07 November 2010

Parent Revelation of the Day

Two and a half year olds don't recognize shifting clocks to Standard Time. That's right. Sunday morning when the clock says it's 5:30am, Mebratu's internal clock says it's 6:30am and time to play......with the loudest toy he can reach from his closet. The funny part (not really) is our internal clocks welcomed the extra hour of sleep.

We learned two lessons this morning - one old, one new. The new lesson is we are looking forward to shifting clocks back to Daylight Savings Time when the clock shift works to our advantage! The old lesson we re-learned is to better place toys in his closet (i.e., the loud ones on the top shelf).

We had our first Social Worker visit yesterday and it went very well. She helped us update our package after we moved here so it was good to see a familiar face. She will be coming back two additional times for the required 6-month and 12-month reports. Ethiopia requires three Social Worker reports for the first year: 3, 6, and 12 months after arriving home.

She was amazed that Mebratu feeds himself without wearing most of the food, can drink from a real cup, and mimics everything I (David) do.

31 October 2010

Home 11 Weeks

Yes, it's been a while. Today happens to be our 11th Week Anniversary bringing Mebratu home. He has kept us busy. What's kept us busier is my ship has been at sea for a while since we brought him home. Of the 77 days we've had Mebratu home, I've only been home for 34 of them. Alicia has done great as a single parent! My mother visited as well as Alicia's good friend Andi which greatly helped. We even had a date night thanks to Andi!

We've learned from friends of 2-3 year olds that nearly all of our challenges are the same as anyone with a 2.5 year old. We also admit that part of the challenge has been figuring out what he's been used to. The other challenge is what he wants actually changes from minute to minute. One morning he wants the banana peeled; the next morning it's Armageddon when we peel it for him. Luckily, we're through most of that phase. All three of us - make that four of us when counting Chloe - our 9-yr old dog - have adjusted well. It seems like Mebratu has already been a part of the family forever.

We have a great church just a few miles from our house.
We have been taking him to Sunday School for a couple of months. He has done very well and I'm glad we started him early. From what we've read, it takes about 6 months for separation anxiety to take hold so we're about halfway to that point, and he doesn't mind it when we leave him.

We have already submitted the first report through the adoption agency. We will have three more reports due over the next year and then one yearly until he turns 18.
That's the requirement from the Ethiopian government, and I kind of like it even though it's extra paperwork for us. It shows how serious Ethiopia takes its children.

28 August 2010

Two Weeks Home

The past two weeks have been great and a learning experience. We think Mebratu is doing very well. He seems very fickle on what he wants.
One day the small glass of milk is okay with breakfast, the next day he screams with unbridled terror. After talking with a couple of parents of two-year-olds, we've learned that is typical for this age. He almost sleeps through the night - usually getting up in the middle of the night and getting back to bed easily when one of us tucks him back in. He naps for about two hours in the afternoon. We quickly learned that going without a nap is not a good idea - make that a living nightmare.

He eats nearly everything we give him. (Thanks aunt Laurie for the great monster bowl!) Food is clearly an important issue for him. Most of his meltdowns involve food.....or going to bed.
Speaking of bed, he has taken very well to the bed Alicia picked out for him. We've learned that if we sit in the room after putting him in bed, he falls asleep in about five minutes. Let's just say that not sitting in the room after putting him in the bed elicits a more emotional response.

While I was at sea last week, and my mother came for a visit to help Alicia. She was invaluable to say the least. In the first week he was home, he started to help me around the house and now even mimics what I do. I'm sure his enthusiasm for folding clothes won't last into the teenage years. His English is getting better, but I'm afraid that the first word he probably learned was "no." We look at a picture book before going to bed, and he now repeats what I say when he points to something in the book. All in all, we think he's doing well and we have to remind ourselves (sometimes multiple times daily) that he's only 2 and we've only had him for two weeks!

08 August 2010

Here We Go Again!!!!!!

We leave tomorrow for our Embassy Appointment and to bring Mebratu home!!!!! This is insanely quick and quite out of the ordinary. Because of the short notice and because I have to be back at work soon, we're not taking a layover either way - flying straight there and back. The trip back is when we'll be desperate for your prayers! We'll travel through 5 different airports and spend 29 hours in four different planes.......all with a 2-year old who has never been on a plane and doesn't know us at all. It's all about survival!!!

The Navy will have me at sea for most of September and October. I e-mailed the embassy and explained my Navy requirements and asked if they could review our paperwork and take our appointment a little ahead of the normal schedule. I received a very luke-warm response and thought nothing of it.......except when our agency called us Tuesday and said the Embassy contacted them and will see us on the 11th.....of August!!!!

Alicia has been baby proofing the house like crazy; I can barely open the door to the garage now without practice. I finished installing two baby gates and one car seat. Chloe was especially helpful in supervising the baby gate installation. Thanks to Alicia, Mebratu's room has been ready for a while.

Internet connectivity at the Guest House won't allow us to update this website, but Facebook works great. If you want to keep up with our adventure, Friend Request Alicia (Alicia Rowland).

07 August 2010

Lessons Learned - and a Few More Pictures!

We certainly learned quite a few lessons for the next time we travel to Ethiopia. We wanted to list a few of them for the families who have yet to travel.
1. Take a small back pack and pack it like you're not coming back until the evening when you leave the Guest House each day. In many cases, we didn't come back to the Guest House until dinner time. Be sure to take lots of snacks to give the children on the street. Here's a picture of the Transition Home!
2. Ensure your shopping day is early in your stay. Ours was the day before we left, and we wish we had more time to look and maybe come back to a few things instead of having to make the decision right then and there if we wanted to make the purchase.
3. Write down questions ahead of time for the medical doctor and child psychologist. Talking with them at the Transition Home was very helpful, and your mind may be a bit distracted from meeting your child that you'll need to refer to your notes!!
4. Bring your laptop computer. The internet connectivity is VERY slow, but everyone had luck updating Facebook. The connectivity was so slow that we couldn't bring up our blog to update it so we were glad to have Facebook. Don't even think of e-mailing pictures to your friends; the available bandwidth just won't support.
5. Use the laundry service at the Guest House and save on suitcase space. All laundry is done by hand! Our clothes were returned at the end of the next day. I included a few pictures of our room and suite at the Guest House.
6. Bring an adapter for the electrical outlet. We just took a transformer (as a backup to the transformer already in the comptuter electrical cord). The plugs on the transformer fit the wall outlet, but the outlets are recessed so you'll need a plug adapter to fit into the recessed outlet. I hope this makes sense. I should have taken a picture!
7. Don't worry about bringing lots of food. The breakfasts and dinners at the Guest House were great. Do buy bottled water out in town because it's way cheaper than at the Guest House. Since you'll use bottled water for everything, to include brushing teeth, you'll go through lots of water during the 7-day stay.
8. If you can afford it, plan an overnight layover both coming and going. We thought it helped with the jet lag and just made the long flights a little more manageable. We realize it makes the trip longer, but it's 30-something hours straight to and from the West Coast. We highly recommend Frankfurt. The hotel is connected to the airport, and we were in our room less than an hour from walking off the plane (that includes customs and passport check). I included a picture of the Sheraton lobby - very nice!
9. Bring warm PJs. The nights are a little chilly and there's no heat in the Guest House. We asked for an extra blanket and that helped a lot.
10. Speaking of chilly nights and mornings, bring hot chocolate if you're not a coffee or tea drinker like me. They have hot water at breakfast and it would have been nice to have something to warm up with in the mornings.
11. Many folks slept in ear plugs because of the barking dogs and rooster. The rooster must be blind because he started crowing at 3am (well before sunrise). The dogs did bark but we didn't think it was that bad. We didn't use ear plugs and slept great. Jet lag is going to get you up early anyway for the first 2-3 days.
12. Don't worry about fancy clothes for the court date. I wore slacks and a collared shirt and Alicia wore cotton slacks and a collared blouse. It's a rather informal experience and very quick. We were in the Judge's office for about 2 minutes.
13. After you get your ticket at the Addis airport, you'll complete an immigration form and then proceed through the passport check. Pick up a few extra immigration forms for next time. The next time you come through this airport will be with your child and the more you can do ahead of time, the better.
14. As I mentioned in my last post, if you're over 6 feet tall, Ethiopia Air really has no legroom. Ethiopia Air flights are cheaper but potentially very uncomfortable!

06 August 2010

Ethiopian Adventure Part 1

After flying to Ethiopia, it seems like it's on the other side of the world. That's because it is! We planned a long layover in Frankfurt so we could check into the hotel (which is at the airport) for a nap and shower. That was heavenly! We were lucky enough to have time to include a layover on the way back as well. Here are a few pics from Frankfurt.

We were directed to check in for the Ethiopian Air flight 3 hours early at the Frankfurt airport. We thought that was a bit excessive until we saw the line! If the line looks like it extends to the horizon, that's because it does. The legroom was a bit disappointing for me but Alicia had no problem. Fortunately, the flight was "only" 6 hours. We met Mebratu a couple of hours after landing in Ethiopia. We were quite exhausted when we finally got to our hotel room later that day. The room had its own bath and shared a small kitchenette and sitting room with another bedroom.

Mebratu has been at the America World Transition Home. The home has a medical doctor, a child psychologist, and a lot of loving nannies.....and also endless laundry! And oh by the way, they do all of it by hand! I've included just a couple of pictures from our driving around Addis Ababa. The city is like all big cities except there are no driving rules, no car exhaust controls, and plenty of goats and donkeys.

04 August 2010

Introducing Our Son!!!!!

Introducing Mebratu Rowland!

We know you care more about pictures than my witty banter so here are the pics!

24 July 2010

We Made It!!!!!!!!

We're finally here! The flights were on time and went well. We flew from San Diego to Chicago to Frankfurt for a layover (long enough to check into the Sheraton at the Frankfurt Airport) and then to Addis Ababa. For anyone traveling from west of the Mississippi, we definitely recommend incorporating a layover in your itinerary. It helps with the jet lag. Ethiopia is 10 hours ahead of the west coast and 7 hours ahead of the east coast.

The trip started at 4:08am. That's when we showed up at the San Diego airport. We made a mental note for next time that the ticket counter folks don't even show up to work until 4:30am! Here's Alicia enjoying the early morning. We packed 3 suitcases with about 1.5 of them being donations for the Transition Homes.

After a brief layover in Chicago, we headed to Frankfurt. We lucked out to have two seats on the side by ourselves, and we flew United and had Economy Plus with extra legroom. We arrived at Frankfurt at 5:45am. The airport was deserted which allowed us to get through customs and passport check in less than 30 minutes!

The hotel room at the Sheraton was great, but to be honest, the fact it had a bed was what we really cared about! We took the train to downtown and surrendered to fatigue after a couple of hours. Luckily, we set the alarm because we may have slept through the flight!

Internet connectivity is limited here so our next post will be about our Frankfurt adventure and the our first day in Ethiopia.

17 July 2010

We Are Going to Ethiopia!!!!!

We got the call four days ago that our Court Date is July 26th. We leave in five days!!!! I was out at sea on my ship when Alicia got the call from AWAA, and she had arranged the flights and hotel stops before I had gotten home. We will fly from here to Frankfurt for a brief layover and then fly into Addis Ababa. We'll layover in Frankfurt on the way home as well. We like Frankfurt because there is a hotel in the airport so we don't have to go through security (we hope) - super convenient! Even though we haven't flown through Frankfurt before, we are trying this because we don't want to fly straight through (35 hours each way), especially when we bring back our son. Alicia has a tough time sleeping while sitting in a chair while I usually fall asleep before take-off.

Speaking of bringing our son home, we won't travel back to get him until the U.S. Embassy completes their investigation. That's the final verification of all the T's crossed and I's dotted. We've been told to expect to bring him home anytime from 4 to 12 weeks after the Court Date.

We expect to take a zillion pictures and videos during our 7 day trip. We've heard that e-mail connectivity over there is okay but no phones (unless you pay a fortune for an international cell phone) and limited internet connectivity. We hope to keep friends updated through Alicia's Facebook page. We've heard we'll have better luck with that than trying to post to this website.

I assume command of the USS CURTS (FFG 38) tomorrow morning (July 17th) so this is truly an exciting week!

07 July 2010

All of the Paperwork is In!!!

The court finally got the birth certificate and we should have our Court Date soon! We have been told to expect a Court Date sometime during the last week of July or the first week of August. Based on families who have recently received their Court Dates, we expect to be notified only a week ahead of time. Everything in country is arranged by our adoption agency; we just need to get ourselves there! Because of the short notice and this is a peak travel time for Europe and Ethiopia, the plane tickets aren't exactly cheap.

We will land in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia's capital) and remain there for our entire stay - about 6-7 days. Our adoption agency has a contract with a small hotel (www.yebsabi.com) and we'll have a driver to take us anywhere we need - for both he Court Date and to see some tourist sites. We have followed numerous families who have traveled, some as recently as a couple of weeks ago, and our adoption agency has everything required in-country down to a science. We have no doubt we'll be well taken care of.

We have managed to send our son three care packages with families who have traveled in the past month either for their Court Date or to bring their child home. The pictures (to include two short videos!) we've gotten from them are priceless, and we are super-anxious to share some of them with everyone. Evidently, he's quite the ham!

03 July 2010

Home at Last......and Adoption Paperwork Update

2,961 miles. 46 hours and 15 minutes. That's how long my Garmin told me it took to drive from Newport, RI, to San Diego. Yes, I finally finished my Navy schooling and am home. I'm here for a week and then head out to sea to meet my ship. I'll only be gone for about a week or so, but unfortunately, Alicia has gotten used to this routine over the years. The good news is once I return, I'll be home for a while before heading back out to sea again.

Here are some observations from my trek. Instead of driving 46 hours straight, I took five days to get across country.
-- In case it's been a while since you were on I-20 between Oklahoma City and Flagstaff, there's still nothing.....except for Amarillo. There must be 1,000 hotels in Amarillo.
-- Not having Alicia with me certainly made the trip seem longer, but it let me do what all guys need to do on long road trips.......set a new personal best on the shortest pit stop - especially the ones where all three are required -- gas, food, and bathroom.
-- I had been on the road for only 15 minutes leaving Amarillo when a large SUV passed me on I-20. It was big enough to have a third row, which this family needed as every seat was full. The back row had three teen or almost-teen children and they all looked as if they were on their way to the dentist - i.e., not happy in the slightest. This was at 7:15 am.
-- I stayed overnight in Phoenix and the weather was HOT! 103 degrees at 3:30 pm when I arrived. The breeze was blowing but it was so hot it felt like I was standing inside a hair dryer. For folks who say the "dry heat" is not as bad and humid weather, I've just got two words -- hair dryer.

We are still waiting for a Court Date to travel to Ethiopia. The challenge continues to be obtaining a birth certificate. That is the final piece of paper the court is waiting for. There have been a number of families who have traveled for their Court Date recently, and a few have taken pictures of our son. We can't wait to share them with everyone once we pass court!

We also purchased a bed for him. Alicia wisely decided on a single bed because he'll be around two and a half when he comes home. We still have a few finishing touches for the nursery but nearly everything is set. We'll post pictures once everything is set.

25 May 2010

What Now?

Now that we have accepted our referral, what do we do now? We wanted to give everyone a snapshot about what we're busy doing before our court date - both for our friends and families and also for the Ethiopian adoptive families who may be following our adventure. I guess I could simply summarize everything by saying we're getting ready for a baby like any soon-to-be parents. Since our son will be about two and a half, we're skipping a few things like baby formula and heading right to baby-proofing the house - think of the movie Baby Momma but not so crazy.

I spent most of an evening Googling baby sizes because neither one of us have no idea what size clothes fit our son. My research has shown that he's probably a 2T (we found out the "T" is for toddler......yes, we're starting from square one), but we expect he'll grow into a 3T when he gets home. The Ethiopia children typically put on weight at a pretty good rate when they come home with their forever family because of the better nutrition.

We are also preparing for our trip to Ethiopia in a couple of ways.
- IMMUNIZATIONS. Thanks to Navy medicine, I am immunized against nearly everything. Hepatitis B was the only thing I was missing. HERE'S A WARNING FOR PROSPECTIVE ADOPTIVE FAMILIES - Hep B is a three-shot series that takes 7 months because of required time between each shot. Start early so you can finish before traveling for the Court Date! Alicia has to get a number of shots, and most of them are out in town, as the Navy medicine won't cover these types of shots for spouses.
- CARE PACKAGES and PHOTOS. We have asked a family traveling next week to take pictures of our son. The referral included two pictures, and we want as many as we can get. We are also putting together a care package for him that we'll send with another family traveling for their Court Date, probably in late June.

A family in Ethiopia sent us an e-mail and said our son appeared very happy in the Transition Home. He is in the same area as their son so they even had a chance to play with him. We are anxious to meet him and make him a part of the family.

13 May 2010


Today is a life changing day! 7 months 2 weeks and 4 days since beginning this journey, we have a referral for a wonderful boy. I am so desparate to share his name, picture, and information with everyone, but we are legally bound to keep his personal information confidential until he is legally ours. Even though we can't share that information, we can't keep this a secret!!!!!!!!

Alicia will be busy over the next few days running quite a few errands.
-- Finding a pediatrician who specializes in international adoptions to review his medical reports. There are quite a few of those around. We're lucky to have one or two in San Diego. To Alicia and me, he looks great, but we'll trust a professional's opinion over our own.
-- Getting a handfull of immunization shots that the CDC recommends when traveling to Ethiopia. Thanks to Navy medicine, I just need one more shot and I'm all done.
-- Taking our updated Home Study to the local Immigration Office. The udpate was completed just this week, and Alicia should get it in the mail in a few days. We need to get it to the Immigration Office so they can update us in their system and forward that update to the American embassy in Ethiopia.
-- Looking a baby clothes at Khol's!!!!!!!

I am still in Newport, RI, attending a Navy school, and I will finish the end of June. I've got about six weeks to go in this four-month separation from Alicia. We call this a "mini-deployment." We had a feeling there was a chance we would get a referral before I finish this school, but we didn't expect it so soon! I'm flying home for Memorial Day weekend so we can celebrate together!

Ok....so what's next? Here is what we think will happen:

-- We have one week to accept or decline the referral. At this point, we see no reason to decline!
-- We are put in the rotation for a court date in Ethiopia. This is where we appear before the Ethiopian judge and swear we will adopt this child. Upon passing court, the boy is legally ours ------- FOREVER!!!!!!!
-- Based on families who have gone before us, the court date could be as early as 6-8weeks from now. I think there's a pretty good chance our court date could be later because a significant number of referrals were recently issued - much more than usual. This may cause a small backlog in the system and push our court date a little later.
-- After the court date, the American embassy conducts is own investigation to validate all of the paperwork - to include another triple-check that the child is a legitimate orphan. This usually takes around 6-10 weeks.
-- After the embassy's investigation, we are issued an appointment with the embassy. Once we get that appointment date, we travel to Ethiopia to get our child and bring him home. Adoptive parents call this date the "Gotcha Day."

This is a life changing day!

20 March 2010

Updating the Home Study

We are updating our Home Study because we have moved to CA. I would recommend not updating a HS unless you absolutely have to. Not letting the across-the-country drive slow us down, we completed forms and made copies of the various HS and Dossier documents and mailed them from Memphis TN to the agency in CA who is helping us with the update. We have found an adoption agency in CA (Across the World Adoption - ATWA), and a great social worker in the San Diego area was recommended to us.

I say don't update the HS unless absolutely needed for a couple of reasons.

#1. Updating it is state specific. CA requires a full HS redo (essentially repeating everything). Much of the info already with AWAA will carry over, but there are various forms that don't.......and then there's the finger printing. We both had to get finger printed because the background checks (all 3 - CA, FBI, and Dept of Justice) do NOT carry over from AWAA and must be redone. This has added $211 to our expenses total along with the $850 fee to ATWA. Our AWAA Family Coordinator will get everything. Needless to say, repeating everything is just a wee bit frustrating.

#2. Our USCIS case must be transferred from the Norfolk office to the San Diego office. That sounds simple, but we've heard it could take up to three weeks. This is required because our updated HS needs to go through the local USCIS office. From there, our update will go through the National Visa Center to the Embassy in Ethiopia. We have no idea how long this takes, but it doesn't sound short.

That's as far as we have discovered so far. We'll keep the updates coming as we figure out the extent of the HS update.

11 March 2010

Another Adoption Hurdle

Our adoption adventure continues, and we are as excited today as we were in October when we began this journey. We completed the mountain of paperwork in near-record time (19 wks 1 day), and our formal adoption application arrived in Ethiopia two weeks ago. We are in the early stages of updating our Home Study now that we’ve moved to California for my command tour. We are still hopeful to have our son by the end of the year.

Two days ago the Ethiopian government changed their international adoption process that has thrown us a curve ball we weren’t expecting. The Ethiopian government now requires adoptive parents to personally appear in court to testify to their desire to adopt the child. Before this change, an adoption agency representative (as designated with a power of attorney) would represent the adoptive family in court. While we will meet our child when we’re in country for the court date, we cannot bring him home then. We must travel back to Ethiopia to get him – probably 8-12 weeks after the court date. The reason for the time delay between the court date and picking up our child is to allow time for the government to complete all of the required paperwork and investigations.

The added travel to Ethiopia is the reason for this posting. This will add around $5,000 to our overall expense. As I posted earlier for prospective adoptive families, our expenses are right on schedule with AWAA's estimate. I think this recent change will put the overall expense around $35,000. If my schedule allows, we are planning on both of us traveling to pick up our son. For families considering Ethiopia (or who just joined the program), the expense obviously is reduced if only one parent travels to pick up the child - which is allowed.

As you may have noticed at the top right of our web site, we partnered with a fair trade coffee company months ago – Just Love Coffee – as a fundraiser to help defray some expenses. We haven't actively brought this to everyone’s attention until now. We’re asking you to consider purchasing a bag or two (or even get on their periodic delivery program if you’re a coffee addict!). There are a variety of coffees. Most bags are around $13 (plus $5 shipping), and we get $5 for every bag purchased. Even if you’re not a coffee person, they can make great gifts.

If you're a prospective adoptive family, we think this is a great fundraiser because everyone either likes coffee or knows someone who likes coffee. I know it's less-than-perfect to pay around $17 for a bag of coffee (once shipping is included), but this is a fundraiser after all and I think friends and family will see it that way.

We don’t get a list of who purchases the coffee. Unless you tell us, we can’t see who orders so thank you in advance! Just know every order will be much appreciated!

04 March 2010

You Know It's a Long Road Trip When........

You know it's a long road trip when......

1. You don’t even time the stops when stopping for gas or food. You know that if the stop takes 6.25 minutes or 9.5 minutes, it really doesn’t matter.

2. You time the trip in states, tanks of gas, and days instead of miles and hours.

3. The idea of chartering a small cargo plane to take you, your car and stuff, and family sounds like a reasonable expense. This should really be #1.

4. You’re thankful that an 8-yr old dog who sleeps 98% of the trip is easier than a 2-yr old baby in a car seat........and you're envious of her space because she can actually stretch out and sleep during the trip.

5. You're grateful when a segment of the trip involves a timezone change. That way, you can pretend you're only in the car for 10 hours instead of 11.

6. There are so many bugs on the windshield that your camera focuses more on them than the passing scenery.

The boxes are still stacked throughout the house, but we're making slow progress. The social worker is coming Friday to see about our updating our Home Study. We remain somewhat optimistic and hope we don't have to redo the entire Home Study.

Long Road Trip......Make That Super-Long Road Trip

2,750 miles. That's the distance between Chesapeake VA to Chula Vista CA.
Five and a half days. That's the time we originally planned to tour America's heartland from VA to CA. Emphasis on "originally."

So how does one pack a wooden ship model into a car already crammed full of stuff? Very carefully. I'm grateful for our large cargo carrier on our roof rack.

Here's Chloe's expression from the back of the car - priceless. What makes this even more priceless is we're only an hour into a three and a half day drive! We have one day left on our journey, and we can't complain. This is the second cross-country drive we have survived with both of us in the car. We know we're very lucky, and the next tour of America's byways won't be this simple. Chloe (our 8-yr old dog) sleeps about 98% of the time, and we're pretty sure that a 2-yr old baby in a car seat will demand slightly more attention during a 2,700 mile trek in the car.

The good news is the driver of the moving company truck (actually an 18-wheeler) is a very nice gentleman and said we would be the first load off the truck in CA. The bad news is he will be at our new home on Friday or Saturday......not later the following week that we originally thought. Emphasis on "originally." I had planned a 5.5 day drive across country - allowing daylight driving and letting us get settled at the hotel at the end of each day before dinnertime. Trimming two days off a 2,700-mile-plus trip to make it in 3.5 days removes any sense of "leisure" from our journey.

Here's Chloe enjoying low windows from the hotel in Memphis, TN.

Alicia and Chloe relaxing after a long day on the road.

Next stop.....San Diego!

19 February 2010

The Dossier is on the Way to Ethiopia!!!!

One clock stops and another begins.

The folks at AWAA finally made it through the winter tundra of the DC metropolitan area! Our Dossier made it through the State Dept and is on the way to Ethiopia.

The paperchase clock has now stopped! 19 weeks and 1 day ago we began the paperchase of our adoption journey. The waiting clock officially begins! I say "officially" because the term "wait period" is used to describe waiting for the Referral after DTE (Dossier to Ethiopia).

Our move to CA may add time to the current waiting period estimate (3-6 months). We have to update our Home Study and submit that update through USCIS. From other families who have had to do this, we've heard the update process has its challenges. That's my polite way to say "it adds too much time and frustration dealing with layers of bureaucracy when all we want is our son." We have worked hard to get through the paperchase quickly, and we'll apply that same mindset to get through the update as quickly as possible.

14 February 2010

Show Me the Money!!!

We received a number of responses to our last posting, most of them thanking us for including expenses in our adoption timeline and discussing them briefly. As we decided to adopt, we discovered a number of families' web sites. Their postings and responses to our questions were invaluable. This entry is an attempt to "pay it forward" for those families considering adoption, especially from Ethiopia, by sharing the expenses portion of our journey so far.

Before I start this rather long entry, I'll say up front that I think you need a financial plan before beginning this journey. The expenses are spread throughout the timeline fairly evenly, but some can be big (e.g., $7,700 due with the Dossier submission). I think AWAA's estimates are right on the mark. Plan on that schedule, and you won't be surprised.

Our experience has closely matched AWAA's timeline. Their web page clearly lays out the expenses: http://www.awaa.org/programs/ethiopia/cost.aspx. The current estimate is $22,080 to $32,580 (updated Feb 14, 2010). As I mentioned in my last post, the two biggest reasons for the range are: #1 the variety of expenses in obtaining all of the Home Study and Dossier paperwork, and #2 the airplane tickets - our round-trip ones and the one-way ticket for the child.

The single biggest check goes with the Dossier submission to AWAA. I expect a close second will be the third fee installment to AWAA and the plane tickets. The most significant "nickel-and-dime" series of expenses comes with collecting the variety of required papers during the paperchase for the Home Study and Dossier. All of the background checks, finger printing, and birth certificates add up quickly - especially if you're trying to hurry through all of the paper like we were!

The Program Fee to AWAA is $5,000. We saw their headquarters in McLean, VA, during our Home Study Orientation. The AWAA office occupies half of a floor of a small, unassuming building. We had the Orientation in their conference room, where they meet daily at 9am to pray for challenges of specific families raised by the Family Coordinators. Each Family Coordinator (the person who shepherds each family all of the way through the adoption process) is highly trained and probably handles at least a couple of dozen families at any one time. Those folks work long hours. We received e-mails from our Family Coordinator well past normal working hours.

The International Fee is $7,500. A bulk of this money supports the two AWAA Transition Homes (TH) in ET. This is where orphans are brought from orphanages after referral (AWAA works with only a select few orphanages in ET). They stay in the TH for at least three months to improve their nutrition and undergo a series of close medical examinations. AWAA has stacked the deck with professionals in the THs: a full-time pediatrician, an Educational Director, and a Developmental Psychologist. ......and then there are the caregivers. I think the caregiver-to-child ratio is around 1:5, and that dwarfs the ratios found in the orphanages. Every single family's report of "Gotcha Day" (the day they finally hold their child and take them from the TH) says the nannies develop such close ties with the children that saying good-bye is oftentimes very emotional. Frankly, I'm surprised the International Fee isn't higher for what they do.

I know this post has been long, but I hope it's been helpful or at least a little educational. We got our Dossier to AWAA just before the snow hit the DC area (AGAIN)! With any luck, they can tunnel their way to work this week and get our Dossier to ET by the end of the week.

03 February 2010

The Dossier is Complete!!!!!!!!

17 WEEKS!!!!!! All of the forms are finally in, and the Dossier is complete! It's been 17 weeks since we received AWAA's e-mail chocked full of forms to officially begin our adoption journey.

Alicia overnighted the Dossier and a bunch of copies to America World today. Now the real waiting begins. For the past four weeks, we have been waiting on USCIS to complete their review of our paperwork (the I-600A Form and the Home Study) and fingerprints. We're lucky to have that office here in town so I could go by and talk with the lady who actually does the review. I learned the local office actually does the review and issues the I-171H Form. Armed with the knowledge that the 171-H only has to travel about 10 miles through the mail system, I naively believed we would receive the form in a matter of no time. Taking into account that no bureaucracy moves at the speed of light (or even the speed of an eager adoptive couple), I guess three weeks could be considered "no time."

As I've said before, the "real" waiting begins because now our Dossier makes its way through the Ethiopian government. Once we're accepted by their system, we wait for a child to be referred to us. We're hoping for an infant boy (younger than 2 yrs), and the latest estimate for wait times is 4-6 months. Before anyone starts counting on a calendar and thinking we could have our son before September, there are two not-so-small details that will only add time to this process.

Detail #1: The Ethiopian government shuts down for holidays from sometime in August to late September / early October. Even if we get our referral before they shut down, we won't be able to travel to Ethiopia until after the government recess. The corollary to Detail #1 is after the referral, the Ethiopian judicial court formally reviews the case of our child to determine beyond any doubt whatsoever that the child is a legitimate orphan and may be legally adopted. The court date usually is about 4-8 weeks after the referral. The good news is the day of that successful court date, the child is legally ours!

Detail #2: We're moving to San Diego - at the end of this month! I'm here in SDGO attending a Navy school, and I took a few days before school to find a home to rent. Isn't the view from the patio in the back yard pretty neat?! The move adds time because we must update our Home Study to reflect we're in a new home. We have yet to contact a social worker agency in CA to figure out exactly what is required for the update. Every state is different. I may have said this before, but the "update" could be a simple one-time visit by the social worker to our new home or a re-do of most of the Home Study. Obviously the latter will require more time.

You may notice when looking at our Timeline that I'm posting our expenses every so often. I'm including everything from AWAA program fees to copier and FedEx expenses. I'm doing this for couples who are thinking of adopting who happen to discover our web site. When we were "blog stalking" other adoptive families, their timelines helped shape our expectations on how quickly (or not so much) the paperchase would progress. I've chosen to add our expenses to the Timeline for the same reason. So far, our experience has matched AWAA's estimates. The biggest variable is the cost of the plane tickets. I hope we'll be able to speak to that later this year!

05 January 2010

Almost There!!!!!

We are fingerprinted!!!! I planned to take a picture of us with our blackened fingers outside the local USCIS office......that's about all I can do to make fingerprinting exciting, but the office threw me a curveball. Our fingerprints were digitally taken! I didn't ask to have them taken the old fashioned way for the sake of our picture. I don't want to slow this final step! After almost 17 years in the Navy, I know my background is clean; now we just wait to see what's in Alicia's closet.

We are so close to the end of the paperchase we can taste it! We now wait for the all-important I-171H Form from USCIS once they complete our background check. We will easily wrap up the few remaining items before that form arrives. As soon as we get it, we'll mail our Dossier to America World (our agency). America World will thoroughly review it, walk it over to the State Department for certification, and then ship it to their folks in Ethiopia who begin the beaurocratic process with the Ethiopian government. Surprisingly, America World only takes about a week to get the Dossier to Ethiopia after receiving it. The date of Dossier to Ethiopia (DTE) is the next significant milestone. Then the waiting really begins.

We had a great Christmas with family in Florida, and we wonder how different our next Christmas will be. There is a small chance we will have our son by then. Even though we expect to be DTE by the end of the month, the Ethiopian government shuts down for vacation from mid-August to October. That vacation period makes our chances "small." The silver lining about waiting is we can distract ourselves with moving to San Diego!