Category: The Kids

IMG_2996

Back to School 2023

It’s that time of year again. I can hardly believe it! Summer flew by in a haze of peppers, pickles, puppy, and the pool. (see what I did there…hehe) For reals, it went by so fast! I’m not a mom that gets super excited about her kids returning to school. Sure, I can get more done for work when they are gone at school, but I like having them here! I love the freedom of summer. It’s bliss to not have to have them out the door super early in the morning. I’m a firm believer of letting sleeping children lie and it absolutely goes against my morals to wake my kids up bright and early each morning for school. I detest it! But, summer can’t last forever, so alas, we are crawling our way back into the swing of things.

This is our ninth year in Ukrainian school and we’ve come a long way, baby. It actually hurts my stomach to think about our first 2 or 3 years in Ukrainian school. We knew nothing, understood little, and every day was a lesson in how much we didn’t know. It’s not even just about the language (although most of it was about the language, let’s be honest) but it was also little things like, there are no school supply lists here. You just have to know what is required, and everyone knows the requirements because they never change. There are these little notebooks that the kids need for every subject with different types of lines on them. Slanted lines for the first couple of years while kids are learning to write, grid lines for math and other “mathy” type subjects, and then regular lines for other subjects. But that’s not all! All those different types of notebooks have different varieties with different numbers of pages…so you also need to know how big of a notebook to buy, depending on the grade and the subject. These are not things you ask about, these are things you just “know” because this is how it’s always been. Now it’s second nature for us and school shopping is a breeze, but man oh man, it wasn’t always that way.

Now, entering our 9th year in Ukrainian school and our 8th year in our current school, I can confidently say that we are solidly a part of the school community and our kids are just one of the crowd. They are just Hava, Seth, and Evie. They are not “The Americans” or something special and weird. I feel glad about that and proud of my kids for how far they’ve come. I’m also super thankful to God for leading us to our current school. My kids feel at home there and I know the teachers care about them. That’s not something you can find just anywhere.

The one pic I took on the first day of school

So how old are the kids and which grades are they in? For those of you who have followed our family for a long time, I’ll share the deets, starting with the youngest.

Evie Joy is 5 years old and is in her last year of preschool/kindergarten. Kids start first class here when they are 6, so next year she will officially be in school. Crazy! The kindergarten is in the same building as the school and is a Montessori school. Evie loves to go there and I think it’s a wonderful environment for her. It has been a huge blessing to us to have her there.

Seth is 13 and is in 7th class. Seventh class is when they begin algebra, geometry, physics, and chemistry, so that’s a bit intimidating! Seth has an individual learning plan because of his diagnoses, and the class has an aide available for when he needs extra help. Last year he had his best year yet, so we are hopeful that this year will also go well. He has some good friends at school and socially he doesn’t struggle at all. He is the football star of his class, so as you can imagine, PE is his current reason for getting up each day. 🙂

Havalah is 14 and in 8th class. She doesn’t love school, but is smart and generally does really well. She has some good friends at school and feels her place there. She’s also really involved in our church and the youth group there. She’s doing great and is growing into a wonderful, beautiful person.

Ezra is 17 and will be a senior!! He is currently finishing up his last little bit of junior year work online and will start senior work in October. Our time in Germany really messed up his schooling trajectory, poor guy. But we are hopeful that with a lighter senior year he will be able to graduate next summer. He is doing an American program online so he can get a US diploma. Ezra is also working as an intern for Dim Hidnosti (the Ukrainian arm of Wide Awake) and is on the church youth group lead team, so he keeps quite busy. The kid is never home, I swear. But, when I do see him he is a delight. 🙂 I’m super proud of the man he is and is becoming.

Addie is 19 and just began her first college classes this week! My baby is all grown up. Addie is living in Montana with Jed’s parents and is starting the pre-nursing program at a community college there. She’s working as a barista and is excited to finally begin her journey to becoming an RN. She’s wanted this for a long time. Since moving to the US in the spring she got her driver’s license, her CNA license, and her first real job. I’m so happy for her and proud of her and all the adulting she’s having to do with her parents so far away. We are really thankful that she is with Jed’s parents and has other extended family nearby to support her. She is not alone and that calms my heart a lot.

Vlad is 23(!) and is living with my parents in Oregon. He has been with them for a little over a year now and is doing really well. We left him there after our visit last summer so that he could get his teeth treated by an orthodontist. He has braces and his teeth have changed so much! This week he will have 8 teeth pulled and then I think we will see even more progress. Vlad works 2 days a week at a company that employs people with disabilities. He does landscaping and they told my mom he is their star employee. No one is surprised by that, right? Ha! Vlad loves to work like no one I’ve ever seen. He’s proud to earn his own money is thriving there with my parents. He recently got baptized at church and that was a big step for him. He’s spent the last few weeks with Jed and Ruslan in California and it has been a really special time for them all.

So, that’s the lowdown with our kids. This is the beginning of the second school year during the full-scale war and true to form, there was an air raid and they had to go down to the bomb shelter on the first day of classes. It’s routine now and no one is particularly bothered by it, but it’s always a reminder of the difficult and crazy time we are living through. I’m just thankful our school has a functioning bomb shelter so our kids are able to study in person.

Thanks for loving our family through all the years. Many of you have been with us from the very beginning when our kids understood nothing I was often wondering if we’d made the biggest mistake of our lives. Whew. We’ve all come a long way. Thanks for sticking with us!

Read More
9CA6E74E-6338-4045-BADB-8B41D9F39DBD

Back to School, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More
wpid-photo-201409111304462

Saturday, 8/20/22

I don’t have a witty title today. Not that my other blog titles have been necessarily “witty”, but today I just have no thoughts of what to name this post. My mind is racing, my heart is hurting. Russia has waged a war of nightmare and terror on Ukraine for nearly 6 months now and they appear to have no intention of stopping any time soon. They bomb people’s homes, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, city centers. They rape, pillage and torture- like Vikings of old. They threaten the safety of an entire continent by using a nuclear power plant as a shield. They are trying to exterminate an entire nation, an entire culture, and the world grows weary of watching. Some even dare to say this war isn’t even really happening. While Ukrainians lay down their lives to protect the freedom of the Western world, Russians cry because they might not get to vacation in their beloved European resorts anymore. What.Is.Happening. Is this really the year 2022? Is the world really letting this continue? What.Is.Happening.

The other day we went to our kids’ school to register them for the upcoming school year. We drove down the usually quiet road in the forest and were surprised to see loads of Ukrainian soldiers on the premises. Apparently the empty building right next to our little school in the forest has been turned into a military facility…which means our kids will no longer be able to attend school. Our plan for them to be secluded and safe in the forest doesn’t really apply now. A few days later we returned to the school to discuss distance learning options and I had a moment of weakness. “Come on Jed, maybe we should just send them to school. The chances of anything significant happening here are low…” We went to a cafe in town to think and talk about it and heard a lot of airplane activity overhead. One does not simply ‘hear an airplane’ in Ukraine anymore. Any sound of an airplane means all heads are up, all eyes are fixed on the sky, all hearts beat a little faster. The sound of an airplane is the sound of terror these days. We tried to ignore the sounds and kept our discussion about school. An hour later we were at home and heard two big explosions. Something in town had definitely been struck. Never mind. The kids won’t be going to school anytime soon. Russia steals everything.

Air raid sirens are a daily occurrence here. There have been 4 just today, and it’s still only late afternoon. We hear them out in the village only when it’s very quiet at night and we’re standing in our backyard. They tell us the latest rockets strikes were launched from Belarus- our not-so-friendly neighbors to the north. No thank you very much. We tell the kids to go to a safe place when they are in town and they hear the sirens. I hope they do. Sometimes I can’t believe the conversations we have with our kids; conversations about air raid sirens, where to find the closest bomb shelter, if the sound we just heard was the rock quarry down the road or a missile strike, a sports car speeding down the highway or the roar of a jet. They are brave. They were brave before, but war has made them even more so. It changes us all- in good ways, and in ways I’m not ready to talk about yet. One thing is certain: war definitely changes a person.

Ukrainian Independence Day is August 24th and everyone looks ahead to this week with trepidation. Surely Russia doesn’t plan to let that day pass quietly. Russia is a terrorist state and it seems like they will want to mark that day in their own special way. We will celebrate quietly at home. I remember the Independence Day we spent once in Lviv. It was beautiful. Who could have imagined what was to come? Ukraine deserves its independence just like every other country. Ukrainians deserve to celebrate without fear and without a foreign power occupying their lands and decimating their cities. Ukraine deserves to be free from Russia and if other countries want to stay free they better step in and make sure Ukraine wins this terrible war.

My cousin married a wonderful man, Misha, who is a proud Ukrainian. He recently wrote this truth (the words in bold are mine):

“Let me explain really quick what would happen if Ukraine will not win this war.
Major part of central Ukraine, east, north, and south will be occupied. Russia will become bigger, more aggressive, their borders as well as appetite will expand.
Immediately, all the people on occupied territories will go through filtration camps (This is already happening in occupied areas), where they will be checked how Ukrainian they are. Any past cooperation with ZSU (Ukrainian military), any man with patriotic pro Ukrainian position, any former rear guard volunteers, as we are, – will be prosecuted. People will be sentenced to death, sent with their families to Siberia or just disappear. Russia knows how to do that very well.
At the same time, in their apartments will move another families from poorest and remote parts of Russia, bringing famous
Russian culture’, terror and aggression. Women will work as a teachers of their language and literature, men will be KGB workers, searching for Ukrainian patriots, hating all the locals, but taking their goods. That’s how my my grandma’s family from Siberia appeared far west in Transcarpathia in early 50’s.
During the first years Russia will establish pro-Russian managers in every governmental facility, every school, every public place, police and post office. Ukrainian culture will be suppressed and if that happens long enough – will become extinct, we might be the last generation of the native speakers.
This is the cyclical nature of Russian invasion known for centuries. They always wanted to go west to occupy reacher territories. My grandparents’ generation suffered from that, my parents’ generation lived as a part of regime as well as me, so let’s stop them now so the kids would live free, being who they are – Ukrainians.
Please help as protect our little peaceful nation. We would never raise a weapon if not to defend our people.
Instagram

I have recently been brushing up on some of Ukraine’s history and what Misha wrote is 100% how things will go if Ukraine doesn’t win this war. This is what Russia does. This is what can not happen.

So we pray, we mourn, we have days of hope and days of fear. Most days are “normal”. We continue to love our children, our boys, and our team. We celebrate together and try to remember to enjoy the little things: the way the goats nuzzle us like cats, Anton pedaling a bike, the plums from our trees, Sasha singing a new tune that we all recognize, homemade bread, being home and cozy nights with the sound of rain on the roof. When the underlying tension of war comes to the surface we try to remember to give our cares to Jesus. Only He can help.

Please, I beg you, don’t forget Ukraine. I know there are so many things to care about in this world, so many tragedies, so many stories on the news. But I still ask you to remember Ukraine, to pray for Ukraine, to elevate Ukrainian voices and the Ukrainian perspective. We would really appreciate it so much.

Independence Day, 2014

Read More
IMG_5488

On My Mind: The Kids.

I’ve been a bit absent in this space over the past several weeks. I blame Christiana. 🙂 Our friend, Christiana, has been here for the past several weeks, and since I have her nearby to verbally process with, I feel less of a need to process here. Ha! You all didn’t realize you were my sounding board…or maybe you did. I’m an external processor, so I either need to talk out my thoughts or in absence of an English-speaking friend, write them out. So, I told Christiana I blame her for my lack of writing inspiration. Hehe. How’s that for throwing a friend under the bus?

Lately, the main thing that’s been ringing around in my brain has been my kids. I’m a mom of many, so obviously, mothering takes up the majority of my time and attention. As my kids move into different stages they need more or less of that time and attention, and right now it seems every one of them needs more. It’s a season where I’m seeing a lot of things that need to change and realizing that I need more support than I currently have in order to make those changes. So, it’s been a bit of a stretching season of mothering.

I think I’ve written about it here before, but parenting in our situation feels like parenting in a black hole. We have no peers around to talk with, bounce ideas off of, to watch and learn from. Jed and I feel pretty much alone in this whole parenting gig. The majority of our kids’ closest friends are from here in our village, and those parents are mostly absent. I have no idea what is going on in their homes, and they spend most of their time here in our home or in our yard. That makes things easier for me since I mostly always know where my kids are! 🙂 But parenting without other moms around can be both a blessing and a hardship. On one hand, I have no one with whom to compare myself. I’m not on social media anymore and I don’t have other mom friends to watch, so the comparison game isn’t a thing for me anymore. What a relief! I don’t feel less than, because I literally have no idea what other people are doing. On the other hand, I literally have no idea what other people are doing, so I can’t learn from them or ask for their advice. When things are going well that seems like no big deal, but when things are rough, it’s like a massive hole. I would love so much to have a peer group of moms to move through life together. I had that before we moved here and I miss it so much. I can read parenting books written by older and wiser people and learn something new, but it’s definitely not the same as sitting down for coffee with a friend to just talk through your struggles together. Sigh. Any of you moms out there wanna move to Ukraine and be my neighbor?

The only child who still likes her picture taken...

Our Addy is seventeen and in her junior year of high school. Can you believe it? Our first little chickadee will soon leave the nest. Noooooooooooo! It’s an exciting time of preparing for the next steps and helping Addy to realize her dreams. She would like to take a year after graduation to attend a Bible School in Germany, and then she hopes to enter a German nursing school and study there (free higher education for the win!). To be eligible for studying in Germany Addy will need a high school diploma from an accredited American high school. So, this next year she will be enrolled in a school that is part online and part textbooks. Hopefully, we can cram enough credits in there to get her that coveted diploma. She’s pretty motivated and determined, so I have no doubt that she’ll do it. She also needs B1 level German to enter nursing school, so next week she will begin German lessons. Exciting times for our girl!

Next school year Ezra will be enrolled in the same accredited high school as Addy. He’ll be a sophomore and I’m excited for him to have the opportunity to learn from other teachers. Addy is a very motivated self-learner, but Ezra does better with deadlines and more specific feedback. I really hopeful that this school will be a good fit for him. If he wants to study further in the US he won’t need a diploma, but if he chooses another country for study, like Addy, then he will almost definitely need one. We figured it’s easier to bite the bullet now and just work toward the diploma so his options are more open in the future.

Hava is continuing on in Ukrainian school. She’s finishing up 5th grade and so far, it suits her just fine. She’s still young, but right now she says she wants to attend university in Ukraine and become a teacher. As long as she thinks she wants to stay in Ukraine, we’ll keep her in Ukrainian school. She’s getting a high level of education and thriving in school. No need to go changing a good thing. We’ll just take it a year at a time.

Seth has been homeschooling this year and I have no doubt that bringing him home for school was the right choice. We have just recently started learning therapy for him via Zoom and I’m really hopeful that it will help him grow in his literacy. He has progressed a lot this past year, but I know he needs more than I can give him. Just knowing we have another set of eyes and ears on his learning is such a relief to me! I want so much for Seth to grow into the man God has created him to be and to reach his potential, so I’m really thankful we found this resource. I don’t really foresee Seth reentering Ukrainian school. We’ll take it a year at a time, but for now, he’s better off at home with me.

Evie is 3 and is already wondering when she will get to go to school. 🙂 Here in Ukraine, most people send their toddlers to the local “kindergarten”. It’s free preschool/daycare and you can send your child as often as you like. Our village has a kindergarten that runs half days and we’re considering sending Evie in the fall. I’d like her to go maybe 3 half days a week and see how she likes it. I really want her to enter first grade with confidence and good language skills so that she doesn’t struggle unnecessarily. She speaks Ukrainian now, but definitely below the level of her peers (although her English is great!). She’ll need that extra boost of kinder in order to be ready for first grade when she’s 6. Plus, she’s super social and wants so badly to have friends (mini-Havalah). I’m pretty sure she’s gonna love it. We’ll see!

So, I’ve been researching diploma programs and learning therapy. I’ve been emailing and consulting and googling. We just have to work extra hard to access the resources that we need here. It’s a stretching time, but sometimes stretching feels good, even when it hurts a little.

What’s on your mind these days?

Read More

About The Kids

It’s been a while since I talked about our kids here. The older they get, the less they want to be featured on the ol’ blog. But, they’re okay with me giving a big of an update, for old time’s sake.

Our kids are really doing great. I am so thankful for God’s hand on each one of them. I’ve shared many of my mama worries with you over the years. It has not been an easy journey, raising them in a different culture, but I’m thankful to see them all thriving in this country that has now become their own.

You already know a lot about Vlad, so I won’t write about him here. Although he would hate to be left out…he definitely doesn’t mind the spotlight! 😆 We’ll just say that he’s still loving the woodshop and taking care of his chickens. He brings us joy and is a blessing to us every day.

Addy is 16 and a junior in high school. She is homeschooling, since her Ukrainian school ended at 9th grade and many of her peers are in “college” or trade school already. She really isn’t sure what she wants to do after 12th grade, so we are encouraging her to spend a year as an intern or volunteer somewhere in the world after high school. She loves sewing and fashion and playing the bass. Addy is an old soul and my dear, dear friend. I adore my daughter.

Ezra is 14 and a giant. I swear he comes downstairs each morning noticeably taller. It’s insane. Ezra is also homeschooling and doing 9th grade work. He doesn’t love school at all, but prefers spending hours with his friends exploring creepy abandoned buildings and riding their bikes all over the universe. He is Evie’s favorite person. Their bond is pretty sweet. How is my son almost a man???

Havalah is 11 and the most Ukrainian of all of us, by a mile. 🙂 Hava is a super social and loves going to school more than anything. She is in 5th grade in Ukrainian school and is doing great. She’s basically fluent in Ukrainian and is thriving here. Her personality is as big as her body is small, just like always. Hava has a soft heart for our boys and is very tender with them. It blesses my heart.

Seth is 10 and the sportsman of the family. Approximately 99% of his free time is spent outside riding his bike or building his “skate park” or playing soccer or getting into trouble. Hehe. Let’s just say, he’s a bit of a wild child and village life suits him just fine. Till now, Seth has been in Ukrainian school, but just this year we brought him home for school. Ukrainian school just wasn’t a good fit for him. He needs extra help that they can’t provide, so I’m doing my best to help him at home. Twice a week he goes to school for PE so he can see his friends, and three mornings a week he goes to soccer. Seth is creative and messy and his emotions are big. But if he loves you he will love you forever and I’ve never seen a more devoted friend. He has a super soft heart for our Anton. It’s really special and sweet.

Evie Joy is 2 years old and a spitfire and a half! She has an opinion on pretty much everything and isn’t afraid to let you know. Evie is a talker and can speak and understand both English and Ukrainian. It’s such an adventure raising a bilingual baby! It’s fun to watch new words pop out and fascinating to see how she knows which language to speak to which people and how she goes back and forth with such ease. She brings immeasurable amounts of joy to our whole team and is everyone’s baby. God knew we all needed her.

It’s crazy to think that in a couple of years Addy might be gone and then begins the phase of life when my chicks won’t be all together in my nest. 😭 I have no idea if any of them will end up staying in Ukraine, or if they will all move away. That whole scenario is going to require a whole other level of trust in God. Yikes! I would love it if at least one of them decided to stay near, or if some of them ended up in Europe somewhere. The US is just so so far! But, I know deep down that ultimately I want them to each end up exactly where God wants them to be. They’ll know they can always find Mom and Dad back at the Homestead when they want to visit.

Do you have any questions about the kids or about raising kids in Ukraine? I would love to do a Q & A post if that’s interesting for you. You can leave questions below or in a comment.

Read More
IMG_1891

What’s Up With School

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

IMG_2091

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

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

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

photo 1

They were so little!

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

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

IMG_5981

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

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

IMG_1950.jpeg

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

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

IMG_1888-2202034001-1549279286390.jpeg

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

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

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

IMG_1891

Read More
img_7514

Our Ukrainian Birth Story

Can you believe our sweet Evie Joy is one month old today?! In the past I’ve not been a fan of the newborn phase and have wished it away in search of more sleep. But these days I find myself wishing for time to slow down. Our precious Evangeline is just the sweetest little thing and I know she needs to be our last, so I want time to sloooooow down so we can savor every bit of her baby-ness. Sometimes it feels like no one in the world could ever love their baby the way I love this baby. She is such an incredible gift.

I promised I would share about the experience of our only Ukrainian birth, so here I am, as promised, attempting to write it out. This is a tricky one. I don’t want to sound at all like the US system is SOOOOO much better, or like the way it’s done in the US is the only right way. Because honestly, I don’t believe that. I think the US medical system has a lot going for it (ie…money), but I definitely don’t think there is only one correct way to do things. So, even though I can’t pretend the US is the only right way, it is the only way I know. It’s where I was trained.  It’s where I worked for 13 years. And it’s where all my other babies were born. You only know what you know. 🙂

The following is my experience. It’s what I felt and saw and lived. It may be different than another’s experience, but it’s mine. So take it for what it’s worth.

Evie’s entrance to the world was planned for a Monday.  It was a scheduled c-section, and my fourth (which is pretty rare here), so the doctor had me spend the last few nights of my pregnancy in the hospital in case I were to go into labor in the night. We had previously purchased all the supplies for the c-section at the pharmacy across the street and had them in a duffle bag at the ready. A nurse came in to my room the night before the c-section and said “Okay, you have a c-section tomorrow.  Tonight you need to give yourself an enema, and then give yourself another one in the morning.” Uh…hold the phone. Things were about to get real. Hehe. I’m no stranger to enemas (never thought I’d write that! Ha!). I’ve given a lot of enemas in my day. But I’ve never given one to myself– especially when the only toilet available was a communal toilet down the hall! Yeah, that was tricky. Let’s just say I don’t wish a shared bathroom enema experience on any of you.

IMG_7102

The list of anesthesia supplies for Jed to buy on the morning of surgery

The next morning Jed arrived around 8:30 and we waited for the party to start. Unfortunately, it didn’t start out too great. A grumpy nurse was on duty and was telling us all these instructions that we didn’t understand.  Something about Jed taking all the surgery stuff somewhere and me waiting in my room, but we were sure the doctor had told me to go with Jed… We were all confused and she was annoyed at our lack of understanding and I started crying and it was a bit of a mess. To be fair, I was totally freaked out and hormonal and it probably wasn’t a truly cry-worthy scenario. I’ll own that. 🙂

So Jed was gone to who-knows-where with the supplies and I was sitting on my bed, crying, waiting for someone to come and tell me what to do. After a bit, a super kind lady came and took me through back hallways and staff elevators to where the surgery would take place. The staff elevators are so interesting! Each elevator has an older lady sitting in it whose job is to operate the elevator and make sure no unauthorized person uses it. Each tiny elevator has a chair and a little table in it where the operator sits and drinks her tea, waiting for the next customer. Fascinating. Anyway, my guide saw I was crying and did her best to calm my fears. “I’ve worked here 30 years!  Everything will be fine. Don’t cry or your baby will cry! Everything is fine. Today you meet your baby!” She was a sweetie, but I could not stop crying! Geez Louise. I think all the worrying of the last 9 months had just built up and spilled out in that moment. I was a mess until I saw my wonderful doctor. She is the mom of our dear Kenny, and her presence totally calmed me.  Instantly. She put her arm around me and the familiarity of her just made all the difference.  I was never so thankful that we had chosen a non-stranger to deliver our baby.

They brought me to a room with a bed and a changing table. Jed was there! They had Jed change into clean, comfy clothes and laid out all the supplies we had brought for the baby. Directly across the hall was the operating room. The plan was that as soon as the baby was delivered they would take her across the hall, assess her, and then put her on Jed’s chest, skin to skin, while they finished operating on me.  I can’t tell you how it eased my mind to see where Jed would be with the baby and to know he would instantly be with her.  I absolutely loved that plan. High five Ukraine!

IMG_7531

Everything laid out and ready for Evie’s big debut

Then they sorted through our duffel, digging out all the supplies we had bought for anesthesia and the operation, and took them across the hall to the OR (YIKES… goodbye sterile field…I tried to not think about that too hard…).  Then it was goodbye Jed, and off I went to have a baby! It was so strange that he couldn’t be with me. It was the only birth I’ve ever experienced without him.

The anesthesiologist numbed me up and then, before I knew it, we had a baby! They pulled Evie out and the anesthesiologist, who spoke a little English said “Gel, gel!”  I was like “Girl?  Did you say girl?” Then my doctor announced in Russian that we had a girl and the tears started flowing again. A girl!!!  Wahoooooooo!  We totally wanted a girl but were afraid to get our hopes up.  Evie cried right away.  They showed her to me super briefly and then took her straight to Jed. I just lay there crying tears of joy and wondering about Jed’s reaction to our perfect little baby. Jed said that he was pacing back and forth outside the operating room waiting for news when he heard a cry.  Then some random lady came out into the hall and just matter-of-factly said “Girl” in Russian and walked away. Hahahahaha. Hilarious. I have to say that the surgery itself seemed no different to me than my previous c-sections in the US. Everyone was very professional and I felt like I was in really good hands. Again, high-five Ukraine!

IMG_7530

The light showing a surgery in progress- eeeek!

Evie (who had no name at the time) was with Jed and I was moved up to a recovery room. After about an hour there they brought Jed and Evie up to me. I was to stay the first night in that room with Evie, but Jed wasn’t allowed to stay.  There really wasn’t any room for him there anyway. There was just a bed and then some old equipment stored in the corner. I’ll be honest, that night was the most miserable of my life.  It felt about a million hours long. I was in a bed that had to stay totally flat (it didn’t raise anyway) with zero pillows and no side rails, and Evie was with me in bed.  Try breast-feeding a few-hours-old newborn while lying flat on your back with no pillows and no help. Yeah, tricky is putting it lightly- and this wasn’t my first rodeo! A few hours into the night a nurse came in and said “You need to start turning from side to side.” I knew I needed to start moving a bit.  I knew it was important and I didn’t want to lay only on my back. But I had just been cut open and now I was supposed to get over onto my side with no pillows and no side rails and no help and with a baby in my arms! It was quite a feat, but somehow I managed without dropping the baby on the floor. Hehe. I think I deserve a prize. Another strange thing about that night was there was no call light. Soooo if I needed help I just had to wait for someone to come check on me or yell. I preferred to just wait and silently will them to come by my room.  Luckily I had no emergencies. 😉 There was also no curtain and my door was open wide to the hall all night. Hello world! No high five for that experience. It was kind of terrible.

The next morning I had to show I could get up out of the bed and then once Jed arrived they allowed me to be moved to a regular room. Hurray! We had paid for a private room so that Jed could stay with me and Evie at night. I’m so glad we did! The room had an entry area with a couch where Jed slept, a little mini fridge, and a microwave. Then through a doorway was a changing table, a bed for me, and a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower. It was a really good setup. A nurse and doctor would come see us in the morning and in the evening and that was it, unless I asked for pain medicine. No one ever came in at night. So interesting! They really kept a much looser eye on us than after a c-section in the US. They took my vital signs twice a day and had me take Evie’s temperature twice a day.  They would just ask me if her temp was normal if she was eating, and what color her poop was- the basics. 🙂 Since I knew what I was doing I actually really appreciated being left alone. But, I think if I had been a first-time mom I would have been a bit freaked.

The food situation was interesting.  We learned that I needed to have my own set of dishes if I wanted food. Every morning, midday, and evening someone would come along, knock on the door and say “Breakfast!” or “Dinner!” and I would need to take my dishes to the hallway where a lady with a cart would give me soup and tea. Each day, three times a day it was like a chicken broth with carrots, potatoes, and a little buckwheat or other grain in it. Jed would bring me food from home to supplement the meals. Each day a doctor would tell me what different foods I could add to my diet.  But she was clear on a few things: No fresh fruits or vegetables (only cooked), no fried foods, nothing sweet the first two days (not even sugar in my tea), and nothing red. My doctor was so sweet. She brought me homemade soup from her house, compote (stewed fruit juice) from her home, and some tea cookies that I could have on the third day. Her thoughtfulness really meant so much to me. I’ll be honest though, I totally didn’t stick to their food rules. I just did what we do in the US and ate what I felt like eating. Shhhh…that’s our secret.

There was no wifi at the hospital and I don’t care for Ukrainian TV, so I listened to a lot of podcasts, read some, and mostly just rested and marveled over our sweet baby.  The hospital was on quarantine because of a lot of sickness in our city, so no visitors were allowed- only Jed. He spent a few hours at home (mostly to help care for Boris) every morning and evening, so I had a lot of time just alone with Evie.  It was a completely different experience than my previous births when we had loads of visitors and family members and American TV and wifi and all that.  It was much quieter and simpler. I missed my parents so bad, and it was a little sad at times, mostly when Evie was so cute and I had no one to show her off to, but it was mostly really beautiful and special. The simplicity of it was peaceful and I needed that. We had 5 days in the hospital and it was just the right amount of time.

IMG_7514

Hurray! One month old!

The main differences I can point out between my birth experiences on both sides of the ocean:

  1. Pain Control. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. The big push after a c-section in the US is to get the mom on oral pain meds as soon as possible. At the hospital where I worked that usually included a combo of Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Oxycodone. That has worked like a dream for me in the past. But, alas, it was not to be in Ukraine. From the first day post-op, I was only given pain meds via a big ol’ shot in the behind. Oral pain meds were not an option. The only med I was given after the first day was a med similar to Toradol (kind of like a shot of Ibuprofen). It was given every 8ish hours, when I asked for it (not scheduled), and not at all at night. Did I already say ouch? ‘Cause, ouch. 🙁
  2. Call Lights. The Recovery Room and our regular room had no call lights. It was fine for me, but I always wondered what would happen in case of an emergency???  The nurse in me kinda wanted to freak out over that.
  3. Security. In the US, in the hospital where I worked, every patient has a name band and every baby has a name band and the numbers match each other.  Each newborn also has a security band that alarms if they are removed from the postpartum floor.  Before giving any medications the nurse has to scan the armband and then scan the barcode on the med and all of that jazz.  In Ukraine, I had no armband, no patient identifier at all.  Evie had a little paper band on her ankle the first day. No one ever checked my identity or anything. I imagine that’s how things used to be in the US, but I never experienced patient care like that as a nurse. Interesting.

There’s so much more I could write, but those are the main things that stand out. My only real complaint is regarding the pain control. My recovery could gotten a much quicker start if I had better pain control, but such is life. I survived. 🙂 I will say that in general, I had a great hospital experience. It far surpassed what I imagined it would be. The staff were kind, and reassuring when I had freak-out moments. They were waaaaaay more hands-off than in the US, but when I did need something they were quick to respond. My doctor was fantastic and I have nothing but good things to say about her. Sure the conditions weren’t as fancy-schmancy and there weren’t any amenities to speak of (ie. room service, massages, lactation consultants, wifi), but I had what I needed, and besides that first night I never felt like I was lacking care.

Thanks to everyone who prayed for us throughout the pregnancy and on the day of delivery.  We are truly blessed by our sweet girl and I’m super relieved to have all that surgery business behind me!

Read More
img_7188

Wide Awake Family Grew!

Last week our sweet Evangeline Joy made her appearance and we couldn’t be happier. She is already bringing us so much joy.  She is like a sweet balm on our hearts.

More to come later, but I realized that I didn’t share her arrival on the blog, and I thought you all would want to know!  Thank you for your prayers for a safe delivery and a healthy baby. Everything went smoothly and Evie is perfection.

We would sure appreciate your continued prayers for Boris. Jed and I were gone at the hospital several days last week and the transition has been difficult for him. One step forward, lots of steps back…sigh. The long road to healing can feel extra long some days. Please pray for Boris’ heart to find peace, for our other kiddos to have patience and grace as Mom and Dad’s attentions are divided yet again,  and for us for wisdom in how to best help Boris- especially Jed, since pretty much all of Boris’ care falls on his shoulders at the moment.

Thank you all! More to come. 🙂

Read More
img_6077

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!

IMG_6146

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 to 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 and 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 its 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.

IMG_6077

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!) 😉

fullsizeoutput_6de1

Read More
img_5981

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!

IMG_5981

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.

IMG_5970

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.

IMG_5985

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!

IMG_5968

Read More