Birthdays Comin’ Out Our Ears 🥳

I’m tellin’ you what, we have been celebrating like crazy around here! Birthday after birthday after birthday. The past month or so has been a birthday explosion, and I’m not a weighing type person, but if I were, I’m certain the scales would indicate just how much we’ve partied. 😂

Celebrations around here are sweet. They don’t call for many ingredients. Simplicity is at the core. All you need for a Wide Awake celebration is some tasty baked treats (gluten and lactose free for our Anton), fruit, tea with sugar, a speaker, and some music. Decorations are nice, but the treats and the dancing are the main focus of every celebration. Our boys and our team love a good dance party- the louder the music, the better.

I love love love seeing our boys celebrated by so many people. I love seeing the gifts our team members buy for the boys because it just shows how well each of them are known. Our team knows just the thing that each of them will like. For Anton it’s anything that can spin and anything he can eat. For Bmo it’s mainly just candy. Haha. They are known and they are seen as individuals. That is no small thing.

“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.” -Jean Vanier

On My Mind: The Kids.

I’ve been a bit absent in this space over the past several weeks. I blame Christiana. 🙂 Our friend, Christiana, has been here for the past several weeks, and since I have her nearby to verbally process with, I feel less of a need to process here. Ha! You all didn’t realize you were my sounding board…or maybe you did. I’m an external processor, so I either need to talk out my thoughts or in absence of an English-speaking friend, write them out. So, I told Christiana I blame her for my lack of writing inspiration. Hehe. How’s that for throwing a friend under the bus?

Lately, the main thing that’s been ringing around in my brain has been my kids. I’m a mom of many, so obviously, mothering takes up the majority of my time and attention. As my kids move into different stages they need more or less of that time and attention, and right now it seems every one of them needs more. It’s a season where I’m seeing a lot of things that need to change and realizing that I need more support than I currently have in order to make those changes. So, it’s been a bit of a stretching season of mothering.

I think I’ve written about it here before, but parenting in our situation feels like parenting in a black hole. We have no peers around to talk with, bounce ideas off of, to watch and learn from. Jed and I feel pretty much alone in this whole parenting gig. The majority of our kids’ closest friends are from here in our village, and those parents are mostly absent. I have no idea what is going on in their homes, and they spend most of their time here in our home or in our yard. That makes things easier for me since I mostly always know where my kids are! 🙂 But parenting without other moms around can be both a blessing and a hardship. On one hand, I have no one with whom to compare myself. I’m not on social media anymore and I don’t have other mom friends to watch, so the comparison game isn’t a thing for me anymore. What a relief! I don’t feel less than, because I literally have no idea what other people are doing. On the other hand, I literally have no idea what other people are doing, so I can’t learn from them or ask for their advice. When things are going well that seems like no big deal, but when things are rough, it’s like a massive hole. I would love so much to have a peer group of moms to move through life together. I had that before we moved here and I miss it so much. I can read parenting books written by older and wiser people and learn something new, but it’s definitely not the same as sitting down for coffee with a friend to just talk through your struggles together. Sigh. Any of you moms out there wanna move to Ukraine and be my neighbor?

The only child who still likes her picture taken…

Our Addy is seventeen and in her junior year of high school. Can you believe it? Our first little chickadee will soon leave the nest. Noooooooooooo! It’s an exciting time of preparing for next steps and helping Addy to realize her dreams. She would like to take a year after graduation to attend a Bible School in Germany, and then she hopes to enter a German nursing school and study there (free higher education for the win!). To be eligible for studying in Germany Addy will need a high school diploma from an accredited American high school. So, this next year she will be enrolled in a school that is part online and part textbooks. Hopefully, we can cram enough credits in there to get her that coveted diploma. She’s pretty motivated and determined, so I have no doubt that she’ll do it. She also needs B1 level German to enter nursing school, so next week she will begin German lessons. Exciting times for our girl!

Next school year Ezra will be enrolled in the same accredited high school as Addy. He’ll be a sophomore and I’m excited for him to have the opportunity to learn from other teachers. Addy is a very motivated self-learner, but Ezra does better with deadlines and more specific feedback. I really hopeful that this school will be a good fit for him. If he wants to study further in the US he won’t need a diploma, but if he chooses another country for study, like Addy, then he will almost definitely need one. We figured it’s easier to bite the bullet now and just work toward the diploma so his options are more open in the future.

Hava is continuing on in Ukrainian school. She’s finishing up 5th grade and so far, it suits her just fine. She’s still young, but right now she says she wants to attend university in Ukraine and become a teacher. As long as she thinks she wants to stay in Ukraine, we’ll keep her in Ukrainian school. She’s getting a high level of education and thriving in school. No need to go changing a good thing. We’ll just take it a year at a time.

Seth has been homeschooling this year and I have no doubt that bringing him home for school was the right choice. We have just recently started learning therapy for him via Zoom and I’m really hopeful that it will help him grow in his literacy. He has progressed a lot this past year, but I know he needs more than I can give him. Just knowing we have another set of eyes and ears on his learning is such a relief to me! I want so much for Seth to grow into the man God has created him to be and to reach his potential, so I’m really thankful we found this resource. I don’t really foresee Seth reentering Ukrainian school. We’ll take it a year at a time, but for now, he’s better off at home with me.

Evie is 3 and is already wondering when she will get to go to school. 🙂 Here in Ukraine, most people send their toddlers to the local “kindergarten”. It’s free preschool/daycare and you can send your child as often as you like. Our village has a kindergarten that runs half days and we’re considering sending Evie in the fall. I’d like her to go maybe 3 half days a week and see how she likes it. I really want her to enter first grade with confidence and good language skills so that she doesn’t struggle unnecessarily. She speaks Ukrainian now, but definitely below the level of her peers (although her English is great!). She’ll need that extra boost of kinder in order to be ready for first grade when she’s 6. Plus, she’s super social and wants so badly to have friends (mini-Havalah). I’m pretty sure she’s gonna love it. We’ll see!

So, I’ve been researching diploma programs and learning therapy. I’ve been emailing and consulting and googling. We just have to work extra hard to access the resources that we need here. It’s a stretching time, but sometimes stretching feels good, even when it hurts a little.

What’s on your mind these days?

Inside a Moment

Watch this 26 second video:

Our team sent us that video this past week and my heart melted. Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t stop watching it over and over. Then I showed it to Jed and he kinda bawled his eyes out. I haven’t seen him like that for quite some time. It was a moment.

That video means so much to us because of the people in it, their stories, how our lives have become entwined and all that has led up to that beautiful moment in time. I’d love to break it down for you so you can see some of what we see when we watch.

The first boy I see is our friend Maxim. He is 34 years old and loves to tell that fact to everyone he meets by holding his fingers up in their faces. He knows how to count and is proud of himself when he counts correctly.

We met Maxim and his mama 6 years ago and have loved them ever since. Maxim is tall, quick to bear hug, only speaks a few words, but is as smart as a whip when it comes to math. He has always lived with his parents, but they are quite elderly, and after his older brother passed away they had no plan for who would care for Maxim after they are unable to do so themselves. A couple of years ago his mama approached us and asked if we would be willing to take Maxim into our Wide Awake family when they pass. “You don’t have to do much for him. Just help him with his clothes and make sure to cook him food.” Of course our answer was YES! And we’ll do more than just help him with his clothes and feed him. We will love him and care for him always. He will never be alone. He will never be placed in an institution. NEVER.

When we were at the sea in the fall our team felt like we needed to start incorporating Maxim into the life of our team, so every week, twice a week, he joins our boys for lessons and special time together. Because Maxim has always been loved and cared for, he doesn’t carry trauma like our other boys. His joy is like a little child. He adds something special to our family and is God’s gift to us all.

Next I see Ruslan, and then a glimpse of Anton: my precious boys. They wasted away for years- for decades- living like animals. Now they are celebrating Christmas, surrounded by people who love them and have given their lives so that they could live. They are known. They are happy. They are growing and thriving. In the good and in the bad, they are loved and accepted for who they are. BELOVE[d]

Then Kostya, sitting next to Masha, pops into the scene. Oh, my heart was so happy to see him there! Kostya lives with his courageous mama and is a great addition to our little group. Kostya has Down Syndrome and is also autistic. His autism makes it very difficult to engage with him. He is nonverbal and can get easily overwhelmed by new situations. But, oh man, he is perfect for us. He is just the kind of boy we love to love. He can be easily passed over in social situations, and it’s hard to know what’s happening in his mind, but our little company is great for him and his mom. Our teacher, Tanya, has worked really hard to keep connection with them and to help insure they are not isolated. They belong with us.

Oh, and then there’s Sergei! Look at that sweet smiling face. He’s showing us the ornament he’s made and he’s so proud of his work. Man, he looks so good, so healthy.

We met Sergei and his mama a few months ago when they were referred to us by the director of the institution. Sergei’s mama has been raising him all on her own and had reached the point of overwhelm many months earlier. Their situation seemed impossible, and his mama felt the only situation was handing him over to the institution. She couldn’t see any other way to move forward. Since then our team has worked so very hard to help keep Sergei in the home. They have encouraged mom, included Sergei in our classes and activities and brought him into the life of our team. We are praying and acting, doing whatever we can to keep this family together. We don’t know what the end of the story will be, but for now Sergei has new friends and he and his mama are a part of something bigger than themselves. Oh, my heart leaped when I saw his smiling face- happy and loved by friends. Please pray for his mama. She has been brave for so long. Pray that she will open up to our help and that she would know the Father’s love.

I see our team and Kostya’s mom, looking on with love and care. I know them and I understand what they had to do behind the scenes to make a little gathering like that come together. Oleg must have traveled all over town, picking everyone up and transporting them from their homes. Masha arranged the work schedule so there would be enough helping hands. Tanya planned the craft and made sure it was ready and developmentally appropriate. Max was there next to Anton, helping him to regulate his emotions within the bigger group. The candle was lit. I know music was playing- the atmosphere of love and warmth thought out and intentional. A gathering like that, with a group like that doesn’t just happen. It has to be thoughtfully created. But it is worth it that our boys would know they are loved and valued, and that they would feel Christmas cheer. 🙂

When I watch that video I remember the stories of how God brought so many different people together, people that 7 years ago we had no idea even existed, but are now our family.

Now go watch those 26 seconds again. Look into those faces and see what I see. I see beautiful, precious friends who were overlooked for too long, but are now celebrated. I see lives changed and I see love in action. Annnnd I’m thankful.

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Friday Night:Family Night

Last Friday we started a new tradition for our team. We had our first “Team Dinner”. I kinda want to call it “Family Dinner”. I think I will.

We decided that every Friday night our house will be open, and anyone from our team is welcome to come, eat dinner, drink tea, pray, worship, and just be together. I think we all need it. 🙂

When Anton and Ruslan lived here, we were just too in over our heads to invite anyone over. The team was mostly all here during the day every day, and I’m pretty sure when the clock struck 5 they were eager to get the heck outta Dodge. I know I was…hehe. (laugh or cry, laugh or cry) A “Family Dinner” was not something that would have been super enjoyable during those times. We were all mostly just surviving. Then when Anton had to be moved from our home, he wasn’t really able to come back here. He had so much stress associated with this place, and so many emotions he couldn’t (and still can’t) articulate, him even coming near the door turned out poorly every time. So, Family Dinners were out of the question, as long as Anton wasn’t able to participate.

At a team meeting in August, I told the team that it was my dream and goal that by Christmas, Anton would be able to spend time in our house. We all agreed that we would bravely step out toward that goal. But I know it made everyone nervous. We all love him and so want him to heal and succeed-and he’s just soooo unpredictable. Anton is definitely a man of mystery.

We started out with a team party in the backyard towards the end of summer, and although there was stress, Anton did okay! We locked the doors to the house, and just made it completely inaccessible. It was a big step for him just to be here on the territory, and he did well. I’m not sure he really enjoyed himself, but he didn’t hurt anyone, so we called it a big fat win. 😉

Then last month we had a bonfire at the back of the property and Anton did awesome. He was more stressed about the marshmallows than the location, so that was definitely a win!

Last Friday we decided to just go for it and we invited everyone over for the Family Dinner. Worst case scenario, Jed or Oleg would have to drive Anton home, right? He was quite stressed to be back in the house, but he was able to hold himself together, and I think he actually did really great. He even laughed a bit. It was so so wonderful to have almost everyone here, eating together, laughing together, and just being together. FINALLY. My heart was happy and full.

At one point we turned on the boys’ favorite worship songs and Ruslan was standing in the very center of the room, in the middle of everyone, just dancing and singing his guts out. I looked around the circle and saw how much everyone loved him and how they were delighting in him and I thought “This is how it should be.” Ruslan felt free to be fully himself, and he was surrounded by people who weren’t just tolerating him, or “allowing it”, but people who welcomed his tone-deaf singing and appreciated his signature dance moves.

Vlad was in the corner, beating his drum completely off beat. Anton was rocking. Boris was swaying. Our friend Maxim was with us and he was in turn reminding us for the 15th time that he’s now 34, and hiding his head under a pillow. All precious, all known, all appreciated and accepted for who they are, and all loved by a whole room full of people. I’m proud to call that room full of people my team, and I’m happy to also claim them as my friends and my Ukrainian family.

Friday Night:Family Night is here to stay. If you’re ever in our neck of the woods, consider yourself invited.

BeLOVE[d]

About The Kids

It’s been a while since I talked about our kids here. The older they get, the less they want to be featured on the ol’ blog. But, they’re okay with me giving a big of an update, for old time’s sake.

Our kids are really doing great. I am so thankful for God’s hand on each one of them. I’ve shared many of my mama worries with you over the years. It has not been an easy journey, raising them in a different culture, but I’m thankful to see them all thriving in this country that has now become their own.

You already know a lot about Vlad, so I won’t write about him here. Although he would hate to be left out…he definitely doesn’t mind the spotlight! 😆 We’ll just say that he’s still loving the woodshop and taking care of his chickens. He brings us joy and is a blessing to us every day.

Addy is 16 and a junior in high school. She is homeschooling, since her Ukrainian school ended at 9th grade and many of her peers are in “college” or trade school already. She really isn’t sure what she wants to do after 12th grade, so we are encouraging her to spend a year as an intern or volunteer somewhere in the world after high school. She loves sewing and fashion and playing the bass. Addy is an old soul and my dear, dear friend. I adore my daughter.

Ezra is 14 and a giant. I swear he comes downstairs each morning noticeably taller. It’s insane. Ezra is also homeschooling and doing 9th grade work. He doesn’t love school at all, but prefers spending hours with his friends exploring creepy abandoned buildings and riding their bikes all over the universe. He is Evie’s favorite person. Their bond is pretty sweet. How is my son almost a man???

Havalah is 11 and the most Ukrainian of all of us, by a mile. 🙂 Hava is a super social and loves going to school more than anything. She is in 5th grade in Ukrainian school and is doing great. She’s basically fluent in Ukrainian and is thriving here. Her personality is as big as her body is small, just like always. Hava has a soft heart for our boys and is very tender with them. It blesses my heart.

Seth is 10 and the sportsman of the family. Approximately 99% of his free time is spent outside riding his bike or building his “skate park” or playing soccer or getting into trouble. Hehe. Let’s just say, he’s a bit of a wild child and village life suits him just fine. Till now, Seth has been in Ukrainian school, but just this year we brought him home for school. Ukrainian school just wasn’t a good fit for him. He needs extra help that they can’t provide, so I’m doing my best to help him at home. Twice a week he goes to school for PE so he can see his friends, and three mornings a week he goes to soccer. Seth is creative and messy and his emotions are big. But if he loves you he will love you forever and I’ve never seen a more devoted friend. He has a super soft heart for our Anton. It’s really special and sweet.

Evie Joy is 2 years old and a spitfire and a half! She has an opinion on pretty much everything and isn’t afraid to let you know. Evie is a talker and can speak and understand both English and Ukrainian. It’s such an adventure raising a bilingual baby! It’s fun to watch new words pop out and fascinating to see how she knows which language to speak to which people and how she goes back and forth with such ease. She brings immeasurable amounts of joy to our whole team and is everyone’s baby. God knew we all needed her.

It’s crazy to think that in a couple of years Addy might be gone and then begins the phase of life when my chicks won’t be all together in my nest. 😭 I have no idea if any of them will end up staying in Ukraine, or if they will all move away. That whole scenario is going to require a whole other level of trust in God. Yikes! I would love it if at least one of them decided to stay near, or if some of them ended up in Europe somewhere. The US is just so so far! But, I know deep down that ultimately I want them to each end up exactly where God wants them to be. They’ll know they can always find Mom and Dad back at the Homestead when they want to visit.

Do you have any questions about the kids or about raising kids in Ukraine? I would love to do a Q & A post if that’s interesting for you. You can leave questions below or in a comment.

Don’t forget that Wide Awake is leaving social media in one week (October 12). We love this community and don’t want to lose any friends during the transition. Sign up below for our weekly email digest so you can keep up with all goodness here in Ukraine!

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