One Day They Will Know Me

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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.

Alla detained as terror suspect in Kiev: Free at last

ImageAlla and Tucker at home.

By David Bundy

When I opened the door to our house in Alabama after a daylong flight from Kiev, there was much excitement.

His eyes were big, wide, and happy.

He looked around, studying all the people that had come to see him and his family. There was a little confusion, but joy overruled his anxiety. Somehow he knew his life would be different, but he was okay with it.

You could see he wanted to smile, but instead, he wagged his tail wildly.

Max, Karina, and Alla arrived at our house with me on Feb. 23. I had not seen our dogs for three months and missed them greatly. Before Ukraine, they were our only “children.” Now, Tucker and Bueller had more family than they had ever known.

Bueller, being a young and active, dog, danced around barking and running from person to person, overwhelming Max, Alla, and Karina who were not sure what to do with his vigor. Sweet, calm, slow-moving Tucker was the immediate target for the siblings who lifted him into their arms with each one laying claim to him as their own.

For the few days we have been home, Tucker has been toted by the kids, his feet rarely touching the floor. They carry him wrapped in blankets like a baby, and alternate taking naps with him snuggled up close, nose to nose in many cases. Our little dogs are getting all the attention they can handle, and so are the rest of us.

Our last days in Kiev were scary as the turmoil and chaos of fighting and a change of government occupied our minds and the neighborhood where we were staying. For safety reasons and peace of mind, Lisa and I decided that I would leave Kiev with the siblings whose adoptions were complete, and she would stay behind with Nastia, our oldest daughter, to complete her adoption. The day we boarded the plane for America, she and Nastia moved away from the city center to the outskirts of Kiev where she will stay with friends for about 3 more weeks before coming back home.

News media from all around the world slowly became aware of our story of being in Kiev, close to the fighting that included street fighting, shootings, grenades and Molotov cocktails and resulted in numerous casualties on both sides. Currently, the death toll is at 90, the “Heavenly Hundred,” with nearly a thousand wounded.

They wanted to know how our new family had handled a trial by fire. What did we do? What did we think? How did we feel?

We were met by a news camera and reporter at the airport when we arrived in Atlanta.

In the past week, we have been contacted for interviews by CNN, FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC, Al-Jazeera, Sky News, the Huffington Post, Mashable, local media in Montgomery and in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss., radio talks shows, morning shows and evening shows, the Hannity Show, the Associated Press, and I honestly cannot remember the rest. A friend sent me a link to our story from Taiwan.

Lisa and I have done most of the interviews without involving the kids much. A few videographers have gotten lucky enough to get a comment from Karina or catch Alla’s wonderful charm in action. Some even got footage of Max and Alla decorating our Christmas tree which we promised them we would have when they came home.

“I know what it is like to be famous,” Karina said. I warned her not to get too used to it, but she still hopes that Eminem or Zac Efron will be swooned by her story.

They are beginning to think that news media contacting us daily by phone, email, fax, and Facebook is just part of the routine. The kids themselves are only mildly interested in their coverage. They usually laugh at each other when they see themselves on the television. We are certainly not parading them around for attention. Mostly, it’s just Lisa and me telling our story, the story of orphans in Ukraine, and the need for all children to be adopted by loving families. We are not experts on revolution, but we are generally happy to talk about how much we love each other. The Lord knows how much I love seeing so many wonderful pictures of our family members together enjoying ourselves. I cannot wait until all the pictures include Nastia and Lisa, too. We have many promises from the media to continue to follow us until Lisa and Nastia are home safely.

This is important.

In Ukraine, we often maintained a low profile. While the protesters are generally supportive of Americans and the West, there are some that don’t like Americans, especially Americans who are adopting Ukrainian children. It’s not like there are Ukrainian citizens lining up to adopt them, but some would rather let them live as orphans and face an uncertain future than to have someone from the West adopt them. At times in Kiev, our kids told us not to speak English in public. Many of these people are pro-Russia and pro-the former Ukrainian government. Russia has banned adoptions to the US completely.

We were leery of becoming worldwide news items while the Yanukovych government, with its pro-Russia leanings, was in power. Once the government was replaced, the president impeached, and a less autocratic constitution was put in place, our interest was more like, “Hey everyone, here we are! Help us all get home safely and fast!”

According to reports, Russia is now holding military exercises near the Ukrainian border. There is fear of an invasion as they do not recognize the new Ukrainian government which they feel has been hijacked by terrorists. The US has warned Russia against such a move.

Our story and the story of other Americans in Ukraine adopting has now made it to the attention of US diplomats, including members of Congress and the State Department. We are still in the midst of getting Nastia’s official court decree and Ukrainian passport from government agencies there, but I feel like many important eyes are now watching to make sure it gets done and Lisa and Nastia come home safely. Friends have pushed us to the attention of US Sen. Jeff Sessions, US Rep. Gene Taylor, and US Rep. Stephen Palazzo. Another dear friend has offered to reach out to contacts within the Joint Special Operations Command (think SEAL Team Six and Delta). I’m not kidding, either. It’s amazing the amount of support we’ve seen from family, friends, acquaintances, and people I don’t even know, all for the sake of these sweet children. Love and concern are powerful allies.

Some of the comments under web published news stories are just infuriating though, absolutely sad.  Some are funny, too, but most are supportive. Rule number one of deciding whether or not to comment on something should be, “If you don’t know what you’re talking about, please crawl back under your rock.” Negative comments were aimed mostly at why we chose to adopt outside of the US. First, we didn’t choose our kids. They chose us. Our hearts bonded, Second, American orphans are no different from Ukrainian orphans. They are still children without parents. They are human beings, too. Life is much harsher for the children who age out of orphanages in many other countries than for those in the US. Sixty percent of the orphans that are girls will become prostitutes in Ukraine. Many die of drugs and alcohol before they reach 25. But, again we are not talking about a domestic product. We are talking about a person whose value is equal to every other persons.

I decided to share some of the worst, saddest statements and the good from different articles to illustrate good versus evil. Most of these negative comments were attacked severely by replies.

“And look at how many they’ve adopted at once. Like they’re stocking up. Consider all the things that adults do to children.

Poor kids. Having to move to Alabama.”

“Child-stealers”

Do you have ANY idea how many orphans US has? And “adopting” 16-years old girl? Hmmmm”

“I would have purchased fewer children, but older, so they could do more of the work.”

Sounds like a couple of Americans taking advantage of a war situation and abducting Ukrainian children.

“So why didn’t they just flee to another town where there was no violence, and why don’t they adopt from their own country”

Why are they bringing them to America? Keep them in Ukraine, and they can also stay in Ukraine to raise them. If you want to adopt children to raise them in America, then adopt American children. 

“Aaaaah, sweet, yet more American fundamentalist childnappers. Yet more forced conversions.”

but it makes it look good especially when you get 15 minutes of…Americans love to be on the news. Makes them a celebrity for 22 seconds.”

“Wow so more people that will ask for assistance”

“If you want to help a starving child– there are plenty here in America. When you have to brave a war zone to travel halfway around the world to adopt kids– you are trying to make a statement.”

“Yeah? The 16 yo redhead will be open for business in 2 or 3 years…well worth the money…”

They mentioned Al Bundy, but shockingly forgot about Ted Bundy. These comments are exactly why there are wars, murders, and beatdowns.

And the good …

“@Ruth – does mental illness run in your family? This was a legal adoption and while I think of it, you being in London have no bleeping clue about what these kids experienced day to day until they were adopted. At least now they have a future in a safe home all together. What a vile bitter and utterly ignorant commentary from a stranger who likely will never do something this grand for others in her life.

God bless everyone who adopts a child. I was adopted and received as much or more love from my adopted parents as any birth parents could give. “

“Wow I have the greatest respect for the Bundys! Adopting 4 older children, and especially a 16 year old is not easy. Best of luck to the family.”

“It’s 2014. You can just call it Ukraine and drop “the”.

“Why does it matter where the children came from? Two parents and four kids have found each other. Wish them luck. We are all humans first. It’s like falling in love – who cares where your lover comes from? Two hearts beating together as one overwrites everything else. In this case 6 hearts – beautiful!”

They went through all the correct channels. How are they being stolen. And I’m pretty sure that if something was dodgy, they wouldn’t go publicising it to an international newspaper”

“why does it matter where the children came from? surely what matters is that they all found each other.”

They fell in love with these children. These particular children. These are not just some random children they saw a picture of and decided to adopt.”

To those who are upset with couples adopting outside their own country I say love has no boundaries.”

“All you outside of the US with negative comments about this new American family — shut your pie hole. These children were not stolen and are not pawns; they WERE orphans and now they are a whole family. This is a miracle for everyone involved and I rejoice with them.”

You made that comment with a picture of Michael Jackson on your profile? Do you honestly think any of those children are REALLY biologically related to Michael Jackson? So it’s ok for a rich person like Michael Jackson to purchase designer children, but not ok for an average couple to love and adopt the children they want?”

Average? :)

This couple is wonderful, they bonded with the 16 year old when she visited the US last summer. Do you realize the fate that awaits a lot of Ukrainian girls that age out of their orphanage?? They are giving this girl a shot at a wonderful future. And they get a lifetime of memories and love, if you knew these kids adoptive father you would realize how ludicrous some of these accusations are. They are just an older couple that wanted to adopt older children due to their own ages. They bonded with these children through a wonderful organization that brings many adoptive families together by having the children visit and attend a summer camp here in the US. These children are blessed to have been adopted by a selfless loving family.”

Older couple? :)

Anyway … deciding to adopt foreign children and four of them took Lisa and me way out of our comfort zone. It has cost us far more than a domestic adoption. Our time in Ukraine took us away from work, family, friends and opened us up to many risks. At any time before court, the children could’ve said, “no.” This was all before the city turned into a war zone. I’ve worked in the media for decades, and I don’t need to be in the media. I have no reason or interest in trying to impress people with this deed. We will not be receiving any benefits from the US government for this adoption. Our expenses will be multiplied. We were generally comfortable in the lives we had. So, what motivated us to do this: only love.

It has truly been a battle between good and evil. There are attacks on our spirits, minds, and bodies constantly.

During the last weeks in Kiev, I had been battling severe tendonitis in my leg, making it almost impossible to walk most days, especially on the sidewalks and hills. Lisa has suffered intense neck pain that has brought her to tears on occasions. Max had an ear infection. Karina routinely had headaches, and Alla, a toothache. Nastia would never complain about anything anyway.

At the airport, another parting shot, as well. We arrived for our 5:30 am flight at 3:30 am. We checked our luggage and passed through security. Next, was immigration control. I expected a problem because my passport, good for 90 days, had expired three days earlier. I hoped they wouldn’t notice and, if they did, that they wouldn’t care. I explained that the Ukrainian court’s delays were the reason, but never missing an opportunity to take some cash, the agent said, “Come with me.”

The four of us were escorted to another agent’s office where he sat, face hidden by his computer screen for 20 minutes before he acknowledged us. He reviewed all of our documents, birth certificates, and court decree, ignored us some more, then handed off our material to another agent who had been sitting by us drinking coffee. He reviewed it all again. Then, we were informed that I would have to pay a $100 fine at the airport’s bank, located outside of the security screening area. We went to the bank, paid the money, and proceeded to go through the security screening again.

This time, they had to decide if Alla was a terrorist. As Karina, Max, and I were cleared, I noticed Alla had been pulled aside for a special screening because of her boots. They had LED lights in them that lit up with each step. I suppose the agents thought if I were going to hide something from security, Alla’s pink, flashing boots would be a perfect cover.

Finally, we were back to the immigration control booth with yet a different agent who wanted to see all our documents again. I was pissed, and Karina was nearly in tears as she said, “I don’t think we are leaving today.” Our flight had already started boarding, and I was tired of being nice and polite.

“We have already spent an hour having the documents approved! We have paid the fine!” I said. “Our flight is about to leave.”

A few more agents involved later, they let us through. With Alla’s shoes flashing like a police car, we ran toward the gate which we fortunately found to be very close. Unbeknownst to the flight crew, I did not turn off my cellphone during takeoff as a last act of defiance to the Ukrainian Man. I wanted to give ‘em a moon as we left, but Karina was by the window.

I was gone with the siblings, but two big pieces of my heart were left behind. You never know how much you love someone until you leave them in the midst of a violent uprising that causes the government to be dismantled and a potential military invasion.

This morning, my father-in-law greeted me with, “You should have seen all the crows that were in your yard this morning. There must’ve been 500 of them.”

I smiled and said, “I’m not surprised. They’ve been with me, watching since we arrived in Ukraine.”

I told him about the blog report I had written several weeks ago after I noticed ravens everywhere I looked, especially when things were going poorly in our adoptions.

“I think they’re just watching me to see how I respond to problems,” I said.

Since coming home with Karina, Max, and Alla, we have been adapting well. When I wash our clothes now, I no longer find Ukrainian coins rolling around in the dryer. We’re discovering foods that everyone likes that no longer include dried out fish.

We are learning that the wifi in our home has limited hours for children. The girls have had an opportunity to get their nails done, and all have gotten haircuts … and toys. Alla turned in her snow boots for pink tennis shoes. Beds are made daily, and I don’t even have to ask.

“When we will start helping to clean house?” Alla said.

“I want to start having lessons soon,” said Karina, “but not today. Next week.”

Alla and Max want to help with the cooking. Alla takes it upon herself to collect the dirty dishes and wash them. She often says, “hurry up, please” if someone is eating too slowly.

All the suitcases are unpacked and clothes have been put away … mine, too. They are policing themselves with picking up garbage and keeping things neat. They just might like their new home. There is food stocked up everywhere courtesy of a wonderful father-in-law. I think the kids think they’ve moved into a grocery store.

I have discovered that children are like little lawyers as they try to use your own rules and comments against you, looking for every loophole. The only difference is that you can send them to bed if it get’s too ridiculous.

I was walking through Walgreen’s drug store on an errand with Karina a few nights ago. Emotion suddenly hit me from nowhere. We had worked and prayed so long and hard to get the siblings home, and suddenly I realized they were here in our daily lives. I stopped mid-aisle, and hugged her tightly.

“I am so happy you’re finally here,” I said.

“Me, too,” she replied. “Daddy, can I have some candy?”

It is also interesting that since I have been home, I have an emotional reaction when I see people wearing camouflage or carrying a motorcycle helmet, standard attire for the Ukrainian protesters. It reminds me of the time 20 years ago when I was a police officer. I noticed motorists’ license plates for months afterwards.

I was glad to get back home for many reasons. It was good to get back on the road in our MINI Coopers again. The siblings remembered them from our trips to Bridges of Faith during the summer when we went joyriding around Billingsley. The kids all piled into my Countryman and buckled up the seat belts. I checked. Good parents do.

We drove with the classic rock sounds of Led Zeppelin, U2, Jimi Hendrix, and Snow Patrol. I was making up for the months I have had to listen to Ukrainian rap and Britney Spears. It was all feeling good, so I had to sing along.

“Papa, please no singing,” Alla said.

“How do you know the words to all American songs?” Karina wondered.

“You crazy!” contributed Max.

I’ve known for years that the solution to my bad singing is to just turn up the volume and sing louder.

Winning!

I took them by the detail shop that keeps our cars pristine. I introduced them to my friend Mr. B (that’s his name), the elderly owner of the shop, who I had not seen since going to Ukraine. He had seen us on the news. I introduced them as the guilty ones if he ever found gum or candy in the car. I took them by to see Ms. Tang, the owner of a clothes alteration store from whom I had purchased a beautiful stained-glass panel for Karina and Alla’s window. I smiled later when I realized that I had introduced the siblings to a black man and an Asian woman, both self-made business owners, on one of our first outings together.

Welcome to America.

This is the 25th report on our adoption adventure.

Some news stories and photos:

http://blog.al.com/wire/2014/02/montgomery_couple_adopts_four.html#incart_river_default

http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/21/us/alabama-couple-ukraine-riot-orphans/

http://www.wsfa.com/story/24780150/montgomery-dad-3-adopted-kids-home-from-ukraine-christmas-tree-awaits-mom-4th-child

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/amid-kiev-chaos-american-couple-make-a-family/

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=DS&Dato=20140223&Kategori=NEWS01&Lopenr=302230058&Ref=PH

ImageInterview in Atlanta

ImageMax and Alla on the news at home.

ImageIn Atlanta

ImageAlla and Max’s fortunes.

Today in history

ImageViewing Maidan

By David Bundy

We decided today that tomorrow will be my last day in Ukraine.

I will leave Kiev with Karina, Max, and Alla and return to the U.S. on Sunday, Feb. 23, while Lisa will stay behind to finish Nastia’s adoption, hopefully in early March. We had hoped to return home all together as a family, but it made more sense to us to do it this way.

My passport expires tomorrow, and although the anti-government protest that have been a backdrop for our time here seemed to have all but ended today, the situation is still fluid. So, safety for our children is another concern. Lisa will move to a house owned by missionaries on the outskirts of Kiev to finish our business for Nastia, and we will no longer have to afford a large apartment in the expensive central part of the city.

The fighting here ceased today when the police retreated and concessions were made to the protesters demands including a return to a constitution that limits presidential power, the release of all jailed protesters, early presidential elections, and the release of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Hundreds of people were injured, and 77 were killed this week during clashes this week between protesters and police. 60 police officers were captured by protesters, and much property was burned and destroyed.

Protesters’ barricades up to 10-12 feet high defined the territory they held, including the street we lived on near Independence Square. Key areas for the protest have been Independence Square, European Square, and Saint Michael’s Monastery. Our apartment is dead center of a triangle formed by connecting the three locations.

The day started unlike the past two days that were filled with morning gunfire and the explosions of fire bombs and grenades. The sun was shining and it was probably the mildest day in terms of temperature that we have experienced since coming to Ukraine three months ago.

The restaurants and businesses nearest to us had been closed as the fighting intensified, and the small groceries nearby were crowded and low on stock. I set out from our apartment alone to recon the situation for the day’s needs.

Yesterday, Lisa and I did the recon together finding no restaurants open and venturing several blocks to four different markets to get the food, water, and other things we needed. Unknowingly, we walked through Saint Michael’s Square where only hours before government-hired snipers were seen. We walked near the intersection where the night before a taxi leaving the protest had been randomly stopped by a grenade and the occupants were beaten and one killed by hired thugs.

Today, as the warm sun was comforting, I walked along our street and saw our garbage dumpsters missing. A fence along our drive had been completely dismantled. Everything that wasn’t nailed down and plenty that was had been removed by protesters to fortify their barricades from a police attack. After all, the government had just declared them terrorists and permission had been given to use lethal force to end them. Before setting out, I had read the news that the president and the parliament was working to concede. I knew the police had withdrawn.

As I approached the main street near us, I could see traffic moving and women and children walking about. Out on the main road, protesters and citizens moved about on foot. Although the barricades were still in place, more traffic was being allowed into the area. Tired looking men and women of all ages who had participated in the protest sat in groups along the curbs talking and smoking and seemingly discussing their apparent success. Many still wore their body armor and carried their clubs. Two men compared the quality of their bulletproof vests.
There was a feeling of victory in their manner and tone. There were smiles on dirty, unshaven faces. It was like a war had ended.

As I walked a few blocks over, I found the kids’ favorite restaurant, Katysha, was open. I knew today was going to be a good day, a day that deserved more than ramen noodles and sausage.
I turned and headed towards Maidan, Independence Square, the epicenter of the fighting of the last two days and nights. The relaxed and confident sense of the people their was evident, too. Protesters and pedestrians were going about their business. A smiling young woman was passing out food and water to the freedom fighters.

The souvenir tables and the other tourist-related ventures were absent. McDonald’s was closed, and the entrance to the Globus underground shopping mall had been turned into a shelter for sleeping or first aid, but nothing felt dangerous anymore.

I walked back to the apartment and decided that all was safe enough to have a family field trip to the area and discuss what had taken place with our children. Although they had been scared during the fighting, I knew they were interested. This was their history. This was part of our history as a family.

We walked out in the late afternoon. They saw the broken window on our apartment building’s door where someone had gained access and was likely camped on the vacant sixth floor of our building during the nights of the fighting. We carried bags of garbage to the spot where I dumpster had been and left them on top of the pile of other trash bags.

The kids looked around and pointed a lot. A building that had been under construction, that we had passed a hundred times on our way to markets, was burned and partially dismantled, another victim of the need for barricades. A man stationed at a barricade wearing on old military helmet offered our kids candy as we passed.

As we walked into Maidan, a much larger crowd had gathered than had been there earlier when I had gone alone. A group of people had congested the entrance to the protesters camp, and we were stacked among them, a white van had blocked the entrance.

Soon the van started to move slowly through the crowd ahead, and we followed. Music played softly from the camp’s stage. As we walked, holding our children’s hands, I noticed the crowd ahead had made a corridor for the van. As we followed in a group of people behind, I first noticed a woman crying and being comforted to my left. On each side of the parted crowd, people averted their eyes and held their hats and helmets in their hands. As I walked, I noticed a TV news crew filming us.

I realized that we had wandered into a memorial service for one of the fallen victims of the fighting, and we were apparently participating in the group of family and friends who followed his body traveling in the van ahead.

As soon as I could find a path out, it was exit stage left.

We stopped beneath the Trade Unions building that had served as the headquarters for the anti-government protesters before it was burned during a police attack a few days ago. It was the scene of a daring rescue when a man scaled several floors of the outside of the building to rescue another trapped inside with flames all around him.

A protester hugged a crying woman who was dressed as a medical aid beside us. A British news crew was there filming, and I asked the cameraman to snap a family shot of us in front of the building.

Now, Nastia took my camera and began snapping photos of the people she saw as heroes of her homeland. She took pictures of Ukrainian flags and of Mafia, the restaurant that had become a traditional spot for going away dinners for other orphans and their adoptive families. A protester barricade had nearly hidden the entrance to the restaurant.

In my earlier trips through the encampment, the streets here were covered with all kinds of debris and litter, even more after the recent fighting, but today the streets were cleared and clean. The bricks in the road were blackened from the fires that had raged on them only a day before. It wasn’t surprising that the streets were cleared of debris. I had actually expected it because that was the kind of people many of the protesters were. They cared.

In other places where street and sidewalk bricks had been dislodged to be used as ammunition against the advancing Berkut officers, the bricks that had remained intact were stacked neatly to be reinstalled at a later date.

We walked past memorials to the fallen that usually consisted of candles, flowers, candy, cigarettes, and religious icons. The scene outside the city’s soccer stadium, where the heavy fighting broke out in January was as it had been during those days with burned out cars and buses, barricades, and heavy ash everywhere. The inner area was still guarded by protesters, but our kids peered over the wall surrounding the scene to see these things.

From there we made our way up a hill into a park that was closed to the public tonight. I knew it was one of Nastia’s favorite places, and she led our family around closed walkways and a friendly security guard. We stood in the dark, looking out over the rest of Kiev and the Dnieper River. The city was sprawling in the distance but beautiful at night. It made me think about how small the area of the protest in Kiev really was.

We walked down and approached the protesters barricade again to re-enter. A slightly built man wearing a bulletproof vest stopped the girls as they walked ahead of him. They spoke to him and told him we were walking home. He started leading Lisa and the kids across the European Square area, and I held back to try and understand what he was up to. I didn’t expect that we had done anything wrong, but it felt like he was leading us somewhere or to someone.
As he continued walking, we followed him across Maidan. I finally understood that he saw our children and wanted to escort us home to protect us from any harm from pro-government thugs.

We decided we would go back to Katysha for dinner. I explained to the man that we were okay, but he continued to lead us right up to the restaurant’s door which he held open for us. He had led us about a mile at least. He gave us his phone number to call him if there was any trouble, or we needed him to escort us again.

I decided to give him the automatic opening Heckler and Koch pocket knife I had carried as my only defense while in Kiev. It had served me well. I walked many miles with it in my pocket and had my thumb on the trigger when I felt compelled. It wasn’t much, but it made me feel safe, just like this man had done. After all, I would be going home soon. I did have to use it a few times to cut the tags off of new clothing for the kids and to open packs of sausage on some of our train rides to Pantaivka.

After dinner, we stopped at a market to buy some soft drinks. Lisa went inside, and I waited with the kids outside on the sidewalk. A protester, one of many milling about, passed us and stopped. He turned around and said something to Max and then handed Max his gloves, covered with soot and not matching, as a souvenir of the fight.

Nastia quickly snatched them away as her prize. Max didn’t care, but Nastia understood what they represented.

As I stood with little Alla on the balcony overlooking Maidan after we returned home, I asked her what she thought about what she had seen.

“In Maidan, there is good people,” She said. “They offered me candy.”

And, so they did.

I don’t know what the children will take away from what happened here this week. I don’t know what the young ones will remember, but I hope they can recall that they witnessed people working hard and sacrificing to make their lives better. I hope they see how there is strength in goodness and unity. I hope they remember how clergymen prayed publicly for strength and reason.

Our story has gotten much attention lately because of our proximity to the protest. We have done interviews for news media in Hattiesburg, Miss., my hometown, WSFA in Montgomery, Fox News, CNN, CBS, and have had request from others including Sky News in London and Al-Jazeera. We know our story has made it to the U.S. Senate, who is promising help to expedite the last days of Nastia’s adoption. Please continue to pray for Lisa and Nastia.

This is the 24th report on our adoption adventure.

ImagePhoto by Nastia

ImagePhoto by Lisa

ImageMemorial to fallen fighters