Back to School, 2022

Thursday was the first day of school for schools all across Ukraine. September 1st is the traditional start date each year and is called “The Day of Knowledge”. Classes don’t really begin until the 2nd, because the 1st is a ceremonial day. All schools have a “First Bell” ceremony to mark the beginning of the school year. At the First Bell ceremony there are always different speakers and songs, and a parade of first graders who are just starting out on their school journey. There is always the Ukrainian flag and the national anthem. Everyone dresses up fancy, kids give flowers to their teachers, and reunite with their classmates.

The First Bell is sometimes interesting, sometimes boring 😉, but always meaningful. It’s a special day and this year it was especially special and meaningful because a couple months ago we weren’t even sure it would be happening at all. In fact, for many Ukrainian schools across the country it didn’t happen. We are among the most fortunate and I’m so thankful for that.

After lots of back and forth, praying and thinking, we decided to go ahead and put our three youngest kids back into school. Hava is in 7th class, Seth in 6th, and Evie is in the preschool. The past 6 months have been so tumultuous. Our whole lives were turned upside down, inside out, and back again. Our kids have been incredibly brave and we are really proud of them, yet we also see the effects the war has had on them. They just really, really need stability right now and some sort of normalcy. After COVID and then the beginning of the war right when things were feeling quite normal again, they need the comfort of waking up each morning and heading to school. They need interaction with teachers and time with their friends. They need to keep growing in their Ukrainian, and they need to not be sitting in front of a computer screen every single day. I just can’t with the distance learning. It does not work well for our family. 😂 The main thing is that we just have to keep living. The war has stolen so much from all of us. When there is an opportunity to live “normal” life we have to grab hold and run with it. So, on Thursday we went to the First Bell ceremony, and yesterday they began classes. Here we go! School is back in session.

In order for a school in Ukraine to be open for students to study in person it must first, exist at all, and second, it must have a bomb shelter in good repair, approved by the local board of education. The Kyiv Independent reported “As of Sept. 1, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that at least 2,405 educational institutions including schools have been damaged or destroyed by Russia’s brutal war. According to the official, at least 270 of them have been completely destroyed. ” So many children are without schools, and even if they do have a school that is open, many parents are afraid to place their kids in school, unsure if their children will be safe, or if their school will also become a target of Russian aggression. Many of our kids’ best friends are still in Europe somewhere: Poland or Italy or Germany. I wonder if they will come back someday or if they will become just a memory in our children’s childhood. Seth is sad he never got to say goodbye. The classes at school are so small, but there is a special camaraderie amongst the parents who have chosen to be here in Ukraine and have chosen to put our kids in school. It feels like a defiance of sorts- Russia will not steal this from our children today. I feel resolute about the decision, but we’ll see how I feel when the first air raid siren goes off and I know my kids are down in the school bomb shelter. Will I be confident in our decision then? I hope so. We just have to trust that God is leading us and giving us wisdom. It’s definitely not an easy time to be a parent in Ukraine, to put it lightly.

Thursday was our family’s 8th First Bell ceremony here in Ukraine. It felt oddly normal, but there were also a lot of differences and if I paused to really think about them it was a little like “I can’t believe this is my life…” Like the moment when we toured the bomb shelter and discussed how many minutes it would take for a missile to strike from Belarus versus how many minutes it would take for all the kids to get from their classrooms to the shelters. Or the moment when we discussed what should be kept in the shelter for each child (a backpack with water, any prescription meds, nonperishable snacks, a card with the child’s name, birthdate, parents’ names and phone numbers). There is a public school nearby our little Catholic school and they don’t have a bomb shelter, so their first through fourth graders will meet in our school building as well. Two schools will be using one building- that should make for an interesting time…ha! There’s just nothing simple about any of this and everyone is just taking things one day at a time. Yesterday the kids were at school and hopefully, they will be on Monday too, but nothing is a given. War is unpredictable.

Hava’s class, minus one more boy 🙂 I didn’t get a pic of Seth’s class!
Evie, so happy to be back at preschool

We are just super thankful that our kids have the opportunity to be in school. A few months ago that reality seemed unimaginable. Please pray for their safety and for the safety of children all over Ukraine. A whole generation is being shaped and formed during this time of war. I pray that they are formed into people who love justice, who see the value of human life, whose hearts are turned toward the Lord, and who will fight to make their country a better place.

Read this article from the Kyiv Independent to learn more about what returning to school looks like all over Ukraine: https://kyivindependent.com/national/children-go-back-to-school-as-russias-war-rages-on

Below is a video of our school’s First Bell ceremony. Of course, it’s in Ukrainian, but maybe you might find it interesting? 😊

BeLOVE[d]

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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?

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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Homestead Happenings- April 2019

I think “Homestead Happenings” is super cheesy, but I can’t think of anything better to write, so I guess we’re stuck with it.

What’s happening on the Homestead?  SO MUCH!

VISITORS. A couple friends from Germany arrived on Saturday and ushered in the season of visitors! From now till mid-August we’ll have pretty much constant visitors around here. I feel a tad bit overwhelmed by it, but mostly really excited about it. Jed’s parents AND my parents are both visiting this spring/summer and we are so ready to see them. My parents haven’t been here for 5 years and so much everything has changed since then! We live in a different place. We are in a different church community. We knew basically none of our friends at that time. And we have 5 new family members since their last visit! Yeah, life is a bit different now than it was 5 years ago.  I’m very ready for them to see our life in action and to know all the people here that we love.

BUILDING. The construction team has been hired and the land-use has been approved by our village. Next week ground will be broken for the next home on our property! This is a huge next step. The home will be a duplex, that will be two forever homes for more of our friends from the institution. We don’t know yet which of our friends will live there and we don’t know who will live there with them, but that’s okay. God knows all the details and when we need to know He will make it clear to us. We are praying for God to put it in the hearts of the ones who will join us in this work and give their lives away, and that they will be ready the the time comes. Please join us in prayer about that!

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Evie exploring the building site 🙂

ADDITION. I mentioned before that a couple friends from Germany arrived on Saturday. They came to help us build an addition on to our house! I say “us” like I’m doing the building…haha. We all know that I’m not lifting a hammer. They’re helping “us”, as in Jed, and I’m just trying to keep everyone fed.

Our house has 4 rooms upstairs: our room +baby, the girls’ room, the boys’ room, and an “office”/guest room. The downstairs currently has 2 bedrooms. One room was Boris’ bedroom and the other room was for Anton and Ruslan.

After Anton and Ruslan arrived it was quickly apparent that they would not be able to share a bedroom. They were both so full of fear at night and the presence of another person just made things worse. It took us many months to get Anton to sleep at night and his many night-wakings kept Ruslan awake. They would play off each other and amp each other up and it was a recipe for disaster. They were both not sleeping and they were both grumpy about it. Jed and I were pretty grumpy about it ourselves (to put it lightly). Ugh. That was a painful time.

For safety and healthy boundaries’ sake, Ruslan and Anton do not go upstairs at all. But we needed to separate them, so we put Ruslan in Boris’ room and moved Boris up to the office. The problem though, is that Boris is not safe on stairs. He can’t go up or down stairs without significant help, so he can’t access his bedroom during the day. We have a video monitor in his room so we can see when he wakes in the morning and go help him down the stairs. Each morning he waits for us, since he knows he can’t do the stairs alone, but we’re always afraid that one day he will just decide to exit his room alone. He is right at the top of the stairs and he would fall so fast. His bedroom situation is totally unsafe, but so far there has been no other option.

But, that’s about to change! This week our friends are here helping build an addition to solve that problem! The addition will expand our living room and create a bedroom for Boris downstairs. It’s noisier and crazier than usual around here (if that’s possible…hehe), but it’s all for a good cause and I can’t wait for the end result. We will all rest better knowing our B-Mo is safe at night and that he can get up in the morning whenever he wants.

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Thank you, Friends!

SCHOOL.  In the midst of it all we’re trying to wrap up the school year around here. Hava and Seth should finish up local school sometime toward the end of May, and Addy and Ezra should finish up their curriculum in June. I’ve been researching which curriculum we’ll do next year and it’s been really fun. It was very last minute when we decided to homeschool Addy and Ezra and of course homeschooling Seth part-time was a total surprise, so I didn’t get the benefit of doing much research. I’m excited about what I’ve planned for next year and have already done all the ordering so our many visitors can pack-mule all our books here for us. 🙂

So there’s a little peek into what’s happening around the old Homestead. I promise to share photos of the finished addition and of the progress on the new home. Stay tuned!

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What’s Up With School

It’s been a while since I’ve written about school in this space. Over on Instagram @thetravelingacademy I have the fun opportunity to be on a team of expat mamas living all over the world. Together, we are hoping to create a great resource about all things educating kids overseas. There is a great mix of experience there! Some homeschool, some send their kiddos to international school, some do local school and some (like us) use different methods for different kids. We also discuss parenting “Third Culture Kids” and parenting kids with special needs outside your home culture. So far, it’s a lot of fun.

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Being a part of the team has me thinking about our kids’ education nonstop. I’m constantly thinking about what we’re doing and reconsidering if it’s working or not. It’s been a breath of fresh air and inspiration for my mama brain. 🙂

Since I’m thinking about education a lot these days, I figured I’m waaaaay past due in sharing with you what we’re doing these days for education. So here ya go!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you might remember that it took us quite some time to find our groove in Ukrainian school. We’re actually still finding it…actually, we’ll probably always be searching for it, but at least each year we’re getting closer. Hehe. We moved here in November 2013 and put Addy and Ezra into Ukrainian public school in February, after realizing it was probably the only way they were really going to learn language and be a part of the culture. It was actually a great experience for all of us. It was super hard, for the kids and the parents, but all in all, we considered it a success and decided to stick with it.

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They were so little!

The next fall we decided to try a Ukrainian private school, simply because we were searching for smaller class sizes. Addy and Ezra were a little lost in the shuffle in the big public school classes and we thought a private school could offer them more support. We ended up only staying at that school for a semester because the director of the school didn’t really understand our situation. She insisted that the kids should keep repeating first grade until they were fluent in Ukrainian! Ummmm yeah…we weren’t really into that idea. So, at Christmas break we brought them home for school.

Finally, in the Fall of 2016 we found the RIGHT school for our family. Our current school is also a Ukrainian private school, but the administration is very open to our family. They believe in our kids and they truly want them to succeed and to be integrated into school life. At our current school our kids aren’t “The Americans”, they are just students- like everyone else.

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Addy, Ezra and Hava all attended that school full-time for 2 years, and Seth attended first grade there last year. Overall, it has been a pretty great experience. There were (and are) major difficulties and roadblocks, but that is to be expected anytime you are fully immersed in a cultural situation different than anything you’ve ever known. Our kids are the only foreign kids in the school (actually, I don’t know of any other English speaking kids in our city…) so the learning curve has been steep for the staff and for our family.

We are learning, like all parents, that constant revaluation and adjustment is necessary for spiritual, educational and social success. Because of that we’ve made some pretty big changes in schooling this year. Addy and Ezra are homeschooling full-time, Hava is still in Ukrainian school full-time, Seth is part-time at Ukrainian school and part-time at home, and Vladik is doing private lessons at his teacher’s home 4 days a week. It’s a little crazy, but it seems to be working!

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We realized that as the kids reach the upper grades (Addy is in 9th and Ezra is in 7th) that it was a better use of their time and energy to study at home. The struggle then, has been finding meaningful ways for them to engage with others outside the home. For Addy, it’s attending a weekly youth group at another church in town, and taking twice-a-week sewing lessons from a church friend. For Ezra it’s attending a twice-a-week class where he’s learning to make videos. I wish there were more opportunities for them to be with their peers, but it’s pretty hard to find something to engage in here that’s not sports. So, we’re trusting God that He will show us what they need. I easily take on a lot of mom guilt concerning their social lives, so I just can’t let myself go there. Their lives are rich and full in other ways and it’s okay if theirs look different than my life did at their age. Comparison is not helpful or healthy (preaching to myself right now).

Hava adores school and is as happy as a clam there, so that’s a no-brainer. 🙂

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Vladik’s situation isn’t ideal, but we’re going to finish out this school year as is, and probably make significant changes next year. His teacher is great, as always, but he’s loving being here at the Homestead more and more, and when construction starts on the next homes he’ll want to be in the thick of it. So, next year I foresee him spending more time working on his building skills and less time doing “seat work”.

Seth. Oh my sweet Seth. Seth and Ukrainian school don’t mesh super well. 🙂 He attended first grade last year and it went okay, but not great. This year he started second grade at the school, but it was quickly clear that it wasn’t going to work out. We brought him home for homeschool in October and just recently decided to ease him back in to a bit of local school. He really is a social guy and missed his friends, plus he really needs more language exposure. He’s now attending school for 4 hours, three days a week and then is home for the rest of it. I hope this plan works for our guy.

That’s our current school situation. Every child is different and every year is different and we have to just keep being flexible, holding loosely to what we “think” our kids need for happiness.  Our first job is to point them to Jesus, and as long as we’re doing that I think they’ll turn out okay.

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