(I wrote this last night but did not post it until this morning so Alaina could have an opportunity to review it :)
Today has been, obviously and as stated above, just an incredible day. Court could not have gone better this morning, and we are so excited and so thankful for our two precious boys, Calvin and Patrick. At the same time, this afternoon was somewhat anticlimactic, as for the second day in a row we were not able to visit either son :( The next time we will see them, sometime tomorrow afternoon, will be the time they are entrusted fully to our care!
As you would probably guess, we didn’t sleep the best last night. We rose and prepared for court. For me, that involved eating an ice cream bar for breakfast. For Alaina, it meant that breakfast would come after court; she was too nervous and excited to eat.
We left for court at the appointed time: 9:30. By 9:37, we were sitting in the car, parked outside of the courthouse. I can understand being prompt and early for such a momentous occasion, but this seemed to be pushing it a little :) Anyway, we waited outside until everyone arrived, then trooped into the waiting room. A few minutes before ten, we all climbed the three flights of stairs to the judge’s chambers.
The first family went into chambers a few minutes after ten. They were back out about twenty minutes later, in tears and hugging our translator and coordinator. At first we couldn’t tell if they were tears of joy or sadness. It quickly became clear that they were joyous tears: their adoption was final, and their fifteen days had been waived! The second family went in while the first family shared their experiences with us. Everything had gone smoothly for them; the soon-to-be father didn’t say exactly what was expected of him in his little speech, but our translator, Almira, adeptly covered for him, “interpreting” in the loser sense of the word but in a way that was more beneficial for his cause.
As we waited for the second family to finish, I became a little more nervous and stood instead of sitting calmly in the waiting area. All along, Alaina had been the jittery one while I was calm. The enormity and the closeness of it all started to sink in, however – this was by far the biggest “case” I have ever and likely will ever “argue” in court, and I wasn’t nervous? But as the hour approached I began to feel a little of the weight of it all.
The second family finished in about another twenty minutes. Again, there were tears and hugs as they emerged from the chambers, and we all shared in. Similar to Monday, however, one of the baby house directors had been told to arrive at eleven, but we were ready to go in at 10:45 (all three families had a boy in one baby house, but we alone also had a boy in the other one, and both directors were required to be there for the proceedings). So we had to wait. Today that was less of a problem, as it allowed for a debriefing from the second family. Their adoption had also been granted and their fifteen days waived. Both were positive signs for us.
The baby house director arrived a few minutes before eleven, and we followed her into the judge’s chambers. It was set up exactly as on Monday with the exception that a prosecutor for the state and a vital records clerk was also in attendance. The judge’s chambers are very light and airy, with a simple dignity. Obviously the judge sitting behind his desk was the focal point of the room. He sat at one end of the room, flanked by large windows on either side. It is a large room, perhaps twenty by forty feet. The sky-blue Kazakhstan flag is to his left, and the great seal of the country on the wall above his head. The ever-present photo of the president of Kazakhstan adorns the wall over one of the hutches (it is also in the offices of the baby house directors, doctors, and other officials we have met with). The walls are painted light blue, a few shades lighter than the flag. Two hutch-type pieces of furniture are in the room, loaded not with reporters (volumes of cases) or books but apparently with stacks of newspapers.
A short desk tees into his desk, perpendicular to it, at which his secretary and the prosecutor sit. We three – Alaina, Almira, and me, sit in swivel chairs several feet in front of this table, without a table or desk or anything in front of us. A huge conference table stands behind us and to our right, at which the two orphanage directors, our coordinator, the records clerk, and the social worker sit.
The judge appears to like horses: he has at least three statues or figurines we can see, the largest of which is the famous sculpture of Napoleon on his steed rearing, with a clock under the horse’s forefeet. Unlike most judges and attorneys, there are no diplomas, certificates, etc., adorning his walls.
The judge is wearing a black suit and tie. At neither hearing does he ever look at us that I could see; I speculate that it is because we speak only through a translator, for he does look at the directors when he addresses them and they answer. Even then, however, it is only a brief look. His attention is almost entirely given to the notes and documents on his desk.
Today the judge asks us some of the same questions he asked previously: what are our professions, who will care for the children, when we first visited them, do we support the petition to adopt and for immediate execution of the adoption (in other words, waiving the waiting period). He also informs us of our rights: the right to understand what is going on, to ask questions, to investigate facts and to submit documents, and to appeal the ruling of the court. (Although a significant portion of my experience is in appellate work, I pray there is no need to appeal anything today!) The judge also asks whether we want to challenge the court – i.e., request a change of judge I believe. I answer, no. (Of course not! Not after our friends’ adoptions have gone so smoothly!)
The prosecutor, whose job it is to represent the state and insure that laws and procedures are followed, has the right to ask us questions. He asks me only one: why do we want to adopt two children at once. This is my primary mistake: I state that I had a great relationship with my brother growing up, who was close to me in age, and we want this for our sons – and we did not think we could return for several years. That last bit was not something I should have said. But fortunately Almira is fully aware of this and translates it thus: and Alaina had a good relationship with her siblings, and also wants that for her sons. Very nice! This is why we need a translator (plus our Russian is very bad :)
The judge asks why we want to have the waiting period waived, and I answer that it is due to the medical needs of the boys and because I need to return to work. Then he asks whether I have anything else I would like to say, and I reiterate that we love these boys very much, that we have come to love them as we have visited them every day, that we will provide for all their medical, educational and other needs, and that we love them very much. (Notice a theme? That was one we were to stress, and I remembered!) The judge asks Alaina if she has anything to add, and she restates some of what I said and adds a few things I forgot to say.
Next it is the turn of the baby house directors. They read the full medical report for the boys, and state that they fully support the petition to adopt and to waive the waiting period. The records clerk informs the judge that the boys have no listed father and that they have received their mothers’ patronymic name. The social worker reads excerpts from our dossier to establish that we have the financial means to care for the boys.
Finally, it is the prosecutor’s turn. He summarizes much of what has been said and what we are doing, reading from a typed page before him, with notes he has taken through the proceedings. He does not object to the adoption going forward. Incredibly, unlike the first two families today, he does not oppose waiver of the waiting period. Only later do I realize everything that came to bear upon this decision. The orphanage director responds to the judge’s question that it is very difficult to repair Calvin’s cleft. Several times surgery was scheduled but he became sick and the surgery was canceled. The judge himself showed the prosecutor a picture of Calvin and his cleft. So it appears that everyone, including the judge, was on our side. Of course, the judge could have waived the waiting period even if the prosecutor objected, as the judge did for the first two families. But in our case, the prosecutor did not even oppose the waiver.
The judge wraps up the proceeding. We don’t understand what he is saying, and he is speaking too rapidly for Almira to keep up, but she gives us a big smile and a thumbs-up. We feel like we should thank the judge profusely, and perhaps even give him a hug, but we have already been warned not to thank the court. We can’t believe it as we walk out of court: it is official – we’re parents!
(One of the amazing things to me about this whole process was and continues to be that, although in our very first meeting with the Board of Education they told us we would not be allowed to adopt two boys, we have indeed been allowed to do so! In fact, in the pre-court hearing on Monday, the judge asked the orphanage directors and social worker only one question: could we adopt two children? Apparently they all answered in the affirmative, for nothing more was said about the two-issue. I was a little concerned the issue would arise again today, but the only mention of “two” was the prosecutor’s question why we wanted to adopt two at once. Very shortly after we started visiting the boys we knew there was no way we could go home with only one of them, and discussed the “what ifs” of a possible “only one” decision. I’m so thankful to God that issue never arose again!)
From court we returned to the apartment and drafted our blog entry for the day. Uploading the pictures takes longer than the drafting. Then we are off again for more paperwork – getting the changed birth certificates. Alas, the office we need is closed for the noon hour (which for this office extended until 2:30). So we have an hour and a half to spare. To fill the time, we shop at a little mall across the street, and find a number of treasures. We also exchange money to purchase tickets back to Almaty. The temperature has dropped dramatically, so we quickly return to our cars for warmth whenever we have to wait outside. Once we return to the office, it takes only a few minutes and signatures and we have the documents we need.
On our way back to the apartments, we stop and order our tickets, but learn we must return in a couple hours to pick them up. On our way back to our apartment, we stop at a little bookstore and find several children’s books in Russian, Kazakh, and English. After returning to our apartment, I run back out to convert some more dollars to tenge and to pick up a few items at the grocery store. On my return, I meet Almira waiting for me. It turns out that she has been waiting for several minutes for us because she needs us to sign some urgent papers. But alas, I had taken the keys to our apartment (the doors can only be locked with the key, and I locked it as I left) and Alaina could not let her in while I was gone! Almira was not upset, however, and we signed the forms and she quickly departed.
A short time later Almira and our driver returned. We picked up our tickets at the travel agent’s office and attempted to go to a notary to sign additional documents, but the notary had already closed. So we were dropped off at the other families’ apartment for supper. Meal preparation had only begun, however, when Igor, our main driver and acting attorney here, knocked on the door and announced, “We go – now!” Supper was thus delayed as we flew to another notary where Almira, our coordinator, and the notaries were already hard at work drafting documents for our signature. It was not an overly long process, but the day had been long enough that I fell fast asleep in my chair as I waited, my head against the wall.
Despite my earlier weariness, I am still up, trying to remember all the details from this wonderful day. It was a fun evening; after returning to the other families’ apartment, we spent some time talking about the rest of our trip with our coordinator, devoured a delicious supper, and enjoyed a hilarious movie. It was late when we walked back to our apartment, but the other new fathers joined us in our walk and made us feel safer.
As I go to sleep this evening, my thoughts are once again on the Psalm upon which I thought this morning as I prepared mentally for court: “Defend me God and plead my case . . . Oh send your light forth and your truth; oh let them lead me well.” (Ps. 43.)