War, Heartbeats, and Grades

I’ve been crying this morning.

It’s okay.

They’re tears of joy and relief. And a lot more. You see, I finally heard from my Ukrainian friend, Kateryna (I changed her name – you’ll soon seen why). I haven’t heard a word from her since January 27, and I was getting frantic.

Kateryna and her family live(d) in Ternopil, which is about two hours from the capital of Ukraine where the bulk of the fighting is happening. To say I’ve been worried is an understatement.

I’ve been reaching out to her like a crazy woman.

“Do you need anything? Money? A place to stay?”

One of Kateryna’s illustrations that I used in my children’s book, The Garden Angel.

I always heard back. Curt messages I received at odd hours. No. They were fine but scared. She gave details of her kids and certificates and work – the somewhat normal life updates we all give.

Then. Nothing.

I kept trying to reach Kateryna only to be met with blank space. The mind does crazy things with blank space, and of course, I thought the worst. It’s a sick feeling.

But this morning, I had a message from Kateryna waiting for me, and I burst into tears!

They’re. Alive!

But Kateryna is preparing to flee her country – to be on the run with her children and her four sphinx cats. She has several thousand dollars and is in the process of selling her car to raise more money. Her husband was called to the armed forces. An educated man, he was a programmer for an American company.

Not anymore.

I can’t imagine what she’s going through. “It is a cry of the soul,” she said this morning. War is ravaging the only home she’s only known, and now her husband is in the thick of it. She and her kids need to leave but they don’t have enough money. (Don’t worry. I’m on it. I’m awaiting her bank numbers to get her the money).

She’s ashamed to ask for help she said, as if she had anything to do with this war.


I put myself in her place, and I know I’d hesitate to ask for help, too. But she asked, and that says a lot about my plucky, talented friend. She’s, smart, isn’t sitting on her haunches, and has a plan. Would I keep her gold coins safe, she also requested? If she mailed them to me?

Of course, I would!

And other investments? She mentioned stamps and a few things I didn’t understand.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

It kind of sounded like a spammy, scam of an email. If I didn’t know her, I’d just delete the entire message. But war carries its own kind of desperate language.

My heart is constricted thinking of Kateryna and her family and all the families over in Ukraine who had nothing to do with this senseless war. They are literally caught in the crossfire, dodging bullets and grabbing their kids’ hands as they run for their lives or just try to stick it out until the end.


Their life savings and homes and everything they hold dear hang in the balance. Families are being ripped apart, filled with huge bolts of fear and desperation. These people are forced, by nothing they’ve done, to reevaluate every belief they’ve ever had in life.

I remember hearing stories from one of my mom’s closest friends when I was a kid. Irma remembered fleeing Nazi Germany as a four-year old. I’d listen, rapt, as she talked about holding her mom and dad’s hands as they scurried across a huge field in the night. They had nothing but the clothes on their back, her older brother trekking along beside them. Fear, so much fear pounded through her little body.

They were smart. They got out, and she still lives today. But I promise, even though Irma is now in her eighties, she’s never forgotten that journey to freedom.

So, my message today is simple.

Whatever learning issues are on your child or students’ plates – dyslexia, autism, ADD/ADHD. Auditory or visual processing problems. I know they can take hold of a family and rip it apart almost as much as a war can.

But don’t let it, please.

When you get that call from your child’s principal about something your child did, take a deep breath and know it can be fixed. When your child comes home with a less than exemplary report card or test score, take a break and think about it. If your child can’t read or memorize math facts, don’t freak out. If your students aren’t learning like you think they should, reevaluate.

These are all things that can be fixed. It happens all the time.

Stopping a war – not so easy.

Hug your child or student. Squeeze him or her tightly and appreciate that specialness that is only theirs. My friend, Kateryna, is getting ready to be on the run with her kids, leaving her husband to one of the worst fates in the history of man – to be given a weapon and placed in the trenches of a violent war.

Hugs will probably be sparse for a while.

Every second of her day, Kateryna, her family, and the war-torn country she’s fleeing are dealing in heartbeats.

Not grades.

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