Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fresh Air for Halloween

With partly sunny skies and an active two-year old, the best place to be, whenever possible, is outside. So, our goal today, Ben's last Saturday in Tbilisi, was to enjoy the outdoors! Mommy slept more one night #2 and even woke up to the sound of little feet hitting the floor, soon followed by Daddy and Simon banter, laughter and roughhousing in bed. Apparently, I'm the only one in the family who believes in lazy mornings, snuggled in bed. Daddy tried to keep Simon quiet and entertained with a movie so that I could sleep a bit more, but it wasn't to be. Simon was in a very opinionated and contradictory mood today. His opinions and contradictions included included:
- I love my pjs and don't want to get dressed, but I want to go outside.
- I want to eat a banana, but I don't want Daddy to peel it. Now that Daddy started to peel it: I want the peel to go back in place so that I can peel the banana.
- I want to say "orange juice" but I don't actually want orange juice.
- I don't need to go pee pee or poo poo before my nap, but 30 minutes into nap time, I will need to go.
- Yesterday I liked riding in the stroller, but today riding in the stroller is torture so I demand to be carried instead. But only by Mommy and only in front, not on the hip.
- I don't want to ride my car. I want to ride the big car that costs money.
- I don't want a diaper, I only want pull-ups, even though a few days ago I didn't want pull-ups and only wanted diapers.

Anyway, we eventually were ready for the day and Misha picked us up to go to the park. We brought along the ride-on car we bought for Simon weeks ago and have been saving for when we had him full time. Vake park was a perfect place to spend the morning. The air was cool and smelled of fall, but the sun was warm. Many of the leaves on the trees are changing and leaves fluttered down. Simon pushed himself on his car around one of the fountains and Daddy and I took turns pulling him when he wanted to go faster. His steering was a little off due to his one-handed technique and he had a bit of a conundrum when he wanted to steer and beep the horn, but he kept trying different ways and got pretty good at riding the car after a bit. One of Simon's favorite words is "up" and when he saw stairs at the park, he had to go up, carrying the car along with a bit of help from Misha. At the top of the stairs was a WWII memorial, which had a statue on top of a platform with a bit of a slope to it, so Simon took to pulling the car up the slope and then riding it down. He's quite the daredevil!

Top portion of memorial
Bottom portion of the memorial
Fountain at Vake
Bigger cars
After Simon's nap, I tried to figure out something on the embassy website, while Daddy and Simon played. A few times as they played chase, Simon climbed up on the bed behind me to hide and then climbed up my back and over my shoulder to escape. While this was fun and I loved every minute of it, it was quite detrimental to my productivity.

A little after 4pm, Misha picked us up and we went to the open-air ethnography museum where we met Misha's wife Bella, their son Sandro and Sandro's cousin Masha. The ethnography museum is a park with different types of houses from all over Georgia. The park hosts living-museum type events where visitors can learn about crafts, wine making, dance and other aspects of traditional Georgian culture, but today w just went to see the houses. There was quite a traffic jam on the road leading to the park, which suggested the possibility for a joke: How many Georgians does it take to park a car? I haven't figured out the punch line yet..., but we were finally able to park. At the gate we noticed many kids were wearing Halloween costumes and after hearing several speak English (including some with American accents), I guessed that there was a special school trip or play group meeting. It turned out though that the museum had a Halloween event going where the kids could trick-or-treat at the different houses! When Simon saw the kids getting candy, he wanted some too, so he taught him, Sandro and Masha how to trick-or-treat. Nobody seamed to mind that they weren't wearing costumes. It was quite a fun way to tour the different houses while keeping the kids entertained and excited. Bella told us about many of the houses and crafts as we walked around. It was interesting to learn some of the differences in culture. For example, in some regions, wine is fermented in large clay jars outside in the ground and in other regions, the jars are buried in the ground indoors. The park also had beautiful views of the city.

Halloween festivities ar ethnography museum

From the ethnography museum, it was a short drive to Turtle Lake, which once had turtles, but now only had frogs. The lake has a 1km paved path around it, so we busted out the stroller to give Mommy's arms a break. Simon would have none of it, though Sandro encouraged him and offered to push, so I ended up carrying him most of the way after all. Sandro and Masha took turns pushing the empty stroller. The path was quite peaceful and went through woods around the lake. The lake has amenities for summer (beach, sports fields, boats, a blow-up kid area), but also is a pleasant place to walk. After our walk, we stopped at the cafe and had drinks and french fries. It is so much fun to hang out and do family things with another family.

Misha dropped us off at the restaurant Guinness for dinner. We arrived a bit before the rugby world cup final started and Ben got to watch the first half, while Simon and I played on my phone (drawing and puzzle apps tot he rescue!). Simon had two khinkali and french fries. We quite enjoyed seeing him eat khinkali for the first time. When we left to walk back, Simon didn't want to ride in the stroller but did want to push it. Unfortunately, the streets were too busy and the sidewalks too narrow for it to be safe, so I had to carry him while he fussed "mome, mome, mome," ("give me, give me, give me") most of the way home (Daddy took a bit of a turn when I got tired). While we occasionally have issues with the Georgian-English language barrier, more of then the barrier is adult versus toddler understanding and perspective, which transcends(supersedes?) language and culture.

Back at the hotel, we called Ben's brother's family via FaceTime and Simon got to talk and see his cousins Aimslee and Ryker on video chat. He got so excited and started showing off my turning somersaults on the bed, which led to jumping on the bed, which led to all three kids jumping on beds while singing Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. They then took turns showing each other their toys and when Ryker showed a stuffed animal, Simon ran and got his stuffed Scout dog off his bed to show. When Simon saw their cat on video, he said "meow, meow." Simon really enjoyed watching his cousins dance around. Aimslee wanted to read Simon a bedtime story, so she picked Brown Bear Brown Bear. Since we had the book with us, Simon had his copy to look at while Aimslee read. However, Aimslee is a great book reader and goes page by page, while Simon flips through the book as fast as possible. So while Aimslee finished reading, Simon rolled around on the floor and climbed on Daddy. It was a great first meeting of cousins and we're excited to have them all together to play soon!

Simon has his evening routine down. He goes potty and then takes a bath. He loves to play, but doesn't like having his hair rinsed, so we get that part done as quickly as possible. Then it is into a clean diaper and pjs. He then sits on his blanket on the floor and has a couple crackers and water for bedtime snack while he watches a movie (tonight was a Busy Town episode). When he is done with his crackers, he carries the video player over to his bed and then goes to the bathroom to brush teeth. Mommy and Daddy then say bedtime prayers over Simon. He then watches a little more of the movie. Tonight, he even made sure that his stuffed Scout was placed so she could watch the movie too! When he is done watching, he rolls over and goes to sleep (after making sure that Scout is tucked in too). I usually lie down with him for a bit, but tonight Daddy wanted to cuddle with Simon. Simon wasn't too please with this difference, but he put up with it for a little bit. Daddy is soaking in as much Daddy time as he can get since he has to leave early Monday morning. While we're excited for Grandpa and Grandma to visit, we can't wait to get back home to Daddy again!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Passport: check!

We had an amazingly quick trip to the Public Services Hall this morning! Simon woke up in a good mood and was so excited to get dressed that Mommy and Daddy had to rush to be ready so as not to keep him waiting. When we went down to breakfast, Simon turned shy and wouldn't eat until the other family that was there left. He then happily ate his coco puff cereal (Daddy had two bowls too to "show Simon that it tastes good"). After brushing teeth (Simon loves this!), we were ready to go.

At the Public Services Hall, Misha got us a number at check-in and we went to area #7 and found our assigned desk where after signing a form, we received Simon's Georgian passport! Simon was very excited and kept pointing to his picture and saying "Nijat" (his birth- and now middle- name). After spending so many hours over the last few days at the Public Services Hall, it was nice to have such a quick stop. We made another quick stop at Cito (the doctor's office doing the embassy medical exam) so that they could make a copy of the passport to attach to the medical report. They said they would try to deliver the report today, but it might be first thing Monday morning. We also received a copy of Simon's vaccination record in English.

Simon's Georgian passport!
We next headed to Carrefour (Walmart-like store) to pick up a few things. Carrefour has a free, attended play area for kids. Simon went once before while we shopped another time, and he loved it. They have play houses, tunnels, ride-on cars, an art table, everything a kid could enjoy. The attendants are nice younger women who seem to love playing with kids. One of them also speaks English, which is nice for us. Letting Simon play while we shop is fun for him, but is also good practice for daycare. Today when we picked him up after shopping, he told us he'd had a poo poo, so we headed to the bathrooms to conquer our first poopy diaper. Luckily, there was a family bathroom, so we were able to double team the diaper change!
Carrefour play area
"Anti Hairfall" conditioner
Perusing the beer selection 
Georgia has mandarin orange season too!
But the mandarins have green peels! (About $0.40 per pound!)
At lunch at the mall, we recognized a family that is also staying at our hotel. They have a young son, probably 8 or 9 years old, who likes Simon. When he saw us, he came over to say hi and gave Simon a balloon he'd gotten at the mall. So, while we waited for our khachapuri, we played with the balloon. This was especially a blessing because the restaurant was crowded so we had to sit on the side that is right next to the toy store. It was quite a task keeping Simon from escaping or getting upset and the balloon went a long way toward helping keep Simon entertained through lunch. He did get a bit fussy at the end, so while Daddy paid, I carried Simon on a walk around the mall and we sang songs.

The drive back to the hotel was made longer by construction, so Simon fell asleep in his car seat. Although he slept most of the way back (about 30 minutes), we were hoping he would continue to nap once at the hotel. He was willing to put on his nap time pajamas and lie down, but he then just wanted to talk. He jabbered on in toddler-Georgian and once again, I recognized him talking about his foster family, especially Nika and Tatia (other foster kids). His conversation then turned to Daddy and he got so excited, he could stay in bed anymore, so we called it quits and messaged Daddy to come back. After some playtime, we walked through light rain to dinner at the Indian restaurant. The waitress and owner loved Simon and were so sweet. The owner brought Simon a free glass of mango juice, which Simon loved (I had to pinch the straw to slow him down), and the waitress brought Simon's french fries first. While Simon mostly ate french fries, he did try some of the biryani (didn't like) and nan (liked). At the end of the meal, Simon asked Daddy for his pacifier, but then got upset when Daddy gave it to him and so cried for a few minutes for Nino and Nana. We couldn't figure out why he got upset, but we were able to distract him and restore calm. The lack of an official nap probably had something to do with it.

Our evening was much like last night. We played in our hotel room, including playing hide and seek in the blankets and singing along to songs on the iPhone. We also gave Simon a stuffed golden retriever with a "Scout" collar, which he carried around for the rest of the night (except in the bath). Daddy headed up bath time, while I  cleaned up and reorganized the room. We then watched some animated children's books on the video player, brushed our teeth and said a bedtime prayer. Simon and Scout were soon tucked in and asleep. Tonight, I tucked Simon's blanket in on the side of the bed not against the wall. We'll see if this prevents or reduces the risk of rolling out of bed!

Apostrophe/Party Day + First Night

It took nearly four hours, but we finally were able to get Simon's new birth certificate, adoption certificate and apply for his passport. We returned to the Public Services Hall this morning, received a number that directed us to area 5 and were met at the desk by a very pleasant woman who took our requisition and had us sign a form that stated it was ok to spell O'Rourke without the apostrophe in Georgian. After about 10 minutes she told us the documents would be ready in 15 minutes. Smooth sailing it seemed, but it wasn't to be. In 15 minutes we went to another desk to receive the documents and were instead given another number that directed us to another desk. After about 20 minutes at this desk we were told it would be a 30 minute wait, so we went to the cafe to wait. Then we once again got another number and went to that desk and were told there was concern that we would have trouble at the border if Simon's last name didn't match ours. Marina was told it would take another day to check with someone about what to do, but she put up a good fight and said that we would wait at that desk all day if needed in order to get the documents today. This had quite the effect and soon there were several women working on our case and within about 10 minutes, the new documents were printed (without the apostrophe).

With Marina at one of many desks
Ben waiting relatively patiently
We then went back to the check-in desk and received another number that directed us to a desk to apply for Simon's passport. A document was quickly printed with Simon's passport picture and I had to sign to confirm that it was his picture. Ben and I then both had to sign a document for the application for the passport. Everything seemed to be going well and the woman and Marina chatted in Georgian (about the woman's niece Marina said) when all of a sudden I heard Georgian-Georgian-Georgian-apostrophe-Georgian-Georgian-American-apostrophe-Georgian-Georgian-apostrophe... More scrambling followed and a post-it note was pushed in front of me. "Write his name in English. Don't make mistake. It's for passport." "With or without the apostrophe?" I dared to ask. "With! With! In English, always with!" Marina replied. From the post-it note the woman typed again into the computer and then printed a form. "Check spell," I was told. But when I looked at the form, O'Rourke was spelled "O Rourke." Pointing this out caused another flurry of Georgian and a phone call, but in a few minutes I was told that it would be ok. The computer system couldn't do the apostrophe even in English and the border agents wouldn't care. So I signed. We were then handed a receipt and sent to the line to pay for the passport at the bank (156gel = $65.55). We were finally free to go (after nearly a dozen different desks)! Marina will get a call when the passport is ready, maybe today, but probably tomorrow. Once we have the passport in hand, Marina will call the embassy to make the appointment for the VISA interview and we will take the passport to the doctor for a copy to be attached to the medical clearance for the embassy. Only a few more steps to go!

After Simon's nap, we picked him up. Nino brought him down to the car for us and he was excited to see us until he realized Nino wasn't coming too. He cried for a few minutes, then cuddled up to me and I talked to him about our morning and the birthday party coming up. He doesn't understand what I say, but hearing a voice seems to help calm him. Soon he was poking Daddy and giggling. Misha dropped us off at the birthday party for the son of our hotel manager. Giorgi was turning 6, so most of the kids were older, but Simon still had a good time. The birthday was at the Comedy Club, a party venue that is based around some TV comedians that also host parties. The venue has a little indoor play structure with tunnels and slides, a small dance floor and an eating area. The comedians led games and dances for the older kids, but Simon enjoyed hanging out in the middle of the chaos, watching and dancing. He ate a plate of french fries and a piece of cake. At the end of the party, Simon saw the party assistants cleaning up, so he started lining up the kids' chairs!
Birthday party invitation
Birthday party invitation to Mr. Simon O'Rourke from Giorgi
Birthday party entertainment
Birthday party snack time
After the birthday party, we went out to dinner. Simon did really well for a two-year old in a restaurant. His voice got a little loud a few times and we had to shush him, but we were both very proud of him for behaving so well. He didn't like Daddy's chicken, but did like Mommy's spinach pasta. At one  point he said "pee pee," so he and I headed to the bathroom. Simon loves to wash his hands and since he gets to was his hand when he goes potty, he also likes to go potty. One the way back from the bathroom, when Simon was about 10 feet from Daddy, he couldn't contain his excitement anymore and yelled, "Daddy! Pee pee!!!"

Back at the hotel, we played for awhile, then called family on FaceTime. Simon loved seeing himself on the computer video and waved and showed his toys to his Grandmas, Grandpa and aunts. It was so wonderful to share our first night together with family back home! After the last call, it was bath time. Mommy and Daddy had plotted how to attempt the first night, including turning off lights gradually starting at bath time, so when Simon was all clean, we brought him to the bed and put on his Eric Carle pjs, which he loved. He get telling us to look and pointing to the letter-pattern on the pj pants. We then watched an little Sesame Street while having a snack. After brushing teeth, I settled Simon in his bed and Daddy and I said a bedtime prayer and kissed him goodnight. Simon got out of bed once to look for something (not sure what), and when I put him back, he talked for a bit in toddler-Georgian including a bit I understood: "Nana, Nino, Gia, Ana, Dato, Elene, Giorgi, Nika, Tatia." He named everyone in his foster family and then he fell asleep pretty quickly. I decided that maybe he was saying a bedtime prayer for them; I know I was!

Simon slept quite well, as did Daddy, but Mommy had a little more trouble. Every little noise brought my head up to look at him and since he is a bit wiggly in his sleep and makes a lot of little sighing and squeaking noises, I bet I only got a few hours of sleep. I know I slept a little at one point because when I woke up, Simon had turned 180 degrees and had his feet at the head of the bed. About 7am, Simon had another wiggly spell and half way fell out of bed (feet first)! So I scooped him up and plopped him between Daddy and me and he was back asleep in seconds. It was light enough at this point that I could see him and I dozed on and off while watching him sleep. After a little bit, he rolled over and was snuggled up with his arm over Daddy.  Watching them sleep together relaxed me and I finally got a solid hour or so of sleep.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Court Day

Sometimes the best place to begin is at the end. This is the case for today. In the end, the court approved our adoption (referred to in translated Georgian as a "positive decision") and we are officially Simon's parents! We are elated, filled with joy and love!

Our Court Day had a few odd twists. Misha picked us up at 11 and we left to get Marina. In the car, Marina gave us our instructions: stand when you talk to the judge, tell him you have been married for over two years and that you are baptized. When we arrived at Tbilisi City Court, there were news cameras and reporters all over because our court day also happened to be the final day of court for a case involving Rustavi 2, Georgia's largest TV company. The broadcasters froze the shares and assets of the company claiming that the United National Movement (the main opposition party in Georgia) was controlling the company and thus restricting free media and jeopardizing freedom of speech. The judge in the case has also been verbally attacked based on some issues relating to his mother and wife. The case has grown heated over the last week with large demonstrations within Tbilisi. Luckily, the media was concentrated on the first floor and our court room was on the second floor. Still, there was an air of excitement and tension in the building.

Media vans
After passing through security (the security guard told Marina he likes when Americans come to court because we always dress respectfully), we went upstairs to wait. We were early because Marina was concerned about traffic due to the media for the TV case, so we had a good 30 minutes or so to wait. About 10 minutes before noon, the Minister for Children, Giorgi, arrived. He represents Simon's best interest in court, but Marina knows him well, likes him and he seemed quite pleasant. Soon after a woman arrived and sat down next to me asking, "Are you the plaintiff or the defendant? I'm the translator." We explained that this was an adoption case. She told us that she had been a translator a long time, but was new to translating for court cases. This didn't make us feel very at ease! But we didn't have long to ruminate as a man appeared at the door to the court room. Marina, Giorgi and the translator all headed in. Ben and I, behaving in a don't-do-anything-until-you-are-told manner, looked at each other then followed. It is very awkward to be the only ones who don't know or understand what to expect or what is going on.

Our courtroom #22
The court room had the judge's bench across one wall. A podium with microphone was centered between two facing desks that also had microphones. There were also about four rows of benches. Giorgi sat at the desk on the left and the translator, Ben and I sat at the desk on the right. Marina sat in the first bench on our side. The judge's assistant sat behind the judge's bench with the judge. While the judge's bench was made of polished wood and there were decorations (Georgian flag and a statue of a character with an old-fashioned balance scale and a sward), the rest of the room was rather clinical. The desks were dark laminate with loose edges, the walls bare and the lights florescent, making the room seem darker than it actually was.

Our judge, Irakli Kutateladze
(Photo from
The judge began speaking very quietly and the translator whispered in English so softly that we could only hear a fraction of the translations. Ben heard enough to gather that the judge was commenting on the respectability of the American judicial system and democracy and Georgia's desire that the courts attain the same standard. Sitting one seat away from the translator, I could barely hear anything, but nodded along tensely as my blood pressure crept up. I felt torn in two--I wanted to be respectful and look at the judge while he talked, but if I looked at him I couldn't hear the translator. So my heard turned back and forth as if at a tennis match and I caught only every few words. Consequently, it seemed abrupt when the translator was said, "You must tell me yourselves why you will make adoptive parents." Ben and I looked at each other with deer-in-the-headlight eyes. I felt as if I was frozen in space and time in the middle rush hour, but Ben recovered fairly quickly and stated that our representative would speak for us. I remember thinking, "Oh that's a good idea!" and being grateful for Ben's clear thinking! Marina stood at the podium and read from a statement she's prepared. The statement began with saying that we'd been unable to have children and rather than go through treatments (not true) that we'd chosen to give a home to a child in need and had read about and liked Georgia (true). Ben and I glanced at each other and wordlessly agreed not to interrupt and correct her. It wouldn't look good to correct our representative in front of the judge and besides, it didn't really matter or change anything. But we were both amused.

Giorgi spoke next about Simon--that he had been relinquished at birth due to physical defects and that he had been available for 8 months to the 3000 Georgian couples wanting to adopt but there had been no interest in him, so he had been placed on the international adoption list. The judge objected to this stating that Simon had not been offered to any Georgian families. Giorgi agreed but explained that this was because it is known that such a child would not be chosen by Georgians so was not offered but was available, which meets the requirements of the law (which he cited). The judge and Giorgi then walked through the list of requirements for adoptive parents and Giorgi affirmed that we met each criteria.

The most stressful point in the proceedings came when the judge stated that he was concerned because out criminal background check was completed over one year ago. He asked how he could be sure that our background over the last year was good and asked us why the check was one year old. Ben spoke first for us, stating that when you register for such a check, the government checks your background but continues to monitor you and if anything happens, even a speeding ticket, the agency is notified. This did not satisfy the judge and he asked us about getting another check done. I spoke then and explained that it takes many months--we would have to be re-finger printed, submit the finger prints and forms, wait for the results, take the results for notary and apostille,  and then have all forms translated. The judge was still concerned and I felt the pressure in my head mounting. But Giorgi spoke up and rally saved us by reminding the judge that the VISA application was approved in July and that the immigration department verifies the background and is even more strict than the general government, so we wouldn't have been approved and able to travel if we'd committed crimes or violations in the meantime. The judge, Giorgi and Marina talked back and forth a few more times as the translator tried to keep up.

All of a sudden, Marina was at the podium again and the translator was telling me she'd said that we wished to present the judge with a picture of Simon and I was being motioned forward. I felt very small approaching the bench, but received such a kind smile from the judge as I handed up Simon's passport pictures. I felt in that moment that everything would be alright. But as I sat back down, the translator began crying. I turned to her in a panic, then my head whipped back around as the judge stood and walked out of the court room. What was going on?!

It turned out that the translator has been married eight years with no children, so has struggled with decisions and issues about how to have a family. She said her heart was touched that we would adopt a child with such needs, "May God bless you," she repeated again and again. Marina then assured us that the judge had left to make the final decision and would be back in 15 minutes. We waited rather tensely.

When the judge returned, he began his statement. Again, I turned rapidly back and forth, trying to look from judge to translator to Marina for any indication of the result. As the translator told us, "...the decision of this court can be appealed by anyone objecting to the decision for the period of one month. You must sign the paper stating you will not appeal the decision..." I saw Marina smile and the worry leave her face. But I hadn't clearly heard what the decision was or whether it had even been made and I remained clenching Ben's hand. I don't remember the exact words of the translator as she told us of the positive decision, but I remember that as I came to understand that the adoption was approved, my eyes filing with tears and my whole body wilting except for my hands which defied gravity and flew to my face. Ben, too, was overcome beside me and I could sense him swallowing tears of joy.

Walking back out into the hallway was somewhat startling; the lights were brighter and the sounds louder than in the courtroom. Giorgi shook our hands and congratulated us before leaving, and Marina gave us hugs and kisses. We sat in the hall and reviewed the experience. Marina admitted she had been quite concerned that the judge was fixated on the background checks and told us that this was the judge's first international adoption case. This shed new light on the experience and relieved my worry that future families might also face difficulty with this issue. Ben commented that he'd been ready to fight and that it was exasperating not being able to communicate directly with the judge to explain how things work.

Court decision, front page
Court decision, back page
Tbilisi City Court with POA Marina
Tbilisi City Hall with Misha
Tbilisi City Court lion statue
We had to wait 45 minutes or so to receive the written and signed court decision. Usually this can take a day or two--Marina was quite pleased that the judge had agreed to provide it today. Then we drove to the Public Service building. This building has rather interesting architecture and the inside reminded me of a futuristic or sci-fi movie set with spiraling pods of open-air desks in a single large room with a ceiling several stories high. At the center of each pod was a post with a screen of numbers and around each pod was a circle of desk stations. We received a number and walked to the corresponding pod within the great room where our number flashed on a screen next to the number for a desk.

We gave our passports, Simon's original birth certificate and the court decision document in order to apply for a new birth certificate and adoption certificate. Generally this process only takes about 20 minutes--basically as much time as it takes for the information to be entered in the computer. After almost an hour, we were told that our case worker had sent a question "upstairs" because they didn't know what to do about the apostrophe in O'Rourke. We explained that this is a common problem and that different companies/organizations deal with it differently using O'Rourke, ORourke, O Rourke and other combinations, but the worker decided that we'd have to come back tomorrow to receive the documents so that the case could be reviewed. Marina told us it didn't matter what is decided because she will make sure that the apostrophe is correct when the documents are translated.

Interior of Public Service hall
Signing application for birth and adoption certificates
It was now after 4pm and we'd had no lunch, so were tired and hungry. Misha took us back to the hotel where we ate some fruit (Georgia has mandarin orange season too!) and some of Simon's chocolates and rested. We then headed out to shop. Simon was invited to the birthday party for the son of the hotel manager, so we went to buy a gift. This was harder than I thought it would be. We had to balance an unknown six year old boy with the fact that as Americans we would be special guests. After circling the toy and art sections several times, we decided to go with two classic American games--Twister and Connect Four. The store (which was in the process of putting out Christmas decorations!) provided free wrapping services, so at least that was easy. Ben entertained the young ladies wrapping the gifts with his random selection of Georgian words, including an appropriately timed "wa-i-mae" ("oh dear") when both reached for the tape at the same time.

Christmas already!
We then hailed a cab and went to the Funicular, where we took to tram to the top of the hill to the Funicular restaurant for dinner. The view was beautiful with a full moon and the city lights. We'd saved this restaurant for seemingly elusive post-court celebration because it overlooks Tbilisi so offers additional significance and suggestion of our triumph over the adoption process. The food was excellent (braised chicken with oyster mushrooms and potatoes, and a chicken and eggplant dish baked with sulguni cheese) and the waitress helped us pick a bottle of wine that was quite refreshing. We had a mini orange cheesecake and ice cream for dessert. Coming back from the funicular, we hailed a cab. The driver told us "ati lari" (10gel), but we scoffed at him and started to walk away. He followed us calling 9 lari, 8 lari, 7 lari. We finally turned and said firmly to him "huti lari" (5gel) and he agreed. Even 5 lari is a little high, but that's generally what we pay because we often don't have coins enough for less and drivers don't give change. But we felt quite triumphant climbing into the taxi--we've got Tbilisi figured out! We capped off the evening with calls home to share the good news with family.

Wine, Georgian bread, chicken soup
Deboned chicken, oyster mushrooms and potatoes
Chicken, eggplant, tomato bake with Sulguni cheese
Orange cheesecake and ice cream
Wine with dinner
Beautiful view
Joyful celebration as official parents

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Alternative Adventures: Doctor's Office and Circus

Friday night was a long night. Ben's minor cold for the last two weeks morphed into a case of what I think is strep throat. His burning throat, fever and cough kept him up and he kept me up, so neither of us got much rest. Luckily, our driver Misha is a bit of a night owl (as are most people in Georgia), so I messaged him at 12:45am to ask if there was a doctor open on Saturday that we could take Ben to. He assured me there was, so I loaded Ben up with everything we had on hand and he finally crashed. In the morning Misha called to say the appointment for the doctor was a 1:30pm, so we had a late breakfast, then Ben napped for another 2 hours. I didn't mind the rest myself and enjoyed catching up on some work and news.

The doctor's office was an interesting experience. Misha picked us up and we drove through tight back streets and alleys looking for a "pink house." Since Misha's doctor usually makes house calls, Misha had not been to the office before. Eventually, the doctor came out and met us on the street and directed us to the office. At the office, Ben only had to give his name and age to register (they waved away the passport) and paid 40gel (less than $17). A different doctor asked a history of the illness and Misha translated for us. She then examined Ben, listening very carefully for a long time to his lungs and heart. She started to look a little concerned and asked if Ben had heart problems. I immediately knew she was concerned about his benign/transient murmur, so reassured her that it wasn't new. She then said Ben would have to have blood tests, and I found this surprising, so had Misha reiterate that he'd only had a fever since the night before and that my guess was that it had only been up to 38.3 or 38.5 (100.9-101.3). We found out that she had misunderstood Misha and thought that Ben had had a fever for 2 weeks, in which case there would be great concern for sepsis and endocarditis (infection of the blood and heart, one sign of which is a heart murmur). Once this was cleared up, she was less concerned and wrote out a prescription for antibiotics and then wrote a list of over the counter medications for Ben. She also provided us with her name and cell phone number in case we had further problems. This is a common practice in Georgia--if a doctor likes you, you get direct access.

Ben's prescription for antibiotic
Our next stop was the pharmacy. Despite feeling pretty bad, Ben couldn't help but get a little excited. When filling prescriptions, the pharmacist simply puts the number of pills required in a box or bag, but does not further label it. While we waited, I examined some of the products available on the shelves and found a chlorhexidine/lidocaine (antibiotic/numbing) throat spray, a new toothbrush and cough drops. At the counter to pay, Ben and the pharmacist talked about the two other medications recommended by the doctor. One turned out to be an allergy medication similar to what Ben already had and the other was "to drink at night." Can you guess? Chamomile tea! I'd been trying to get Ben to drink tea for days, but he'd been refusing. Maybe next time he'll listen to his private nurse! When we checked out, part of the checkout process was a game where Ben got to pick one of six boxes on a screen. He won a 20% coupon for a beauty product (the ultimate prize was a free bottle of some cleaning product). Back at the hotel, Ben took his first round of all the medications and some tea and settled in for another rest.

Game at checkout at pharmacy
In the evening, I met Ana, Nino, their second cousin Nato (short for Natalia), Ana's kids and Simon at Madagascar. Pure chaos! We usually go during to day so have never seen more than a few other kids there. Apparently in the evening, it gets quite busy and there were probably about 40 kids and parents there this Saturday night. Simon was on the second level with Ana's son George when I came in and he waved and called "Mommy!" and asked "Daddy?" With so many kids there, I stayed out of the play structures and mostly watched the kids play. The only trouble came when George decided he wanted to play with the Problem Horse and followed the bigger kids playing with it for 5 minutes while waiting for his turn. Unfortunately, soon after he got the horse, Simon saw it and decided he wanted it. George was not happy about having to give the horse to Simon and got quite upset. He recovered when Ana got him anther toy to ride and George deftly swapped with Simon. But then another kid came and took Simon's toy. So much drama! Simon eventually ended up with the horse again and rode it until it was time to go and I had to pry his fingers off! That horse is so much trouble! We went to Dunkin' Donuts for a snack, where Simon took three bites from his donut and then decided he wanted a different one! He's pure toddler! Anyway, it was a fun evening out!

Today we headed out to pick up Simon, but ran into horrible traffic caused by road closures for the Tbilisi marathon and made worse by many cars that broke down within the traffic. It is quite common for cars to break down here and many people are quite knowledgeable, so they simply pop the hood in the middle of the street to take a look and fix the car while traffic detours around them. After picking up Simon, Misha worked our way back through the traffic and we met his wife Bella and son Sandro at the circus. Bella does accounting for the circus, so she'd gotten tickets and when we arrived, Misha just mentioned her name and we got a great parking spot! We were a few minutes late due to the traffic, but came in just as a clown on a three-tiered unicycle was throwing dishes up to balance on his head. There were crazy lights and loud circus music and Simon's eyes got so big! There were clowns, a parrot act, a ferret act and dancers before intermission. At intermission, Simon spotted Micky Mouse and Sponge Bob mascots on the landing of the stairs and wanted to go see them. I have a horrible mascot phobia, so I stayed safely at the top of the stairs, while Daddy took Simon down. Shockingly to me, Simon ran right up to them and touched their hands! We had to drag him away, but he didn't mind once he realized we were headed to get popcorn. During the second half of the performance, we saw aerial dancers, jugglers and a bear that did tricks while Simon ate the whole container of popcorn! Simon also got sleepy (it was past his nap time) and nearly fell asleep. His head would fall onto my shoulder only to pop back up. However, back in the car after the show, he got a second wind that lasted until we put him onto his bed at the hotel and he crashed.

That's Simon's (and Daddy's) hand on the far right! Can't believe he's
not scared. Mommy was shaking and nearly felt sick!
Bear riding a skateboard
Strong bear
Catching rings
Clowns in between acts
After Simon's nap, we had a snack, played chase in our hotel room, and Simon took a short bath (just because he wanted to play with the bath toys). Simon wanted to keep playing in the bath, so wasn't happy when the water mysteriously went down the drain and we lifted him out. He grumbled "ara!" ("no!") and "ati!" ("go away") and wouldn't let us dry him off. So we left him to stand there a minute to cool off. I then placed a peace offering of his pacifier on the floor by his feet and sat outside the bathroom on the floor with a towel. I suggested things he might want. Water? No. Eat? No. Car? No. Crayons? No. Are you cold? No. But after he said no to this, he walked over to me and I wrapped him up in the towel and we were back to all smiles again as we got him dressed. Two-year old moods are so funny and can change so fast. From spit-fire to snuggles in seconds!

Over dinner, Ben and I watched Argentina and Australia in the Rugby World Cup. Ben wanted Argentina to win because they were the underdogs, but I wanted Australia to win so that the final will be Australia against New Zealand.
Ben cheering for rugby looks very much like Ben cheering for OSU Beavers...

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Road Less Traveled

Having just woken up from a little nap, I find myself in a somewhat philosophical mind set. Perhaps after weeks of emotional ups and downs, spending a bit of time traveling through a desolate land to a rock-hewn monastery has reminded me that the end of the journey is only a piece of the experience. Taking the road less traveled is in itself valuable.

Misha, Ben and I set off this morning for the monastery of David Gareja on the border of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Though intending to take the more common route with better roads suggested by friends, we ended up taking the route less traveled, south via the town of Rustavi. After leaving Tbilisi behind, the scenery turned barren and flat. The sky was hazy and created a filter that made the landscape seem that much more forsaken. Along the way, we passed abandoned concrete buildings with windows blown out in an indistinguishable pattern that can only indicate the relationship between time and chance. Occasionally, smoke rose to indicate a factory was not entirely deserted. We drove through mile after mile of parched land, dotted with regularity by the rise of electrical poles made from crossed bars of rusted iron. If it weren't for these structures, we could have been in an alien land. As it was, it appeared post-apocalyptic. Without signs to direct us, we blindly followed the blue line of technology forward.

Soon we left the abandoned wasteland behind and were left with only the hills, grasses and sky. Misha stopped the car and we listened to the silence. The surrounding hills appeared soft from a distance, but as we continued along, we found them covered with dried plants with 2-inch thorns and spiked, dried remnants of flowers. The road, which had been bumpy all along, turned into a path that was more pothole than road and where instead of avoiding the potholes, we avoided the sharp edges of the broken road. At times we even drove alongside, following the tire marks of others through the dirt, before eventually leaving the partially paved road completely behind. How the GPS knew where to draw the blue line is a mystery, for the dirt roads could easily be washed away by rain or overgrown by grass.

Hillside with caves 

With so much empty space, it was easy to image we were the only people, but we occasionally passed herds of cows and sheep, guided by weathered Georgians on horseback and Caucasian shepherds (big, muscular dogs with heavy tan fur that can weight up to 220 pounds). One herd of sheep was guarded by a (human) shepherd, sitting against a pipeline that stretched through the middle of nowhere. Little birds flew around and we passed a pair of donkeys that looked ready to withstand even a brutal winter.

After a time, we passed a sign for a church and soon saw caves and buildings fashioned in a distant hillside. Thinking this was our destination, we perked up, only to come to a folk in the road. The more warn dirt tracks followed a sign for a church, but the blue line on the GPS urged us to take the less traveled fork. "Do we follow God or technology?" Misha mused. "God," I replied without hesitation. Luckily, God gave us all sense enough to see after 110 yards or so, that a little faith in technology might be a good thing, so we back tracked and continued on.

Not our destination afterall

Some of the ups and downs were tenuous and Ben and I walked behind Misha as he navigated the car to avoid ditches or climbed short, steep hills. On these walks, we breathed deeply, enjoying the fresh air. The breeze through the grasses made a sort of slithering sound, but we were glad that one sight we didn't see was the poisonous snakes known to the area.

Steeper in real life

Coming around a curve, we noticed a wooden lookout on top of one hill that reminded us of the proximity of the border with Azerbaijan. Just beyond, we spotted a blue road sign and a cheer went up--we weren't going to be lost in the hills forever!

Border lookout
We drove on. Up the hill to the right, near an abandoned castle tower, we saw a Georgian boarder outpost, with only the Georgian flag visible at times. We soon passed two soldiers walking along the road with guns slung over their shoulders. Then, as we came over another hill, we spotted a collection of vehicles parked on the hill. Driving up, were signs of humanity--a spray-painted "WC" pointing the way to the facilities and a VW Bug with an espresso machine in the back surrounded by handful of tourists wearing zip-off khakis, safari shirts and carrying large cameras. Beyond them--David Gareja!

The monastery, established in the 6th century, is hollowed out from the cliff face. Still an active monastery, much of it's hundreds of cells, living quarters, churches and refectories are restricted to tourists, so we enjoyed the quiet of the courtyard above which rose two turrets on one side and a steep stone slab with doorways to rooms within the cliff on the other. A doorway from the courtyard led to a refurbished church. Outside the main complex, was a little store selling icons of David Gareja, prayer beads and wine made by the monks. We walked around for a short time, somewhat amazed that the road less traveled had ended at the intended destination.

Entrance to monastery complex

Old Georgian writing over entrance

Turrets within complex

Living quarters built into cliff
View of courtyard below and hills beyond
Renovated chrch
Georgian gravestone from 1850s
Gutter carved into rock to collect rainwater
On the second level at David Gareja
We took the more traveled road back to Tbilisi, and while uneventful, it was also less memorable, made more so as our minds turned to possibilities for the next few days. As Misha and Ben talked over plans, I looked out the window at the sun, which filtered by clouds, was a perfectly round, bright circle in the sky. All in all, I decided, I'm glad that we took a different route to parenthood and that our trip to Georgia was not simply a series of orderly steps leading to the courthouse. The road not taken might have been just as well, but I'm feeling peaceful about our decision to take the road less traveled by. It has made all the difference.