Winds of Change and a Voice

A couple weeks ago at church, a friend introduced us to her friend, who then met Vladik, and this story began.

The friend we met, Vera, is a local activist here in Zhytomyr.  She is involved in some local politics and has a passion for children and adults with special needs. She is particularly passionate about developing inclusive education in our city.

“Inclusive education is based on the simple idea that every child and family is valued equally and deserves the same opportunities and experiences. Inclusive education is about children with disabilities – whether the disability is mild or severe, hidden or obvious – participating in everyday activities, just like they would if their disability were not present. It’s about building friendships, membership and having opportunities just like everyone else…Inclusion is about providing the help children need to learn and participate in meaningful ways.” source

Inclusive education, as a general practice, does not exist in our city, nor throughout the rest of Ukraine. There are places where inclusion is more possible than others, and of course I can’t speak to the whole country or to every school, but in general it is not practiced. Here in Zhytomyr, at this point in time, inclusive education is only available to very few children with disabilities, and generally it is only available to children who’s parents have fought, and continue to fight, a very hard fight to make it possible.

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At a press conference about inclusive education

The schools and school system in our city are simply not set up at all for children who need extra help.  We have learned that just from having our own non-native speaker children in school here! Our kids’ “special need” was that they lacked language, and the schools just were not sure at all what to do with them because they didn’t fit the mold.  It is not the fault of the teachers, or even the schools themselves, it is the fault of a social system that has spent decades hiding those who are different. If children with special needs do not exist in a society, then there is no need for society to adapt for them. For many years it was the practice to institutionalize people with disabilities, but that is slowly changing.  More and more Ukrainian families are choosing to keep and raise their children. As more children with special needs are living at home, the need for education and inclusion for them is becoming more and more apparent.

This is not an issue isolated to Ukraine. All developing countries must face this issue at some point. In the US we have come a long way, but we really didn’t start addressing the issue of inclusive education until a few decades ago. So this is not me pointing a finger at Ukraine- as if the Ukrainian people are alone in this injustice; this is me knee deep in the fight for my son, here in Ukraine.

Now, back to the story. 🙂 Vera, our new friend, had heard about Vladik, about where he came from, and about the fact that he attends school. She was fascinated by it and asked if we would be willing to speak to the local news about our quest for education for Vladik. We agreed to meet, a bit leary in the beginning, but open to a discussion. We want to be very careful with how we expose Vladik to the news. His story is painful and tender and deserves to be shared in it’s entirety. Vladik is too precious and he has fought too hard to be reduced to a sound bite that induces guilt or pity. In my opinion, he deserves a standing ovation!

We met with Vera and agreed to share Vladik’s education story, but we wanted to make sure the focus was about how he is thriving, and not only about where he came from. She agreed, and two days later our boy was cheesin’ it up for a camera crew, charming them all with his awesomeness.

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We thought he would be nervous, but boy were we wrong! He absolutely loved the camera! He proudly showed how he gets ready for school, how he knows which bus to take and where to walk. Most of all, in my very biased opinion, he showed that he is a wonderful boy who is valuable and smart and deserving of an education, just like every other child. Here is the video:

When we decided to adopt Vladik, we felt like the Lord was telling us that Vladik would be a voice for those who have no voice. At that time we thought maybe that meant that someday Vladik would become a speaker who would share his story with others, many years down the road. And maybe that is still going to be true someday, but, wow have we been surprised how God has decided to use Vladik as a voice already!  Here in his own country! Vladik is not necessarily being a voice with his words and speech, but with his life, with his joy, with his courage. He is showing his own people what is possible. He is showing how someone who was locked away for all of his childhood is still capable of learning and growing and changing, if only given the chance. He is a voice of hope for all of the children left behind.

The follow-up to the short news story about Vladik was a live interview on a local evening TV show. Gosh, I wish I would have realized it was going to be live before we got there. That was a bit of a shock! Ha! Anyway, we survived. 😉 In the first half of the show Vera interviewed Jed and me, along with one of the teacher’s from the kids’ school. We got the opportunity to share why it’s important to us that Vladik go to school. In that we were able to naturally share about his value and his worth as a human. It’s important for Vladik to go to school because he is a child and he wants to learn! He wants to be with other children and have experiences and gain independence and learn new things. He was robbed of so much in his life and we, as his parents, are obligated to help him grow to his fullest potential- however that may look like. It is our privilege to fight for him and the ones who will come behind him.

The second half of the show was what rocked my world. Vera interviewed a foster mom (our friend who fosters sweet “Baby A”) and three local mothers of children with special needs. Those moms shared about their experiences with fighting for inclusion in schools, and they said so many things that needed to be said- by Ukrainians, not by us foreigners.   They spoke about the first need being an inclusive society. Inclusive education is not possible without an inclusive society. They spoke about the value of their children and their desires for them being the same as every parent’s desire for their children. We were cheering them on (literally clapping and bouncing up and down in our seats) from the green room.

Many parents of children with special needs in our city, and throughout this country keep their children at home almost all the time. They are afraid to take them out because society as a whole does not accept them. Whether that means inaccessible public transportation and buildings, or just basically unaccepting people, the results are the same. It’s easier and less painful to just stay home. We have experienced this feeling many, many days here in Zhytomyr. Sometimes I get a horrible sinking feeling in my gut when I know we are about to go somewhere with Vladik. I know the stares and the finger-pointing and the mocking will come. I know that all my kids, including Vladik will hear it. I will wonder at his understanding and my heart will break for him. I know I will need to steer clear of groups of kids because that is when the staring is the worst. I know the cruel comments will come and I will wonder how to respond. It has become our reality- and yes, some days it seems like it would be better to just stay home. Vladik is loved at home. He is safe and understood.

BUT change will not come without exposure. People can not learn if they are not given the opportunity. Vladik, with his sparkling personality and loving, cheerful nature is the perfect person to teach others. To know him is to love him. If we keep him at home, hidden away, we are contributing to the problem, not being agents of change, as God has called us to be. Vladik loves to go out! He loves adventure and going on buses and seeing new things, meeting new people. If he is brave enough to face an intolerant world every single day- and do it with joy, then we can do it too.

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Our boy is a voice. In his own, unassuming way, he is standing up for all the families and children hiding in the shadows. As one of the local moms in the interview said in encouragement to families watching “Come out! Come out! Don’t hide anymore.”

The winds of change are coming. May God open and change hearts and may He receive all the glory.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Frozen Cats, Injuries, and Parenting Wins

I’m sitting here at the table in a super quiet moment.  Ooooh I love it.  I’m debating getting up and making a cup o’ coffee, but I’m too afraid to disturb the moment. So, I’ll probably just stay put.

Vladik is sitting at the table with me drawing a picture for his special class he takes at MTU once a week.  He stays home from school on Wednesdays so he can go to that class.  Also, he does well with a day off in the middle of the week to spend time with mom and dad.  He really enjoys going out to the property with Jed and seeing all the work the guys are doing.  Vlad has an engineering mind and loves all things electrical  and tools and stuff like that. -Basically everything I hate.  Hehe. He’s constantly drawing pictures of the house for Sasha, our friend and builder.  Sasha is so kind, making a big deal over each and every drawing, discussing the details with Vladik.  I love it.

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Seth is at his village preschool/kindergarten and the other 3 are at school.  Seth only goes to his school for 3-4 hours per day and has finally gotten into the groove.  PTL!  I never thought it would happen.  He has a couple little friends there and that has made all the difference.  He wrestles with them every day and comes home with small injuries most days.  I guess their teacher is fine with it?  Ha! Anyway, he has a good time and is learning, so we are winning there, for sure.

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Waiting for the bus after school

Wanna hear something gross?  Of course you do! When we take out the trash we have to walk down a little path/alley behind our apartment, around behind a kindergarten, and then to some dumpsters behind a big apartment building.  It’s all paths and not really a road, so it is never cleared of snow or ice.  It can actually be a bit treacherous! Anyway, a couple weeks ago I noticed a cat had died and was frozen, mid-stride, right on the side of the path.  EEEEEK!  Disgusting.  It’s mouth and eyes were frozen open and it was just horrible to look at.  Poor kitty. It’s still there.  IT’S STILL THERE.  Still frozen, still horrible looking, STILL THERE.  I keep wondering who will take care of it???? If you’re going to suggest that I do it because I’m so concerned…you can just shut your mouth.  There is no way on God’s green earth I’m taking responsibility for that dead cat.  Nasty.  Anyway, I assume everyone is just ignoring it because everything is still frozen around here and everyone hopes someone else will do it.  But sooner or later everything will thaw. Then what?  Ugh.  Now I just avert my eyes every time I have to pass by it because it’s haunting me.  Make it stop!!!

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Our ice skating rink/street

Last week I had this strange infection in my thumb that became a big ordeal.  The big ordeal included: me googling “my thumb is going to explode”, attempting to treat it myself with Jed and a sterilized needle (yes, I know, not smart….but we were desperate), heading to the hospital and being examined by a surgeon in a dimly-lit, flickery-lightbulb hallway, giving a urine sample in a bathroom with OPEN GLASS BOTTLES (aka specimen jars) ON A WOODEN TABLE, NO TOILET SEAT, NO TOILET PAPER, NO SOAP.  Seriously. Slightly high risk for specimen contamination, dontchathink?  My ordeal included a $0.75 X-Ray, thumb numbing and lancing, blood samples taken using a pipet and a rubber tube, and then some sort of loud electromagnetic treatment with this:

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I don’t even know what to say…

All that said, they took very good care of me and the surgeon was competent and extremely kind.  I do have to say though, as an RN who worked in the hospital setting for 13+ years, it was all very Twilight Zone/Civil War tent medicine’ish.  The lead up to the actual procedure was so strange and foreign and old-school that I half expected to be handed a bullet to bite down on as my thumb was cut open. But alas, it was all done with sterile procedure and ease.  I guess you can’t always judge a book by it’s dimly-lit cover. 😉

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You have to buy booties from the pharmacy before going into the hospital

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Seriozha (aka Kenny) saved my life by helping me navigate the hospital experience 🙂

We’ve recently had some parenting wins that I think you should all know about. Aren’t we parents all too hard on ourselves?  I know I am. Why do we do this to ourselves? Let’s take a moment to reflect on the things that, despite our best efforts to screw everything up, seem to be going right. Here we go:

  1. Every time we have our friend Rosa over to play games we listen to a finely-tuned Pandora station called “Phil Collins Radio”. I’ve been thumbing that station up and down  for at least 4 years, so you know it’s full of gems.  Or, if Jed will allow it, Rosa and I will opt for “Bryan Adams Radio”.  This tradition started back when we lived in the US and would play games with our most special Tom and Emma.  Games just call for music everyone can sing along to, and these two stations are exceptional, in my humble opinion.  Well, lately Addy and Ezra have been joining us in our game play and they can now sing along to at least the chorus of several good songs.  The other night we were listening to music while washing the dishes and Ezra requested “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.  Then the next night Addy requested “Take My Breath Away”.  I know we make mistakes every day, but requests of high caliber, such as those, give me hope. #parentingwin
  2. The other day I asked Vladik to go put his notebook in his backpack for school.  He proceeded to toss the notebook in his bag and then declare “Boom shaka laka!” Be still my heart. #parentingwin
  3. Ezra just completed his very first chapter book without pictures.  He started it.  He read it every night.  He asked to stay up late to “finish one more chapter”. He talked about it at dinner. He read it until the very end.  I thought this day would never come. #parentingwin
  4. There is a little boy in Hava’s class that doesn’t really have any friends.  The other kids don’t like him and often aren’t kind to him. Hava decided that was wrong.  She sincerely likes him and decided to appoint herself as his protector. Every day she reports to me on the kindness level of others and what she did to be a friend to him.  #parentingwin

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Welp, I’m off to take Vladik to class and fetch Seth from Kinder…while averting my eyes from frozen cat.  #jesustakethewheel  Happy Wednesday!

 

 

Welcoming a New Year!

Happy New Year! Yeah, I know I’m late to the New Years party, but time to write is scarce these days. Better late than never, am I right?


2016 was a DOOZY. Surgeries and goodbyes and re-immigration and last-minute-border-runs and house buying and destroying and rebuilding and a new school and new friends and new boys and wow. Good job, 2016, you definitely gave us a run for our money.

Upward and onward!  Welcome, 2017!

I’m one of those people who loves the fresh start of a new year.  I’m not super disciplined. I’m not terribly organized. BUT, I love the chance to start again.  I like making New Years Resolutions.  I know that I’ll fail at some (or most) of them, but why not give them a go?  At least I’ll do well for part of the year…and that’s better than not doing well at all…right?  And sometimes the resolutions stick, and then our whole family is better for it.


For me it’s not so much about making a set list of resolutions, as much as it is reprioritizing and rebalancing the craziness that is our overseas life. It feels like there is so much of our lives that is out of our control in every way: residency documents, government officials, new laws, cultural differences, blah blah blah.  I think it’s good to find a balance and try to do better with the things in our life that we DO have control over: how we spend our time, how we spend our money, how we raise our children….and on and on. I love the new year for a fresh look at those things.

This year I have two personal goals that I really want to focus on: Improving my Ukrainian language (spoken and written) and faithfully spending time in God’s Word.

I have other goals involving mothering and being a wife, but I won’t go into those at the moment.


Ukrainian Language.

Oh Ukrainian language, why do you haunt me so?  Why you gotta be so dang hard?  Why you gotta have so many endings and conjugations?  Oh Zhytomyr, why you gotta be so linguistically confused? Why can’t everyone in this city speak the same language?  WHY????

Those are the questions I ask myself approximately 473 times per day. You have no idea how often I yell out in anger: “Why can’t we live in some place like France where all the people SPEAK FRENCH?????”  Ha!  This post makes me sound like I have anger issues…and when it comes to language learning, maybe I do. Don’t judge.

You see, we live in a region of the country that is linguistically “in-between”.  You can travel to Eastern Ukraine  or Southern Ukraine and find many people speaking Russian.  You can travel to Western Ukraine and find many people speaking Ukrainian.  You travel to our region (the middle’ish’) and get a mix of it all (I can’t vouch for that website, I just linked to the map as a visual).  Well, no matter where you go in Ukraine you will find a mix, honestly, it’s just not very cut and dry anywhere.  On any given day I will hear conversations in full-on Russian, then full-on Ukrainian, then, most of the time, in full-on Surzhyk.  Surzhyk is the name of the mix of Russian and Ukrainian together. It would be extremely rare to hear someone speaking clean Ukrainian in our city.  Most people who speak Ukrainian around these parts actually speak a form of Surzhyk. So, in all actuality, we need to learn two languages, and then learn to mix them. Shoot me now.

We study Ukrainian instead of Russian because our kids go to school and school is taught in Ukrainian.  Our team mostly all speak Russian to each other, so that stinks, but as a family we all have to be learning the same language.  We just have to. After some hit and miss lessons over the past couple of years I have decided to really dig in to language studies with my whole self. I have found the most amazing teacher that I love love love.  I love her as a person and as a teacher.  She ‘gets’ me and my learning style.  She thinks outside the box and really challenges me.  I ADORE our lessons together.  Thank you Jesus for the gift of my teacher!  A good language teacher is the best thing ever.  My language has exploded since we started our lessons and I’m just so happy. I go to lessons twice a week and then am committed to study for at least one hour 5 days per week. It should be more than that, but I also go to Romaniv and have five kids and we’re building a house and yeah, let’s not shoot too high.  I so desperately want to be able to share my heart with people.  I want to be known, and language hinders that so much.  Language is everything and when you don’t have it…well your quality of life really suffers. Wish me luck!


Bible Reading.

Let’s be honest: I have always stunk at reading my Bible.  I know the Bible.  I know so much about it.  I was raised in a Christian home and went to Christian school. I know all the stories, I know tons of verses, I know who wrote which book and all that jazz.  I’m well versed in the Bible. (did you catch that one? hehe) BUT, as an adult I have never gone for more than a month or two at a time of faithfully reading my Bible.  It has been hit and miss for years. I never know what to read. The Bible is so big! There are lots of boring parts and lots of parts that I’ve read lots of times so my eyes just kind of glaze over.  I’m always unsure so I usually end up in James because I like him the best. He’s a straight shooter.  🙂

Enter, The Daily Audio Bible!  Yeehaw!

I saw the Daily Audio Bible a couple years ago when searching for a Bible reading plan (’cause I never know what to read!), and I gave it a try.  It was okay, but I thought the guy who read it was a bit cheesy, and I just never stuck to it.  Surprise, surprise.  But, this year I knew something HAD to change, so I decided to give it another try.  I’m always listening to something as I wash the mountains of dishes that come with a family of 7 and no dishwasher, so why not let that something be the Bible?

I’m in love.

Okay, at first I was feeling again like the guy was cheesy, but I was determined to give him a fair shot. It only took about a week, and I grew to really like him!  Brian is endearing and I really can tell that he loves God’s Word. He reads with feeling and I like that.  When I’m listening I’m more prone to actually take in every word because I can’t just start skimming when things get boring.  (guilty)  I like that Brian introduces each book before he starts to read it, to give it a bit of context, and then at the end he does a little devotional.  It’s great!  They also have people call in at the end and pray and stuff, but honestly, I skip that part.  🙂


We started listening to the Old Testament portion in the morning during breakfast, and then we listen to the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs portions in the evening before we do our family read-aloud.  It has been awesome!  Our whole family is getting God’s Word every day and I am just so blessed by it.  I usually listen to the whole reading another time during the day so I can hear the devotional as well.  It’s really been beautiful for our family so far.  Brian is our family friend now, even though he doesn’t know it- cheesiness and all. The kids will remind me “We haven’t listened to Brian today!” We’ll see if the enthusiasm continues when we get into some of the more intense books…but hopefully we’ll have our routine down by that point and we can just charge on through.


So, those are my New Year goals and how I plan to work toward them.

What about you?  Do you like New Year Resolutions?  Have you made any this year?  Do tell!

The pics are of the kids’ school during the holidays. Sweet, right?

More About School

Yay December!  Pandora comes to life in our house around Christmas time.  We’ve got the “Peaceful Christmas”, “Ray Conniff Singers Christmas”, “Amy Grant Christmas”, and “Frank Sinatra Christmas” stations on heavy rotation. It’s a beautiful thing.  I’m smiling just typing it out!

Life has been a bit non-stop around here, but it has also been good.  We’ve found a smidge of a rhythm, which is more than I could say for many months before this, so I find joy in that.

The kids are really doing awesome at school.  They have passed through the season of merely surviving (thank God!) and have moved into a season of growth.  God has been so faithful to our kids.  I have done more than my fair share of worrying about them since we very first moved to Ukraine, and all along God has spoken the words “Do not worry about your kids.  I am with them.” But of course I still worry and worry and worry…because I guess I’m a slow learner. Anyway, I’m now seeing some of the fruit of His watch and care over them.  Things are still challenging in many ways, but we aren’t drowning anymore, and there are a whole lot less tears.  Things are looking up!

Addy is in fifth class and is just fantastic.  She’s really growing into a lovely young lady.  Can you believe she’ll be THIRTEEN in February????  What the heck? She is so kind and so joyful.  If you knew her as a little bitty girl, she is just the same, only taller, and with some maturity added in.  By age, she should be in 7th class, but the school really thought it was best for her to do 5th this year.  She’s feeling the age difference in a pretty big way, but has found one sweet friend, Vika, that she really loves.  

Addy is hoping to talk with the school and work hard to skip a grade next year, in order to get her closer on par with her peers.  We’ll see if they are open to it.  I’m proud of her for having the guts to try!  Addy also goes to a middle school youth group at the church where a few of our friends go.  She enjoys that a lot, and it’s just the right thing for her to spread her wings a bit.

Addy LOVES Bluebell and helps take such good care of her

Ezra is in fourth class and is coming right along.  He has a couple little friends, Mark and Nikita, that he really loves.  I’m so thankful for them!  School is harder for him than it is for Addy, but he is really working hard and doing well.  Our friend who helps him with his homework is just fantastic with him, and step by step he is improving his skills and understanding.  

Last week Ezra’s class did a dance for all the parents and other students and Ezra rocked it!  He was amazing!  We were shocked because he was dreading it so much.  You know, he had to hold a girl’s hand!  NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!  He warned us that he would probably be sick that day and not be able to participate. 😉 But, lo and behold, he gathered the courage and did amazing.  What a brave kid.

Ezra and his buddies at his birthday outing

Hava is in first grade and is just rockin’ it.  She is so blessed to be able to start out from the beginning with her appropriate age.  She’ll have a much easier time than Addy and Ezra because of it.  She’s learning to write Ukrainian cursive and is coming right along with her Ukrainian reading.  She has lots of little girlfriends in her class, and her biggest complaint is that they all fight over who’s going to hold her hand when they have to pair up to walk down the hall to lunch. What a hard life!  Hehe.  

School in Ukraine is generally much more serious than in the US.  There is not a lot done with fun in mind, and the standards for work are extremely high.  Despite that, I think Hava’s teacher does her best to understand that her little students are very young and need extra grace.  I appreciate that.

Hava and her little school friends. CUTIES!

Vladik is attending the same school as Addy, Ez, and Hava and he LOVES it.  Oh my word.  He gets absolutely giddy when it’s time to go to school.  Our friend Tamara teaches him and she is just the right fit for our special boy.  She is not a trained teacher, but she is an experienced mom and she loves Vladik.  She sees his value and sees his potential.  That makes her the perfect choice.  Four days a weeks she comes to our house, picks up Vladik and takes him on the trolleybus to school.  He does PE and art with Addy’s class, and the other time is spent in his own little classroom doing individual lessons with Tamara.  Then she brings him home after lunch. They are working on learning about months, days, seasons, weather, numbers, counting, personal hygiene, appropriate social interactions….all the stuff you would teach your toddlers and preschoolers.  

Vladik has many big gaps in his knowledge, so we decided to start at the very beginning and make no assumptions about what he does and doesn’t know.  He is eager to learn and is soaking it all in.  Tamara speaks no English, so Vladik has learned to speak English at home and Ukrainian at school.  His language is EXPLODING!  It’s really the ideal situation for him and we are so thankful that God made a way for him to get the education he needs.

Vladik at his class that he attends once a week at Mission to Ukraine

Seth.  Seth was and is our biggest mystery.  🙂 His needs are different than our other kids and much more difficult to decipher.  We have struggled since September to find the right educational fit for our Sethers.  He just wants to stay home with mommy all day, which would be fine, except that then he gets zero Ukrainian.  He will go to first grade next year, and it will be 500 times harder for him if he doesn’t get a better handle on the language. Because of that, we knew we had to find some sort of kindergarten/preschool for him to attend, at least part time. 

We tried a few places and just never felt peace about it.  FINALLY, last week we found our landing place for Seth.  Ivanivka, the village where we are building our Wide Awake Homestead, opened a kindergarten at the public school there and we started to send Seth.  There are 7 kids there right now, but more will come when the weather warms up.  (It’s super cold in the classroom…like kids wear their snowpants the whole time…) It meets for 4 hours a day, and we send Seth four times a week.  They do some preK stuff in workbooks, but mostly play.  It’s perfect for Seth.  He’s not ready to do a bunch of seatwork.  He mostly needs to interact with other kids and gain some confidence with the language.  We’re only in week 2, but so far so good. He’s only refused to stay one day so far, which for Seth is pretty good! 😉   Hopefully things will only get better from here!

Ivanivka School


I took a pic of the math book I needed to buy for Seth’s class

 School has been a HUGE help in bringing some stability to our lives here.  Our kids know what to expect and where they belong.  It is definitely a super challenging road to walk, but so far any issues that have arisen have been able to be worked out with administration.  They love our kids there and really want to work with us.  I’m thankful.

Thank you to all of you who pray for our kiddos.  It means so much to us!