“I will not leave you as orphans…”
I am completely and totally floored at what has happened for Tanya.
This entire experience has been like some kind of insane and unimaginable roller coaster of emotions.
What I really can’t get over is the way every tiny detail was not just out of our control, but how it also seemed orchestrated, as if not a single thing happened by chance.
It started with the blog entry I read. Someone was writing about ways to make your summer meaningful and they linked to this host program for Ukrainian orphans. I’ve always wanted to do something like that, but Tyler has never been interested.
I followed some links and ended up on the Facebook page of the non-profit hosting organization. There they had pictures of the kids still available for summer hosting. There was only one week left until the deadline for funding. One week to come up with $2,500. That covers the cost of your child’s plane tickets, visa and passport, paperwork, emergency health insurance, and contributes towards paying the chaperones.
I looked through the pictures of the remaining kids and one jumped out at me. A six year old girl named Karina. She had dark blond hair, the same as my girls, and she had a little smile on her face. I stayed up late that night waiting for Tyler to come home from work at 4 a.m. When he walked in I told him about the hosting program and before he could say no I showed him Karina’s picture.
He was immediately drawn to her too.
He agreed we could host her, but only if I could somehow fundraise the $2,500 before time was up. He didn’t think it would be possible and warned me not to be too heartbroken. We just don’t have that much extra money laying around to donate towards it. Heck, we don’t even have ANY extra money laying around. I understood that. We figured it wouldn’t hurt to try and raise the money. If we only raised part of the money we’d just keep fundraising until we got enough, even if it meant we couldn’t host until the following year.
I was just shocked that Tyler had agreed to hosting her in the first place. Previously he had always gotten annoyed when I tried to talk about orphans and changed the subject.
Asking people to donate money is kind of awkward. I mean that’s really not my thing. I’m not a bold person. With a lot of anxiety I made a chip-in account and I posted about it on my blogs. The chip-in account was linked to our paypal account, which goes to the email on Tyler’s iPhone. Shortly after posting the chip-in link Tyler texted me from work to ask what in the world was going on. Donations were rolling into the paypal account and blowing up his email. I hadn’t told him about the chip-in blog post because I didn’t think it would really be successful.
By the afternoon of the third day we received $1,000. Almost half of what we needed, but a large amount of money for people on the internet to donate in just three days.
I was randomly reminded that you only need faith the size of a mustard seed to move a mountain. I kind of laughed at myself for thinking that because really? Those sorts of things only happen to amazing people you read about. Not to me. Hi, I’m a regular boring person.
On the night of the third day I was laying in bed half asleep when I got a message from the director of the hosting program. An anonymous blog reader (from my www.halfheardinthestillness.com blog) had donated the remaining $1,500.
I had to reread the message several times before it sunk in.
A STRANGER FROM THE INTERNET DONATED $1,500?
I cried. And then I told Tyler and he didn’t believe me.
He also couldn’t believe that I somehow gathered up $2,500 in just three days.
Then he pointed out to me that we still needed $240. $200 for the home safety check and $40 for our background checks. That wasn’t exactly in our budget.
Well, I silently prayed, I didn’t come this far to be stopped by $240, right?
I left the chip-in account open and the following day’s donations totaled exactly $240.
Uh, yeah. I know. Exactly $240, not one penny more or less.
I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
I closed the chip-in account and Tyler and I just kind of stared at each other. We couldn’t think of anything to say.
I was getting a little nervous about what we were getting ourselves into.
The few weeks following we got more and more excited about meeting Karina. We fell in love with her picture. We talked about her all the time, wondering what she would be like, what it would be like to have her in our house. Wondering if we would fall in love with her or if we’d just have a fun six weeks and send her home satisfied with the experience.
We inquired about her adoption status just in case. Her orphanage director reported that she was available for international adoption. In Ukraine the only way to find out 100% for certain the adoption status of a child is to file a petition with the Ukrainian government, but we were just looking for an idea not anything official since we hadn’t even met Karina yet.
We made all kinds of plans about what we’d do while she was here. We realized we needed to set up twin beds in Rosie’s room instead of the one full bed that was in there. We began keeping an eye out for twin beds and mattresses on Freecycle, but we had no luck. Then my MIL offered to give us the two very nice twin beds from her guest room. Problem solved!
Shortly after that we realized we didn’t have any dresser space to keep clothes for another child. We worried about it for about a day. The next day our neighbor across the street carried a wooden dresser set out to his curb and then stopped us to ask if we wanted it. Well yeah, we did want it! He got his son to help carry the two dressers and big mirror inside our house and set it up. Now not only did we have space for Karina’s things, we also had space for our things! We only owned two falling apart kid sized dressers for our entire family.
Tyler and I did a lot of staring at each other in disbelief. Clearly it was meant to be that Karina came to our house. Why else would every single need be provided for? I wondered if this was actually happening or if it was some kind of strange dream.
Soon we began to worry about how we would afford to buy Karina clothing and shoes. We found out that the kids come here with nothing except mismatched orphanage clothes shoved in a backpack. We would need to buy her a wardrobe of things to wear while she was here and to send back to the orphanage as a donation. That night Tyler went to work and a co-worker gave him a card with $100 in it for Karina. She said she just felt led to give him this money to help cover any expenses. Tyler was freaking out a little. It was getting ridiculous at this point!
We were down to the final few weeks before the kids were due to arrive and it was time for the Ukrainian facilitator to get their visas and passports so that their papers would be in order to travel. After that they would purchase plane tickets and the final countdown to arrival would begin.
Everything had fallen into place perfectly thus far, so we didn’t really have any worries. When we signed the forms we were cautioned that some kids may end up not being able to travel due to various reasons–unable to get a visa, illness, last minute adoption, etc. I didn’t think twice about it.
Late that night, morning in Ukrainian time, I got a message from the American director of the program. The Ukrainian facilitator had just contacted her to let her know that when she went to get Karina’s visa they discovered an error in her paperwork.
In Ukraine all of the paperwork is done by hand and put in giant filing cabinets. They don’t use computers, nothing is electronic. This leads to mistakes being made. Apparently years ago someone made a tiny mistake on Karina’s paperwork in her file making her unavailable for adoption and completely unable to travel. It would take 2 or 3 months to correct the error through the Ukrainian government processes. That meant that Karina couldn’t come to our house this summer. It also meant that she could not be adopted internationally until one year after the error was corrected, because Ukrainian law requires all orphans to be listed for domestic adoption (within Ukraine) for a full year before they are available internationally.
The orphanage director didn’t even realize that this error was on Karina’s paperwork. This entire time it was assumed her file was being shown to potential adoptive parents at the state department of adoption in Kyiv when actually she was just stuck in the orphanage with no hope. Apparently this is a common error and lots of kids never even have a chance. Ukraine is awesomely inefficient like that.
I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. Why was this happening? Why had everything worked out so easily only for Karina to not be able to come at all?
And most importantly: What now?
One option was to petition the Ukrainian government to correct the paperwork error and hope that Karina was able to travel by Christmas hosting. Initially this seemed like the best option. Then we found out that if we chose to do that we would lose $800 of the funds we paid because that much money had gone towards the paperwork and fees already. We felt awkward just leaving behind that money when it had been so generously donated. We also didn’t know if the person who donated the lump sum of $1,500 would agree to having the money on hold until Christmas hosting.
The second option was to host a different child. There was only one little girl left.
We looked at her picture and she wasn’t Karina. We were not excited about Tanya. Her bio mentioned that the family who hosted her previously said she was too rough around small children. They didn’t give any further details, and she was hosted with a different organization last time so we couldn’t find the family and ask them for more info. The Ukrainian facilitator who chose Tanya for our host program said that she had some behavior issues in the past but she was much better now. She was around toddlers at her orphanage without any problems.
We figured Tanya was only a little girl. Certainly she deserved a second chance, right?
Everything had gone so smoothly up until this point. It was like the whole thing was crumbling into pieces. I sort of felt like I was crumbling into pieces.
What should we do now? We couldn’t decide. How do you choose? It was distressing.
Even though we didn’t really want to we really felt like we should just host Tanya and maybe save up to host Karina next time. Everyone with the program swore it would be fine, they all thought Tanya would work out and if not they assured us there were back-up families willing to step in and take over.
Maybe, we thought, this is just meant to be. We were meant to host Tanya instead. Maybe she was the little girl we were meant to adopt, or meant to spend our summer with for some reason.
Tanya was able to get her visa at the last minute. Plane tickets were purchased. She was actually coming!
I was very nervous. I had no idea what it was going to be like, or what Tanya’s last host family meant when they said she was too rough with younger children. Why hadn’t they given any details?
The way things had worked out so far made it feel like something bigger was in store. Like something important was going to happen. But what? We wondered if this was the kid we were meant to adopt. It certainly didn’t seem like it, we didn’t get warm fuzzy feelings from her pictures the same way we did with Karina.
When the plane tickets were purchased the Ukrainian facilitator didn’t want to buy tickets for kids to fly into the Atlanta airport. There were only a few families who wanted to pick up their kids in Atlanta and she said it was just too complicated to have a chaperone and flight to Atlanta for just three families. We were frustrated because Atlanta is much easier for us to travel to. Tyler’s Grandma lives there, so we would have a free place to stay. We didn’t have money to spend on food and hotels for several days, which is what we would have to do to pick up Tanya in Chicago.
We were lucky that the kids were due to arrive while the factory was shut down for the annual vacation and Tyler was off of work. Tyler really wanted to visit his Grandma in Atlanta during that week, prior to even considering hosting an orphan. Since every mumbled prayer related to hosting had somehow been answered we held out hope that things would change and Atlanta would become a possibility for pick-up. Once the plane tickets were purchased for Chicago we kind of gave up hope and started to frantically calculate how we would afford a trip up there.
Of course there was a last minute surprise. Should have seen it coming by now! The flight to Chicago had all of the Ukrainian kids getting off in Atlanta to go through customs, then taking a connecting flight to Chicago.
Say what! Our kids were getting off of a plane in Atlanta.
After some haggling with the Ukrainian facilitator it was worked out that the three families closer to Atlanta would be able to pick up their host kids there after they came out of customs. Those kids could just skip the connecting flight to Chicago.
We were thrilled. How could that have worked out? Seriously, they buy plane tickets for Chicago and we resign ourselves to charging the entire trip on a credit card only to find out they are scheduled to stop in Atlanta for a lay over…certainly ALL of these instances of pieces falling into place could not be coincidences, could they? Too many “coincidences” for my brain to compute!
By this point Tyler and I were sufficiently freaked out. Neither of us had ever experienced multiple glaringly obvious direct answers to prayer, or anything even remotely similar. We just kept looking around in confusion and shock. If these were coincidences then we must have suddenly become the luckiest people on the planet!
We went to Atlanta a few days early and enjoyed a great mini vacation with Tyler’s Grandma. The last time she saw us Ada was only three months old.
Finally, FINALLY it was time to pick up Tanya from the airport. I was so nervous/excited/nervous that I couldn’t stop pooping. Rosie was bouncing off the walls. Tyler was eating his fingernails. Ada was just concerned about munching on the snacks we’d bought and excited about seeing big airplanes.
The group of kids headed to Chicago was traveling with only one chaperone and she didn’t speak any English. We were waiting at the international terminal for them– the three families picking up their kids in Atlanta, and a translator. All of the kids were going to come out of customs together, including the ones catching a connecting flight to Chicago.
For some reason the computer system in customs went down completely. It was a disaster. We had to wait in the terminal outside of guarded glass doors for about three hours. The kids were just on the other side of the doors but we couldn’t see them until they made it past customs. We were all so worried. The chaperone didn’t speak English and the kids were going to miss their connecting flight to Chicago! What if our kids accidentally got on the connecting flight to Chicago too?
The airport security wouldn’t let our translator go back there inside of the customs area to help make sure everything was okay. A random woman in the crowd of people waiting for passengers heard our group talking. She asked if we were the people waiting on the Ukrainian children.
Why yes, we were indeed….? She was curious because her daughter was a translator and she had texted her mom to say she was on the flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta with this group of kids and she’d realized their chaperone didn’t speak English, so she was staying in the customs area with them to make sure they made it through without any problems because no one else there spoke Ukrainian and she was worried about them.
Ok at this point I know we shouldn’t be surprised.
Of course a random Ukrainian translator met our group on their connecting flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta. Of course she cared enough to stay with them for three hours while they were stuck in customs. Once again we just kind of stared at each other. This faith the size of a mustard seed thing was sort of getting out of hand!
Then the long awaited moment arrived. There were the kids, walking through those glass double doors at the end of the terminal and heading towards us.
We met Tanya, and made it back to Tyler’s Grandma’s house with her. Right away she was incredibly hyper. She was ripping into every drawer, every cabinet and closet in the house. She could not stop moving. She was laughing a strange too loud laugh.
The 7 hour drive home was rough to say the least. Tanya couldn’t sit in the seat. She kept unbuckling and crawling all over the car. At one point she refused to get out of the front seat and we didn’t know what to do.
We wondered if all the other host families were having such an exhausting time.
When we got home it was only worse, not better like we’d hoped. There was never a moment of peace. Tanya was unable to stop chasing our pets and hurting them, grabbing toys and screaming MINE, stealing things and hiding them.
All kinds of unfortunate incidences occurred. Stuff got broken, big things and toys alike. Tanya ran away and hid outside. She took off all of her clothes and peed naked in the middle of the front yard with neighbors and traffic going by. She was bouncing off the walls. We were unable to take her out to places like the store or the zoo because she would run away and grab other kids. One day she ran down the street, flung open the storm door of someone’s house and chased their toddler inside through his own house until she caught him, screaming.
We were so overwhelmed.
We posted on the private Facebook group for host families from our organization. No one else was having issues anywhere near this level of intensity. Small behavior problems, yes, but not downright defiance and insanity. Other families were horrified at what we were facing.
Tanya couldn’t even play with the neighbor kids outside. While they were trying to jump in the sprinkler Tanya kept insisting on picking up the sprinkler and waving it around. She finally conceded and left it on the ground, but that wasn’t enough for her. She started turning off the water at the faucet, waiting for the kids to get upset, then turning it back on again and laughing. Over and over and over, until the kids no longer wanted to play with her.
She stole things (from us and neighbors) and hid them in places we couldn’t find. She even stole our TV remote and hid it for four days. It was out of control!
Every night Tyler and I kept on staring at each other and asking why. Why in the world did we end up with this crazy kid? This was turning out to be a horrible hosting experience. None of the other host families had ever heard of someone having this awful of a time.
It was (and still is) so hard to look at pictures of other host families out having fun with their kids and to read posts about the fun things they’re all doing. Tanya was unable to do any of those activities with us. She was too out of control. Every second of every day was spent simply chasing her around and keeping her from destroying something or hurting herself.
You know we didn’t sign up for hosting just for our own personal experience, but we were not intending on having an intense, miserable babysitting experience either.
The second week of hosting we were completely worn out. The director said she thought we should just send Tanya back to Ukraine early. No back-up families were able to cope with her behavior. She needed to be in a family with no other children and no pets, with parents who were willing to deal with special needs she may have.
The first time they tried to send her back to Ukraine the chaperone who was going to accompany her turned out to have left a day early.
The second time they tried to send her back to Ukraine the chaperone had just made other plans right before they called.
The agency spent several days searching for another family who could take her. One family had responded to my post spread around Facebook searching for a potential adoptive family. They were interested in possibly hosting Tanya for the remainder of the time and then pursuing her adoption this fall. The agency coordinator tried to help the family find a social worker in their area to do the required home safety check. She was perplexed when the family couldn’t get ANYONE to call them back for days. No social workers answered their phones or responded to her voicemails. They tried multiple places in the area!
Then came the final straw. Rosie was crying all day because during the night Tanya crawled in her bed and trapped her, then reached inside of her underwear and pinched all over her butt. Rosie had tiny pinch mark bruises. Tanya was just repeating what someone had done to her, but it was too much. We couldn’t have her in our house hurting our kids.
All this time we were really questioning what was going on. What happened to faith the size of a mustard seed? Why had this whole experience only led to complete disaster and distress? It just didn’t make sense. It was sort of crushing.
Our hosting experience sucked. Her orphanage director told us on the phone that she was the problem child of the orphanage. She said that Tanya was failing at public school in Ukraine and that she would likely have to go to the mental institution in the fall, where she has two older siblings already waiting for her because they too could not cope with the neglect and abuse they suffered before coming to the orphanage.
The American director was upset and said she should have never been allowed to come on this trip. They usually screen these sorts of kids out of the program because they only want to bring the best children to America. Tanya had somehow slipped through the cracks and made it here against all odds.
While we were absolutely heartbroken at the thought of Tanya wasting away in a horrific mental institution, we still could not save her ourselves. Why, WHY was she here with us? I really struggled to find a purpose in this whole experience. Part of me was terrified that we would never know why all of this happened, that we’d never find out the reason. Or maybe everything was coincidental and there wasn’t even a reason at all.
As a very last resort the agency called the other host family in Kentucky to ask if they would be able to help get Tanya out of our house. They are hosting siblings and planning to adopt them–remember the little boy running with open arms in the pictures from the airport? Those siblings are in Tanya’s class at the orphanage. Their host family agreed to keep Tanya for a night or two while the agency arranged for her to go back to Ukraine.
Tyler drove her the hour and a half down to their house. They got out of the car and the host family came outside. She grabbed Ibby’s hand (the mom) and went inside without a backward glance. She loves to go with any stranger.
Tyler drove back home and once again we just kind of stared at each other. It was over. At least for us. Our house was in complete shambles, but very quiet. We could finally breathe.
But we were sad too, because this was not how we’d imagined the whole hosting experience would play out.
Later that evening something crazy happened. The mustard seed scenarios came back into the picture.
Ibby’s mother mentioned that she knew of a family in their subdivision who was interested in adoption. They met up with this family that night and it turns out not only are they interested in adoption but they are also completely done with all of their paperwork on the US side. All they have to do is complete the paperwork for whatever country they choose to adopt from.
Can anyone see where this is going?
The family met Tanya that night. The next morning this couple faxed their paperwork to the hosting agency. They are now hosting Tanya for the remaining time.
And about her bad behavior? It’s gone. She has been a complete angel for these people so far. Nothing like the child she was at our house.
It’s completely and totally unbelievable. She was a terror here. There she is perfect, like a well behaved normal child.
Want to know the best part? This family absolutely LOVES her. They are an older couple with no children and no pets, and they are open to any special needs she may have when she’s officially evaluated.
They cannot wait to finalize her adoption this fall.
She found her family.
That’s it. That’s the end of Tanya’s story from my point of view.
I’m still fervently hoping and praying the family doesn’t change their minds and they are able to smoothly complete her adoption in Ukraine.
I don’t even know what to say about this whole experience. We’re still processing it. It’s a jumbled up mixture of emotions. I’m sad, and frustrated, and selfishly disappointed. The bigger part of me is in complete awe that these past few months ever happened. It seems so obvious that Tanya came here to be saved from a horrible life in the mental institution and to find a family. You can’t even question all of these little moments where pieces fell perfectly into place. It’s almost unreal.
My mind is officially blown.
To answer a question I know a lot of people will ask: Yes, we still want to take part in the host program again. Probably next summer when Tyler has more time off of work. Despite having the most stressful past two weeks ever, we are still jumping up and down and screaming, “Here am I. Send me!”
Living your life with purpose? It’s a wild ride, that’s for sure, and it’s just a tiny bit addicting.