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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Seventeen.

Today our Vladik is 17 years old. SEVENTEEN! What in the world?

He has grown so much in every way over this past year. Soon we’ll celebrate 2 years home for our boy and I’m amazed at what a different person he has become.

He is daring and funny and creative and talkative.

If anyone in our family loses anything or is looking for any item they know they just need to go ask Vlad. He knows where everything is.

Vladik speaks more Ukrainian than English these days. He is fluent in both, can understand and speak both, but his go-to language for speaking is Ukrainian. I’m sure our home sounds funny to outsiders. The rest of us speak English at home, but then Vladik is always inserting his funny version of “Ukrainienglish”. I don’t even notice it anymore and we can understand everything he says, so it’s no problem for us. It’s only really a problem when he is speaking to anyone outside of our family that hasn’t spent much time with him. Then our family becomes translators. I can say “Speak English” or “Speak Ukrainian” (depending on the audience) a million times over, but Vladik is going to say what he wants to say, how he wants to say it. He’s stubborn like that. 😉

His favorite foods have stayed the same since Day 1. His birthday food requests were “kasha” for breakfast (Cream of Wheat) and borscht with mashed potatoes for dinner. Some things never change. Hehe.

Speaking of food, in true teenage boy form, he is going to eat us out of house and home. Vladik eats more than any other person in our family- by far. He is a bottomless pit. BOTTOMLESS.

He was sure that when he turned 17 he would be able to drive a car. Sorry bud. Not happening.

Moving to the village has been the best thing ever for Vladik. He’ll spend hours outside building things with spare wood he finds around the property. He loves to ride his bike up and down our road, giving rides to the little neighbors.

Emotionally he is growing and changing as well.  We have a ways to go there, and will probably always be working toward healing, but he is coming along bit by bit. Vladik is starting to exert more of his will, arguing a bit and back talking a little, but those are good things! Annoying in the moment, yes (grrrr), but actually good. He isn’t so super eager to please out of fear or insecurity. He knows his place in our family and isn’t afraid to speak up. Those are big changes.

Vladik is so loved by our community here. It blesses our hearts. Our church family adores him. The neighbor kids in the village accepted him from the moment we moved in. We’ll have a party for him on Saturday and his guest list is super long. He knows he’s a popular dude.

Overall Vladik is happy and thriving. He fits perfectly into our family and we love him dearly. His journey, our journey has not been easy. We have many hard times and parenting Vladik takes a ton of effort. But, in general, he has transitioned into life in our family better than we ever could have imagined. He is just so smart and wonderful. I can’t even imagine him still living at Romaniv. It’s absurd! His life is so full!

I can’t wait to give the same opportunity to many of his friends who were left behind. I can’t wait to share blogs about their birthdays and Gotcha Day anniversaries. Soon, soon, soon. 🙂

But today we celebrate our boy and the wonderful gift that he is to us.

We love you Vladislav Christopher. Happy Birthday!!

Shoe Debates, Friendly Pack Mules, and Spring is Here!

I’m happy to report that THE SNOW IS GONE. The streets are (mostly) dry(ish) and the debate over which shoes to wear has simmered down a bit.  In my previous life, in Oregon, the debate over which shoes to wear was mild and was simply a matter of “is it raining or not.” If it’s raining, you can’t wear Toms.  If it’s not raining, Toms it is! I mean, I was most likely just going to be dashing across a parking lot if the weather was less than optimal, so making the best choice in footwear was not the end all.

In Zhytomyr in the winter, the shoe debate is real.  It is intense.  One does not simply throw on a pair of shoes and prance out the door without a care in the world!  No, no, no.  One is most likely going to be walking a fair distance out in the elements and waiting at bus stops. One must consider the level and freshness of the snow, the amount of ice, the wetness or dryness of said ice and snow.  On some days we have rivers for sidewalks, and on others we have ice skating rinks for sidewalks.  Rivers and ice skating rinks call for different shoes, different strategies.  One must also consider the distance to be walked and the condition of the sidewalks en route.  If I’m taking out the trash and heading that direction, I need to prepare for mudslides (and dead cats, apparently).  If I’m walking down our road in the opposite direction there will be less mud, but a lake or two to be traversed, so that must be taken into account. We’ve become quite adept at deciphering the sheen on the ice and navigating the sidewalks in the safest, non-broken-hip-est manner. Skillzzzzzzz.

My favorite boots for walking in mildly cold, non-snowy weather currently have a break in the sole, so my right foot is bound to get wet.  I keep forgetting to take them for repair, so if I want warm, dry feet my only choice are my snow boots.  But snow boots without snow are a little more Napoleon Dynamite than I’m willing to go, so I usually opt for the wet foot.  Why not just get the shoe repaired you might ask?  Yeah, I know. It’s a mixture of forgetfulness, procrastination, and fear of doing new things and not knowing how or what is expected of me.  I guess in the end I just opt for the wet foot.  Don’t judge.

All that to say, soon warmth will come, summer will come, and along with it, fewer and fewer shoe debates.  We will happily pack away the snow boots and non-snow boots.  Multiply that by 7 people and it equals 28 fewer shoes in my entry way and 500 times more peace in my heart.  (Shoe clutter is my nemesis.)

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Beautiful dry, snowless, puddless sidewalk!

You know what else comes with warm weather?  Visitors!  We’re preparing our summer schedule and are excited to welcome several friends, old and new.  The boys and our team are going to get so much love and encouragement in the warm summer months!

I’m super excited to have all the visitors too.  I’m excited for English conversations and the joy that comes from seeing our boys through the eyes of others.  It’s a lot of work to host people, but it’s also refreshing, encouraging, and just plain fun. Guess what else gets me excited for visitors?  All the stuff we have them carry over to us from the US!  I’ve been out of brown sugar for over a month and my baking is SUFFERING. Peanut butter and chicken flavored Better Than Bouillon have also been sorely missed. I’m filling my Amazon cart in preparation. Yes, we totally and unashamedly use our visitors as pack mules. Come on, summer! Hehe

The kids are all doing really well.  In a couple of weeks we’ll have Spring Break, and then they only have like 2 more months of school!  I can’t even imagine the feeling of accomplishment they will have when they walk out the doors of school on that last day.  We are so close to completing a full year of Ukrainian school!!  There have been many good days, and also many days when we have all been in tears, ready to throw in the towel.  Many days of wondering if it is worth it, but as we round the final corner I think we are all seeing that it has totally been worth the blood, sweat, and tears.  The kids’ language has grown by leaps and bounds.  They never could have grown like that just here at home.  I am so incredibly proud of them.

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It is totally NOT ice cream weather, but we got a little excited about the sunshine.

Yesterday we were at the hospital getting Addy, Ez, and Hava mandatory check-ups for school and I realized that I have started to rely on their ears when we are out and about.  I tell everyone to listen, and if I don’t catch what was said, most likely one of them will.  It’s awesome!  All communication outside the home used to fall on Jed and me completely, but now the kids can understand for themselves, and actually, truth be told, they have much better comprehension than I do at this point. Grrrr… the competitive side of me hates that!  But, I love that they can communicate and function so well in society.  That was our hope in sending them to school.

So, here’s to dry feet, American pack mules friends, and Spring Break.  The snow is gone, the sun is out, Brian Adams radio is playing (again, don’t judge), and my heart is full.  Happy Tuesday to our friends near and far!  BeLOVE[d].

 

PS: You will not believe this! I was typing this post when I had to pause to go get Seth from kindergarten.  On the way home we stopped at the post office and guess what was waiting for us???

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Our wonderful Tom and Emma sent us a package with brown sugar, Better Than Bouillon, peanut butter, jalapeños and many other special treats. OMG. Can you believe that timing?  THANK YOU Tom and Emma.  We love you!

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday

1.  THANK YOU all for praying for the situation with our new little guy at the institution.  Please keep praying for his health, as well as for the impact of that night.  The impact is far-reaching, relationally, politically, and spiritually.  I know I sound vague, but I gotta be. (Any former youth groupers remember the “unspoken” prayer request?  Ha!)  Just keep praying, pretty please.  Thanks 🙂 

2.  School is going great for the kids!  We have gone from daily tears to smiles and declarations that “This was the best day!”.  Of course if you ask, Addy and Ezra will tell you that school is “so boring”.  But, they are making friends and feeling comfortable and understanding more each day.  Our friend, Romana, comes each day at 4:30 to help them with their homework and she is saving our lives, one story problem at a time. I really do like our school and I am so thankful that God has given our kids a safe place to land and grow.  

On the bus, headed to school


3.  Jed and Vladik return today! FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY!  I didn’t mention it here, but we had a bit of an immigration fiasco last month.  We are applying for permanent residency and we were missing one apostille.  We didn’t know it, and Jed had to leave the country.  You can only be in Ukraine for 90 days out of 180 days without a visa or residency, and he met his limit.  So, in the dead of night we made a run for the border.  Think Sound of Music, but much less romantic.  Think tears and a trashed house and frantic calls to friends to take Bluebell at the last second.  We spent a few days in Budapest as a family, and then I returned home with four of the kids, while Jed and Vladik couch-surfed throughout Europe, waiting till Jed could get on the other side of his 180 days.  Finally, today, after 33 days and 10 countries, Jed and Vladik are coming home! Many thanks to our gracious friends all over the continent who have cared for my boys so well.  What would we do without you all?  

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France

The border of Germany and Austria


4.  We are hiring a friend to teach Vladik individual lessons at school.  I’m so excited and hopeful for him!  Starting next Monday he will go to school with the other kids in the morning, and his teacher will accompany him.  He will do music, PE, and art with Addy’s class (fifth grade), and then his teacher will give him his own lessons for the rest of the time. Vladik will attend school half day, 4 days a week.  I’m working on making the lesson plans and it’s quite the job, but necessary.  Vladik wants to learn, he wants to go to school like the other kids- and he should! I think he’s going to love it.  I’ll keep you posted! 

5.  Today we re-submit our residency documents.  Hopefully all is in order…otherwise the 4 kids and I will meet our 90 day limit.  Yeah, let’s not think about that.  Everything will be fine.  Everything will be just fine.  No need to worry….ahem. Yikes.

Photos for residency: no smiles allowed!


6.  Guess who saved my life this past month?  GRAMMY!!!!  When Jed’s parents found out that I would be without Jed again, and this time here in Ukraine, Grammy hopped on a plane and rescued me. Seriously, if Grammy hadn’t come my kids would be running with the wild dogs in the street.  Things were at critical mass around here.  She has cooked every meal and washed every dish since her arrival.  I bow at her feet. 🙂


7.  For all the Bluebell-lovers out there, I’m happy to report that Bluebell is doing just fine.  She is happy and obedient and just a joy to our whole family.  She was a bit bored so we found her some new chewies at the grocery store.  Cow hoof, anyone?  


Welp, Jed and Vladik are on their way home from the airport, so I better go.  Thanks all, for loving us and praying for us.  This has been a bit of a tough season, but we know that God’s plans are in motion and our trust is in Him!  

All About Vladik: Seven Months Free

I wish every single person who ever met Vladik at Romaniv could see him now.  You would not know this child.  

Jed is back in Ukraine right now and has been sending me tons of pics of my babies there.  When I see those pictures and then stop and think about Vladik living there I almost can’t even imagine it.  The boy I know now is so much different than the boy I knew there.  He’s a new creation. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Vladik is a miracle.  How could a child raised there be this joyful, this full of life, this loving, this generous?  Only God could do something like that. 

General Transition: He’s a rockstar. Vladik is growing in his development in leaps and bounds.  His language is growing as well, both Ukrainian and English.  He’ll often ask us what certain words are in English, and if we tell him once he usually remembers.  So, now Vladik speaks a mixture of Russian, Ukrainian, English, and “Vladik speak”.  Everyone in our family understands about 99% of what he says, but it’s another story with the rest of the world.  Slowly and surely he is becoming more understandable.  He desires to communicate and his social skills have vastly improved, so we are not worried. 

  
Vladik came to us with many institutional behaviors.  He didn’t know how to behave in most any environment and had a lot of nervous twitches- like sticking his tongue in and out really quickly, licking his hands, and putting his elbows up to his ears, almost like he was blocking his ears.  He would also make tons of inappropriately loud sounds at inappropriate times.  Like if there was quiet he just had to fill it!  If we were in a store or the library and it was quiet you could guarantee Vladik would start filling up the space “BEEP BEEEEEEP!  BEEP BEEEEEEP!”  Oy. We’ve come a long way baby. Now if he beeps we just remind him that he’s not a car and he instantly stops.  🙂 He is sensitive to environments and if all is quiet he is usually good about being quiet.  The only real nervous behavior he still holds on to is the elbows up at the ears, but that one is more and more rare.  He usually only does that if he knows he’s done something wrong, or if someone else is in trouble.  It’s wonderful to take a moment to think back at how far he’s come. Praise God! 

Family: We’ve hit a point where it feels like he’s just always been here.  I no longer have that feeling like I’m the babysitter of a child who just always stays (that is a normal feeling in adoption, FYI). He is our son and it feels natural.  I couldn’t have said that even one month ago.  He still loves his Seth and I think when he had his surgery it bonded him more to the other kids as well.  They were all so concerned for him and that empathy really helped with relationship building.  He really is just one of the gang.  I’m so thankful for that. 

   
   
School: Vladik started school a few weeks ago and is doing amazingly well!  In January he started seeing a tutor for a half hour a day while the school district found a classroom placement for him.  Then in the last week of March he became a freshman at South Salem High.  Ha!  He’s in a self-contained classroom and we are so blessed by teachers and assistants that love him and treasure him.  Vladik LOVES school.  We started him going half a day at first, but now he is going full day.  Most of the fun, more active learning happens in the afternoon, so we knew he would really enjoy that.  Like every day his class gathers the recycling from all the classrooms and they sort and shred.  Vladik is kinda obsessed with the shredder. 🙂 Today he goes on his first field trip to a recycling center!  He could hardly sleep last night he was so excited to ride the school bus. I am so happy for him that he has this opportunity.  Sweet boy deserves every bit of joy and life that we can offer him. 

  
Medical: Vladik had sleep apnea, so we had his tonsils and adenoids taken out on March 30th.  He also had the back of his throat expanded to make his airway larger.  He did great and has fully recovered.  We had a few scary hours in the recovery room after learning that his body is extremely sensitive to narcotics, but we learned our lesson on that one!  I’m excited to repeat the sleep study, but I can already tell you that the surgery made a big difference.  You know how when you have a newborn and they’re sleeping so still and silently that you have to go super close to make sure they’re still breathing?  Yeah, I had to do that the other night with Vladik.  🙂 I’m used to being able to hear Vladik sleeping from every other room in the house, but that’s not the case now!  He sleeps absolutely SILENTLY.  I’m so so so happy for him!!!!!!  His body used to have to work so stinkin’ hard just to get air.  He had to sleep with his head back and his back arched just to keep his airway open.  The ENT told us that Vladik probably had many very dangerous nights as a small child because his airways were so small.  Thank you God for protecting our baby!  Now I pray that he will start to gain weight since he won’t be working so hard just to sleep. 
The next surgery for Vladik is on his right hand.  A plastic surgeon will be giving him a thumb sometime in May.  WOOHOO!  That is the surgery Vladik is so excited about.  We were hoping to do surgery on his feet first, but we won’t be able to.  The foot surgeon will be out of the country for the months of May and June and we will simply run out of time.  We need to be back in Ukraine as a family in August, so we have to let the feet go for now.  Most likely Vladik and I will return for that surgery sometime at the beginning of next year.  So now we just eagerly await insurance approval so we can schedule hand surgery!  

  
Otherwise, I guess I can just say that Vladik is our joy and we love him more every day.  A couple months ago we started teaching him how to hug.  Vladik is very protective of his body and would barely receive a hug.  He would kind of back his shoulder in to you and that was as good as it got.  He would often come and kiss my shoulder, but he was embarrassed or nervous to hug.  We taught him that you give friends high fives, but with family you need to wrap your arms around them and that is a hug. Now if I say “I need love” (in Ukrainian) he will wrap his arms around me and hug me tight.  And yesterday, for the first time, he initiated.  I was in the kitchen and he came in and said “LOVE!!!” And gave me the hugest hug! Melt.my.heart.

He’s just awesome and we are so thankful that we get to have him in our lives.  Precious, precious boy.