaned their plate. We actually had to take some of Sam's fries away because honestly there were so many I don't know how he fit it all in his stomach. We would ask him if he was full, and he would say "just a little bit more" :( He shovels food into his mouth and hasn't finished chewing the previous bite. We have to hold his fork and tell him to slow down and chew. The good news for me is that they will probably eat most of what I give them, even if my cooking is not good ;)
Another thing I noticed (and I'm almost done!) is how behind they are at socializing with their peers who have families. Once again, I knew it was that way, but actually saw it today. When we went to the park this afternoon, there was a birthday party with a bunch of kids jumping on the trampoline and playing with each other. My kids would just stand and watch, smiling, but when the kids interacted with them, they didn't know what to do. They weren't being shy or weird or anything, but they don't understand how to have fun and play with a group of kids. I thought this was surprising, even coming from an institution, cause there are lots of kids there. But I don't think they were taught to play. You can just tell there is something missing. These kids are so precious, I can't believe they were ever abandoned or put in this situation. I am thanking God so much for that wonderful group home and staff they will be with until I return to pick them up.
Anyhow, that's what I learned today :) I'm not going to be able to bring them home, have them walk off the plane and just seamlessly integrate into normal family life and routine (although I know they will do very well, probably relatively quickly!). They won't be able to come home for Christmas and enjoy the holiday and appreciate the details and presents that were bought just for them. They won't be able to sit nicely at church with their hands folded. No, they will most likely freak out from over stimulation. At least this year. I really do have high hopes for next year, and even a few months of being home. So, if we see you when we first get home, give us some grace :) Just this morning I read on a friend's blog that she has to watch her 7 year old at every moment, and that it is exhausting. I totally get that now. And it was only 2 hours of alone time. (I at least better be skinny when all of this is over, and we are settled at home :)
Anyhow, tomorrow is the BIG DAY when we officially get to tell them that I am "mama". I will be so excited to let you know how that goes! Although, Sam already called me mama today and Sofia has said she is going to America twice already. So I don't think it will be a big surprise :) But still fun!
Oh, and I can't give away Sam's real name here just yet, but I will give you a hint that you should be able to figure out so maybe you can help me decide what to do about his name. (I hope that's not too "illegal" :) His name is a noun, I have used the word (in the plural form) in this post. This noun lives in heaven and has wings. LOL. I'm sure you know what it is now. See my dilemma?? Poor guy. (And it's not pronounced like it is in Spanish)

The name thing

Day 2 went just as well :) I cannot say enough good things about the staff here. I really respect the way they treat the children and I really enjoy their company as well. Just in case you were wondering, the kids are still cute and beautiful in every way :)
We went to the park in the morning and did some more sliding and playing. The big hit today was those little vehicles that you put money in and they move around and make noises. They just go up/down and side/side, but the kids really loved them. I know that I am going to enjoy watching them have a lot of new experiences when they come home. They are just so happy to do small things. I hope that doesn't change for a while.

Another thing we loved was bubbles! I was amazed again by Sam's attention when he really likes something. We were told that he can't pay attention to things, but boy did he keep blowing bubbles over and over and would squeal when he got a good bubble stream going ;) I really think a lot of his issues are due to nobody at his (previous) orphanage paying attention to him. Anyhow, we just played around in the morning. We also played with the velcro ball thing I brought (yay target dollar bin!) and one of those super high bouncy balls.

In the afternoon, we went to the main office that oversees the group homes, to play there and have a more relaxed time coloring and just visiting. I brought coloring book and crayons, and one of those dry erase boards that is clear plastic and you stick various activity sheets (to include the ones where you learn to write your letters!) under the plastic and write on top of it. Sofi did great copying the numbers and english letters that she was not familiar with. I am excited to leave that here so she can practice (another plug for the awesome staff who is going to work with her while I am gone!).  I know she will learn quickly! Sam appears to be left handed, but we will see! It will be exciting to have a lefty in the family so my uncle Bob and my cousin Dave don't feel left out :)

Can you tell that Sofia loves having her picture taken? She asks all the time, especially when we do something new - "take my picture". Of course, I oblige :) She will then look at it and ask for a redo if she doesn't look good in it. LOL.
I also brought some clothes for them to try on so I knew what size to bring when I come and pick them up. I have visited several of my sponsored children and always get comments on how well I pick the size of their clothing, so I was feeling pretty good about my choices. After all, I did have their measurements from one year ago. Just add a size (or not for Sam) and I should be good, right? Wrong! Sofia apparently had a massive growth spurt, and Sam didn't grow at all LOL. Her size 6 just fit, but was a little short, and his 5T was waaay too big. I will be bringing 2Ts for him next time :)

I really do try and take equal amounts of photos of each child, but Sam just won't pose with us and is too busy running around. Sofia on the other hand, is a magnet for that camera. So I will probably have a few more photos of her cause she's more than willing :)
Some things I noticed today:
1. Sofia always has a huge, ready smile each time I even glance her way. I have been told she is hungry for attention and love, and she sure eats it up. She just seems so eager to please, and flashes me that smile each time I look in her direction. Some of the time I think it is because she is genuinely happy, and the other times, I think she just wants me to like her. I hope she will soon realize that she doesn't have to be smiling or try so hard for me to love her! We'll work on it.
2. Sam has issues with the potty. Well, not really issues, but as I have said before, he wasn't given any attention, and when he was sat on the potty every few hours, he would go, but was never taught to ask or tell someone when he had to go, so he would have accidents. Because of this, they are teaching him to ask, and now put him in a diaper (size 4!) when he is going to be out of his routine. The first day, he started acting like he had to go (or went, LOL) and we asked him and he said 'yes I have to go'. When we took him in there, he had already went. So today, the social worker made him look right at her, and told him that when he has to go potty, he needs to TELL us before so we can take him. And, he did! twice! No accidents. Like it was never an issue. No big deal, nothing. I really do think he is a quick little guy and will really catch up with lots of love and attention. I cannot say how relieved and happy I am that while they are waiting for me to pick them up, they will be in the group home setting, getting individual attention from the staff and psychologist.
Now back to the title of my post. Sofia and Samuel are the names I have chosen for them. However, their current names fit them so well (and I will be allowed to post them here when the adoption is final). BUT, Sam's given name is considered to be a girl's name in the US, but it is not pronounced the same here, so it sounds masculine at the moment. So I'm having a hard time deciding what to do. I don't want him walking around being pint-sized with a girls name :/ They do not have 'middle' names, so I just might keep their given names as their middle ones, I dunno. It will be a tough decision.
Anyhow, I will have more to tell you tomorrow! I am excited for each day but don't want it to go by so fast :)

Monday, October 3, 2011


I'm too tired to think of a more creative title. But I honestly can't imagine these first two days being any better than they were. I decided that I was going to be totally honest in my posts, even if things didn't go as well as I would have liked. I wanted people to know the real process, not just the rosy picture.
Well, its been all roses so far! So much so, that I am afraid of what will happen next, because my experience has been nothing but wonderful, and it can't keep being that good, can it??
My 3 flights to get here were great (well, with the exception of the girl 2 seats over from me puking twice on the way to Germany, and the second time, she didn't have a bag. Eew. Barf). Hardly any turbulence. Smooth sailing. I arrived, found all of my luggage, and breezed through passport control (they didn't even stamp my passport - boo!).

Well, thanks! I can't call them, but atleast I'll leave a blog and facebook posts :) Anyhow - then I was greeted by one of the most special people ever - Toni! Those of you who know her, I don't have to say any more. Those of you who don't, I will talk much more about Toni later. She's so great! Someone told me that it would be like meeting an old friend, and they were so right. We have never met, but I feel like I have known her forever!
I was so excited to be in beautiful Bulgaria - the oldest country in Europe. I couldn't wait to see the history of the country - the buildings, landscapes, everything! I was actually happy that we had a 2 hour car ride to our destination city, so I could take it all in. I was so happy when our first stop was......

Not! But, what trip is complete without it?? I don't feel like I ever left home! (I didn't eat there, but our driver did and I couldn't resist taking a picture!) But since then, I have gotten to see some of Bulgaria and the city I am staying in, and it is really beautiful. I will post some of those photos later.
Then more goodness keeps rolling in.
I received updated photos of the kids with my official paperwork (yay!). My bed is so comfortable. The cost is cheap. I have a great internet connection. I slept great. I woke up early for the first time in my entire life. I was nervous, but not crazy nervous. I didn't think I would function well today, but there were no emergency restroom stops (enough said).
Then it was time to go see the kids! The moment I have waited for for over a year! I was so excited. First, we went and saw the director. I found out that my kids were transferred in June from the institution they were in, to a small family-type group home that has 8 other children. This is huge. Great for their development and adjustment. It's part of the social reform the gov't is starting in order to get the kids out of the orphanages. The director, social worker, psychologist and other staff I met were GREAT! Like really, honestly, not-edited-for-blog great. I cannot say enough how well they are doing with the kids. They sat and talked with me for over an hour about the children. They even printed out an itinerary of our visits for the week! They took notes on everything I said about myself, so they could prepare the children for when they come home. We discussed medical issues, development, etc. I learned so much great info from them, you can really tell they have a genuine interest in the children. They were so great with me and such wonderful people. I really cannot say enough about them.
Then we drove a few minutes away to the group home where my children are. (As of right now, they still weren't told that I am "mama". They just know they have a visitor here for them.) When we pulled up, I looked and they were standing outside! When I got out of the van, I was pretty nervous.
I'll talk about each of the kids and the interactions that I had with both.
First we'll start with Sam.
Look at that face. Quiet, shy, calm little guy. I had read his medical reports and knew he had some delays. When I got this updated report, his vision/medical was worse than before, and his delays sounded more significant. I read stuff like "retinal detachment", "bilateral nystagmus", "language delay".  Pretty intimidating stuff.
I was certainly surprised when we walked up to the house and the first words I heard were from his little voice saying "Hello! Are you coming in? I'm a good boy. I have snot in my nose." LOL! He is hilarous! He talks SO MUCH and is quite the chatterbox! We laughed at him all day. He can also see more than originally thought (he does have significant vision issues, to include a partially detached retina, but he can see. He holds everything really close to his face.). The staff think that some of his delays are due to his orphanage not working with him, because they thought he couldn't see. But he can!  What a pistol.
And the thing that makes him even more cute is that he is so. very. small. He's 6 but honestly the size of a 2 or 3 year old.  This next photo will give you an idea of his size. Oh, and he was too busy talking to pose for the photo ;) He had been resting his little head on my shoulder and just as the photo was taken he started chatting away.
My 6 year old toddler. Acting like he owns the place. Oh, and calm? Uhh, not! He was everywhere and in to everything. Mom is going to need lots of coffee. Because he doesn't make good eye contact (because of his vision), it is difficult to tell that he is paying attention/understanding what is happening. But he does - he would pipe up with funny little sayings letting us know he knew exactly what was happening. He would laugh and smile AFTER every photo. When he was playing with play-doh, he made a *gasp* and a little squeal when he discovered each new thing the toys did. The report said that he couldn't concentrate for more than 5 minutes, but he sat there making play-doh spaghetti for atleast 30 minutes. Toni says he created commercial quantities :)
And Sofia. 
She is everything you would think she was by looking at her photo. Except alot older! She has grown so much! My first medical report showed her way below the growth curve. Well, she must have caught up because she is so tall and skinny. Definitely normal for her age now. When I came up to the gate, she waved and smiled at me. I gave her a little hug and she stood there leaning against me, fascinated by the carton of play-doh I had brought. She didn't say much, but smiled alot. We went into the house and immediately started playing with the play-doh. She was quiet but interacted with me no problem, she seemed to understand that I don't speak Bulgarian. She ate up all of the praise I gave her, even though it was in english. When she would create something, she would shyly show it to me, and I would say "Good job!" Her little face lit up each time. After a few minutes of that, she made her way into my lap.
She would take my arms and wrap them tightly around her.  She told me that she likes to cuddle. Did I mention these two days have been perfect? Just in case you forgot :) God is so good to me.
Ok, one last little story, then I"ll shut up and share more photos. Sorry this is so long. I won't wait two days next time! 
Soon after we started playing, the other kids in the group home came home from school. Talk about heart-wrenching. These kids are ALL beautiful, and they are older. They knew why I was there, and it wasn't for them. One girl in particular - oh my heart. She was 10 years old and oh so sweet. She has a knack for English you wouldn't believe. Anyhow. The kids walked in and started talking to us. They were so friendly and kept saying "America!" and referring to me. Then Sofia said "This is my mama and she lives in America. I'm going to live there." Toni's eyes got big and she said "did you hear that?" LOL. Nobody told her, but I guess she figured it out! We are going to officially tell them and show them the photo book I made for them soon. We were just so stunned by her response :) Of course I didn't complain. 

 Ok I'm beat! More tomorrow. Thanks for reading that all - tomorrow will be shorter I promise! Love from Bulgaria.