Sunday, March 31, 2013

Celebrating Easter

There are many firsts that we have missed with Cava, but there are so many more that we get to experience. Just this weekend, we got to watch him dye his first Easter eggs and then, this morning, receive his first Easter basket. When I asked him if he ever celebrated Easter in Ukraine, he shook his head, "No." He was overjoyed when I told him that we would be. His response, "Oh thank you, Papa, thank you."

Wanting to better understand how Ukrainians celebrated Easter to see if we could incorporate some of their traditions into our own, I went on-line and researched it. Here's what I found:

In Ukraine they begin observing Easter with "Shutkova Nedilia" or "Willow Sunday." This is their version of Palm Sunday. The willows represent the scourging of Christ and that is why they will tap someone with the willows and say:

Лоза б'є, 
Я не б'ю, 
від нині за тиждень, 
буде Великдень 


The willow is hitting, 
I’m not hitting, 
one week from today, 
it will be Easter.

From there, they begin Holy Week and start their preparations: house cleaning, cooking, baking, and making Pysanky. 

On Thursday, they celebrate Velykyi Chetver, Strasty Khrysta  or "Passion Thursday" to honor the Passion of Christ.

For Good Friday, the Church provides a  plashchenytsia, which represents the tomb of Christ. The traditional Ukrainian Easter bread, paska, is traditionally baked on the Friday before Easter. This is a big deal since each person wants their paska to be the biggest and the best. The top of the bread is covered in symbolic signs, like the cross.

Holy Saturday is usually when they have their Easter baskets blessed. The baskets contain a newly embroidered serviette or cloth, the paska, babka, pysanky, krashanky (eggs of different colors, although there must be at least one red one),  hard boiled eggs that are peeled, salt, butter decorated with cloves, cheese, horseradish (sometimes prepared with beets), and kovbasa (a ring of sausage). 

Cava's Easter basket contained none of those things because I could only imagine the disappointment he would have upon seeing that. Instead, he got chocolate (something he loves - as he has told us this many, many times), a remote control car (green, of course), a small stuffed Simba (because his favorite movie's The Lion King), and a Spiderman cup, t-shirt and puzzle (because, as he likes to remind us, he is Spiderman).

Cava loves getting gifts, no matter how small. He told me earlier this week that the first time he had ever gotten a present was when we brought a toy truck and Legos to the boarding school upon meeting him. So when he saw his Easter basket, he responded with a joyous, "Awesome! So cool! Thank you, thank you!" He quickly rushed over to Danelle and I to give us hugs and kisses. 

Since it was barely 6 a.m., we looked on bleary eyed and tired.

It didn't take Cava long to tear into the box of the remote control car like a Tazmanian devil. Once I put the batteries in it, he was racing that car all over the house and crashing into every piece of furniture we have. As he did, he kept repeating, "Really cool, Papa. Really cool."

Almost as quickly as he opened the box for the car, he had his Spiderman t-shirt on. Somehow I knew he would be wearing this to church for the Easter service.

Both he and Benjamin begged us to let them eat some of their candy and we told them they could have 2 pieces apiece this morning and then quickly added the addendum that this did not include the big chocolate bunnies.

While Cava was a regular Speed Racer with his new car, Benjamin sat quietly in his bed attempting a Rubik's Cube. Since Danelle and I wanted to go back to bed for a little while, I tried to convince Cava to turn the remote control car off and work on his Spiderman puzzle. That lasted all of 10 minutes before he was back behind the wheel and our house was the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

When I asked Cava what was his favorite thing that he got for Easter, he motioned to all of it.

After a breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls (and by homemade, I, of course, mean Pillsbury), we all got dressed and went to the 9:30 service. Just as I thought, Cava wore his Spiderman t-shirt. He also wore his new sneakers that we bought yesterday. Cava wanted these because they reminded him of his teacher, Mrs. W's new running sneakers. (Isn't it amazing the impact we, as adults, can have on children?) I was glad we found these since he was getting upset that none of the sneakers in his size lit up like the Lightning McQueen ones he had that he's outgrown.

For Ukrainians, Holy Week culminates in Velykden or "The Great Day." This is when they take part in religious ceremonies such as the ritual procession called "plashchenytsia" followed by a joyful mass that celebrates the resurrection of Christ. While we don't have ritual processions in our Baptist church, we did celebrate the resurrection of Christ. As Matthew 28:5-6 tells us, "The angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay." 

Last night, I read to Cava from his children's picture Bible all about The Good News of Christ's death on a cross and resurrection so that he would have some, small understanding of the meaning of Easter.

After Mass, families share the foods that were blessed the day before. If they meet people on their way home, they greet them by saying, "Christ is risen," to which the other people reply, "Risen indeed!" Can you imagine if we greeted people like that here in this country?

Later, they have hahilky-vesnianky dances and games. 

One of the symbols of Easter for Ukrainians is their Easter cake called Kulich. This cake is baked from yeast dough in the form of a tower and typically has different candied fruits and spices. 

For anyone wondering, no, we didn't make a Kulich. Maybe next year. Does Pillsbury have one?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Egg Excitement

Did you know that Ukrainians were the first to dye Easter eggs?

In ancient times, they heralded Spring after a long, cold winter by singing songs, dancing in groups, baking special breads, burning fires, and coloring eggs called Pysanky. With the introduction of Christianity to Ukraine in 988 A.D., the church adopted these rituals into their holidays and many became a part of their Easter celebration.

In Ukraine, Easter is called "Velykden" or "The Great Day."

To help Cava celebrate Easter, which is something he's never done before, we dyed eggs.  While traditional Ukrainian method of dying Pysanky is by using a wax-resist method, we used the American version: Paas.

Pysanky are made for family members and close friends. To give one of these eggs is meant to be symbolic gift of life. All of the colors and designs are deeply symbolic in meaning. The Pysanky are taken to church on Easter Sunday to be blessed before they are given away.

To help Cava celebrate Easter, which is something he's never done before, we dyed eggs.  While traditional Ukrainian method of dying Pysanky is by using a wax-resist method, we used the American version: Paas.

Never having dyed eggs before, Cava could barely contain himself as we poured the vinegar in the cups containing the dye tablets. He had to watch (and sniff) everything. Earlier in the day, I asked Cava if he had ever celebrated Easter back in Ukraine. He shook his head, "No." But he couldn't wait to once I explained the concept of Easter baskets to him.

Needless to say, he was ready to get to some dyeing. His first color of choice: green, obviously, since it's his favorite.

When he saw the finished product, he declared, "So awesome!"  He looked over at Benjamin's and told him, "Really cool!"

Each child got exactly 8 eggs apiece. I know because I counted them to ensure that it was equal because Cava definitely would have noticed.

Here's the finished product of their efforts:

Benjamin's are the ones in the yellow tray and Cava's are in the gray. While they may not be as elaborate or as beautiful as the typical Ukrainian Pysanky, I cherish these because they are my new son's first. 

The morning was damp and dreary, but by the time we did our Easter egg hunt the sun had come out. After Danelle and I hid them (we informed Benjamin that the easy to find ones were Benjamin's while the harder to find ones were his because we knew things could get heated if Benjamin found one of Cava's eggs and vice versa. We also made sure that both had the same number of eggs, 20 plastic each and 8 dyed each, to find since we were also hiding plastic eggs). Both boys were chomping at the bit to be released from the house to begin their frantic search for the hidden eggs.

Cava was the first to find one.

Their approaches couldn't have been more different. Benjamin was the determined egg hunter set on finding all of his fast.

While Cava would wander about the yard, casually looking for eggs or squirrels or birds or planes.

Each time Cava found one, he would excitedly shout, YES!" and hold it up for us to see. He was, however, disappointed that whenever he opened one of the plastic eggs that there was nothing inside; despite the fact that we had told him we didn't put anything in them.

Along with taking his time, Cava also would stop periodically to count how many he'd found so far.

Just as he'd been the one to find the first egg of our hunt, Cava was also the one to find the last.

When I asked him if he enjoyed finding Easter eggs, he replied, "Awesome!" I can only imagine his reaction in the morning when he discovers his very first Easter basket.

Friday, March 29, 2013

First Day Of Spring Break

Today was the first day of Cava's Spring Break, so he and I spent some time together.

Going to a local school, we played on the playground. Cava loved anything he could climb on.

The monkey bars:

Is it any wonder we nicknamed him "Little Monkey"?

Or the jungle gym, which he calls Spiderman's web. As he climbed it, he would sing the old Spiderman theme song:

"Spiderman, Spiderman
Does whatever a spider can . .."

He smiled because I sang the theme song slightly different than he did, "Spiderman, Spiderman. Does whatever Cava can."

I love seeing this smile. 

While we played, I would ask him about Ukraine: things he liked or didn't like. With the latter, he told me he didn't like how the older kids would pick on him because he was small. He said they would hit and kick him. It broke my heart to hear this and I know it explains some of his anger and aggression problems.

Cava also told me he likes it better here than in Ukraine. The other morning, he told Danelle he was "American, not Ukrainian."

No matter what he was playing on, he would stop whenever he saw a bird. Then he'd point to the bird and tell me to look. Here are two of the ones we saw:

As I know I have mentioned many times before, his excitement over such little wonders is one of the things I love most about him. 

Later we picked up Benjamin (who was far from thrilled that he had to go to school when Cava didn't) and the three of us went to the Schiele Museum. Cava told me that he loves going to the museum.

Today, we didn't really spend much time inside since it was nice and we went on a nature walk, although it started out as more of chase the chicken.

While he didn't have much luck with that, he did however pet a pig:

And they both petted the sheep, Rosemary and Peaches:

Still, I saw a sense of relief in the sheep's eye as we left.

From there we walked up the hill to the Native American Village. 

And then downhill to the pond. Benjamin, being the big brother, loved to point out things to Cava. I loved seeing the two of them getting along.

Cava was fascinated by the tadpoles, but even more by the turtles. It was a bit of a struggle to keep him from going in after one.

Thankfully, we didn't see any snakes.

Both boys loved walking through the woods and stopping by the streams with their small waterfalls.

Of course, stopping to just enjoy the moment was always short lived with two boys. They did, however, like playing Pooh Sticks and watching to see whose stick came out from under the bridge in the stream first.

And what would a nature walk be if we didn't stop afterwards to have ice cream?

They both loved the ice cream, but only one didn't care for having his picture taken. Can you guess which one?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Home Schooling - For The Day

Since Cava was home for the day after being suspended from school, I told him, "You may not be going to school today, but you will be doing schoolwork here."

After we dropped Benjamin off at school, Cava and I came home. While I went online to find 1st grade worksheets for him to do, I had Cava make his bed. Then we started our curriculum for the day. He did a farm animal seek-a-word since he absolutely loves animals. After this we did a math worksheet that went from 1 - 100 and he had to write in the missing numbers. Since I didn't want to simply have him to do worksheet after worksheet, when he'd finished that one, it was time for a little bit of calisthenics. I challenged him to a competition to see who could do the most push-ups (something I already knew he was good at). No surprise, he could do 20 push-ups to my ten. This was also a good way to not only break up the monotony of doing schoolwork but also to get out some of his energy.

When he was done proudly prancing around over beating his Papa at push-ups, I got him to sit down and read In A People House. He thought the mouse and the bird getting into all the people items was funny.

Since he has art at school and, of course, because I love art, that is what we moved onto next. I got out some paints and my brushes to let Cava express himself. He did two paintings: one for our refrigerator gallery and one for Mama to take and put in her office at work.

Science came next. Working off of his love for his favorite movie, The Lion King, we studied a bit about African animals and then did a worksheet about what we'd learned. At the bottom of the worksheet, he drew his favorite African animal: the meerkat (after Timon, of course!).

The only time I got any complaint over work I'd given him to do was when he had to read, trace, and then write basic sentences. I told him that when he'd completed the worksheet, we would go to the library, which has become one of his favorite places to go. He quickly began kissing my hand like I was the Pope and telling me, "Oh, thank you, thank you. Thank you very much, Papa."

Because one of his favorite shows is Dora the Explorer, I played off of this by telling him that we were going to go to three places: the library, the doctor's office to pick up his Russian medical records, and the grocery store. Then, after we'd go to one place, I'd ask, "Where do we go next?" Cava would think for a moment and then announce wherever we were to go next and he was very excited about doing it this way.

At the library, we signed him up for a computer and he played a few educational games. I sat next to him and   a mother who was there with her two young children asked, "What language is he speaking?"

"Ukrainian / Russian," I replied. She then asked me about Cava and we began to talk about adoption. When she asked me if I home-schooled, I answered, "Only today - I hope." I could see that confused look in her eye, so I explained. She also has problems with her son's behavior at school and often has to come and pick him up early. We began to talk about the difficulties we both faced with our boys.

Soon Cava took off his headphones and told me, "Done."

He and I then picked out a stack of books and some CDs to check out. On the way to the library I put on Bach's Goldberg Variations and I would turn it up or down in volume and ask, "Loud? Or soft?" And he would respond in a voice that was either loud or soft. But at the library, he found a Dora the Explorer CD with music from around the world and we listened to that for the rest of our travels.

At the grocery store, I used that as an opportunity to teach Cava about fruits and vegetables so he could learn their names, about money and the cost of items, and about the different jobs people have working in a grocery store.

Once the travel portion of our day was done, we came home, ate lunch, and then Cava did an addition worksheet. He was more than willing to oblige since I told him we would do a Spiderman craft once he'd finished that. Printing up the parts of Spiderman (head, arms, torso, legs), I let Cava color and cut them out. He then pasted the parts onto an empty paper-towel roll. He was very proud of his handiwork. (Yeah, that's about as "craftsy" as I get).

To give him more exercise, as well as find another opportunity to teach him new words, we went on a nature walk around our neighborhood. We stopped whenever he spotted something interesting (a plant, a rock, or any of the squirrels and birds he noticed). I taught him the names of the birds we saw (Robins, Cardinals), the trees (oak, dogwood), and about the veins on the leaves and related those to the veins on his arms. It wasn't long into our nature walk that Cava discovered a bird's nest that had fallen from a tree. He picked the nest up and carried it with him. 

It's funny, but every time he spotted a bird, he would hold the nest up to them and offer it in the hopes they would make a home in it. Sadly, no takers, so we put the nest in a tree by our goldfish pond.

Cava also learned about the numbers on houses, which provided not only an opportunity for him to count, but to learn about odd and even numbers.

What I loved about our walk was the enthusiasm he had for discovering the simplest of things (an acorn, a rock, or even something he sees every day like a squirrel). He was genuinely curious and repeated the things I told him. He was proud of himself when he would then spot a Cardinal and he'd point to it and say, "Papa, a Cardinal!" "Great job," I'd tell him and he would beam a big smile.

As much as I disliked him getting suspended from school, I was equally proud of how much he was willing to learn today. I repeatedly told him both of how proud I was and how smart he was. He not only liked hearing this, he needed to hear this. I think one of his biggest obstacles is overcoming his poor self-esteem. Cava does not see himself as smart and he needs accomplishments to so that we can tell him how we're proud of him and provide an opportunity for him to take pride in his achievements, no matter how small. So I approached schooling in a Robert Frost fashion when he wrote, "I am not a teacher, but an awakener." Hopefully I did a little of that with Cava today.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Return Policy

Monday mornings aren't my favorite mornings to begin with, but this one started off with my having to go to Cava's school to meet with the head of the school, the head of the program Cava's in, and his teachers. Even though it wasn't about me, I still felt like the kid going to the principal's office, which is something I am not accustomed to. Seated around a table, we discussed how to proceed in the best interests of all and how to deal with Cava's behavioral issues.

Once that was settled, I went to work.

A few hours later, I got the call that I now dread getting. The "Come get your son" call. I felt defeated, to say the least, and it must have shown because one of the department managers that I know from the store I was calling on, asked me how it was going with our adopted son. I told her that I was having to pick him up early from school - again. Not joking in the least, she asked, "Couldn't you return him?"

Return him?

I was horrified.

Return him?

This is my child. Not some ill-fitting sweater or shirt of the wrong size or unwanted gift. As nicely as I could, I told her, "No. He's my son."

It angered me that someone would, even in what they might perceive as kindness, suggest sending a child back to the orphanage he came from.

No, these two months since Cava came here have not been easy, as previous blog entries can attest to, but that does not diminish our love for a little boy who desperately needs to be loved.

Adoption is not easy and it's not always pretty. It is a roller-coaster of emotions and it's exhausting. But does that mean we just give up on a child because the last two months aren't a picnic?

It's interesting that all of this should happen the day after the Sunday when our growth group (a new term for Sunday school group) were taking up Galations 4:1-7. To quote part of them, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son, then an heir of God through Christ."

Normally I'm not one to speak up, but I found myself compelled to this time. Here's what I said:

When we went before the Ukrainian court to petition them to have Cava as our son, one of the main things that we were asked repeatedly and in different forms was, "Will you treat Cava equally to your son Benjamin?" They asked if he would be loved the same, receive the same benefits, schooling, and would be an heir to our inheritance (Poor thing) the same as Benjamin. Now, we offered Cava the opportunity to become a member of our family, but just as with salvation, Cava had the opportunity to reject what was offered to him. When the judge asked if he wanted to be adopted by us, if Cava had said no, then the judge would have closed the case and we would have left without Cava. Because he accepted our adopting him, he became a joint-heir with Benjamin and we would love him just as we do Benjamin.

I know my voice cracked with emotion as I spoke, because I'm very passionate about adoption, especially since it has given me more of an insight into the heart of God. Although I must admit, if I had to sacrifice my own son to adopt another, I couldn't have done it.

So, no, I would never consider "returning" Cava any more than I would seriously consider going back to Gaston Memorial and asking them what their return policy was on Benjamin. Cava is no less a son to us than Benjamin.

God chose Cava for us. He has a much bigger plan and, while we can't see all of that just now, we trust in Him and know that He will help us get through these difficult and trying times.

We know that Cava is our son. He may not have been born to us but he was born for us.

No matter what, he is and always will be our son.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Science Saturday

One of our favorite places in Gastonia, the Schiele Museum, was having a free health fair on Saturday, so we decided to take the boys. We weren't there long before Cava was in a lab coat and mask ready to perform surgery on Odysseus.

Quicker than he got his lab coat on, Dr. Cava had all of Odysseus' organs out and on the table. I'm not sure why so much surgery was needed just to give him a shot, but then again, I'm not the doctor.

From Odysseus, he moved on to performing surgery on "Cavity Sam" from Operation. I have never seen his red nose light up so much before as the doctor was determined to get that funny bone out.

Once Dr. Cava was no longer needed in the operating room, he went to the next table to have his arm wrapped in gauze and then have plaster applied to it.

Here is the final result:

I'm hoping this is the only time his arm will be in a cast, but, knowing Cava . . .

We moved on to another room where they had two pigs' lungs: one healthy and one blackened to show the effects of smoking. Cava was interested only in touching the healthy one (Despite the sign that read: Please Do Not Touch. That's my Cava!)  This was followed by a trip to the bathroom to was his hands.

After that, he and Benjamin got picked to be in a short play about a little girl who gets sick. Cava was a "B Cell" and Benjamin was a "T Cell." Both were thoroughly convincing in their roles.

He enjoyed fishing for good health because he got a bag with a coloring book, crayons, and fruit snacks.

Once outside, he was thrilled to get to sit in a real fire truck.

After going home for lunch, we then took the boys, including Benjamin's friend Shane, to Krispy Kreme for a doughnut. Yes, there's nothing like going to a health fair, learning all about healthy snacks, and disregarding all of that information to get a doughnut.

From there, we drove 30 minutes to Hickory to visit the Catawba Science Center. We had told Cava that he was going to see a real shark so that's all that was on his mind and we went to the aquarium section first. Cava literally quivered with excitement at getting to touch a stingray.

He quickly took off his coat, rolled up his sleeve, and plunged his arm into the water to touch more.

Every time he touched one, he'd shout, "YES!" And then he'd jump up and down. Cava laughed when the smallest, fastest stingray would swim past and splash him with water with its fin. We nicknamed this playful,  little stingray "Cava." While Benjamin and his friend Shane moved on to look at other tanks, we stayed with Cava at this one for 30 minutes before moving on to the hermit crabs.

With each new tank, Cava would tell Danelle and I, in Russian, to "Look! Look!" 

He had never seen anything like these aquariums and his body was physically pulsing with excitement.

Benjamin was just happy that Cava was taking an interest in science and he, being the big brother, wanted to show him things. When we left the aquarium part of the science center, Cava's shirt was sooooo wet that he started to take it off. So, of course, we had to take a short detour to the gift shop to pay too much for a dinosaur t-shirt for Cava to wear. He was upset that we wouldn't buy him the stuffed stingray, too.

The two brothers spent some time controlling a replica of the Mars Rover.

Then they competed to see who could pull themselves up the fastest. (Just to let you know, the wet stain on Benjamin's shirt isn't sweat but water that the stingray had splashed on him earlier).

Cava pumped his fist with a loud, "YES!" every time he shot off one of the air rockets and hit a target.

He struggled with pedaling the bike fast enough to get the TV to come on.

Cava's teachers have told me that his favorite subject is science, so, who knows, maybe we'll have two future scientists on our hands. Whatever his interests are, like we have with Benjamin, we will encourage him in them.

Everybody had a blast. 

I love when our family gets to not only spend time together but also enjoys being with each other. 

I loved seeing Cava's excitement over touching a stingray. Whenever I see him like that, all I can do is wish that I could be inside his mind to know what he was thinking as he has so many new experiences. Since I can't, I just have to enjoy seeing the delight and wonder - and strive to see the world that way, too!