Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cava At The Circus

Cava's year anniversary of being a part of our family here in the States was on the 19th of this month. We had a small family celebration. Cava picked what we ate for dinner (homemade mac and cheese) and what kind of cake he wanted (chocolate). We wanted to use that day to remind him that we loved him and that he was a part of our family.

When I had asked Cava how he wanted to celebrate his anniversary, his first reply was, "Disney!" (He would make an awesome Super Bowl ad for Disney. "Cava, you just got adopted from Ukraine. Where do you want to go?" "Disney World!") Financially, this is not an option for us since we are still paying off the debt of our adoption costs. So, his second choice was, "The circus!" This was doable, especially since opening night tickets were half off. 

Last night was the opening performance of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey's new Built To Amaze show. Before we went, Cava and I got online an looked at their website. Many of the performers were from his home country and had trained at the Kyiv Circus. This made him very happy to hear and I like giving him reasons to be proud of where he came from. 

Prior to us leaving, Cava was bouncing off the walls with excitement about seeing the circus for the first time.

After Danelle got off work, we caught the light rail into down town.

Not only was he thrilled about riding on a "train," as he called it, he also had to tell other passengers that he was going to the circus. 

Once we were at Time Warner Cable Arena, we made our way to the pre-show where different acts were performing, there was a giant inflatable, different fun stations for kids, and giveaways. 

Cava enjoyed putting on a ring master's coat.

Getting his photo taken with a clown.

Watched an acrobat perform with a long, yellow ribbon.

Then he joined in on the act with some dancers that he thought were cute. He really got into it when they started dancing to "Gangnam Style." For some reason, he loves that song, although he does change the lyrics to, "Whoop 'em, Cava style!"

Then it was time to take our seats and Cava wanted whatever a vendor was selling that passed by; no matter what it was or how over-priced it was. Before we had left, we had told each of the boys that we'd give them ten dollars to spend however they wanted or, if they didn't spend it at the circus, they could keep it. Benjamin decided right off the bat that he was going to save his to go towards his science project. Cava wanted to keep his to buy a puzzle. His resistance lasted until after the intermission when he got very hungry and spent most of his on snacks.

When the arena lights went down, the stage lights came on, the music started, and here came the circus. "This is some awesome!" Cava declared. His eyes were glued to whatever act was performing and often his mouth was agape and his eyes large with amazement, delight, surprise, and excitement. He clapped and shouted and pointed. "That's so amazing!" or exclaim, "How do they do that?" One thing I love about Cava is his unbridled enthusiasm.

When the tiger trainer was in the cage with all of the lions, it was Cava who leaned over and said, "He's speaking Russian!" And he was.

Cava loved the tigers.

Though, he preferred the poodles. "They're soooo cute!" Alex (the male in the photo below) studied at a professional circus school in Ukraine.

And the elephants. (The first photo reminds me of the circus in Dumbo).

Many of the acrobats from the Negrey Troupe were also from Ukraine and they were incredible. Cava, who loves gymnastics, said, "Maybe I'll do that one day!"

One of the acts that was all of our favorites, but none of us dared say we would ever think of trying was the spinning steel vortex that the acrobats walked in and on, and jumped rope on, and moved in and on them as if gravity didn't exist. 

After the circus had ended and we had taken the light rail back to our car, we asked Cava what his favorite act was. He thought for a minute before answering, "Clowns, dogs, tigers, elephants . . . all of it!" Then in the car ride home, Cava told us, "Thank you so much, Mama and Papa. That was super great!" And, in his usual fashion, asked, "When can we go again?"

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Snowy Day (Sort Of) For The Boys

There's nothing like finding out at noon that you have to pick your kids up from school at 12:30 because there is a chance of snow late that afternoon. What? That never, ever happened when I was a kid. I remember sitting in class, looking out the window at snow on the ground, but now they close school early because there is a chance of snow.  So, I rushed all slap-dash from work to pick the boys up.

When they were home, I joked about how they now got to enjoy playing in our backyard in the leaves that were still there and how they were going to get to build a leaf-man. Before he went outside, Cava put on his snow-pants (I guess because he doesn't have any leaf-pants).

They came in numerous times to ask, "When is is supposed to snow again?" and I would check the Weather Channel's website. I was happy when they came inside and found other ways to occupy their time. Well, that was until our resident mad scientist decided to make red gloop, which he put on his face to become a gloop monster and terrorize his younger brother around the house. One thing you can never say about the Blackwell house is that it is never dull!

Since Cava had homework, he and I sat down at the kitchen table to do it.  When it came time to do his daily reading, he went to the playroom and brought back  (Surprise!) a book entitled Snow by Roy McKie.

As Cava read it to me, he kept saying, "I'm going to do that." 

Here are some examples of what he was referring to:

Building a giant snowman . . .

Sledding, skiing, and building a snow fort . . .

I kept having to remind him that we would, most likely get very little snow (the weather man was only predicting that we'd get an inch of snow in our area) and that he probably wouldn't get to do any of those things. Disappointed and disgruntled, he complained, "I don't like little snow! I want big snow!"  Then he told me some of the things he loved to do in the snow when he was back in Ukraine. These are moments I absolutely love as I like getting these small pieces of the puzzle of his life so that I can try to assemble some idea of his past.

It was late afternoon when it finally began to snow. I saw the first tiny flakes coming down as I washed dishes. Of course, I called to tell the boys. As soon as they heard the word snow, both of the boys hurriedly put on their coats, hats, and shoes so they could be outside, trying to catch snowflakes on their tongues (one of the few things Cava could do from the book he'd read).

While they played outside, inside, I was drinking coffee, listening to Astrud Gilberto sing "Girl From Ipanema" and daydreaming about being on an island. I am not a cold weather person at all. Still, I was glad to see the boys not only having a good time in the snow, but, more importantly, a good time together.

For dinner, I made grilled cheese sandwiches and soup. No sooner had we finished, then our little Ukrainian wanted to go back outside.

And, the next morning, they were back out in the small dusting of snow we got.  Cava made a snow angel that looked more like a leaf angel.

He and Benjamin enjoyed sliding down the snowy slide and throwing handfuls of snow (It was too powdery to make snowballs) at each other. Cava tried to make a snowball by rolling his soccer ball in the snow, but to no effect.

But mostly, they just enjoyed each other and being out of school for the day.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ants In My Plants

Since it was only 35 degrees outside on Saturday, we decided to take the boys to one of our favorite local spots - the Schiele Museum to see their new exhibit: Ants In My Plants.

They got to learn all about ants and see them at work in a large terrarium,which fascinated Cava.

They also got to do crafts, like make a bookmark. . . 

Or ants out of plastic spoons and pipe-cleaners . . .

Here's Benjamin with his finished product . . .

We also got to eat a cup of dirt (chocolate pudding with crumbled graham crackers and chocolate chips). 

Afterwards, we walked around the museum and looked at all the displays. Cava and I played a game of who could find an animal that was listed on the information plates first.

He would also tell me all about the different animals that he'd learned about on one of his new favorite shows, The Wild Kratt Brothers on PBS Kids. I loved listening to him talk about the different animals and about their habitats. 

It was the longest Cava has ever spent looking at the displays, as he typically darts from one to the next with record speed.

He also enjoyed posing in front of the polar bear.

While we were there, we ran into families that we knew from church and from Cava's school, including his principal, who was very glad to see Cava. 

We all had a good time and stayed warm.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Awesome News! So What Can We Do?

Other than when we got the news that we were invited over to Ukraine, I haven't been this excited about someone's adoption like I have that of Ryan and Cristy Brice. Their adoption journey has been a long one, as they started the process back in 2010.

Our family has been praying for theirs daily that a door would be opened so that they could go to India and get their precious son, AJ. God has been faithful and they have received awesome news that moves them that much closer to bringing him home.

To read all about it, go to their blog:

They could use your prayers and your financial support. Pray and if God calls you to help this beautiful family, you can contribute at:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pray For Ukraine

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
- Matthew 5:9

Our family loves Ukraine. 

When we adopted Cava, we did not just bring him here to the United States and tell him, "You're an American now!" Instead, we feel that Ukraine is now a part of our family's identity. So it has been with a heavy and broken heart that we have watched what is occurring in a country that holds such a special place in our lives. It's hard seeing the events unfold in places that we remember from when we were in Kyiv.    

Awhile back, I was watching a video on our computer of what is transpiring in Ukraine when Cava walks up behind me. "Where's that?" he asks.

"Kyiv," I answer.



"Whoa, that's scary. I'm glad I'm not there."

"I'm glad you're not there, too."

"Can we pray for them?"

"Of course we will."

And we do. 

Every night. 

We pray for the peace of that beautiful country that our family loves dearly.

We pray for our friends and their families over there. 

We pray for our translator and our facilitator and their families.

We pray for the people we met, like the women we would see regularly in our local market.

I saw a great quote from one of the Ukrainian protesters that said, "Ukraine will rise from its knees only when it falls on its knees before God."  

As one can see in the photo below, some gathered for an entire hour just to pray for their country.

As John 16:33 tells us, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

Along with praying for Ukraine, you can go to the following link and sign the petition on that calls for our government to speak out. Show your support for the Ukrainian people.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "True peace is not the absence of conflict . . . but the presence of justice."

Great places to read more on what's happening in Ukraine so that you can know what to pray specifically for:

The Kyiv Post:

Euro News:


Espreso TV:

Guiding the Fatherless to the Father:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Spider-man and Self-Acceptance

It is no secret that Cava loves Spider-man. From the time he got here, he has only wanted to be Spider-man.  There is something about this web-slinger that Cava not only identifies with but wants to become. For awhile, he would tell us that he wasn't Cava, he was Peter Parker Spider-man. There is something about Peter Parker, an orphan who was raised by his aunt and uncle, who has super powers thrust upon him by the bite of a radioactive spider and, while struggling with his daily life, battles powerful villains. Spider-man looms large for Cava, who struggles with his daily life and, while he didn't have super powers thrust on him, he did find himself suddenly plopped down in a new country and a new family.

Cava has struggled and continues to struggle with both self-esteem and self-acceptance. With self-esteem, Cava doesn't believe himself to be smart or lovable. In regards to self-acceptance, he is unable to accept all facets of himself (the good and the bad). Both are something we have been working on with him, both at home and with his psychiatrist and play-therapist. All of us know that, while Cava sometimes makes bad choices (don't we all, really?), he has a really good heart. 

Not having grown up in a family where a child can learn to accept himself through acceptance by parents, Cava sometimes has a difficult time accepting himself or that we do. Parents are what often help a child see themselves in a certain way: smart, beautiful, good, etcetera. Without that, he has grown up under various care givers who have not helped to give him a sense of self. He has told me numerous times that he did not get any positive feedback from anyone until he got here. How damaging is that to one's self to never hear "Great job" or to be told one is smart or funny or good? 

Yesterday, he started talking to me about an episode of Spider-man where the villain Mesmero switched the minds of Peter Parker and Hulk so that Peter was in Hulk's body and Hulk was in Peter's. Chaos ensued as they both struggled to be in another form. 

"I didn't like that," Cava told me. 

"Why not?" I asked.

He told me that Peter Parker should stay himself and Hulk should stay Hulk.

"So you wouldn't want to be in big, old Hulk's body?"

"Oh, no."

"What about in Peter Parker's?"

I was waiting on Cava to tell me that he did want to be Peter Parker since Peter is Spider-man. Instead, he replied, "No, I don't want to be Peter Parker. I just want to be Cava."

"I'm glad," I told him and I really was. "Because I love Cava. Cava is awesome!"

"I love Cava, too," he smiled. Though he admitted that when he was in Ukraine, no one did. 

"Well, that's definitely not the case here, is it?"

"No," he beamed even bigger. And we both began to list off people who loved him. 

I couldn't help but feel joy in that this was a small moment but a huge step for Cava towards self-acceptance. He, at this moment, wanted to only be himself and not change places with his favorite super hero. 

We can't undo Cava's past, but we can help him in the present. We can continue to convey positive messages about himself and let him know that we love him whether he's been good or bad in his actions. The more we do this, the more he can learn to accept himself . 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Conversation About Rooms, Family, & Ukraine

Cava was thrilled when we took him to Home Depot to pick out the color he wanted his room painted. It was important that we let him decide, as it helps to give him a sense of identity and importance as he is making the decision. After looking at a lot of those paint swatches, he finally chose a dark blue that was inspired by the blue in Spider-man's costume. As I've written, Spider-man looms large in this boy's psyche.

We live in an old house (old by American standards - just over 100 years - not those of the country he came from), so we had to patch spots and fix cracks before we could paint. When I finally did, I started with his ceiling. The paint went on pink but became white as it dried, but when Cava first walked in while I was painting, he freaked out, "I didn't want pink!" He calmed down when I explained to him that the paint wouldn't stay pink but would dry white. Cava was relieved when he saw that this was true.

Each time I started a new step in the process, Cava would come in, look around as inspecting my work, and ask, "How much more 'til you're done?" I had to explain numerous times that it would take me a couple of days to paint his room right. I was glad when I finally had.

Cava was busy working on his latest puzzle, so I had Benjamin help me put the furniture back in Cava's room and have all of it ready as a surprise. Then I went and got him without telling him I'd finished. As he entered his room, his eyes got big and he hugged me, "Papa, I love it." This was quickly followed by, "Can we put the Spider-man stickers on?" (For his birthday, our friends the Philbecks, gave him Spider-man wall decals and Cava has been chomping at the bit to put them on his room's walls ever since he got them in November).

We took the sheets of decals out and I let Cava show me where he wanted me to put them. Luckily, they are easy to put on and take off, as he kept changing his mind on where he wanted them placed. Here he is posing with two that he wanted near the ladder to his bunk-bed. (I love that with the blue of the wall and the yellow of his hoodie that he looks like the Ukrainian flag).

After we had finished putting the stickers up, I asked him if he was happy with his newly painted room.

"Oh yeah, it's cool," he replied. Then he rushed back up onto the bunk, "Papa, take another picture of me."

I should've known I'd get one of my favorite web-slinger, Spider-Cava!

Later that day,  I asked him, "When you were in Ukraine, did you ever imagine you would have your own room?"

"Noooo. Never," he replied.

"Did you think your life was ever going to change or did you believe it would just stay the same as it was?"


"Did you want it to change?"

"Oh, yeah."


"I dunno'."

 "Did you or any of the other children talk about wanting a family?"

"Some did."

"Talked about being adopted?"

"Oh, no. Uh-huh. Had a family."

"They had family?"


"Like who?"

He then told me how his friend Zhana had a mother and a sister. "Sometimes her Mom would come and get her. Sometimes she would bring her back." Hearing this made me feel for that little girl. How difficult it must be on a child to go in and out of orphanages and not understand why. Cava also told me how other kids had siblings who were in the boarding school (something I knew since I met so many of the kids there).

"Did you wish you had a brother or sister?"

He looked at me puzzled. "I do. Benjmain."

"No, I meant when you were back in Ukraine."

"Yes." Cava told me how he wanted one so that he wouldn't be lonely. It always breaks my heart to hear him talk of being so alone.

"So you wanted to be in a family?"

"Of course!"

"When you first got here, you told Mrs. Yulia in Ukrainian that they made you get adopted. Was that true or did you want us to adopt you?"

"I wanted you to adopt me."

"Then they didn't make you agree to be apart of our family?"


While I'm sure there may have been some pressure on him to be adopted, I also think that he probably said that because he was so angry at the time and wanted to hurt us.

Soon we began to talk about the boarding school and what his daily routine was like. He told me about the gym where they had physical education. "There were different centers where we could each do something different: jump rope, ping-pong . . ."

"Wow, really? They never showed us the gym."

"I'll show it to you."


"When we go visit there." (We have talked about returning to Ukraine when Cava's older to see his homeland).

"So you would like to go back and visit?"

He nodded.

"Even the boarding school?"


"Now, if we did go back to the boarding school, do you think you'll be able to talk to those kids?"

"What you mean?"

"They speak Ukrainian. Can you still speak it?"

"Oh, noooo."

"Then, do you think those kids will understand you or will you sound like we did when we were there."

Cava laughed. "Yeah, you sounded funny." Then he added, "Blah, blah, blah."

(It was interesting that this past weekend, he came up to Danelle one morning and told her, "I'm sorry, Mama."

"Sorry for what, sweetie?" she asked.

"For not talking to you."


"When we were in Ukraine."

She gathered him up in her arms. "That's okay, Cavitchka. I'm sorry that we couldn't talk to each other."  Danelle asked him if he was scared after they'd left the boarding school and, he only admitted he was when she told him that she was scared, "It was all new to me, too.").

As we continued talking, he laughed when he remembered how he didn't want any of the other kids to come into our room at the boarding school. "I slammed the door on them and told them, "Go away! My family!"

"What did that word, "family," mean to you then?"

"I dunno'." He shrugged and then thought for a minute before saying, "You were mine. I had never had anything that was just mine before."

"Well, we are definitely your family."

It is rare for Cava to openly talk about his time back in Ukraine, so I am always grateful to get these small gifts of glimpses into his past. Even though they are small details, they are still details of his life before us and are what shaped who he is. Whenever he does share with me, I always make sure to tell him how much such stories mean to me because they are a part of who he is.