Old Octave, New Octave

I almost titled this post, “a day of diarrhea”, but I think that will apply for many days, so I came up with something else.

Our days are pretty chill here. There’s not a whole lot to do except, well, take care of the babies. That includes dressing, changing, playing, naps, and feeding. That alone keeps us busy from 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM.

I’ve been following Marie-France’s advice on sleeping. He sleeps in his crib, but when Octave wakes in the morning, I take him into my bed and we cuddle, chat, drink water. It’s a fun, chill way to start the day, and means I don’t have to be fully operational for a little while. We can drag it out to 15 minutes or so.

This morning he woke at 6:45, and we got up about 7. Octave watched his first age-appropriate TV, about 15 minutes worth of a Baby Einstein program on Wildlife Animals (tigers, parrots, elephants, giraffes, etc. His favorite by far were the fish, sea turtles and dolphins, but it could be because he liked the cool song). Here we are watching the show:

i try 003

In notable events, we went food shopping, which went over well, though he didn’t stop babbling through the whole store. It’s funny, but I’m discovering that I didn’t adopt the baby I bonded with. : – ) Throughout the whole first trip to Kazakhstan, Octave was very serious, thoughtful, lots of frowns and serious looks, very quiet, few select smiles. These last days since we left the orphanage, Octave is the class clown. His personality is, well, big. He babbles loudly in public places, screams in restaurant bathrooms when I change him, laughs and smiles tons (case in point go check out the pictures I just added to yesterday’s post), and keeps on going like the Energizer Bunny (an old American TV advertisement where this mechanical rabbit that runs on Energizer batteries keeps going, and going, and going). He burps, farts and poops like he’ll get a prize for the most spectacular one.

What’s most amazing about him now is his growing attachment to me. I’d say he hates being alone, but that’s not true—he hates it when I leave him, even if there are other people around. I have to wear him around the house when I’m puttering; thank goodness for my baby carrier (Ergo). He’s started mimicking. We’ve had some fun games where he and I will make farting noises back and forth (with our mouths, thank you–raspberries). He holds my hands when we walk around outside (he’s in his carrier). He looks for me when he hurts himself or is stressed. He is the most amazing little boy in the world.

His personality change has made it difficult to go out for a meal with him. He’s loud and needy in restaurants, and when he inevitably has diarrhea (this morning at the coffee shop, this evening at the Chinese restaurant), he screams bloody murder when I change him (he already didn’t like this at the orphanage). He’s ok on the go, walking around etc., but sit him down, and things get complicated.

I got a glimpse of “orphanage Octave” today at the SOS Clinic, one of our two remaining mandatory stops for the adoption. The US Embassy in Kazakhstan requires a medical evaluation of the (former) orphan before granted him/her permission to enter the United States. The main doctor there, a friendly South African man, checked out Octave, and Octave checked him out right back. He had nothing to say for the 15 minutes we spent with the doctor, but stared intently with his “usual” serious look. The doctor did observe one medically significant thing: it would seem Octave has a hernia, and we’ll have to get it checked out when we get back to France. Otherwise, he now weighs 10.3 kilos, or 23 pounds, making him the heaviest baby in our group.



After the clinic, Octave and I wandered around the grounds and he had a nap in the carrier. For this last 24 hour period, his total sleep with naps was 12.5 hours. It’s funny, because it’s so polar opposite of the experience the other parents traveling with me are having/had. Their kids sleep/slept up to 12 hours at night and up to 6 during the day…I guess everyone (starting with babies) has a different way of dealing with stress.


I mentioned the Chinese restaurant, I think it was called Princessa, or something like that—it was very cool, they gave us a private room (there were 5 adults and 3 babies). Oh, and I’m so grateful to Sandi for lending me her portable chair (I should have packed mine, especially since I don’t have a stroller), and to her friend Kelly for helping me out with the major diarrhea incident. It is so bad it creeps up his diaper, up his back, and all over his shirts, shorts, sweaters (sorry if anyone is reading this over coffee). Which means that in order to avoid the “naked baby in restaurant” scenario, you really need 2 people, one to hold the baby, and one to assist with moving things out of the way. Grateful, grateful, grateful!!!

Octave and Finley had a bath together (woooo). Here are some cute pictures:

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Oh, he cried for 30 seconds before going to sleep. I’m not sure why, but I’m taking this as a good sign (yesterday, he didn’t say a thing).

p.s.—why the diarrhea? I necessarily had to change his diet, since much of it at the orphanage is prescription, plus they didn’t really tell us anyway what they were eating. I tried to keep it the same, but clearly I came up short…

First plane ride

It turns out I was unfair about the SCAT plane. (not my fault, I was sick the first time). Yes, it’s loud, but you stop noticing it quickly, and can actually hold a normal conversation over the drone. And yes, it’s slow, but Jeff explained that it’s because it’s a propeller plane rather than a jet plane. And it is small, but I didn’t notice because Octave and I quite accidentally sat in an exit row, so had tons of space.

Octave slept from 8:30 PM Monday night to 6:30 AM Tuesday morning. He was in my bed (the LMI staff hadn’t planned any baby beds because they didn’t know we wanted custody the first night), and between the jetlag and the newness of the baby, I didn’t sleep so well. We did a few more Skype calls, and had a leisurely breakfast, which left only about 30 minutes for him to nap prior to Larissa arriving to take us to the airport.

He did fine on the plane, played quietly with some toys, drank a bottle on the way up and on the way down.



The whole experience was trial by fire for me, however. He pooped twice, once constipated, once diarrhea. He shrieks and wails when I change his diaper. He was so mad at one point he peed all over himself and the bathroom, thank goodness for the change of clothes. He finally fell asleep for about 15 minutes as the plane was landing.


And that was almost the extent of his napping for yesterday. When we reached Almaty and found Sandi, Finley and Kelly, we went out to an Italian place for dinner at about 4 PM, but Octave was fried. He got progressively fussier and so I had to take my dinner to go, and I spent the hour we were there pacing the restaurant with him babbling in his carrier. Finally, walking home in the middle of a torrential downpour, he fell asleep and slept for about 30 minutes. Then he woke up angry, had dinner, and played till 8:30 PM when I put him to bed. That’s a total of about 11 hours of sleep for the 24 hour period, which seems like way too little. I hope he settles into a rhythm soon, but it’s going to be hard to do that before we get home…

Oh, he was so excited to see Finley!!


Protect the children

Do you know what today is in Kazakhstan? National Protect the Children Day!! I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate time for Octave and I to become a family.

So, I’ve got Octave!! We arrived at the baby house at about 15:15, and first met with the orphanage director. We gave him a donation in exchange for the little overalls outfit that he was wearing when I arrived. Now, he has a souvenir…

Here I am signing the registry saying that I’ve adopted him and that I’m taking him out of the orphanage:


So, the million dollar question: did he remember me? I say yes. I was expecting a look of fear. Instead, I got a look that communicated the thought, “hmm, what are you doing here?” No instant smiles (never expected one) but I feel really good about our meeting. He gripped onto me when I picked him up, and never looked back or got worried when we left the orphanage.

Here’s my first picture with Octave after I found him. He is wearing a traditional Kazakh hat that I had made for him (it’s too big) but hopefully his head will grow a bit before his baptism next month. I also recovered the blue penguin overalls he’s wearing:


Remember how I was there for his 1st tooth, and incidentally he still only had one when I left him April 28th? Well, on June 1st, he has 5 teeth–3 on the bottom and 2 on top, and I can see two more on the top about to break through, they’re so close to the surface they show through. 7 teeth! Busy man.

Here he is dressed to impress:



We took a picture to commemorate leaving the orphanage. Here we are with the Karrs and Nicholas. Notice how green the baby house grounds got!


After we left the baby house, we ran a bunch of errands–got some papers notarized to finish my “dossier” for the french government, went shopping, got some takeout dinner. The shopping was mostly for the benefit of the babies–had to buy them dinner. I seriously have no idea what they eat, but we found some rice meal that went over really well at dinner time (thank goodness for a long chat with Sandi this morning on that same subject, too!) Here’s a picture of our first grocery shopping together:


As a whole, Octave found interesting everything we did together outside, except for the car, which he vocally does not like. Octave + car = crying, but hopefully that won’t also apply to planes (gulp).

When we got back to the hotel, everyone had a blast. Here’s a little baby in a big room:



Octave took his first ever bath. In a jacuzzi, no less. He really liked the water (we had bought a little purple octopus bath toy at the supermarket, I forgot to pack one), and even had fun splashing me. He even dunked a couple of times (slippery when wet!!) and was zen about it. No, I did not turn on the jets. :-)

We had some skype chats on the computer. Here’s a screen cap from one:

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We all had dinner in the recreation room from about 7 PM. Here’s Octave with Suzanne, who was finally sitting down to her dinner:


Octave learned a cool trick while I was gone, he now knows how to stand by himself if he’s hanging onto something:


We had many smiley, funny moments. Octave still loves to dance when the music comes on, and was just so thrilled to be bouncing on my knees to the sound of Kazakh techno in the background. He seems, well, happy.

He fell asleep at 20:30 while drinking some Keffir (plain liquid yoghurt) that the baby house gave us. I thought he was out for the night, but about 45 minutes later he woke up shrieking and I had to pick him up and walk around with him for a minute till he calmed down. I think he was too hot and woke up, and got spooked because he didn’t know his surroundings. His eyes were terrified, but he fell back asleep within 5 minutes or so.


As a whole, I have to say that I think he started this transition remarkably well. I expected that he would look stressed at worst, glazed and withdrawn at best, and it hasn’t at all been the case. Except for his momentary nighttime disorientation, he’s been alert, active, comfortable and engaged in discovering his surroundings.

Tomorrow’s the first plane trip, we’ll see how he reacts! On the plus side, the plane is so loud that I doubt anyone will hear him cry if he does…

Arrival in Semey

I just wanted to post really really quickly to say that I’ve safely arrived in Kazakhstan. After the weirdness with checkin in Nice, there were no other incidents. I met up with the Karrs in Frankfurt, and we were sitting just two rows away from each other on the plane. I had a football fan sitting next to me on the flight (I gather there’s a big championship qualifying type match in Almaty next weekend), but he slept the whole way. Oh, I watched Twilight, awesome flick, and I started a book on global cooperation by developmental economist Jeffrey Sachs.

Self portrait on the flight from Nice:
(sorry, have to put the pictures later, just got my phone call!!)
(ok, I’m back)


I met up with the staff in Almaty (no customs issues), and then went to Sandi’s apartment in Almaty. It’s right next to the pedestrian shopping street, more on that later. Finley looks great, so does Sandi, though she’s understandably anxious to hit the road.

This morning I got picked up at 10 to go to the airport. No excess baggage fees, no bribes, I knew how to order water at the airport, life is good. The Karrs and I took the same puddle jumping little plane as on the first trip last time. Very pleasant flight, I slept the whole way, and it only took about 1h30mns.

Suzanne on the plane:


Semey from the air:


It’s spring in Semey, it’s gorgeous here. Windy, oddly. Sunny with big puffy white clouds. It’s like Semey is glad we’re back for the babies. We’re checked into a super nice, new hotel. The Karrs and I are the only guests here.


I have a jacuzzi in my room, and a nice double bed, with customized breakfast, a free recreation rooom / bar, all for the modest price of 50 euro. Octave’s first night with me will be in relative luxury!



My diaper bag is packed and the driver is coming to pick me up to go to the bbhouse in 3 minutes, so I’ll cut this short. More later!!

On my way again!!

Hi Everyone!! Well, here I am at the Nice airport again, eating another crappy & stale Paul pain au chocolat (why don’t those guys go out of business?) and not really worried about it because I’M GOING TO KAZAKHSTAN TO GET OCTAVE!!!

The last month has been a whirlwind blur. I have cleaned out my apartment a bunch (but obviously not finished), done paperwork galore, taxes, talked to family, hung out with my friends. Clara and my friends in Nice threw me the most wonderful baby shower, Octave and I were so spoiled by everyone. A huge thank you to Clara for the perfect day at her house, and to Jeanette for the sweet post and awesome photo montage, to Celine for the pictures, to everyone who showered us with gifts…

I also got to go to the movies one last time (saw Angels & Demons, I recommend it, good action flic, good acting, great music), went out “late night” for the Cannes Film Festival (I was asleep by 3 am), went to wine bars and restaurants with my friends, slept in, biked to work once, and generally got out of my system one last time all those things I love about the childless life. But there are so many rich things to look forward to, I’m sure I won’t miss it…

Packing was a pain as always, but not so difficult as last time. So far, the only thing I know I’ve forgotten is my Economist magazine, so no crisis. And I haven’t had any significant sleep issues in the last week, just a few anxious dreams.

So, to give you an idea of what I’m doing, I fly out today and arrive in Almaty tonight at 11:55 on May 31st. Tomorrow morning, I will fly from Almaty to Semey and see Octave at the baby house. Provided I catch up a bit on my sleep in the meantime (slept 5 hours last night) I will take custody of him immediately (I hope) and we’ll spend 1 night at the hotel in Semey. Then we’ll fly back to Almaty on Tuesday and spend a few days there finalizing the adoption. At 3AM June 6th, we leave Almaty (I hope–when I checked in a few minutes ago they cancelled Octave’s reservation somehow. I will definitely be calling Lufthansa the minute I get to Almaty) and fly to Washington DC to spend a few days with Antoine, Pin, Natasha, Quentin, Aksara and Atikan. Mainly, we need to get Octave’s passport made, and spend some quality family time. Then Octave and I fly back to arrive in Nice on June 13th at 6:30 PM (again, I hope).

If anyone’s keeping track, it’s been almost exactly 2 years (minus about 2 weeks) since I made the decision to adopt during my road trip across Australia with Jonathan in June 2007. And a year and a half since I started the paperwork.

Oh, and thanks Eileen and Kelly for your recent comments, sorry to everybody I sort of dropped off the face of the planet for a while, I’m glad to be back to posting! Hugs to everyone.

Our Gift To You Chantal :-)

Ahhh, the benefits of being an administrator of Chantal’s site is that I get to be sneaky and add a post that is for her, instead of her posts that are usually for us (well, and her too!).

Chantal, we’ve put together a montage of your babyshower, which includes a video of Godmother Clara reciting her poem – Octave.  Hope you enjoy it!

Unfortunately WordPress will not me allow to embed the video, so you must click here!

Day 29-30: Departure Day

We discovered a handy thing about the hotel Almaty: once you have checked in, you are checked in for 24 hours, and you can extend your checkout time by the hour for something like 6 dollars an hour beyond the 24 hours. Plus, for whatever reason, we also got a 25% discount, so we left our luggage in our rooms from 5 PM Tuesday to 11:30 PM Wednesday for the same price as a standard 24 hour stay (175 dollars a night, and yes, that still strikes me as cher).

The view from our hotel window (the opera is there, you just can’t see it in the picture):


So, Maman and I walked around Almaty all day. We visited the museum of Kazakh musical instruments:




and heard a beautiful concert entirely played on traditional Kazakh instruments,



the beautiful park it’s housed in,


the neighboring church made entirely of wood (but painted),


The LMI staff also took us up to the mountains above Almaty, not the ones right behind the opera but slightly to the left:




We went to a pedestrian street with lots of shopping (where we finished our souvenir shopping). We took this picture for fun (Maman’s maiden name is Maisonneuve, or New House)


Then we covered all of Almaty trying to find a place for dinner that met all my requirements (I was acting quite the diva, wasn’t up to my normal appetite yet): not too expensive, not too far from the hotel, not too loud (I had issues with loud noises for days after my illness), not Kazakh food (which I liked, but saturated). We finally ended up in the hotel restaurant with blaring local pop music and paying out the nose for an overcooked and greasy pseudo Kazakh meal (we paid maybe 8 dollars for a small, individual sized bottle of water that they pulled out of some hotel room refrigerator bar, because the restaurant was “out of water”. It was disappointing, but we all have days like that. The good news is, while we were walking around searching, we saw this beautiful memorial to women and children during what I think is the 2nd world war:


Oh, and we saw these camels. Camels are one of Kazakhstan’s national animals:


The toughest logistical part of the trip home was the airport in Almaty, by far. A note to people traveling, this could happen to you, so watch out. We arrived at the airport and got dropped off at security by our driver, who left. Right before I put my luggage through the scanner, a customs official asked me how much money I was carrying on me. MY BAD, SILLY ME, I said “about 3 or 4 thousand Euros” figuring that if he asked me to count it, I’d be caught out in a lie. You see, I hadn’t thought to put money into different wallets. I should have had about 60 Euros set aside to show him, and smuggled the rest. Live and learn. He got all serious with me, asked me to step into a back room and count it for him. Then he showed me a laminated paper that said that people traveling with more than 3000 USD had to declare it in customs. He told me that he would have to write up some paperwork about me unless I bribed him. To this day, I don’t know what would have happened if he had written up the paperwork. Would it have taken hours? Would I have had to pay tax? My options were: 1. pay the bribe. 2. refuse and have him fill out the paperwork and maybe miss my flight home. 3. refuse and ask to speak to the US Embassy (at midnight on the eve of a holiday) and definitely miss my flight. I paid the bribe (100 euros). It sucked.

What stank even more was when I got back in line to check in, the lady informed me that I had to pay 270 dollars in excess baggage. Apparently, when you fly to a European destination, you’re only allowed one 20 kilo bag. I had two 20+ kilo bags. Would have been nice to know this on the way in, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

By the time I had been tapped for money on all sides, I was so flustered and stressed that I completely forgot to turn in my immigration card, and no one asked me for it. Thank goodness for the small things, I only realized this when I was almost landing in Frankfurt. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have slept for the whole trip—as it turns out, I slept like a baby the whole way. It turns out that forgetting to turn this card in is not a biggie, since apparently they have the information about my departure in a computer in Kazakhstan. You can be sure that I will be traveling with it on the way back, though. No taking chances this close to the end!!