Ground Hog Day
Monday 13 November
Today was a lovely day.
In the Groundhog day of Ust-Kamenogorsk, days are gauged by whether we all had good visits to the baby-house. Junior and I got to know each other a little better and the biscuits help stave off his pre lunch grizzles for 15 minutes until lunch is ready. Children tuck into a substantial lunch which is pretty much the same most days a mashed stew of bread and carrots with a little potato with something which turns the stew rather a lurid pink. No amount of Russian has been able to crack the mystery of the pink colour and even the translator when asked screwed up her face and finally said “vegetable”. Alas the source of the mystery pink colour is destined never to be solved [Editors note – it was of course beetroot – duh!]. After course one, is mashed potato and minced meat followed by a drink of either juice or keffir which is a kind of thin fermented yoghurt drink. Junior eats OK but is never keen to finish this hefty helping of mashed potato so the carers have discovered the eat/drink double hander. One feeds with the spoon and one offers a drink alternately and as he likes his drink he is coaxed into polishing off his food if he wants his drink. The baby-house powers that be seem to have sussed that there’s not much wrong with him at the moment so he is being sprung tomorrow back to his group which I haven’t seen yet. I will be sorry to leave as the sick-bay is much better equipped and he gets much more attention as there are only 4 children in now and two carers between them, but it will be exciting to see his locker with his name on it and to meet his normal carers.
Bonding is going well. Much improved by me buying a plastic pyramid of hoops which is the most exciting thing he has ever seen and is neatly equipped with a sharp plastic spike on one end – we may not be fully bonded yet but I have discovered new lightening reactions to stop Junior impaling himself on this spike and the ability to juggle with 6 plastic hoops rather than let them shoot off in all directions across the floor and spend the next 10 minutes crawling around the floor looking for them. This time is not really true bonding – there are too many people around picking him up, feeding him, putting him to bed, cooing at him. He thinks I am a new and at the moment slightly interesting playmate. I suspect the true bonding will only begin when he is dependant on me for everything. However it does give us both breathing space to get to know each other and make him comfortable with me so that he should not be too distressed when we leave.
Winter? What Siberian Winter?
The weather has been fanastic since we have been here. Unseasonably mild, sunny and blue skies. The temperature has dropped dramatically in the last couple of days and every morning is frosty and the evenings bitter cold, however the days continue to be a pleasant temperature and long may that continue. We walked back from our “local” Pizza Blues today along the river and though Ust isn’t a pretty town (imagine grey Soviet concrete tower blocks), the walk along the river is very pleasant lined with a row of silver birches with the late afternoon winter sun shining through them, it felt like I should be walking Wendy’s dogs along here and for the first time since coming I felt that I had come to some kind of accommodation with this place. That was added to this evening by the most amazing sunset as we left the baby-house. If only I believed in omens, I would say that it was an omen of a happy month to come.
Maybe omens still work even if you don’t believe in them?
Baby steps forward
Today was the last official day of our “bonding” period and so we applied for a court date. Our co-ordinator is hoping to get a court date on Monday but the day was punctuated by a bit of a panic as some of the documentation which should have been in our dossiers has gone missing. We all hope that the necessary bits will be tracked down and won’t delay us going to court on Monday, however we may not know until Friday. It has also been interesting being the first Brit here as they don’t recognise most of our paperwork “you have no criminal checks in your dossier”, “yes I do, they are the big coloured computerised letters” “Ah OK”….etc etc
Today was also the first phone call I’ve had with my mum without one or both of us crying – so real progress for us there! She’s hoping to come out towards the end if this month which will be great. I shall be an old hand by then and will be able to show her around “my” town.
On the bright side, today was a good day for bonding with Junior, there is no doubt who has the upper hand in this relationship as he makes me work for every small improvement in our relationship. The little tinker has had days where he has made a concerted effort not to look me in the eye and has refused to smile regardless of what antics or singing I have tried. He smiles happily at everyone else though and laughs merrily. I can just imagine what’s going through his head… “nope sorry you’re just not trying hard enough to be my mum yet, please sing more humiliating songs and crawl around the floor a bit more”. Today however was a different story – Junior recognised me for the first time when I arrived this morning and smiled and laughed when he saw me. I have no idea if this new reaction is here to stay or if I will have to go back to square one tomorrow but for five minutes today I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone in the world. There is something about slowly earning the trust of a tiny stranger which is quite magical and very humbling.
Thursday evening Sometime in November…
Despite there being absolutely nothing wrong with Junior he is still in the sick-bay which confuses me no end but I’m not protesting as we have the luxury of two armchairs in the anteroom we use for bonding visits. “Armchairs” is a slight misnomer – they are wedged between the wall and a small table and pull them away to look for the plastic hoops which have rolled underneath at your own risk. I discovered that it was the wall and the table that was holding them both together. I have not been entirely happy to sit on them with my full weight ever since and so my thigh muscles are building up nicely.
I share morning visits with Brent and Kathy and their little girl Ruth Aida (they’re off to court tomorrow so fingers crossed for them) and we sing songs together for an hour or so before Kathy and I muscle our way into the main room to force food down the childrens throats. We are significantly less practised at it than the carers and I think they despair of our amateurish efforts. Aida has the most lady-like voice I think I’ve ever heard and she sweetly babbles little breathy nothings to her new Mum. Junior on the other hand sounds like a demented lumberjack with a line of loud “BUB BUB BUUUUUBB”s followed by a piercing shriek which means either “give those illicit biscuits back or I’ll tell the carers” or “thats really funny – make yourself look ridiculous again and I may smile at you”. I’m not an experienced enough mother yet to tell the difference.
Still hoping for Court on Monday and I must be bonding as I am struck with horror at the thought that there are still many things which could go wrong. I won’t be entirely happy until we land back in the UK.
The children here
The majority of the children here are not available for adoption. Either they still have a family member who visits them or they are only in temporarily. Apparently its not uncommon at this time year for a lot of the men to be laid off from their manual jobs over the winter and not have enough money to feed the children. If that happens they bring them into the childrens home until they can find work again. One day last week a man brought two small girls into the home with a woman crying out in the car which it transpired were the grandparents. The children were brought in to the sick bay as the older girl had cut her hand and I think they felt it was an easier transition for them as the sickbay is so much quieter than the other rooms. As they were in the sick bay I got to know them a bit – the older sister was about 4 and the younger 2 and they sat stock still for the first 2 days like frightened rabbits. The older sister explained that her name was “Aibana” and her sisters name was “Zharina” then she pointed at herself and her sister in turn saying “devochka” (little girl) each time, I think she interpreted my very poor Russian as a mental infirmity and took great pains to talk to me very slowly. I was given a pot of bubbles as a present by Adrienne and had been blowing them for Junior when I noticed the girls wistfully peering at them from beyond the glass door of the sick bay. The carers kindly turned a blind eye as I propped the door open and blew bubbles in toward them. The two year old looked like she’d wandered into Disneyland and there was something about the sight of these two tiny mites glued together watching the bubbles float past in amazement that would just make your heart break if you saw it. If I swear never to forget how lucky I am will someone remind me of this moment when I am whinging about some completely irrelevant irritation in 6 months time?
They have left the sickbay now but if I have even a tiny bit of bubble solution left when I leave, it will become a personal mission to track them down in their group and blow bubbles for them one time before I go.
We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto
Not such a good day today (Saturday) – the relentless up, visit, back, visit, eat, bed, up, visit… is beginning to get to us all and we are all tired. The breakfasts here are not ideal when you are tired and foreign and though I’m sure hamburger stew has its fans for breakfast, I’m not one of them. Yesterday was a frantic round of writing speeches for court and sorting out dated photos to prove we had visited our children during the bonding period. Today brought bad news – no court on Monday, the is some paperwork coming from the capital Astana which has not arrived and we cannot go to court until it has, our translator Alfiya is hoping that it will come on Monday and we can have court Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m terrified this will drag on and I will be out here significantly longer than planned. On top of that Junior was a little unwell and very grizzly this morning and threw up all over me. He cheered right up after that – I’m not sure if he felt better or if he just found it amusing. He is generally in a better mood in the afternoons so I’m hoping that the day can be salvaged this afternoon by a nice visit with him.
Brent and Kathy’s court appearance went well and they have gone back to the US to wait out the two week wait and the paperwork chase, and Kathy will come back to pick Aida (I should really call her Ruth now) in about 3 weeks, but I hope to be able to take some photos to email back to them so that they can see that she is fine. It is a difficult balancing act for those who already have children between the needs of their children at home and their new child here. On the whole I would say that those with no children at home are sticking it out for the full time and those with little ones at home are doing two trips. Two of the American families have brought their children with them with mixed results, Joannie’s two who are about 7 and 9 have not been allowed into the baby-home as they are deemed to be too old but Janna’s 6 yr old has been allowed in. it seems a bit inconsistent and has meant that the kids have been very bored playing in the hotel most of the time. They have been incredibly good about it and yesterday went back to the US with their Dad, their mum Joannie and her mum are staying out here for the whole trip. They have the littlest baby who is only just over 6 months and was as premature as Junior but has been in hospital recently and so is in isolation. Of our group, Alex, Aine and I will stay the whole time (hopefully with my mum coming out to vary the monotony a bit), with Declan and Adrienne going back to Ireland to see their two girls and prepare for Christmas.
Lesson 14 of motherhood: don’t wear loose fitting V neck tshirts when you have a small boy unless you want to share your bosom with the world.
Next stop week three.