Sorry that this took a little longer than planned! We enjoyed our time with Ian so much, but at the end of the days we were physically and mentally drained.
I kept a list of all the questions you guys asked either on our posts or via messages and will do my best to answer them here. I'm trying to group them together to make it somewhat organized. If I missed your question or you have a new one feel free to leave a comment or send me a message on fb and I will add it in!
Thank you again to all of you who have encouraged and supported us this past year. We're in the final phase of the adoption now and looking back at this past year I am overwhelmed with all of the love and support you all have showered on us. Thank you to each of you who has come alongside us in our journey to bring Ian home!
Q: How will you communicate with him when he comes home since he doesn't speak English and yall don't speak Bulgarian?
A: We are working hard on learning some Bulgarian to help make the transition as easy as possible for Ian. We found out that while we're in country for pick up trip we have the option of hiring an English tutor for Ian and we will probably try to do so. We think that this will help him with beginning to learn English. We have a variety of English learning tools that we've purchased over the past year including different flashcard sets, pre-school level reading and phonics books etc. But, in talking with other families who have adopted kids around Ian's age we've found that most picked up English very quickly. Even our friends who adopted younger children or children that were non verbal or had cognitive delays have said that their children began to understand English very quickly.
They say that the best way to learn a language is full on immersion, it's what many high schools and colleges offer Summer trips to foreign countries where you stay with a family the whole time. Ian will have a brother who will most likely talk his ear off, along with lots of cousins and friends from our homeschool group who are his age for him to play and interact with.
We also have a great app on the iPad, that helps with translation and the new update allows you to speak Bulgarian to it and it will translate to English. The only down side to it is that when it translates from English to Bulgarian it doesn't 'speak' back the Bulgarian the way it will English. But, we've found it to be a useful tool for helping us learn Bulgarian!
Q: In your pictures, what were those almost hieroglyphic looking symbols I saw on some of the signs?
That is the Cyrillic alphabet. It is one of the oldest alphabets in the world and contains 30 letters. When using Google translate it gives you the Bulgarian word in Cyrillic but also includes a phonetic spelling using the English alphabet to help with pronunciation.
Photo of a sign from the castle ruins we visited on Day 2 the left side is in Cyrillic
Another sign from the castle. Apparently they don't like for you to sit or do ballet on the side of the castle walls :)
Q: Does he go to school/read/write etc?
A. He does attend a public school in his region. He was attending school when he was at the previous orphanage as well (Probably a different school since we know that kids there walked and the new region is not walking distance from the other one). As best we can tell he doesn't read yet. But, we think that has less to do with any cognitive delays and more to do with the fact that no one worked with him in the old orphanage. However, the SW showed us some of his math work and he is already doing multiplication and division in the 2nd grade!
Q: Are you planning to homeschool Ian too?
A. Yes, absolutely! We think it will be best for him just like we think it is the best thing for Nicholas right now. Ian is very shy and sensitive. It's hard for him to interact with a group of kids and play appropriately. We think he, and our family, will benefit from the added bonding time we'll have by having him home during the day
Also, if he comes home in June by the time school starts in August he will still be learning English. We don't want to thrust him into a school environment while he's still learning a new language. Doing so would most likely be detrimental to his self esteem. Plus, given the fact that he does not read or write English he would most likely be placed in a lower grade than he should be in. For an 8 year old who is already the size of a 10 year old and who has more life experience than some adults, being in a Kindergarten classroom could only be detrimental to his development and self esteem issues.
The first few months that he is home we will be focused on bonding as a family. When we start school with him the only things we will focus on in the beginning will learning English and reading/writing. Depending on where he is in math we may also add that in when we fill that he's ready. Every thing else that I am doing with Nicholas I will do with Ian on some level if he is interested (Geography, science, etc.)
Q. So did he ever find out that you were his parents?
In a nutshell, no. They felt it would be best to ease him into the idea gradually. But, we will be able to Skype with him, send email and letters to him, and keep in touch. They will tell him that we're his family before we go to pick him up.
Also, he's 8. On some level he most likely knows what we were doing there. He lived in an older child orphanage for 4 years where other children were adopted from. So, we're sure that he's seen how the process works and probably understands why he had American visitors. We took a photo book to him that we made filled with pictures of our home and his room, and all of the family and friends that he will be surrounded by when he comes home. He was very interested in the book when we took it out, and, we added pictures from our time with him in country to the back before we left.
Here we are working on the scrapbook! There are still a few blank pages left in the back where they will help him add photos from his time at the group home, including those from the first birthday party he ever had which they threw for him on his 8th birthday.
Q: So, did you get to hug him and love on him?
Not really. He was very shy with us at first. He did allow us to share his personal space when he was playing on the iPad or letting us help him work the camera. By the 3rd day he would touch our arms to get our attention when he wanted help with the iPad.
From our last day with him. He loved the giraffe Nick picked out for him! When we first asked him to take pictures with us he put the giraffe there...
But, he did eventually agree to trade places with him :)
I admit this was hard for me. For over a year all I wanted was to hold our boy in my arms, love on him and let him know that he had a family. But, we didn't have to spend long with him before we realized none of those things would have been in his best interest, he would have been uncomfortable and so we gave him his space.
You have to remember that while we've spent the last year loving him, making a place in our home for him, talking about and praying for him ~ he didn't know any thing about us. He found out the Friday before our visit that he was going to have visitors then we walk in on Monday, total strangers speaking a foreign language. He just turned 8, it's easy for us to imagine how confused and scared he must be, because I know how Nicholas would react, how he would feel.
We have the rest of his life to shower him with love and affection, and for him to respond. We love him, that love isn't conditional on his loving us back though of course we pray that one day he will.
Q: He seems very attached to his Social Worker, is that hard for you?
A: I admit that I was a little envious of how easily he interacted with her, how he was so comfortable with her and would seek her out. But, we are also thrilled that he has an attachment to a caregiver. If he's attached once he can do so again, with us. One of the reasons we're working on learning Bulgarian (and why I wish I had taken the time to learn some before we went on first trip) is so we can communicate with him directly. On our visits any thing we said to him, and he to use, had to be interpreted by either our guide or his SW.
Q: You guys got to do a lot of things with him, is that how things normally work?
A: No. We went on this trip fully expecting that all of our time with him would be spent in one room (most orphanages have a play room of sorts set up where parents can visit their children). We took lots of activities with us for this reason. How much time you have, and where and when you can spend it is up to the Director of each orphanage/group home. So, we were pleasantly surprised and feel incredibly blessed that we were allowed to take him out of the group home each day and do so many cool things with him. We always had our guide and his SW with us. We hope and pray that we made lasting memories with him and that we started the bonding process.
Q: Was it hard being in a foreign country/What was the hardest part/Were things completely different there?
A: Bulgaria is a beautiful country with a rich history. The region we stayed in was beautiful with lots of great restaurants, hotels, and things to do. (This is not always true, in most cases orphanages are located in pretty remote villages). I had never been out of the country, and Steve has never flown (his one trip out of the country was on a cruise a long time ago), so I was a little worried about how we would do. I'm a picky eater so I worried that I would have to live on cereal bars the entire time :)
But, we went in with open minds, wanting to fully experience our son's country of birth. And, we had a great time, ate some truly remarkable food and saw gorgeous sites. We also asked our guide a lot about the history of Bulgaria, cultural things, etc. and he was very generous with his time in answering all of our questions. Our in country agency provides their families with a guide who also acts as a driver and translator. I can't imagine having done this trip without our guide Yavor and we felt very blessed to have him with us!
I didn't want to look like a total tourist, so I didn't take pictures of all the amazing food, though I did take a pic of these pieces of cake we bought at local bakery on our last night in country :)
Q: Does Ian eat well or is he picky? Are you worried about how to cook for him when he comes home?
A. He eats really well! We got to take him to lunch three of our days with him and he ordered foods that had all kinds of meat and vegetables in them. I'm so happy to have one child who is not picky! Although, I'm picky so he actually probably eat more things than I do! Many of the dishes there are similar to American and Italian dishes that we eat here. Some of our favorite meals were Bulgarian dishes served in these porcelain dishes that are baked in the oven. Most contained some kind of meat and vegetables along often with some type of cheese. We do a lot of grilling here so I think he'll like those foods.
We also found out that in the group home he is in they teach the kids life skills including cooking, and our boy loves to help cook and bake! I'm excited, hopefully he'll be able to teach us some Bulgarian dishes! I'm sure it will take some getting used to and he will find things here that he likes and things that he doesn't, just like any of us.
Q: So what does your process look like now, what do you have left to do before you can go pick him up?
Basically we have to file some paperwork that we received in country and from our American agency with USCIS (Immigrations) saying that we met our child and wish to proceed with the adoption. We will send this I800a approval to our Bulgarian agency as soon as we receive it. We will also have updated medical done and send them over along with updated FBI and local background checks. The we have what's called an Article 5 interview which our lawyer attends on our behalf. Then we wait for a signature from the MOJ we get assigned a judge. Depending on what his caseload looks like, we will have court 2-4 weeks later which our lawyer in country attends on our behalf. At his hearing he will officially and legally be our child! Then our agency orders his new birth certificate and once it arrives we are invited to travel on pickup trip! We are hoping and praying that our pickup trip will be sometime in June. Please join us in praying that we don't hit any snags and that this last part of our process goes quickly and smoothly!
Q: So are you fully funded now, how much do you need to finish?
A: Unfortunately, no we are not fully funded. We owe $4000 to our adoption agency now and then estimate that our pickup trip expenses (2 roundtrip plan tickets, 1 oneway plane ticket, hotel, food, Embassy appointment for Ian's medical, required TB testing, etc.) will be around $6000 which could go up if our plan tickets go up (Part of June is a popular time to visit Bulgaria to see the roses and plan ticket prices can go up as much as $1000 each during this time).
We have some local fundraisers planned and some in the works. On the 28th there will be a Quarter Auction hosted by A Sea of Hope Orphan ministries in Wilmington NC. The proceeds from that auction will be split between our family and the family of a friend of ours who are also adopting! On March 8th we will have a Quarter Auction here locally where all of the proceeds go towards our adoption expenses, mark your calendars now! My Daddy called me this morning to say that the Amvet chapter that he is a member of is going to do a Poker Run for us sometime in April or May! So if you or anyone you know rides a motorcycle and would like to participate stay tuned for more details!
We are also still working on putting the cookbook fundraiser together! I'm so excited about this project which we've had in the works for a while. We are titling the book, "A Taste of Home, from Around the World" and are including local favorites from all over the US as well as from countries around the world. We still need about 50 more recipes to finish it up so if you have any you would like to share please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org We need entrees, desserts, appetizers, any thing you'd like to share! Your name will go beside your recipe in the book and this is a keepsake that we will have forever! We also plan to include a section for freezer meals and to label recipes that are gluten free! So, I really think there will be something for everyone!
Please continue to cover our family in your prayers. Pray for us as we deal with the pain of having to leave our son behind and for our son's heart as he prepares to become a part of a family for the first time. Please pray that our process moves quickly and easily and for the last of our funding to come in.
Thank you all for your love, support and encouragement over the past 13 months, we are so grateful for each of you who has chosen to come alongside us in this journey!