Kristina went to her first day of volleyball camp today. I was a little nervous to leave her. I lingered by the door for a little while wondering how she would be. Hannah was there, but I knew she would get frustrated before she would fall back on Hannah to help her. After 20 minutes I forced myself to walk away. If I couldn't let her do this on her own, I knew I wouldn't get past the first day of school. I returned two and a half hours later to find her practicing spiking the ball and running around the court with a huge smile plastered on her face.
I mentioned at the beginning how much she enjoys to clean and organize. She does this everyday in the room that she and Hannah share, even when it doesn't necessarily need it. I think its a routine she is accustomed to in the orphanage. It provides her with some familiarity and gives her a sense of contribution at home. I found her in the front yard yesterday with a bucket of soapy water and my pedicure brush scrubbing the bike that Patti had loaned us for the summer. My shock at the ruined brush melted away as she beamed with pride at the squeaky clean bicycle.
I am thankful that we have had such an extended period to host Kristina. It has given us time to get past the honeymoon period and test the waters. I am fascinated by the way the dynamics have evolved in all of our relationships. The children laugh together one minute and are bickering the next. That doesn't sounds like a good thing necessarily, but to me she is just one of the children. She has fit in and bonded with all of the kids on some level and they consider her one of them. It took several weeks for me to see the connection between Robert and Kristina. I don't know if its a guy thing or just the way the relationship grew, but at some point he no longer saw her as a house guest but as a daughter.
If there is one thing I know about Kristina its that she wants to know if I mean what I say. And just to make sure, she tests me. She is wired so differently than my four; I am on my toes often. To be frank, she's a lot like me. That's what makes discipling her so difficult. I have the same stubborn streak. I want to do things my way. I don't like for others to know when I need help or when I am struggling. I have stood before her on more than one occasion fighting back tears of frustration knowing that she was doing the exact same thing.
The discipline issues I face with her are not so much behavioral as they are heart issues. Its not enough to simply follow the rules. I challenge her if she does things with a poor attitude or begrudgingly. Sure, we could let things slide to keep the peace since she is here for only a few more weeks. But everyone has a place in this family. And whether its for four more weeks or a lifetime, we hope that Kristina's place is here.
We have a phrase around our house this summer: "Who's the mama?" It has been a real balancing act helping the children understand their roles in our newly adjusted family. My four want to teach Kristina the do's and don'ts of our household. But an 11 year old can only hear "nyet" so many times from another 11 year old before hard feelings start to develop. And Kristina, in her enthusiasm for learning the rules, religiously reminds the other four to "brush your teeth", "put on your seat belt", "make your bed". And you can imagine how well that goes over with the others. So in an attempt to preserve the growing relationship between the five, I have added a new rule to our household list: Only the mama may correct behavior. Its been working pretty well. When one of the children forgets and attempts to discipline one of the others, I will remind them, "Who's the mama?"
When Kristina first came here in June, she would call me Mama. I would lightheartedly remind her that I was "Leslie". She continued to call me mama and I consistently reminded her that I was Leslie. Once in a while she involuntarily calls me Mama, but more often she refers to me by my first name. Mr & Mrs. are titles that don't translate in Russian, so it was easier to let her call me what she had called me when I first met her at the orphanage.
During the first week of her visit, we went to the Central Florida Zoo. Robert noticed that a family standing next to a nearby exhibit was speaking what he thought was Russian, so he proceeded to strike up a conversation with the complete strangers. For those of you who know Robert, that is COMPLETELY out of character for my reserved husband. But his bet was right and the family he chatted with were in fact from Russia. He asked if they would interpret a few things for him. As they spoke, the mother asked me what circumstances had led to Kristina coming all the way from Ukraine to Florida to be with us. I gave her the short version of our relationship. The mom asked Kristina some things in Russian and Kristina replied unhesitatingly to each of her questions. When they were done, she turned to me and told me some of what Kristina had said. Q. Where is your mother? A. She is standing here with me. Q. Aren't your parents in Ukraine? A. I had a family once in Ukraine, but my family is here in America. This is my father and my mother. We are a family now.
I have been very careful to guard Kristina's heart during this process. I don't make her any promises. I know that even if we had the resources to adopt her, things are more complicated than deciding whether or not to adopt. There are a string of people between us and her that must give their consent. It only takes one director or judge to say "no". There are no avenues of recourse in Ukraine; a dead end is a dead end. Many adoptions happen without a problem, but I cannot promise her what I cannot guarantee.
This weekend Kristina made the mistake of correcting one of the kids and I reminded her, "Who's the mama?" Through tear filled eyes, she responded, "I don't know. You say you are not my mama." And there it was. She was confronting me on the title that I have avoided since she arrived. I didn't know how to respond. How do you explain something so complicated to an 11 year old? But at the same time, I know her heart needed to know that someone would chase after her regardless of who stood in the way. So I did what I could. I held her. I cried with her. I reminded her that I loved her and would always love her. So the question remains, "Who's the mama?"
We spent the weekend fishing and boating on Lake Marian in Osceola County. It was Kristina's first time on a boat and she loved it. We were treated to up close and personal views of alligators, wild turkey, deer, and armadillos. Those weren't the only wild life on our trip though.
Over the last few weeks, Kristina and I have slowly opened up her past and discussed things. In small doses we have discussed the people in her life, the memories good and bad, and what she sees for her future. Its amazing how readily we are able to communicate even when we can't use exact words. Today we talked about boys. She told me about one she had a crush on in Ukraine. We talked about boundaries and feelings. Its the conversation a mother has with her daughter.
Most of you have seen the hundreds of pictures I took while in the Ukraine. Kristina and I sat down and went through those pictures shortly after she arrived here. She would point out people and tell me things about them. She talked about Vika a lot. Vika was Kristina's best friend in the orphanage. She was blessed to be adopted a few months ago and is now living in America. After a few e-mails, I was able to get Vika's mom's e-mail address and sent a message. Vika's mom wrote back and graciously agreed to let the girls reconnect.
I called and spoke with Vika's mom this evening. It was good to hear her experience and how Vika is flourishing with love and time. When I handed the phone to Kristina, she squealed and danced to hear Vika's voice. High pitched Russian rolled over her tongue as she spoke a mile a minute to her dear friend. The language has always sounded abrupt to me, but tonight I can hear happiness and excitement mixed with the harsh guttural tones. I'm sure it was a relief to carry on a full conversation in her native language after so many weeks or broken phrases. I would love to know what they spoke about for over an hour. I think in a life full of lost pasts, its important for Kristina to be able to hold on to something. Hopefully this conversation will allow Kristina to connect part of her past with part of her future.
The day of beauty didn't end at the salon this morning. The girls found the curlers and begged me to roll their hair. I think I might have wrapped them a little too tightly beacuse they were bouncing off the walls for the remainder of the evening. Imagine how this experience has been for Hannah. She finally has a girl in the house that will do girly things with her. They paint each others' nails, play Barbies, build blanket tents, fix Robert's lunch together. But on the flip side, Hannah is also learning to share on a level she hasn't had to with her brothers. I wish you all could see the lessons God has and is teaching the children through this experience.
Kristina has never been to a salon to have her hair done. Today I took her to see Tara for a beauty experience. Kristina has beautiful naturally wavy hair, but I told her she could have it cut any way she wanted. She thumbed through a book of haircuts and picked a slightly shorter and sleeker style. Tara seated her at the shampoo station to have her hair washed and you could tell that Kristina felt pampered. She reached her hand up periodically to touch the suds and smell the luxurious shampoo.
She watched herself in the mirror as Tara began to snip away at the length. When the hair dryer and flat iron came out, she made faces at the heat and loud noise. But when it was all said and done, she looked at her reflection and declared, "I beautiful girl!"
The Landrums are a fishing family. We all love to stand on the dock and spend a lazy afternoon casting into the water. Robert decided it was time to initiate Kristina into our family tradition. When I told her where we were going, she got a little teary eyed. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, "I don't know how." Not a problem!
We spent some time at a creek where she cringed as the boys baited her hook for her. Although she wouldn't touch the worms, it didn't take long for her to get the casting down.
The creek was disappointing and so we packed up the tackle box and headed to Lake Lotus Park. We had the fishing pier to ourselves and the kids had a ball, not one complaint about the heat or the bugs. When he got a bite on his line, Robert called Kristina over and let her reel in the fish.
After we had exhasuted our bait, we hiked back to the entrance of the park to wait for the shuttle. The park ranger pulled up and stepped out of his vehicle with two baby alligators. It seems Hannah had a conversation with one of the rangers on our way into the park and told her about Kristina. The ranger had brought the baby gators just for Kristina to see and touch. He gave us his card and invited us back to the office later in the week to see all the animals they house in the ranger's station!
We travelled to Tampa this weekend and spent time at Busch Gardens theme park. As you can imagine, Kristina was entranced by everything she saw. She insisted on trying everything, including the roller coasters!
While shopping, I made the mistake a walking down the Barbie aisle. Kristina literally fell to the floor when she saw the row of displays. Hannah has one Barbie doll and hasn't played with it in years. The two of them talked me into buying one more so that they could play together. They spent the rest of the afternoon locked in their room having half English-half Russian conversations with the two dolls.
As providence would have it, Laurie brought Hannah handmade wooden doll furniture back from Brazil. When she and Kristina opened the package and saw it, they were estatic. When Patti heard how fascinated Kristina is with all things Barbie, she offered to let the girls borrow some of Kaitlin's Barbie stash. Now they have created a whole world in the floor of Hannah's room!
Robert took the boys to work with him today, so Hannah, Kristina, and I decided to take advantage of our girls only status. Kristen and Sasha joined us for a trip to New Smyrna Beach. While her hometown of Odessa is located on the Black Sea, Kristina has not seen the type of surf we have here in Florida. She, Hannah, and a girl they met on the beach played in the waves, collected seashells, and dug in the sand for several hours before the afternoon rain clouds rolled in.
Phrase of the day: "Oh my gosh!" We introduced Kristina to an American favorite: Krispy Kreme doughnuts. When she saw the display case full of the delicacies, I though she would go into a sugar coma on the spot. "I want this! No, this! No, no, this!" She didn't have enough fingers to point at everything she wanted to try. Needless to say, the doughnut giant has a new follower.
Last week Hannah had her annual eye exam and Kristina came along with us for the appointment. In her enthusiasm, Hannah went down the slide into Lake Crestridge WITH her glasses on. Needless to say, there is a fish with a new set of spectacles somewhere at the bottom of that lake! I knew Hannah would need a new pair; it never crossed my mind that Kristina may need them too.
As we waited in the exam room, Kristina asked if the doctor would look at her eyes too. I asked her why she thought the doctor would need to look at her eyes. She indicated that she couldn't always see things far away and sometimes her head hurt. Eye exams are not part of the health care provided by the orphanage. I made an appointment for her on our way out. Today we drove to Sanford to see Dr. Frutchey again. The doctor was aware that Kristina spoke Russian and a little English, but she wasn't concered about how they would communicate. Hannah and I watched as Kristina squinted her nose and narrowed her eyes in an attempt to read the eye chart. Through a series of hand signals and lots of humor, Kristina and the doctor managed to get through the exam. We dissolved into giggles along with Dr. Frutchey as Kristina looked through proper lenses at the chart. "Whoa!" she whispered. I wish I would have brought the camera! Her vision isn't terrible, but the glasses will help when she needs to see the board in school. We'll order her glasses soon and I'll be sure to post a pic!
It rained most of the day today, so we headed out to the bowling ally. We saw Kristina's competitive side come out and it wasn't pretty! She had a tough time just enjoying rolling the ball down the lane. Our kids were laughing and high fiving each other even if they only knocked down one pin. Though the other children were cheering her on, she got frustrated and cranky at one point and decided to quit. After about 15 minutes of sitting and pouting, she decided to rejoin us and apologized for her behavior. It has been a good thing to see her recognize unacceptable behavior and correct it with little prompting from us. She is adjusting and given the circumstances, she's doing a great job.
Speaking of adjusting with little prompting, I am not as successful as Kristina in rolling with the punches lately. I need your prayers for just learning to be still. Most of the time I'm with Kristina, a barage of questions goes through my mind: "Will she be with us forever? How can we possibly afford an adoption? How can we bear to send her back?" Pray that I will be at peace and trust God to unfold things according to His will. News came from the Ukrainian govenment this week that no new adoption petitions will be accepted until January of 2007. What??? January 2007??? Then I came across this verse today:
Do not move the ancient boundary in the fields of the fatherless; for their Defender is strong; He will take up their case . . . - Proverbs 23:10-11
Pray that I will joyfully leave things in the hands of our Defender. Let us see what our God will do.
Kristina asked to do two things when she came here two weeks ago: swim and ride a bike. We quickly learned that although she had a strong desire to do both things, she didn't know how. Robert took out Joshua's bike for her and Kristina climbed on unhesitatingly. But that's all she could do! Robert spent a little time trying to show her how the pedals worked, but we concluded that a set of training wheels would give her greater confidence. Patti was kind enough to let us borrow one of Kaitlin's old bike and I swung by Wal-Mart this afternoon and we picked out a helmet and set of training wheels. I told her Robert would put the wheels on when he got home from work. I could tell she didn't want to wait. She paced back and forth with her riding helmet on and finally asked if she could just sit on the bike in front of the house. I agreed knowing she would probably get distracted watching the boys play four-square until Robert got home.
I am busy putting away our Wal-Mart purchses and Hannah runs in the house shouting, "I taught her! I taught her!" It has been less than ten minutes since the children went outside, so I'm sure she's not talking about bike riding. As I walk outside I hear Kristina's voice shouting, "Leslie! Leslie!", as she whirls past me. Unbelievable! Where there's a will, there's a way! Of course I ran back inside to grab the camera. Its been two hours and she's still riding back and forth in front of the house. She has fallen once and scraped her knee. She came inside to show me her war wounds half defeated and half with pride. As she sat on the bathroom counter and I cleaned her scraps and applied a band-aid, she goes through the medicine cabinet next to her trying on my braclets and perfume. And now she has returned to wearing a back and forth pattern in the pavement in front of the house. Periodically she will shout, "Oh no! Oh no!" as she steers into the grass, but she's doing great! :)
Happy Independence Day, everyone! We watched the fireworks display of Red, Hot, & Boom from a parking lot off 436 last night. Kristina was sleepy and only took notice of the lights when a large one would go off. So today Robert bought a few fireworks to set off for the kids. Kristina danced around with the sparklers and squealed as the larger displays were lit. After the final explosion she shouted "thank you!" and gave Robert a big kiss. We retired inside for ice cream and warm brownies before bedtime. I don't know that she grasped the historical significance of the day, but I doubt that she will ever forget it!
I find myself repeating that to the children over and over in the last few days. When we can't find the words to explain something, showing often does the trick.
I wondered how we would explain to Kristina God's particular love for her. How would we share with her God's faithfulness (Deuteronomy 31:8 - The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.) and his boundless love (Psalm 136:2 - Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.)? Although she speaks Russian and we speak English, we have found that the spirit speaks another language altogether. The witness of the transformed life points to its transformer. Words are not the only means of communication. It has been a tremendous lesson for all of us. The children have been reminded that what they do often sends a louder message than what they say. I have learned that my role as tutor of my childrens' hearts is an assignment that I will teach by example in and out of the home.
Why did the writer of Titus (2:4) find it necessary to exhort women to love their husbands and their children? Doesn't that go without saying? But once again, I am reminded that the writer is not speaking of a passive love, but a dynamic love required of a woman of strength and conviction. I am striving to be that woman; to set the example for those God has entrusted to me.
Okay, I apologize to those of you who are faithful to check in. We left Thursday the 29th to pick up the kids from summer camp in North Carolina and I haven't had a chance to sit down and update you. Let me back up and I will get you up to speed with where we've been and what we've been doing.
Wednesday the 28th, Robert, Kristina, and I walked around Downtown Disney. We had lunch at The Rainforest Cafe (overpriced, mediocre food but great atmosphere). Kristina was a little anxious around the animatronics and light/sound effects, but we enjoyed things nevertheless. That evening, Robert was craving a little taste of home so he took out the boiler and cooked Cajun crab legs. Kristina cringed watching him cook them. I wonder what she thought they were! He teased her as he peeled and crack each one. She eyed him cautiously until curiosity got the best of her and she took a piece offered to her. By the time dinner was over, she was cracking and eating them all by herself.
Thursday morning we set off for the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to pick up the kids from summer camp. I was a little concerned about how she would handle the nine hour trip. Before she left Ukraine, I had one of the translators purchase her three books in Russian to help her pass the time. She "oohed" over the changing scenery as we got closer to the mountains. A few renditions of "If you're happy and you know it wash your hands!" (yeah, we're not sure how that got messed up) and we were there. She did great and only got restless the last hour of the trip. We checked into the retreat center at Ridgecrest and decided to hike up the mountain side to expend excess energy from sitting in the car all day. We found ourselves at a picturesque lake right before dusk and walked the circumference of the lake as the sun was setting. As it grew darker we hiked back down the mountain and found ourselves surrounded by lightning bugs. As Robert caught bug after bug for her to inspect, she could only whisper "wow". Friday morning we got up bright and early to attend the closing ceremonies at CrestRidge Girls Camp. I knew the girls were excited to meet each other. Hannah saw us driving into camp and jumped into the backseat with Kristina where they made their own introductions. From that point on, they held hands as Hannah showed her around camp. At lunchtime we headed over to the boys camp Ridgecrest to claim our boys. The boys were equally welcoming and things fell into their natural rhythm.
We drove home immediately following the boys' camp ceremonies and got back to Orlando at midnight. We took things slowly Saturday, sleeping in and swimming at the pool later in the afternoon.
Sunday afternoon we drove over to Tampa to see the Florida Aquarium. The aquarium is located in the port where cruise ships line the terminals. "Look, look, look!" she would squeal as we drive past the massive ships. In the aquarium Kristina would cover her mouth and look wide eyed at the huge grouper fish and delicate sea dragons. After touring the facilities we went outside to play in the fountains.
We are looking forward to celebrating the Fourth of July with Kristina this year. I will update you again soon!