Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Meeting our boys!

We awoke the next morning at 5:30 a.m. to the sound of chanting at a nearby mosque--big reminder that we were far, far from home! I don't think we fell back asleep, we were so nervous/excited/anxious about getting our sons!

Gail picked us up about 9:30 and drove us over to Layla House, AAI's orphanage. It was a very short drive from the guesthouse. I was amazed by the wonderful facility they have there. We showed up to a game of whiffle ball! Everything was so cheery and spacious and the children seemed to be playing and having a good time.

We were introduced to Merrily, the head/founder of the adoption agency who happened to be in Ethiopia the same time we were. It was fun meeting someone that you've been emailing/speaking with for the last couple of months.

Gail and Merrily led us over to the part of the compound for the younger children and babies, called Wanna House, where a little toddler immediately took my hand. Then they led us into the nursery. Babies (and caregivers)everywhere, but I didn't really pay attention as I was looking for our little guys! Gail saw Biniam first, and pointed him out. He was sitting in a crib, and I went over to him and he held his arms out to me to pick him up. He was just so tiny, but sooooo cute!!! They were still looking for little Yosef, who they found a few moments later as he was sitting on a wooden shelf! Kevin scooped him up and we just held them for awhile. Quite the surreal experience!

We found some chairs to sit down in and just held the boys awhile. A caregiver gave us two bottles so we fed them. Meanwhile Kevin took some video of some of the toddlers at snack time--they LOVE getting their pictures taken and being on video! He was seriously mobbed the minute he pulled the camera out!

Pretty soon Gail and Merrily came over and said we should head back. The boys were showered with kisses from the children and caregivers as well, as we headed back to the van. We piled in only to find that the van wouldn't start (which of course for the Heldts is nothing new!), so Merrily stayed at the orphanage and Gail, Kevin and I walked back to the guesthouse. Not too long of a walk, but carrying the boys, I was glad to get back and sit down!

Once back at the guesthouse Kevin asked Gail if she could tell us the details of the "other family's" deciding they didn't want the boys afterall. Gail chuckled and said that her story of what happened differs from the family's story, but she came into our room, sat down, and explained in detail everything that had happened. I was so glad she was willing to do this for us, as we feel like this is part of the boys' story and they deserve to know someday as well. Basically the adoptive mom felt overwhelmed, didn't want to do it, and is blaming AAI for it. They were indeed holding the boys as leverage, refusing to sign off on the relinquishment papers until they got what they wanted, until they got their lawyer involved who most likely told them what they were doing was terrible and that they needed to free the boys up for adoption.

While Gail was talking we put the boys down for naps, she left, and we took a good, long nap ourselves! When the boys woke up we gave them baths, got them dressed in the clothes we'd brought (Yosef had come wearing some rather feminine sandals, which Kevin very eagerly took off him!), and spent the rest of the day getting to know them! Biniam woke up first so we got some good one-on-two time with him. He had the reputation for wanting to be held all the time, but he seemed to enjoy playing with the toys, walking around holding onto the coffee table, etc.

The cook at the guesthouse made us lunch that day --"pancakes," which are not really our type of pancakes but more of an egg dish that had some vegetables in it (sort of like a quiche maybe but didn't taste like a quiche.) Kevin loved it; I thought it was okay but the flavors there take some getting used to. Everything tastes sooooooo different and like nothing you've ever had here.

That day was one of the strangest in our lives. We'd felt like we knew and loved the boys before we went over there, but once they handed them to us, we realized, oh my goodness, we don't know them at all! They have personalities and likes and dislikes and ultimately felt like strangers to us! I think we realized that ultimately, this is a process, and it would take time before they really felt like "ours." We loved them and cared about them, but found out that first day that parental, unconditional love is a thing that grows and matures and of course is always growing. It was different than we expected. It was both more difficult and also less difficult--harder because we didn't feel instantly bonded to them, or at least not as bonded as we thought we would, and easier, because I think I worried a lot about what it would be like having three kids but these guys were pretty easygoing and I realized that kids are kids, and that they would fit into our lives so wonderfully.

We didn't really eat dinner that night as we were so tired and woke up from our naps so late. We put the boys to bed, (they are good little sleepers) and went to bed ourselves. Biniam slept all night, but poor Yosef kept waking up with this mournful cry, like he was having nightmares or something. I think we ended up just putting him in our bed.

All in all a crazy day...it felt so good to be united with our sons finally! And at the same time we both felt a little shell-shocked: we were in Africa, our family had just gone from three to five, and we were just trying to process everything that had happened.

And we've been home for a week and a half and I think we're STILL trying to process everything! It is safe to say this has been a wild ride, but we are discovering new blessings each and every day. We feel so blessed that God doesn't let us stay in our comfort zones, but that He wants to grow us and change us and show us new things. We have been humbled and strengthened by this experience already and every day is a totally new adventure. I will continue posting about our trip and hopefully some shorter posts about the day-to-day type stuff going on now!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Valentines Day in Ethiopia

Our trip started out at about 4 a.m. Monday morning, February 13. We drove down to LAX to catch a 9:17 a.m. United plane to Dulles Int'l in Washington, D.C. The shortest flight on our journey (about 4 and a half hours), it was ironically the most miserable! The plane was pretty small (only seated about 150 people), extremely old, cramped, and just plain uncomfortable! We played a game of Parcheesi (I won, I am extremely proud to report!) and watched some movie with Robert Redford and Jennifer Lopez (is it just me or do they both always play the same type of parts? He's always a rugged loner and she is always the pitiable single mom overcoming the odds.) Nothing too interesting happened on the flight except that the entire time, the guy sitting in front of Kevin was making conversation with one of the stewardesses. They were probably mid-forties. The guy was reading some book on building intimacy in relationships and the flight attendant was VERY interested. Then they got to talking about their failed marriages. It all culminated at the end of the flight when I saw the man pull a pen and piece of paper out and give the lady his number! Hee, hee!

After a short layover in DC we boarded Ethiopian Airlines. Most of the people on the flight were Ethiopians or former Ethiopians now living here but returning to visit family. It was an interesting blend of Westernized clothing and then also many people wearing traditional Ethiopian clothing.

The flight was EXTREMELY long. We stopped in Rome just to refuel (we didn't get off the plane though) and man oh man, several Italians came on board to "clean" the plane (I use that word loosely), yelling orders and vacuuming right over the poor pilot's foot. A man went walking up and down the aisles collecting trash from people, calling out "rubbish? rubbish?" I don't know why but this whole episode struck us as extremely funny! Kevin and I have been making jokes about it ever since. So that was our first experience in Italy! "Rubbish? Rubbish?" Too funny...

Ethiopian Airlines treated us like kings. They fed us the entire time, were always offering us things to drink, etc. Each seatback had an individual TV screen so you could choose a movie to watch, or you could see where we currently were, how fast we were going, time left to get to our destination, etc.

Our plane landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, February 14, Ethiopian time (they are 11 hours ahead of California.) It was 75 degrees out!!! And it was that warm the entire time! We got our tourist visas and were met at the airport by Jemal, one of AAI's drivers (he's Ethiopian) who we ended up becoming friends with. He was about Kevin's age and really awesome, and spoke good English.

Now the driving in Ethiopia is something else! The roads in Addis are paved, but everyone zips along, ignoring what to us are common rules of the road, coming within a hair of hitting other cars and pedestrians (who just march across the street whenever they feel like it), etc. There are HUGE round-a-bouts (kind of like the ones near our house) where no one yields to anyone else (also kind of like the ones near our house... :) ) It is crazy. Also all you can smell on the roads is exhaust, which is pretty gross. There are tons of taxis (how most people get around Addis besides walking or taking a bus), both large taxis (which just keep picking people up and dropping them off; they're basically vans) and then private taxis like the ones here. All the taxis are blue there (although there are yellow ones that only operate from hotels.)

We arrived at the Ritmo Guesthouse where we'd be staying. Jemal helped us unload our luggage and then we waited for Gail (the head of the orphanage there) and Nate (in charge of the orphanage volunteers) to come get us situated. They showed up shortly, showed us to our room, and introduced us to two other couples staying there. One couple from Washington state was adopting an 14 month old boy, and a couple from Wisconsin was adopting a brother and sister around 8 or 9 (the brother was older.) Their family friend Scott was also there, who provided lots of comic relief. He was hilarious!)

The accomodations were simple but nice enough. They put us up in the Africa Room, the biggest room with couches, lots of shelving and a huge bed for us, a twin bed for Biniam and a crib for Yosef. There was also a bathroom and then the guesthouse has a kitchen for everyone to share as well as a common eating area for the guests to share.

We went to sleep that evening eagerly anticipating what the next day would bring, us getting to meet our boys!!!

We made it!

Well we made it!!! The four of us landed at LAX last night around 5 p.m., and made the drive back up to Santa Maria--36 hours after leaving the guesthouse in Ethiopia!!!!! Whew!

We arrived home to find a huge sign and balloons taped onto our garage door!!! We have no clue who made it but I want to find out so we can thank them! It honestly made our day (even brought tears to my eyes!) and what a blessing, to know that our boys are already so loved and supported!

It is nice to be home and reunited with Anna--we missed her so much! The jetlag is pretty bad. We are exhausted (all 5 of us, though Anna's probably doing the best), but I'm hoping after a good night's sleep tonight, that tomorrow will be better.

Our time in Ethiopia was amazing, depressing, fascinating, sad, exciting and exhausting all at once. I think I am still processing all that we saw and did. I've never seen anything like it in my entire life--so many things were shocking, many in a good way, many in a bad way. I will share more in future posts.

As for the boys, they are wonderful! Beautiful, happy little guys who seem to be doing pretty well considering. Thursday we take them to the doctor to be checked for parasites, which I think they may have, poor things!

Well I just wanted to post and say we had a great trip, the boys are awesome and that there will be more posts to come!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Getting ready

Whew, what a day! Is it bedtime yet? We are leaving the house in about 4 and 1/2 hours and we're still awake...

My mom and dad came and picked Anna up tonight. It was so hard to say goodbye to her for a whole entire week, especially knowing how far away we'll be and that we can't just pick up the phone to call and see how she's doing. Sounds like she's all settled in though and got to watch some of Charlotte's Web tonight.

I think we're just about packed. We are both packing pretty light for ourselves but bringing plenty for the boys, and then have lots of room in the suitcases to spare (for all the cool stuff we hope to buy!)

I still feel so ill-prepared for this adventure because I just have no idea what to expect. Last night we had dinner with four other couples (we meet once a month, rotating houses) and they had a special prayer time for us, which was priceless. We are so blessed.

I hope to update this blog at least a couple of times this week. Keep us in your prayers. The above picture is of what our kitchen table looks like now...we are so blessed to be filling it up!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Our Ethiopian sons

Our agency just sent us this photograph yesterday, taken in January I believe. This is Biniam on the left and Yosef on the right, looking quite handsome in their traditional Ethiopian dress. I am so proud that they are my sons and that they are from Ethiopia!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Finally some good news

Okay we finally found an agency willing to do the interstate compact thing. They seem to know their stuff and I feel good about using them. Looks like they'll be signing an interagency contract with our original homestudy/post-placement agency so that they can still provide us the post-placement visits (which makes me happy because I did really like the social worker we had.) Unfortunately, this interstate compact in addition to the post-placement is ending up costing over double what just the normal post-placement would have been. But we don't really have time to "shop around" anymore and I don't know that we could find anyone else anyway.

So that's the update. Looks like we'll be leaving as scheduled. I don't feel like we're totally out of the woods yet but AAI thinks we should still be leaving on time. Now I need to switch gears and start thinking about little Anna's birthday party!

Hopefully a resolution

Well that "promising" lead I mentioned yesterday looks like it will work out--I don't know for sure yet but I am pretty positive. They should be talking to AAI this morning. I will post something definitive when I know more.

Picked up our prescriptions last night. Today I need to make some returns/buy some things and continue getting ready for Anna's party Friday night. Unfortunately I have no clue who is coming because due to the Goleta postal shooting (that's where our mail goes to be sorted), the mail was delayed so some people are just now getting the invitations that I mailed over two weeks ago! I am so bummed; I don't want to have to call everyone but I might have to. And then who knows if they'll be able to come since it's such short notice. Oh well.......

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Latest adoption fiasco

Okay just when you think everything is fine and dandy, something else happens...

I received a call yesterday from our homestudy/post-placement agency Across the World Adoptions (ATWA.) They did our homestudy and we had contracted with them (a long time ago) to do our post-placement visits (contract required before travel.) Way back in December, when we received this unusual referral, our agency (AAI) contacted them to verify that they are licensed to do our post-placement because now it is an interstate issue (since AAI, located in Washington state, had those other adoptive parents relinquish the boys to them. So instead of being an international adoption, we are now "technically" adopting the boys from our agency in Washington. I know, it's confusing and I still don't get it.) So ATWA said yes, they can still do the post-placement.

Back to the phone call. Apparently whoever at ATWA told AAI that they were licensed to do the interstate adoption was wrong. They are in fact NOT able to do that. ATWA dropped this in my lap one week from when we're supposed to be traveling. AAI has some forms ready to FEDEX overnight to whatever agency we go with for the post-placement.

So it is NOT EASY trying to find someone who can do this, who even knows anything about what interstate adoption issues are...I've been on the phone for two days straight, nothing definitive, and while AAI won't come out and say it directly, I think they will delay our travel if this isn't in order. Which I don't know that it will be even if we figure out an agency tomorrow. Because they would have to return these forms to AAI before we could leave.

We had a lead that fell through today (some agency COULD do it but they won't do anything to do with African adoptions--I have no clue why), and then another promising one that I hope will work out. An agency just told ATWA they could do this (and were going to call AAI right away to make sure they know the situation. Unfortunately Ethiopia staff at AAI leave for the day at 2:30, which I have decided is really frustrating!) I hope they pan out. This is just so annoying. I am running around trying to get things in order to leave, trying to clean the house and get ready for Anna's birthday party Friday night and order our prescriptions (which our doctor dropped the ball on once; hopefully he won't again!) and trying to take care of Anna...sheesh!

I'll post an update once we find something out!

Yosef and Biniam's room

Here are some pics of the boys' room. Unfortunately, we don't have anything to put up on the walls yet but that will come eventually. :)

The room doesn't really have a theme, although their bedding is this really cute jungle print. It was on total clearance at Toys R Us so we kind of stumbled upon it. It's pretty cute (plus the price was right) and ended up going so well with the color we painted the room. I was bummed that they were going to have the exact same bedding, but it was just so cute and a great price and I couldn't find anything else I liked. Then the other night when I took it out of the package I discovered that they randomly had different bedskirts! Yay! So they are not EXACTLY the same.

We also have a dresser in there (wasn't in the room yet when I took these pictures) as well as a changing table. How we were able to fit everything in that room I do not know. Also I believe we decided to rearrange the cribs to make better use of space but that gives an idea!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Changes at the Heldt house

So last night was Anna's first night in her big-girl bed! (We haven't actually put the bed together yet, so it was just the twin mattress on the floor.) She did great! I turned all the lights off and laid with her on the bed, until she fell asleep. I left the room and she didn't wake up until her normal time the next morning!!! I have to admit I felt a little emotional seeing her in a real bed and not in her crib anymore, where she's slept for the past nearly-two-years.

We spent last night (and into the wee hours of the morning unfortunately) preparing the boys' room! Kevin surprised me when I got home from our church retreat late Saturday afternoon by having the whole boys' room painted! I was so happy when I walked into the house and it smelled like paint (AND let it be known that he somehow managed to do this with Anna underfoot, with no paint incidents.) That night we hit up Target and WalMart for some more stuff: socks for the boys, a couple of shirts for them, a set of twin sheets for Anna's new bed, and a great four-drawer cart thingy for Anna's closet (to put diapers and wipes, her shoes and socks, and some other things in since her changing table has now gone to the boys as well.) Still haven't found her a dresser.

Anyway, we got the boys' room pretty much done last night!!! It looks so happy and cheery; we're both pretty pleased with it. While we were working on clearing out Anna's room she was in the boys' room jumping up and down on one of their crib mattresses that was laying there, yelling "Brothers! Brothers!" She is really, really excited about her brothers coming! Then today we were reading a Winnie the Pooh book together and got to a page where Christopher Robin and Pooh are sitting together. She pointed and said, "Brothers." It was so great! I think she's starting to understand a little what a brother is, and definitely knows that she's going to have some. (If I ask her, "Who are Mommy and Daddy gonna go get?" she answers without missing a beat, "Brothers!" And if I ask where she's going to be while we're doing that, she'll say "Grandma and Grandpa's!")

Things are slowly falling into place. Today I'm going to try to make a list of all the things we need to buy before leaving and attempt to get some of them today. I also need to call the doctor to get two prescriptions that we will hopefully NOT need to take for something called "traveler's diarrhea." (Last night I told Kevin maybe we should take bets on which of us will get sick. He predicts we both will! I sure hope he's wrong!!! As a preventative measure we will be popping Pepto Bismol tablets every day, sick or not. Maybe it won't do anything, but hey, at least we'll feel like we're keeping ourselves healthy!)

I am actually super excited about the food we'll get to eat there. From everything I've read and heard they eat some really yummy things! I am always up for trying new and interesting food and nothing beats getting to eat authentic stuff. While I've been wanting to make a trip down to Los Angeles to go to an Ethiopian restaurant, I'm happy my first Ethiopian food will be from Ethiopia! (I also plan to start cooking some Ethiopian dishes and making it a regular part of what we eat. Though something tells me it will take some practice!)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Leaving on a jetplane...

We bought our tickets today! We are flying out of Los Angeles the morning of February 13 and arriving in Addis Ababa the evening of February 14 (local time, as they are several hours ahead of us.) Then we're coming back February 20 (leaving from Ethiopia at midnight, arriving in Los Angeles in the afternoon. Hooray!

I got the boys' room all taped today, ready to be painted (by Kevin.) We'll be getting some more big girl furniture for Anna this weekend (a dresser, as her current one will go to the boys.) Some wonderful friends are letting us borrow a cute twin bed for her until their little baby needs it, and we'll be picking it up Sunday. Things are slowly falling into place I think!

We have already bought two more carseats and two baby bjorns. Next stop is high chairs. I cannot WAIT to meet our little boys! I am so anxious! Two different people who adopted from our agency and were in Addis picking up their own children in December have emailed me saying they met Yosef and Biniam while they were there, and that they were really sweet and cute! It makes the wait seem so much more bearable getting to hear about our boys.

I'm also really excited because tonight and then tomorrow is our church's womens' retreat! It's my first time going and I'm really looking forward to it. It's being held at our church (so not an overnighter or anything.) Tonight is a dessert. Should be fun and a good diversion from all the preparation!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

On our way!

Well I am so, so thrilled to finally be able to post this: we are going to Ethiopia!!! Sometime late next week! Yayyy!

Kevin got the "call" (or email, as it was) today. The phone rang here, I said hello, and he asked if I was ready to go on a trip. I was thinking, what on earth is he talking about? I thought maybe it was some cute (though cryptic!) way of him asking if I wanted to play this online minesweeper game thing with him on his lunch break (okay maybe it sounds nerdy but I can assure you it's a lot of fun. You can get it through MSN games and it's two-way minesweeper. I rarely win but I have a good time losing!) So I said, "huh?" And he repeated, "Are you ready to go on a trip?" THEN I'm thinking, did he win some trip through work or something? So I said, "No, I'm not ready, what trip?" And then he told me that we're headed to Ethiopia!

What a shock! I wasn't expecting things so soon! We are cleared to go Wednesday at the very soonest; however Anna's two-year birthday party is scheduled for Friday evening, February 10th, plus it'd be nice to have a LITTLE more time to prepare. So we are looking at leaving a day or two after that.

Our lives have just gotten a lot busier! Super exciting, super scary, all at the same time! Kevin and I were talking today on the phone about how much little Anna's life will change, now having two brothers in the family! I know she will adore them, but of course it will be a huge adjustment. I hope the transition goes smoothly as possible.

So that's the latest! We'll keep you posted as our travel plans shape up!

Oh and check out our spiffy new suitcases we got for the trip!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Attachment Parenting

As we're still waiting to get our boys, I am thinking more about how things will be once they are here and about how that transition will go. It will be such an adjustment for them and the sooner they are able to bond to us, the better.

I don't know a whole lot about the Attachment Parenting movement. I guess that term was coined by Dr. Sears (who I really like, from the small amount I've heard from him), and I know some of the main tenets are breastfeeding, baby carrying, and co-sleeping. I'd like to learn more; it seems like baby carrying and co-sleeping would be a big help in promoting attachment with these little guys. I looked online and there seems to be no shortage of books on the subject.

SO, my question to anyone out there is, if you have done the attachment parenting thing, what books have been helpful to you? Also since the boys are about one year old (and adopted), are there any attachment parenting books specifically for this type of situation? It would seem that many of the books are either targeted to parents of newborns and focus a lot on nursing, or they are designed for parents of kids with attachment problems (which I don't know that these boys have.) I am wondering too for any adoptive parents if you feel attachment parenting really helped them attach sooner/better, or if anyone out there has any ideas they have used/plan to use. Basically any info from anybody would be appreciated!

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