In school, Cava has been learning about different artists. He was thrilled when they were learning about Van Gogh because his play therapist has copies of Van Gogh's work hanging in her waiting room.
This week his class was learning about the murals of Diego Rivera. For those who don't know, Diego Rivera was famous for his murals of Mexican history and because of them helped start the Mexican Mural Movement.
Cava's teacher gave the kids in her class the assignment of painting a mural of the country they came from. She even got a book on Ukraine for Cava to look at and use for inspiration. Cava, however, would have none of it.
He told Ms. W emphatically that he didn't want to.
When she informed me of this, I told her how he is trying to assimilate and is wanting to forget about Ukraine.
In fact, one day, he came running up to me from playing on a playground and said, "I only speak English and Spanish."
"What about Ukraine?" I asked.
"No," he replied firmly, "No Ukraine." And ran back to play.
Later the day Ms. W had told me about the mural assignment, as we were waiting in the car line to pick up Benjamin from school, I decided to ask Cava about why he didn't want to paint a mural of Ukraine. He didn't like my question and snapped, "No Ukraine! No like Ukraine!"
"Cava," I continued, "does it make you sad to think of Ukraine?"
He paused before answering, "Da."
"So you miss Ukraine?"
"You know, it's okay for you to miss Ukraine. Cava, you spent all of your life there and have only been here four months. It's natural for you to be sad and miss Ukraine."
Cava looked surprised that I was saying this to him.
"Benjamin has lived in the same house for 13 years and, if we move, he will be sad to leave it. You left all you knew, including your language and your country, to come here. It's okay for you to be sad and miss it. And you can tell us that your sad and that you miss Ukraine. Cava, we won't send you back. Besides, we love Ukraine. When Mommy, Benjamin and I think of Ukraine, we only have good memories because Ukraine is what brought us you. We think of Ukraine in terms of the blessing that God gave us by bringing you to us."
I could tell that these words were really sinking in with him.
"Cava, you don't have to paint a mural of Ukraine if it will make you too sad. Would you like to paint one of your life here??"
He perked up, "Da."
"Okay. I'll tell Ms. W that you want to paint a mural of your new life."
When we got home, I took the book on Ukraine out of his book-bag and began to look through it. As I did, Cava came and sat next to me on the couch. As I would turn the pages, I would say things like, "See what a beautiful country Ukraine is?" Cava would quietly reply, "Da." And I showed him on the Ukrainian map where he lived and he liked seeing and hearing about it. He also perked up whenever he saw something he recognized (typically places he went after he left the boarding school such as Odessa and Kiev). But he sat up close next to me and we looked through the entire book. "And all of this makes me think of you," I told him and kissed his head. "So that's why Ukraine makes Papa happy."
Later in the week, I picked Cava up from school and his teacher, Ms. Scarborough, was telling me all about the mural Cava was working on. From the images she was describing, I realized that he was painting a mural of Ukraine. Still, I didn't say anything. In the car ride home, I merely said, "That sounds like an awesome mural you're working on."
"Da," he smiled, "Ukraine."
"So you're painting a mural of Ukraine?"
"That's wonderful! I am so excited and I can't wait to see it."
And I can't.
I'm hoping that his painting the country he came from is a way of accepting it and not feeling like he has to distance himself from Ukraine but that it can be a part of him and his history.
On his mural, he's painting St. Michael's in Kiev. Also on his mural are a deer, a forest, hryvnia (Ukrainian money), among other things he remembers either from seeing at the boarding school or after he left and went to Odessa and Kiev. I will post a photo of the finished mural when he's done.
It broke my heart that Cava felt he had to grieve for his past in silence, that he was afraid to tell us that he still missed his former country, but I'm hoping now that he will understand that he can share that with us and we still love him. It's important for him to comprehend that he is not alone and that, as part of a family, we share in all of life (good and bad, happy and sad) with each other. He needs to know that it's natural and not shameful. The word "adopt" means to accept. That's what Cava is slowly learning, that he is accepted and loved - that all of him is loved and accepted.
Perhaps painting this mural will be one step towards coming to terms with his loss, his memories, and the country that helped shaped who he is.