Bear Sighting – A Father’s Journey to Latvia

I play Ice Hockey almost every day of the week, I wished for a son who shared my love of the sport and Latvia ended up delivering more than I could ever imagine.

I remember waking up at 4am to meet the in-country social worker in the lobby of my hotel.  It was her that was going to take me on the long 5 hour drive from Riga to meet Maksims in an orphanage directly east, only 10 miles off the Russian boarder.  I remember the icy road narrowing as we left the city toward the countryside into a small two-lane highway lined with trees so covered in snow they were about to snap.    It was the middle of January in the coldest place I had ever been on a journey of a lifetime.   I was speechless but filled with excitement of finding my son.

1

Photos:  On the way to the orphanage, the views, the road!

I had read about Boy #23 on the ministry of children’s waiting list and inquired about him, asked for a photo which ultimately lead to me asking to be matched to him.  A match that allowed me to be invited to the country to meet Boy #23, Maksims.  This orphanage was so remote that I later learned that they do very few adoptions per year, sometimes only one.  In fact the day we showed up at our scheduled time to meet Maksims they didn’t actually think we’d show up so they didn’t prepare Maksims or keep him out of school that day.  We waited while the director of the orphanage checked my paperwork, my passport and called for Maksims to return from school to meet a visitor.  Latvian’s are very formal, very proud and very direct.

The time had come for me to actually meet Maksims, a Russian speaking 7 year old boy that had no idea why I was there.  I quickly learned that the orphanage children know, are taught or find out that America is the “golden ticket”.  This close to the border it’s common for children and adults to speak Russian and Latvian however they speak very little English.  I was always with my attorney or social worker assigned to me by CAN while in Latvia and both speak English as act as translator.  We sat in the orphanage director’s office looking out at the snow covered fields that led to snow covered forests waiting for Maksims to arrive.   The orphanage was only a few years old and the facility was welcoming, painted a happy color of yellow on the outside and arcitectually a great design where modern meets traditional.  I remember thinking, “This looks like an ivy league dorm”.  For some reason it gave me great comfort to know that the children were in a place of warmth, love and security.

2

Photos:  The orpahage

The door opened slowly and he came in, head down but smiling, timid and shy,  he just found out that someone from America was here to meet him.  It was his day!  I have to stop to tell you that whenever a car pulls up at the orphanage and strangers get out their is a frenzied excitment that follows.  Children from all over the inside of the orphanage press their faces in the windows to see who it is, and wonder, “are they here for me?”  To experience this sight is one of the most sad, humbeling and moving moments of my journey as they are “the waiting children”.  It made me proud that I had gotten to this point, confirming my choice to adopt a waiting child with special needs. I wanted to change the life course of a child, forever.  I had found out on the ride that they wanted me to be very careful if I should decide to select Maksims.  My attorney who did not make the long 5 hour ride had seen Maksims in a hospital once near Latvia and said he may have more issues than I would want to deal with.  It sounds harsh but it’s their job to make sure it’s a good fit for both sides.  Since she had witnessed Maksims first hand I was even more causious  than normal.  During our visit he seemed fine.  Since my attorney was not there I had no idea what she was speaking about, this kid was fantastic.

Bear 7

Photos:  On the left was taken the day I met my son in the orpahnage on January 23rd 2012. The photo on the right is what he looked like in July of 2012 just six months later, as an American.

I was asked to bring a present for the boy as an “ice breaker” and I had decided based on his age that a small $7 Lego car would fit into my suitcase, I even brough a gift bag all the way from the USA to wrap it in.  He loved it and we sat there building it and playing with it together for over an hour.  He was so determined to put that car together thorough the visual directions to show me he could do it.  The pride he had when he finished was a smile ear to ear.  We made a game of rolling it back and forth, came up with rules like if you hit an extra piece (not used in the car) while rolling it to one another then the other person got the piece.  Remember we could only communicate with smiles, made up sign language which we really laugh about today.   It’s hard to describe but we connected in such a way, making rules for a game, totally understanding each other, we had nothing to worry about.  I knew without a doubt,  this was my son, he called me Papa from that day on.  Even the orphan director was impressed with our skills to communicate.   My in-country social worker the attorney had sent me with became nervous since the attorney was certain I would not select Maksims based off what she knew.   I was sure.  I did not see anything even close to what she saw and had heard about of this boy.

An few hours later we arrived at the Orphan Judge chambers with Maksims, my social worker and the orphan director to plead our case that I wanted to take the boy into my custody for the next 3 weeks while the courts checked in on us in Riga.  We made great progress with the judge, she agreed to “think about it” overnight and asked us to come back in 2 days.  I was the first single male to adopt from the country and they needed time to process the thought, ask their team opinions and deliberate on the case.  Lucky for me I had taken a small photo album to Latvia to show extra photos of me, grand-papa, my sister, the house, the children’s bedroom, the dog, my friends, basically my life in 30 or so photos.  I highly suggest doing this to anyone on this journey, Maksims could not stop looking at the photos the entire 3 weeks we were there.  In fact we added photos of him and I to the book so he became part of the photo story and part of the family.

It was a long 2 day break, several hundred miles back and forth from Riga to the orphange but our day in Orphan court was here.  We arrived at the orphanage, sat in the same office as before, delivered cookies and sweets to the director (a custom of courtesy) and chatted before going to see the orphan judge over the region.  This time my attorney came with me since she had not “officially” met the boy I wanted to adopt, the boy that was a troubled soul and perhaps more than I could deal with.  She was stunned, regretful and saddened that she had given me so much information.  It was not the same boy  she had seen and since Maksims is not a common name in Latvia, she was mistaken.  We each learned 2 different lessons that day, for me it was follow your heart.  I know she was just trying to protect me but I can’t tell you how many times on that long ride to the orphanage I that I thought, “should we stop”, or “what do I know, she’s a smart attorney.”  I felt bad for the attorney, she felt even worse but I did feel protected and that I had someone watching out for me.  His real profile from the Latvian website on waiting children was not very good so it was very possible that he could have been a poor choice.  Below is the profile that lead me to want to meet what eventually became my son, a professional would also have the same opinion as my attorney.  It’s a profile of what many consider much more extreme than “mild delays”.  Ironically the high F scores would have scared most off just reading the profile however at the time I had no idea what they meant.   After the inquiry I received a photo and asked to be matched and the country agreed to match us.

#23. Boy born on February 7, 2004:

  • boy has brown eyes and light brown hair. Child is friendly, open, hardworking, helpful, responsible, responsive, is not aggressive, but sometimes has a lack of self control, is emotionally labile, can be rude, but in general he doesn’t engage in arguments, conflicts, but sometimes can be stubborn. In September 2010 he started to study in the 1st grade of the local elementary school, school results are good, he can read, write, count, but still he has learning problems and it is possible that he will need to be educated following the special program. Boy has difficulties to concentrate for very long time, he is hardworking and loves taking part in different activities, but because of his unstable attention and low capacity to concentrate quickly looses the interest and starts to disturb others. Boy loves singing, watching TV (cartoons) and enjoys playing with others. Boy often is ailing (cold, rhinitis, etc.). His development, as well as his weight and height, doesn’t correspond to the normal of the age, at the moment it corresponds to the 4 years old child;
  • there is no information about pregnancy and prenatal development of the child;
  • medical diagnosis – delay of physical development, behavior troubles in the early childhood;
  • diagnosis of psychiatrist – light cognitive troubles without somatic troubles (F 06.70), mixed specific learning troubles (F 81.3), troubles of activity and attention (F 90.0), hyperkinetic troubles (F 90.1);
  • further treatment – anemia treatment;
  • by a court judgment, the mother has been deprived from custody rights in January 2009, mother is alcohol abused, she did not provide the appropriate living conditions for their children. Mother has never visited child, she has never shown interest in his current well being and in his future, the oldest sister has visited him once;
  • child has one adult sister, the decision of the orphan’s court on separation of the children in case of adoption has been made.

The orphan judge agreed and even commented that we look alike, we had won them over.  The man that physically removed Maksims from his home was on the panel.  I’ll never forget him, Maksims was the first child he had to remove from a home and he held a special place in his heart since he saw what the journey the child had been through.  Maksims was 3 at that time  of removal, left alone in a home to fend for himself for several days repeatedly.  His mother, an alcoholic and unable to care for her children, had become a common story you may hear over and over.  This man saved my son’s life, he saw our connection over the course of my stay and advocated for the pairing and several months later showed up in court to make sure the final verdict was granted in the major court.   I’m still in contact with the office of the orphan judge that first gave me custody, sending them photos and updates.  Now and then I’ll receive a message back in broken typed English that they love the photos, they love that he’s happy and can see it in his eyes.

We went back to Riga for our 2 weeks of living as a family with the Latvian courts checking in on us, making reports and meeting with the attorney.  It all sounds complicated but the attorney and in-country social worker arranged everything.  I just had to be ready to have company that was scheduled or be picked up in the lobby of our hotel when asked. He began calling me Papa immediately and felt totally comfortable with me as his dad.  The time passed quickly and Riga is a wonderful city to be “lost” in.  We stayed in Old Town Riga and you can walk easily everywhere and enjoy sight seeing through the 750 year old city with cobble stone streets.   It did take me some time to get used to the cold, seemingly unfriendly nature of the Latvian people however I was happier than ever before and in one of the most visually beautiful cities in the world.   During this bonding time we went to the grocery store, clothing store, museum, circus, parks and doctors getting check ups.   Looking back at the time its a wonderful memory and a perfect process for the bonding period.  Ultimately I was granted the approval to take Maksims back to the USA.

4

Photos:  My father took me to the circus every year so I wanted to do the same for Bear, our first outing in Riga. We did lots of shopping at the local stores and sometimes we just had “kid” fun blowing bubbles.

During the stay in Riga I had changed his name to Bear and moved the Maksims to the middle name. I wanted him to have a name I picked to celebrate his American life and honor his Latvian/Russian name as the middle.  It was easier since he didn’t speak English and worked out just fine, he embraced his new name and for the first week or so I called him Bear Maksims, later dropping the Maksims.  I picked Bear after hearing the story of what he went through, his lineage is Russian, his birth parents are suspected to be Russian and the Bear is a sign of Russia’s pride,  strength, power and endurance.   The Russian national hockey team often uses the skating bear as a symbol for their team, it was a perfect fit and he was starting to blossom as a kid.

5

Photos:  The name Bear, A new dog “Finn” and learning to swim.

Once in America we spent the next several weeks visiting doctors, trying to find out what the profile said were the issues.  Doctor after doctor we visited, nothing seemed to be out of the normal.  Bear’s  pediatrician has 2 boys near the same age, both on the small side and similar behaviors.  It was comforting to know that he was checking out to not have anything severely wrong or what had been implied.  Even non verbal IQ test was given to provide a baseline of where he was in the learning process and his capabilities.  I finally stopped going to the doctors offices when my pediatrician said, there is nothing wrong with this boy, he’s on the small side of normal, no learning disabilities and everything seems fine, stop coming!  I had hired a private tutor for him to study and catch up on the basics, we arrived in America on Valentines day so the school year would be out shortly in June and this time would allow us to play “catch up” on his education and socialization.  He was tutored a few times a week for school.  His love of sports was soon uncovered as he watched Papa play Ice Hockey and shortly after several games asked if he could play hockey too. Of course I said yes and hired him a private hockey coach to start.  Today he has 4 private hockey coaches, loves the game as much as I do and we share the love of the sport, it’s in his blood.

6

Photos:  The Latvian took to the ice like his Papa, hockey is in his blood.

With summer coming to an end, school looming in the near future and a boy who could now carry a conversation in English, we were all set.  Since Bear turned 8 in February he was supposed to go into third grade a battle was beginning with the public school system.  He needed to be in 2nd grade from all accounts from the experts but the system said due to his age he should be in 3rd, a battle I eventually won.  I had desperately wanted him to attend my private church school however the more I researched the situation the more I had to accept that the public school system was more equipped to handle “English as a second language” and I decided to put him into the local public school.  I was devastated but realized that it was the best decision I could have made.  This was about what would be best for him vs. what I thought about the public schools, which ended up to be wrong.  Even today I’m thankful I made that decision, he thrived, got attention and experts with adopted children and his growth excelled.   Don’t get me wrong, there were challenges at first.  He didn’t know how to behave in a classroom situation but shortly learned.   I was strict and didn’t tolerate bad reports, bad behavior but wanted him to know what the expectations were in school.  I think you could say that we both learned a lot early on in our school days of the 2nd grade.  He entered the 2nd grade in August of 2012 and he started to blossom as a young boy, the speed at which he was learning was amazing, even to the teacher.  I always believed that to be a teacher you have to love the art of teaching, love children and boy-o-boy did we get lucky!  Ms. H was the perfect choice for Bear’s first teacher, a young 2nd grade teacher who loved exactly what she wanted to do,  which was teach.  There were rough patches, several daily reports of “yellow faces” which meant, not so good but early on in the process the “green smily faces” were praised with great joy.  A few months later we were getting green smiley faces every day. His test scores were on par with his grade, for the most part he was a normal 2nd grader, and happy. This is a boy who just a few months ago could not speak the language, not write and had not been taught how to act in a classroom.  In December we celebrated him being awarded student of the month for his grade.  And yes, I’m one of those parents who proudly put the bumper sticker on their car that says, My Kid Is Student Of The Month!

7

Photos:  Halloween at school as Huckleberry Finn then at night a Power Ranger with Papa.  Later Bear told me I had my mask upside down!  We can’t forget about soccer in the summertime.

There are highs and lows of the process, you will need to be strong.  I honestly could write a book, I never get tired of telling the story. There are so many facets of the story I have not gone into but I think the basics are covered. If you’ve read this far you must be ready to start your journey. You will have so much to talk about. When I arrived in Latvia for the first time I created “Bear Sightings:” for the start of my Facebook entries that always were attached to a photo for my family and closest of friends to follow and support us.  Everyone close to me knew what we were doing all along the way. Even today I still start all my Facebook posts as “Bear Sightings:” so everyone knows what to expect, a story about an amazing kid that changed my life.  There are times you will remember forever, like at Christmas when he received a letter from Santa confirming that Santa knew where his house was located and he received his request for toys and game plus something for Papa.  Bear said, “he finally found me for the first time”, we celebrated what Bear considers his first Christmas.  Seeing an under weight, neglected boy become a confident, athletic, well mannered playful boy who can’t sit still in church  … well there are no words that can give you the emotions you will have during the journey.   We live today as a happy family and I recently entered back into the Latvian “waiting children” program to find 2 more “special needs” brothers for Bear to be the eldest sibling in our family. We play more ice hockey than I’d like to admit to and cherish the moments each day brings us. If you are lucky, you will get assigned to an amazing domestic social worker like I did.  They are the unsung heroes that fight for these children everyday. She made the difference in my decision to get back into the Latvian program with CAN and find more sons.  For us, the journey continues.

8

9

Photos Top Row:  First floor of the house lit up at Christmas time so Santa could find us, it’s referred to as

THE HOUSE OF HUCKLEBERRY.  A King in the Church pageant.

Photos Bottom Row: A letter from Santa and Christmas morning with Papa.

Adopting families always ask me for any advice or words of wisdom.  I would have to say the following:   1) Don’t wait until you have all the money  completely saved   2) Follow your heart but make sure you are listening to what it is really saying   3) It’s okay to say “no” to a match, even if you’ve met the child and it just doesn’t feel right        4) Take tons of photos, especially together   5) Share and write about your story

Huck

10

11

Photos Top Row:  On the porch after church & a long day at practice

Photos Bottom Row:  Father and son on a “set”, 3 generations of hockey players (myself, Bear and Grand-Papa)

Read More

3 Reasons to Start Your Latvia Adoption Process

Many of the families in our Latvia adoption program choose to participate in our Orphan Hosting program to get a general idea of what the process is like. It’s a great way to connect with Latvia and get a sense of what the adoption process ahead could hold while giving a child the chance to see what the world outside of Latvia has to offer!

Below are three reasons why you should consider getting started with your adoption process right away, rather than waiting until after the hosting program:

1. The Kids are AMAZING

The kids in Latvia come from various backgrounds but the one thing they have in common is that they are all AMAZING! The kids in adoption range from 9-15 years old. Most don’t have any medical concerns. They come from rough pasts and need someone to give them the chance they deserve. No child deserves to not have a family. Many of the children have some concept of English if they aren’t already fluent! They are charming, sweet, and so ready to see what America is all about!

2. Matching

In the Latvia adoption process, once a family’s dossier has been submitted they are put in line to receive their referral. If your family begins the adoption process prior to hosting, and you do not move forward with the adoption of your host child, you will have the option to receive a referral through the traditional Latvia adoption program.

3.One Step Closer to Bringing Your Child Home! 

With Latvia Hosting, it is common for families to re-host their child if they are hoping to pursue their adoption. Depending on the length of time that it takes a family to complete their adoption, they may end up re-hosting multiple times. If your family is prepared to begin the Latvia adoption process, we encourage you to get started right away so that you can complete the process and bring your child home as soon as possible!

If your family would like more information on our Latvia adoption program, contact our CAN adoption specialists today!

Read More

#StaffSpotlight: Meet Shelby!

This year, in order to give all of our families the opportunity to learn a little bit more about our devoted staff, we will be featuring different team members in our Staff Spotlight series! Since the majority of our interactions with families take place over the phone or through email, families rarely have the opportunity to put a face to the name they know so well. Our Staff Spotlight series is a great way for each of our families to understand a bit more about who we are, what we do, and why we hold adoption close to our hearts.

For our very first #StaffSpotlight, we’d like you to meet Shelby!

1. What is your job title and description here at GWCA/CAN?
I am an international adoption counselor for the CAN department, which essentially means I wear several different hats! I am a case manager for 6 different CAN programs and work with a revolving caseload of families in the referral department, as well as inquiry families who are just getting started with the adoption process.

2. How long have you been working at GWCA/CAN?
I have been working in the CAN department for just about one and a half years!

3. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Although there are several amazing and rewarding aspects of my job, I have to say the absolute best part of my job is making the phone call to tell my families they have been matched with their kiddo! The genuine reactions to my exciting news never fails to get me all choked up with happy tears!

4. What is the most difficult aspect of your job?
Families typically spend the majority of their adoption journey with me in the referral department – waiting. Although this means I get to spend more time building a relationship with my families, the wait to be matched often times becomes very difficult for families. It’s hard for me to see my families struggle and to not be able to simply snap my fingers and have their child’s referral in my hand.

5. Why do you love adoption?
I love adoption (especially international!) because it helps children all over the world find their forever families.

6. Fun facts about you:
– I could live off caffeine and mac ‘n cheese.
– I have a very talkative, very furry orange kitty named Oliver.

Shelby’s current featured adoption programs are Burundi and Latvia! Keep an eye out for the next blog in our Staff Spotlight series to learn a bit more about one of these featured programs. In the meantime, if your family is interested in learning more about adopting a child from Burundi or Latvia, visit our website or contact Shelby today!

Read More

CAN Families Traveling!

a8e03580-3895-4e08-8a23-99fb7855ebadThere are countless exciting moments in each adoption journey, from the moment you begin submitting your paperwork to the moment you’re matched with your child. We love celebrating each of these moments as every step forward means a family is one step closer to having their child in their arms.

This week we are celebrating milestones for FOUR incredible families in our CAN adoption programs.

Welcome Home!

We would like to welcome home two families who have just traveled. One family who is adopting through one of our Africa adoption programs has just returned from a bonding trip with their kiddo, and one family has just returned from Latvia, bringing their kiddo home FOREVER!

We are so happy to know that you have all made it home safely, and we can’t wait to continue following your journeys!

One Step Closer!

In addition to welcoming two families home this week, we are delighted to announce that two other families have just received notice that they will be traveling soon! One of these families will be traveling to Bulgaria for a bonding trip, and the other family will be traveling to the Philippines to welcome the newest member of their family!

Congratulations to all four of these incredible families from all of us at Children of All Nations! For more information on CAN’s international adoption programs, contact info@childrenofallnations.com today!

Read More

Family Traveling to Latvia!

latvia

This summer, so many amazing families stepped forward to welcome children from Latvia and China into their homes through our Orphan Hosting programs. While some of these families did so with the intention of giving the children an incredible experience or advocating on their behalf, many of our host families have been working diligently to get through the adoption process to welcome their host child into their family forever.

One such family that participated in our Latvia hosting program is taking an very exciting step in their journey this week, as they’re packing their bags to travel to Latvia! This is their second Latvian adoption process through Children of All Nations, and we are so happy that we’ve been able to follow them through each step along the way!

We hope that they have a safe and wonderful trip, and we can’t wait to see all of the photos when they return!

Latvia Adoption Program

Children of All Nations’ Latvia adoption program specializes in placing healthy older children, sibling groups, and children of all ages with special needs. If you’re interested in learning if this program is right for your family, contact our CAN matching specialists today!

Latvia Hosting Program

We are currently matching children and sibling groups for our Latvia winter hosting program! If your family is interested in opening your hearts and your home this holiday season, visit our Orphan Hosting photo listing or contact our hosting coordinators at shannon@gwca.org!

Read More

Welcome Home! – Family Returns from Eastern Europe

iStock_000003438008Small (2)

Welcome Home!

We are delighted to welcome home one of the families from our Eastern European adoption programs! It is always so wonderful to see a child come home to their Forever Family, and we are so excited to see what their future holds! Congratulations from all of us at GWCA and CAN!

Learn more about our Eastern European adoption programs below:

Over the course of the past few years, our Eastern European adoption programs have continued to grow. As such, the Latvian adoption process has become more stable and predictable, and our Bulgarian Waiting Child adoption program has grown immensely! We now have many Bulgarian Waiting Children on our CAN Photo Listing that are in need of Forever Families. If you are interested in learning how your family can be matched with one of these children or how you can begin your adoption journey in one of our Eastern European adoption programs, contact our CAN Matching Team today!

 

Read More

Family Returns from Latvia!

latvia1-300x241We would like to welcome home one of the families in our Latvian adoption program that traveled right before the New Year to bring their kiddo home! We are so happy for this child and their new Forever Family as they begin the next leg of their journey together. Congratulations from all of us at Children of All Nations!

Our Latvian adoption program has both a Waiting Child and a Regular adoption track. Children in the “Regular” track program are typically age 9 and older and are considered medically healthy, while Children in the Waiting Child program can be a part of a sibling set or have some degree of special need. While every country has its own set of eligibility requirements for international adoption, the requirements for Latvia adoption are relatively open compared to others, allowing both single women and men to apply.

If you are interested in learning more about our Latvian adoption or hosting programs, contact our adoption consultants today!

Read More

4 Things You Didn’t Know About Adopting From Latvia

820
Latvia is one of the poorest countries within the European Union. The number of people struggling to live in poverty is rising since their separation from Russia in the 90’s.
The health care system remains one of the worst in Europe and as a result, Latvia has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in Europe. Most pertinently, there has been an increase in child mortality in recent years as a result of the poor health care. HIV/AIDS is also a problem – there are approximately 9,000 cases of the disease in Latvia.

The hopelessness of adults in E. Europe is so elevated now that the future of these kids is becoming bleaker and bleaker; something that simply cannot be tolerated! The Latvia government on the other hand is doing everything they can to make the adoption of their orphan children smooth and straightforward. They will do the matching based exactly on what you are open to. They will give you the option to review a file or a few files if necessary, before deciding whether or not the child or children is/are a good fit for your family. Most families are very happy with the first or second option they are presented with! So, if you are open to a child over age 8 or sibling groups and/or also would consider children with medical needs you could be matched very quickly after dossier submission.

map
Check out these 4 awesome things about Latvia adoption

Families typically see their first referral 6 months after submitting their dossier.

As soon as you accept a referral from Latvia you can travel to meet your child and bring them home after your first trip, there will be additional trips but you are not required to leave your child in country while the process takes place like with many other programs
Latvia is one of the poorest countries within the European Union. The number of people struggling to live in poverty is rising according to official statistics, 44% of children and young people are considered poor. Also there is a huge issue with human trafficking!
The Latvia government is doing everything they can to make the adoption smooth and straightforward. They will do the matching based exactly on what you are open to. They will give you the option to review a file or a few files if necessary, before deciding whether or not the child or children is/are a good fit for your family. Most families are very happy with the first or second option they are presented with!
Read More