A Lesson in Optimism from My Ukrainian Mother-In-Law

My mother-in-law bought clothes for my daughter. That may not seem significant, but let me explain why it is.

She lives in Ukraine and came to help us in the transition to becoming new parents.

I’m sure you’ve heard that Ukraine is in turmoil. They’ve ousted an administration for reneging on a promise, had territory taken by Putin’s Russia, and are in the midst of a civil war in the eastern, Russian-speaking districts (see a great timeline of events here).

Ukraine is also struggling with financial troubles, exacerbated by the war. It’s reported they only have cash reserves to pay for about a month of imports, much less to cover payments on debts. As a result, they are having trouble securing new loans to maintain cash reserves and prop up their currency. (Ukraine’s debt-to-GDP is about 41 percent, meaning, for every $100 they produce, they hold $41 in debt—for comparison, the United States is far worse at about 72.)

When we visited Olga’s family in October 2013, I can remember getting eight hryvnias (Ukraine’s currency, pronounced “h-REEV-n-ya” in the singular) for my dollar. I still have some left over from the trip as you can see in the photo above. By 2014, it would have taken 12 hryvnias to get my dollar back. Now it would take 22.

Imagine a $50 pair of shoes all of a sudden costs $150. That’s what Ukrainian’s feel like right now—except its not just shoes, it’s everything.

When inflation roars, it grinds the economy to a halt making things even worse. Not only do your shoes cost three times as much, but you aren’t getting paid this week because no one is buying from your business either.

Back to my beloved mother-in-law. She’ s paying three times the price for everything. And I’m sure you’re thinking about how much of a jerk I am to let her pay for anything. Well, believe me, I tried.

There is so much to write about here. I could praise my mother-in-law for how hard she has worked and how diligently she has saved. I could extol her generosity. I could underscore that the same thing can happen here that is happening in Ukraine and we ought to be prepared.

But, when she insisted on buying Olivia clothes today, it was her love and her optimism that warmed my spirit.

She just had her world tore out from under her. Her country hangs by a thread and they don’t know what’s next. But the first thing on her mind is our little girl. However hard she’s worked, there’s more work to be done and it’s nothing to worry about. But her granddaughter needs a warm sweater and hat and by God she’s going to see that it is done.