Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cava's First Halloween

Despite being 8 years old, Cava is getting to experience many firsts that so many other kids his age take for granted. Last night, he was wired with excited anticipation over getting to celebrate his first Halloween. Putting him to bed was fun since he was practically bouncing off the walls (and he hasn't even had any candy yet - what's he going to be like after Trick or Treating?). 

At school today, his class had their Fall Party and I was slated to bring the cupcakes so Cava kept reminding me of this from the time he got up until the time I dropped him off at school. I told him, "Cava, I know. I got this." I had gotten Fall cupcakes earlier in the week to ensure that I would have them for today.

The party started at 1:30 pm, so I got there a little early. Since Benjamin went to elementary school here, I always get lots of questions about him and how he's doing. I love hearing how much the teachers and staff liked my son and think highly of him.

After signing in, I walked down the hall to Cava's class. They were busy making scarecrows using popsicle sticks.

After the kids had finished this Fall craft, snacks were passed out. Cupcakes, carrots, apples and pretzels. Guess which ones the kids started with? To my surprise, Cava started with his apple slices, though he did love dipping them in caramel. 

I got a small chair and sat next to him. As he ate, the other kids around him asked me lots of questions. 

"So your Cava's dad?" (I used to get asked, "So your Ben's dad?").

"Where's Cava's mom?"
"At work."

"You're from Texas?"
"No, Cava's Mom grew up in Texas."

"Where's Cava from?"
"Where's that?"
"It's near Russia."
"So he's Russian?"
"No, he's Ukrainian."
"Are you Ukrainian too?"
"No. I was born in Alabama."

The conversation was making me a little anxious because I know that what Cava wants most is to fit in and he gets irritated whenever someone suggests that he isn't the same, such as when, at the beginning of the school year, some kids asked him to speak Russian. "I don't know that," Cava told them, "I speak English."

Then one little girl, who sits at a desk near Cava, told the other kids, "Cava's adopted." They all nodded, though I could tell some of them didn't know what that word meant. Now I was very nervous about how he'd react, but, to my surprise and relief, Cava chimed in with, "That means they picked me." 

Hearing that, I couldn't help but smile. "Yes, we most definitely did."

Once snacks were done it was time for games and then treat bags. At the end of class, Cava was the only kid who was disappointed when the teacher told them that they didn't have any homework.

Of course, the Fall Party was only the opening act for the main event: Trick or Treating!

Our boys were going as two very famous crime fighters: Sherlock Holmes and Spiderman.

A super sleuth and a super hero.

Once they were outside, they were off and running.

Despite this being his first Halloween, Cava was quick to pick up on the whole trick or treat thing.

The boys were especially fond of the houses that were decorated the scariest. None of it seemed to phase Cava at all. He was too busy collecting candy and enjoying all of the people who greeted him with, "Hey, Spiderman!" 

They also enjoyed when we ran into some friends and they got to trick or treat with Dia and Emma.

As we moved from house to house, Cava kept telling us, "I love Halloween," "I wish Halloween was every day," and "Halloween is awesome." He also told people over and over again, "We don't have Halloween in Ukraine. It's better here."

When we finally got back home, Cava dumped all his candy on the floor to count his loot. This is one happy boy.

Happy Halloween to all our readers!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Congratulations Nella & Tony!

Congratulations to Nella and Tony on their new daughter. She is absolutely beautiful. Our family is so thrilled that your family is now three. This little girl is an answer to not only your prayers, but also for all of us who have followed your journey and have been praying with you guys. That photo truly shows the bliss of the heart and the joy of answered prayers.

To read more about their amazing family, go to their blog:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Benjamin's Favorites

Since I have periodically written blogs on Cava's favorite things, I decided to share some of my eldest son's favorites. As you can imagine, this list is very science oriented.

1. Circuitry

2. Jurassic Park (the movie & the book)

3. Robotics (He was the only 8th grader allowed into his school's high school robotics club)

4. Sherlock (The BBC series. He even is going as Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock for Halloween).

5. The website Tinkernut. It's a video series of electronics, computer, and software tutorials.

6. Free sampling of electronic components.

7. Chess

8. M.I.T. (Which is where he hopes to go to college).

9. Make Magazine - he desperately wants a subscription to it.

10. OK Go's "This Too Shall Pass" video. The boy loves Rube Goldberg machines and this one is awesome!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Happy Hoof-tober!

Since, financially, things are really tight for our family right now (we are still paying off the adoption), we were extremely grateful when our friend Christine gave us tickets to attend Bit of Hope Ranch's Hoof-tober event.

Bit of Hope Ranch is a nonprofit that helps broken children and families. According to their website, they have "offered over 3000 hours of service to disadvantaged and at-risk children in our community." To find out more about them, here is a link to their website:

Since there was a costume contest Cava wore his Spiderman suit (as if he needed an excuse) and Benjamin went as Sherlock Holmes. It being in the low 50's, Spiderman decided to wear his winter vest. Here they are with Benjamin's friend Shane:

But what Cava was really, really excited about was his first time riding a horse.

Cava sat tall in the saddle. Well, as tall as his 4' frame would allow.

Benjamin also jumped at the chance to ride.

From there, we headed over to the petting zoo so the boys could pet the goats, rabbits, and the pig. Once again, Cava called the pig "Wilbur" despite it being a female pig.

After being heavily dosed with hand sanitizer, the boys made themselves some S'mores. Benjamin did his over the fire, while Cava preferred the smaller flame of the barrel.

Grabbing some hot chocolate for us and hot cider for Cava, we took our seats for the Readers' Theater production of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Then it was on to the haunted hayride, where we saw an alien (the boys blew the alien's cover by yelling, "Hey Shane!"), some gypsies, ghosts, a gorilla named Cletus, a vampire, and the Headless Horseman.

We all had a great time and want to thank the Fogarty family for their kindness and generosity.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cava & Papa Time

Cava had the day off from school today due to a teacher's workday, so he and I had some one-on-one time. First we took Benjamin to school and, boy was he none to thrilled that Cava was off and he wasn't. Cava loved being able to ride in the car with his pajamas on, which he sang about at the top of his lungs. Unlike myself, Cava is a morning person and as soon as he's up, he's on full blast.

After we'd dropped Benjamin off, Cava and I returned home. He worked on his puzzle a bit before getting dressed and we went to the grocery store. Cava loves going to the grocery store and he's fascinated by any new food he's never seen before. Today it was pomegranates. "What's that?" he said and immediately picked it up. Then, like he does with most food or spices, he held it to his nose to see if this fruit had a smell. Then he commented on the pomegranate as he does with so many foods, "We didn't have that in Ukraine."

"Would you like to try one?" I asked.

"No thanks," he replied and was on to the next thing.

He also likes to try and sneak junk food into the cart just like his big brother used to attempt to do. Whenever I put something back, he begs, "But I love that! It's my favorite!" He has a lot of favorites. I promised him that instead of buying all of those items, we would fix ultimate bars later in the day. "What's that?" he asked. When I explained that it was a combination of brownies with chocolate chip cookies, he was down for that.

Later in the morning, Cava wanted to go to the library to get some new books and DVDs. He strides through the library and greets the librarians, who all love him and ask how he's doing. "Great," he replies to each and all. His big find was the newly acquired 5 Minute Marvel Stories, which is filled with short stories about Marvel superheroes, including his favorite, Spiderman. We walked out of the library with a tote bag stuffed with books and a few DVDs for him to read and watch until we go back next week. No sooner had we gotten back in the car, when he had that Marvel book out and was reading it aloud.

For lunch, we had grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Then we made the ultimate bars. Cava enjoyed running the beaters. Here's our finished product:

When I inquired if he wanted one, Cava made me proud by replying, "No, I wanna' wait 'til Benjamin gets home."

Before we left to pick his big brother up from school, we went to another of Cava's favorite places that we hadn't been to in awhile: the Schiele Museum. It was fairly crowded with kids from other schools, so Cava got anxious and would move quickly through rooms in the hopes of finding one not full of other children. He got frustrated with them and I'd hear him mutter, "Stupid kids." Not wanting him to get really upset, I calmed him down and began to make up games to divert his attention. "Who can find the greenest bug?" I'd ask or "Who will be first to spot a lizard?"

One of his favorite things to do is looking at the butterflies through the magnifying glass. He is fascinated by them and even checked out a book on butterflies from the library.

He would look closely at each one and declare each one, "Amazing" and "beautiful." 

"Aren't they?" I responded, "And to think God created so many different ones for us to enjoy."

"Yeah," he smiled. "God is so cool that way."

Cava gave me his best bear pose in front of the grizzly he's always called "Mishka" after the one in Masha and the Bear

He also posed for me in front of the Mastodon.

When we got to the Earth that is split so that one can see inside of it, Cava, like plenty of kids before him, stretched out until he could touch it and then tell me, "It's not hot." Then he asked me, "Where's Ukraine?"

Since it only shows North and South America, I told him in what direction Ukraine would be. 

As we walked away, he told me, "We never went anywhere like this in Ukraine. I bet Sergei and Zana would like to."

"I'll bet you're right." Then I asked, "What do you think would be their favorite part of the museum?"

He thought for a moment before replying, "All of it."

Then we went outside to walk on the nature trail. He likes to play Pooh Sticks with me on the bridge.

From there we walked down to the pond, but, since it's Fall, he was disappointed not to see all the turtles, frogs, and snakes that we normally see there. 

On the way to get Benjamin, I asked Cava if he'd had a good time with it being just the two of us. "Yeah," he said unconvincingly. 

"What's the matter?"

"I miss school," he answered and his voice was filled with sadness.

"Well, I'm sorry you miss school but, just think, when you go back on Monday, you can tell your teacher, and Trevor and your friends all about your day." I began to list of things we'd done and then I added, "And Trevor can tell you all about what he did." I paused and then asked him, "What do you think Trevor's favorite part of the museum would have been?" 

"The animals," Cava said, "just like me."

"I'll bet you're right," I told him. 

Love & The Outcome came on the radio with their song called "He Is With Us" and, despite never having heard it before, Cava caught onto the chorus and began to sing along:

He is with us
He is with us
He is with us
He is with us

And I loved hearing him sing. While the library and the Schiele were his favorite part of the day, spending time with just him and listening to him sing to God were mine.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Deeper Wounds & Grieving

Ever so slowly, we are starting to see how deep Cava's wounds are.

We were driving back from Red Wolf Farm and everyone was in a great mood, Danelle and Benjamin were singing "Sweet Caroline" at the top of their voices with Neil Diamond playing on the radio. Then we heard Cava sobbing. Not crying. Sobbing. He had his body turned towards the door and his face covered. I turned off the radio and asked him what's the matter.

"I miss Trevor," he sobbed, his small body shaking. Trevor is his best friend at school and he'd been out for a couple of days. When Cava had told me this when I picked him up from school, I could tell he was upset. I told Cava, "Maybe Trevor's sick, but I'm sure he'll be back on Monday."

"Can we pray for him?" Cava asked.

"Sure we can pray for him. That's a great idea." And we did.

I thought Cava was okay, but now, as we were driving home from picking out pumpkins, it was obvious that Cava wasn't. The fact that Cava was expressing his emotions (i.e. sobbing) was a huge step for him, as well as his telling us what was wrong instead of telling us, "Nothing." Danelle and Benjamin worked to comfort Cava, while I drove the car.

On Monday, Trevor was back at school. His mom had given birth to a baby boy and Trevor had been out of school so that he could go and see his new brother and that hospital.

It is a huge step that Cava has made a friend at school. They play tag and other games on the playground together, as well as bond of their love of superheroes (Spiderman for Cava and Superman for Trevor). But whenever a classmate or a child from Sunday school is out, it really affects Cava. We have attributed this to the loss he's experienced in orphanages. How many children has Cava seen go and never come back? A child who already feels abandoned by his parents is now going through that same sense of loss with kids he is growing up with.

Donna O'Toole, who is a grief counselor and is the author of the book Helping Children Grieve and Grow, wrote, "Especially for children a loss may be based on safety, comfort, and familiarity, rather than on what adults speak of as love or affection." This could certainly be the case for Cava, who needs not only regiment and routine, but finds safety in those things and familiarity. If a child is not in class, Cava feels anxiety over this and even asks the teacher about where that child is. Even when that child has only left the classroom to go to the bathroom. At the root of all his fear and unease is the sense of abandonment that he has felt all his young life.

Cava has faced great losses in his life: his parents, caregivers, other children who were adopted, and, when he was adopted, he lost the clothes he wore (all of which stayed at the boarding school), the familiar sites of the boarding school, the tastes of the food, the sound of his own language, and that daily routine he had lived in for so long. He had to come to a new country with new rules, a new language, and a new culture.

Theresa Anderson, who specializes in issues of adoption, attachment, and grief, said, "Children often cover trauma and grief with being perfect, with controlling others, or with being mad." Cava used to swing from the little performer to the little dictator, all in a way to compartmentalize the grief he was feeling. This was how he felt a sense of control.  Cava was unable to deal with the great losses his eight year old life had already experienced.

Ms. Anderson writes, ""Grief is THE core issue that adopted children deal with...grief and terror.
Think about international adoption... You can't take a child from home, put them into an airplane, cross the world, surround them with 1000's of people at the airport, have them met by strange people, smells, textures, foods, and voices, and not expect them to be traumatized."

For a long time, Cava would not admit he felt a sense of loss. He used to do all he could to distance himself from his past in order that the intense emotions he was feeling would not come out. Or they would just come out in anger and aggression.

It's only recently that he has begun to share even tiny glimpses of his life back in Ukraine (telling me how the little girl Zana used to tickle him or how she, Sergei and he would play tag on the playground, or about how Sergei made him laugh by being silly, or the one puzzle the boarding school had that was of Thomas the Tank Engine). Many times, however, if one of us asks him about Ukraine, Cava still shrugs and says, "I don't remember." I never push him but sometimes I will just sit in his room, while he's working on a puzzle, and ask him questions. Sometimes he'll answer me and sometimes he ignores my questions. He is more open to talking about the present than the past. Like when I ask him what he likes about Trevor, Cava smiles, "We like the same things."

"And what things are those?"

"Spiderman, superheroes, tag, hide n go seek . . . And he's funny."

"Like Sergei?" I ask.

"Yeah," Cava chuckles.

The key for us is being there for Cava: whether it's talking with him about not only his losses, but those we've experienced in life (my wife lost both her parents and I've lost my mom), that it's okay for him to miss Ukraine and the people there (like Zana and Sergei), letting him see us cry and to know that it's normal to do so when one's sad or experienced a loss, and allowing him to open up when he's ready and not pushing him when he's not.

The fact is, we are at just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the trauma, grief, and loss Cava has experienced. There are wounds there that will never, ever go away. We just have to love him and accept him, wounds and all, and to help him love and accept himself.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pumpkin Carving Time

Now that we had our pumpkins, the real work began - carving them!

In this great technological age, our family went online first to find a design for each of our pumpkins. Unfortunately, the boys both went nuts over the designs of pumpkin carving artist Ray Villafane. If you've never seen his work before, here are some amazing examples:

Needless to say, we had to bring the boys back down to Earth about what was possible for us to carve. "Pick something simpler," I told them, "Much simpler!"

Benjamin decided he wanted a Jack O' Lantern with a scary face and Cava wanted one that looked like a spider (for Spiderman, of course!).

Danelle and I cut open the tops and then let the boys clean out the insides. Benjamin went straight to it, thrusting his hand inside, and he delighted in "pulling out the guts."

Cava, on the other hand, was more cautious. First, he pulled off the top . . .

Then he looked inside . . .

Before slowly putting his hand inside with a, "Yuck!"

Pulling the innards out, he said, "I don't like this."

As we cleaned the pumpkins out, I made sure we put aside seeds on a plate so that I could roast them later in the oven. 

Once we were done scraping and cleaning, we taped the designs to the exterior of the pumpkins and used a pushpin to poke holes in them so that we would know where to carve out sections.

Here's how the spider pattern looked (the white is flour dusted on it to make the pinholes stand out more):

Then came the carving of the pumpkins!

When Cava saw his spider pumpkin, he loved it. His exact words were, "Really good! Really cool!" 

Here are the results of our labor: (Before dark)

(After dark & lit with candles):

Upon seeing them lit, Cava declared, "WOW!"

But would he say the same thing about roasted pumpkin seeds? 

That would be the true test. 

If there's one thing I can say about Cava, it's that he is willing to try new foods. He even tasted Sushi when we went to a Japanese restaurant.

Normally, when I roast pumpkin seeds, I simply use olive oil and salt, but this year I decided to try something different: cinnamon pumpkin seeds! After baking them and letting the seeds cool off a bit, I let the boys try them. 

Cava was the first to come running in.

He grabbed some seeds, popped them into his mouth, and declared, "Yummy! Awesome!"

Benjamin was next. He took one and put it in his mouth. 

When he'd eaten it, he also gave his thumbs up and told me, "Amazing!" 

It's interesting, but when I was writing this blog entry, I decided to research to see if Ukrainians carved pumpkins. Come to find out, they don't. In fact, it used to be, long ago, that when a young man asked a girl to marry him she would reply by giving him a gift. 

If the answer was "Yes," she would give the young man an embroidered towel that she had made and tied it over his hand and a shawl that she'd made she would tie over his shoulders. 

But, if the answer was "No," she would give him a pumpkin. 

Needless to say, Ukrainian men are not fond of pumpkins. 

Ukrainians used to joke that when a pretty girl was born to a family they would tell them, "You need to grow a large pumpkin patch" (meaning the girl would get many offers of marriage). 

When I went to tell this to Danelle, she was working with Cava on his latest puzzle. After I told them this former Ukrainian tradition, Cava burst out with, "What??? I'm glad I didn't get my pumpkin that way."

The Ukrainian word for pumpkin is "гарбуз" or "harbuz."