Today has been a very emotional, yet wonderful day. I woke up cool, calm and collected, but as the morning went on, I became quite nervous about going to court. Yesterday our facilitator told us that the judge wanted Vova's great grandmother to appear at court. So this morning, three different "official" people went to Simpferopol to talk to her. They all told her that the judge had requested her presence at court regarding her great grandson's adoption. But she told all three people that she was not going to go. She was very upset that the adoption was happening - so much so that she told the people to tell Vova not to ever write her or try to communicate with her. How sad.
We were at the courthouse at 2:00, but we had to wait for the social worker to return from talking to the grandmother before the proceedings could start. When they got back to town, they drove to the orphanage, picked up Vova, and made it to the courthouse around 2:45. At that point, we all filed into the courtroom. Interestingly, the courtroom was a tiny little place, maybe 10'x15' (if that!). And we had 12 or 13 people in there! I sat down next to Vova, and reassured him that this would all turn out good. He smiled, but he looked nervous. For some reason, though, once we got to court, all of MY nervousness left, and I felt very calm...almost peaceful. I just kept remembering the verse that my mother had given me for that day: "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you". And He was, most definitely, present in that courtroom.
The court proceedings were divided up into two sections. As we began the first part, the judge asked Vova to please wait outside. So, for the next hour and a half, the poor little boy had to wait outside in the hall on a bench all by himself. But he never complained.
The people present were Jeff and myself, our coordinator/translator, the judge, an inspector, a social worker, a prosecutor, two jurors, a secretary, and an extra lady who was there to learn from the prosecutor. The judge was a lady about 50 years old, but we were told that this was her first adoption case. Everything started out very serious, so I looked around the judge's desk to try to get a clue as to her personality. The one thing that I liked best about her space was that she had a drawing done by a child taped to her wall. That one little thing gave me reassurance that the judge would try to do what was best for Vova. Then I looked at the jurors, and they seemed like very kind people, so I was not fearful of them, either. I had already gotten to know the inspector and the social worker, so I knew that they were all for the adoption. The only person who was questionable the prosecutor. He did not smile, and asked a lot of questions during this first part of court.
We were asked questions like:
- Why do you want to adopt a child from Ukraine?
- Are you certain that Vova is the right child for you? Why?
- Do you think you can love him like you do your other children?
- What do you like about Vova?
- How do you plan to teach him English?
- What do your other children think about this adoption?
- Are you prepared to help him should he need medical treatment?
None of the questions were difficult, but could be answered easily. But there were two questions that Jeff and I, both, had to answer about 4 times. Thankfully, we were prepped beforehand to know how to respond. The first question was:
"Is there anything you would like to ask the court?" Our response was, "Yes, we would like to ask the court for permission to adopt Vova, to change his name to Vladimir Carl Miles, and to change his birth certificate to state that Jeff and I are his parents".
The other question we were asked multiple times was, "Do you know what your rights are, and what Vova's rights are?" Again, we were able to answer correctly because our coordinator had prepped us earlier that morning. This is the answer, more or less, that they were looking for: "We know that 1) within a month of having Vova, we must register him with the Ukrainian consulate in Washington, DC, 2) we must send updates about Vova every year for the first three years, then once every three years until he turns 18, 3) we must allow Vova to maintain his Ukrainian citizenship until he turns 18, 4) we must allow Ukrainian officials to be able to talk to Vova, and 5) we must give them a change-of-address if we move."
And so the questions went for an hour and a half...then we took about a 10 minute break. It was good to be able to go out into the hallway to see Vova. He was very quiet. I'm sure he was bored, as that was a long time for ANYONE to sit still; but especially for a 12 year old boy! When they called us back into court, things started to lighten up. For starters, right when the judge called us back, Vova said that he needed to go potty. So the social worker took him. The rest of us sat down in the courtroom and waited. The judge looked around and said, "Where's Vova?" (this part of court included him). Someone said he had to go potty. But I think that was the best thing to happen, because everyone, including the judge and the prosecutor laughed a little bit. When Vova came back, I was pleased to see that every single person was extremely nice to Vova. Even the prosecutor smiled at him!
I could tell that Vova was still nervous, so I was very proud of the courage that he demonstrated by standing there in the middle of all those people. The judge started out by telling him that everything in court would be done in the Ukrainian language rather than Russian. She asked him if he understood Ukraine, and he said that he did. They did not ask him very many questions. Basically, they asked him his name, where he lived, and if he wanted to go to America with us. Then they asked him what he liked about us; his answer to that was simply, "Everything!"
Even though the second part of the day lasted over an hour, it seemed to go much quicker than the first part of the day. Vova was in there, the people were friendlier, and it became more and more obvious that the court would rule in our favor. At one point, the judge asked me why I was smiling so much (she asked this with a friendly smile on HER face), and all I could say was that I was very, very happy.
When we were finished, the judge asked us all to wait back in the hallway. Immediately when we got out there, Vova hugged our necks. He knew that it had gone well. Then we sat down and waited again. I was expecting them to call us back in again to give us the final ruling, but that never happened. Instead, the judge came out as I was taking a couple of photos of Vova. When she asked if I could take a picture of her and Vova, that told me that court was done, and that the judge had ruled in our favor...it was never officially announced, but that photo seemed to seal the deal. Then someone else took a picture of Jeff, Vova and me; our first family-photo of Vova as our son (or should we call him Carl now?).
Quickly after that we drove Vova back to the orphanage. I thought we would have a few minutes to say goodbye to him, but realized once we got there that we had to say goodbye right there at the car, and then quickly rush to the train station to get a ticket for an over-night train ride back to Kyiv. So our goodbyes were rushed. But maybe that was for the best, because shortly after that, when I posted on facebook that Vova was now our son, I began to cry. All of that emotion that had been building all day finally burst through when I stopped to think about how good this day had turned out. Thank you, Lord. Thank you!