In ten days we’ll have been in Ukraine for six months. Crazy. On one hand it feels like “Where did the time go?”, but mostly it feels like a whole lot longer than that. I don’t say that in a negative way, just in an honest way. Every thing has changed. Everything. In Ezra’s words, “Everything about Ukraine is different…except McDonalds.” It feels like a very long time since we and our 12 suitcases (TWELVE!!!) crossed the ocean. It feels like much more than 6 months ago.
In many ways, I feel great right now. I feel like we’re in our groove with MTU. We are loved there and we love many people there. We have a bit of a schedule there and are able to be a very practical help to them. Of course, the work at Romaniv is AWESOME and we are loving that. We are pretty good at shopping now, we know the bus routes, and we were able to actually communicate with our landlady last week without calling any English speakers for help. In some ways, we have really grown and feel at home here.
In other ways, we struggle. I won’t speak for Jed about his struggles, but I thought I would share a bit of my own. I think I have a tendency to always write about the good and neglect sharing about the bad or the difficult. I don’t want to be a complainer, and sharing your struggles is really putting yourself out there. Not many people enjoy doing that…but I feel like I need to do it. It’s not a fair picture to only paint the good. This is real life, and I’m determined to be a real person. So, here ya go.
The past few weeks were hard for me, probably the hardest yet. Things are getting better now, but it was a bit rough, internally. Let’s just say I’m having a harder time letting go than I had anticipated. My Mommy heart has been struggling in big ways.
Of course, when we were preparing to move here I anticipated that I would experience loneliness and isolation. I knew I would miss my family and friends, my church, and the familiarity of everyday life. I do miss all those things, but I can deal. I know that I know I’m exactly where God wants me to be. I am learning that He is enough, and He continues to give me the strength to say yes.
I guess what I didn’t anticipate was how difficult this road would be as a mother. Really, how could I anticipate it? I had no one to talk to who had followed this path before, and anyone with a bit of a similar situation experienced their story in a different culture than this. I still have no one to talk to who has walked this road before in Ukraine. But, I’m learning to be okay with that.
The thing is, I’ve been subconsciously trying to recreate my childhood, a middle-class American childhood, in Ukraine. Ummmmm yeah….not gonna work. I KNOW THAT. I know we don’t live in suburban America. I know that EVERYTHING is different (I said that already). But knowing that, and living that are two different things.
I’m just now learning how much of my mothering expectations and family expectations are based on American culture. It’s all I know! Of course, I expect what I know. I don’t know anything different. I don’t know how to mother my children in this place. Jed and I chose to come here. Our children didn’t get a choice. I don’t know what to do when they’re on the playground and they are surrounded by children they can’t speak to. Do I push them to go try to make friends or do I let them just be their own little island, playing only with each other? I don’t know what to do when my Hava comes up to me crying at a picnic full of kids because she has no friends and no one will play with her. I don’t know how to continue to build their English reading and writing skills when they are in Ukrainian school. Ezra was just really learning how to read and write in English, and now his day is spent reading and writing a language he doesn’t understand. What do I do with that? I’m not sure any of my favorite homeschool books cover that scenario.
“The kids will be fine!”
“Kids don’t need language to play! Just put them out on the playground and they’ll make friends in no time!”
“Kids learn language so fast. Before you know it your kids will be translating for you!”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard those words…
Let me tell you, it’s not as easy as all that. It just plain isn’t. Maybe in some cultures, kids don’t need language to make new friends, but in this culture they do. This isn’t the most open culture. Kids are shy. Kids are more closed. We are the oddity in our town. We are like a walking zoo. Ha! There is no one like us that I know of in our town, and it shows. Our kids are understanding more all the time, but they can barely speak to other children. I know, I know, it’s only been 6 months, but I can vouch that 6 months feels like an eternity when your kids’ hearts are involved. It’s just plain hard, and for the past few weeks, I’ve felt tired and discouraged.
I want my kids to be able to talk to other kids, just chat and goof around. I want other kids to know them. They are great little people, but no one knows that because they can’t speak. I want them to have friends and to be able to respond when approached by other children.
I want those things, but then I wonder, how many of my expectations are based on modern American culture, and how many are really essential for their health and happiness?
The kids are happy. Sure they are awkward in social situations, but otherwise they are happy. They have each other and they love each other deeply. They are happy to run and play together, regardless of what other kids around them are doing. They are like a little tribe, oblivious to anyone else. So I find that I’m putting expectations on their childhood that they don’t even have for themselves! They don’t know what my childhood was, so they don’t have that expectation of their own. They don’t see other kids’ lives on Facebook and compare them with their own. What they are experiencing now is their own childhood, and it is shaping them just as my childhood shaped me.
For instance, right now we’re reading through the Little House on the Prairie books as a family. In Little House in the Big Woods, I was struck by how infrequently Mary and Laura had contact with other children. They were mostly just home with Ma and Pa, yet according to the books they were as content as can be! They weren’t pining away for sleepovers and play dates…the Big Woods was what they knew and it was enough. When they drove into town for the first time Laura described how they saw children playing outside the houses. Never was it mentioned how she wished she was one of those children with tons of neighbors all around. They had the security of their family. They knew they were loved. They had each other and they were content.
My children don’t pine away for sleepovers and play dates and homeschool co-op, but I find myself pining away on their behalf. I guess it’s because I know that’s what their American friends are doing and I feel they are missing out on what “should be”. In my mind, those things are what make a childhood. BUT, there are plenty of varieties of “happy childhood”. Of course, they miss their friends, and if given the option they would love to be a part of that life again, but they rarely talk about it. Their life is here. They have each other. They have our love. Their life is rich here and most of the time they seem content. But then there is the occasional Skype or Facetime with a friend back in the US and things begin to unravel. I want them to be able to keep those friendships, but it is hard on their little hearts. Sigh….I think that’s another topic altogether.
Those are the thoughts and ramblings that have been tearing at my heart. My heart knows that my children were called here. My heart knows that they need to live here and this needs to be their life experience in order for God to make them fully who He intends for them to be. But knowing all of that doesn’t make this easy. It’s hard to watch your children struggle. It’s hard when everyone blows it off and makes it sound like all of this adjustment will come easily to them. Maybe in the long run we’ll look back and see that the struggle was brief and it did, in fact, come easily, but in the meantime, it doesn’t feel easy at all. Just because a pregnant woman had a quick labor doesn’t mean the labor didn’t hurt.
So, I continue to work at letting go. I give my kids over to God and trust that He knows what is best for them. I trust that He will give us wisdom when no parenting or mothering book seems to apply (because none of them seem at all relevant right now). I trust that this will get easier and slowly they will find their place in this culture.
Most of all I am working at letting go of my priorities and desperately seeking God’s priorities. Who cares about sleepovers and play dates if their little hearts are far from the Lord? This world is not all that there is. We were made for eternity! This life is a blink of an eye compared to what we were really created for. Our main job as parents is not to find our kids more friends on the playground or ensure they are happy and accepted at school. Our main job is to point them to Jesus. I want my kids to see that He is all that matters and that living abandoned to him is worth it. It.is.worth.it. On the hard days when we are lonely and feel like we don’t fit anywhere- He is worth it. I want to end my race having absolutely spent myself- holding nothing back. I want that for my children.
The American dream is not what I was created for. I was created for Him. Our children were created for Him. He is the priority. May I never forget it. May I let go of myself and my wants and cling to Him. May our children live lives of YES. Isn’t that what truly matters? I’ve learned from experience that saying YES to Him brings the greatest happiness EVER. That is the variety of happy childhood I want for my babies. I just need a reminder of that every day or so. 🙂