Friday, May 31, 2013


closure: a bringing to an end; conclusion

My cell phone rang.

It was Cava's school telling me to come and get him. This is a call that I had not gotten in a while and was crushed to get it so close to the end of the school year. To be honest, I felt blindsided.

As I drove to his school, Plumb's "Need You Now" came on the radio. How apropos the lyrics to the chorus were (and have been during the worst of the behavioral problems):

How many times have you heard me cry out
"God please take this"?
How many times have you given me the strength to
Just keep breathing?
Oh, I need you,
God, I need you now.

When I finally got to the school, I was met outside by his teacher who told me the whole story of what had transpired and it was not good. Going inside the office, Cava had hidden under a table. It was just like before he started taking his ADHD medicine and while I was trying to talk to the head of the international program, Cava kept yelling, "No!" Then he began to kick the chairs back from the table. Finally, I told him it was time to go home but he refused and I ended up having to carry him out of the school. He was crying and kicking and hitting me.

To put it simply, the ride home from his school was simply a nightmare.

MercyMe was on the radio singing "The Hurt & The Healer." Once again the lyrics hit home:

Sometimes I feel it's all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through

Once again, it amazes me how God so often speaks to me through songs.

Later that day, I found out that Cava was suspended from school and wouldn't be finishing out the school year.

I was heartbroken and felt utterly defeated. I could not believe he was going to end the school year on a bad note and that he would not get to finish that mural he'd begun in school. At one point, I found myself unable to hold back the tears at the realization that this mural, which had such symbolic meaning for Cava, as it was one of the first steps he'd taken to come to terms with his past, was going to remain unfinished. He was so proud of working on that mural of Ukraine.

I'll admit, I prayed, "Lord, I don't understand . . ."

Cava had made such strides and had come so far . . .

The night before Cava would've gone back to school, Danelle heard him up in his room around 11 pm.  When she went in to check on him, he was weeping. Sitting on the bed, she held him, sobbing against her. "Mama, I'm sorry," he sobbed.

"For what Cavitchka?" (Her pet name for him).

"For hitting and kicking Ms. W," he replied.

This sadness stayed with him and it was especially hard on the days when he knew his friends were still in school and he wasn't. I would notice him being melancholy and I would ask, "Cava, are you sad?"

"Da, I miss Ms. W and Ms. Scarborough."

"You loved going to school with them, didn't you?"


School was something that was relatively new to Cava. In Ukraine, in many of the orphanages, kids don't start school until they are seven, so we are unsure of just how much schooling Cava has even had. When he came to America, it was something he wanted to go to desperately and would ask us each day when he was going to school like Benjamin. He was sooooo thrilled when the day came that he finally got to go to school. All he could talk about, mostly in Ukrainian, was Ms. W and Ms. Scarborough.

For anyone who's followed this blog knows, Cava has had a bumpy time adjusting, particularly in regards to school. He really struggled behaviorally. Yet one thing that was obvious to us, even during the worst of his problems, was that he loved his teachers and that they loved him.

That's why it was so important and meant so much to Cava that he got to see them one last time. He was very excited when I informed him that we were going to see them. His first reaction was an enthusiastic and loud, "YES!"

Then he wanted to go to the store to get them a present and cards. I let him pick out what he wanted to get them and Cava decided on flowers. We walked among the many different flowers for a half hour before he decided on Petunias for both teachers. He picked purple ones for Ms. W and purple and white ones for Ms. Scarborough. He also chose their cards and went to his room to write what he wanted to say to them. He did not want any help and waved me away with, "I can do it."

Today, I took Cava over to his school.

He was very subdued and, as we walked from the parking lot to the school, I could tell he was anxious. "You okay, buddy?" I asked him.

"Da," he answered in a voice that was a lot quieter than his usual one.

"Cava, your teachers want to see you, you know. They both love you very much."

"Papa," he said, "I want to tell Ms. W something."

"Okay, what do you want to tell her?"

"I'm sorry for kicking and hitting."

"I think she would appreciate you telling her that."

Just as on any normal school day, Ms. W greeted Cava at the classroom door. He gave each teacher their card and their flowers. Then they presented Cava with his "goodies." Along with little toys, a monkey puzzle, a Frisbee, and bubbles, they gave him a small book signed by each of his classmates. This will be something we keep for Cava to have later on.

They also gave Cava his Ukraine mural so we could finish it at home.

It was easy to tell from their interaction with Cava just how much they truly love him and want the best for him. The international program was one of the things our family was extremely grateful for and we were thankful to have teachers like Ms. W and Ms. Scarborough. 

"Cava," I said, "What was it you wanted to tell Ms. W?"

He looked at me confused so I had to whisper a reminder. 

Cava then offered his apology and she hugged him.

Today was important, though, for Cava. It helped give him a sense of closure to his first experience in an American school. He needed to know that, despite his behavior, his teachers really did love him, believe in him, and want the best for him. Cava left that school differently than when we arrived. There was a real joy in him again and, as he looked through his bag of goodies in the backseat, he said, "Papa."

"Yes Cava?"

"I love Ms. W and Ms. Scarborough."

"And they love you, too, Cava."

"Da. Very much." Then he laughed. For some reason he finds the phrase "Very much" to be funny.

Being loved despite his behavior is something Cava deeply struggles with. I can see from his reaction when it happens that this is all new to him and something he has never experienced before. His trepidation was gone when he left that school and I knew that this was another step in the right direction for him to understanding what it truly means to be loved and accepted.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cava's Proud Accomplishment

Cava is definitely our puzzle master. Ever since he came to our home, what he has loved doing most is putting puzzles together. And he quickly moved from 24 piece puzzles to 100 piece puzzles to 500 piece puzzles. Today he finished his first 1000 piece puzzle and he was extremely proud of what he'd done. He came and found me cleaning bathrooms, had me stop, and take his photo with the puzzle. But that wasn't enough, he wanted me to post the photo.

He loves puzzles so much that he thanks the Lord for them every night and he thanks the Lord for Aunt Mickie for sending puzzles, including this one, to him.

And how did he celebrate his accomplishment?

By immediately starting on a new 500 piece puzzle of a peacock of course!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Amazing World of Patricia Polacco's Folk Tales

Something we have tried to encourage in Cava is a love for his home country and culture. One way that we have been doing this is through the wonderful books of Patricia Polacco. For those of you who don't know her, she is the author and illustrator of numerous children's books. Since she comes from Russian and Ukrainian background, the folk tales her Babushka used to tell her make up many of her books. The illustrations also show a Slavic influence.

Cava's favorites are:

1. Rechenka's Eggs. We read this one at Easter time right before we dyed our own eggs.

2. Oh, Look!. This one makes Cava laugh. It reminds me of Going On a Bear Hunt, which was always one of Benjamin's favorites. Here are a couple of pages from inside the book to show the beautiful illustrations Polacco does.

3. Thunder Cake. This was one we read in the hopes of helping Cava get over his fear of thunder and lighting. It's also inspired us to make our own thunder cake.

Here's a photo of a Thunder Cake:

Here's the recipe for anyone wanting to make one themselves:

Thunder Cake
1 cup Shortening (I used half shortening, half applesauce)
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs, separated
1 cup cold water
1/3 cup pureed tomatoes
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup dry cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and parchment two 8 inch cake pans.

In a separate bowl sift together the cake flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside

In your mixing bowl cream together the shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla and one egg yolk at a time until mixed in. Pour in the water and tomatoes and mix just until combined. Add the sifted ingredients a half cup at a time until completely mixed.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for 30-40 minutes until cake tests done.

Allow to completely cool.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting 16 oz semi sweet chocolate, chopped fine
16 oz heavy cream

Heat heavy cream in a bowl or measuring cup in the microwave. Be careful not to overheat it, or it will boil over.
Add chocolate to the bowl; let set for 3-4 minutes. Stir until mixture is smooth and creamy
Let cool to room temperature (approx 2 hours) then whip with a whisk or mixer until light and fluffy, approx 2-3 minutes.

Spread on cake in whatever design you choose. Slice strawberries in half and apply to sides of the cake.

For anyone who's adopted a Russian or Ukrainian child, I highly recommend getting some of Patricia Polacco's wonderful books to read to them. It's a great way to not only bond with your child but to share in their folk stories as well.

To go to her website, here's a link:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day at Rankin Lake

Since we didn't go out of town for Memorial Day Weekend, our family decided to take a short trip (10 minutes) to nearby Rankin Lake for a picnic. When we got there, Cava shouted out from the backseat, "I been here!" He remembered that this was the park we came to with David and Shane Fogarty shortly after he arrived in America (written about in the blog entry Becoming Brothers on January 22). In fact, Cava had only been here 3 days when we took him here for the first time.

As much as the boys wanted to play right away, the first thing we did was find a table and eat our sandwiches, chips and fresh strawberries from the local farmer's market.

As we ate, we talked about all the things Cava has done and seen, as well as what he's learned, since he got here just a little over 4 months ago. Cava also let us know that his friend Bofan at school really likes the Cheddar and Sour Cream Chips we had.

The boys devoured their food quickly so that they could run down the hill to the playground.

Of course they really got excited when we told them we were going to go out on Rankin Lake in paddle-boats. Needless to say, the boys ran up ahead yelling, "Hurry up! Come on! All the good boats will be gone!"

Cava wanted "Mommy" to ride in a boat with him and Benjamin picked me, so I went in to pay for our boats. The guy working the counter told me, "$5 for half hour or $10 for an hour." "Two boats for half hour, 'cause I doubt they'll even paddle for that long." 

Then we put on our sunscreen, our life-jackets, and got in our boats. What I didn't know was that it was not only Cava's first time on a paddle-boat, it was Danelle's. You wouldn't know it to see them (mostly Danelle) paddling.

Benjamin and I had a blast, too. Although, I did hear the complaint more than once, "Do you have to take sooooo many pictures?"

"Yes," I replied, "I'm capturing memories. One day you'll appreciate it."

Twenty minutes later, we were back at the docks comparing sweat stains on the back of our shirts. 

But the fun wasn't over, because, on the way back to the car, we let the boys play in a creek.

What I loved most was how much Benjamin and Cava were loving brothers. They enjoyed playing together and there wasn't the bickering and arguments that so often go on between siblings. When we went to this park for the first time with the Fogartys, I wrote about how Benjamin and Cava were becoming brothers and now, four months later, they really were.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend & A Merry-Go-Round

In her song "The Circle Game," Joni Mitchell sang:

And the seasons, they go round and round.
And the painted ponies go up and down.
We're captive on the carousel of time.

The song is about a parent watching their child grow up and, in one of the more poignant lines, she sang, "Cartwheels turn to car wheels." And I know it won't be long before that's true of Benjamin. It feels like all you do is blink and your children are no longer children.

That's why, after our family went through a really rough week (something I will blog about at another time), we decided to get out of the house and have some fun as a family. About 30 miles from where we live is the city of Shelby. At the Shelby City Park, they have a pool, playgrounds, train, and a 90 year old carousel. The carousel has been featured in Our State and Southern Living magazines. It was also the first time Cava has ever ridden one before. And boy was he excited!

He and Benjamin darted out of the car and up the hill to the merry-go-round.

For those interested, it's cheap, too, as tickets are fifty cents. They were the first in line and were scoping to decide which horse they were going to choose.

Benjamin chose one with an American Flag painted on it:

While Cava chose one that reminded him of something he loves - chocolate!

As the carousel started, and the horse began to go up and down, and it began to go in circles, I could hear Cava shout, "YAHOO!" A real Ukrainian cowboy! Now I just need to get him some boots and a Stetson.

After the merry-go-round, it was time to move on to the train.

As I was standing on the bridge overlooking the train, a little boy came up to me and asked, "Do you work for the newspaper taking photos?" 

"Why do you ask?"

"You just look like someone who would," he said and was disappointed that I didn't. I think he had his hopes  up that his photo would get published and he wasn't interested in someone who was taking photos for his blog.

Like the carousel, the train was on fifty cents a ticket. So they rode both twice.

After they were done, we let them play on the playground for awhile. While they did, I even got a photo of the ever elusive Big Foot:

Upon closer inspection of the photo, I was disappointed to discover that it wasn't Big Foot at all but my own son. 

Before we left, we even decided to play a little family competition of cornhole.

It's funny how it looks more like Benjamin's flying a kite in that photo.

Since he's younger and shorter than the rest of us, we gave Cava a little field advantage:

Everybody had a great time and the boys were thrilled when we stopped to get a refill on their Roo Cups, which is quickly becoming one of Cava's new favorite things. He doesn't want to walk out the door without his Roo Cup.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Are You Ready?

So many of us have the thought, "I wish I could make a real difference in the world," but for most, it never moves beyond the thought. 

As part of National Foster Care Awareness Month, consider becoming a foster parent.

Thousands of children in North Carolina are currently in foster care and their ages range from infants to 18 years. Nationally, only 20% of the kids in foster care are adopted. Just as it is in any type of adoption, the older a child gets, the less chance that they will be adopted into a loving home.

In Gaston County alone, there are 53 licensed foster parents for an average of 200 children, so there is a great need for people to step up and open their hearts and their homes. 

You can make a huge impact in the life of a child. To find out more and have a great time, you can attend the “Be the Difference” awareness event will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 1st. There will be a variety of food and games, a raffle, multiple vendors and a concert by Country Artist Jimmy Wayne. Wayne’s concert will begin after 6 p.m., serving as the featured entertainment under the Rotary Centennial Pavilion.

There will also be ways to find out how you can become involved in helping foster kids in Gaston County. 

The event is being held by Least of These Gaston, a nonprofit organization started to help support foster parents and foster care in Gaston County. They help provide emergency funds, supplies and support for foster parents.

To find out more about Least of These Gaston, you can go to their website at:

Read the following article from The Charlotte Observer:

Or from The Gaston Gazette:

To find out how you can become a foster parent in Gaston County:

Come out, support a great cause, and have a good time doing it!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Murals, Mourning, & Moving Toward Acceptance

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?"

He nodded.

"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.