We’re currently sitting in the Frankfurt airport for a long layover, and since the welcome puppies haven’t made their way over yet, Scott and I have decided to start the first of what will be a brief series of Top Three lists. We’re trying to be as detailed as possible about the trip, for ourselves as well as Arina, and Top Three lists have a way of getting the information down without it seeming so daunting. So, without further ado, the top three things we’ve learned about our Kazakh family are as follows:

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^ Yasha celebrates his first strike.

(1) Uncle Yasha is kind of a rock star. Or a superhero. Or a superhero rock star. Yet, despite what the above photo suggests, he doesn’t even know it. He was super anxious that Scott and I like him. At one point, he said (through Ed): “Are you and Scott okay? I’m worried that you’re getting bored with us.”

Umm . . . we were smiling so hard that our cheeks were hurting . . . but one of us must have gotten that glazed over jet lag look for, like, a second; and Yasha noticed. We assured him, of course, that we were over the moon and not bored at all.

He asked if we could go to a quiet place for an hour or so after bowling, just to talk, so we suggested a nice little sitting area in our hotel. We made sure to get this photo, though, before we left the bowling alley. And we made sure to have extra big smiles and to *not* look bored.

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While the kids watched television and played in our hotel room, the adults had the best conversation ever in a hotel lobby. This is the conversation I mentioned in an earlier post that is best summarized by: “I love love love love love you” — all around.

The part that surprised us, though, was the realization that Yasha was worried we’d think poorly of him, when — as mentioned above — we think he’s quite possibly the most amazing person we’ve ever met, let alone have as a family member.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that Yasha felt responsible for the family at only 14 years old, when his much-loved Dad died of a heart attack.

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^ See baby Arina on the 2nd row, and Yasha beside her, not much more than a baby himself.

He told me and Scott, through tears, that he tried *so* hard, but things just kept going to hell. Oksana died. When he got that phone call, he went to collect Arina (Oksana had told Yasha that she was required to enroll Arina, b/c of failure to thrive, in a hospital program). But . . . Arina wasn’t at the hospital. Someone there suggested that he contact Malutka Baby House, and, sure enough, Oksana had gone there and signed away her rights.

Imagine having to tell Granny that (1) Oksana is dead; and that (2) um . . . Oksana had lied about Arina being at the hospital.

Yasha thought that Oksana’s decision was a reflection on HIM, that she wouldn’t have done it had his Dad been alive. So, he’s felt — for years — like he wasn’t good enough/it was all his fault when it *totally* wasn’t.

We told him all this, of course, and I’m positive that Granny and Nadya and Elena have said the same many times over. Still, he now knows that *everyone involved* feels the same way.

Then, Scott and I showed him the videos we made of Arina while she was at Malutka, so Yasha was able to see it wasn’t the big, scary place that he imagined. Group hugs and kisses all around, and Yasha and Elena and Andrew are excited about coming to visit us in America next. Yasha said that he’s even willing to go to the beach, if we promise there won’t be any sharks. (Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world, so the idea of an ocean is both intriguing and a little bit terrifying).

(2) I mentioned in an earlier post about how similar many of the family names are, but names aren’t the only thing our Kazakh family shares! When looking at the first set of photos we took, we were taken aback by how much Arina and Christina look alike (seriously: take a sheet of paper and cover the first half of their faces; the nose, the smile, and chin are *exactly* the same):

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But, then, we noticed something really weird. In many of the photos, Arina seems to mirror whoever she’s sitting beside . . .

Arina and Cyril? Identical expressions.

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Arina and Yasha? Identical expressions, again.

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It’s actually kind of creepy, but in a super awesome way.

(3) Our Kazakh family is awesome, because they understand adoption (family by choice) better than most. Granny introduces me now as: “my daughter Nicole, with her husband, Scott, and my grandchildren, Arina and Jack.”

The only point at which I thought Scott was going to vomit was when Granny gave us money, because she wanted us to buy a present for Jack from her. The idea of taking Granny’s money when she has a wood-burning stove, an ice box for a fridge, and an outhouse was difficult for me too, actually. Ed was already having to tell us constantly:

“No, Scott. You cannot buy a refrigerator. And, no, you cannot build a bathroom addition to the house.”

“No, Nicole. You cannot leave a card for Granny with money inside, because they know how much you’ve spent on the trip, and it will just distress them.”

“No, no, no. You must recover financially from the trip before you do anything else. Stop it, the both of you.”

In the end, we didn’t buy the refrigerator, or build the addition, or even leave the card. Instead, we took a few bills from Granny for Jack . . . because, having grown up with both sets of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers, I knew that this was *such* a Babushka thing to do.

We are definitely going to be more diligent about birthday cards and presents, though, from here on out.

One of my favorite conversations with Granny, that illustrates this point #3 especially well, went as follows:

Me: “So, Granny . . . all the family lives in this little village, within walking distance?”

Granny: “Not all the family, dear . . . a few of them live in America.”

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Next List: The Top Three Things We’ve Learned about Oksana . . .

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