Friday, April 13, 2007

Little Girl in big ol' Los Angeles

Sorry about the cut off on the last blog. I hit the "wall" as they say. I think anyone in their forties knows about the wall!

Back to our visitors. First off I just have to say I married way over my head. This is very true and I am not ashamed to say it. Joe is pretty amazing. I would like to think I am totally into helping others. Sometimes to the point that Joe has gotten some crazy questions that starts with, Joe, there is someone who needs our help, can we.................! Not that Joe would ever walk by a person in need. He is the kindest person I know. But sometimes I can think of some crazy ideas to help others. Ideas that do not make our life easier, usually they are the kind of ideas that include taking some one in or opening our house to about 40 people on his one day off! You know, that kind of thing. The day that he would like nothing better to do than relax, and I invite all the AWP kids to the house for a party! You get the picture.

Well from what we have gleaned about the Entertainment Industry, there are different seasons which actors are casted in shows. There is episodic season, where actors are hired for one episode and there is Pilot Season. Pilot season is during the months of January, February, March and April. It is the time that all new pilot projects are casted and filmed. It starts after the Sundance Film Festival and it generally runs thru April. Dramas are casted first and comedies second. Stars are casted first and after each pilot has their named actors the remainder of the cast is filled in. People from all over the world come just for this season. It is like snowbird season in Florida, just with younger people, ha-ha!

This year we were blessed to have two friends stay with us during Pilot Season. Lynn and Don Stallings run a performing arts camp for kids in Atlanta. Jonathan and Jameson have been a part of their classes and camp for years. Don and his daughter Sierra came and stayed with us for Pilot Season and it really was wonderful. Let's be honest sometimes when a family comes to visit or stay, all hell can break loose. Well with the Stallings it was like having family. There was not one time that we wished they were not here, it was really fun. They are very easy going and Sierra, who is seventeen, was a perfect roomate for Alena. Don had a little room downstairs and Sierra shared Alena's room. This sounds pretty mundane, right? Let me explain how huge this was.

Alena was sleeping in a room with twenty four bunk beds and seventeen girls, no adults. Many orphans have a very hard time adjusting to sleeping in their own room and their own bed. In some orphanages kids share beds. It is one of the things that can be hard for kids to adjust to. Not Alena, she had someone to share her room with and it was such a blessing. Sierra was so kind and she loved Alena from the get go. We could never thank her for the gift she gave Alena. By the time they left to go back to Atlanta, Alena was ready to have her space. It really was a gift from God. I never would have thought about it and the impact it would have. We just wanted to help out the Stallings and share our home. Looking back I know it was much more.

After Alena got here we started to acclimate her to life in the land of plenty. We held off getting clothes for a few days. Corky and Donna Leonard, the Halinski family and the Riel family, friends from Atlanta, blessed us with clothes for her. THANK YOU. So the first few days we used all of those beautiful clothes as Alena's wardrobe. That was also huge. Imagine going from a place that you had nothing you owned to a place where you can have things you never imagined. Talk about over stimulation. Having the clothes gave her time to be here without having to make so many decisions. It bought her adjustment time.

So the first few days we just showed her around. Joe bought Alena all the Harry Potter Books in Russian and she read them voraciously. My dad got here an Itunes shuffle and she loved that. The computer, pictures of family and just relaxing was our favorite things to do. She needed time to adjust and she got it. I was afraid if we did to much to fast she would expect that. I wanted her to have a simple happy life as long as we could do it, and I know our life is anything but simple. We found a wonderful tutor thru the local College and again, here we go, it was a God thing. Irina comes three times a week and she is pretty amazing.

When we talked about school for Alena, we realized that entering school right away may not be the best decision for her. She is very small, built like an eleven or twelve year old. She is also socially young. Public and for that matter private school could be a tough transition. So, we decided with professional guidance, that we would spend the rest of the school year learning the English Language. Well Irina is really the best tutor we could ever find. She usually tutors high school and college students whose primary language is Russian. She tutors them in English, but gearing her program more to advance grammar and helping students navigate the classes at school. Now she has this very vulnerable girl who comes from a very small village in Kazakhstan. Everything is new. Irina not only teaches Alena grammar chants, she teaches her life skills. She teaches, she supports and she interprets for us. Amazingly we communicate very well. However, there are so many things that are new to Alena, we have had to have the "stranger danger" talk, and the "making a difference in the world vs celebrities" talk. Long story! Irina bridges that gap that comes with limited language skills on her side and our Russian side. She has been another blessing.

Things like hygiene, style issues, washing clothes, and all kinds of wild things you and I take for granted, we had to explain. She is so much like a baby in what she has seen, been told, and believes. It took us a while to explain to her that cold drinks and cold food do not make your throat hurt. That one she really didn't believe. Things like wearing no shoes in the house. In Kazakhstan everyone wears shoes in the house. It is really bad to not have shoes on. Well Jonathan is a hippy in that he never wears shoes in the house. Remember being a teenager? She could not understand that either. Here is Sierra and Jonathan with no shoes and Alena looking at them like really?

Through it all, she has held up beautifully. I think a couple of times she went into her bedroom with tears of frustration at all the new ideas, until I realized she was gone. Then into the bedroom and group hugs ensued. There were many times I had to tell her no, you do not have to help me take care of you. Once she would not let me throw away a paper towel she had, even though I was walking right by the trash can. I said it is OK, I can do this. She has never had anyone take care of her and about two weeks passed before she finally sighed and let me help her. Once she did that, oh my God. She was so happy to have someone help her. It was cool.

There have been some amazing things that have brought me back to how lucky we all are here in America. When we finally went shopping Alena was very quiet and had a hard time deciding what she liked. She didn't want to disappoint me and she was not sure what she wanted so I think she got what we both agreed on. She really didn't get that much. A couple pairs of shorts, a dress, a sweater and a few other things. Really not much at all compared to any fourteen year old here. I think she had an Old Navy bag and a Gap bag when we finally got to the car. I popped the trunk to the car, and she put the bags in and started screaming and laughing and dancing around. She was so quiet and then tears of joy and astonishment. I was so floored. This was not what kids that I know have. It was very little, to her it was amazing. Wow. Then a few days later I was at Target and got her a short set. Just a pair of shorts and a top. I got two sizes of the shorts to be sure they fit and bought them home. She thanked me and went into her room. I went in to check on her and she was writing on the tag the name Tonya. I said, "Alena these are for you". She said, " Momma, I have so much." OK, right then and there I hugged here and told her how proud I was and left the room to cry. She has what we would consider, so little. To her it is so much.

There have been a few "wake up Kelly" moments. It is so easy to get right back into our lives here, and yet every week I get a letter from the kids at the orphanage. How do you help them all? How do I take our plenty and turn it into gifts for them. Having an adopted child in your house can really change you. It is an amazing gift to have her here.

I know many of you wonder about Alena's life before us and the orphanage. I want to tell you that sometimes it was not easy, and sometimes it was not pretty. Even with that she is so together. She has the ability to see that the tough times she went thru have brought here here. If you ask her she will tell you that her mother in Kazakshtan had her for me. Both her and I believe it. She is my child, although she was not born from my womb. She is an amazing girl.

We will ask her if she wants to update the next blog. She can do this thru her tutor. It would be good for her and I think you will find her words fascinating.

Thanks for checking in.



The Abes said...

Hey! We're so happy for Alena and you guys! That's great! A teenager has such different issues than a baby!
Emily is doing well- adjusting! We all are! It's been a long week!
Thanks for the update- I love to hear about you guys.

The Hollands said...

Kelly, your snippets of life with Alena just warm my heart. What an amazing girl & mom team you two are! Tomorrow we leave for Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kaz, to meet our son. We are taking Katrina & Isabelle with us; Sophie opted to stay here. All the best, Steph