Monday, May 31, 2010

We got I-800A approval!!!! Part II - Help from Above

My concerns started with USCIS, though. I remember a math teacher I had in high school who was a civil engineer and used to say that she did not like balconies because she knew how they were built. By the same token, being an immigration attorney, and having seen so many immigration officers who are no more than heartless, insensitive, arbitrary jerks, the I-800A processing started giving me the shivers. On 02/04/10, Heartsent had sent by FedEx the whole application package for us to the Lockbox. To my dismay, on 02/19/10, I'd find in our mailbox a very thick envelope from a sender I'd immediately recognize. The entire package had been returned. The Rejection Notice erroneously stated that either the fee was incorrect or had not been submitted. Contradicting the printed text, there was a little yellow Post-It sticker affixed to the Rejection Notice. It read, "Complete address on Supplement 1 and re-submit. Fee is O.K." By definition, if Supplement 1 is about another adult in the household, the address for that adult, in this case my biological daughter, could not be other than the same address as the applicant's. Therefore, where the form asked for Catherine's mailing address, I had filled out, "Same as residential address." Did that justify wasting two weeks and sending the whole package back? The very next day, Sat., 02/20/10, I re-submitted it with no other addition except for the repetition of our street address as Catherine's mailing address. Besides the two weeks we had lost, that gave an unequivocal hint of what to expect.

As time went by, we began getting more and more anxious by the day. The shivers down my back became much more pervasive, to include my heart beating out of my chest every time I approached the mailbox, a lump in my throat, clammy hands, and cold feet. We kept on praying together as a family. We all felt anguished, helpless, distraught. Time kept on passing by. No news. Sybil, from Heartsent, left a message for the officer handling our file. No call back. Even though we're not in his constituency, I called the office of Congressman Duncan Hunter because we deeply share his strong Pro-Life views. They were more than willing to intervene on our behalf. In the meantime, we learned that Plamen had developed some kidney problems secondary to his spina bifida. Toni, from Bulgaria, helped a lot, with an affidavit executed by her, and anoher one signed by the pediatrician who works for her Foundation. Through Duncan Hunter's office, those documents were e-mailed to the USCIS officer, but his reply was that the problem did not appear to be serious enough to jusrify expedited processing. Moreover, he was waiting for "additional evidence" on our application, which was supposed to arrive from some mysterious source. I decided to call, and the processing officer answered the phone. He was polite, and seemed to like it when I told him that our family could offer something that was totally out of the ordinary: the certainty that throughout their lives, even after I am no longer on this earth, no children adopted into our family will ever end up in a group home--because there will always be one older sister and two older brothers for whom that option would be an unthinkable one. In fewer words than I'm wiring here, and with a tremolous words, I told him that  I know my children well enough to be sure that, no matter any life circumstances, their love, their devotion, their dedication, their selflessness will not become any weaker as years go by. The officer replied that the problem was not so much with me, but with the process. Yet, it did not make sense. It's a totally transparent process, working with highly reputable Hague-accredited agencies that comparatively charge very moderate fees.

Through a Catholic Parish-based adoption advocacy group in Indianapolis, I got in contact with Jedd Medefind, leader of Christian Alliance for Orphans, who, in turn, put me in contact with someone I had just happend to have contacted on my own as well: McLane Layton, director of Equality for Adopted Children (EACH). McLane had helped us already two years ago when we were trying to get the visas for Thomas and Nicholas to come home from Haiti. This time she helped again. Yet, her inquiry on our behalf got no reply.We kept on getting more and more anxious.

My mom, who now has serious mobility problems and spends most of her days in prayer, started feeling really unwell, with very scary symptoms. Catherine seemed to lack energy to do anything. Gerard and Warren, who at 13 have 17 transferable community college credits already, during those days were unable to study for their finals. All three of them were totally different from their usual selves, always so committed, so enthusiastic, so athletic, and then so anxious, so lethargic, so down. I made several stupid mistakes in my law practice. Ancicipating any real problem made no sense, but I must confess I did not have a good feeling.

We were praying together to Jesus, to His Blessed Mother, to St. Anthony, to St. Jude, to St. Gerard, to almost all the saints. At one point I found myself unable to pray any more--and that really frightened me. I kept on leading our family prayers, but my mind was not there. I could not concentrate. It was around noon time one of those days when I looked up to Heaven above, and asked my dad and my maternal grandparents, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, you're much closer to God than I am. Could you please ask Him to get that I-800A approval for us. We simply cannot tolerate this wait any longer. I'm sure you're watching us from above and you know all this already-- and I'm sure God will listen to all of you.

The day after I got sick with one of those horrible migraines I tend to get when under stress. It was the worst one I had gotten in a long time. The second day I was still feeling badly, and Gerard and Warren had a final at Mira Costa College that evening. The mail had just arrived, and still no news. I got up from bed for a moment, and checked my e-mail--and there it was!!!! As I had asked her to do in order to minimize the already huge anxiety, Sybil, from Heartsent, had given to her message a clear and self-explanatory caption: "GREAT NEWS FROM CIS!!!!" She had just gone off the phone with our officer: he had already approved the case, and the I-797 Approval Notice was on its way to our home!!! 

The very next afternoon, that precious piece of paper was in our mailbox. But the shivers did not stop running down my back. They were no longer shivers of anxiety over the immigration approval for this new adoption, but shivers of humble emotion but upon realization of what had just happened. I remembered a dream I had had when Thomas and Nicholas' files had been sent by the U.S. Consulate in Port-au-Prince to the wrong office, from where they could take months to come back. I clearly saw my dad, who had passed away in 1992, standing by surprise at the door, holding both Thomas and Nicholas in his arms. As I hugged all three of them in my dream, my dad told me, "I decided to go to Haiti to get them for all of you. I know how extremely eager Catherine and the twins were to have them home. Thomas and Nicholas are really good boys. I only left blank their middle names because I did not know which ones you wanted for them." In reality, in an adoption from Haiti you cannot select middle or even first names until the children are home with you at your permanent place of residence because the Haitian government does not allow any changes other than the kids' last names. Yet, in the morning following that dream, the files would be unexpectedly returned from that "mysterious" office to the consular one where they were supposed to be, and within a few more days our boys' visas would be issued for them to come home.

No, I'm not out of my mind. Thank You, Jesus! Thank You, Our Blessed Mother! Thanks to all the saints who interceded. Thank you, Mom, Catherine, Gerard, and Warren for all you have prayed and keep on praying. And, of course, thank you, Dad, Grandma, and Grandpa, for having whispered our desperate needs directly to the Almighty somewhere in the infinity above. There is no doubt that you are all with God. From Heaven you all follow every step of this adoption, as you did when the adoption of Thomas and Nicholas was in progress before. Yes, Dad, I can see it very clearly--it was much more than just a dream.  Through your prayers, two years ago you did pick up Thomas and Nicholas from Haiti and, across the miles, the bureaucracy, and the backlog, you flew them all the way home.

This time I can feel your prayers were in Missouri recently, and am sure they will be in Bulgaria very soon. 

We got I-800A approval!!! Part I - Finally I'm talking about our new little one

As you can see, except for the button that eventually refers you to the Reece's Rainbow page, up to now I never posted anything about our current adoption steps. It is not because this adoption is in any way, shape, or form less present in our lives. On the contrary, that bright and brave little boy waiting in a wheelchair in Bulgaria is constantly in our minds, in our hearts, and in our shared prayers. He is with us in our dreams. He is our first thought as we open our eyes every morning, and our closing thought as we go to bed every night. He is with us at our table, in our work or studies, in our everyday activities, at home and everywhere we go. Yet, after Thomas and Nicholas' very successful adoptions, we had some very painful and financially disastrous experiences trying to adopt again. That's why this time I had decided to withhold all details until the process was really "going". And, as you all know, nothing can be really moving forward in any meaningful way before having US CIS approval. Now USCIS I797 Approval Notice is part of our almost complete dossier!!! So, it's time to start talking (or writing, actually)!!!

I'll start by how we came to know about Plamen. I will clarify that this time I intend to keep on thinking about him with his original name until I am officially asked about his new forever name. Still my password for one of my e-mail accounts includes a J for Jonathan--the third little boy in Haiti who in the end never came home. We had immediately named a couple of other little ones, and things did not work out as expected either. No, this time I will not give Plamen any other name until he is 100% mine. I'm just rumbling. I'll go back to how I first learned about him. Someone had posted about a boy with "very special special needs" listed in Reece's Rainbow under Other Angels. I clicked on the link, and unfortunately, that precious boy had leukemia, even though, thanks God, in remission. I kept on scrolling down a couple of other listings--and then suddenly a pair of sad yet noble eyes from a profile picture met mine. That set of eyes clearly shows that there is something really special in Plamen--not in the sense of "special needs", but in the sense of "special person", special human being. And, due to his spina bifida, he faces a serious physical challenge, exactly as we were looking for in the new little one to join our family. As for my children and my mom, the feeling was shared and unanimous.After making sure that he has a normal life expectancy, formally committing to him was the easiest thing in the world.

I was delighted to learn from Andrea, at Reece's Rainbow, that the agency would be About A Child. A couple of times before, and for absolutely no monetary interest at all, through someone who knew someone, I had been put in contact with Victoria, and she had offered and given some valuable information regarding two prospective adoptions from Eastern Europe that had not gone through. Even though in both cases there had been different agencies handling those intended adoptions, Victoria had looked up something and given me some feedback out of her good will, just in order to help. And Antonia (Toni) Vladimirova could not be better either.For most of those people who may read this blog, they are all very well-known and very highly regarded. Yet, I will clarify that Toni is the Bulgarian attorney and director of the Dreams Foundation, the Hague-accredited organization there working together with Hague-accredited About A Child agency in U.S. Toni, Victoria, and Carla are trustworthy, caring, kind, and willing to help every step of the way. Carla works with Victoria, and is the case manager for the Bulgarian adoptions.

Having a new home study done with Heartsent was really a pleasure as well. Sybil did an awesome job as the case manager for that agency, and Rose wrote a beautiful report, which was signed on February 2, 2010.

If you believe in miracles and in the life everlasting, and are ready to shed a few tears, please read Part II.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Christmas 2009

This post has been ia draft for quite a long time. Ironically, at a time when people tend to think only about summer fun, swiming pools, and sunscreen, I'm finally publishing my entry about last Christmas--but better do it now or I'll never do it.

Every year it's hard when, after the Epiphany, the Christmas Season is over--although we know that sooner than we think it'll be Christmas again. Our shared prayer is for an even fuller household by then--or, actually, much earlier in the year, or we won't survive it. The emotional roller coaster of adoption, as worthy as it is, is taking its toll on all of us. I strongly believe that being through an adoption process for just one child is much more difficult, much more time consuming, and much more exhausting than raising ten or twenty kids.

Catherine found a very yummy way of holding on to the Christmas Season until it's almost time to start thinking about what to give up for Lent. We are pure Italian, and Panettone is definitely a timeless Christmas tradition for us. Well, every year she buys Panettone by the dozen--because for as long as we have a slice each to end our meals, the Christmas Season seems never to end!!! It is like not letting go of it.

Now I'm going to confess the kind of child abuse I commit every Christmas Day year after year--and which I will continue committing in a shamefully remorseless way: I keep my kids waiting, and waiting, and waiting with lots of beautifully wrapped presents while I take pics, and pics, and still more pics--from one angle and from another, in one position and in another, from closer and from farther, shifting people around, shifting the light sources around, shifting things around, with and without something, changing something, improving something, adding something, and taking something out of sight. It may sound annoying, but in the end it's worth it: please allow me to share some of our Christmas 2009 pics.


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