Two days ago we celebrated one year of freedom for our sweet Vladik. Our miracle boy spent the day at a Hungarian water park (long story…for another post) discovering his great love for enormous water slides. He ran and played and splashed, yelling “Mom, look! Dad, watch me!” He watched his brothers and sisters do things he was nervous to do, then conquered his fears and tried for himself. He ate ice cream and pizza and laughed and asked “Blue slide again?”
He truly lived.
On one hand I can hardly believe a whole year has passed since Vladik came out of Romaniv forever, but mostly it feels like a lifetime ago. When I go to Romaniv these days I can hardly picture him there. He is truly a different child.
It’s interesting because if you ask anyone who visited Romaniv and met Vladik there they would all tell you how happy he was. He was always laughing and smiling. ALWAYS. But now that we truly know him we can see his behavior then for what it really was. Yes, he was smiling, and yes he laughed a lot, but he was also afraid- ALL THE TIME. His body showed his fear in the way he held himself; his shoulders scrunched up, his head down, full-on protection mode at every moment. His laugh seemed happy, but now we know that laugh as the nervous, afraid laugh that shows up when he is unsure. If you asked him for a hug he would sort of back up toward you and lean a shoulder in. You could see he was compliant but he didn’t feel comfortable and he didn’t enjoy it. He was afraid of physical contact and always on guard. He had a bright countenance that I believe came from the Lord, but it was just a dim flicker compared to how he shines now.
The boy we knew at Romaniv was a shadow of the boy we know now. And the boy we know now is amazing.
He is funny and loves to make his siblings laugh. He comes up to me several times a day with his arms open as wide as possible, asking for a hug. He adores Bluebell, our puppy, and could play with her for hours. He likes ice cream and potatoes and pizza and soup. He’s a daredevil and wants everything faster and higher and louder. His bike is his most prized possession. He and Seth are still thick as thieves and when they get too quiet I know something is up…typical brothers. 😉 He speaks English and Ukrainian and a mish-mash of the two that can only be described as “Vladik speak”. Oh, and he pretty much never stops talking. Motor.Mouth.
We think Vladik is doing miraculously well. His transition to our family has been amazingly smooth. BUT 15 years of institutionalization, 11 of those in a bad place, can not be erased in one year. We have so many wonderful moments, and we also have so many difficult moments. Parenting a child who has lived a lifetime of trauma is no joke. It requires constant reassurance and truckloads of patience (of which I am guilty of running short). Just when you think you’ve conquered a certain behavior or fear something triggers and you go ’round the mountain again…and again.
Put your arms down. No beeping. We’re going home soon. Put your arms down. No beeping. If you want to talk to someone just say “hi”, you don’t need to make strange noises to get attention. No beeping. Put your arms down. And on and on…
It’s no secret that extra struggles come with the fact that we are back in Ukraine. Most every other internationally adopted child I know leaves their institutional life and it is over and gone for good; new life, new memories, old life gone forever. That will never be Vladik’s reality. Romaniv has stayed and will stay a part of his life. It is our life. As much as we would love for him to, he doesn’t ever get to fully forget. We will never ever take him to Romaniv again, and we tell him that all the time, but he knows we go there and he hears us talk of it daily. Some people might think it’s cruel of us to bring him back here where he is constantly reminded of his past. We know that. We know, and our only response is “God said so.” Just like our other children have an unusual life because of what God has called our family to, so it is with Vladik. And just like we trust that God is caring for our other children and giving them what they need, so it is with Vladik. When we chose to say yes to adopting Vladik we knew this would be his reality and still we knew that we knew God was saying to make him our son. So we did.
Annnnnd God is making a way for our boy, even here in Ukraine. He is surrounded by our team who knew him when he was an orphan and know him now. In their eyes he is a celebrity. He is what we dream of for all of our boys, in the flesh. His presence in our church here in Ukraine brings hope and refreshment to those who work tirelessly on behalf of the ones Vladik left behind. He brings joy wherever he goes. 🙂
A local private school welcomed all our kids with open arms, including Vladik. He gets to do PE, music, and art with the fifth grade, while having individual lessons the rest of the day. I get to make his lesson plans and our dear friend has agreed to teach him. She loves Vladik and sees him for the beautiful soul that he is. Their lessons start next month and I can’t wait to see how he thrives. So far the kids at the school have been kind and accepting of Vladik. We are thankful.
He gets to attend a weekly class at Mission to Ukraine where he will be treasured and valued. Full circle.
The other day we were visiting a beautiful basilica in Budapest. We decided to pay the fee and go see the inside of the building. We approached the cashier and when he saw Vladik he smiled so warmly. He almost pushed us into the church, “You don’t pay! Please, please go for free” he exclaimed with a kind pat on Vladik’s back, and a look of tenderness in his eyes. I could see there was no pity there, only love. Oh man, the tears were flowing. That man, he saw the beauty of our boy. There was no look of disgust, no disdain, no mouth-hanging-open staring. There was love. For me that moment was a gift from God. It felt like God was whispering over us “See, I see your boy, and I’m watching over him.”
Vladik’s healing is a long road, but he is definitely well on his way. He is absolutely flourishing and growing and LIVING. We will never ever be the same because he is our son. He is our gift and I pray we never take him for granted.