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  • Writer's picture Jana

They say that God Never Gives you More Than you can Handle? But Five Children!

I don't think I buy into that statement, yet when things get tough, I still find myself wondering if it might be true? In mid-May, I found myself wondering exactly that.

Shortly after the war broke out in Ukraine, a Ukrainian refugee family arrived in our tiny town of Hidden Hills, much to my surprise. It did seem an odd place to land when fleeing from a war-torn European country. I recounted a bit their journey in my Mother's Day blog post of how Illia and his eight family members came to land in our backyard (

In mid-May, things took another difficult turn for his family when they lost the home they were staying in, in Hidden Hills, with little notice (the details of why these unfortunate events transpired is still not clear). The same generous people that helped them to secure housing in Hidden Hills, quickly found them another home to stay in. However their new lily pad was to be in Santa Monica, not close-by to Hidden Hills at all. Because of the distance, the relocation meant that their five children had to change school districts, just four weeks before the end of school. Yet another challenge for them to surmount.

Illia, who is Garin's age, is the oldest of the five children. His parents felt certain that the four younger children (two of whom had been in Miles' first grade class at Round Meadow and two younger still ) could more easily make the transition to another school so late in the year. However they were concerned about making such a difficult move of schools for Illia so late in the year and rightly so, with finals and culmination right around the corner. On their last day here, we went to visit them before they left and I offered to anything I could to help. I had no idea what that that might entail, until 24 hours later.

On Sunday morning, the next day, I received a text from Illia's mother asking, quite simply, if Illia could live with us until the end of the school year. I recall that I was making breakfast for my kids, before we were to head off to church, when the text came in. I stood frozen as I read it.

I knew that I had to say yes. That was the only possible response to a request like that. Yet, I worried about my own ability take care of another child. On most days, I feel stretched to my absolute limit, caring for a home, a large property, a dog, and four kids. That said, not much daunts me. But this request did, for some reason. I hesitated for about two minutes before responding with a simple, "Yes." I sent my response and could only pray that it would all work itself out.

Not only has it worked itself out, it has been one of the most wonderful blessings this family has ever experienced.

Illia has been the most delightful addition to our family. He is quiet, kind, thoughtful and well-mannered. He is a pleasure to have around. He has added a positive energy to our family. He has invigorated us, for lack of a better word. . He joins us for our nightly family dinners, where we have interesting discussions ranging from the differences between Ukrainian and American culture and food, to John Steinbeck since both Garin and Illia are reading Of Mice and Men in school. We teach Illia new words in English and he teaches us so much about his culture. We laugh a lot.

I drop all five kids off every morning to school. The first stop is Round Meadow, where the three little kids get out. Each morning, I hear Illia say a sweet and heartfelt goodbye to them, as the exit the car in the carpool line. From there, we head to AE Wright, where Garin and Ilia get out together and head off for the day. In the afternoon Garin and Illia take the bus back from school and then walk home together. Most afternoons, they sit at the dining room table, after arriving home, and work on their homework.

In the afternoons, once everyone is done with their homework, they have great fun playing together. I see them engaging in games that they never played before Illia arrived, or had seemingly grown bored of. For example, we have a basketball hoop in our driveway that has sat idle for the nearly five years we have lived here. But since Illia plays basketball, they are all out playing hoops (except for Garin sadly, who usually has too much homework which he often doesn't finish until late into the evening). I watch them running and laughing in circles through the front and back yards, as they play games of tag, and hide-and-go-seek. They go swimming in the pool and play tetherball with a set that Catherine received for Christmas, that has largely been collecting dust in the garage until Illia arrived and reinvigorated everyone to play.

Like the rest of us in this country, I recall watching in horror as the war in Ukraine broke out, over three months ago. Again, like so many others, I felt helpless to do anything of any consequence to help. Little did I know, a few months later, I would be called to help in such a meaningful way.

It has been a privilege and an honor to know and help this remarkably strong and resilient family. Even now, as Illia lives with us, I find myself feeling guilty that I am not doing enough to help with this terrible situation in Ukraine, and more specifically, with this struggling family in our midst. I am constantly trying to find new resources and connections for them, in the hopes of making their life just a little bit easier.

In the meantime, we will cherish this time with Illia and be grateful that we were given this unique opportunity to make a small difference in his life and the life of his family, as they negotiable this very difficult time in their lives.

In preparation for Illia's arrival, I took a run to Smart and Final to stock up. My shopping cart runneth over. He is a 5'10" growing teenage boy after all.

Illia chose the guest room downstairs as his home base for the month he is here.

Dinnertime! Some of Illia's favorite meals have been my homemade macaroni and cheese, as well as everyone's favorite, cheeseburgers and fries. Illia now sits at Granny's respective spot. Not only do I think she would be fine with that, but honored to share her place at the table with Illia.

The kids love playing board and card games together.

Swimming is always a crowd-pleaser!

Illia is a little tall for the monkey bars, but couldn't disappoint Catherine by not at least trying.

Illia even gardens, much to my amazement and joy! I had a lot of gardening to do a few weekends ago and he joined right in to help. It turns out he has a lot of gardening experience from back home. How lucky am I?

We call Illia our little (or not-so-little) monkey. He practically lives on bananas. I buy them by the boatload and yet whenever I look at the fruit bowl, they seemed to have vanished into thin air. I much prefer his penchant for bananas, than my kids' preference for sweet and salty snacks that come in bags and boxes.

Fitzy and Illia are inseparable. Illia very much misses his pets from home that he was forced to leave behind when they had to quickly flee Ukraine.

Here are some precious photos that Illia shared with us of a life left behind in Ukraine. Almost unimaginable to us, who have our homes, our beloved pets, our jobs, our lives and our freedom. Illia expresses missing his pets the most, Ice, his Scottish chinchilla cat and his Corella Parrot, Gosha.

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