Wide Awake Summer

Tomorrow a big chunk of the Wide Awake Family heads to the US! We’re leavin’ on a jet plane… 🙂

It has been two years since our last visit, so it’s time. We try to visit Oregon every two years to see family, meet with our Board of Directors face to face, and spend time with our friends and supporters in the Pacific Northwest.

Another big purpose of this trip is to do reconstructive surgery on Vladik’s feet. We had planned to do the surgery when we were last in the US, but at that time Vladik was not ready for such a major procedure. He’ll be wheelchair bound for 8 weeks after the surgery, and at that time he didn’t have the understanding or emotional maturity to not be devastated by that. Now he is so much more mature in every way. He is ready and wants the surgery. He is also getting taller and heavier and walking is getting more and more painful for him. We just need to bite the bullet and get ‘er done.

I (Kim) leave for the US tomorrow with 5 of the 6 kids. We’ll get Vladik’s pre-op stuff done, and Jed will follow in June. Ezra will stay in Ukraine this month with Jed to help him care for Boris. At the end of May Jed and Ezra will go to South Africa for the World Congress for Occupational Therapy. Jed and Olya, our friend and OT, will present the interns’ work at Romaniv to the Congress. More on that in a later post!

Evie's going to miss her brother this month!

Evie’s going to miss her big brother this month! 

Although we successfully got Boris a visitor visa to the US, we have decided the best thing for Boris is to stay home at the Homestead. A trip of such magnitude would be very difficult for him. He thrives on routine and familiar surroundings, and there will be nothing routine or familiar about our summer in the US. It is so hard for us to leave him. I shed quite a few tears over it, knowing that he won’t fully understand where we all went. 😦 But at the same, I realize that it would not be kind to bring him along. Our hearts are officially at home in two places and there’s just nothing easy about that. Seriozha (Jed’s assistant) and his wife, Romana, will live at the Homestead with Boris for the summer so he can be in his home with all his favorite things. If you could pray for them for wisdom in caring for Boris, and also for peace in Boris’ heart while we are away, that would be so great. Thank you!

Side note: Boris’ visa is a 10-year multiple entry visa, so maybe we can bring him with us in a couple years when we visit again!

So, that’s the Wide Awake summer plans. While we are traveling to and fro the team and interns will continue to visit the Boys at the institution regularly, just like always. The construction crew will work on developing the new land at the Homestead and preparing it for the next homes to be built, and Boris will be safe at home with people who love him. It’s awesome to know all the work will continue while we’re away. That leaves us the ability to focus on getting Vladik healthy, the opportunity to rest with family, the chance to connect with sponsors and the time to dream and plan with our Board.

Gettin’ the garden ready for planting

Thank you all for your incredible love and support of our family and this work. Knowing that people are praying and sharing and giving of their hearts and finances makes all of this possible.

A Different Kind of Hero

On Sunday we had quite the scary experience. We had been at church, picked up some groceries, and arrived back at home. Seth was helping Boris get out of the van and Boris, for whatever reason, didn’t try to step out of the van at all, but just leaned all of his body weight on unprepared Seth. Boris fell backward and hit the ground- head first with a loud thunk/crack/give.me.a.heart.attack. I screamed (loudly) for Jed and he rushed out to scoop Boris up in his arms. It was so scary. It makes my stomach ache just remembering that moment.

Boris turned out to be fine. Thank you Jesus!  Since he is nonverbal and couldn’t tell us anything about how he was feeling, we decided it was best to take him straight to the hospital after the fall to get him checked out. All the questions about blurry vision or pain or feeling confused were irrelevant since Boris doesn’t speak.  I found myself watching him constantly for any sign of discomfort or any irregularities. He seemed a bit “off” that day and the next, but since then has been totally himself. We are so thankful.

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In those moments after the fall his vulnerability slapped me in the face. In those moments my empathy for him grew by leaps and bounds. I realized again just how incredibly vulnerable Boris is. He can’t verbalize his needs or wants. He can’t cook or prepare his own food. He can’t get to the toilet without help. He can’t get his clothes on and off without help. He can’t bathe himself. He can only walk very short distances. He relies on us for absolutely everything – 100% of the time.

We don’t know if Boris was able to do more things independently in his early years, before he came to the institution. But we do know that for the past 19 years at the institution he was 100% reliant on others to meet his needs. He was completely at the mercy of the institution’s staff. He relied on them for food, drink, cleanliness, safety- he could do nothing for himself. He was completely vulnerable and had to entrust himself into their hands, because he had no choice. But the ones who were meant to meet all of those needs let him down. He wasn’t safe. He wasn’t clean. He was chronically dehydrated and his body was emaciated and twisted from neglect. Because of lack of resources, lack of staff, and an environment that does not value life, he suffered. He suffered so greatly for many years. The neglect and abuse he has seen is more than any human should ever have to endure. My heart breaks.

Then one day, 4 months ago, Boris was plucked out of that environment and had no choice but to entrust himself to others: us. As vulnerable as ever, he came to us broken and afraid. Life has not taught him that people are to be trusted. Life has taught him that he has to fight and manipulate to make sure his needs are met.  Boris didn’t know our intentions, and maybe he still doesn’t fully know them, but because of his physical and mental limitations, he must put his trust in us. He is completely vulnerable. He has no other choice.

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This morning I was helping Boris to put his dirty clothes in the hamper. He did an awesome job and I was so proud of him! In that proud and happy moment I reached up to give him a high five and he flinched. He thought I was going to hit him and all the happiness of the moment flew out of the room. Oh my heart. He had so much fear on his face. So I tried to repair the moment. I told him how much I love him, I told him how smart he is, how special he is…I kissed his face and hugged his neck. But the peacefulness of the morning was ruined. He went back into his place of fear. Self-harm was again the order of the day.  I took him outside to wait for our neighbor to take him for his morning walk. I brought Bluebell (our dog) over for comfort, put his weighted blanket on his lap, turned on some of his favorite music, and after a few minutes he was smiling at me again. He again entrusted himself to me. What a precious, brave soul.

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What will we do with the trust Boris gives to us? How will we care for him in his moments of greatest vulnerability? Will we shush him and brush him off even when we see that he is trying to communicate something, or will we take the moment to be patient and try to understand? Will we get irritated when he self-harms, or will we choose compassion and again help him to keep himself safe? Will we become victims to our own life decisions, or will we recognize what an honor it is to care for him and take part in his healing?

I want to always remember what an incredible honor and privilege it is to be the ones who get to care for Boris. We get to teach him a new way. We get to show him that people can be loving. Hands can be for hugs and gentleness. Words can be spoken in love and patience. What joy to watch him learn that there will always be enough to eat. He will always have a place at the table. He will always have a daddy there to scoop him up when he falls. He will always have brothers and sisters to push him on the swing. He will always have a safe, warm place to sleep. Every time we serve Boris we show him a new way. We hold his vulnerable heart in our hands and we care for his vulnerable body. It isn’t always easy, but if we keep our hearts open it will always be beautiful.

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Boris is so incredibly strong. His body may be weak, but to have endured the life he has been given and still choose to smile, still choose to love, still choose to accept love from others… I have so much to learn.

There is no doubt in my mind that people like Boris will be the ones at the head of that big feasting table in heaven. The weakest among us has become my hero.

Wide Awake Family Grew!

Last week our sweet Evangeline Joy made her appearance and we couldn’t be happier. She is already bringing us so much joy.  She is like a sweet balm on our hearts.

More to come later, but I realized that I didn’t share her arrival on the blog, and I thought you all would want to know!  Thank you for your prayers for a safe delivery and a healthy baby. Everything went smoothly and Evie is perfection.

We would sure appreciate your continued prayers for Boris. Jed and I were gone at the hospital several days last week and the transition has been difficult for him. One step forward, lots of steps back…sigh. The long road to healing can feel extra long some days. Please pray for Boris’ heart to find peace, for our other kiddos to have patience and grace as Mom and Dad’s attentions are divided yet again,  and for us for wisdom in how to best help Boris- especially Jed, since pretty much all of Boris’ care falls on his shoulders at the moment.

Thank you all! More to come. 🙂

All About Boris: One Week Home

On Christmas Day we had much to celebrate. Not only is Christmas always the best holiday EVER, but this Christmas we celebrated one week of having our sweet Boris home.

Yes! On December 15th the guardianship committee granted Jed’s petition for guardianship in a quick and easy 10 minute meeting. I realized that I said I would come back and share the news here on the blog, but I forgot! Sorry to keep you hanging. I share much more frequently on our Wide Awake Facebook page, just so you know. 🙂

We waited for the documents to be drawn up and ready, and then on Monday, December 18th we brought our boy to his forever home on the Homestead.

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I still can’t quite believe Boris lives with us! It’s unreal! I remember the many hours our team has spent sitting with Boris at Romaniv praying and crying over him. We cried over the injustice of his life and we prayed for his freedom. Now those prayers have been answered. It’s miraculous.

I would say that overall, Boris is doing much better than we anticipated! We definitely have some big challenges, and the road to healing will be steep and long, but I’m actually shocked at how well he is doing. For instance, I thought that we wouldn’t be able to take Boris out of the house for quite some time. I imagined that the stimulation of going new places would be far too much for him, but he has proved me wrong. He loves going in the car and we have already seen improvement in his ability to cope with new surroundings and new people. Yay!

I know many of you are very curious about every aspect of this journey, so I will try to be faithful to share. I also want to make sure in sharing that I always guard Boris’ dignity. He has had so much stolen from him over the years, I don’t want to be yet another person who steals from him. He deserves better than that. So, I will share our experience, but many details I won’t share.  This is Boris’ journey as much as it is ours, and I want to be very careful to show him respect. Thank you for understanding!

Medical. Medically, we don’t really have anyone to guide us. Boris is a total medical mystery. He is the size of our 7 year old, but Boris is almost 26 years old. The only diagnosis he had at the institution was “severe mental retardation” (not my words, just the literal translation). We have no idea what kind of condition he was in upon coming to the institution in 1998, so we really don’t have any way of knowing how much of the Boris we see now was preexisting, and how much of who he is now is caused by living at Romaniv for 19 years. I’m just assuming that the main things we are dealing with are a lifetime of abuse, neglect, and constant stress and trauma. There is no handbook on how to navigate the path to healing for someone like Boris so we are just praying for wisdom and creativity and taking it one day at a time.

I’m an RN, so I’m thankful for that background right now. We took Boris last week to get a bunch of lab work done, just for some baseline numbers. Some of the labs came back quite concerning, so we will need to dig deeper into that once we find a doctor that we feel we can trust with Boris’ medical care here. We also took him for a full abdominal ultrasound, just because his body shape is so strange and he is obviously not healthy. We just have no idea what is going on with those organs in there. The US showed some abnormalities that, again, we will need to address once we find a medical home for Boris’ care. Right now we are just doing these tests at a private clinic and just ordering them ourselves. Once we collect a few more specimens for evaluation we will present all our findings to a doctor and get recommendations on how to proceed.

We will be applying for a passport for Boris ASAP so that we can get him to Germany for medical evaluations there with some of our partners. He has a foot/ankle and arm (humerus) that were broken at one point and never healed correctly. The breaks really hinder his mobility, so we are eager to find out what a surgeon will say about that.

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Physical (Daily Life).  Boris requires pretty much full care. He can walk, but really only around the house. He has no stamina, pretty poor balance and the odd shape of his foot makes finding suitable shoes a real problem. We are borrowing a wheelchair from some friends while we look for a permanent chair that will fit him correctly. The wheelchair is not needed at home, but is a necessity when we are out and about. He really likes being wheeled around, so that’s a bonus!

I thought that food would be a big obstacle, but honestly, he’s done amazing! I remember Vladik being SO picky when he first came home. He would only eat pureed textures and if anything had much taste at all he would say it was “spicy”. I expected Boris to be even more picky, but boy has he proved me wrong! He hasn’t turned down anything! I’m so relieved about that. Sure, we have the food insecurities and the food obsession going on, but at least when he’s given food he’ll eat it. We all just have to be careful not to eat in front of him when it’s not his mealtime. If you eat in front of Boris you better be prepared to share! He is capable of feeding himself, but his coordination is quite poor and he crams the food into his mouth way too fast. It’s really not safe, so for now we are feeding him. Once he begins to learn that no one is going to steal his food and food will always be there when he wants it, we’ll start to work on independent feeding skills. At first he was turning down all liquids except soup, but already in one week he has changed his tune. He’ll drink basically anything except water at this point, so that’s a big victory!

Boris is not able to dress himself, so we help him with that. He wears a boys size 8. What a little peanut! He is so darn cute.

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Communication. Boris is nonverbal. He doesn’t speak at all. He also does not know any signs. It’s been fun to begin to learn his ways of communicating. Some of it we already knew just from knowing him at Romaniv, but he is already much more communicative, after just one week! Having your needs consistently met encourages communication. It’s beautiful. His main methods of communication are reaching for things, or walking to the room where the need can be met (going to the kitchen for food, going to his room when he’s ready for bed, going to the bathroom when he wants the toilet). He also makes eye contact and then makes a kind of grunting sound when he wants to communicate a desire. He shakes his head when he is saying no. Like if he is grunting to me and I ask him if he needs the toilet, he will shake his head, or he will get up and start to walk to the bathroom (if we’re lucky…toileting is a whole other beast we are tackling. Oy.).  It’s really difficult to know how much Boris understands. He definitely understands simple commands, and obeys them well. How much he understands at a deeper level, beyond just simple language is impossible to ascertain at this time. Only time will tell.

As you can see on his face, Boris has quite a history of self-harm. Years and years with almost zero sensory input can lead the boys to self-harm in order to get some sort of sensory input. Right now it doesn’t seem that Boris is hitting himself for any kind of sensory input. Right now it almost seems like communication, or just his way of processing his emotions. Like, if we tell him we’re going outside, he’ll get really excited and his go-to reaction is to hit himself in the head. Or when he first came home he would hit himself very aggressively when it was time for his clothes to be changed. He has already backed way down on that. We make sure that two of us are present for big transitions and one of us will be on “hand duty” to try to keep the hitting to a minimum. We know we can’t undo the past 19 years in one week, but we can sure try. 🙂

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Emotional. Emotionally, Boris was at the best he has been since we met him when we took him from Romaniv. His one on one time with his intern, Mira, has helped him to begin to develop. He is able to process this huge transition in a more positive way than he would have before. That really is one of the goals of the internship, and of our work at Romaniv, to prepare the boys for life outside of the institution. It’s awesome to be able to reap the benefit of the internship with Boris. Three years ago he would have been a complete disaster- he was self-harming almost constantly and his arms were always tied up to try to keep him safe. He’s come a long way since then. God’s timing is perfect.

Even though he can’t speak, Boris makes it very obvious that he is happy with his new life. He is so happy that today one of our kids described him as being “jolly”! Anyone who has met Boris before would be shocked to hear that word used to describe him. In this past year, at Romaniv, Boris began to laugh at appropriate times and in appropriate situations. He would laugh when his favorite volunteers were near or when he was taken outside, but it was not frequent. He was generally quite serious. Not anymore!  He will laugh appropriately at the kids when they do funny things. When he’s happy with his food he’ll make sure to catch your eye and smile and laugh. He loves music and smiles a lot when good music is playing. He especially smiles when he’s been gone in the car and realizes we’ve arrived back home. Ahhh, home sweet home.

A lot of times the laughing is appropriate, but it is also often inappropriate. Inappropriate laughter is laughter that goes on and on and on for no apparent reason. We’re talking laughter that goes from midnight till 2am without a pause…yeah, at that point we can safely assume he’s not just really, really happy.  We are aware that he is processing more complex thoughts and emotions through the limbic system.  As he heals and his brain reorganizes itself we hope to see his processes advance and change.  We’ve noticed that the manic kind of laughter happens more frequently when Boris has been overstimulated- maybe we were out and about too much, or had a houseful people (all things that are hard to avoid the week of Christmas). While Boris handles the activity and commotion quite well, he seems to pay for it later. So, we are trying to be more aware of that.

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Family. It’s truly wonderful how well Boris has melded into our family. All our kids have commented on how different he is than how they expected. He’s more mellow than they expected, but also louder than they expected (hello laughter!), and he has a lot more personality than any of us expected. It’s amazing how in the institution the boys are just shells of their true selves. It only takes love and a sense of safety for their true selves to start to show up. We’re just getting glimpses of the true Boris, and he is so fun! I love watching our kids delight in him.

Many people have asked how Vladik has reacted to having Boris in our home. He is doing great! We talked about it a lot before Boris came, so Vladik was prepared. He likes to tell everyone that he has a new brother. 🙂 People have asked if Vladik and Boris were friends at Romaniv, and truthfully, no, they weren’t. I would say that the majority of the boys at Romaniv do not have “friend” attachments to any of they other boys. Many of them function socially and emotionally at such a low level that there is just not the awareness of others to form any attachments. Vladik had a peer or two that he had some attachment to, but Boris did not. Boris rarely interacted at all with any of the other boys. Honestly, all he did every.single.day was sit. Sit and sit and sit. He did not have friends.

When Boris first arrived he definitely reacted to Vladik. I assume that he, of course, remembers him! Vladik likes to talk to Boris and seems quite happy that he’s here. Vlad doesn’t love sharing attention, so he’s made sure to make his attention grabs, but that is very appropriate for where Vladik is in his emotional development. He’s adjusting just fine.

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We are quite aware that this road to healing for precious Boris is going to be a long one. He has been damaged by others in every way possible. But I can honestly say that so far he has brought us immense joy. I honestly didn’t expect it! His laughter lights up a room. He is teaching our kids a new level of empathy and compassion and we are thankful for that. Taking care of him is physically demanding and requires creativity, but the feedback he gives is a gift. It is our joy to introduce him to true living.

Thank you so much for your encouragement and love during this time of transition. It blows us away how many people have reached out to cheer us all on. We need your prayers for wisdom and energy and creativity. We value your ideas and input. Thank you to every single person who has helped to make this dream possible. A life has been saved and you are a part of it. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Wide Awake Family Grows!

Happy Fall!

The trees are so so beautiful here right now and the weather is unseasonably  mild. The day before yesterday I roasted a pumpkin and made a pumpkin cheesecake treat and then yesterday cooked up some pumpkin soup. Fall has officially made it’s way to the Homestead. Bring on the cozy!

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Hava, school friends, and pretty fall colors

I always love to make a cozy home, but this year I have even more reason to create coziness. If you follow us on Instagram or our personal Facebook you already heard, but yes, our family is growing. We’re havin’ a baby!

I know, I know. We were rather shocked too. (to put it mildly)

In the middle of the crazy month of June when teams were coming and going and we could barely keep our heads on straight we found out the news. I remember the shock and the overwhelming feeling of “how in the world are we going to do this?”  We decided to keep our little surprise a secret until we could really wrap our brains around it.

We thought the baby days were long gone for us. Seven year old Seth was the last baby we had in our home, and after 7 years straight of newborns- bio and foster– we were more than ready to say goodbye to diapers, bottles, bouncy seats, and sleepless nights. We had moved into the magical season when no one needs to nap, everyone can potty independently and get their own drinks of water. And then BAM! The bomb dropped. 🙂

After the initial shock wore off and the crazy summer slowed down a bit we were able think straight. It didn’t take long for us to see the joy in our unexpected gift. How precious it will be to witness new life once again. Our lives here, our work here is surrounded by brokenness. Our boys are so broken. They have endured years upon years of abuse and neglect. The nurturing they missed out on as little babies is visible in their bodies even today. Our Vladik has come so far, yet every day we work with him to repair the brokenness inside.  It’s a hard and painful road, but one we are called to walk down and we do, with joy and sadness mixed. We pray that this baby will be like a healing balm to our family and to our boys. How amazing it will be to have the opportunity to nurture this little one, to meet his or her needs and to watch him or her grow- surrounded by love- the way God intended. How encouraging it will be to not have to fight against years of neglect, and how joyful it will be for our other kiddos to be a part of the process.

We are so happy and we are so thankful. God truly does know what we need.

So it is with great joy that we share our wonderful gift of new life.

I’m 23 weeks pregnant now (more than halfway!), and baby is due to make it’s appearance right around Valentine’s Day. We never find out the gender beforehand, so we’re keeping it a surprise this time around too. We already have boys and girls, so it doesn’t really matter- although our girls feel pretty strongly that they need a sister to even things out. It’s been 9 years since my body has done the whole growing  a baby thing, but so far so good, even if I am considered “advanced maternal age”. 😉 I definitely feel it more this time around, the discomfort and all that, but my body is generally pretty good at being pregnant, so I don’t have many complaints.

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Baby and me at the halfway point

Navigating a pregnancy here in Ukraine is definitely an adventure I never expected to have!  Of course the whole system is vastly different than what I’ve been used to in the past, but so far so good. I’ve mostly encountered a bazillion blood tests and a bazillion documents. I go to one doctor now, and then will switch to a “delivery doctor” when we are closer to the due date. Many people have asked if we will fly to the US for the birth, but that’s really not practical, for a number of reasons. Ukrainian women have babies here every day and do fine. I don’t see why it should be any different for me.

So I’m cozying up the house, taking advantage of quiet moments when the kids are at school (soon the quiet will disappear again!), and trying to be kind to my advanced maternal age body by putting my feet up when I need to (not easy to do when dishes pile up and boxes need unpacking STILL and 5 kids need me, but I’m trying). I know soon everything will change again, so I’m attempting to not rush this time, but to treasure the moments we have as a family of 7. Hopefully it won’t be long before our first Romaniv friend joins our family, and the baby soon after, so living in today is becoming an important skill to develop. It’s so interesting how the physical and spiritual align themselves. As we have been preparing the home for our boys and expecting them, things around us have changed. We have long compared the building of the Homestead and now the legal process of gaining guardianship as a kind of “pregnancy”. Now we also have a physical pregnancy. We are joyfully “expecting” in more ways than one.

Thank you to all who have shared our joy. Your encouraging words have blessed our family. We will be so excited to introduce our new baby to you in just a few short months! Yay for seasons of growth! (literally!) 😉

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