Making weeds into flowers

Friday, August 19, 2011

Trip Two of Three

Return to Latvia
The now familiar fairytale-like forests came into view from my window seat on the last leg of our fifteen-hour journey back to Latvia.  Even though we’ve only been gone just under three months, the vivid green splendor of the trees here had faded some from memory. It was a welcome sight indeed as it signaled the beginning of our second of three required adoption visits. This one includes our “Gotcha Day.” The day when the adoption is final in the eyes of Latvian law.

We left on Tuesday, August 16th, traveled uneventfully, and arrived in Riga on Wednesday, August 17th.  It’s always a mind and body challenge to lose a full calendar day to hauling luggage, catching connecting flights, and trying to remain dignified while publicly sleeping sitting up. But at last we had arrived.

We stayed at the Albert Hotel, which I highly recommend if you ever find yourself in Riga. The whole motif is chalkboards, equations, and Einstein quotes. The clocks behind the reservations desk are labeled Riga Time, Past Time, Unreal Time and Relative Time. The staff speaks English, and they have a bountiful breakfast buffet included in the price.

This time we rented a car from the airport, since David is now a seasoned Latvia driver. On Thursday morning we left for Ventspils. The Gutweins loaned us their GPS, which is a good thing because we never would have made it out of the narrow streets and chaos of downtown Riga without it. The two and a half hour drive has become familiar, with thick trees lining the streets and hindering road construction every few miles.

Another Reunion
At last we arrived in Ventspils, and made our way back to Selga where Baiba and Agnese have lived since they were eighteen months and four years old respectively. We didn’t have a cell phone with us to alert them of our arrival, so we walked in the back door, went up to the fifth floor where their room is and found them in the hallway. After big hugs and a small chat in their room Baiba said, “Is anybody hungry?”

And with that, we checked into our hotel and all went to Pupedis, which was a favorite pizza spot of ours on the last trip. Latvians love pizza and are unusually creative about what they use for toppings. Agnese and I ordered a Hawaiian pizza. At the mention of this, fellow Hawaiian pizza fans are salivating at the very thought of ham, pineapple and cheese nestled on a tasty bed of red pizza sauce. This one was chicken, pineapple, cheese, and I’m pretty sure mayonnaise.

If you’ve read any of my past blog posts, you may remember that husband, David is a very picky eater. He had ordered a ham, sausage, and cheese pizza, imagining Italian sausage, of course, and the usual red pizza sauce as well. I casually mentioned later on that I thought there might have been mayonnaise on my pizza, and he replied, with quiet distaste and disbelief, that he thought he had detected both ketchup and mayonnaise on his. Condiments of any kind are his mortal enemies, second only to fiendish vegetables, and there was nothing Italian about the sausage. But he hadn’t said a word or made a grimace. I think he didn’t want anything to spoil our first meal reunited with the girls.

Before arriving, we had been told that our little guesthouse was not available for this trip and we would be staying in the quaint B&B we had stayed in our first night of the first trip. We were disappointed because the two-bedroom room was very small with the tiniest bathroom imaginable. It was hard to picture how we were going to manage with two appearance-conscious teenage girls, one middle-aged woman in need of daily repair, and poor David, the only man.

Agnese had heard about this arrangement and took matters into her own hands. She somehow insisted with someone somewhere along the way that we needed separate rooms right next to each other so we would each have our own baths. She got this done for the same price that one large room for four was going to cost. Well done, Agnese! Immediately much of our stress over logistics was alleviated. Our room is cozy and charming and the shower actually has doors that close, which is a real luxury.

The mood among all four of us started out very reserved. David and I are keenly aware that this is the part of the process that is the hardest on Baiba and Agnese. They are excited to come to America, but right now they only feel a strong sense of loss. For the last few weeks they have been giving things away, cleaning the only room they’ve known since they were small, and saying goodbye to treasured friends and long time orphanage caregivers. We told them that we knew they would have plans with friends in the evenings and that was fine with us.

Gotcha Day
Today was the big day. I had trouble sleeping last night, not only for obvious reasons, but also because our hotel is located on a very busy street. It’s warm enough that we need to keep our window open which let’s in a lot of light and traffic noise. I woke up early in the morning with that feeling you get when you know you’re coming down with a cold, so I downed some Airborne and went back to sleep for a couple of weird-dream filled hours.

We met the girls at 9:00 a.m. for breakfast, and the mood was still subdued. It’s funny because everyone asks if we’re excited, and if the girls are excited; and on some level we are. But after all this time, it’s a very different kind of excitement than I thought it would be. It’s not like expectant children on Christmas morning, because it’s much more life altering than that. It’s not like waiting to meet up with a cherished loved one or friend you haven’t seen in a long time, because our relationship is too undeveloped.

It’s more like planting a garden, not with seeds, but with almost fully- grown plants. The gardener eagerly anticipates what the garden will look like, if all goes well, but doesn’t know what it will actually yield under his care. Newly transplanted flowers always droop a little at first. There’s work to be done and things to be learned about the nurturing needs of the plants. It’s a protected excitement.

After breakfast, we got ready to go to court. We rode quietly in the car, not to Children’s Court, but to the official courthouse this time. Daina, our Latvian attorney, was there to meet us. She asked me if I was nervous. I have to admit that up until that moment I hadn’t felt very nervous at all, but once it was suggested I should be, I thought I’d better be; so I was.

Our interpreter, a different one this time, arrived just in the nick of time. She was clearly flustered. Instead of being in an office with chairs pulled around a table, we were in a courtroom complete with benches, a criminal box, and a podium to address the judge. Instead of several warm, friendly ladies, there was one woman assisting a somewhat tired and grumpy looking man. He was large and imposing with a beard growing in. If he were cast in a movie, he would play himself.

And Latvia?
The judge had each of us stand and tell him our adoption story. Our interpreter seemed to have trouble keeping up, and she spoke very quietly, so we missed quite a bit of what transpired. Suddenly the attorney was whispering how I should answer a question I hadn’t known was asked. It was a little nerve-wracking.

He asked me what we had in mind for the immediate future of the girls. I told him they would go to school and if they wanted to go on to college we would help them with that. He said, “And Latvia?”

I responded that we would come back to see their sister and friends. To which he responded, “For visits?”

I knew what he was getting at. The youth in Latvia are leaving in droves because the economy is so bad. There is very little opportunity to find work of any kind. The fact that the young workforce is leaving is not helping their country. He heaved a sigh when I responded, “Yes.”

Then it was the girls’ turn to talk. Our soft-spoken interpreter made it just about impossible to know what they said. Agnese, usually the more emotionally reserved of the two, cried a little as she explained to him that she couldn’t honestly say she loves us as parents yet, but she does feel a connection to us.

This was not surprising, nor hurtful to hear. Our tremendous feeling of love for them has come from being unexpectedly cast in a divine plot. We know they like us, and we are hopeful that they will grow to love us. I think most mothers of newborns must feel an instant sense of love, but the baby is probably initially only responding to being dependent. Baiba spoke much longer than Agnese did, and had her emotions well in check. She told a long story about our coming to Selga, and their visit to America, and our long wait for the adoption. She appeared very confident.

The judge dismissed us at noon and said he would announce his verdict at 2:00. We felt like it ought to be in the bag after all the hoops we had jumped, and I couldn’t help but wonder what he’d be mulling over for two hours while we killed time.

The courthouse is right near an open-air market. Baiba was dying for some blueberries so we purchased a container of blueberries for her, and raspberries for Agnese. We strolled around munching on the fresh fruit and pondering our future. Then we joined our lawyer and Marite, the orphanage director, at a nearby coffee shop, and had something to drink.

The Verdict
Two o’ clock finally arrived. Daina met us at the door, pointed to the courtroom, and in her Latvian dialect said, “We can go.”

I repeated, “We can go?” and wondered why I suddenly had a Latvian dialect too. I guess as actors, David and I just have a tendency to pick up what we’re hearing.

As we waited for the judge, Daina said that when he arrived we should stand and remain standing as he read the verdict. I had never thought of it as a verdict before, more like a decision; which is a verdict but friendlier.

The tall, somber judge entered and began speaking fluidly and quickly. Our mediocre interpreter didn’t have a chance. At one point Daina leaned forward and whispered, “Don’t worry about what he is saying.”

It was about then that the judge asked the interpreter why she wasn’t interpreting, and she began again. When the rambling verdict was all over, the judge, without another look in our direction, turned and walked out of the room. Everyone was smiling, so we assumed it had gone as we had hoped. Daina confirmed that it was approved, and congratulated us on having two new daughters. It was from that point on all four of us began to behave more like ourselves. The sense of reserve in all of us began to melt away. The girls started giggling in the car again and the subject of lunch was introduced.

As the temperature dropped, and rain began to fall, Agnese pointed out how we had previously determined this was a sign of good luck, since it rained on our wedding day, on our first adoption court date, and now on August 19, 2011; our Gotcha Day. We drove to an outdoor restaurant covered in a large canopy. The restaurant provided blankets for us to wrap around our shoulders as we ordered and ate lunch with Agnese Rose and Baiba Rose Payne.


  1. It's such a beautiful story, Julie. I love the 'protected excitement' phrase. You are right, the relationship will come now that you've 'got them'! I'm so happy for all of you, & looking forward to continuing stories that parents tell about their children. You know me, always love those children tales!
    Best of wishes in the continuing days of travel! (I'm writing from my blog login-I am teacherdance). Linda Baie

  2. Congratulations Julie and David, Baiba and Agnese. What a wonderful family you will be.
    Roseanna Bellino-Strickland