Sunday, May 15, 2011

the details of Vladi

It will be a month this week that my little Vladi came home forever. And we are learning so many details about him. Honestly, who he is and some of the things he does just blow me away. Things like he has dance moves that are so exuberant and fun that Josh and I just smile and laugh over and over. Or that he will come into the room and see me and put his arms out and run to me to be hugged. Or that he is always trying to help Syrus -- help him up the stairs or with his shoes or stopping Syrus from getting into some sort of mischief. Or that he loves to take a bath -- not surprising considering how much he loves to clean! Or how he is using sign language like a pro -- I only have to show him a sign a couple of times and he will use it regularly after that. He is so smart! Or how about that he cleans up after lunch by pushing in all the chairs and putting things in the trash. I mean, seriously? And he snuggles in bed with me every morning for about 30 to 45 minutes. Really?!

How did I get so outrageously blessed to have this hilarious and sensitive and helpful little treasure as my son?

Sure he still cries but it is nothing like two weeks ago. The crying has slowly begun to dissipate as he has begun to understand that he can trust and he can love. He can get kisses and give hugs. He can be comforted and snuggled. He can be celebrated and encouraged. Sure he still doesn't want to go to bed at night, but he does fall asleep so much quicker and in a bed next to ours so he can always check and see if we are there. Sure he is starting to test the boundaries, but it is because he is starting to feel a confidence that he didn't have before.

And all of this in only a month. I have learned so much about Vlad in just a month.

I can't help but stand in wonder at how blessed I am that God's crazy plan allowed ME to be this little guy's mom. But I also can't help but think about his birth mom. She really missed out on having this boy in her life every day as her son. I mean he is something else. And I want her to KNOW. To know him. To know the details of who he is. To share all the victories big and small; all the first words and steps; all the wild and crazy dance moves; all the hopes and dreams that I have for this little boy that I'm sure she must have too but doesn't get to participate in every day for forever. I want her to be a part of the daily spilling out of who this boy is. Does that sound crazy? I have this desire to share it with her -- to share Vlad with her. I just think she should know how delightful her son, my son, OUR son is.

I think I'm going to start writing her letters, a journal maybe, where I write to her and share about the details of Vlad -- not sure that she will ever see it -- maybe it is more for me because I've never understood how to negotiate the whole birth mother/adopted mother concept. Maybe it's because I watched my dad cry quietly every time someone on a talk show was reunited with a birth mother, longing to know who his own birth mother was and overwhelmed by the desire for her to know him. Maybe it's because I feel somehow guilty that I have the privilege to be the mom to this sweet, sweet boy and she doesn't.

Every day I am slowly discovering the details of Vlad and how those little quirks and smiles and moments and tears and dance moves and hugs enter into my heart and make me his mom more and more each day. And I don't want her to become less his mom as I become more his mom. I want her to take the journey too. To take it with me as two women who anticipated little Vlad's arrival into their families and loved him in a way that could not be described or articulated. Even if it is only ever a journey on paper -- letters, if you will, from one mother to another mother. Of the same boy. Hmmmm....

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Better than I think

I know, I know. I'm sorry. I have been horrible at updating the blog. It's already been two weeks! Let me see what I can do to give you a taste of how life has changed in the Burick household.

To be honest, I am overwhelmed. Good overwhelmed and bad overwhelmed.

There are times when I am so relieved that Vlad is home with us and I love being a mom of two boys -- those moments where Vlad seems to be showing off because he is adjusting so well. Like when he went to the nursery on Easter Sunday with Syrus and it didn't phase him at all. Or the times he dances with Syrus when American Idol is on TV. Or when he helps me clean up after a meal by pushing in the chairs and lining up the sippy cups on the table. The moments when he snuggles with me for about an hour in the morning when he wakes up. Or when he points to me when I ask, "where is mama?" These are the moments of good overwhelmed.

Then there are days like today when I can't seem to figure out how to get him to stop crying. I take his temperature, I hold him, I change him, I get him a drink, I feed him, I try to play with him, and nothing works. There are the times when Syrus starts to cry, and pushes Vlad off of me in an effort to still be important and Vlad slides down at my feet and begins to whimper, while I try to see him over my huge belly. Or the moments when I am standing, nine months pregnant, with nothing on but a towel, and Vlad is screaming and Syrus is crying, and all I can do is cry too because I'm not sure how I'm going to get dressed and get them lunch and down for a nap before I have to be at work in an hour. Or the moments I've convinced myself I must be going into labor because why else would this be so difficult. These are the moments of bad overwhelmed.

And I wrestle with a million questions about this little boy who I don't know as well as I know Syrus. See, with Syrus, I know all the different cries -- which ones mean I am afraid or injured and which ones mean I am two years old and want my own way. I don't know those with Vlad yet. So, when Vlad cries, the questions come. Is he afraid I am going to leave him? Is he testing me to see if I'll really always be there? Has he somehow contracted an awful fatal disease in the last few minutes? Is he just being a toddler boy and trying to figure out what he can get away with? Does he hate me because I turned his life upside down? Am I just horrible at being a mom to more than one child? Did my water just break?

Ugh. I hate the questions. I want the answers. I want the key to unlock this little boy so I know why he cries when he cries. I want to know why one night he slept in his crib in the room he shares with Syrus and now he panics if I try to put him in there. I want to understand why I can leave for work with no tears from him but if I leave the room and he can still see me, he slides down the wall, sucks his thumb and whimpers. I want to know how he can possibly learn how to use sign language so quickly -- really it is amazing how fast he picks up on everything! I want to know why yesterday at the doctor, Syrus measured two inches taller than Vlad and Vlad is a year and a half older than Syrus. And the list goes on and on. So many questions. I just want the answers.

And as I sit and write this, partly feeling guilty for being honest about how there has been BOTH beauty and stress since Vlad came home, I am as usual reminded that the essence of my stress comes from my desire to know the answers to questions that I'm sure God often has about me.

Me. The one who God must constantly shake his head at and wonder why is she crying about that?
Me. The one who makes one decision one day and turns around and does the opposite thing the next day.
Me. The one who trusts God in this big moment but freaks out in that little one.

Me. Unpredictable, stressful, crying, questioning, messy me.

Hmmmm..... Maybe I know Vlad better than I think. :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

He is home.

Here we are, folks. All of us. At last.

It has been an emotional couple of days knowing that the journey was all about to be over, yet really, the journey was all about to begin -- all in the same moment. Josh was emotional when they handed him Vlad's visa yesterday -- the LAST document needed to enter into a new life as a family of four. I was emotional last night when I was putting Syrus to bed -- the LAST moment as an only child and a goodbye to our old life as a family of three.

And then today. We waited and waited for Josh, his sister Rebecca, and little Vlad to finally arrive and for it to be official. An orphan no more. A Burick forever. They came through the doors from customs, Vlad proudly swinging his arms and walking into his new life wearing a Puma tracksuit and his hat off to one side, looking like he owned the place and was waiting for his hip hop album to be released. Perfect. I bent down to see him -- a sweet reunion after nearly three weeks -- wondering if he would remember me. I called his name, "Vladi" and he immediately turned to me. Then I said, "Mama" and he gasped. Then smiled. Done. That was all it took.

Then there were hugs and kisses and tears all around as Josh and I began to push TWO strollers out of the airport, holding hands, looking at each other and knowing life had changed. So fun. We put the boys in their carseats and off we went. Syrus and Vlad just kept staring at each other as though they were unsure if they were looking in a mirror. They shared a banana, signing "more" over and over, watching each other eat and modifying some of their own routines to try the other's strategy. I gave them each a baby wipe. Vlad immediately began to wipe down his face, his hands, his mouth, behind the ears. You know the routine. Syrus ate his wipe. Love it. My boys.

Once we pulled into our driveway, we "traded" boys to make the big entrance into our house. Josh took Syrus and they were laughing and chatting away, with Syrus giving one of his emphatic gibberish speeches. I took Vlad. He grabbed me tightly and I said to him, "You are home. You are home." And he laid his head on my shoulder and snuggled into me.

And I completely lost it.

Josh turned around and saw me doing "the ugly cry" and came back, and the four of us stood there for a moment in the driveway, taking it all in before stepping into our home. All the paperwork. The headaches. The fundraising. The worries. The prayers. The appointments. The apostilles. The signatures. The time zones. The frustration. The expectation. The moments we had said, "I just want him to be home." And there he was. In our driveway. About to enter our home. HIS home. This little boy's life has totally changed.

And now so has ours! We went inside and two toddler boys went off exploring together. They jumped on their beds. They played in the ballpit. They fought over Tickle Me Elmo. They ate cake. They tried on clothes. They played basketball. They gave high-fives. And most of all they laughed and cried and babbled to each other. Just like brothers do.

And now I am the only one who is awake. For all my boys have completely crashed for the first time under one roof and I keep walking around the house, checking on them all to see if it is real. Is it? I'm not sure yet. It is indescribable when you have spent almost 9 months chasing a photograph of a child that you BELIEVE is yours, and then that child from the photograph is INDEED yours, and sleeping peacefully in the next room. I mean, seriously? And yet, there he is. THERE HE IS! My little Vladi. He is home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Delights, trip-hazards, good people, and Vladi...

Well, it has been five days since I took Vlad out of the orphanage. It has flown by and we are ready to come home tomorrow thanks to a new visa in hand. I am very, very ready to get on the plane and fly home with my new son. I need some semblance of normalcy. I am dragging a bit, so I will put this post in a top ten-formula. I don't really have a theme. Perhaps we can call this my top ten musings before I get up insanely early for my flight.

1. Delights. If you come to Kyiv, this is the grocery store to visit. I found it just in time - two nights before I am to leave. That was a tired, sarcastic remark. What is not sarcastic is this: Delights is the Whole Foods of the city. I actually found asparagus and did not need to weigh my produce. There is a man who will carve your roast beef by hand. I was looking for a fight in the produce section but came away with nothing. Oh well. I'll just ram my grocery cart into somebody at the Jewel in St. Charles for the heck of it.

If you do not understand this last part, check some of my earlier posts in which I detail some of my grocery store encounters.

2. Vlad continues to amaze me. He loved the train ride and eats vegetables. Look out Syrus, your days of quesadillas and pizza only diet are numbered.

3. My sister, Rebecca is amazing. She flew in Sunday and her timing could not have been more perfect. Rebecca has been huge in helping me with Vlad, who has taken an extreme liking to her. An extreme liking. Meaning, when she leaves the room to go get a drink of water, Vlad breaks into tears and walks after her. Evidently I am now chopped liver. Of course, if you know Rebecca, it is hard to blame Vlad for his new perspective.

4. There are an absurd number of trip hazards in the Ukraine. I entered one restaurant, and I counted four different little steps just going through the door. They are everywhere and reach up to grab you. I only bit it twice. It must be a record. If you come here, be aware.

5. Vlad loves to change his clothes. When I brought him back from the orphanage, he went over to his suitcase and took out all of his clothes, one by one. He then tried on half of them. I just sat and watched him take off his shirt, put on a new one, take that one off, put on a new one...and then he found the shirt I traded for from the orphanage. It is the yellow one we saw him wearing in the first photo that we saw a couple of years ago. He smiled, put the shirt on and then began to walk around.


It hit me even harder that Vlad is toughing out a really hard, life-altering transition. This kid is a brave little one.

6. If anyone complains about the facilitators here in the Ukraine (and anywhere for that matter) as they try to help you with the adoption process, make sure to check yourself. We Americans have a lot to be thankful for. I, for one, am very thankful for the rights that so many have created, fought and died for so that we can enjoy them today (and I really do say that in the least cliche manner possible.) As a United States history teacher, I am completely appreciative of what our founding fathers (and mothers) went through to ensure these rights. One thing that we have to be careful of, however, is taking this pride in having personal rights and allowing it to evolve into a nasty sense of entitlement. These people work amazingly hard in their area of social work. Marina was our main facilitator here during our adoption of Vlad. To watch her work was something to behold. She was on top of everything, pushing when things needed to be pushed, and showing prudence just at the right time. God truly blessed us to have her as our facilitator. She would answer the phone at any time - even in the middle of cooking dinner for her son (and when I tried to get off the phone she refused.) When my internet cut out, it was clear that she was more worried about it than I was. She went above and beyond what she needed to do to make sure that our stay was as positive as possible. Every night, another facilitator, Luda, called to make sure everything was ok. It was a joy to hear her pleasant voice on the phone, checking in even when she probably didn't have to. Serge was cash money during our SDA appointment. If I had to go into battle with someone, Serge would be the man I would call because he wouldn't need a weapon. He would simply break the enemy with his fingers - and I say this after only meeting and hanging out with him for about two hours. And Serge cares about children so deeply - on Facebook under his basic information, he only has one thing: "EVERY CHILD DESERVES A FAMILY." Amen, brother.

Everyone - Roman, Nico, Eugene, just to name a few others, were so generous with their time and made us feel safe. I will miss Roman's jokes, Eugene's super-detailed narrative of the history of Kyiv, and Nico's willingness to be flexible with his time so my sister and I could get to know his wonderful city a bit more before we departed. Get that new van soon, Nico - you deserve it.

7. Thanks to Roman's mother who made sandwiches for me. They were tasty. I will be making them back in the States.

8. I will be training Vlad to be our housecleaner. He already has a head start. The first night in the apartment, I watched him fold his clothes, pick up pieces of paper, put them in the trash, and pull out a mop and push it around. I am not making this up. On the train, he pulled out a wipe and proceeded to clean his legs, hands, arms, neck, and face. He then scrubbed, and I mean scrubbed, behind his ears. Seriously?

9. It is almost midnight. What the heck am I doing up?

10. Best moment of the night? After I gave Vlad a bath (which he loves to do by the way...the other night, after his bath he decided to take OFF his pajamas and get BACK IN the bathtub...) and got him dressed. We were hanging out a bit and then Vlad started sobbing because he thought he could not take the broom back into the kitchen to clean while Rebecca was finishing up the dishes. Vlad's tears were mainly due to him not having a nap today and he was exhausted. I can't think of another reason why he was upset because I was not preventing him from his cleaning duties. But I picked him up and let him cry on my shoulder. Within minutes he was snoring on my shoulder, laying on me like a warm blanket. I just watched his back rise and fall with each heavy, sleepy sigh. I then thought of the fact that tomorrow night, the same scenario would be playing out in little West Chicago, Illinois. How cool.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

And all of a sudden...

I very rarely get nervous anymore. Too much has happened over the past few years in our lives for me to get amped up over something that I cannot control. God has rammed into my head over and over and over that it is His plan that we are following, not our own - a lesson that I now fully embrace.

So when I began to feel butterfies in my stomach the night before I went to pick up Vlad from the orphanage, I was surprised. I tossed and turned for what felt like hours. This was not a nervous, "are we doing the right thing," feeling but a "holy cow, this day has finally arrived and I am not quite sure what to do with myself" feeling. After finally falling asleep and then waking up the next morning I figured the butterflies would have left. But nope, they were back. I scurried around doing errands in preparation for the small party that they would have at the orphanage. I figured these tasks would take most of the day and was even worried if I had left enough time to get everything done.

I was finished with three hours to spare.

I couldn't focus. I tried to nap. I tried to read about Notre Dame football, but found it boring. I tried to grade but found myself spending about 20 minutes re-reading the introductory paragraph because I had forgotten what the student had said. I Skyped with Corbett for a while. I tried to nap again. I watched television that was broadcast in Russian. I was starting to get a bit desperate.

And then all of a sudden, it was time.

I showed up at the orphanage, signed some papers and then began to walk up to the second floor only to realize I was going the wrong way. After retracing my steps, I found the staircase that I had climbed so many times to see Vlad. Obviously, I had a profoundly different feeling this time. It felt eerie to walk up those stairs knowing it would be the last time. I almost started to cry nostalgic tears as I walked past the empty play room where we had gotten to know Vlad for the past weeks. I walked down the hall I had chased Vlad over and over again, now knowing that we would be playing new games back home in America. And then I almost lost it when I walked into the room where all the children, including Vlad, were enjoying their afternoon snack. The realization then enveloped my body that I was taking Vlad away from all that he had ever known. Ever.

That is no small responsibility to take on as a Dad.

Of course, I was absurdly excited to finally get Vlad. But my heart also went out to him knowing that he was about to go through a radical change in his life. Certainly a change for the better, but it was just a little sad for me to watch him leave a good home he had know his entire life.

I wasn't sure how long this party was supposed to last exactly. I wanted to make sure that I was able to show appreciation for all that had been done with Vlad but I also didn't want to create an awkward situation of spending too much time in the room as these nannies had to take care of 13 other children. But as soon as I walked in, it was a whirlwind. I started pulling out all the treats and toys for the kids, awkwardly explaining to the nannies who they were for. Hand lotion and chocolates for the nannies came out. Three frosty cold bottles of champagne emerged from my bag, which brought more smiles and giggles from the nannies. After making a rather silly joke through charades that the champagne was not for the children, I stood there thinking, "What next?"

One nanny promptly came over and pointed to Vlad's clothes, indicating that she would change him into whatever I brought. I brought more clothes than necessary just it case, but before I knew it Vlad was dressed in all of them. A fresh diaper went on with pajama bottoms tucked into his socks and a pair of jeans over top. T-Shirt, long-sleeve t-shirt, and sweatshirt went on top. Sneakers were velcroed to his feet. Parka and winter hat with ear-flaps finished off his outfit. I was mildly concerned about heatstroke. But then there he was ready to go...the nannies said goodbye, hugging him, speaking lovingly in Russian and wiping a few tears from their eyes. I realized that this was going to be it.

They put him on the ground and my little overstuffed tick, ready to pop, waddled over to me and looked up.

"Ready to go, Vladi?"

And so we did.

Friday, April 15, 2011

This is a little boy...

Tomorrow is the day when I go to the orphanage to take our 2nd son back to my apartment. It is surreal to think that this part of the journey is drawing to a close.

I have obviously been spending a lot of time with the little guy ever since I arrived here. However, my interactions with him the past two days have been very interesting. I have watched my new son express a new emotion: sadness. I have seen him quietly cry. In one sense, my heart breaks. On the other hand, it is heartwarming to see him express a new emotion.

Two days ago, I watched him go from being happy-go-lucky to suddenly sad. He started to walk back to his room and I went to pick him up. Instead of the usual laugh and smile, his little face crinkled up into sadness. I held him close and told him, "I love you. It's ok..." He rested his head on my shoulder and then his little body started to shake. He was silently crying. Sheesh. Punch me in the face. What could I do?

A similar thing happened today. I'm not sure what is going on exactly, but I know that he is mourning something. I feel like he knows that something big is going to happen. A big, life-altering, transition to a far off land without borscht, without pink leggings, and without all that he has ever known. That is hard.

This orphanage is great. It is clean, contains all of his friends, and has nannies that are sweet and caring. That cannot be easy to leave behind. I would be lamenting such a departure myself.

The good thing is that he is not running away from me, but seemingly reaching out for comfort. It is this comfort that I will provide the rest of our lives. With that said, I am realizing that this is a brave, brave boy. He has gone through a lot in his brief life. He has persevered to become a sweet and loving child despite abandonment. He has pushed Down Syndrome aside and grown physically and intellectually. This is a little boy from whom I will learn many profound truths. This is a little boy who will make me a better man. This is a little boy that God has placed in my life so that I might draw closer to my savior, Jesus Christ.

Praise be to God.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A jetlagged post...over coffee...

Hello everyone...this is the first post of my trip. Internet and schedules have been quirky. However, on my layover in Germany I typed up a blog entry that I am finally uploading...sorry for the delay!

Saturday/Sunday, April 9th/10th...

Well, I am currently sitting in a McDonald’s in the Frankfurt airport in Germany. I am enjoying a fairly tasty McCafe Latte. I am by myself. This does not happen often.

Over the past 10.5 years of marriage, whenever the opportunity presents itself, I have discovered that I usually enjoy being a “bachelor” for about 24 hours. I can read about Notre Dame football for 10-11 hours (it is an unfortunate, yet blessed, addiction that has taken me to the highest and lowest of emotions.) I immerse myself in classic World War II movies and play the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, from episode 1 up through episode 10. Casablanca is a must because, well, it is Casablanaca. I paint little, tiny, minuscule army men and tanks for hours. This is often misunderstood as either self-inflicted torture or extreme nerdiness. For me, it is my wife’s equivalent of an all-day spa treatment complete with a cucumber covered facial.

But when I wake up the next day, my bachelorhood isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. It’s just not that fun anymore. First, I think about my wife. I think about how each and every day she makes me laugh. And laugh. And laugh. I am convinced that this laughter adds years to my life. I think about her passion that makes me consider what really matters in this life...God, family, and making a big difference from within the dangerous comfort of suburbia.

Then I think of Syrus, a.k.a., “the little buddy.” This is the first time I have been away from my son Syrus for such a long period of time. Before I left, I went to pick him up to tell him I was leaving. He was in the midst of chomping on a cheese quesadilla. He looked at me with a face that said, “What? Seriously? I’m eating here...” He then did his classic, dive-for-the floor move that means, “Put me down. Immediately.” It just made me laugh, like so many of the things Syrus does. I miss his unintelligible, yet absurdly loud, speeches to himself in the mirror. I miss that look of pride and joy in his face when he walks around (see some of my earlier Facebook videos.) And yes, I already miss his tantrums in which he flings himself to the ground as if the world has indeed, finally, come to an end.

I miss my students, who have been incredibly supportive of me even though I have been gone for so many weeks. It is not easy for me as a teacher to be away for this long. I care deeply for my students even though there are times when I am sure they think I only care about test scores (which is the farthest thing from the truth...) When I came back after our first trip and I walked into the classroom my students gave me the biggest smiles and hugs that were simply heartwarming. Additionally, their parents have been the same way...I don’t think they realize how much it means to me, my wife, Syrus, and, whether he knows it or not, the little boy I will be bringing home to West Chicago, Illinois.

Of course I miss my friends and colleagues at Wheaton Academy who have also been massively supportive through this small adventure. It has been ridiculous. Not once have I sensed a raised eyebrow of judgement from anyone...only genuine interest, prayer, and support. It is unfortunate that I can take for granted such a workplace that God has blessed me with for the past 14 years.

But as I sit here about to fall asleep on my keyboard thanks to extreme jetlag, at the start of a 10-day trip to Eastern Europe, I realize one thing that brings a smile to my will only be about 24 hours more before I will be reconnected with my family again. I will be reconnected with my second son. It feels so weird yet so good to type those words. It fills me with peace and warmth to think that I will soon be watching him walk around in circles with the toy cell phone pressed to his ear. I start smiling when I think about the inevitable game of “chase me so that I can fall down so you can pick me up and set me down so we can do this all over again” game. Most of all, I can’t wait to have him walk over to me for the first time in 10 days, reach out his arms to have me hold him once again. This kid is great to hold. He simply rests his head on your shoulder and gently clings. I can’t wait until he raises that head back up and looks into my eyes while I look back into his. That moment of eye contact is incredibly profound for me. We are connecting somehow. It is slow, but sure. Our relationship is in the incredibly early stages, but when we look at each other, it is fascinating to feel that relationship grow.

To quote Kramer from the show Seinfeld, “Giddyup.” I’m coming to get you better be ready...