By Lana M. Rochel

Originally was written in 2018 and published in Multiply IQ in September 2018. Rochel updated the essay in 2021. More information about the essay will be posted after the essay.

I’m looking at a white blank laptop page in front of me. “Hey, mum! Tell the story of your girl!” I think to myself, “She’s the bee’s knees!” While it might be common to admire adults, a large number of teens are worth writing about.

Well, what to start my parent story with? When did it all actually begin? Would my children have become somehow different people if we hadn’t done this or that the way we did it? I guess every parent wants to be a good one. So do I.

Hmm, have I always been right dealing with life situations? I wish I were. Yet, I’m only human. Besides, the young need to see life in “every weather,” so as to speak, in “all coloures of the rainbow.” Tiny or a big one, a problem is always there! Thus, it is rather about one’s attitude to the matter. It’s about our ability to sort it out.  As they say, the weak see the problem, whereas the strong look for the solution. Would you agree?

Anyway, everything begins with love. There must be love between a father and mother. You can’t forge a relationship in your family. Your children will spot it out once something goes wrong. And yes, it takes two to tango. For this reason, ideally, kids should have both parents constantly taking care of them and participating in their life. I don’t think either mother or father is more important to a child. Frankly, they both will have plenty to do upbringing their children. However, it happens one of the parents is more in demand than the other.

At present (2018), there are three of us as a core family: me (a qualified English teacher, single mother in her late forties), my son Oles, 27, and Zoriana, my daughter, who turned 20 in December 2018.

Having graduated from the medical school, Oles worked as a Researcher at the International Clinic of Medical Rehabilitation in Lviv, Ukraine. Then, he began working as a Medical Writer and started a Writer M.D website. He’s a successful medical writer at Upwork.

In the summer of 2018, Oles married a charming girl Natalia, MD. As for his talents and dreams, at elementary school, my son “self-published” an issue of a literary magazine for kids, got a classmate to print a number of copies, and they sold it out at school triumphantly. Yay!

As a child, he would explore his surroundings, such a bookworm kid with a passion for “treasure-hunting” in the neighborhood. Faithful to his childhood dreams, Oles has always been into travelling. His logical thinking, creativity, ambition, and leadership skills always let him see beyond the limits.

I bet great discoveries and inventions belong to the rebel! One should be driven by natural curiosity to open the door to the unknown. Let your children dream, set goals, and achieve them!

In the fall of 2018, my lovely daughter started her fourth year at Kyiv National Economic University, named after Vadym Hetman, Faculty of Law. Moreover, since April 2017, she’s been working part-time as a Junior Lawyer at Chiron Law Firm, which is pretty unusual for a 20-year old girl. Well, she started as a paralegal. Besides, there had been almost a year of volunteering at Social Justice Law Clinic and at summer camps in France and Germany.

By the way, Zoriana means a “Star Girl” (“zoria” in Ukrainian is a star). Her buddies call her Zoria.

Here where the story itself might begin, with a “tower moment” in the happy family of four.

“Just remember, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour, and I know the sour”

Brian, Vanilla Sky

Monday, 8 February 2010. 

An early morning in Kamianka-Buzka. It’s a town in Lviv Oblast, Ukraine, 40 km (25 mil) to the north-east of Lviv, with a population of 10,630.

That shocking morning will always be the coldest morning of my life.

The night before, Oles had left for his residence hall in Lviv. He was 18, in his second year at Medical University.

I taught English in a secondary school then. Zoriana was 11 and studied at the same school. I and my students were going to throw an English party.

Zoriana was going to play a Pussycat and recite a funny poem with music and dancing. She had learned the words by heart but the dancing. Frankly, she was not into it. While I love my daughter and enjoy dancing. Hence, we were practicing in front of the big hall mirror when my husband Arthur came back home. He gave a quick glance at his daughter’s awkward moves and smiled. He was 44, a proud father, respected doctor in our little town of Kamianka-Buzka. Arthur was a District Dermatovenerologist. Due to his bright personality and job, he was fairly popular with the locals.

Anyway, haunted by the idea of avoiding the scene of death in my play Hamlet 2010 (a contemporary tragicomedy for teenagers based on William Shakespeare’s idea of Hamlet), I was struggling with writing the last scenes of the play in verses. Consequently, all night I was having maze dreams of staging till the very morning.

I would wake up to the smell of coffee made by my hubby, who usually got up a bit earlier than us. He would get the car ready for the day trip (our car was parked outside, and it was a snowy winter). Instead of that, me and my daughter woke up in a fierce silence only to find her father and my husband, dead! The clock stopped, the world froze sinking in the bone-chilling awareness of the inevitable loss.

Let me skip the time of grief and searching for solutions. In fact, we belonged to the middle class. Even though doctors in Ukraine are paid more or less the same as teachers, the prestige is still on their side. I must admit, after my husband’s sudden death, I had no time to cry. There were two kids looking at me with the belief that we could somehow get through.

Needless to say, I was willingly taking any extras at school. Besides, I had private students at home every evening. Yet, very soon, it was obvious my income had to be increased, for it was not enough for the three of us to make a living.

So, I decided to take a challenge. Having invested our last savings into renting accommodation in Kyiv (the city of my university youth and our dates with Arthur), we moved there with my daughter at the end of August 2011.

Making efforts, with some luck, I found a job in one of the downtown language schools in Kyiv. Must say, I had already had a few years of commuting to Lviv for work as an English interpreter by then. However, it was Arthur who was a major money-maker in our family spending long hours at work, and I had to give up other options but the school.

My son supported the idea of me and his 12-year old sister move, while both grandmothers and friends tried to talk me out of taking Zoriana with me. Even my brother from Moscow kept saying that Zoriana, as a little girl from a small town, wouldn’t adapt to the big city life. However, looking into my daughter’s innocent eyes, begging me not to leave her with granny, I decided to grab my younger child with me.

Limited in our costs and frustrated with renting prices in Kyiv, I could only afford a room with a shared kitchen in a nice cottage house in the suburb of the capital.

Anyway, with the ups and downs in our life, Zoriana’s character has been built.

On the one hand, the cottage town we rented accommodation in was a place with mostly all well-off residents driving posh cars. On the other hand, every morning, we had to commute to the city in overcrowded buses stopping at our bus stop already full. Happened they wouldn’t even stop as there was no room for new passengers either sitting or standing.

Besides, it was creepy to have a fifteen-minute walk to the bus stop along the road without any lights. There was a thick forest on the one side of the road and a long fence wall of the plant on the other. It could have been lit either by sunlight or starlight. Can you imagine the darkness after 6 o’clock in the morning or twelve hours later in the evening on the same day in the fall/winter season? It could be anything but a relaxing stroll. Good, now and again, there were flashlights of the passing cars.

Those were the people who lived a bit further in the same cottage town. By the way, some of them would stop to give us a lift in cold winter days. It was a big help when we were together, but I didn’t let Zoriana get into a stranger’s car when she was walking back from school alone. I guess you understand my concerns. Yet, she would often come back home alone like Little Red Riding Hood from the fairy-tale.

Although there was no Big Bad Wolf, the packs of stray dogs roaming in the area looked scary. And it was a daily challenge. Zoriana’s route from school home consisted of a fifteen-minute walk to Arsenalna Metro Station, a thirty-minute underground ride, of about thirty minutes of waiting for a bus, taking a crowded bus home, and finally, a fifteen-minute walk to the cottage we lived in. Later, she had to organize her dinner (we usually had something cooked for a few days) and do her homework. I would come back home much later.

Luckily, we found a way out. We would catch the 6:20 a.m. bus that was collecting the night shift workers from the plant nearby and taking them back to Kyiv every morning. It was considerably empty. The challenge was to get up at 5 a.m. for me and at 5:20 a.m. for my daughter. The early bird catches the worm elsewhere, whereas in Ukraine – “an early bird” must be someone who lives far from work or school.

And what about Zoriana’s school? She could either go to a local secondary school (which would also require some commuting) or be enrolled in the downtown school in proximity to my first job place. Well, since our initial goal was to move to Kyiv, we scarcely considered the local school. I believed things would change for the better sooner or later.

Despite an early wakeup, my girl really liked the school. I remember her class mentor’s surprise when she learnt that Zoriana was into reading. “It is so rare with teenagers nowadays,” she said. Besides, my girl was good at languages and chess. At the age of 10, with her father’s coaching, she took the second place in Kamianka-Buzka District Chess Competition.

The same year, Zoriana represented the High School №90 and was the second best in the English Language Olympiad, Pecherskyi District, Kyiv. Soon, my 8th grade child made a couple of good friends and gained respect from teachers and classmates.

Not going into too much detail, I had changed a few jobs before I found something decent. Commuting to the city for about a year, we managed to find some accommodation in a nice location in Kyiv at a reasonable rent. With this change, getting to Zoriana’s school in the Pechers’kyi District of Kyiv and my work got much easier. Our financial situation somehow improved. However, we had to plan our expenses carefully.

One day Zoriana’s classmates had promoted, so as to speak, her with a boy from her class to take part in the School Miss and Mister Contest. She said they would have to demonstrate their intelligence and talents on stage, doing quizzes, performing, and dancing. She asked me whether she could make it since all the other girls had backed out. I didn’t hesitate a single moment, offering her my support and training.

The problem was to get that glamorous look and learn dancing waltz. I must say Zoriana was very persistent in overcoming her difficulties in dancing. They danced, and danced at school, we danced, and danced at home!

Also, we practiced Romeo and Juliet’s dialogue in English for their talent show. The problem of getting a ball gown was eventually solved, too. We borrowed it from her cousin, who kindly sent it by post. And the shoes! Happened, we had bought trendy Italian shoes on the summer sale before. How smart of us, huh!

And she did it! Whoa! Zoria got the title of Miss Drama! Soon after that she became even more popular with her peers and took part in all after-school activities during the following year. What’s more, my daughter was considered for the School President position for the next year.

They say the appetite comes with eating!

Passing the school exams at Grade 9, Zoriana plunged into another examination session so as to be enrolled in the Ukrainian Humanities Lyceum (UHL) of Taras Shevchenko National University, the Law class.

“Congrats!” I thought before we faced the music about the school. Occurred, the prestigious lyceum was mostly oriented on the youth from well-off families such as politicians. In fact, the Ukrainian Humanities Lyceum hadn’t apprised their applicants about the fees before the entrance campaign. It would have been illegal for a state institution.

They call it charity. As soon as your child’s documents are accepted, you have to donate a good sum in cash. Most parents saw no other way but to donate the sum they were demanded to give by the school office employee in private. When I was informed about the “essential” donation from me, I said that I would consider their request till the next day since the “donation” hadn’t been mentioned anywhere in public before. I added that we would probably come back to the “old good school.”

They definitely didn’t expect the answer like that and got nervous for fear I might ruin their reputation, telling the truth to others. That’s why, the next day, I was approached by a parent committee leader. She was persuading us to stay. Yet, we would still have to give a donation. This time they requested much less. I could somehow justify the need. So, I paid.

“Yay! We are all set!” we thought.

What can I say now? There were advantages and disadvantages to spending the following year at the lyceum. Not all peers were on the same page with my daughter. However, there were a couple of nice and smart classmates to make friends with.

Yes, we had to pay the school fees and to buy the expensive school uniform. Everything was okay, but the dictator school principle, a Chemistry teacher in her mid-sixties. The lady was good at making the life of other people difficult. By other people, I mean the teachers, a number of students, and their parents, including my daughter and me. According to the Principal, the majority of the newcomers had no idea about Chemistry. Blaming their Chemistry teachers in other schools, she claimed them to have been taught nothing by that time. All of a sudden, poor marks in Chemistry flooded the class, and the Principal didn’t feel any personal responsibility for the poor performance of her students at her lessons. That was bizarre!

Have you ever heard of the Ukrainian revolution of February 2014? It is also known as the Euromaidan Revolution or the Revolution of Dignity. Well, it was the school year of 2013-2014. We lived in Kyiv when all the movement started. The school was located on The Presidential Administration doorstep, in the downtown. It occurred, the School Principal was supporting the government of the President, Viktor Yanukovych.

Anyway, both of us were at the overcrowded Maidan, Independence Square in Kyiv, when the call for a strike was announced. They were asking adults not to go to work and not to send children to school the next day. The nationwide anti-president protest started. Supporting the idea of the protest, I let my child miss school and help others with serving lunch and dinner to protesters in the morning and afternoon instead. I thought when history took place just in the streets of your city, it would be wrong for a teenager to sit in the classroom and watch the momentous event through the window.

Moreover, on the second day of the protest, Zoriana brought a few classmates with her to the “Maidan kitchen.” If I remember well, she missed three days of school or so. Of course, she came back to studies right after that. Nevertheless, it was the year of barricades, smoky fires in the downtown, protesters, and police combats. The classes at the lyceum were often cancelled because of the threat of violent conflicts nearby. For the children’s safety, parents would be called to collect their children from the school personally. Still, I wouldn’t have thought of a real military conflict, the war in the East of Ukraine awaiting us in the near future.

Let’s get back to the school memories. The advantage of the elite school was having extra hours of Ukrainian and Law, which were taught by the great teachers. Zoriana was making significant progress in Law.

At grade 10, she took the 3rd place at the Pecherskyi District Olympiad in Law, Kyiv. Yet, she mentioned that many of her competitors were cheating, while the contest inspectors turned a blind eye to that. It was not fair, she believed. Afterwards, Zoriana appealed her result. She was determined to see her work checked by the examiners. As a result, she got one point more.

Once sitting on a leather sofa in the school hall together with a couple of anxious parents, I was waiting for my turn to see the School Principal. All of us were asked to pay a visit to school because of our children’s low grades in Chemistry. Suddenly, I was approached by the Law teacher, who spoke highly of Zoriana’s knowledge and personality. With her humble Maidan experience, she became a subject of teachers’ gossips labeling her with a rebel spirit girl.

It might have been a blessing in disguise, but for family reasons we had to come back to our home town of Kamianka-Buzka in the summer of 2014. Consequently, Zoriana had to come back to the school of her childhood. Imagine a teenager in such a situation. And when? At grade 11!

“Hide your pride, girl!” I said, “We’ve got to do it.”

Our family situation was going to change. I married a foreigner, and we were planning immigration to the country of my spouse together with my teenage daughter. We thought we could make it during the following year or so.

I must mention, my son has always been in my life and on my mind, too. Just there should be another story about him.

Our good intentions almost smashed Zoriana’s plans for university. But it was nothing in comparison to the bad news of my serious health problem, which I was diagnosed with by chance in October 2014. Next, there was an urgent and expensive surgery with a long period of recovery. Luckily, the surgery went on well. Whichever the reason, I had to survive. Probably just to be there for my kids.

Soon, we realized we had been brought far behind with our immigration plans, and the rush of Zoriana’s preparation for university entrance exams began. She had only about six months to cover everything but her desire to study Law and come back to Kyiv was tremendous. I’m very grateful to Zoriana’s granny, who prepared her for the exam in Ukrainian. A big thanks to my late husband’s close friend Youriy, a History teacher, for the solid preparation in History. Also, let me save some credits for myself as my daughter’s English tutor.

At grade 11, Zoriana became the winner of Kamianka-Buzka District Olympiad in Law. Yippee! Next, she was the third one in Lviv Oblast’ Olympiad in Law. Awesome!

With all the efforts being made, my daughter successfully entered Kyiv National Economic University named after Vadym Hetman – KNEU, Faculty of Law (transformed into Institute of Law later).

I must say, both of us, me and my son, thoroughly recommended Zoriana to consider a few other career options as well. But the pretty face sixteen-year old girl in glasses firmly replied, “Let me try Law first. If I fail, I will follow your advice. Promise!”

So, she made a smashing return to Kyiv, the city of her challenging adolescence. It was the first milestone in her adult life. Sweet!

Well, it’s high time I finished my story, mother’s tale. I’m going to round it off with a quote from “Vanilla Sky” movie.

“Edmund: There are no guarantees, but remember: Even in the future, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour.”

Lana M. ‘Rochel is the pen name for a writer, poet, lyricist, and podcaster whose work has appeared in BFS Horizons, the Haiku Pea Journal of haiku and senryu, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Redemption: The best rejected manuscripts of 2020 anthology, LitStream Literary Magazine, the 2021 Dwarf Stars anthology, and pending in The Journal of Undiscovered Poets.

First published on 9 September 2018 on multiplyiq.com

Updated and edited by Lana M. ‘Rochel on 29 September 2021

A short version of the story is available as a podcast episode “Lana M. ‘Rochel Author – My Little Star Girl” on Podbean, YouTube, and on other podcast listening applications.

Qualified English teacher, Lana writes creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, song lyrics, and children’s.

Listen to “Lana M. ‘Rochel Author” (Podcast)

Consider reading “Lana M. ‘Rochel Author” on Patreon

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