I have always suspected that children are far more resilient than most adults give them credit for. My experience of navigating early tragedy supported this theory (my mom died when I was 5), and now I’ve had a chance to observe my own children coping with loss and grave difficulty.
Ten months ago, we evacuated our six kids from our home in Kyiv, Ukraine. When we fled the country, we were forced to leave our three pets behind in the care of others, and we only brought what could be held in two carry-on suitcases and one backpack per person, plus our smaller musical instruments. For three weeks, we moved from one place to another every few days, in a disorienting trek that spanned over 1,100 miles by van and bus and train. We stayed in seven different sets of accommodations in four different cities in places as diverse as guest rooms at the headquarters for a Christian ministry, staff housing at a former Bible college campus, a range of hotels, and a shockingly dilapidated Airbnb until we finally found a small apartment to rent in downtown Budapest. Along the way, we acquired a few more items of clothing per person, some necessities like pillows, blankets, and towels, and some toys and games that came to us from friends and churches in the United States . . . and a large suitcase to help haul our growing amount of stuff from one temporary shelter to the next.
Once we were settled, we started to replace many of the things we’d lost, including some of the kids’ toys. My husband was even able to bring some of our stuff from our Kyiv apartment on the several ministry trips he made back to Ukraine. We now have basically everything we need, minus a few minor items that we just haven’t gotten around to buying yet. We even managed to get all our pets back! We have settled into a new rhythm of life with homeschool (a first for us), studying Hungarian, and cultivating new relationships. The kids seem mostly content. But nearly every day, some experience here with jog someone’s memory about something that we left behind, and we will all be reminded of what we’ve been through.
Last Friday night the thing we missed was the set of theater-style popcorn buckets that we used to have for family movie nights. A few days ago it was the kids’ laser-tag pistols that helped create hours of fun memories with friends and cousins. (We even had some epic family battles, played after dark with all the lights in the apartment turned off.) Yesterday it was the contrast between all the space we had in our old apartment versus the cramped quarters where we now live. And on any given day, someone is likely to remember friends from before the war and wistfully long for a time when we can all be together again. In fact, my third son is staunchly resisting making new friends, because he is afraid it would be disloyal to his best friend in Kyiv.
But despite these ongoing laments, the general atmosphere in our home is upbeat and positive. We can’t speak the language of the country where we live, but we are learning. Our apartment is small, but we make it work. Our happy rhythm of life was violently disrupted, but we are learning new rhythms. Our kids haven’t made any good friends here yet, but they are keeping in touch with their friends and cousins in Ukraine and enjoy every moment of those interactions. They have lost many things, but they are truly thankful for the things that they do have. Overall, I think they seem more well-adjusted than I do!
When I really stop to reflect on what they’ve been through and how normal they still seem, I am amazed—and so very proud of them. They’re going to make it.
And with God’s help (and a lot of hugs and prayers), so will I.
Just so you know, I do believe it’s important for all of us to make friends here, and despite our kids’ reluctance to form new bonds, my husband and I are being proactive about helping them meet and spend time with kids their ages.
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