Friday, November 6, 2015

Final Step: US Immigration VISA

The final step of our adoption process in Georgia was to obtain an immigration VISA for Simon, done through a process called a "VISA interview." This process involves taking documents and photos to the Embassy, being "interviewed" and receiving (within 24-48 hours) the VISA. Every other step in Georgia involved communication through other parties, so it was quite different to be able to communicate directly with authorities for this step.

Late on Friday 10/30 (after the VISA office at the embassy was closed), Marina told me to go to the US Embassy website and "fill out a form to apply for the VISA." However, when I went to the website, the only forms available were for other types of immigration VISAs. I spent close to an hour clicking through the website, looking again and again to make sure I hadn't missed something. I finally found an email contact for questions, so sent off an email. For good measure, I also filled out one of the forms for another type of immigrant visa and noted in the comments section the correct type of VISA.

So on Monday, I was quite eager to hear from the Embassy office and checked email frequently. Finally around 3pm, I received several emails from the Embassy. The first was an automatic reply to my request and the second was a generic document containing instructions for the interview (where to go, what to bring, what not to bring, etc.). I was quite confused and kept reading through this 4-page document trying to figure out the when when I received a third email containing a single sentence: "P.S. You have been scheduled for the interview in the Consular Section on Wednesday, November 04, 2015 at 12:00pm." Such relief. Not only did I now know when, where and how, but also that the appointment was within a time frame that would allow us to leave as scheduled on 11/9. Knowing all this really helped me relax and look forward to the rest of our time in Tbilisi (after I sorted through paperwork to make sure I had all the correct documents).

On Wednesday, while at breakfast, I was surprised by Marina. I hadn't expected to see her and she told us not to rush that she would wait, so we finished breakfast and joined her. She wanted to see my pile of documents, but wasn't really clear on why. She then shuffled through them as we sat watching and waiting, and getting nervous because it was time to leave. Misha finally spoke up saying we needed to leave and Marina quickly put the papers in two piles and told me I didn't need some because they were duplicate copies. We thanked her and headed out.

The US Embassy in Tbilisi is on a fairly generic road, mostly notable for the McDonalds across the street. We parked outside the next door bicycle repair shop and headed into the security office. I presented my appointment letter and we gave our passports, but the security guard wouldn't let my parents go in because they weren't named on the appointment letter. The guard was also concerned that Ben wasn't with me, so I showed the power of attorney Ben had signed for me and explained that Ben had to return to work. The guards then proceeded to check our belongings. I gave them my folder of paperwork and the 1-gallon zip-lock bag I'd packed per the instructions. It contained a diaper, wipes, diaper cream, Simon's water bottle and a box of raisins. The guard went through the bag and asked me if I really needed each item. I told the guard that I'd been told to be prepared to for the interview to take 1-3 hours and that each item was permitted according to the instructions I'd received, so yes, I needed all the items. They flatly refused to let the diaper cream in, so I conceded; one diaper change without the cream wouldn't aggravate Simon's rash too much. They then said the water bottle could only go in if Simon or I would drink from it. Since it contained tap water, I tried to get Simon to drink, but he refused to cooperate, so I took a small sip, cringing as I remembered how Ben got sick drinking the tap water. Finally the guard turned his attention to the box of raisins. There was nothing I could say to convince the guard to allow the raisins in--not that it was noon and almost lunch time, not that a hungry 2-year old gets cranky, nothing. So I gave up. The guards then had me walk through the metal detector, but simply handed my belongings around, bypassing the x-ray machine.

Carrying Simon, we walked out the back door of the security office and down a walkway toward a large building with a small door. We passed another guard on the way, but the area was otherwise deserted and silent. We entered the door to find a room with rows of chairs facing a bank of bank teller-style windows. Simon and I were the only ones there except for the guard at the door. I sat down and waited and soon, Simon's name was called on an overhead microphone. We went to the window and were greeted with "Do you speak English?" Dumbfoundedly, I nodded and the woman looked relieved. She then opened a folder, which I saw contained certified copies of the documents we'd pre-submitted and those that had been sent by the court. Going through a checklist, she asked for documents and I handed them over. The only glitch came when she asked for copies of our passports, which had not been on the list of things to bring. I showed he my passport and explained that Ben was back in the US and had his passport with him. She left the window and walked to the back and talked to a lady. When she returned she said they needed copies before they could process the VISA, but that I could email the copies later that day. Luckily, I had electronic copies of our passports on my computer, so told he I would be able to do this. She then told me to go down to another window to pay the fee for the VISA.

When I got to the payment window, it was dark and closed and I turned around and around in confusion. Just as I was about to walk back to the first window, a light came on and a few moment later a lady opened the window and I was able to pay the fee. This lady told me to sit and wait. Simon was getting rather restless at this point and I noticed in the back of the room behind the rows of chairs a children's bookshelf. The bookshelf had one book (Make Way for Ducklings) and a plastic bin with one small action figure (which lacked any real "actions") and a single lego. Luckily, Simon was in a playful mood, so he made do, singing to himself while moving the action figure along the bookshelf pushing the lego. But this only lasted until he spotted the bathroom and said "pee pee." So we headed to the bathroom, me hoping that our name wouldn't be called while we attended to business. But Simon didn't actually want to use the bathroom, he just wanted to play in the sink and wash hands, so I hurried him through a hand wash and ushered him out of the bathroom just in time to hear our name called.

We went to another window where a man greeted us. At this window I was told to raise my right hand and swear to tell the truth. I was then asked questions about the adoption process, especially whether I'd been offered money or had to pay any money other than what I'd been told by our adoption agency. Bewildered by the question, I replied "no" and the man said I could come back the next day after noon to pick up the VISA. Simon called "bye bye" to the empty room as we left and joined Grandma, Grandpa and Misha at the car.

The next day (Thursday), we returned to the Embassy. Simon fell asleep in the car, so I elected to go in by myself and come back for him if he was needed. This time, I didn't try to take anything into the Embassy. There was a line outside the security building, so I got in line, but noticed all the others were Georgian young adults well dressed, so I asked the outside guard if I was in the right line. He asked for my passport, then quickly ushered me out of the line and into the security building. The guard inside took my passport, but my name wasn't on the list of appointments, so she started to send me away. I explained that I'd been told to come back, and she finally called to the VISA building and was told to let me in. Once again the room was empty, but as I walked to a seat, a women at one of the windows beckoned to me and told me it would be a bit of a wait because there was a problem with the VISA printer. So I sat. Given my experience in Georgia, I expected a delay due to technology to be somewhat lengthy and I worried that Simon would wake up and be scared to find me gone. But the wait was surprisingly (and blessedly) short. I was handed an envelope and instructed not to open it and then was shown Simon's VISA in his passport--a wonderful sight! I signed a paper to state I'd picked up the VISA and was on my way.

Simon was still asleep, but my parents had had a bit of an adventure while they waited and I was greeted with, "Your daddy almost got arrested and detained." While waiting, Dad had decided to take some pictures--of the street, of the general area of the Embassy and of Simon sleeping in the car. A man from the bicycle repair shop had seen him and came over and made him delete pictures of the general Embassy area.

That evening we went to the restaurant on top of the funicular to celebrate. This was the same restaurant Ben and I went to to celebrate court day, but this time, Simon got to go too. It was a delicious dinner, with nice Georgian wine, which I enjoyed as I relaxed realizing that we were now able to bring Simon home. Simon celebrated with a dinner of french fries (with a few bites of other things) and a scoop of chocolate ice cream.

Night view from funicular
Celebratory chocolate ice cream
Simon was very proud of both his passport and VISA and
loved looking at and showing others his pictures!




Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Day with Grandma and Grandpa

Simon mostly slept through the night and slept all night in his own bed! This meant that Mommy got really good sleep. Funny though that I felt more tired after sleeping well. It was as if my body remembered how nice sleep is and wanted more and more. But it is hard to sleep when an adorable smiling two-year old pets your face and says "Mommy." So I got up and we called Daddy on FaceTime on the computer. Simon was soooo excited when Daddy answered and he saw him on the screen! He immediately started talking to Daddy and trying to touch Daddy through the screen. He even said "I love you Daddy" and kissed Daddy's image! They played back and forth and Daddy showed Simon Scout on the video and Simon showed Daddy his Scout stuffed animal. Daddy also asked Simon to get him his water bottle (something Simon did for Daddy here) and Simon went and brought the water bottle and put it by the computer. It was a joy to watch them and to know Daddy and Simon can keep building their relationship over the next week.

FaceTime with Daddy
Soon Grandma and Grandpa came over from their room next door and watched the Simon-Mommy battle to pick out clothes and get dressed, which ended as soon as Simon was dressed. We all went down to breakfast together. Simon got a little wild after he ate and started running around. Unfortunately, there was a new stand with a vase on it and Simon crashed into it. I watched as if in slow motion as the vase teetered and then crashed to the floor. This terrified Simon as well as Mommy. When I scooped him up, he clung to me as tightly as he ever has. The hotel staff were very kind and understanding.

After breakfast, Misha picked us all up and met my parents. We all went to Madagascar to run some of Simon's energy out of him. Grandma hid the Problem Horse, so Simon played pretty well until another kid found the horse and brought it out. By that time, Simon had discovered a ride-on elephant, so he played with both horse and elephant, riding one and pushing the other for awhile. This took quite a bit of coordination on his part! We didn't have a battle to leave the horse because the bigger boys that were playing started playing on the video games in the back and Simon ditched the horse and elephant to watch and to pretend to play the games himself. He fussed a little when I said it was time to go, so we stopped and had a quick snack before going next door to introduce Grandma and Grandpa to khachapuri. They tried two versions--the boat with egg and butter version (Acharuli) and the round version (Imeruli) and agreed that both are delicious but nap-inducing (especially given the travel and time change). So after lunch they also napped during Simon's nap time. Simon slept for two hours! Entertaining Grandma and Grandpa is hard work!

In the later afternoon and evening we took the metro downtown and walked around, pointing out some of the major landmarks. We stopped by Sioni church, but it was getting dark, so it was hard to see in the church. We'll go back in daylight for a better look. Simon was not in a walking mood, so Mommy carried him most of the way, which by the time we returned to the hotel was about 7 miles! My biceps haven't been this challenged since my pole-vaulting days in high school! Luckily my back holds up well and with a little break here and there, I do pretty well.

At Sioni church
We went to dinner at Friend's House, the restaurant Ben and I ate at often for lunch. We had kebab with Tkemali sauce and shashlik (barbecue chicken skewers).The other exciting event at dinner was that Simon went poop! He hadn't gone for almost two days. While my nurse-brain knew that bananas are constipating, this knowledge hadn't transferred to the Mommy-brain that was happy to find a fruit Simon would eat. So, he'd eaten 1-2 bananas a day for a couple of days. Nurses get pretty excited when a constipated patient poops, but this doesn't compare to the excitement and relief of a new Mommy, especially with the added bonus that Simon said "yes poop" when asked and we made it to the toilet in time! I'm sure the rest of the restaurant was amused if they heard me clapping from the bathroom!

Grandma helped again with bath time and then Mommy had to do a little struggling with pjs. The pjs Simon has been wearing were dirty, so we had to try new pjs. Grandma and Grandpa had brought some footsie pjs, so I picked out the ones with dogs and we counted the dogs, then wiggled (wrestled) into them. But once they were on, Simon seemed to like them. Then Grandma, Grandpa and Simon watched Eric Carle stories on the DVD player. I love seeing them stretched out on the floor next to Simon, getting to enjoy their grandson! Tonight, when Simon went to bed, he first cuddled up with his Scout, but then he reached across the small gap for my hand and we fell asleep holding hands.

Bed time with Scout




Family

I don't come from a big family. I lost my grandparents at 3, 5, 14 and 20 years of age, and my aunts, uncles and six cousins all live out of state and we go years in between visits. So one of the greatest blessings of my life is that I was taught through words and actions that the definition of family extends beyond generics. Growing up, our home and table were always crowded with my parents' coworkers, my dad's students, and friends from work, school, church and wherever. Consequently, I readily embrace others and include them as family. Our family here in Georgia included Simon's foster family, our driver Misha and his family and our hotel family. All of them have been wonderful friends and supporters and we look forward to staying in touch and bringing Simon back to Georgia for visits as he grows up.

Ben's last day in Georgia was Sunday and we spent much of the day with Simon's foster family who invited us over for khachapuri (cheese bread) and lobiani (bean bread). We had the most amazing visit. We got to play with all the kids, talk with the adults and eat together. It really felt like a big family gathering! We brought presents from Oregon for everyone and Ana's daughter Elena thought that with all the excitement, there must be something to celebrate, so she kept saying it was Nijatee's (Simon's) birthday! Nana, Nino, Dato and Ana shared more stories of Simon and gave us a sleeper and a onsie that Simon wore when he first came to them at one month old. What a blessing that day was for them, for us and, most of all, for Simon! Their love for him is precious and genuine.

Saying goodbye was very hard. Though I expect to see some, if not all, of the family this week, Ben had to say goodbye. Everyone, including the kids, gave him hugs and kisses. He toughed it out while we were there and saved his tears for later, but I got choked up and tearful watching him say goodbye and could barely talk. Simon seemed to know that we were there to visit, for when it was time to go, he brought me my jacket and led me to the door. He waved goodbye to everyone and was content to leave with us. I held him close as we rode down in the elevator, praying to thank God for the wonderful child and family he brought into our lives.

In the evening, I tried to suppress my mommy tendency to jump in to give Ben as much time with his son as possible. I distracted myself by packing for Ben while he got in a lot of good play time, did bath time all by himself, and cuddled with Simon while they watched a movie. Simon was a bit restless after the excitement of visiting his foster family, so didn't got to bed until midnight. Ben had to be up at 3:30 to get his taxi to the airport and when Simon almost fell out of bed around 1am, I plopped him in our bed and we spent the next hour or so whispering about our son and family and watching Simon sleep. Simon slept through Daddy leaving, including kisses, but I had trouble getting back to sleep. Around 5:30am, I finally broke down and took some benadryl. Luckily, Simon slept until 10:30am, so I did manage a little sleep.

When Simon woke up, he looked to our bed for Daddy and when he didn't see him, he went running to the bathroom calling, "Daddy?!" He was surprised not to find his Daddy. I showed him his airplane toy and said, "Daddy went home, but we will see him soon," but he, of course, didn't really understand. He was distracted by the airplane toy, though, so played for awhile. He was not in a mood to get dressed or put on socks, but I was getting quite hungry for breakfast (and I'm sure he was too), so we had a two-year-old versus Mommy battle over getting dressed (except for the socks). We had a leisurely breakfast, then went out to walk to the little neighborhood play yard. There was another little boy and his mother there throwing the basketball, which fascinated Simon. We played for a bit before Simon decided it was time to go.

Since he wanted to ride in the stroller, we ended up going for a pretty long walk, stopping at the bookstore and to buy flowers for grandma and grandpa. Simon sang songs most of the walk, but also asked for "ebi" (gum) every time we passed a tobacco shop. At one point he even yelled, "ginda ebi" (I want gum) and a man on the street turned to laugh. I was also stopped by several young women along the way who were concerned that Simon's shoe was about to fall off because it was turned sideways. A couple older women also stopped me to feel Simon's ears to see if he was cold because he didn't have a stocking hat on, only his jacket hood. Since Simon had been so good, said "please," and since I was in a sucker mood being a single mom for the day and missing Daddy, I bought him some gum as a treat before we went back to the hotel. This turned out to be a mistake because Simon wouldn't spit it out for his nap. I ended up taking the gum package from him which made him cry and then reaching in to pull the gum out of his mouth while he cried. Not my first choice, but the safest strategy (both for him not sleeping with gum and for me to avoid getting bitten).

Flowers for Grandma and Grandpa
After nap, we ate and played with modeling clay for an hour and then it was time to leave to pick up Grandma and Grandpa at the airport. Their flight was due in at 6:10pm, so we left at 5pm in case of traffic. Unfortunately, Georgian Airways doesn't update their flight status so it wasn't until we got to the airport (within 30 minutes because traffic wasn't bad after all) that we found out the flight was delayed by 40 minutes. It ended up not arriving until after 7pm, so we had a long wait at the airport. Entertaining a two-year old at the airport was not very easy and I had to tell him "ara" (no) a lot. First we colored on paper I brought, then played games on the iPhone, then walked around, then climbed on a railing, then looked at all the advertisements and named colors, then walked around, then went to the bathroom, then walked around, then tried to escape, then watched an advertisement that changed on a rolling screen (Simon thought it was a touch screen because it changed ads several times just when he happened to touch it), then climbed on some chairs, then walked from chair to chair to chair to chair... Simon got hungry and ate all the snacks I'd brought (raisins, pretzels and M&Ms), but I'd forgotten to bring money with us (Ben's handled the money the whole time so I haven't had to think about it), so when Simon spotted the cafe and wanted a snack, I didn't have money to buy him something. So a good bit of the time, I was trying to keep Simon out of the cafe, which was difficult given that it is right next to the arrival waiting area.

"Touch screen" effect advertisement
We had a sign all ready to greet Grandpa and Grandma but because
the flight was late, it ended up in my pocket. They did get it a few days later.
Climbing on the railing
Walking up and down the airport seats
Finally Grandma and Grandpa arrived! Simon was quiet for a few minutes, but warmed up to them in the car. He and Grandpa grabbed at each other's fingers from front seat to back seat and he showed Grandma the little cars we'd brought along. By the time we arrived at the hotel, he seemed pretty comfortable with them. Throughout the day, I'd shown him their pictures and we'd practiced saying Grandma and Grandpa. Simon was very excited to show them all his toys, so we played for awhile before heading to dinner at Guinness. Grandma and Simon shared some Khinkali and Grandpa and Simon shared tomato-cucumber salad. Simon let Grandma carry him part of the way back to the hotel too. Back at the hotel, Grandma helped Simon with his bath while I called Shriners and Simon's pediatrician to make appointments. He'll see his pediatrician on Friday when we get back and he'll have a check-up, immunization titers, get a flu shot and maybe get a referral for PT/OT for his arm/foot. We'll go to Shriners on 12/11 to consult for repair of his clubfoot. After bath time, Grandma and Grandpa cuddled on the floor with Simon and they watched Winnie the Pooh together. Then we all said the bedtime prayer which I learned when I was little and which Daddy and I are now teaching Simon. It is so good to have them here!

Watching a bedtime video