Will you come tomorrow?

I find it interesting that I am actually able to sit down to write tonight. Yesterday and today have been pretty surreal. I find my mind drifting and my thoughts all jumbled into one huge mess in my head. Where do I begin? Obviously good-byes are always hard, but, if you are lucky enough, you have planned your next face to face and have something to look forward to. This is not the case at the current moment for us. So to say that I catch myself finding it hard to breath is an understatement.

As I said, Valerii came to us by chance. We chose Zhenya. The difference in those two personalities is something you could never imagine. I chose Zhenya because of the twinkle in his eye, the mischief in his smile, the freckles on his nose, and the beautiful red hair he has. What lay beneath the surface of his exterior is something I don’t think I was ever prepared for or will ever completely wrap my brain around, but I don’t regret him coming here for one minute. Valerii is someone who snuck into our home and completely stole our hearts. I will never ever believe this was anything short of fate. Whether it was God or destiny, all I know is that that boy was meant to be here. And he will never leave my heart for one second for the rest of my life.

As we drove them to the airport, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I am usually pretty strong, but my heart was melting and aching at the same moment. Melting while looking at the cool new hair cuts Valerii and Zhenya were sporting and aching that this was goodbye. We tried to explain to Valerii that he was going back to the Ukraine but it just seemed like he wouldn’t accept what we were saying. We approached the airport and he started pointing at the planes yelling Sasha! Sasha! I suddenly realized that in his mind, we were pulling into Newark Airport to pick up his sister so we could all live happily ever after. I’m sorry to say that this was the farthest from the truth.

As we waited for his group to come through from their connecting flight, I told him that he would be getting on a plane to go back to the Ukraine. “You will be leaving with me?” I swallowed the lump in my throat as I answered no. “You will come tomorrow?” The tears dripped down my cheek as I again had to say no. “I will never see you? You will never come?” I didn’t lie when I explained that I would do everything in my power to see him again, and I will stand by that until the day I die. He simply said to me “I will not go.” I think he believed in his heart that Rob wouldn’t allow this to happen. The relationship the two of them had developed in the last two weeks of his stay is something I will forever admire my husband for.

I never expected Rob to open his heart to these boys the way he did. The patience he displayed, his ability to get through to them on a different level than I sometimes could, his playfulness, his genuine love for them, his compassion to their needs, and how he threw all that he “was” out the door to change his life for them is something that leaves me feeling indebted to him. I’m happy. I’m happy that Zhenya and Valerii, for the first time, knew the love of a father. They knew that “Papa is good.” But at the same time, I knew that Valerii’s separation from Rob would crush him. Equally crushing would be his departure from Anthony. Not as if it surprised me, but Anthony’s resilience through the tough times, his desire to help these boys, and the love he showed them despite the circumstances left me feeling proud of my son once again. Through the broken toys, the bumps and bruises, the need to suddenly share his Mom and Dad, Anthony continued to be his loving and happy self. While his relationship with Zhenya was a tumultuous roller coaster, him and Valerii became brothers. They would laugh together, kiss each other goodnight, and look out for one another day after day. He still walks through the house yelling “Larrrrrrry??????” (The nickname Valerii gained as a result of Anthony’s limited language at this moment 🙂 )

I hugged Valerii tight and we held on for a while near the gates. I pulled his face away from me, kissed him and said “I love you. Be a good boy.” NO MAMA! NO! I couldn’t stop crying. I told him to go hug his Dad and he did. In usual Anthony fashion, my son came over to comfort him. He hugged his head, kissed his forehead, wiped his tears, grabbed his face and kissed his cheek saying “K, Larry?” When it was his final moment with us, Valerii wouldn’t go. He had to be pulled away from us which hurt so much more. There is no feeling of pain I have ever experienced like this moment. Our son was diagnosed with a brain tumor and it didn’t hurt that bad. After thinking about it I realize that this is because I knew Anthony would be ok. I’m not with Valerii to know the same for him.

Zhenya is an amazing little boy in so many ways, but he really tested us. His issues were far beyond the realm of my ability to provide him with what he needed. Although this is the case, I can confidently say that I tried my hardest. And I do think that, for him, my hardest was good enough to get us all through this. I saw great changes in him while he was here, but the minute we got to the airport and he returned to the familiar I saw all that leave him. He gave us a simple goodbye and was on his way. Zhenya is inquisitive and curious, he is silly and tenacious, he is playful and energetic. I always loved the way he puckered his lips to me when he had done something wrong. He knew my weaknesses and he played to them and for that I can say he is so smart. If I could take all the pain of his past, the scars of what came before us, the trauma that has left him broken, I would jump through hoops to do that. But I can’t. And for that reason I must only say I will continue to love him with all my heart and to pray for his well being. I can hope that he felt my love, that it will change him in some way, that he knows that he is so deserving of what I offered him these last three weeks and so much more. He will always be my little mischievous red headed Z and I will always be his Mama. I’ll miss his affection, his needs, and his laugh. I love that boy.

Throughout our constant need to provide Zhenya with a watchful eye and lots and lots of attention, Valerii was emerging as a perfect fit for our family. He is so smart. He picked up on many English words right away. He is meticulous, neat, and organized. In many ways, he reminds me of Rob. He enjoys being clean, putting on his cologne, dressing up, wearing a watch. Rob became his role model and he copied his every move. His love of music, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks makes me laugh when Rob says “he is YOUR son!” He is artistic and creative. He is thoughtful and helpful. He is kind. He is protective, strong, and steadfast. He is so, so loyal. And much to my surprise, Valerii is loving. In a world where he doesn’t no much of what we do, he is a devoted, inspiring, and loving soul. I honestly never expected it from him, but he blew me away. He grabbed a huge part of my heart, packed it in his little green backpack, and took it right off to the Ukraine with him without looking back. He needed that to get him through, but I am confident he will bring it back when I see him again. He will care for it as if it is worth a million dollars.

To the two boys who instantly became our sons. This home is so void without you. I thought I was missing peace and quiet, but I have realized I don’t miss it at all. I miss you! Each day will be a day of wondering, of worrying, but of hoping that I will see you soon. You have taught me so much more than I could have ever taught you. You have given me so much more than I have to give. You have loved me as much as I love you, and that has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.Я люблю и скучаю по тебе мои сладкие мальчики! Don’t worry, somehow, someway, some day, we’re coming for you. And we won’t stop until we fulfill our promise.

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From goodnight kisses to goodbye kisses…

It’s hard for me to even fathom how this experience has shattered my heart. I don’t know what I expected going into it, but I think the excitement of being able to help these two boys over shadowed the idea of how heart breaking this journey could have been. The harsh reality of the pain that goes along with this situation is finally setting in. I’ve been through a lot in my life, but tonight is ranks pretty high on shittiest moment of my life.

I just put in their final load of laundry, gathered their suitcases and backpacks, and sat down to make them a photo book to take with them when they go. All of this, as I’m sure you can imagine, has left me with a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, and an aching pain in my chest that can’t imagine how I will ever get over the void that leaving these two boys will leave in my heart and my life.

Every single night, I smother Zhenya and Valerii with hugs and kisses before they go to bed. They each climb into their beds and wait for me to come cover them up, tell them I love them, and say good night. I come downstairs to try to make sense of the huge mess I’m left with after dinner, baths, and crazy last minute play sessions that seem to get all their energy. When it’s time for me to go to bed, I sneak into their bedroom and give them one last kiss before I head off to sleep. Some nights, I have to do acrobats just to get to Zhenya because he sleeps so wild. Some nights, I know Valerii is awake and pretending to be asleep because I see him smile when I kiss him cheek. But every night so far, I have made sure that I don’t miss that opportunity to give them one last kiss goodnight.

Tonight weighed heavy on my heart as I squeezed them extra tight knowing that this would be the last goodnight kiss I would be giving these two boys who have become my sons. Valerii squeezed me extra tight tonight, not because he knew it was his last night but because they both had an exceptionally good day. I couldn’t hold back the tears as I held on as tight as I could. Both boys saw me crying and looked to me as if they had never seen someone they truly love be upset.

Zhenya climbed out of bed and over to Valerii and I and we sat there hugging each other for a while. As if I wasn’t enough of a mess, they both wiped tears from my cheeks and said OK Momma? I lied and told them that these were happy tears because I love them so much. Zhenya patted my head and hopped back into his bed. Valerii hugged me one more time just to make sure I was ok. I wish somehow they knew how they have completely changed my life. I wish somehow they knew that what I thought was going to be an opportunity for me to provide them with the best experience of their life has actually turned into one of the most amazing journeys I have ever been on. I wish somehow they knew that they gave me more than I could ever give them. I wish somehow they knew that this experience, through them, beside them, and now without them will be something I think about for the rest of my life. I wish somehow they knew how deep my love runs for them and that I would do anything in my power to keep them if I could.

Tonight I gave these boys one of their last goodnight kisses. Tomorrow I will kiss them goodbye. There won’t be a moment in my life that I don’t think about them, wonder what they are doing, hope that they become successful, loved, amazing adults, miss them, and love them with every ounce of my being. I can’t imagine what tomorrow will feel like knowing how hard tonight has become. But there is no doubt in my mind that I will do everything in my power to make something happen for these boys. For now, I hope they sleep with sweet dreams not realizing what tomorrow will bring, in the house that has become their home, knowing that their Mom will soon be up to give them a goodnight kiss just like she has done every night. Sleep tight my sweet boys. Mom loves you so very much.

Those damn little shoes

Today was a roller coaster of events ranging from destructive moments to loving breakthroughs. We started the morning with Zhenya in rare form-breaking blinds, picture frames, hitting me and my Mom, throwing himself all over the house-and I just wasn’t sure how I would make it until the time they went to bed. With some extra efforts, Zhenya turned the corner and we were able to enjoy the day at the aquarium followed by a Hibachi dinner where we celebrated their birthdays.

Unfortunately, as Zhenya engages in bad behaviors Valerii quietly makes amazing strides in his life here with us. My Dad insisted on buying him a 100 piece activity set for Christmas. (Yes all you who know him know he just did it to drive me crazy) What he didn’t realize when he bought it was that Valerii thrives in his artistic abilities. We finally gave him the gift since my Dad can’t be here and right away he took out a piece of paper and started drawing. He drew the most intricate and thoughtful piece of art and lovingly signed it “To:Dedushka Love, Valerii.” We plan on bringing it to him at the nursing home tomorrow so he can put it up in his room.

Zhenya’s bad behaviors began again when it was time for bed. I tend to have a lot of patience when it comes to Zhenya because I know that his impulsiveness is not something he can help and my heart just aches for him. As always, Valerii agreed to go to bed to help Zhenya fall asleep easier. As I came down the stairs after tucking them in with goodnight kisses and I love you, there laid a subtle reminder that this whole crazy, love packed, ready to pull my hair out experience is quickly coming to an end.

One more night. I came to the bottom of the stairs and looked at the two pairs of sneakers that seemed to jump out and grab me as if they were staring at me as a reminder. Zhenya and Valerii picked out those sneakers when they first got here. They were much more comfortable than the heavy boots they came in that didn’t quite fit. Zhenya picked his Adidas because they were soccer shoes. Valerii picked his because they had flashlights on them. He would even stop me going out the door at night, hold my hand, and turn on his lights to make sure I was walking safely in the dark. Tonight those shoes pretty much kicked me in the face. They reminded me of all I’m going to miss.

The chaos. The constant running around. The messy house. The huge piles of laundry. The loads of garbage that is scattered throughout my car. The marks and bruises I have. The dings in my walls. The broken toys that lay throughout the house. I’ll miss all of these because of what has gone along with them. The smiles. The long hugs. The fact that my heart has now tripled in size. The oohs and ahhs of new experiences. The excitement of meeting new people. The laughs. The blaring of music throughout the house as the cutest efforts to sing in English are accompanied by a strong Russian accent. The kisses and the love. The sound of footsteps pounding around my house as all three boys run and play and laugh and fight together. And those two pairs of shoes that Valerii meticulously places at the bottom of the stairs every time he knows he is home for the night.

I will miss these boys with every ounce of my being. I can’t imagine what life is going to be like when they leave because part of me can’t remember what it was like before they came. One more night and they will be flying far far away from their safe home filled with so much love for them here in America. One more night and 2/3 of my heart will be gone forever. One more night and everything changes for everyone. One more night. I have no more words for what I’m feeling tonight except that I’m going to miss those shoes.

It’s a cruel world…

It’s funny how God works. Yesterday was an excruciatingly painful day for me. I work so hard in many aspects of my life. Certain circumstances that occurred in this past week have made me feel unappreciated, disrespected, and as if I was being treated unfairly. It’s times like these that the major things in my life-my sick father, the stresses of the emotions these boys have brought into our lives, my constant desire to be the perfect mother to Anthony-come to a head and leave me feeling down. I work so hard to keep my head up…to stay positive…to be the better person.

At the end of the day, I’m human. I hurt too. There are days that I look at myself and only two words come to mind…EPIC FAIL. Should I be a better Mom to my son? Should I find a way to make more time for my parents? What could I do to be a better wife? Am I working hard enough to spread awareness to Anthony’s Army? Am I giving these two boys all that I possible can in the three short weeks that they are with me?

It’s sad, but I’m sure everyone experiences this kind of cruelty in their life. When someone who should be supportive of you feels the need to drive you to the ground, it rocks your world a little bit. When you work your ass off and don’t get an ounce of respect, it can make the happiest person feel depressed. When you have given so much of yourself and someone just expects so much more. What happens when you have nothing more to give?

I guess in many cases you retreat. You give up. You throw in the towel. But my life has given me so much strength that when I feel that way, something happens, someone comes along, the winds blow a different way. Instead of wanting to give up, I feel renewed. I find a second wind. I suddenly have the energy to do all I was doing before I felt down in the dumps and so much more.

That happened to me last night. I had a situation that dragged me pretty far down. I started to question myself. I wondered what’s the point. I was ready to just give up. A co-worker who I admire and respect told me to keep my head up. Although I responded that I always do, it seemed a little harder this time around. Then I received a message. The message was from a stranger.

“I don’t know you but have seen several of your posts through mutual friends that we have. I have been so in awe of all that you have endured with your son and how you have kept such a positive attitude and continue to be so charitable to others…I just felt compelled to write you to say thank you for being such an inspiration to others and showing us that good people still exist.” This summary of the key points of this message that changed my attitude last night is proof to me of God working in miraculous ways.

I needed that message at that exact time. It renewed my strength and drive to continue to be myself even if others want to bring me down. It gave me a second wind. Today I had more energy than I have had in a while. The boys and I had a blast at the park, went to lunch, and visited the Peabody Museum. We ended the night with a visit to my father. I’m headed up to bed with my son and husband. I’ll lay my head on the pillow tonight with a smile on my face and thoughts in my head for how I can make tomorrow an even better day.

So to the woman who sent me that message. I’m glad I’m able to inspire others. But I want to take the time to thank you for giving me what I needed at a time I wasn’t feeling so great about myself. Last night, you inspired me. And for that I’m so thankful. Goodnight all.

What is love anyway?

I grew up in a family where the words I love you echoed freely throughout my home multiple times a day. In my childhood, we never left the house or hung up the phone without saying I love you. It was just our thing. In my adult life, that same habit has carried over into my marriage and now my relationship with my son. I probably tell Anthony about 3,567 times a day that I love him. I say it until it absolutely annoys him! But I say it so much because I sincerely mean it from the bottom of my heart.

I have been telling these boys I love them from the first night they slept in our home. They have always repeated it back to me, but after a few days Rob told me to put it in the translator so they actually know what we were saying back and forth. I put it into the translator and Valerii looked at me with a blank look. I translated that saying from Russian to English and it translated correctly. So I took to one of our translators to have them utter these simple words to the boys in their language so they could understand. I will never forget that blank look on Valerii’s face when I knew he was understanding these words but not comprehending them.

I have continued to tell them I love you every single day, multiple times a day. I tell them because I mean it. I tell them more and more because my feelings of love for them continue to multiply. Valerii told me I love you the other day at a completely appropriate time. He also yelled to Anthony “I love you so much!” when we dropped him off at daycare.

I took to the translator again. I asked Valerii if he knew we loved him. He said yes. I asked him if he loved us too. He said yes. I asked him if he knew what love was. He smiled and said yes. I asked him what he thinks love is. He answered “Mama, Papa, and Anthony.” I couldn’t help but cry. If nothing else, we have taught these beautiful children exactly what love is. Now I know in my heart that when I say I love you, they know what it means. When I say I love you, they know I say it because I sincerely mean it from the bottom of my heart.

And it took me back…

When I write, it is my feelings literally flowing out of my fingertips onto the computer or paper. Last night I was not feeling it at all! It was a tough day! Today was the complete opposite. Although they are so much work, I really enjoyed the boys today. Zhenya had a hard time going off to bed. He just wasn’t ready. But allowing him to stay up late really affects him the following day.

I thought it would help him if I laid in bed with him for a while. As I climbed into his little twin bed and pulled the Ninja Turtle comforter over us, he settled down very quickly. I played with his ears and traced the curves of his face. I studied every mark on his face, the veins that show in his forehead, the freckles on his nose. I thought he was asleep as I started to get up. I looked over my shoulder and saw him watching me. I thought he would cry out for me to get back to bed but he just said “I love you!” And closed his eyes and started to suck his thumb.

This moment brought me back to day one. We sat waiting for these boys to come through customs for what seemed like days. Their original flight was cancelled so they were delayed more than five hours from when we were originally supposed to pick them up. Every time the doors opened, the other parents, children, and ourselves would jump up and stare hopefully. Finally, we saw the group emerge and the most nervous joy I could ever describe came over me!

Zhenya and Valerii came walking down the entrance looking tired, scared, and in awe. I will never forget the look on their faces. Two completely different kids than the ones that sleep soundly in their beds right now. Zhenya’s look was hopeful, anxious, and excited. Valerii’s displayed evident fear of what awaited him. They embraced us and I couldn’t help but cry. We brought them over to the table with food and I have never seen two little people eat the way they did. It was as if they hadn’t eaten in days.

What tore at my heart strings the most was the look in their eyes as we helped them. It almost said OMG these people actually care. Zhenya smiled at me as I opened his bottle of water. Valerii nodded as I peeled him a banana. We took them to the bathroom, gathered some paper work, and we were off with these two strangers who would come to mean so much to us in the next days. I expected them to be exhausted and scared as we drove home but they were far from that.

Rob and I giggled listening to the gasps and rattling of Russian in the back seat. We put in a movie and put the ear phones on their ears as Zhenya yelled OHHHH MUSICA!!! We showed them NYC across the bridge we were traveling over and they yelled NEW YORK CITY! I was amazed at how they could repeat our English. We called some family members and they yelled HI! I couldn’t believe how quickly they had taken to us.

Soon enough, the oohs and ahhs settled down and they snuggled up to each other to go to sleep. Rob covered them with his jacket and I will never forget the look in their eyes and smile on their face at that moment. They wouldn’t wake up at all when we got home until we carried them into their room. Then the excitement began again as we showed them around the house. Finally, we got them into their “NEW” pajamas and they hugged us, jumped up and down, and yelled “PLACEBOOO!!!!” (Thank you!)

These kids are far from those two boys I first met. It has been amazing to watch them grow, learn more about them, and settle down in the comfort of home as they let us into their lives more and more. I’m happy that Zhenya took me back to that day tonight. I will never forget the moment that I embraced these two boys. I will never forget how amazed I was at how something so simple as opening a bottle of water for someone could mean to another human being. That moment was something that changed my life forever. That moment was a moment I will burn in my memory forever. I look forward to going back to that moment time and time again. That moment was the moment Zhenya and Valerii stole a piece of my heart. I wouldn’t trade that moment for a million dollars.

 

 

Remember I love you…

Today was a very difficult day. The boys did NOT get along at all. Valerii tends to become very frustrated when Zhenya is not on his best behavior. In many ways it takes away from Valerii’s ability to enjoy himself. Zhenya has struggled from the beginning. He came here without us knowing that he had been taking herbal supplements in the orphanage for anxiety and stress. Within a few days, it was clear that something was terribly wrong.

Zhenya’s issues never made me frustrated but they certainly made my heart break for him. He is extremely impulsive and often can’t control himself. He lashes out at those around him and immediately realizes what he has done when it is too late. We have worked so hard with him and I am so proud of his progress. But today was a bit of a set back with Zhenya because he took it too far with his brother and gave him a bloody lip.

During these trying times, I always take a minute and remind myself what I love about these boys. It is easy to be caught up in anger, disappointment, and frustration. With a little extra work, I am able to look at this whole experience in a totally different light. The constant reminder that we only have three short weeks with these boys allows me to look at moments like this in a much different way. While Valerii gets angry, I sit back and remind myself of all the good qualities that Zhenya has and what I love most about him.

So here it is. Ten things I love about Zhenya:

I love the sound of his voice in the morning as he abruptly wakes me up banging on my arm yelling MOMMA followed by a long story in Russian that I understand none of.

I love Zhenya’s smile. He smiles with his whole being. When Zhenya is happy, you can’t help but he happy too. Zhenya’s smile is crooked but that’s what I think makes it so perfect. I love the slope of his teeth.

I love his hugs. Zhenya gives the best hugs. He squeezes you with every muscle in his body. He makes it hard to breathe in the best way. When he hugs you it is because he means it.

I love the excitement he displays when he sees new things. The gasp that drives my husband crazy because he thinks something wrong. The tone of his voice as he yells something like MACHINAAAAAA when he sees a new car. I love experiencing the simple things that I take for granted through the eyes of an innocent child who is experiencing many of them for the first time.

I love his energy. I wish I could bottle it and keep it in my purse for my extra tiring days.

I love Zhenya’s appetite. He will eat everything and anything at any time. His stomach is a bottomless pit. He is taking it all in while he is here and he makes me laugh at his ability to pack it in even after a large meal.

Zhenya loves being taken care of. Something simple like helping him into his pajamas or letting him take a bath brings him great joy. Every night when I help him into his pajamas, he pats my head and kisses my face. I love how he appreciates the things I do for them even though they are what every Mom does for her child. I love that the small things I do seem to mean the most to him. I love how he lets me help him.

I love Zhenya’s efforts to speak English. He sounds much older than a 7 year old boy. He drags out the final syllable of words with such emphasis. He tries so hard to speak like all of us. He sings songs like Dominic the Donkey and On My Mind by Ellie Goulding and it makes me laugh so much. I love how hard he tries.

I love how Zhenya snuggles. He sucks his thumb. It has obviously brought him great comfort in his difficult life. He gets into bed with us in the morning and wraps his four fingers around my nose while he sucks his thumb. He giggles uncontrollably while he does this and I can’t help but be proud that he trusts me enough to comfort him along with the only comfort he has ever known.

Finally, I love that he lets me love him. It hasn’t been easy. But I see the look in his eyes when he knows he has done something wrong. He instantly kisses my cheek and rattles something in Russian that ends with “I Love You Momma!” He knows I love him too and I think I love that the most. We have heard so much about how children coming from orphanages don’t allow adults in, they have a hard time trusting, and they are reluctant to allow themselves to be loved. Zhenya has many qualities that are difficult to deal with but he is one extraordinarily loving child who deserves all the love a Mom and Dad have to offer him. I love that he is giving me the opportunity to be that person for him right now. I love Zhenya. I love him so much!