Thursday, January 15, 2009

One Year Home!

Where did the time go? It seems like only yesterday Rachel and I were flying home from Odessa, and yet it will be 1 year next week. It was a great year, full of ups and downs, but mostly ups. It was a while since I posted last time, so I’ll fill you in on Rachel’s achievements in the last several months.

She is a very happy girl, and looks like she’s securely attached to us. We’ve been very lucky (knock on wood) as most of the time we didn’t have the older adopted kids’ issues with her, so we feel very blessed. Rachel is currently repeating 4th grade, and she is thriving at school. She has absolutely awesome teachers – when other parents have to struggle to have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in place, I don’t have to do anything – they know what do to with her without IEP. Her classroom teacher somehow finds time to do one-on-one work with her, and to give her assignments based on her abilities. Her ESL teacher spends a lot of time with her working not only on English skills, but helping out with Social Studies, Science, etc. Academic work is not easy for Rachel, and she doesn’t like to read or study, but the fact that she says “I love going to school” very often, speaks for itself – they are doing something right there! She’s currently reading at the mid 1st grade level, which is a huge milestone for her, because a year ago she was reading at a 6-year old level in Russian when she was 10. She mastered multiplication tables, learned long division, and started to do some word problems. But the main thing is – she finally SPEAKS ENGLIGH!!! It took a long time, and I was very worried about it. Then all of a sudden, a month ago I was driving Rachel and her friends, and all of a sudden I heard her speaking with them! It was like a light bulb moment - something clicked, and she started to speak. It’s not correct English yet, but she’s speaking, and that’s what’s important.

What else? Rachel is doing chorus and PE Intramurals at school, and takes hip-hop and cheerleading lessons outside of school. In December we celebrated her 11th birthday (first in America!), so I took her and a couple of friends to the girls’ salon to have their up-dos, manicure and a make-up. They had a blast!

Both girls grew 2.5 inches this year, Rachel gained 12 lbs, and Victoria 5 lbs. They are the best of friends and love each other to pieces. At first I was worried that Rachel plays on the same level as Victoria, with the same toys, coloring books, etc., but then I understood that she needs to experiment everything she missed while being in the orphanage, so going through all childhood stages is a good thing. I think she adjusted very well because we set a routine as soon as we came home a year ago, and she thrives on the discipline and the routine. She’s the only one in her 4th grade class, whose bedtime is 8:00 pm :)

Victoria turned 6 in December. She is in kindergarten this year, and she just loves it. During the holiday break she was counting days until she can go to school again! She reads at the beginning 2nd grade level, can add and subtract over the tens, and her classroom teacher is doing a great job working with her individually and keeping up her reading and math skills. She started piano lessons this year, and now she and I play in 4 hands!

So overall we had a pretty good year with a lot of firsts for Rachel, I can’t complain! Of course, it’s not easy. Even though the girls love each other, they still bicker a lot, and want my attention all the time. It’s like having two 6-year olds instead of 6-year and 11-year olds :) But at the same time it’s a pleasure being their parents, and a lot of fun watching them grow into smart and beautiful young ladies.

Here are a couple of pictures:

Rachel a year ago in Odessa:

In soccer uniform in July:

At the Marineland park in Niagara Falls:

At friend's birthday party:

Another party:

Watching fall folliage

Picking apples at the farm:

Girls showing their up-dos and make-up at Rachel's birthday party:

Victoria turned 6:
At the mall during the holidays:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Family pictures!

We finally had our family pictures taken! My friend and co-worker Teri came over to our house to shoot our first ever professional pictures as a family of 5! She did an amazing job, and we spent all weekend trying to choose the best ones out of 140 images she took! Teri, thank you VERY MUCH!

And this Saturday we are leaving for a much needed weeklong vacation to Cancun! The girls will be staying with Grandma, and I miss them already, but I can’t wait to spend the week at the ocean...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

First Mother’s Day with Rachel!

Ukraine doesn’t celebrate Mother’s Day. Instead, they celebrate a Women’s Day, which is great in my opinion – it’s a holiday for all women, and you don’t have to be a Mother to enjoy the gifts and attention. But here in the States we embraced the Mother’s Day, and of course, it’s one of my favorite holidays. Not only it was a first Mother’s Day for Rachel, but also, as my blogging friend Tina said, it was a very first Mother’s Day for me as a mother of 3 kids (I still can’t believe I have three)!

About a month ago Rachel started giving me some hints about a special gift for me :) Something like this: “Mama, I’m making something for you, but I won’t tell you.” It was very cute! Then the last week or so both girls were very mysterious and tried to cover their art projects when I was nearby :) And finally on Mother’s Day I’ve got gifts from all 3 kids, and it was a VERY special day.

Then went to see the first major festival of the season in Rochester area – Lilac Festival.

The girls had a lot of fun – they explored beautiful lilac bushes, climbed trees, had fun on the rides, ate ice cream, and of course had a photosession. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Spring is here

After the crazy week of mid-80s and another week of 40s, spring finally came, and the girls are having a lot of fun playing outside. Every time I see them on the swing set (luckily, we have 2 swings for both of them!), I think how lucky they are to have a built-in playmate for each other! It was different in Ukraine. Alex was an only child for 14 years, but we’ve never felt that he was missing out by not having a sibling. We lived in a big 9-stories building with the huge "dvor" (courtyard), and at any given time there were at least 10-15 kids playing outside, and at least 3-4 Alex’s age. So he was never bored and always had somebody to play with. Even when we moved to the States, there were a lot of Russian immigrant kids in our first apartment complex, and Alex made a lot of friends there. By the time Victoria was born, we already lived in the suburban development with virtually no people outside at any time. Luckily I have friends with kids, and we do a lot of play dates, but yet I felt that Victoria missed out on not having a sibling. Not anymore! Now the girls have each other, and it works out great!

Lately their favorite game is "dochki-materi" – daughters and mothers. It was my favorite game when I grew up, but Victoria never seemed to have any interest in playing with the dolls before. But now it all changed! Their favorite dolls are baby dolls ("pupsik" in Russian), and they are taking a very good care of their babies, making sure they are fed, have their naps, baths, etc.

Most of the time the girls speak Russian, but I can hear more and more English phrases from the playroom :) For example, a couple of days ago as they were getting ready for the soccer practice, I heard Victoria saying in English "I love soccer", and Rachel immediately replied also in English "Me too"! It’s also funny to hear how they repeat whatever Oleg and I are saying :) Though we speak Russian at home, our Russian is very americanized. For example, some words we say in English only, such as "All set", "Let’s go", or "Have fun". We also have a habit of mixing both Russian and English words, and we had to carefully watch what we say while in Ukraine because our friends couldn’t understand the English words we were throwing here and there. When the girls can’t answer my question, or don’t know something, I usually say: "What do you mean ti ne znaesh?" – meaning "What do you mean you don’t know?". Well, yesterday, Victoria couldn’t find one of her toys, and I heard Rachel saying with my tone of voice "What do you mean ti ne znaesh?" It was very funny.

Rachel continues to improve academically. But man, it’s not easy to be a tutor! When I worked as a math teacher in Ukraine, I supplemented my income with private math lessons, and let me tell you, one hour with one student is as tiring as 3-4 periods with the whole class! So 1 – 1.5 hours is the top of my ability working with Rachel, usually I’m beat up after that :) But recently Victoria surpassed Rachel in reading, so now she’s my teacher’s assistant! It’s really great because I can do something else, but still listen to Rachel’s reading, while Victoria corrects her if needed (Rachel needs to be corrected for most of the words she reads, so she really needs somebody to sit with her all the time).

The other day Victoria had a picture day at her dance studio, and Rachel had a chance to see the studio and all the great costumes. She’s not taking the lessons now because I don’t want her to be overwhelmed with so many activities, but next school year she’ll definitely start the dance lessons if she wants to.

What else is going on? Victoria had a preschool field trip to the Butterfly Garden at the Strong Museum. They had a lesson about the butterflies’ life cycle and then went to see the butterflies.

I can’t say enough good words about her awesome preschool teachers this year. She learned a lot – they had "Show and Tell" for a different letter every week, which attributed greatly to her ability to read. They had a restaurant unit, a post office unit, learned about water lifecycle, and even grew butterflies in their classroom! And yesterday they had an amazing Mother’s Day Tea with an awesome performance, gifts for Moms, treats, etc. Thanks to my Mom, who drives her to preschool, Victoria was able to benefit from this amazing program – not all working parents are so lucky. And even if I was a stay at home mom, I would never be able to create such a curriculum for her, so I’m very happy Victoria had such a great enrichment opportunity.

Here is one of the songs from their performance:

And this is Victoria with her wonderful teachers:

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pen Pals

While preparing for our trip to Ukraine, I virtually "met" Kelly, another adoptive mom. We had so many similarities in our trips – our SDA appointment was on the same day – November 20th, we both had a court session in the beginning of December, both went home during the holidays, both went back to Ukraine in a middle of January (I’m on Jan 14th, she’s on January 12th), and both came home at the end of January (I’m on Jan 26th, she’s on Jan 27th)! Kelly and her husband came home with 2 kids – a 10-year daughter Diana and a 4-year old son Will, and now Rachel and Diana are pen pals!!! Of course, Rachel’s English skills are not good enough to write letters yet, so she’s writing her letters to Diana in Russian. Unfortunately, her Russian skills are also very limited, so I’m helping her to write the letters (while Diana writes her letters by herself!). But I think it’s a great idea to exchange real letters, and Rachel thinks so too!

What else is new? A couple of days ago we celebrated 3 months since Rachel came home. And you know what? All of a sudden I noticed that she started understanding more and more English, and even started to communicate in English! Just a couple of days ago I heard her saying to Victoria’s friend “Come here” and “I’m gonna get you”. Maybe for some kids it’s not a big deal, but for Rachel it’s huge, and I’m anxious to see the difference at 6 months’ mark!

This weekend we went to the Fish Hatchery at our local park, and the girls had a lot of fun feeding the fish with the special fish food. It was so cool watching the fishes jumping out of the water and opening their mouths to get the food!

We also went to the circus – the Damascus Shrine Circus was in town. Though Rachel has been to the circus in Odessa (there is a permanent circus there), she’s never seen the show on 3 arenas at the same time! The girls loved the show and especially the pony rides during intermission.

Another first for Rachel last week: a lawn mower! After a week of summer-like weather our lawn needed a trim. But that was something Rachel couldn’t understand! There are almost no lawns in Ukraine, so people don’t mow them! Can you believe that she’s never seen the lawn mower before?

And this is the last warm day last week (it was only 34 ° F this morning :). Rachel is reading "Neznayka" (a boy that didn't know anything) to Victoria. It was my favorite book when I was growing up, and it's so nice that my daughters like it too!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Weather in Rochester

March 30, 2008. Temperature: 28 ° F

April 3, 2008. Temperature: 54 ° F

April 18, 2008. Temperature: 85 ° F (notice the lack of leaves on the trees!)

Also we had some other "firsts" this week for Rachel:

- First playdate! An 11-year old girl from our neighborhood came over, and all 3 girls had fun riding the bikes and drawing with the sidewalk chalk. It was so neat to hear Rachel trying to use English words to communicate!

- First Delta Sonic Super Kiss Car Wash! Cost - $11.99. Rachel's reaction - PRICELESS!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spring break

The spring break is here, and the girls are having fun. A couple of days ago we bought Rachel a new bike – something she wanted for a long time. She was SOOOOO happy, you can’t imagine. She repeated over and over again how happy she is that her dream came true!

On Sunday we went to the mall, and I ended up having a make-up session at the Estee Lauder counter. I’m not a make-up person, so I almost didn’t recognize myself in the mirror :) Oleg and the girls approved my new look, but then Victoria started crying that she wants her mommy back :) To appease her, the make-up lady put some lipstick on both girls and gave them a lip gloss as a gift. Of course, Victoria immediately stopped crying :)

Then, after a mandatory ice cream and carousel ride, the girls had their faces painted and received balloons from the clown. Again, it was one of the “firsts” for Rachel. It never occurred to me that she’s never had anybody to create a balloon especially for her or to paint her face. When the clown gave her the balloon flower she requested, her face just lit up. You would’ve thought she’s got a new car or a moon from the sky!

Every time Oleg and I are amazed at the little things that make Rachel happy. We take so much for granted, not realizing that simple things like riding the bike or getting a balloon made by a clown are not available to all kids in the world. Yes, biologically she’s 10 years old, kind of too old to enjoy some of the little kids activities. But socially she’s like 6-7 years old, who’s catching up on everything she missed in her life. Take the playground for example. I hear “Mom, watch me” more often from Rachel than from Victoria.

She’s making more progress with the school work. Yesterday I gave her a page with 50 division problems (from the multiplication tables), and for the first time ever she didn’t make any mistakes! The math word problems, even the simplest ones, are still a mystery to Rachel, she’s having difficulties with abstract concepts. With her reading we are making one step forward, and two steps back. It’s hard for her to remember all the rules: the “ake”, “ike”, “ain” families, short or long vowels, etc. But by now we know that the only thing that works for her is repetition, so we make sure to work on the same concept over and over again and then return to it to make sure she didn’t forget.

This week I signed both girls up for gymnastics camp in the mornings, and for swimming classes at night. And the swimming lessons are free because our local YMCA has the “free swimming lessons” promotion during the spring break!

And finally last week I received Rachel’s Ukrainian passport back from the Ukrainian Consulate at New York City. We are done with the post-adoption paperwork!