All About Vladik: Four Months Free

I think it’s about time for an update on Vladik, don’t you?  I know many of you love him very much, and have prayed for him for many years.  It is our joy to share his journey with you.  Some things I won’t share, just to protect Vladik’s privacy, but there is a lot I will share, because Vladik’s story is a great story of redemption and we just can’t keep it to ourselves!

General Transition: Vladik is doing unbelievably well.  He is a walking miracle in every way.  He sucks the marrow out of life more than anyone I’ve ever known.  He is also still the happiest person I’ve ever known.  He almost NEVER stops smiling!  And if he does stop smiling, or if he starts to cry, you know you better pay attention.  His cry is the most pitiful thing!  Maybe it’s because it’s so rare to see him unhappy, but when he starts to cry we can’t even handle it.  So so sad!!  He generally only cries when he is in pain (shots, blood draws, IV’s…) or when he is overwhelmed.  Like yesterday, at the end of a loooooong day of doctor’s appointments, we were sitting, waiting for the nurse to come back in the room and he just leaned into me and started crying.  It was so unexpected, and so sad!  He just really wanted to go home.

Vladik loves home.  He always wants to know which direction is home and when are we going home.  He calls our house “The Red Tomato” in Ukrainian, because it’s red. 🙂  He’s always gotta check in about where The Red Tomato is, and if that’s where we’re going next.  I love that he loves home, and I also know he always checks in about it because he’s still not quite sure that he will always be with us.  That’s okay buddy, keep on checking in as long as you need to. You’re stuck with us!

We still speak only Ukrainian to Vladik and have not really taught him any English yet.  But, we just decided this week to begin speaking to Vladik in English and Ukrainian.  We don’t want him to be on the fringes of our family in any way, and not having English excludes him from many conversations unless one of us translates.  It’s time.  This should be fun!  Ha!
  

Family: Seth and Vladik are still best buds.  Vladik calls Seth “Seppa” and Seth calls Vladik “Vladchik”.  They play together, fight together, laugh together and cry together (well, Seth does the crying…haha).  They are always hugging each other.  It is the cutest thing.  Seth is the leader, for sure, and can kind of take advantage of it, but Vladik is learning to stand his ground a bit better too.  He actually knows how to push Seth’s buttons, so yeah, typical brother stuff going on there. 🙂  Havalah is doing great with Vladik.  They don’t play together much, since Vladik doesn’t share a common love for Barbies, but Hava is always coming up to Vladik and giving him little loves.  She really loves him.  

Ez and Addy have had a bit of a harder transition, which was to be expected.  It’s difficult to know how to navigate having a new brother that is physically your same size, but developmentally like a toddler.  There are some habits that a toddler might display that are cute,  but when done by a toddler in a 10 year old body…not so cute, more just annoying…and LOUD.  Ha!  We have all had to remember often that Vladik has never been parented at all.  He has never had a family to teach him what is appropriate.  He has never had good social modeling.  He has never had any healthy relationship modeling.  He likes attention and will try to get it however he can- negative or positive- he’ll take what he can get, much to Addy and Ezra’s chagrin.  BUT, I will say that they have many sweet moments and over the past few weeks the positive moments have far outweighed the annoying, make-him-be-quiet-and-stop-touching-me-moments.  Yay!  Vladik is learning better how to relate to his siblings, and his siblings are growing in their love for him.  When you love someone you can accept a lot of behaviors that would have made you crazy before.  We talk a lot about choosing love, even when you don’t necessarily feel it at the time. Also, Vladik’s sense of humor is coming out more and more and he is making us laugh more all the time!  That helps those sibling relationships for sure. 

Slowly but surely, he is becoming just one of the bunch.  They have all come so far! 

Vladik does great with mommy and daddy. He loves us both and seems to be attaching appropriately.  He doesn’t play us against each other like he used to when he was stressed.  He listens and obeys eagerly, 90% of the time.  Usually the other 10% of the time he needs only a firm voice and a reminder that it’s important to listen and obey.  We have done a couple “time-outs” and that has been super effective.  It’s really only “Okay, you didn’t listen so now you have to sit in this chair for 3 minutes.”  But, it is enough to get him to stop and pay attention.  He generally desires to obey.  When he is stressed we have to be a bit more firm with him to draw those boundaries in nice and tight, and he responds really well.

  

Medical: Oh my, have we been busy in this department!  Vladik came to us as a big mystery puzzle and we are slowly fitting all the pieces together.  Vladik is miraculously healthy.  Praise God!  Let’s start with the head and move down.

Head: We just had an appointment this week with the craniofacial surgeon and the neurosurgeon to discuss the results of Vladik’s head CT.  Boy was I surprised to hear their thoughts!  They both agreed that Vladik does not need any skull surgery.  What????  I was all prepared to hear a plan and instead heard, “He’s dismissed from our service!”  

I guess I’m not yet sure if we should be relieved or if we should seek a second opinion.  I have an email into an expert on Apert Syndrome and am waiting to hear his thoughts.  Right now we are choosing to trust the doctors and be thankful. 🙂  This is their rationale: the CT showed that all of his cranial sutures are already closed.  Because he is 15, his head is done growing and his brain is done growing.  His dilated eye exam showed there is no pressure on his optic nerves, and he does not show any signs or symptoms of intercranial pressure.  Because of this, there is no need to expand his skull.  They said that if he doesn’t have intercranial pressure now, there is no reason for him to develop it later, because his head is done growing.  It all makes great sense.  I guess we just really want to make sure we get this one right, which is why we are considering a second opionion.  Prayer for wisdom about that would be appreciated!  

We are unsure how much of Vladik’s delay in development is because of restricted brain growth in his earlier years.  If he had been born here he would have had skull expansion surgery as an infant.  The doctor said that unfortunately, because he was not treated, that damage is already done and now it is too late for treatment.  So, we are glad we don’t have to deal with a skull surgery, but we also mourn a bit for what might have been if we had gotten to him earlier. 

Eyes:  Vladik’s eyes have many of the typical traits of Apert Syndrome.  They are placed in a different position on his head and even the eyeballs are rotated out a bit.  He has good vision and does not need glasses…yay!  But he does not use his eyes together and they are often crossed.  He will have eye surgery this spring to adjust the muscle position a bit and help him to use his eyes together.  

Teeth: Vladik’s teeth are actually not in horrible shape!  Sure they are funky, and he could really use some braces, but health-wise, they are not bad at all!  He had two old fillings with decay underneath that we have had replaced and he got two crowns.  He did amazing.  We won’t be able to tackle orthodontics until we get to Ukraine. It’s too long of a process for us to undertake here in the US.  Because of that, we can’t really do any mid-face surgeries, as those must be coupled with orthodontics.  Midface surgery, in Vladik’s case, is not a medical necessity.  It would be more cosmetic, I guess, and honestly for a child with Apert Syndrome, Vladik’s midface is actually not in a bad position!  It doesn’t seem to affect his airways at all.  Because of that, we have opted out of those surgeries.  It just isn’t possible, with our living situation, to couple anything with orthodontics.  
  

Ear, nose, throat:  We have yet to see the ENT doctor (grrrr), but we have been pushed up in the priority list as of yesterday.  Vladik had a sleep study and it showed he has obstructive sleep apnea.  He snores and gags and chokes and coughs all night long.  The craniofacial team is recommending a modified tonsillectomy (can’t do a full because of his cleft palate).  Hopefully taking part of the tonsils would help his apnea enough for him not to need cpap.  All the other surgeons agree that if a tonsillectomy is going to happen, then that needs to happen before any other surgeries.  Simply because airway management during anesthesia will be much easier if his airway is more clear. So, we are looking forward to that appointment. The ENT will also order hearing testing, as recommended by the cranio docs.  Vladik’s speech is still pretty hard to understand and they want to rule out hearing loss.  

Hands: Can you believe the physical issue that has caused the most angst so far has been fingernails????  OMG.  Vladik’s fingernails are so difficult to manage!! They are fused, like his fingers, and just a pain.  We have been dealing with an ingrown fingernail since November that eventually led us to the ER because everyone is afraid to touch him. We FINALLY saw a hand surgeon yesterday (as a follow-up for the nail) and he was awesome!  He would like to give Vladik a thumb!!  He is suggesting starting with a thumb and seeing how well Vladik can learn to used it before trying for anything more.  Because of his age, it looks like from the xrays that it would be very difficult to separate the other fingers, plus, we then run the risk of him not gaining great use of them because of his age and the lateness of a surgery like this.  We agree.  Having thumbs will absolutely change his life.  We told him last night that the doctor wants to give him a thumb and he was flipping out!!  He was pounding the table and shrieking and laughing.  Ha!  It will be amazing. The doctor suggested just doing one hand at a time, so as to not incapacitate him, but honestly, he needs both hands to do everything anyway, so we are going to ask for both thumbs to happen at once.  We’ll see!

We already have been waiting for months for an appointment with the hand surgeon at Shriners and our appointment is finally coming up at the end of the month.  We’ll go and see what that surgeon has to say and then make our decision. It’s so exciting to hear that Vladik could have thumbs.  That is what we hoped for.  SO SO EXCITING!!!

Feet:  We saw a foot surgeon at Shriners in November and he saw right away that Vladik would greatly benefit from surgery on his feet. Vladik’s feet are so funky.  They are almost impossible to fit for shoes and they always look so painful.  They are very misshapen and there are sores on the bottom of his feet where all the pressure lies.  The doctor wants to basically reconstruct his feet- lengthening some bones and shortening some others. This will help him so much as he grows and (hopefully) gains some weight.  The downside is that the surgery will land him in a wheelchair for 8 weeks.  OUCH. Trying not to think about that one too hard.  Wheelchairs are very traumatizing for Vladik.  I can’t imagine how he will react to not being able to walk.  I’ll let you know when that surgery comes up so you can be praying! 

 
Vladik talks often about his old life.  He is faithful to tell us daily he doesn’t want to go back to his old house.  Just in case we should forget!  🙂  He talks about sad things that happen there and whenever he talks about it he uses the word for “thunder” in Ukrainian. He talks about how there was a lot of thunder there and covers his ears.  These days it’s hard for us to even imagine Vladik there.  I feel like the Vladik I knew at Romaniv was a scared shadow of the Vladik I know now.  He was always scared, always in fight or flight mode, pinging from one thing to another.  He even stands differently now.  Before, he was hunched over like a cowering little boy.  Now he walks straight and tall.  

He has a wonderful sense of humor and loves to make us laugh.  He is loving and kind.  He teases his sisters and is obsessed with microwaves.  He loves all things Lightening McQueen, and calls any kind of case with a handle a “businessman”.  He likes cheese and apple juice and Reeces Peanut Butter Cups.  If he doesn’t have borscht every few days he’ll let me know it’s time. He likes to do laundry and even cleans out the vent and adds a dryer sheet before starting the dryer!  He is such a special, quirky little character.  To know him is to love him.

The more we meet with doctors and tell his story, the more I am in awe of God’s protection over Vladik’s life.  That he survived living where he lived, without any surgical interventions, is unbelievable. He is so smart. He is so independent.  Everyone who meets him falls in love almost instantly.  I’m actually crying as I type this.  How did we get to be the ones to win this lottery?  I can’t even wait to see how he continues to grow and change as he gains confidence in the fact that he is loved and he will never ever go back to his old life.

Thank you Jesus for our sweet boy!  

Introducing…Interns!

The vision of Wide Awake is to offer hope, dignity, and improved quality of life for some of Eastern Europe’s most marginalized children.”

If you’ve hung around here for a while you know that our big, God-size dream is to open small group homes for our boys to live out their days.  The dream is to remove the boys from their horrible reality and insert them into safe, loving, warm environments where they can get all the love and help they need for the rest of their lives.  They will play and receive therapy and sleep in soft, warm beds.  They will be surrounded by music and laughter.  If they are able to work they will garden and care for animals and work with their hands.  Our boys need occupation.  They need to contribute to the world around them.  It brings meaning to their lives.  The dream is for them to be IN the city, not hidden away from society.  The dream is for them to have the opportunity to become all that God has created them to be, surrounded by people who love them and treasure them and believe in them. 
We’ve got big dreams around here. We’re dreaming big, believing that God has great futures in mind for our boys.  

We will not believe that God’s best for them is to lay in bed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, staring at blank walls. We will not believe that spending the next 20 years rocking back and forth on a bench is God’s hope for their future.  
We know God wants more for our boys and we know that He uses people as his hands and feet in the world.  

Last year it became apparent that less money needed to be spent improving the physical living conditions of the boys, and more money needed to be spent placing loving, consistent people in their lives.  To answer that need, through a three-way partnership with Hands of Hope (funded by their child-sponsorship program), Mission to Ukraine (local non-profit acting as fiscal agent), and Wide Awake (hiring and training) we were able to hire two full-time teachers who teach the bigger boys Monday through Friday.  That  need is also being answered by an increase in the amount of time our team spends with the boys each week.  Since last spring there are teams going to visit the boys 3 days a week.  The team has grown in number and in love.  It is a truly beautiful thing.

Now I am so very happy to report that the need is being answered in yet another way.  INTERNS! 
 

Tanya, Mira, and Maxim

 

Our family attends a wonderful church in Zhytomyr: Христианской Молодежной Церкви (Christian Youth Church).  Youth Church is our family in Ukraine.  God has done a wonderful thing in partnering us together.  Almost all of our team comes from Youth Church, and Wide Awake gave Youth Church a grant to carry on the work of bringing teams to the boys while our family is here in the US.  Youth Church has done a FANTASTIC job of growing the team, and now the work in Romaniv has become an official ministry of our church!  Vika, the team leader for Romaniv, has just rocked it.  We are so proud of her and the whole team, and are honored to call Youth Church our Ukrainian home. 🙂 

Youth Church, in partnership with Wide Awake is now sending three interns to Romaniv three days a week!  The interns were picked from our team.  Maxim, Tanya, and Mira have been volunteering at Romaniv since October of 2014.  They have been faithful, loving, extremely dedicated and committed to the boys.  This is not a project for them.  This is their love.  The three interns are university students who are doing this paid internship in addition to their schooling.  They will be with the boys for six hours, three days a week and are an answer to prayer.  Jed began their training when he was in Ukraine in October, and then our dear friend Olya, an OT, continued their training when Jed came back to the US.  Thank you to Salem Vineyard, our sending church in Oregon, whose child-sponsorship helps to pay for this exciting new venture! 

Yesterday was their first day on the job and we are all so excited!  Maxim, Tanya, and Mira’s focus is on the boys in the Isolation Hall, since the teachers are not working with those boys.  They have divided the Isolation boys up between themselves  and will each work with the same boys every day they are there.  They are beginning with performing functional assessments on each boy and then setting individual goals for the development of each boy.  Their work is more focused and therapeutic because they have the ability to give their time and attention to the same boys each day.  

  
   
 

We are looking forward to awesome results!  Even just their consistent, positive presence is life-changing for our babies.

Do you know what that means?  That means that between our teams and the interns we have loving, energetic, amazing youth spending time with the boys SIX DAYS A WEEK!!!!!!  Freaking out excited!!!!!  That’s not even counting the teachers who are there Monday through Friday and teams who visit from other churches.  PRAISE GOD!

I remember back to the spring of 2014 when Jed and I decided to start going to Romaniv a second day each week. It was just the two of us going to Romaniv alone, asking God to bring more help…and now this.  God is so amazingly faithful.  

We believe that all of this loving presence is preparing the boys for the lives of freedom that await them.  

Soon my babies, soon you will be free. But in the meantime, I hope you can see how many people love you so dearly.

 

Offended by the Goodness of God

Here are some reflections from Jed. Warning: extreme passion ahead.  I hope you can read this with an an open heart to what the Father wants to say to you.

Church songs are great, right?

  
The lyrics pick us up in hard times, they carry us through the week and we are so glad to have the simple melody and words to express an emotion to God.  
Or, they comfort our broken heart: songs of His goodness, faithfulness, love and on and on.  
We’re walking through Gap whistling the tune, “You make all things work together for my good,” as you find your favorite pair of jeans on sale. The person in front of you buys your drink at Starbucks, “Hallelu,Hallelu, Hallelu.u.Yah.” Ok, that might be a bit off topic. 🙂

Good stuff.
Have you ever had a moment when a dear friend shares the depths of pain as a relationship crumbles, or the newsfeed reads of another child dying while escaping a war torn country, and all of the sudden those worship lyrics start to fall flat?  
For us there is the oh-so-often overwhelming sense that there is not enough time or hands to give each of our boys the time they need. And even when we do get time and have plenty of hands, we still have to return them to their extremely traumatic lives.

  

The religious prose no longer feel robust enough to contain the suffering caused by human injustice. 
You might find yourself saying, as we find ourselves saying “These lyrics don’t ring true. God, you certainly don’t seem like a good, good father. Where are you????”
Or, maybe you’ve been on a missions trip and when you came home you could barely stand under the weight of western excess in light of the severe poverty witnessed afar. Perhaps you found yourself slamming your fist down, “God, how can you allow this injustice?! This inequality! Why have you forgotten those lovely people?”
“I can’t sing these songs to you God.” You may have even felt some bitterness swelling up in your chest. Dare I say, Doubt…?

Well, if you are brave enough to sit with these feelings for a spell and not ‘numb out’, not head back to the mall or app store to ‘buy out’, you may hear God speak his answer to these questions that haunt our faith.

Think of the story of worship leader Kevin Prosch, who met God in the closet his dad locked him in and learned to play the guitar and worship in the midst of the abuse.  
Or, think of the miracle tree growing in the midst of a shanty in the garbage dumps of Nicaragua that provides medicine for the family living there.
Or think of our boys and their amazing capacity to love, despite their circumstances.  
God speaks. Are we brave enough to listen?

But, maybe you need more than testimony. Perhaps you still can’t reconcile the goodness of God.  

This is me, by the way.
 
But are you still brave enough to sit with these questions, these accusations…?  
Most aren’t.  

Many have quietly walked away from God, shaking their heads.
“I’ve just got too many unanswered questions,” is the statement as they make their curtain call from church community. In that case, there is a world waiting with open arms to receive your weary soul, clinking glasses, “Three cheers for one less fool, duped by faith.”

My dear cousin Brett sat outside of the garbage dump in Nicaragua, having seen the immensity of inequality and suffering caused by poverty. But then he noticed the healing tree I mentioned earlier, and he saw the comfort siblings were able to provide their dying baby brother.
As he held these accusations out to God, “How are you working all things together for their good…? How are you perfect in all of your ways?” God met him and said, “You equate my goodness with material wealth and well-being. But goodness looks far greater than what you deem as good. You don’t get to define me and my goodness. You won’t see all that I do for my people and don’t assume that my “lack of material provision” means that I am unmoved by their suffering.”

  

As Kim and I sit in the midst of suffering with our boys, we hear God say, “I am so near to these precious ones. Their capacity to love comes from my nearness to them, despite all that this world has done to their bodies. I am holding them close.”

Yesterday, I was reflecting on this while watching Cousin Brett sing songs with my boys, who were rocking, singing, clapping, crying, screaming, self-harming or off in their own world. 
A thought came to me, maybe a revelation. When time wraps up and we stand before God we will see the truth. We will see how He has been with each of us in our highest joys and our deepest suffering. We will see His goodness, the way He defines it, for everyone, and we will say “God, you are righteous and just in all of Your ways.”  
And at that point some real worship is gonna go down.

Until that day comes, we have some great words in the book of Psalms to help us process, petition and bring our accusations to God. Psalms is a book in the Bible where the writer rages at the sight of injustice, pours his heart out in the places of pain and loss, and at the end of the day he still has a price on his head and a heart full of love.
Maybe Psalms and all its honesty and sometimes offensive accusations might be a little more helpful than quoting pop church songs, when we’re struggling through life’s deep questions. God is not surprised by our questions, nor is He offended by them.  
Maybe that big book in the corner needs a little dusting off.  

The Most Important Post, Revisited

November is a good month. We have two family birthdays, it’s Thanksgiving, the holiday season begins, the weather is cozy, and it’s National Adoption Month! Did you know? Have you heard? There is a whole month designated for sharing about the plight of orphans and the blessing of adoption. Yep, that sounds just about perfect to me.

I wrote this post last November.  I wanted to share it again (revamped a bit) in honor of National Adoption Month.  It’s crazy because when I wrote this a year ago I had no idea we would adopt Vladik.  Now this post means more than ever to me.  There are many different great responses to the orphan issue, and your response will likely be different than mine. But for the sake of our Boys, every response is important.

  

The work we do, and Mission to Ukraine has done for many years at Romaniv is important and necessary. It is life-altering for our Boys. Boys who were once strangers that flinched at touch and cowered from any human interaction are now dear loved ones who come scooting and crawling and hobbling as soon as they hear our voices. One boy who used to avoid eye contact at all cost now seeks out our gaze and will sit forehead to forehead with Jed as the guitar is played- just looking into Jed’s eyes. No words, just a look. It is enough for us to see that God is doing miracles.

And yet.

No work we do could ever be more beneficial than a family.

No treatment could ever be as effective as the love of a family.

No weighted vest could be more comforting than a mother’s arms.

No helmet could offer better protection than a father’s embrace. 

This work we do is a stopgap. It is the next best thing possible in this situation. But it is not a family, and it is not nearly enough. There is no future for our Boys here. Even when our dreams come true and we build group homes where they can be loved and cared for, it still won’t hold a candle to a life spent as part of a loving family. There are nannies at Romaniv that do care for the Boys deeply, but they face an impossible task. How can 2 nannies care for more than 20 boys with severe disabilities and do an even satisfactory job?

Most of the boys and men at Romaniv are not legally free to be adopted. Either their parents still maintain their parental rights, or the boys are over the age of 18 which prevents them from being adopted. To those boys and men we commit to doing whatever we possibly can to love them, care for them, and give them a future worth living until they day they are made whole in heaven.
  

Some of our Boys, though, ARE available for international adoption.  After some hesitation, and prayerful consideration we shared them with you.  There are many layers to this. We feel protective of our Boys and the work that is being done; we want to avoid any exploitation; we have a relationship to maintain with the orphanage directors that requires vigilant care. Nothing about this is simple, so we have been treading lightly with steps full of prayer. And yet, our boys are just not thriving, and they never ever will in an institution.  They need families.  ALL our boys need families, but Alex, Micah, Stephan, Aaron, Ben and Isaiah actually have the opportunity for family- a life saving opportunity.

So I’m asking that you see our Boys. I’m asking that you stop and see them for the treasures they are. See their immense value. See their precious beauty. Consider their lives as weighty as your own and ask the Lord how you should respond to this knowledge that some of them are waiting for families. If you follow Jesus you are called to care for the orphan in some way. Even if you don’t believe in Jesus I bet you can agree that this is a justice issue that can not be ignored.
                                                                    

                                                                 “Learn to do right; seek justice.

                                                                            Defend the oppressed.

                                                                 Take up the cause of the fatherless;

                                                             plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

Maybe you are supposed to pray. A million times thank you! Prayer is important and essential. Any of the progress that’s been made has only come through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Boys need prayer!

Maybe you are supposed to give financially to help improve the quality of life for our Boys. Yes! Thank you so very much! None of this would even be happening if we didn’t have faithful financial supporters on the team.
Maybe you are supposed to adopt. Please don’t dismiss this response. I am confident that some of you who read this are called to respond through adoption. Children were made for families! Children were not made for institutions. One hour spent at the institution will prove that point. I must warn you though that any romanticism concerning the adoption of one of our Boys ends with the fuzzy feelings you may be feeling as you read this post. It will not be romantic. It will be a hard road and much faith will be required. But- it will be a road worth walking. I am confident of that. Orphans are very important to our God and He has gone to great lengths to prove His love for these particular Boys. He will not allow the world to forget them now, and He’s not about to forget them when they step out of Romaniv’s gates.

  

I have spent hours with these boys. I have held them in my arms. I have kissed their cheeks. I have held their hands so they won’t harm themselves. Now I call one of them my son and he is asleep, warm and safe in the next room.  They are real people. They were created with purpose and God has good plans for them. When I look at Vladik now and think of the life he lived there and was destined to live for the rest of his days had he not been adopted I can’t help but cry.  Friends, he is precious.  He is a joy in our lives.  He is smart and funny and loving and worthy of this life he’s been given.  All the love and attention and cuddles we can heap on him- he deserves them all.  Hopes and dreams of retirement and empty-nester days fall flat when weighed against the life of a child.  

There you have it. Now you know, and I now I humbly ask you to respond. I ask you to stop and pray and ask the Lord what He would have you to do. Say yes and don’t look back.  Please pray that adoptive families would step out with boldness and faith. Any serious inquiries can be emailed to kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org and I would be happy to talk with you more. 

Please share this post and give our Boys a voice this month. Thank you!
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8


Alex, Micah, Stephan, Aaron, Isaiah, and Ben all wait for families of their own.  A friend of ours is doing a wonderful fundraiser/giveaway to help raise adoption grants for them, so that when their families do step up the expense will be defrayed a bit.  If you feel that your response is to give financially, then please, please visit this website and drop some dollars in their accounts.  Thank you!  

 

Alex

  

Micah

 
 

Stephan

  

Aaron

  

Isaiah

  

Ben

 

 

 

 

 

All About Vladik

Our Vladik (aka Vladchik, Vlad, Sonichko, Lyubime…and on and on) has been home with us for 12 days now and it sorta feels like it’s been forever.  He is just the perfect fit for us and we are the perfect fit for him.  It’s like it was always meant to be.  

After 15 years in institutions, and the last 11 at Romaniv- in one hallway, he is doing AMAZING.  It’s actually pretty miraculous. We aren’t sure all what Vladik does and doesn’t understand, but one thing is for sure: He was READY for a family.  From the day he left Romaniv with Jed in his new clothes and shoes he has never called us “Jed and Kim” again, only “Papa and Mama”.  He knows.  It’s a miracle.  

  
 Here’s the lowdown, for all the Vladik-lovers out there.  🙂

Siblings. Vladik is SO SO SOOOOOOOO happy to have siblings!!!!  He absolutely loves them all, being especially partial to the boys.  He likes to take them to school and walk them to their classrooms.  He gets super excited when it’s time to go pick up Hava and Seth (half-day kinders).  Like, even if he is on the swing (his most favorite thing), he’ll gladly pause if it means going to pick up the kids.  When he sees them standing in line with their class he runs over and gives them big hugs.  Vladik and Seth are great friends!  Finally Seth has someone who’s interested in cars and balls and all things BOY!  When Vladik and Seth are both home they are playing together constantly, joined at the hip.  They are truly God’s gift to each other.   

 

Sleep.  Bringing home a newly adopted child is a lot like bringing home a newborn from the hospital.  Everything changes, the new “baby” requires a lot of mommy and daddy’s attention, you spend a lot of time figuring out eating and pooping habits (not so fun with a 15 year old..hehe..but then, is dealing with another person’s poop ever fun??).  But, I gotta say, after 8 straight years of constant newborns (foster and bio), I can fullyappreciate  Vladik’s amazing sleep habits.  He is a GREAT sleeper!!!  

For now, Vladik sleeps in his own bed in the room with Jed and me.  It just makes good sense to have him close to us at night, for his own sense of security and our peace of mind, until we feel the time is right to move him in with the other kiddos.  He goes to sleep easily and he sleeps all night.  The only issue, and it’s a big one, is sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea is a common problem with kiddos with Apert Syndrome, and we have big concerns about it for our Vladik.  He snores loud all night long.  He can’t really breathe through his nose, so that’s an issue too.  He sleeps with his back arched and his head thrown back, which is a common position for kids who are struggling to get air.  He stops breathing and hacks and coughs all night long.  Making it possible for him to sleep safely is our number one medical priority for Vladik. 

We have a great routine of a nightly shower and then massage before bed.  The other night he said “Papa, I’m going to sleep with mama tonight.  You sleep alone over there.”  hahahahahaha!  What a sweetie. 

  
Language.  Vladik’s language is exploding!  He literally does not stop talking.  We aren’t speaking English to Vladik at all, we’re just sticking to Ukrainian.  If we were going to be living in the US we would start teaching him English, but there’s really no point since we are going back to Ukraine.  He is surrounded by English, since our family speaks that to each other all the time at home, so I’m sure he’ll pick it up.  But really, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep Vladik speaking Ukrainian.  We are improving our skills and he isn’t losing his.  Win win.  🙂  Vladik’s speech is super hard to understand, due to all the structural issues with his face, but we are understanding him better all the time.  I don’t know if that’s because his speech is improving or because we are just used to “Vladik speech”.  Either way, he is able to make his needs and wants understood, and we are able to communicate just fine.  

  
Food.  This is the hardest thing at this point.  Vladik is used to eating the same 4-5 foods every.single.day.  There is not much texture in the Romaniv food because many of the boys have swallowing problems and very few teeth with which to chew.  Feeding time at Romaniv is CRAZY town.  But, I digress.  🙂 Anyway, Vladik has a hard time with new textures and new flavors.  So, the struggle is to find foods he’ll eat without me having to cook two different meals all the time. (Ain’t nobdy got time for that!)  If I have a pot of mashed potatoes and a pot of soup in the fridge to fall back on, then all is well. But heaven forbid we should run out of mashed potatoes! 😉  We’re just trying to slowly intro new foods and at least make him try them before flat out rejecting them.  It’s hard to know which struggles are sensory and which are structural.  Baby steps, baby steps.

  
Medical. Last week we started Vladik’s medical journey and it’s gonna be a long one, folks.  We had an appointment with our primary pediatrician and she basically referred us to every specialist known to man: neurosurgery, genetics, ear-nose-throat, Shriners for hands and feet, craniofacial, dentistry, ophthalmology, radiology (for scoliosis x-rays), occupational therapy,  and speech pathology/feeding.  The referrals have been made, so now we just wait for everyone to call us to schedule appointments.  Let’s get this party started!  

Social/Attachment.  Our Vladik is one smart cookie.  He understands that we are his family and he belongs with us.  He is appropriately shy with new people and there is no danger of him wanting to walk off with some random person.  He’s a naturally cautious kiddos, so he’s also not really a “wanderer”. During the adoption process we prayed that God would pepare Vladik’s heart for a family and He has totally answered that prayer.  The boys at Romaniv have absolutely ZERO concept of what a family is.  They never seen family modeled to them.  They have no books about families.  They are completely isolated from society and most have never experienced family life.  So Vladik’s entry to our family is something we were super curious about.  But he gets it.  He really does.  We have been building this bond for a couple of years now, so that has made everything a whole heck of a lot easier.  He already knew us and we were already the “good guys” in his life.  He accepts affection and is starting to be the one to initiate affection more every day.

  
As far as Vladik being 15 years old, and coming from a really horrible environment, and being in the home with our little kids, we are not worried. He is definitely the youngest, developmentally, and does not at all take on a dominating role.  That’s just not his personality. We are taking appropriate precautions though, and we know we need to be wise. We have seen where he came from. 🙁   For instance, for now Vladik sleeps in our room. We always have the kids in earshot or in our line of sight when they are playing. We are trying to teach our other kids a bit more modesty (they’re not very good about that here at home) 🙂 and explaining to them why it’s important that we be modest in front of Vladik: “To teach him how he should behave in a family…” But all in all, we have no big concerns. He is appropriate and very much still a little boy. We knew that about him before we ever decided to bring him into our family.

Emotional/Spiritual. Vladik is absolutely amazing. He is a miracle. How in the world did he keep his joy throughout all he endured? He is ALWAYS happy. He is the light of our family’s lives. He is thoughtful and obedient (most of the time) and pure sunshine. He brings us immense joy. 

The only time he has really acted out was at the doctor’s office. He was very nervous and stressed. He wouldn’t listen and was acting so crazy- as in, I’ve never ever seen him like that before. Then he started talking. He spoke of Romaniv and people there, things they did. To each other. To him. Our hearts were broken. To the average person, it’s hard to imagine, by looking at our boy, how immensely he has suffered. I can almost forget it myself. And then he talks. Then we remember that one month of freedom doesn’t erase 11 years in hell on earth. His journey to complete healing will be a long one, but he is already well on his way. 

  
Many people have asked us if Vladik misses Romaniv or his friends there. It’s a good question, especially when so many people love our Boys there so deeply and associate that love with “Romaniv” as a whole. But I have to tell you, that to ask that question is to not understand what Romaniv truly is. I don’t say that to look down my nose at you, or to shame the askers, I’m just saying that if you spent 10 minutes just observing Romaniv life, not playing there, but just observing, you would never even wonder about that question. Life at Romaniv consist of fences, walls, benches, neglect, abuse, survival of the fittest, and horrors most of us would never imagine even exist in this present time. NO person, let alone child, should have to stay even one night there. 

You all know how deeply committed we are to Romaniv. You know that we have hope for change and we are committed to change there. You know we love the boys, and we also love the staff and administration. We do! God has called us there- to give our lives to these boys, these nannies, these directors. And because of that deep love and commitment I feel I can speak honestly and frankly about the reality. I hope you understand. 

This morning Vladik was looking at the pictures on our fridge of some of the boys and he saw the Isolation Hall, his home for 11 years, in the picture.  He pointed to the window that he used to spend hours staring out of and said “My bedroom.” I said “Yes, you used to sleep there, but not now!” He just looked at the picture and said “I don’t like that room. I don’t want that room. Foo! (Ukrainian for ‘yuck!’) It’s bad! I don’t want that picture.” Then with a glance at me for permission, he took the picture off the fridge and handed it to me. “All done!” He said. Then I asked him to show me his bedroom. We ran into our room and flopped down on the comfy bed, all giggles and cuddles. 

That’s right. All done, sweet baby. You’ve got your whole life in front of you. 🙂 

Did you know several other boys at Romaniv are available for adoption? They can have the same future as Vladik, if only a few brave families will step up and say yes. Could you be one of the rescuers? You can read about the boys here and here. Please, read about them with an open heart and see what God might say. Thank you!