Thursday, January 31, 2013

Adjustments & Regiments

As we're coming to the end of the second week since Cava's come home to live with us, I am taking time to reflect on the immediate changes his arrival has brought to our family. First, I'd like to address all of the people who have commented, "Oh, he must be so grateful." Wrong! At least not any more so than our other son, though Cava will gladly say, "Spaseeba" or even "Thank you" when we give him something he likes or wants (just as he will motion with his hands for things he doesn't want, especially in relations to different foods). Yes, he may have eaten whatever they placed in front of him at the boarding school, but not here. He hadn't even left Kiev before he became a picky eater. Also gone, was making his bed in the mornings. At the boarding school, all of the kids made their beds in a way that would make any drill sergeant proud. Here at home, however, this is typically how it looks:

This is something we're working on because one thing we have realized quickly is that Cava needs a daily routine. Back at the boarding school, their days were very regimented. The kids got up at 7 am, did their chores (such as making beds, sweeping), then exercises, got dressed, ate breakfast (usually milk porridge and a warm compote fruit juice to drink), and then went to school.  From there, meals, play time, and bedtime were all set to a regulated schedule. Once Cava got here and all of that was gone, he dealt with the lack of structure in the same way he does any situation he finds overwhelming: a meltdown. This involves screaming, throwing things, his face getting redder and redder, crying, making fists, and so on. 

Now Danelle and I are having to approach how we parent Cava completely differently from how we parented Benjamin. Benjamin has had us there for him since the moment he was born. He has grown up knowing that we would be and also the expectations we have for him. Cava hasn't. As an infant, he was put in the baby house. As a toddler, he was moved to the orphanage. And then, finally, at the age of 7, he went to the boarding school. That is three different major changes. During that time, we don't know how many caregivers he has had or how good they were to him. Danelle did tell me that his last caregiver at the boarding school teared up when Cava was leaving. She also gave us her phone number, e-mail, and address if Cava ever wants to contact her. But she was one of how many? And how were the others towards Cava? Or by other children in those institutions? We don't know. With Cava there are so many unanswered questions about his background. 

Unlike Benjamin, Cava hasn't been lovingly nurtured but has had to grow up developing his own survival skills. Who has helped him to understand the world? To make it less frightening? Add to that he has been uprooted from everything he knows and is put into new surroundings with total immersion in an unfamiliar language. Needless to say, there are times when he becomes so overwhelmed that he acts out in anger and aggression. I'm currently reading Dr. Patty Cogen's book Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child and in it she writes about how children who grow up in orphanages have "stress-shaped brains." She further explains that, "A child whose brain has been shaped by stress expects danger and reacts immediately without conscious thought . . . Having a stress-shaped brain is like seeing through eyeglasses that make the whole world look threatening . . .This is the 'simple' explanation for why internationally adopted children have difficulty with identity, connection, and emotional and behavioral self-control, the cornerstones of development."

We have definitely seen this happen at least once a day with Cava. What we have begun doing is picking him and holding him while we talk in soft, soothing voices to calm him down. At first, being held only makes him more furious in his tone and movements. Still, I rock him back and forth and rub his back, all the while telling him things like, "I love you." His response is, "No love you!" "That's fine. You don't have to love me, but I love you." No matter how many times he tells me, "No love you," I simply respond with, "But I love you." Sometimes I sing the theme from Barney ("I love you. You love me. We're a happy family . . .).

In absolute hot-fury he will shout things that it's probably for the best that I don't understand what he's saying or calling me. I continue to tell him I love him and to tell him things I love about him. Once, when I got to, "And I love your smile because it makes me smile." He stopped flailing and screaming. Then he smiled a small smile. I always end with, "And I love Cava for just being Cava." No matter how much he screams and yells, I talk softly and tell him, "You don't need to yell at me. I'm right here. I'm not yelling at you so you don't have to yell at me." 

Oftentimes, when he is upset about something, I will bend down when I talk to him, look him in the eyes, and try to get him to do the same by saying, "Cava, please look at me." I want to establish a connection with him.  

The last time he had a melt-down, I began to tell him of how Mama, Papa, and Benjamin flew in a plane over the ocean to another country where we were shown pictures of many different children. I tell him how we saw his picture and wanted to meet him, so they drove us to where he lived. I continue with how, when we did meet him, we decided we wanted him to be in our family. I tell him these things because I want him to know he is loved, he is wanted, and he is part of our family no matter how hateful he acts. 

Cava is having to learn how to be in a family just as we are having to learn and rethink and readjust our family for him. This isn't easy. Having grown up as he has, what does words like home, Papa, Mama, or brother really mean to him? How does he see us? How does he see himself? As Dr. Cogen writes, "The basic question, 'Who am I?' is derailed by loss. With each new set of caregivers, whether foster parents or orphanage workers, and then adoptive parents, a child's identity and life story grow more complex. Often a child with such a . . . background concludes that he is a 'nobody'." 

So how does Cava see himself?

Those are just a small sample of the self-portraits he's taken.  One thing I've noticed is that Cava not only loves to have his picture taken, he relishes any chance he can get to take pictures with either my iPod or Benjamin's camera. He likes to take photos of us, his surroundings, and (his favorite subject) himself. 
For his birthday, we may have to buy him a camera, which may help him find a means of not only self-expression but a way of exploring the world around him safely. And we want him to find his place in both. 

When he first started in his new school, when asked his name, he gave his Ukrainian name. Today, when I was helping him with his homework, I pointed to the top line where it said "Name" and told him, "Okay, this is where you write your name." Normally he just writes down Cava, but today he both told me and wrote, "Cava Blackwell." I teared up hearing him say that. Now he may just be learning his new name at school, but to me it also shows him coming to an understanding that he is part of our family. 

One of the most important things we can do is to help Cava realize that he is loved, that he is somebody, and that he is part of our family.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Starting School

On Friday, as I'm trying to get everyone ready so we can Benjamin off to school, Cava put on his Cars backpack. He then proceeded to tell me that he was going to school like Benjamin. When we got to Benjamin's school, he got highly upset with me that I would not let him get out of the car with his big brother. With a scowl on his face and his arms crossed he angrily told me that he wanted to go to school, too.

Other than missing hearing his own language, I'm sure Cava misses being in a regimented routine like he was at the boarding school. Since I took him to the doctor for his physical last week, I went to enroll him at school on Monday. I wish I could say he was on his best behavior when I was filling out forms, but instead, Cava decided it was going to be his "Black day" (for anyone who's read Dr. Seuss' My Many Colored Days) in which he was "Mad. And LOUD. I howl. I growl at every cloud." Or in his case, he did somersaults on their couch, tried to drink the secretary's coffee, opened one of the file cabinets, and basically made me long to shout, as Gene Wilder did in Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, "Strike that! Reverse it!" so we could start all over again.  Cava met both of his teachers, one of which has a Ukrainian phrase book she is going to use to speak to him.

Since Cava will be in the Newcomers program, he will be dropped off at one school (the same school Benjamin went to, in fact, and Cava even got Benjamin's second grade teacher) and will take a bus to the school where he will spend his day learning English. Thankfully, it is a much smaller class that he'll be in. The teacher asked me all about Cava and I told her that he was at the top of his class back in the boarding school but that, after he'd finish his classwork, he'd get up and roam about the class.

Now, there's been a tradition in our family (and many other families I'm sure) of that first school day photo.  Every year, on the first day of school (which used to be after Labor Day), Mom would make us stand in front of our house and take a photo of my sister and I in our new school clothes with our new backpacks. My little sister, in her pigtails and new dress, always smiled a big smile while I appear to be suffering the torments of the damned, especially the older I got.

(Gotta' love that bowl cut that makes me look like Prince Valiant. And those 70's style jeans - could they have been rolled up any further? Now I grew up in a divided house between Carolina and Duke, so the only explanation for the State shirt was because my grandfather, Papa Fred, went there. See how happy I am to have my picture taken before my first day at Barringer Elementary?)

Despite my disgust and disdain for having my photo taken on the first day of school as I was growing up, as a parent, I have inflicted the same "tradition" on Benjamin, who is beginning to grow tired of it and moans, "Papa" as I make him pose on our back steps. So, of course, Cava will also suffer the tradition and I will tell him, as my Mom told me and I've told Benjamin, "I'm capturing memories!"

Here is a happy-to-comply Benjamin starting third grade:

Now flash forward to his first day of middle school:

Gone is the adorable smile - to be replaced by the, "Really?" look and the "Are we done yet?" look. But I don't care, I'm getting my first day of school photo for as long as I can!

Just as I did with Benjamin, I made Cava stand on the back step so I could take a photo of him on his first day of school (despite it being only 41 degrees outside and dark). Still, being someone who loves to have his picture taken, Cava was very happy to oblige me.

Unlike Benjamin, Cava was excited about starting school. In fact, he was already dressed and had his backpack on before I even got in the shower this morning. He kept telling me, "School, Papa! School!" I had to tell him, "Not yet, Cava, it's only 6:30."

Since he noticed that Benjamin's backpack was full of books, he wanted to put some of his books (especially his "Masha and the Bear" one) in his so he would have some too. Gotta' be like his big brother!

As nervous as I was when Benjamin first started school, it was nothing like the nerves I feel about Cava's.  How will he react? Which of his many colored days will he get?

Before we left Benjamin's school for Cava's, Yulia Helm met us and talked with Cava for about 20 minutes all about school, what he should expect, and how he should act. Proud of his new Toy Story lunchbox, Cava had to show not only it to her but all of the contents inside.  As she was telling him that his lunch was only for him, he told her it wasn't.  When she asked him what he meant, he replied that he would share some of his food with the girls.  What?  Only 8 and already a ladies' man? In fact, he mentioned sharing with his girlfriend.  Yulia asked him if he meant his girlfriend in Ukraine. He shook his head no.  "Here in Gastonia?" He shook his head in the affirmative. As soon as he did, I immediately knew who the girl was because he had given a lollipop to a little girl in his class that we met when we enrolled him.

Like I do with Benjamin, I prayed a short prayer with Cava before we entered his school together. Once inside, we were greeted by everyone and Cava smiled and told them all, "Hello." He met the bus driver who would be taking him from one school (his home school where he will be dropped off and picked up) to the one with the International Center and the Newcomers Program. As He has with all of this adoption journey, God is looking out for us because the bus driver comes from a Ukrainian family.  He even greeted Cava in Ukrainian.

At the school, they walked Cava to his new class while a woman in the office asked me all about Cava and how he interacts socially, whether there is any attachment disorder, any behavioral problems, etcetera. She told me more about the program and about Cava's class. He is one of 11 students. They have a teacher and a teacher's assistant. There are children from various countries. She then took me to Cava's class where they had Ukraine up on the Smart Board using Google map so all of the kids could learn about where Cava was from.  She then showed the students where Cava's country was in location to the countries they were from.

The teacher told me that when she introduced Cava to each child, Cava repeated their names back. She also told me that Cava introduced himself by his Ukrainian name. This doesn't surprise me as he hasn't learned his American name yet. Before I left, the teacher told me that they have an open door policy and that I could sit in on the class any time I wanted to.

Around 11 am, I got a call while I was working from the school. My first reaction was, "Oh no, what has he done?" But these fears were put to rest when they said they'd just called to let me know how well Cava was doing: staying in his seat, raising his hand, not talking when he's not supposed to be (all of the things Mrs. Yulia told him to do).  I was so proud to hear this and so proud of my Cava.  

At 1:45, I picked Cava up from school.  He was conversing with his teachers and the women in the office.  His teacher informed me that Cava did well on his first day, though he did speak up when he was supposed to be quiet. In spite of my fixing his lunch, Cava was overjoyed by the school cafeteria and wanted to eat everything.  He was so excited by his food that he spilled some of his milk. So he ate cafeteria food and the lunch I packed him (Just like his older brother used to do).

Cava was very proud of his schoolwork and had to show it to me. He also has his first homework, so tonight we'll be practicing writing our letters.

Glad he had a great first day and will be curious to see how tomorrow goes when he rides the bus for the first time!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday School & Spiderman

Since today is Sunday, we went to church. Like everything, Danelle and I decided to tag team it. Danelle chose going with Cava to his Sunday school class and I would deal with him come the main church service. I thought for sure I would be taking a bullet, but such was not the case. Cava lasted about an hour in Sunday school before Danelle had to walk with him for the rest of the time. He had to look in all the classes and had to say "hello" to everyone he passed. When the growth group that Danelle and I go to was over, she brought Cava in. All of the people in our group, who had followed this blog, were thrilled to finally meet him. I wish I could say Cava was on his best behavior, but he was too fascinated with the dry erase board. He did like seeing Yulia again (we had dinner at their house last night) and talking with her.

We ran into a good many of the families from our Adoption Foster Care Group and all were delighted to meet Cava, welcome Danelle back, and to see how we all of us are doing with the new adjustments. It's so cool to finally have him here when we have been talking about him (even long before we knew him) in the Adoption Foster Care Group.

Normally we sit in the balcony, but today, we decided to sit on the lower level on the back room, so that it would be easier if I had to take Cava out.  During praise and worship, I held Cava some of the time. At one point, he tried to sing along. Then our pastor took the podium to preach and Cava entertained himself with a "Cars" sticker and coloring book - for awhile. When that book no longer held his interest, Cava took turns laying on either Benjamin or myself.

Once out of church, the madness began as he darted about the lobby amidst the crowd in an attempt to see everything. I got him outside where he ran and laughed about with Benjamin.

With all of his energy, we knew we had to get him outside to play and we drove him to a nearby school that Benjamin had gone to.  There we all had to play "Spiderman," his favorite superhero. Here is the web-slinger hanging from his web:

And here he is being cornered by the bad guys high above the city:

After a fun time on the playground, Danelle and I tag-teamed again.  I spent some time with Benjamin. He had some Christmas money burning a hole in his pocket, so we went to his "toy" store (Radio Shack). As usual, he looked through all of the drawers with components, integrated circuits, and motors. The assistant manager was glad to see him and inquired what new project Benjamin was working on. I love to see how happy it makes Benjamin to talk about what he loves. Even though Radio Shack isn't my favorite place to browse, I took the time to ask Benjamin about different items he was looking at, which Benjamin was more than happy to tell me what they were for. Even though I didn't know what he was talking about, I didn't care, I just liked spending time with my elder son.  

On the way home, I asked Benjamin if he was jealous of Cava.  "Some," he replied, "but it's not too bad." I told him that I knew it had to be hard on him since he'd been our only child for so long. We began to talk about it and how Danelle and I never wanted him to feel forgotten or overlooked. I also told him how much I loved talking to him and it was one of the things I missed most about our drives to and from school (since Cava so often wants Benjamin's attention). As I've written before, Danelle and I are making a conscience decision to make sure that one of us is spending time with Benjamin and one with Cava. 

The first week is now over. It's hard to believe Cava has been with us only one week. I'm amazed at how well he's adjusting to being a part of his new family. Watching all of us interact with one another makes me see how God has truly blessed me and I'm thankful for the new and improved family He's given me.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Wintry Friday

The area where we live tends not to get a lot of snow or wintry mix, so schools around here tend to over react at the slightest suggestion of snow or ice. Needless to say, Benjamin was thrilled to get out of school by ten o clock.  Cava was thrilled that his big brother was home.  And both were thrilled when I started to make a chocolate cake.

Knowing that all of us would go stir crazy since we couldn't go outside to play, I decided to be creative and bring the outdoors indoors, so to speak, by putting up our small pup tent in the living room.  Both boys were over the moon and promptly had their sleeping bags, pillows, and lantern inside it (along with themselves).

Of course, it's not enough to just do indoor camping, so I instantly realized that if we were going to do indoor camping right then we would most definitely have to have an indoor picnic. Benjamin put down some of our beach blankets on the living room floor and we enjoyed our plates of bologna sandwiches, a cheese stick for Cava, a pickle for Benjamin, grapes, and juice boxes.

Lunch was followed by chocolate cake, which Cava gave a big thumbs up to.

After we played a few board games (Yes, Candyland was among them.  I've now played this game so much I'm considering taking up residence there) and then a rousing game of hide n' go seek.

Wanting to watch a movie, Cava chose "Beauty and the Beast."  He got highly upset when Gaston hurt Beast. Something I'm learning is that Cava gets very emotional about what he watches (which means I am very selective about what he sees). Whenever he watches "Dora the Explorer," he gets very angry whenever Swiper actually swipes something. I calm him down by rubbing his back and telling him, "It'll be okay. Everything will turn out all right. You'll see." He is delighted and very exuberant when every one did live happily ever after.

Needless to say, I am polling high in the Papa polls today.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cava Goes To The Doctor

Today we took Cava to Benjamin's pediatrician for a physical before we enroll him in school.  He is 46" tall and a little over 45 pounds.  Our friend, Yulia Helm, came to help translate, which was a really big help since Cava had to have 2 shots and a PPD test (For the record, he didn't even flinch.  He did love the band-aids the nurse put on the spots where he got the shots). Here is a photo Cava took of her with my iPod:

After examining him the doctor said Cava appeared to be in good health, which we were thankful to hear.

Whenever the doctor was out of the room, Yulia would look through Cava's medical transcripts, which are in Russian. Here is the photo Cava took:

She told us that Cava had been born prematurely, that he sat up at 7 months, and was walking at around a year and a half. It was amazing to hear what the doctors had written about my son and to know a little more about his history.

I am indebted to Yulia for taking time out of her day to come and help us. Cava definitely enjoys talking to her and snapping her photo. He smiles whenever he talks to her.  Today he told her that he wants to go to school like his brother Benjamin.  That's great because it's our next adventure on Monday when we go to  school to enroll him.

So, to Yulia, we both say a great big:


Things I'm Learning About Cava

This week, with Benjamin at school and Danelle at work during the day (I go to work when she gets home), I am getting to spend lots of time with Cava and not only learning about him but also re-learning how to parent (as what may have worked for Benjamin does not work for Cava).

He loves his "Masha i Medved" DVD and constantly wants to watch it.  Now, I limit the amount of television he watches because he could watch certain shows all day long (Spiderman, Gerald McBoing Boing, Batman).  I understand his attachment to Masha and the Bear because it's the one DVD he understands everything they are saying.  But, as cute as Masha is, there's only so much of it I can take. Cava, however, decides he is going to throw a tantrum whenever he doesn't get his way. Now, if he simply goes and sulks under his blankets, I let it go.  If, however, he decides to storm around the house and try to take out his frustrations on any object he comes across, then I won't put up with it.

Since I understand that part of his anger is frustration at not being understood or understanding so much, I pick him up, sit him on my lap, and rock him back and forth as I talk to him soothingly.  One thing I repeat to him is that I love him as I rub his back.  This generally calms him down.  After I've calmed him down, I have him look me in the eyes and I tell him that we don't act like that in this house.  He may not understand the words but by the firmness of my tone he gets the gist.

One thing I am definitely having to learn is patience and understanding. This can only make me a better parent. I constantly have to assess the best way to communicate with Cava in a way that he can understand me.

Since he is limited by language, I have taught him how to play two games: Memory and, his new favorite, Candyland. (We're still working on Connect 4).  Candyland works well since it helps me teach him about colors and numbers and because it involves repetition of saying both.  (Two green.  You have two green.  Move two green). I highly recommend for those adopting older children who don't speak the language, getting these two games

Years ago, I worked with our local adult literacy group. When I worked with grown-ups and was teaching them how to read, whenever they got tired of reading the assigned books, I would go to the kids section of the library and get a Dr. Seuss book. It's amazing how they would light up reading the simple, rhyming sentences of his books. Since Cava is not one to stay still long, I opted out of the longer Horton Hears a Who, and picked the one that was the favorite of all my adult students - Green Eggs and Ham.  Even though Cava didn't understand all of the words (he did get ones like house and fox), he smiled, giggled, and even began to repeat some of the lines back to me as I was reading them to him.  That is another great thing about Green Eggs and Ham that helped my adult students, it repeats a lot.

While we're riding in the car, just as with the DVD, Cava wants to constantly hear his "Masha i Medved" CD. Like the DVD, after awhile, I get tired of hearing even Masha's cute little voice. This morning, I put in a CD that Benjamin loved when he was little.  One thing Benjamin and Cava have in common - the only veggies they like are named Bob and Larry. Despite never having heard it before, it did not take Cava long before he began singing along with Larry on "Where Is My Hairbrush?" Of course I had to play that song again. And again. And again. But I didn't mind and sang along with them at the top of our off-key voices. As with Candyland and Green Eggs and Ham, this silly song involved repetition.

Since Cava is a very active 8 year old boy, I make sure to get him outside for plenty of exercise and playtime (even if it is only 35 degrees, which is nothing having been in Ukraine in December). It is amazing how, yesterday, when it was 37 degrees, we had the whole park to ourselves.

He probably thinks all we do is go to a different playground every day.

At home, we go outside and kick a soccer ball or, his new favorite, hit the birdie back and forth with our badminton rackets. 

If he hits the birdie back and I miss it, he goes, "YES!"  But if he misses the birdie, he teasingly shakes the racket at me and I shake mine back.

Sometimes he'll stop, hold the racket like a guitar, start jamming and singing in a very loud voice. I have no clue what he's singing, but I can't help but laugh and be entertained by this little show off. He was definitely class clown back at his boarding school. As well as being someone who loves to pose for photos.

Still, as I mentioned earlier, it's not all smiles and giggles. Sometimes he throws tantrums or has meltdowns, and, at other times, a sadness comes over him. Once, while he and Benjamin were watching "Cars," Cava got up and walked out. When he didn't come back right away, I looked in their room and saw Cava sitting on the bed. I went in, sat on the bed right up close to him, and without saying a word, just put my arm around him. We sat there for a few moments and then, he got up from the bed, and returned to watching the DVD with Benjamin.

When we went to go pick Benjamin up from school, Yulia Helm came over and began to talk to Cava in Russian. Cava looked so happy talking with her and being understood. I must admit I felt a real twinge of jealousy. There's nothing I would like more than to have a conversation with Cava just as I do with Benjamin. They talked about many different things, but during the course of their talk she asked him if he liked it here in America or if he wanted to go back to Ukraine. He answered the latter. When she asked him why, he said he wouldn't tell her. Though I understood that, having only been here since Saturday, he would be homesick for all that he has known in his eight years, it still saddened me to hear those words. I choked up repeating it to Danelle when I spoke to her on the phone. I could tell from her silence that she was saddened too. As any parent will tell you, we want our children to be happy. I know I've told Benjamin that if God asked me if I could either have my dream of being a published writer granted or that He would make Benjamin's dream (whether that be in science or computers or whatever) that I would choose to have Benjamin realize his dream than my own. Benjamin was shocked to hear this. I told him, "Wait until you have children of your own." 

I can't imagine how extremely frustrating it must be for an 8 year old boy struggling to understand and be understood in a foreign country and a foreign language. When I was his age, I was an introverted, shy kid. I try to imagine my 8 year old self being in a new country, with a new family, where I didn't know what they or anyone else was saying, and they didn't understand me. I look at Cava and I'm amazed at how much better he is at coping with all of this than I would have been.

My goal as his Papa is to make this transition for him to have the least amount of stress that I can. Like with Benjamin, I love Cava and want him to know that so he can feel safe. Yes, this is his first week here and I know that we will continue to have plenty of bumps in the road ahead, but through a lot of prayer, patience, and love we will all become closer as a new and improved family. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Becoming Brothers

When my wife and I originally decided we were taking Benjamin with us as we traveled to Ukraine to adopt a child, there were a great many people who tried to argue against us taking him.  They offered some valid arguments (extra stress considering the amount of travel and waiting involved or that he could get sick over there were two of them), but we felt it was extremely important that Benjamin meet his new sibling exactly when we did.  For one, we wanted Benjamin to see where his sibling was coming from and also to see how they bonded.  Anyone who's read about our meeting Cava knows, Benjamin was the first to connect with Cava.

From the moment they played together, Benjamin knew that Cava was his brother - and he told us so.  If we hadn't taken him and we had brought back a brother instead of a sister, Benjamin might have had a harder time accepting Cava.  But the first thing out of his mouth when I asked if we should adopt Cava was, "He's my brother."  This was a real change of heart for Benjamin.  Before we left for Ukraine, Danelle and I would pray for the child that God had for us, boy or girl.  Benjamin would immediately pray, "Don't listen to them God.  I want a sister and only a sister."

In some ways, the two of them are very similar: both are inquisitive, like to take things apart to see how they work (which can be a good or a bad thing), headstrong, and picky eaters.  While Benjamin has always been pretty much a sedate child, Cava is rambunctious and extremely active.  Benjamin has never been one to play with trains or cars or action figures, but prefers to play with things he can build and create with (Tinker Toys, blocks, Erector Sets, science kits, and computers).  Cava loves cars, superheroes (particularly Batman and Spiderman), kicking a soccer ball, and anything that involves activity and motion.  

Needless to say, now that Cava is here, in Benjamin's space, there has definitely been some adjusting to do.

Benjamin has always liked his room to be his way.  It is not just a room, but a "lab" and an "office." He views his room as his working space where he can create. Now that he's having to share that room until Cava adjusts enough to go to his own room, Benjamin is learning what it means to have a brother around all the time. No matter how much Danelle and I talked with him before Cava came, nothing could truly prepare this only child to having a younger sibling.

So there have been times when Benjamin will tell me, "I need my privacy."  If I can, I will take Cava into our playroom (the sun-room that used to be my art room with my drawing board, art supplies, and books) and we will build castles with Benjamin's old Imaginext toys or we'll play with the Shake N Go Race-track that was given to us and has quickly become Cava's favorite.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Benjamin was out of school, we went with David Fogarty and his son Shane (who is a year younger than Benjamin and has been one of his best friends for years) to a park.  Benjamin played with Shane, but, being the big brother, would include Cava in some of the time when they played games like hide n go seek. Still, there were times when Benjamin wanted Shane to himself, so David and I played with Cava.  David even tried to teach Cava how to swing by himself (with some success) or Tic Tac Toe (to no success).

When we walked around the lake, David was showing the boys how to skip stones across the water, though Cava was more interested in tossing them (or sticks) into the water to make splashes. Or he chased after ducks, so much so I had to stop him from going into the lake to catch them. Once again, there were moments where Benjamin wanted to be with just Shane and they would walk off way ahead of us (Cava is a very slow mover). At other times, he would come over to Cava and put his arm around him.

Benjamin was also the concerned big brother when we were on the dock because he was afraid Cava was going to fall over into the lake.  "Papa!  Come and get him," he'd yell at me as he held onto Cava's legs.  Benjamin would do this even when I was standing right next to Cava.  "He's fine," I'd try and calm him down, "Do you really think I'd let him fall into the water?"  "I just don't want anything to happen to my brother," he'd say.  "I won't let anything happen to him," I replied.  Still, Benjamin said, "I think we should just stay off the docks."

Today was the first day that I was alone with Cava for most of the day.  I got quite a few calls checking up on me to see how I was doing and it was going.  I'm not sure why, I was a stay-at-home dad for awhile with Benjamin. When we went to pick Benjamin up from school, as soon as Cava saw him coming out, he yelled at the top of his lungs out the window, "BENJAMIN!  BENJAMIN!" There was such unbridled happiness to see his big brother.
Still, when they got home, Benjamin wanted to go onto his computer and Cava wanted to watch TV (he has gotten upset with me numerous times because I limit the amount he watches.  He's very Americanized in his desire to watch TV and play video games).  I told both he and Benjamin to play with each other, but both sulked at my decree that I wanted to find neither one of them in front of any type of screen. (Just as a side note, I truly believe kids imaginations are being damaged by their being constantly entertained. I think they need moments where they are bored so that they can create their own games and use their imaginations). So I sent them both outside, got out the soccer ball, a couple of badminton rackets, and a couple of birdies and told them, "Have fun."  And they did.  They kicked the ball for awhile and then, when they were done with that, they each were out there swatting their rackets at birdies in an attempt to hit them. But they were laughing and smiling and having fun with each other.

But I think all of this is part of being brothers.  I grew up with a younger sister.  Sometimes we loved playing with each other and sometimes we loved getting on each other's nerves. There will be bickering and fighting, but there will be moments of pure joy. Like my sister and I, Benjamin and Cava will do the same.  I've already heard Benjamin calling to me, "PAPA!  Cava's got my . . ."  Welcome to having a sibling. That's all part of it. Like the opening theme to The Facts of Life, "You take the good / You take the bad / And there you have the facts of life."  Or the facts of being brothers.  It's all part of it. And all of it will be remembered later, when they're both grown up, and they'll laugh about it just as my sister and I do now. Both elements will bring them closer together because Benjamin and Cava know that they love each other as brothers. They knew it before Danelle and I knew it. It was there from the very first moment and it will be there long after Danelle and I are gone. Theirs is a heart bond that cannot be broken.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Soccer, KFC, & Meeting Family

When we arrived at our house, Cava recognized it from the photo album we gave him at the boarding school. As soon as we pulled up into the driveway, he pointed excitedly and exclaimed, "Cavas' дома."  (Cava's home).  For dinner, I fixed him kielbasa, green beans, and carrots.  He ate all but the green beans, which he doesn't like.  Cava also ate a banana and some yogurt.

Being at his new home was like Disney Land and Christmas all wrapped in one. Cava had to explore every room and he was fascinated by not only the toys but by an old cell phone of ours that didn't work any more. He has to carry "Cava's telephone" with him every where.  He will put the phone in his pocket and take it out every so often.  Sometimes he pretends he's checking the time, other times he pretends to snap our photo and he even makes the "click" sound, and he also pretends to talk on it. When he's talking, he will hold up his hand to me as if to let me know that he's not to be disturbed because he's taking an important phone call.

More than any of the toys, Cava loved our dog Chloe.  Poor Chloe, her paws have barely touched the ground because Cava is always wanting to carry his "Собака."  Chloe is always "Собака" but, when he watched an episode of "Blues Clues" with Benjamin, he referred to Blue as "dog."

I am extremely glad I bought the "Masha and the Bear" DVD for him because he is constantly wanting to watch it.  Although he did watch some of "Cars" and episodes of "Gerald McBoing Boing."  When he watches "Masha i Medved" whenever the music plays at the beginning or the end of each episode, he waves his hands like he's conducting an orchestra.  If I'm watching with him, he either has to sit in my lap or right next to me with my arm around him.  If I'm not watching with him, when the episode ends, he has to come and find me to tell me what happened. He always does this with a big grin on his face, a laugh, and very animated hands.  Benjamin asked me, "Do you even know what he's saying to you?"  "No," I replied, "but it's obvious that he's happy and that makes me happy."

That first night, by 8:30 everyone but me was fast asleep in bed.

As if to let us know that having a new member in our family will be an adjustment for all of us, Cava woke up at 5:46 am.

Around noon, my dad and his girlfriend, Yvette, came up for a visit.

Yvette brought Cava a soccer ball. We played with him for around a half hour.  It's funny but we have a kickball that Benjamin tried to get Cava to kick but he wouldn't, but when he had a real soccer ball then he would.

After playing for awhile, everyone worked up an appetite.  Knowing that Cava liked eating chicken legs, we went to KFC for lunch.  My sister and her youngest daughter, Bethany, met us there.  Cava took an instant shine to Bethany and he flirted with her much of the time. She got him to dip his fries and chicken leg in honey mustard. He loved the chicken, the biscuits, but not mashed potatoes or, to Benjamin's horror, the Mac & Cheese.

From there we drove to Martha Rivers Park or, as Benjamin calls it, "The castle park." Like Benjamin and all of my nieces and nephews have, Cava loved this playground. His favorite was the swings, which he had me push him on.

I guess he loved the swings so much because the playground at his boarding school didn't have any. But he and his big brother had fun playing hide n go seek, climbing, sliding, and just getting their energy out (of which Cava has enough to run a power plant).

The adults sat and talked while they played, but when Cava finally came over, he sat down next to his Aunt Kristen who, like a good aunt, made over him.

She also let him play on her smart phone.  And what did he want to do? Watch "Masha i Medved" on YouTube.

For dinner we had one of our family's favorites - breakfast.  Cava loved his scrambled eggs and sausage links.  

By 8 pm, we had started watching "Once Upon a Time," something we do every Sunday night.  Cava didn't come in to watch and he was real quiet, so I got up to check on him.  He was in bed asleep. Tuckered out by a fun and exhausting day.  Of course, he then proceeded to wake up at 5 am.  We have to get his internal clock in sync with our time zone!


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Our New & Improved Family Reunited

The day has finally come - they're home!

I cannot believe that this joyous day is here.

Yes, I am one proud Papa to be holding his son again.

Cava was very, very ready to get in the car and go to his "domo."  

Here are two happy brothers glad to be with each other again.

All the way home, he rode with his window down and pointing at every airplane he saw - which was a lot since we were leaving Charlotte Douglas Airport.  At one point he looked out his window and said, "America."

Once home, the whirling dervish that is the Cava cyclone had to investigate every room and every thing in each room.  Cava loved the balloons that the Brices brought over today to welcome him.

He also had to put on his new soccer slippers.

He was very excited to see his new "собака" Chloe.

It was like Christmas Day for him to be in his new home in America.