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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Back to School 2017

September first came and went and Ukrainian schools are back in session!

Let me just tell you, the feeling that came with not being the new people was such sweet relief. We’ve been the new people at school for the past 4 years, and we were so over it. How wonderful to be known, to not be gawked at (mostly), to belong! Moving to a new culture has cured me forever of taking belonging for granted. Belonging is so hard to come by, and so amazing when it’s found. We found it for our kids and I’m beyond thankful!

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This year promises to be quite challenging, as full immersion can’t help but be, but we already feel the successes of last year’s hard work, so that’s encouraging.

Our goals for putting our kids in a Ukrainian local school are:

  1. Ukrainian language fluency.  This is our home and we want our kids to be able to communicate in every situation. While they are young, and their brains are growing so rapidly we feel it’s in everyone’s best interest for them to be immersed in Ukrainian language. I wish I had the opportunity! Their language has already far-surpassed mine.
  2. Integration into Ukrainian society. I’m a homeschooler in my heart. I adore homeschooling and I miss it like the dickens. BUT, I realize that homeschooling our kids here is not what is best for our family right now. It would be easy for them to stay home and live on our sweet little American island, but…they would be totally isolated. They need peer relationships. They need to learn how to function in Ukrainian society independently. They each need to find their place here, and as much as I want them all home with me, I know that I know it’s not what is best for them right now.

So, we press on with local school and all of it’s blessings and challenges.  It’s cool to look back on the first week of school last year compared to this week. We have come so far! Our kids’ language has grown by leaps and bounds. They have much more of an understanding of how Ukrainian school works (completely different from American school, if you’re wondering), and they’ve pretty seamlessly picked back up where they left off. Last year we had buckets of tears. This year we have kids who feel successful. My heart is full.

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Seth entered first class, so now all the kids are at the same school together. He seems to be ready, and three days in, so far so good. We anticipate some learning difficulties, due to his history, but we’ll just have to take each day as it comes. Socially and emotionally, he is ready, and for Seth that had to happen in order for him to have a chance at success. His teacher was Ezra’s teacher last year and she’s great. She knows our family and we “get” how to communicate with each other. I’m hopeful for my baby.

Hava is in second class. She has her same class of kids and same teacher (they keep the same teacher for the first four years) so she’s all set to go. She adores her teacher and already has friends, so we’re golden. 🙂

Ezra skipped a grade and is now in sixth class, which is appropriate for his age. We really wanted him to have a fresh start this year in a new class and with new confidence. He’s going to have to work hard to catch up, but he’s motivated, so I think he’ll be okay. Ezra’s our introvert, so Ukrainian school is pretty challenging for him. I’m so proud of how far he’s come!

Addy is the one who’s probably going to have the biggest challenges this year. She skipped two grades and is going to give eighth class a try- the appropriate grade for her age. Due to being the only foreigners and then spending a school year in the States, then entering a new school as the only foreigners again, poor Addy has been held back FOREVER! Last year she was two grades behind her peers and it was starting to be a big problem for her. I know that in the whole big scheme of life, it doesn’t really matter, but when you’re thirteen and you’re in a class with eleven year-olds, it matters a heckofalot. 😉 She’s a super smart girl, she has just never been given the opportunity to try to catch up and prove herself. We fought hard for her and Ez to be moved up, so hopefully we made the right decision. For Addy it was very important to have this chance, so she is super motivated to work her tail off to be successful.

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Vladik has the same set-up as last year. Our friend is teaching him individually, and then he will be integrated into some lessons with the same class as last year.  Our goal for Vladik this year is to be integrated a bit more into the fabric of the school. Socially, he’s ready for it. Academically, we are limited on what he is able to do, but we are working to give him opportunities to be included at the level he is able. Right now we’re hoping to have him join the sixth class in P.E., music, art, and handicrafts. He adores his teacher and he LOVES school. I’m so thankful he has a place there.

That’s the scoop on school! It’s a lot of work and a lot of figuring out what the heck is going on, but we’re ready. When I was first researching putting our kids in local school the stuff I found talked about how the first year would be super challenging and the progress would be slow, but then the second year was when you would really see progress and the fruit of all the hard work. I’m trusting that will be the case for our kids this year. They are all so brave. I’m so very proud of them.

Here’s to a new school year and a new year of growth. Let’s do this thing!

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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!!

Parenting Overseas: When Kids Become Partners

Benefit #33 of our kids’ school: Extended Easter Break. Three cheers for Catholic schools! The kids are off today (Thursday), Good Friday, and the Monday after Easter!  It’s like Spring Break #2 and we couldn’t be happier.

I’ve been thinking lately about how my parenting has changed by us living overseas. I think it’s hard to differentiate between the changes that come from living outside our native culture, and the changes that come just by having older kids. I think one major difference that comes with our location is the freedom and independence our kids can experience at younger ages.

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Back when we lived in the US I used to read about “Free Range Parenting” and wish that was more possible for my kids. I’m pretty sure no one could have ever accused me of being a helicopter parent, but I did always wish for more opportunities for my kids to learn independence at a younger age. That sounds great, but is stinkin’ hard to do in American suburbia! It’s hard to teach independence when the city bus routes are super inconvenient and expensive. It’s nearly impossible when the city plans are made for driving and not for walking. Cell phones are expensive and pay phones are nearly non-existent. In my humble opinion, the culture of ultra-protection of kids also makes it really difficult for well-meaning parents to provide opportunities for their kids to learn and make mistakes and recover without repercussions from outside sources. It felt like for our kids to learn their way out and about without adults they would need to wait until they were 16 and could drive! I know there are creative workarounds for parents who are really intentional about teaching independence, but it just never felt quite natural like I wished for. You know?

I didn’t realize how moving to Ukraine would make it easier for me to be the kind of parent my heart longed to be, in that regard. In Ukraine we have opportunities a’plenty for our kids to explore and learn and even be forced into situations where they have to think for themselves and be independent. It’s just built into the culture! There are some parts of Ukrainian culture that I imagine are similar to American culture back when my parents were kids. I like that.

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Public transportation in our city is cheap and super easily accessible. Our kiddos come home from school by themselves on city buses most days. It’s totally normal to see a kid Hava’s age (8) on the bus alone or walking alone down the street. Hava and Seth can go to the store by themselves and get me a few grocery staples. No one bats an eye that my 6 year old is at the store by himself (unless he’s not dressed warmly enough..hehe). It’s AWESOME. I love it because I KNOW my kids can do it, and they feel so proud of themselves when they are successful.

The little store down the street from our house is an old Soviet type store where you have to go up to the counter and ask the cashier for what you want. The thing is, there aren’t really lines. Whichever customer is the quickest or loudest gets their voice heard first.  Our Seth is super shy. The first time he went by himself to get me bread he must have been gone for more than 20 minutes.  I kinda started to worry a bit, but I knew he was fine, so I just waited. When he finally came home I found out he had been too embarrassed to pipe up and ask for the bread so he just stood there and waited until the store was completely empty and the cashier finally asked him what he wanted. 🙂  But he learned that day and he was so proud of himself when he came home with the bread!

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Our Addy is 13 and is off right now with two friends from school, out and about in the city. She took the bus to meet them and later they’ll find a bus that will take them to youth group. She has a cheap little phone that she uses to call me and let me know she’s okay. It’s AWESOME!  She has learned which buses to use and how to get where she wants to go most places in the city. I’m so happy for her that she has that chance to be independent and I’m also happy that we don’t have to drive her all over town so she can see her friends! Ha!

The big ol’ language issue also changes our parenting, and I haven’t quite figured out how I feel about it. 😉 Back when we lived in the US and I worked as a nurse on the pediatric floor of our hospital it was extremely common for us to treat Spanish-speaking families.  I remember so many times when the parents couldn’t speak much English and they would have their child translating for them. We would use a medical translator for official communication, but for just basic conversation I remember always feeling relieved when there was a school-age kiddo in the room who could help us communicate with mom and dad. I also remember thinking in the back of my mind “Why don’t these parents learn English?  Certainly they don’t want to live their lives with their kids better understanding the world around them and translating for them!”

Yeah, I can give a definitive answer on that one. Those parents didn’t want their kid in the driver’s seat of communication, but guess what? You get desperate and it happens. And in those important moments it’s better to have your kid there to help you rather than no one at all.  Guess how I know?  Yep. Been there done that. Last week.

We’ve gotten to the point where our kids’ language is better than ours. NOOOOOOOO!  I swore I wouldn’t let it happen, but it has. They are immersed in Ukrainian 5 hours a day and I’m not. It was bound to happen. I guess I just didn’t expect it to happen so fast. Now when we’re out and about and I need to understand something I’ll make sure all the kids are listening too, so that if I miss it I can know that somebody will understand. Addy has the best language and I find myself looking to her for help way more than I’d like to admit. The other day I had the kids at the dentist and the dentist actually looked at Addy and said “I want you to listen really good so that you can help your mom understand.” OMG. Low point. I made sure Addy knew, after the fact, that I had indeed understood the dentist (well, at least 70% or so…). Ahem.

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It’s funny how that lack of understanding, or handicap in communication kind of changes your relationship with your kids in small ways. Adults will look to my kids when relaying information, assuming they will understand better than I will. And sometimes they’re right- especially at school. In some ways, and in some moments it changes our role to more like partners with our kids, rather than us moving in the more traditional roles. We’re all working together to make sense of a strange new world, rather than us adults understanding the world and teaching our kids how it all works.  It can be a bit unnerving, especially when we’re talking about partnering with a first-grader, but I think I like it. It causes the kids to take more responsibility for themselves, rather than all the responsibility being on us parents. I know I like that.

All of this learning and growing and digging in roots in a different culture that we are still learning to understand is a heckuva lot of work. It’s stretching and confusing and painful much of the time. But, there are also beautiful parts of it that are unexpected blessings. The partnership with our kids and family teamwork is one of those unexpected blessings. The natural independence training is also an extra blessing. Sometimes it’s mind-blowing to consider how extremely different our kids’ childhoods are than our own, but I have to believe that there are things they are learning by living this curious life that they absolutely need for their futures.

So, steady on, my friends. This parenting gig is no joke, but God will give us everything we need for our specific children. We can trust Him on that one.

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!