Friday, May 3, 2013

Teaching Love

Every time Cava gets 20 stickers on his behavior chart, one of us takes him to the dollar store to get a prize as a reward for good behavior. Typically the prize is a puzzle. This week, as I was driving Cava to the Dollar Tree after picking him up from school, I heard Cava say, "I love money." Wow, talk about an American phrase! "Cava," I corrected him, "you shouldn't love money. You can love people, like Mommy and I love you, but you shouldn't love things that cannot love you back, such as money."

He merely repeated, "No, I love money."

Once inside the dollar store, we moved among the aisles that had summer toys, puzzles, toys, and drawing pads and crayons on them. One minute Cava wanted a puzzle. The next it was a Spiderman frisbee. Then he spotted Spiderman goggles. Since he enjoys wearing Benjamin's swimming mask in the tub, he flipped over Spiderman goggles and, after we had paid for them and were walking back to the car, he declared, "I love Spiderman goggles."

Typically, when he says the word "love" it's in conjunction to some item that he has (toy, puzzle, candy). Now this is not uncommon in children - or in many adults for that matter - but I decided to have a short conversation with Cava about his understanding of love.

When I asked him if anybody had told him that they loved him in Ukraine, he said, "No."

Thinking maybe he thought I was only referring to these words in English, I asked him if they told him they loved him in Ukrainian "я тебе люблю (ya teh-beh lyou-blyou)." Once again, he replied, "No."

"When was the first time anyone told you that they loved you?"

He thought for a minute before answering, "Mommy and Papa."

No one had told him they loved him until we came to Ukraine. Now I don't know if any care givers had ever told him they loved him, according to Cava they didn't, but it broke my heart to think of a child having spent eight years of his life never having heard those words that are so vital to their emotional and psychological development.

So I asked Cava if he knew what the word "love" meant. He shook his head, "No." I offered him a short, easy definition but I knew that words are not the best teacher, especially with a child who is just learning English. For that reason, I hugged and kissed him. "Those are two things that Mommy, Benjamin and I do to show you and each other that we love one another."

"Do you know why we love you?"

Once more, he replied, "No."

"Because you are you. We love Cava for being Cava. We think you are special and wonderful. We love you when you have a green day and we love you when you have a red day." This last part seemed to confuse him, as he still doesn't understand that you can love someone even when they act "pogano." As his therapist once told us, children in their culture are punished when they show strong emotions, particularly negative ones, so someone loving him anyway is completely new to Cava.

Like everything, understanding how to love and be loved will be a process for him. I'm just glad that he is finally hearing and experiencing what love is and that ultimately, one day, Cava will understand love as 1 John 3:1 explains it, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are."


  1. Such a beautiful post. Keep teaching that sweet little boy about love. I know the Blackwell family sure has plenty of it to go around.

  2. So heartbreaking that these children never hear the words "I love you." How thankful I am that Cava has you guys to shower him with love daily!