Can you believe that today marks one year since Jed took our precious Yaroslav and Vova out of the institution and they joined our big Wide Awake family? One whole year! On one hand it feels like this past year flew by in a wink, but on the other hand it feels like we have lived a lifetime since the boys joined us in that church in Germany. The passing of time during war is a whole different thing. Time passes quickly, but also it feels like the war has always been. So much has happened, so much has changed over this past year. We have changed and Yarik and Vova have massively changed, but imagining them back in Romaniv is just not possible. They have always been ours.
I don’t know if you remember the story of how our boys came to be with us, but it’s worth a reminder. Before the war started we had planned that Yaroslav and Vova would be the next two boys to join our family. We were just waiting on the construction of the second side of the duplex to be completed and were keeping our eyes peeled for house parents to live there upon its completion. Then February 24th came and all our dreams were put on pause (so we thought). Most of our team and all of our boys evacuated in early March and we began living together as refugees in a church in Germany. We had been living at the church for about a month when Jed made a trip back to Ukraine to check on our team here, the Homestead, and the boys at Romaniv.
I remember standing in the church kitchen when I got a text from Jed: “I’m busting the boys out”. It was so unexpected! I was absolutely shocked. Apparently a bunch of men from institutions near the front lines had been moved to Romaniv and the institution administration was severely overwhelmed with meeting all their needs. Jed’s request to take Yarik and Vova home with him came at just the right time. He had asked before and been denied, but on this trip back to Ukraine he saw their overwhelm and decided to ask again. I’m so glad that he did.
The situation Jed brought them to in Germany was certainly less than ideal, but nevertheless, Yarik and Vova thrived. They adapted so well to life with all of us in the church and I really believe it was only by God’s grace that they did as well as they did. I mean, Jed took them out of Romaniv one day and they next day they began a three day road trip across Europe to get to us! Only by God’s grace- for real.
Yaroslav and Vova are like different people now. Like with all of our boys, we realize after a year with them that we never really truly knew them when they lived at Romaniv. We knew only a version of them. We knew a version of them where they lived in fear every day and their brains were continually in fight or flight mode. Now we know the real Yarik and Vova. And bit by bit, as they feel safer and more secure with us, more of their true selves is shown. It’s a beautiful and sometimes difficult process to love them through and behold. This is not our first time to watch humans learn how to be people but it never loses its magic. Watching them learn to love and trust is inspiring. Watching them test the boundaries and express their true feelings (positive and negative) can be a test in patience. Watching them experience the love of a family and find safety and security is satisfying. Bringing our boys out of lives of abuse and neglect is always a test of creativity and thinking outside of the box because no two boys adapt to new life the same way. As they change and grow our approach must change and grow. There is no one-size-fits-all in deinstitutionalization. We are reminded of that every single day.
Yaroslav. Yarik is Mr. Personality and even when he was still living at Romaniv and we dreamed about taking him home with us we would all chuckle and kind of say “What the heck are we thinking? Bringing Yarik to the Homestead? Now THAT would be no joke.” 🙂 We knew he would present some challenging behaviors and we would really need to have our ducks in a row, but really, the process has been a joy. Yes, there have been some big challenges because everything Yaroslav does is BIG. He moves big. His emotions are big. His voice is big. But his love is also big and he brings so much life to our big family. The timing of bringing Yaroslav home was right. We had some experience under our belts and our team was ready for whatever Yarik was going to bring our way. He has done amazingly well and has thrived in the love of our Wide Awake family.
Physically, Yarik is doing fine. He still struggles with some gastro issues, but nothing like in the those first few months. The state of his gastrointestinal system is very tied to his emotions, so the better he is able to manage his emotions, the more healthy he appears to be, gastro-wise. Yarik has epilepsy, but his seizures are really well controlled at the moment. His gross motor skills have greatly improved and the days when he can’t seem to control his limbs are now few and far between. His mouth was full of rotten teeth, so unfortunately, after working to get his mouth healthy he only has 3 teeth left. Poor guy! This summer we plan to see if he has enough healthy bone for a few implants.
Emotionally, Yaroslav is slowly growing and maturing. I think his biggest struggles have to do with unhealthy attachments. All of our boys struggle with attachment issues, and with good reason, after living most of their lives without any opportunity for healthy attachments at all. But Yaroslav’s struggles seem the greatest. He will attach himself to one person and then obsess over that person, cling to them and also push them away, vie for their attention in super unhealthy ways and act out in sometimes quite astonishing ways. He needs time. We aren’t worried. All will be well.
Vova. Vova has had a crazy transformation this past year. He’s like a different person! Vova has Phenylketonuria (PKU) that was untreated his whole life until we began treatment in September. PKU is basically an inherited disorder in which the body can not properly break down protein for use. As the amino acid in protein is not broken down and builds up in the body it becomes toxic to the nervous system. Untreated phenylketonuria can lead to brain damage, intellectual disabilities, behavioral symptoms, seizures, skin problems, and many other things. The only treatment for PKU is a very strict diet with severely limited protein intake and the addition of a medical supplement that provides a form of protein that can be used by the body. Vova’s PKU was untreated for 27 years. So much of the damage done to his nervous system is irreversible, but as we have seen, some of his symptoms have gone away with the PKU diet. It’s been incredible to watch him change!
Vova used to shy away from any kind of physical contact, but now he seeks out contact with the people he loves. We joke that he’s like a cat, always grabbing our hands and wanting us to rub his head and face. He now goes to the toilet independently when before he was completely incontinent. Untreated PKU leads to reduced melanin in the body so before treatment Vova was sooooo pale. His hair was almost white! Now he has brown hair and color in his cheeks. I could go on and on. He has changed so much. As he feels safer and more secure he is also starting to express more of his wants and desires, likes and dislikes, and this is good, but can also be challenging. For instance, this past week Vova began to bite people when he was unhappy with them or didn’t want to do what they were asking him to do. Ummmm that’s not gonna fly, so we’re gonna have to nip that one! Always something new with our boys…and never a dull moment!
With Vova it’s impossible to know which changes in him are a result of treating the PKU and which changes are the result of living within the love and safety of a family, but regardless, we’ll take the changes. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing and see how he blossoms. He is definitely the most guarded of all of our boys, so any steps toward relationship that Vova takes are cause for big celebration!
Thank you for supporting us and encouraging us along this journey with Yarik and Vova. They came into our family so unexpectedly, but what a wonderful surprise they have been. They have stolen our hearts and we can’t imagine our lives without them.