Afterward

By David Bundy

A little over a year ago, I decided to do something I have never done: write a blog. We were just beginning the process of adopting a 15-year-old Ukrainian girl named Anastasia, or Nastia, after meeting her during a cultural enrichment trip she was on at Bridges of Faith in Alabama.

As we began the adoption process, I recognized that the experience would be life-changing for all of us. I began the blog as love4nastia and began pouring my heart out about the experience. It was something I needed to do for me to help me make sense of what was happening and the emotions that I was feeling. I decided to keep the name love4nastia because that’s how the story and everything that followed began.

Although the experience was about our adoption, the writing was about me. It was from me, and all I have been able to do is write from my perspective. This is not to say that Lisa, Nastia, or the other kids were any less invested in the process or events, but any writing I might do from their perspectives would be just speculation.

After a blog or two, I realized I was not only writing for me, but also I was documenting our family history. I began to take the writing a little more seriously and entertained the idea of self-publishing a book for our family members to have at the end. I now realized that I had a duty to document the events along the way. I put more work into details, grammar, punctuation, and spelling and including photographs to accompany the stories.

I had no idea what I would write, most of the time, as I sat down to do it. I just knew that it was time again for another report. I never made notes to help me keep the details in order or mark the ground I wanted to cover. My biggest task was to find a lead in all my experiences. Once that was put down, the rest of the story just poured out of me. I am an experienced writer, having years of experience as a reporter before being a full-time photojournalist, but I never wrote anything where emotions were more important than details. Of course, I wanted to include some details as part of the documentary process, but I did not want to get bogged down in dates, places, or names. I did not want to impede the flow of thoughts and feelings as I wrote. I have no idea how some of the stories became as long as they did, since I had no plans for length when I started, but I wrote on a particular event until my emotions ran dry.

I do believe much of my writing did not come from me but through me. I don’t write about good and evil, love and understanding. My previous experience in writing was about city council meetings and court trials and the occasional greeting card. I have an idea of where it came from, but it was not all from me. As I recognized this, I thought maybe there was a larger audience for our story. Maybe there was something in our adventure that others may learn from and appreciate.

The idea then came that, perhaps, there could be a book that was not self-published that could reach a wider audience. This is something I will pursue to see if that is the case. I am not interested, never have been interested, in saying we are special to anyone else. My motivations are only to document our experiences for our family and offer the stories to anyone else who may find it useful or interesting.

In order that a reader may get the truest understanding, I have been very honest and open with the writing. I did not want to produce something that would be fawning or say constantly how wonderful this all is without balance. I came to really understand that the story was one of good versus evil, and it always will be, just like the story of man has always been. It would be wrong to allow a reader to think that the stories could in some way be all about love and happiness. Adoption is a serious business. It is not a game. Of course, if you are relying on God then you must understand the reasons why. You must understand that for every good thing that happens, there has been an overt attempt to prevent it. The struggle between good and evil is a war that is waging. I believe if you’re gonna undertake something as miraculous as adopting four orphaned children, you’re gonna probably get the best the forces of evil can bring against it. Be ready for a fight of biblical proportions with you in the middle.

I never really understood the battle of good versus evil before we began our adoptions. I’ve heard all my life that God is good and Satan is bad. I’ve heard it a lot from folks who never really witnessed it in their own lives, people who came to that conclusion because of what they had been told or taught without experiencing it for themselves. One cannot truly be a believer in God because someone, or a parent, told them they should be. Brothers and sisters, you’ve got to get in the fight to understand it and to truly develop faith.

Additionally, I learned what to really pray for and how to pray for it and understand when you have God’s answer. Do not pray for an easier load to carry, but pray for the strength to carry it. This subject could go on for awhile, but I believe so many are doing it all wrong. Do not pray for something if you are unwilling to do your part in a situation. The idea of turning something “all over to God, so he will take care of it” can only be effective when you have tried everything in your power to make something right. I believe God does not like lazy Christians. God is with you in your efforts, but He is not likely to appreciate someone dropping everything solely on Him at the first sign of a struggle. He created you with the sense and ability to do things in His name. This also goes to the idea many voice that something is happening “… in God’s perfect timing.” Yes, God has perfect timing, but did you do what you are supposed to have done to meet it? For example, if you’re filling out adoption papers that need to be mailed but forgot to on a certain date, is it God’s timing that you missed the deadline and didn’t get an appointment when you wanted? Oh, your facilitator didn’t get something done and it’s out of your control, so it must be God’s perfect timing. No, this is a war, remember. If God is in control of all things, then we wouldn’t have orphans in the first place, right? This is a war and you can either be a warrior or a pawn. God created the world, but Satan is in charge of it. You need to know that before you do anything that will surely get evil’s attention. I am not talking about helping a little, old lady across the street here like a good Boy Scout. Evil will let you feel good about that to keep you from trying something bolder.

I would like to continue this, I believe there’s more I could say about all of the goodness and badness in our adoption story. I am not the same person I was a year ago. I am wiser and hardened. I  believe I know better the faces of God and of evil and there are many.

One of them is staring at me now waiting for my attention and supper.

‘Turkey is not chicken’ and other reasons to be thankful for the past year

rooms,Nov. 13, 2013. By David BundyDavid and Nastia one year ago when he and Lisa arrived in Ukraine to bring her into the family and to the US.

By David Bundy

“Life is what happens while we are making other plans,”  John Lennon sang in his 1980 song Beautiful Boy.

It is a statement I have come to understand as being profoundly true.

This week is the one-year anniversary of our departure for Ukraine to be reunited with our kids after our initial time together and to complete their adoptions. I remember thinking the night before we left as I sat on the couch watching TV, “My life as I know it is over. It will never be the same again. “Tomorrow,” I thought, “my life will be changed forever.” My life with my wife Lisa will be different. We will be giving the rest of our lives over to four children. There will never be another day that does not begin or end without consideration of them at some point in between.”

In some ways, it was an anxious realization. In some ways, the fear of change was overwhelmed by thoughts of love, happiness, and good deeds. I realized we were unselfishly making a difference in the lives of the children. I realized their thoughts, as they were spending their final days as orphans, were probably going along the same lines. Even though they lived in institutions, it was the life they had known. These were the places they had most of their memories and understanding. These were the places their friends lived. Living in orphanages may not have been the best life for the kids, but it was a certainty, a security from the unknown.

We worried that when really faced with leaving this life forever that some of them may not choose the unknowns of life in a family in America. At the point we left for Ukraine, we had not made Nastia aware of our plans to adopt the three siblings. We worried that she may decide that she didn’t want any of that after having spent her life surrounded by other kids in her orphanage. We worried. They worried. We worried about them worrying. The last night of our mostly carefree life was filled with thoughts of the times Lisa and I had spent alone, trips we had made, restaurants we enjoyed, television shows we had followed together for years, and the shopping we had done together for everything from clothes to MINI Coopers, even the furniture we had bought for our kids’ rooms. We were comfortable. We were in good shape financially, and we were comfortable with our work.  We had good health. We had time and money to donate to those who needed it. Our little boat was sailing along nicely. The only thing missing was children. At one point, we could have chosen to keep on sailing together into the sunset, but after we met them and quickly fell in love with them, and with their their potential for self-development with our guidance, we had to make room for them in our boat. The last choice we had in the matter was in deciding to visit Bridges of Faith the first time.

Immediately, we had to start chucking overboard things we didn’t need to accommodate them: Things like time, sleeping late, money, peace and quiet. It was all good. We were genuinely saviors to these children, but this didn’t enter our minds. Although many people commended us, and still do, we were really not doing the adoptions for self-recognition. We were doing it because we had no choice. Both Lisa and I were raised as loving, caring, responsible people and, after meeting these kids, we could not say to ourselves that we could just ignore them and let them face whatever happens to them alone. We knew we could take care of them, and we knew we should take care of them. God had put us in this. He had prepared us to be able to do this, and He gave us the ability to recognize these facts.The ability to recognize our opportunity was God’s push.

A year on, now, our boat is still moving along. The wind is still in our sails, perhaps stronger than before, but we have gone in a different direction. The water is now filled with sharks, and there are strong currents that sometimes overpower the flow of the wind. If I’m honest, their are even some holes in the boat, too. So far, the necessary bailing of water has been sufficient.

Here is our situation.

Any extra money we had is virtually gone. The extra month we spent in Ukraine to get Nastia’s adoption finalized cost not only the extra money of food and rent, but also lost time away from work for Lisa, the one who provides most of the bread. Although, we had sufficient finances to cover the adoptions without asking for donations, the same donations we directed to other families doing adoptions, we went well beyond that because of the arrogance and uncaring attitude of a single judge and his whim. We have only managed to survive due to the help of family and some friends, a situation we have not been in for a number of years. It’s okay, I’m not asking for any money, so keep reading. God has provided.

Additionally, I have parted with some of my prized camera equipment to help. Again, this is okay because the time I once had  to use it has been filled with things like picking up kids from school and cooking. This is also okay with me. I pared down the gear, but I am still able to make the images I really want to make. Likewise, I have pared down my shooting to the same level, just what I want to do. My role in the family is more important now than juggling the inconsistencies of freelance work.

After looking into schools in Montgomery, there were none that could provide the educational needs of our kids. Those that could, wouldn’t. So we picked up all of our toys and went to another sandbox. Lisa found another job, and we moved to a suburb of Birmingham where the school system, Vestavia Hills, is one of the best in the country. The schools have really gone out of the way to accommodate the kids. They are being provided extra help, peer support (even a Russian speaking student), amended testing and homework, counseling, ESL classes, special courses just to help them with reading, and special study kits. The school seems to offer them, and therefore us, what they need. School is still very difficult for them. It’s far different from the schools that they were used to in Ukraine. For example, your teachers are not allowed to beat you and you are not allowed to beat them. Also, cheating and the use of bad language is heavily frowned upon, based on our experience. The homework has been relentless and requires several hours of additional work at home which forces much gnashing of teeth, frequent arguing, and sometimes tears. Here, I’d like to say everyone is passing all of their subjects, but I cannot … yet. I am confident we will get there. They do seem to be making friends. Text messages from boys at night have begun for the older girls.

Yes, we moved, and all the nice renovations we did just a few months ago in the rooms for the kids, new paint, and new flooring, we left that behind. We are currently renting a home which we hope to buy when we close on our Montgomery home, hopefully in a week or so. We’ve already done thousands of dollars of repair and renovations for the new buyer (who already tried to break our contract once).

We involved Karina and Nastia in a local soccer club after they missed the deadline for trying out for their school team. The club team was co-ed and comprised over kids under 17 and over 14. Their competitors in the other clubs never got these rules, however. Nastia and Karina’s team was made up of primarily girls, with a few undersized boys, who were mostly on the lower end of the age requirements. The competing teams were mostly comprised of 17-18 year old boys who were usually killing time while away from their school teams or were awaiting their soccer scholarships to arrive from colleges. One team the girls faced was made up of entirely Spanish-speaking players. They were pretty brutish and not speaking well of our team, when they thought no one could understand them. At another game, our team was three players short of the number required for 7 on 7, so the other team, all boys again, loaned our team three of their players. Not surprisingly, our team lost. In fact, our team lost every single game except for the last one where our coach, fielded some of her own ringers. “We” won that one 7-6. Karina, who proclaimed herself “team dancer,” and Nastia felt like the baddest asses soccer had ever seen, and acted like they had won the World Cup.

We enrolled Max in an after school art program for one semester. The boy really has some talent in drawing and painting. He said he wants to sell his artwork to make money for our family. “Put it on Facebook he says, so the people will know and buy it,” he said. “I will be famous.” He can be a really, really sweet kid. Then he says something like “You are not my Papa” when he’s mad, perhaps because I won’t buy him something. Statements such as that used to bother me a lot, but I’ve heard it so often now it gets only a heartfelt “Whatever.”

Alla is another piece of work, similar to Max in that she will also use the “You’re not my real parents” approach to ending a problem. The two of them together, when they are pissed usually turns into a dramatic expression. They always defend each other, so when one is in trouble, usually they both are. We are also used to other comments such as “I want to go to another family,” or the classic, “I don’t want this what you bought me. You can take my iPod, my clothes, my bed. I will go live by myself.” Our proof of love to them (adoption, guidance, food, clothing, shelter, etc.) does not always equate with their ideas of proof of love (candy, crying for them, more candy, buying everything they want, cooking something exclusively for one of them, and having more photos of one of them than the other kids, etc.). It’s a constant test every day, all day, every night, every meal, or trip to the store. It’s hard because you want to give into their massive feelings of entitlement, but you have to stay true to your course and your course for them … in our meandering boat.

Nastia and Karina are the role models for the younger kids, when there is no candy to compete over, or an unequal amount of photos around the house.

Nastia changed so much from the time we met her at Bridges of Faith until we arrived in Ukraine for the adoptions. In those few months, she went from child to a young woman. It’s a little sad that I feel like we missed her blossoming, but she is a help to us. She takes care of the others and cooks when Lisa and I have to both be away. She is very, very low key. She never asks for anything, but when she does, she usually gets it. She still struggles with English, but is always getting better. I understand her, perhaps better than Lisa, because I am around her more. That said, she spends a huge amount of time alone in her room. I would too if I could. I chalk that up to being a teenager, but it doesn’t help her English. She is also not very patient with anything. She hasn’t been getting any more driving lessons from me yet because she keeps trying to blow the horn at other motorists while I am driving, and I know she would blow through every red light that she came upon. Her impatience makes learning really hard for her, but she is a hard worker and will do more than is expected when I ask her to do something. She never intends to call me and Lisa “papa” or “mama” but sometimes it slips. I believe in her mind, she has fond memories of her mother, whether they are accurate or not. I don’t know. As for calling me “papa,” I don’t know why she doesn’t. She knew her birth father in Ukraine and had contact with him until we came back to America. She has said that she has only one mama and papa, that we are only people who adopted her. She keeps a picture of her mother, who is deceased, in her room. All of this is okay, as long as she is happy. I have to remember that I am dealing with a young person’s reasoning. One day, maybe she’ll call us mama and papa. It would be huge compliment for us. Maybe in her mind, we have not earned the titles yet.

Karina is one of a kind. She has a very bold personality unless she doesn’t like you then she can border on being mean. She has the sweetest phone voice I’ve ever heard. And, she keeps me laughing as she learns new American phrases and English words. “Shin pads” and a “sheet of paper” are pronounced like you would expect them to if I am telling you about it. Her latest phrase is “goodness gracious!” which is pronounced something like “hgoodness hgracious!” I call her my “dalmatino” referencing the time she referred to the movie 101 Dalmatians as “101 Dalmatinos.” She constantly wants to see, hear, and know that she is loved, and the worst thing you can say to her is “You’re not acting like you love me?” She mostly understands the sacrifices Lisa and I have made. She respects us well, and thanks us often. I am surprised with how well she can read and write English and, although English is not one of her best subjects in school, she requires less accommodation at school than the others. She wants to learn to play the guitar since finding out her future would not be in becoming the female David Beckham. She thinks she would make a good psychologist, pronounced “peesicologist.” She says she is an angel at night when she goes to bed, but she says, correctly, that she is a devil when someone tries to wake her up.

Waking the kids up for school each day has it’s own routine. Nastia used to be the first one up every day, getting up before 6 am. Lately, that’s no longer the case. My first stop each morning, is the coffee pot. I try and have a cup before I have to get the kids up. At about 6:45 am, I go up the stairs to Max’s room first. Usually I start by calling out his name, then pulling him with blankets and all out of the bed onto the floor. There’s moaning and anger. If this doesn’t work, I say something he doesn’t expect, sometimes a lie, to illicit an argument or immediate reaction such as, “Is that blood on your leg?” If that still doesn’t get him up. I simply turn on the light switch. That works every time, although he gets quite angry. So, for him, I try love, physical contact, surprise/shock, and finally meanness, in that order, but it has a 100 percent success rate. I walk by Alla’s door next, and she is always up and standing just inside the door where I cuddle her and kiss her a little. Next, if Nastia’s light isn’t on, I open the door and shout “Nastia!” Her head always immediately pops up, “Ok!” Then, for the finale, I open Karina’s door. She is usually sleeping on top of her phone with it’s alarm blaring, but she is peacefully ignoring it.

“KAAH-rrrrreeena!” I say.

“What!?”

“It’s time to get up!”

“I know,” she says angrily, still not budging.

“Kareeeena, sweet angel, Kareeeeena, you have to go to school.”

“Uggghh, Papa, no!”

Finally, I put my arms around her and kiss her ear or neck which aggravates her. Then, I pull on her foot or bounce the mattress up and down. When I feel that I’ve done enough, and there is a fine line here, I turn and leave, flipping the light on as I go and giving the door a little slam.

We don’t eat out much anymore. We order the occasional delivery pizza when lack of time or tiredness wins, but generally I cook. Lisa will cook sometimes when she’s off. Our regular meals include either steak, chicken, lasagna, fish, beef and broccoli, potatoes, soup, corn, peas and carrots. Lisa can add spaghetti, gumbo, or jambalya.  Sometimes I make tortellini which closely resembles Ukrainian varenyky. Whatever we are having, at least one will not like the decision. At least one will adamantly declare they don’t like something now that they loved a week ago. At least one will eat something else as I am preparing it, like a sandwich or ramen noodles. One or two, will take enough food for two and then not eat it all. One or two will say how “yummy” it was and “thank you.” At least one will find a video on Youtube of some obscure food I have never heard of to request for the next meal. They will all have to be told to speak English at the table. One will then leave the table and go sit at the bar, and another will quit speaking all together. Two will take their dishes back to the kitchen, and one is likely to poor salt all over the table while another one routinely spills her drink. One needs help cutting her food while at least two others are just eating with their hands. One will put mayonnaise on whatever I make. All are fine until I say, “Do this…” or “Don’t do this …” How they react to that determines a path of happiness or hatefulness for the rest of the evening. I had to have to say it because it’s my job.

During our move from Montgomery, much of our furniture was damaged or broken by the most affordable movers I could find. Much of what wasn’t damaged by the movers, though, was damaged previously by the kids. The furniture for the kids’ rooms that was brand new a year ago has been subjected to paint, makeup, stickers, condensation from drinks, fingernail polish and remover. Their bedspreads are spotted with ink. While I was busy unpacking and arranging the rest of the house, the kids were basically left to put their own rooms in order. This resulted in beds pushed against the walls, photos tacked or taped to the walls, indiscriminate use of hammers and nails, and decorating tastes very much off key from my own. Each has their own room now, which they didn’t have in Montgomery. This helps identify the source of problems, such as bringing food upstairs, hiding candy, and who needs to cleanup, but that hasn’t solved the problems yet.

My standards for what constitutes a clean house have been reluctantly lowered for my own health. I’m not kidding. I’m not OCD for sure, but I like things to be within an hour of being straight if the need arises. Say, for example, there’s a house fire. We have called the fire department and there are pets and photos to be saved, but we would/should still have time to pick up all the underwear, sweep under the table, change out the empty toilet paper roll, wash the dishes in the sink, and put the laundry away before the first truck arrives. Nowadays, in order for these things to be in order before the fire department would arrive, we would have to start picking up before the fire ever started, which goes to my point. It’s not that I have come to care less, but I have learned to act like I care less. Otherwise, I would just be angry all of the time.

Being angry all of the time, being loud and forceful, these were not the ways I would’ve described myself a year ago. I routinely question my ability to be a parent. I wonder if I was cut out for it sometimes. I thought I was, but, remember, we went from zero children to four with a wide variety of ages and experiences and all in the blink of an eye. These kids, being orphans, not only had to learn to adjust to life in a new country and learn to be prepared for the world, they have also been learning how to be son and daughters. They are learning the difference between a director and a parent. They are learning to trust, to be responsible, and that actions can have consequences. They are learning what it feels like to be in a home with a family and not just a bunch of other kids. They are learning to know what it feels like to sit next to a puppy whenever you want, and to know what it feels like to make someone who loves them proud. As much as I want us to be a “normal family,” I am realizing more and more that this IS our normal family. It is different from your “normal family.”

The past year has been an amazing journey for all of us. Eighteen months ago, we didn’t even know each other. I have learned so much about myself, the world, human nature, good and evil during this adventure. I thought I understood life pretty well before this all began. But, all of those wise sayings and quotes about love, life, and hardship that people may “like” on their Facebook news feeds are only pretty ideas to the soul that did not write them from their own experience. From a soul that has lived beyond comfort and has thought about their predicament, these ideas are not sign posts about finding a new awareness, they are only memories of where the experienced soul has been.

I have learned a lot about myself. I’ve discovered where my breaking points are and also my weaknesses and strengths. I have learned to breathe, what to ask for in prayer, and to find time for myself to continue to grow personally. I’ve had challenges to my beliefs, and I have seen Lisa in a different light. now as a caring and compassionate mother. It is truly a strength she has.

When I tell myself sometimes that we are not winning as parents, I try to remember to think back about how far we have come. It has been only a year, but first and foremost, we made a family. All of us have brought value to this family by something in ourselves. Their English is improving, and understanding each other through communication is vital in expressing our feelings. We are taking advantage of being in one of the best school districts in the country, and the grades are improving. The fear the kids had of a new life is gone. All of them sleep with the lights off, now. They know their dreams can be a reality, even though it can be hard work to reach them. Their personalities are becoming brighter, richer, and independent. We are familiar with each other.

To hear God speak, one must listen rather than preach. As I was thinking about our difficulties recently and whether it has been worth it so far for us and the kids, both Nastia and Karina spoke the answers in simple everyday phrases that might have been overlooked if I had not been listening for something else.

As I wait in line at the high school to pick up Nastia and Karina, Karina always calls on the phone to ask if I am there to pick them up and where I am. Am I still in the street or in the school parking lot? The girls can’t see my car until I reach the front of the school.

“Hello, Papa. Where are you?” she says.

“I’m in the parking lot. Did you have a good day?”

“Yes. Come quickly.”

“Ok.”

“I love you. Bye,” she says and hangs up the phone. These last words are the ones that got me. After we had hung up, the sound of her voice lingered in my head. “I love you. Bye.” It had a tone of comfort and familiarity, like she had said it to me a million times before. It reminded me that we had covered more ground as a family than I had realized at times.

As I pulled up to the school, Karina and Nastia piled into the car, Nastia in the front and Karina in the back.

“I miss you, today,” Nastia said as she got into the seat. That was the second phrase. Coming from her, it is always an honest sentiment. She’s not giddy with her emotions. Secondly, she said it in English, something she could not have done a year ago. Yes, she could have said the words but to really understand them and communicate a genuine feeling the way she did … it was different now. She would not say it just as a courtesy. She meant it.

Surprised at how something so common sounding and can be so dimensional? It was not about what was said, but what I was able to hear. Sometimes that’s how God works for me. I just be quiet, look, and listen. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably arrived here for a reason.

The past year has easily been the most difficult in my life. It has also been the most rewarding year I have ever had. It has not always been happy, nor has it been completely miserable. It has not been an easy year. In fact, at times, it’s been downright desperate and frustrating. No one ever said it would be easy to adopt and raise four kids, but no one ever said it would be this hard. It could have been even harder, though. Lisa and I feel we are honored and fortunate to have THESE kids.

Would I choose to adopt again if I could go back to the beginning?

Well, I never understood it as a choice to begin with. I believe theses kids were meant to be with us from the day they were born. There were many things in our lives that could have kept us from ever meeting but nothing did. There were many things, going back decades, where pathways were decided or decided for me that brought me to be a father to these kids. As hard as it can be at times, I believe it is mostly that I have more to learn about being a parent. My parents and grandparents were the best teachers ever to grace the earth. Without the lessons I got from them about love and life, I could never cope with the gravity of the tasks at hand. Lisa would probably say the same about her family. So we have been groomed for this for a long, long time.

We may have talked with friends and family about what we had “decided” to do 18 months ago, but I don’t recall ever really making the choice. When we sat down with the kids visiting at Bridges of Faith that first night, we were not thinking “which one are we gonna pick?” It was more like “which one is gonna pick us?” Honestly, in the beginning when we talked of adoption, we were talking about babies or younger kids. We certainly had no thoughts of adopting a teenager. Nastia came to us on our first visit. In a roomful of kids, she’s the one who sat next to us and showed us her drawings. When we left that night, Lisa and I both knew she was our child. We felt it. When we returned to Bridges of Faith to volunteer in support of another group of orphans a few months later, no thought had entered our minds of adopting another child after Nastia. However, within a short time, we had found three more of our kids. There were no excuses we could have tried to make, if we had wanted to, that would have seemed reasonable reasons not to adopt them all. There was really never any “should we or shouldn’t we?” I had about as much of choice in deciding to adopt as I did in choosing my eye color.

Am I happy after all that has been said and done?

I have no choice about my right arm. I am happy that I have it, and I would not wish to cut it off. It, like my children, is part of me and always has been, even before I was even aware of it or its importance in my life.

What advice would I give others about adopting children?

Every adoption and every child is different. The kids all have different ideas and expectations, but every child deserves an opportunity to live their lives on their terms. Be prepared for the worst and hope and pray for the best in every aspect of the adoption and the children. Adoption is serious business, and it is life-changing for everyone. Having parenting experience is probably a plus, but it also means that many of your pre-conceived plans or expectations will be unrealistic. Be adaptable and practice patience.

For now, I see this 1-year mark as an appropriate time to do less evaluation of the details of our journey, publicly anyway. I may revisit the blog from time to time as we continue to sail our boat along. We have not reached the end of the journey we began and never will. Writing has been a great opportunity for self-healing and evaluation for me, as well as an opportunity to connect so many people to our family. I am finding it more and more difficult to write these days because we are normalizing. It is harder to find exceptional details in our lives because “life is what happens” every day.

As we approach our first Thanksgiving as a family, I am thankful for every hardship we’ve conquered to reach this anniversary. I am thankful that I have an opportunity to teach a child that turkey is not another form of ham. It is a bird, but it is not chicken. I am thankful to understand that if it were a form of ham, it would be better because it is not a bird, that reminds some of a chicken, which is not “yummy” this week.

If you’ve followed us in our adoption adventure, thank you. If you’ve prayed for us, please continue. If you want to buy Nastia and Karina a car, we would love to hear from you.

This is the 30th post on our adoption adventure … and probably the last. :)

A video shot when we were reuntited with Nastia in Ukraine last November to bring her into our family.

IMG_2477 What we have become? Halloween 2014.

One Day They Will Know Me

IMG_2069

By David Bundy

The rain was intense, the heaviest I had seen in a long while.

The windshield wipers smacked back and forth creating a rhythm line on which the sound of the rain hitting the roof of my car could soar.

The long line of cars in which I sat snaked for many blocks away from Vestavia Hills High School. The bell to release the students, along with Nastia and Karina, would sound in a few minutes, but I would not be able to hear it. There has been no real pattern to how the traffic stacks up at the school before the afternoon bell rings. It is unpredictable. A few minutes earlier, and perhaps I could’ve been parked closer to the school or even near the head of the line in the school parking lot. A few minutes later, and I could’ve been five blocks further away … or driven straight to the front door with hardly no traffic.

All the kids started school more than a month ago now, and every day the school traffic remains a mystery. On days when Lisa works, I have to pick up Max and Alla first at the elementary school, where the traffic line is a little more predictable, but no less occupied. The distance between the two schools is a fifteen minute drive filled with many potential delays: traffic lights, stop signs, the interstate, neighborhoods, school crossings, two fire stations, and other school zones.

So far, I’ve never been the first in line, but also never the last. I’m usually in the middle but nearer to the front. Perhaps this is a measuring stick of our success as parents. We are not perfect, overly prepared or fanatically planned. Just the same, we are not derelict, lazy, or consumed by other things. It’s a comfortable position to be in for all of us after becoming an instant family seven months ago. We’ve all done a lot of work and made a lot of sacrifices to be in our place in line, and some days we are nearer to the front than we are on others.

On this day, I listened to U2’s new album as I waited, listening to the stories in the songs and following my train of thought wherever it took me. This peaceful meditation, and nearly a nap, was shattered by the abrupt ringing of my phone through the car’s audio system.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello, Papa. Where are you?” said Karina, exercising the new cellphone she got before starting school. The call comes every day a minute or two after the bell rings to verify that I have not forgotten about her and Nastia.

“I’m in the street,” I said, meaning that I’m not close enough to be in the “parking lot,” but not as far as “way down the street.”  I was right where I usually am when the call comes.

“We are in front of the building of the school,” she said, the place where she is every day waiting for me with Nastia.

“Ok. I love you. See you soon.”

“Ok.” Click.

Game on.

The calls like this from Karina, and sometimes Nastia, drive Max and Alla crazy when they are with me. “Why does she have to call every day?”

“To check and make sure I am here,” I say.

“Arghhh! Oh, my goodness,” Max would say with the same annoyance as the last time. “Papa, can I have a phone?”

“No, not until you’re 15. Why do you need a phone?”

“So I can call you if you are late to pick us up.”

Sometimes our discussions move like the slow turning plate in the microwave oven, slow, heated circles that end up right where we started, but with agitated molecules.

As the traffic begins to move slowly, the rain has eased up a bit and some kids are starting to walk out to their parents’ cars or to their own cars. Some walk home if they live nearby. The rain only makes them happy though. Kids seem to love being wet. Girls smile and their makeup runs and their hair probably becomes a non-concern for the first time all day. Boys walk slow and deliberate to show that the rain does not affect their machismo. There are no umbrellas. None.

As I finally reach the door of the school where Karina and Nastia are waiting under the eave of the building, Nastia is always the first one to bolt to the car. She doesn’t like to wait on anything ever, the very reason a drivers license is nowhere in her near future. Karina is weighed down by her backpack filled with every school book she has because she can’t get the feel of how to open the combination on her locker. They climb in and slam the door.

Max and Alla always fire off a few sentences in Ukrainian at this point, usually a complaint or an observation directed at Karina. Karina returns fire with a barrage of her own Ukrainian words. This goes on as we weave our way out of the school parking lot. Nastia is usually complaining about the slow moving traffic by now.

“Papa, Papa look how wet we are,” Karina says, demanding that I turn around while driving to see how well she did getting soaked.

“Can we have candy now?” said Alla. “I want the one candy I like,” which narrows the choices not at all.

“Do you want candy or ice cream today?” I ask the crowd. Karina can’t hear me because she has turned on the Ukrainian pop music on her iPad.

“I don’t know,” said Max, which basically translates as “whatever we decide will be wrong.”

“I want to go home,” said Nastia.

“I want candy,” said Alla. “You know the one kind of candy I like, but you never buy for me.”

I’m now a bit aggravated because I wanted to listen to my new album and Karina is trying to out-volume my music with her iPad. I turn the car stereo up to try and give her the hint. She ups hers again, and I do likewise. This continues until the car stereo is so loud that I don’t even want to hear it now. I never say anything, but when I pull into the convenience store for candy I purchase everyone in the car $5 earbuds, because you can’t buy for just one of them.

I’ve bought earbuds on a regular basis for the last seven months, but they all seem to vanish almost as quickly as they are purchased. The problem with $5 earbuds is that they don’t keep the music in very well. Listening to my new music was a battle I was going to lose this day.

I look into my rearview mirror to see lollipop sticks hanging out of the three mouths in the backseat, obviously paying no heed to the no-eating-in-the-car rule that is typically used only to waste my breath. This rule was installed after I found a box of M&Ms dumped out in one of the door pockets, fortunately for all mankind, before they were melted.

There was another recent day where Max and Alla were waiting with me in the line to pick up Nastia and Karina from the high school. I had started becoming aware that Max was not buckling his seatbelt in the backseat. After repeatedly telling him to fasten it, followed by argument, followed by flat out lying that he had done it, I pulled the car up next to the police officer directing traffic and rolled down the window.

“Excuse me, sir. Could you please tell my young son to fasten his seatbelt?” I said.

“You have to fasten your seatbelt,” the officer said. “It’s the law.”

Max began screaming in Ukrainian, crying openly, and fastened his seatbelt.Then, the criticism of my actions started from Alla. As Karina and Nastia got into the car, more crying from Max, more of Alla’s unneeded input, and now questioning of my motives from Karina. I looked at Nastia who was in the front passenger’s seat. She looked back at me and smiled. She understood my predicament. She had seen it before, again and again. I felt sorry for her, though. It seemed like every day there had to be intense drama about the simplest of things, and I know it wears on her, as it does me. As I think about it, now, I didn’t even mention this incident to Lisa, well, because it’s just a typical occurrence.

“They’re testing you,” I hear a lot. To which I often return an equally as well though out response, “You think?”

Now, I expected some testing, but not every day, every minute, and about everything. How do these situations begin? Well, I open my mouth and say words of meaning and purpose, such as “the sky is blue,” and usually that seems to open the floor for debate.

It is tiresome X4. People say “They’re just being kids now.” To a point that is true, but where our case is different than a normal family situation is that these children were not raised very well. They were taught little about respect, less about love. They were taught to get attention, they have to create a situation to get attention. They had very few possessions, so they don’t particularly value possessions or the work it took for someone to get them. They’ve had to earn very little. What they had was given to them. Perhaps, the biggest difference is that we didn’t start with them as our children at birth and raise them gradually into appropriate behavior for their ages. We’ve had just seven months to get this right. It will take much more time to undo more than the decade they’ve experienced previously of “adult guidance.”

“They’re just being kids,” is another phrase I constantly hear. While there is truth to that, it’s not that simple. They are kids with a cultural difference and a language barrier. They were kids who were accustomed to getting nothing they wanted, and now, since they have an American family, expect to get everything they want and not having to be bothered with anything they don’t want or want to do. We are frequently told how parents SHOULD behave by the siblings. When pushing for more specifics about this, Lisa and I were told that parents were expected to cook, clean, follow all of their kids’ wishes, and buy them things they wanted, seriously. I am criticized unmercifully when I spend a few hours one night a week taking a class in something I enjoy. Lisa is criticized for sleeping in the afternoons even though she had worked overnight the night before. “You don’t love your children,” the siblings say. After a trip to the bathroom, frequently I hear from one of them in all seriousness, “Did you miss me?”

Karina talks regularly about how she wants to go to be sick and go to the hospital. She wants to know if we will come to her and cry for her and tell her we love her. In her mind, the love she could see in such an event would be worth more than any ailment. These children have so many needs beyond food, shelter, and clothing that it is a constant struggle to understand them, predict them, and address them while not losing your own identity.

The language barrier becomes a problem, not so much in daily interaction, but usually when we need to be understood the most. During times when I need to express my feelings or explain the complexities of life, or use delicate phrases to handle a situation as I normally would with native English speakers, it becomes frustrating. This can change the way I may handle something, and I may not do it well. Fundamentally, it changes the person I am and am perceived to be. Ultimately, I don’t know at this point, if my kids know the real person that I am. I believe they will one day, but only after examining many life experiences to find an accurate average.

An argument is never going to work with the children because usually the logic is one-sided. If logic is the only tool you have, and they adamantly believe you are wrong in your logic, you have lost. They understand emotion and feeling much more than they understand logic, debate, or even outright evidence that what you’re saying is true. They understand love, and they understand emotional hurt. They understand disappointment and sadness. They also understand praise, genuine joy, and feeling their importance in your life.

I say all of this to illustrate to others considering adoption, specifically Ukrainian adoption, that the love and desire to help these kids that may be experienced in the beginning of the process is only the honeymoon. One must possess the love and desire to be a family, to sacrifice immeasurably and constantly. If being a parent, especially a parent of children who come with different needs, is a new lifestyle, as it was for us, it will absolutely be difficult for years to come. No one told us it would be easy, but no one told us it would be this hard, or maybe they did, and we were just glamoured with nearsightedness.

I often hear others say that God will give you no problem that you can’t handle through Him. It is a thought that comforts me when I finally get to the point of remembering it. Another idea that Lisa reminds me of often is that I am “the bigger,” more emotionally and spiritually experienced person. In other words, it is often going to be up to me to find the way out of bad situations.

I am getting another lesson in my life, but one that I have had many times before. To find the solution to the biggest problems, look inward, not outward. A solution can always be found in the quietness of your soul. It is the place from where God’s instructions can be found.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have discovered that it has been awhile since my last post. This was because I have fought off writing because of a reluctance to take the time to listen to this inner message. Writing about our lives puts me in a spiritual place, an inner place, where I can truthfully think about things and find the answers to problems. Most of the time when I sit down to write a blog, I have a few ideas about how I want to begin but after the first four or five paragraphs, I go where I am led. I go with what comes out. I find the true nature of what I want to say.

We’ve had so many firsts in the last month or so, it has been difficult to find the starting point for writing. As one idea would come along, something else important would happen, and so on. There are so many directions I thought this writing might go, but it did not. Things like the first day of school, an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. ceremony, the Fourth of July, Nastia’s first trip to the beach, the grocery bill, life in a new city, homework, Max’s undeniable talent for art, Alla and all of her damn candy, Ukrainian Independence Day, boys (yes, boys) or Nastia and Karina’s experience playing club soccer (Where Karina says, “Am I falling down like Beckham?).

Every time I see these kids doing something well, I am the proud father. Every time I see them doing something difficult, but trying their best, they just become heroic to me. What amazing people they will grow to be one day because of the spirit they possess, and I definitely think that I will have had little to do with it.

This is the 29th report on our adoption adventure.

IMG_2153Smile by Alla.

IMG_2068Nastia, left, and Karina at Vulcan Park in Birmingham.

IMG_2209Max and his artwork.

IMG_1930Fourth of July 2014.

IMG_2274Max and Alla for “Dress Like a Rockstar Day” at school.

101 Dalmatians versus evil

ImageBy Jon Cook

 

By David Bundy

It’s was a quiet morning today. The first in awhile.

Karina, Max, and Alla were still sleeping. Nastia was away spending the night with a friend from her orphanage who was adopted a few years ago and lives in nearby Wetumpka.

The time since we have all been home from Ukraine has been filled with joys, challenges, and revelations of many kinds. I believe we are all comfortable and happy in our new lives. Not only has it all been mind-bogglingly different for the kids, but Lisa and I have been working on becoming different, better people, too.

We can no longer be independent or selfish in how we spend our time and in the decisions we make. Every move we make has to be planned, scrutinized, and put into action deliberately, much like the logistics involved with moving a small army platoon. Things as simple as going to the grocery store or watching a movie take much more planning and effort than when it did before we went from a family of two to a family of six.

Then, there are the larger issues we are also facing currently. Lisa has accepted a new job at a hospital in Birmingham, so we are moving this summer. This is not advisable after spending so much time preparing for the adoptions, renovating your house, and spending three difficult months in Ukraine, then moving your children to a new home halfway around the world. But, the school systems in the Birmingham area appear to offer our kids much in the way of tailoring an education to their specific needs. One of the principals there at a public school also adopted four Ukrainian kids. We felt schools in Montgomery could not or would not offer as much, both public and private. We explored them.

That said, a new opportunity is also important for Lisa. It is important that we, Lisa and I, keep moving forward, too. Our relationship is based on this: that we have never stood in the way of each other when it comes to bettering ourselves and fulfilling a reasonable need in our own development. It has been that way for us for almost 18 years. Lisa becoming a doctor after a short career as a journalist is, after all, a primary reason we were able to adopt four children.

Moving at the end of the last 12 months in our lives is going to be much like walking into a biker bar, finding the biggest and meanest-looking guy there and saying to him, “I hear you that you like Obama, you’re in favor of gun control, a Justin Beiber fan, your domestic beer sucks,” and/or “your sister is a big-boobed pirate whore.” You know what comes next is gonna hurt, a lot.

My days have become generally scripted, too, with a constant struggle between losing my personal identity all together and changing it. In some ways it’s a good reinvention of myself, a new understanding of who I am, but in some ways losing who I had already become. Through 47 years of learning, living, loving, making mistakes, asking questions of myself and others, witnessing the world around me, and developing myself spiritually, I have already become much of the person I wanted to be in this life. Of course, it is time to share my life’s lessons with the kids, but it is also important for me that I keep learning, developing, and asking questions. It is important for my kids to see that at 47 years old, I still do not claim to know everything, especially the teenagers, and that I have a desire for self-improvement.

One night a dinner at IHOP, I sat down with the kids after a particularly stressful day of parenting.

“You need some time without kids,” Karina said, confirmed by the agreement of the others. “You are with us all the time.”

After realizing Max and Alla had poured five or six packs of sugar into their cups of tea, ordering two entries for Nastia, sending ham and cheese omelets back to the cook to redo them without the cheese, and Karina collecting a handful of toothpicks which I knew I would find scattered all over the house and car later, I realized they may be right. I was finding myself saying, “No” too often to them and fixating on the negatives of parenting.

Through the support of close friends who were more than willing to babysit a few nights and some out of town trips where Lisa took Nastia and Karina with her, I was able to refresh myself. I did not have a full-time job and my freelancing had become almost non-existent because of the extra stress involved in scheduling it. I was busier than I have ever been, parenting from roughly 9am to 11 pm every day. Remember, this was all very new to me. We went from no kids to four kids instantly. We did not grow into each other’s lives over time. We just suddenly found ourselves in a new situation together. It was new for us all, and I was spending excessive amounts of time and energy and worry making more sure that the kids were adapting than I was on checking myself. I was doing everything for them and frequently asking them, “Are you still happy here?” I was doing nothing for me and avoiding the answer from myself of the same question I was asking them.

“Was I still happy?”

“Did I regret getting into this chaos?”

“Would I have done it knowing that it would be so hard?”

As soon as the questions came to my mind, I dismissed them. I didn’t want to answer because I was afraid of what the answer might be and what it might reveal about me. There were so many wonderful moments with the kids and so many wonderful things said, but I found myself starting to overlook them in favor of focusing on the tough times.

Someone would say, “You have the most beautiful children,” and my mind would immediately go to “Yes, but you don’t know them like I do. They can be little devils. They talk back. They don’t respect or appreciate us.”

I could see what was happening to me. I would think about it later, and I knew where the thoughts were coming from. The battle between good and evil over these kids I had become so aware of in Ukraine was still in full swing. Fortunately, I had never prayed for an easier road, but the strength to continue and overcome. I knew our goal of giving these kids a better life and meaningful life was still being challenged, but I was given the ability to see the challenges for what they were, and I was shown the path to a solution. 

“Papa, you just need to relax,” Karina would say. It was her voice, but I think it was God’s words coming to me in a way that I was sure to listen. Karina doesn’t always speak God’s words, but when she does, it stands out. The words are not wanting, selfish, or rude. His words are spoken with genuineness, compassionate and remarkable insight. All of our kids can speak like this at times. It reminds me that He is with us, giving us what we need.

I believe and feel the bond of our family is very strong now, and getting stronger daily. When I am away from the kids, even for a few hours, I miss them and long for their hugs. We need them, as they need us. It is the answer to all my questions of doubt.

“You are the best papa I’ve ever had,” Alla has said more than once. While this could be funny if I were the only “papa” she ever had, but that’s not the case. I used to tell my papa that as a joke, but is an extremely important comment coming from her.

“I don’t want to go to another family,” she will tell us often. We tell her that she will never go to another family, but the idea still takes some getting used to for her. She doesn’t want to ever be apart from us or our bond. “When you and mama die, when you get old, I will kill myself, too, because I don’t want to be without you and mama.”

We are still working on that second part, but it illustrates how love and stability are craved more than anything else in the lives of orphans.

“When you are 101 years old, I will give you a Ferrari and 101 dalmatinos,” says Karina, dalmatinos meaning Dalmatians.

They are very much concerned about our death and aging and if we will always love them no matter what. In some ways, they seem to be asking how long will they have our love, the love they need.

I have found a new way for myself, as well. I have begun studying martial arts again for the first time in 30 years. I have longed to get back into it again for a long time, but I never found the right school or teacher, or the energy, really. I sat around one night, Googling “Alabama martial arts,” like I do from time to time, and found a practical program called Jeet Kune Do, a system of fighting founded by the late Bruce Lee. To my utter surprise, I found a teacher who was a second generation student of Lee’s with a weekly class near Birmingham! I take the two-hour class and do the four hours of driving once a week, and it is complete freedom. I am learning, reading, and practicing daily in whatever time I have, and it is amazing how much richer it has made my life in all areas. I have started another blog that I am compelled to write about my self-improvement called Movement #4 found at: http://dragonseekspath.wordpress.com.

Nastia and Max are continuing lessons with a tutor that we began in April to work with them on math and English. They are similar in their math skills although Max is four years behind Nastia. Max speaks English fairly well, but needs more, especially reading. Nastia who could speak almost no English when she came to the US, understands most of what is said to her now with less emphasis on our part to simplify our speech. She can have basic conversations in English, too, but reading and writing is coming along more slowly. Lisa and I believe that Karina and Alla are prepared enough for school this fall with minimal help. Our biggest struggle right now is getting all of them to speak first in English at home without beginning conversations with each other in Ukrainian.

It has been one year since we met Nastia for the first time at Bridges of Faith, the day she sat in my MINI Cooper and later showed us her drawings. It has been one year since we first fell in love with this child and her easygoing manner. As I look into her eyes and see her reserved smile, my heart loves so much. I know nothing in her life has been easy coming to her. Nothing, ever! She has managed to survive intact, emotionally and physically. 

We have discovered about her that she is more interested in helping others than in helping herself. When it comes to helping others, she takes no shortcuts. She knows her education is lacking and perhaps bettering herself seems unsurmountable to her at times, but she is not giving up. She works hard when she needs to, but she needs to a lot and I think she has been overwhelmed at times. I look back at photos and think back to the young girl we met last summer. I think about all we have gained and sacrificed to be where we are today, both her and us. My mind is blown by how much her life has changed: new family, new house, new country, new language, new memories. She and all of our kids are my heroes.

When Nastia comes and puts her arm around me and tell me she loves me, or when any of the kids do the same, I feel so small and unheroic compared to them. Love seems so easy on my part, really. There’s little effort.

Nastia and the kids have been to the dentist for teeth cleanings, root canals, and extractions. They have also been to a physician for shots and boosters as needed for school.

I held them one at a time while each one got from two to four shots.

“Papa, thank you for holding me,” Karina said.

“Did it help?” I asked.

“No.”

 

Karina is nothing short of hilarious. I’ve started keeping notes on the funny things she says. I’ll spring it on a boyfriend or at engagement party one day. When I laugh at her, she always says, “It’s not funny,” but it always is. I’ve sprayed quite a few drinks because of her timing, too. 

Some of my favorites from her are:

It’s going to be fourth of July. I need some underwear with American flag.”

“I never want my happy birthday at a sushi bar.”

“I am not Snow White. You can’t kiss me and wake me up, especially in the mornings.”

“I don’t want any money because everything I need you will buy for me.”

“Papa, my heart exploded all over the room.”

“If I say something good, I remember. If I say something bad, I don’t remember.”

After looking at Special K products in the grocery, “So, I can have good food if I just eat things that start with K, like kandy?”

“Papa, I just learned a new bad word.”

“Lightning is when God is taking photos.”

“Why can’t dogs just stand up on two legs like boys to pee?”

 

 

To sum us up now, we are good. We are tight. We love and laugh and sometimes cry. We pray at night. Together, we can do so much simply because we are together. We inspire each other and challenge each other to be better. The best motivator in our house is love for each other. The mouth sometimes says what the heart doesn’t believe, but sometimes you might hear the voice of God if you listen carefully.

It seems like we have known each other for years and, in an abstract way, maybe we have.

This is the 28th report on our adoption adventure.

ImageBy Jon Cook

ImageBy Jon Cook

ImageBy Jon Cook

ImageBy Jon Cook

ImageBy David Bundy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The easy part is over

ImagePhoto by Amanda Sowards

By David Bundy

People ask me, “How is it going?”
Depending on the situation at the moment, I give most a generic, “We’re doing great. Life is different now.”
It would take me all day to explain how it’s really going, and sometimes I’m not even sure myself.
In truth, every new day to me is like Christmas morning.
I’ll admit that by the end of the day, by the time all the kids are settled in bed, and I get to my adult time, my quiet time, I am exhausted to the point that I don’t stay awake long enough to catch up on my favorite miniseries, or Facebook, and definitely not a movie. Welcome to My Life 2.0.
In many respects, we are like any other family with almost enough kids to form a basketball team, but their are unique challenges: The language, the children’s history, new foods and new culture, the absence of best friends left in Ukraine in orphanages, constant introductions as mama, papa, son, daughter, sister, brother, a dramatic change in routine for all of us. We didn’t grow into life as a family. We have thrust ourselves into it. All of us voluntarily took up the challenge.
I love the challenge and while there is little time to reflect on things or have time to myself because of the situation’s demanding nature, I wish that I could do more with each one each day. I always plan to get up earlier than them for that alone time I miss, but so far it’s only minutes instead of hours before the first of the kids comes down the stairs for attention.
Lisa and Nastia arrived home in the US on March 14. Lisa also had to pay a fine for staying three days too long in Ukraine. Although, it was the Ukrainian government’s fault we both overstayed our welcome, and we left beaucoup US money in that country, the customs and immigration folks decided that we should be penalized for our misbehavior. Whatever!
Karina, Max, Alla, the in-laws, several friends, and I waited with welcome home signs and balloons. We were joined by Associated Press and CBS media who had miked Karina and me. In US customs in Atlanta, Lisa and Nastia were given extra scrutiny having come from Ukraine’s turbulent environment, but after an extra hour of waiting, they walked through the door pushing their luggage. Karina ran at full pace until she connected with them. Max and Alla met at mama next. Nastia was embraced by her friend Masha who came from the same orphanage in Ukraine to be part of a family in the Montgomery area a few years ago.
Alex, a friend of Karina’s, and Joanne, a former host parent of Karina, Max, and Alla in the US, were also there to visit and celebrate our togetherness.
I walked as quickly as I could, my leg still pounding from the tendonitis I got in Kiev. I had to pry away Max and Alla who were locked around Lisa as she cried tears of joy. We were finally all together on American soil. What a journey it was to get to this point. I was, and still am, tired from all the stress of our process. I never realized how much of a toll it was going to take physically, mentally, spiritually, and financially. The adoption was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life. Not to discourage anyone from helping orphaned children, and maybe others have found it easier, but it tested our limits and commitment. We could not have done it without the support we received from friends, family, and strangers.
We celebrated Christmas as promised the day after Lisa and Nastia returned. We had a Christmas tree, decorations, and Christmas movies to watch. My father-in-law, brother-in-law, and Lisa prepared turkey and potatoes, and we opened presents after dinner. Leyla, Nastia’s friend in Ukraine, joined us in the celebration via Skype. Nastia and the kids opened their gifts and displayed them to sweet Leyla for her approval. “Oh, my goodness,” Leyla would say in English about the presents the kids held up to the computer’s camera.
A week later, we treked to visit my family in Mississippi. It was a two-MINI Cooper trip. Lisa, Max, and Alla were together, and I chauffeured Karina and Nastia to meet their new relatives, including their new grandmother and great-grandmother who is 101. It would be Max’s birthday on the 23rd and Karina’s on the 25th, but my family decided to celebrate all the kids’ birthdays since we were in Ukraine when Nastia turned 16, and Alla’s is still to come. They had prepared a cake divided into fourths with each one’s name in icing. The kids enjoyed playing volleyball, soccer, and even American football with their new cousins. Nastia went deep on pass plays and became open on every play. Karina caught one pass and quickly through it back to me as the Mississippi Bundy’s quickly closed for the tackle. Alla got in the game too and proved her worth as a running back. We were losing, so scoring became an irrelevant part of the game. Max was playing with his new birthday presents.
I was playing volleyball until Nastia declared me a “lashara” and held the dreaded thumb and index finger “L” to her forehead.
We ate at my favorite restaurant in Hattiesburg, Chesterfield’s. It took nearly an hour for the kids to decide what they wanted. They struggled with the English menu and wondered why the menu wasn’t in Russian, citing some menus in Kiev that were also in English. I explained that there were not many people who spoke Russian that came to small town Mississippi for dinner.
The kids were also told to call my mother “Grand Dot,” a name that was first given to her by my brother’s children, and Dot being short for her first name, Dorothy. In translation, “Babushka Dot” was said and the name stuck.
We also took the kids to meet Ed, my former university photojournalism professor. Nastia seemed to always have an interest in photography, and Ed had many people praying for us. He had offered the help of his “anti-social” Navy SEAL friend if we needed to get Lisa and Nastia out of Ukraine. The kids looked around his home at all the photos by his former students displayed, including some of Papa’s. Instead of teaching Nastia something about photography technique, Ed proceeded to teach her how to defend herself with a camera by using it as a weapon. That’s why I love him. The camera is just a tool.
The kids had already been swimming twice at our home pool, despite the 65-degree Fahrenheit water temperature, but cashed in on the opportunity to take a nighttime swim at my mother’s neighborhood pool. Max swam the length of the pool, unaided by inflatable swimmies, for the first time. The day after his 12th birthday I took Max and the others to do some shopping with gift cards they received for their birthdays. Before we even got into the store, outside of Walmart, Max spotted a green bicycle. He had enough money to buy it, but he soon confessed that he didn’t know how to ride a bike. He opted for a Spongebob Squarepants skateboard instead, but we’ll have to take up the bicycle training soon.
Perhaps, the easy part is over now. It is time to build on the promise we made to ourselves, our kids, to God, and all the world to give the kids happy, meaningful lives.
So, what have we been doing about that?
Lisa is back at work, and I have become Mr. Mom. It’s according to plan.
We spend some time each day doing lessons to get them knowledgeable about America and its history and culture. We plan to start them in school in the fall. We make an application to the school next week and have them tested on their knowledge shortly thereafter. Some adoptive parents enroll their kids in school immediately after coming home for a variety of reasons, but I don’t feel it is right for our kids. We will get them out of the house and into some educational or sports programs soon. The important thing for me to teach them now is self-discipline and self-motivation. These are things that are greatly lacking in their histories. They are all very different, including the siblings. Different habits, different values, different tastes in food, different tolerances, different fears …
I have been shopping in the toy areas of stores with the kids, and I noticed that Max was always interested in a 30-inch-tall Darth Vader figure. When I asked him if he liked Star Wars he said he didn’t. Anyway, I got it for his birthday, and he seemed like some weight had been taken off of his shoulders. He explained that the imposing looking doll would protect him during his sleep. We had been having trouble getting Max to sleep in his room alone ever since we came home from Ukraine. He always slept with Karina or Alla because he was scared. Now, he had Vader to protect him. Max explained that the doll would sleep during the day and guard him all night. He now sleeps in his room nightly and has gone from needing all the lights on to only two lamps … and a radio.
Max is a sweet boy, but can be reckless in his fun. On a recent trip to a local buffet that offers dozens of choices including sushi, a favorite of Nastia and Karina, we were nearly finished with the meal when I decided to have a little fun with him. He is good about trying foods and likes most of them. So, like the loving parent I am, I tore the tail off of a fried shrimp and offered it to him to try. As he chewed, I suggested that it might be dog that he was eating. He quickly spit it out and handed it back to me. We all laughed. Max laughed, and he pretended to throw up.
“I’m just kidding,” I said. “I was wrong. It’s not dog. It’s cat.”
The table erupted again with laughter. Nastia and I were nearly crying as Max intensified his fake vomiting routine.
“Meow!” I said.
Then he barfed for real. I sobered up my own laughing now to take him to the bathroom. He was not so mad at me, but at himself for the accident. Sweet, big sister, angel Nastia was still snickering, but Max was embarrassed.
Alla can be reckless in her fun, too. This child will find a way to knock over any drink within 10 feet of her. She is averaging about one spill every other day, primarily because she talks not with just her hands but her arms, as well. She waves her arms and hands to emphasize the things she is speaking about that she thinks are important, which is most things.
While I’m on the subject or reckless, there is Karina who manages to need parental medical attention for a myriad of reasons on most days. Usually, it is a broken fingernail, a bug bite, or at worst a pulled muscle from playing. Recently, as we were all enjoying time throwing around a football and swimming in the yard, Karina was showing me the red mark on her thigh where the football had bounced up and hit her when I heard a crash and something skimming across the concrete around the pool. Nastia had stepped through the plastic skimmer cover while in pursuit of Max, and she had landed on her knee shattering the skimmer cover. I yelled over to see if she was okay.
“I okay,” she returned. I returned to consoling Karina.
Lisa said afterward Nastia had come into the house with blood streaming down her leg because she had removed a tennis ball-sized patch of skin from her knee in the fall.
Whenever we are all in a department store, and I hear something crash, my first thought is always, “I wonder which one of them did that.”
Being a parent of four is a lot more tiring than I thought.
As tiring as it can be, there are those moments, more every day, that make it all worthwhile: When I hear footsteps coming down the stairs at high speed and then see a flash of pink pajamas as Karina races toward me to tell me good morning; when Max climbs into his own bed, overcoming his fears, and says “Thank you, papa, for our family;” when Nastia smiles at me with her lips and eyes and gives me a thumbs up; when Alla leaps on me from her bed and gives me a hug with her arms and legs as she giggles. When Karina says “I missed you,” when I’ve been away from home for an hour; when Nastia says, “Goodbye. I love you,” before she goes to her room for the night; when Alla goes into the kitchen on her own and washes all the dishes and puts them away using a chair to reach the cabinets; when Max asks me three times a day about when Lisa is coming home when she is at work. These kids rock!
Today, I gave Nastia her first driving lesson in the parking lot of an abandoned business. I scooted the MINI’s seat forward for her and jacked it up so she could see over the steering wheel. I remembered her sitting in it the first day I met her at Bridges of Faith’s Bridgestone camp. She was such a child, it seemed, last summer as she sat in the car turning the steering wheel and fiddling with the radio. Before she knew our names, she called Lisa and me “the MINI Coopers.” Now, she was my daughter. My young woman. As she eased off the brake and the car started to move under her control, she smiled widely. Then giggled as she applied the breaks for the first time and tested our seat belts.
“I sorry,” she said, then she eased her pink canvas shoe over to the gas pedal again.
We were moving and, I’m not lying, it was into the sunset.

UPDATE: We determined that Max’s new skateboard was defective, always turning to the right. We took it back to the store today and exchanged it for a bicycle with training wheels.

Our latest news coverage:

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014303230013

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Site=DS&Date=20140322&Category=NEWS01&ArtNo=303220060&Ref=PH

Our latest news coverage:

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014303230013

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Site=DS&Date=20140322&Category=NEWS01&ArtNo=303220060&Ref=PH

This is the 27th report on our adoption adventure.

Alla and Bueller have a talk. http://youtu.be/VCTND3fe7wA

ImageThe family in the US

ImageThe birthday cake.

ImageMax waits for Mama and Nastia.

ImageNastia, right, and her friend Masha.

ImageAlla, Karina, Max, Darth, and Nastia.

ImageKarina gets pink soccer shoes.

ImagePat and Wayne, my father-in-law, with his new grandkids.

ImageNastia blows out her candles.

ImageMax and Karina.

IMG_1306Alla’s drink living on the edge.

Update: We are all home and happy!

ImageLisa, Nastia, Karina and pets Bueller and Tucker drift off on our first night together at home.

By David Bundy

As you might imagine, we are exhausted, even the pets.

This is not a full update for our story, but just a bridge to the next one. I plan to finish it in the next week with a report on Lisa and Nastia’s arrival  in the US on March 14 and our first week together as a complete family.

Here are some links from news coverage of Lisa and Nastia’s arrival in Atlanta.

http://www.al.com/news/montgomery/index.ssf/2014/03/reunited_montgomery_couple_and.html

 

AP http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiJVdzQDeCc&feature=youtu.be

 

http://www.waka.com/news/montgomery-news/Adopted-Children-Reunited-With-Family-in-Montgomery-250493451.html

This is the 26th report on our adoption adventure.