EMILY Cablek is looking forward to a Christmas with her children for the first time in four years.
The young Winnipeg mother was reunited in May with her children, Abby and Dominic, whose father allegedly abducted them four years ago when they were five and seven, respectively, and spirited them out of the country.
Cablek said the past seven months have been a period of great adjustment for her and her children but added each day seems to get easier for the family.
"I haven't celebrated Christmas for the last four years," Cablek said. "Having my kids and being able to celebrate it is great."
Cablek has not spoken publicly since being reunited with her children in May. She said she is going public now because she wants the community to know the family is coping and her children are adjusting to life in Winnipeg again.
"I just wanted to tell everyone that things with the kids are great," Cablek said.
Cablek and the children's father, Kevin Maryk, had been involved in a custody dispute before he fled the country in August 2008 with the children, aided by his family and friends.
Maryk and the children were found safe in late May in a suburb of Guadalajara, Mexico. Neighbours there alerted local authorities when they became suspicious of two children living in a condominium unit who were never seen outside in daytime.
Maryk and Rick Groen, 41, a friend and alleged accomplice, were taken into custody by local authorities. Groen was extradited to Canada July 19 and returned to Winnipeg the next day, where he was charged with conspiracy to commit the indictable offence of abduction and failing to comply with the conditions of an undertaking.
Maryk was returned to Winnipeg at the end of October, when he was charged with two counts of abduction and two counts of conspiracy to commit an abduction.
Winnipeg police also arrested a local couple, Darlene and Bradley McKay, for their alleged assistance to Maryk, charging them with two counts of abduction by concealment and two counts of obstructing justice.
An outstanding arrest warrant remains for the McKays' son, Cody McKay, who is Maryk's nephew.
Cablek said her children led lives of fugitives during the four years with Maryk, with no schooling and no interaction with anyone except their father and his associates.
Cablek said she enrolled the children in summer school and they are in age-appropriate classes in the public school system, adding, however, they are receiving remedial help.
"The school division has been great for the kids," Cablek said. "They've been really understanding in adapting to them."
The children have a lot of catching up to do academically, she said, adding they spoke fluent Spanish when they returned but they were unable to read or write in Spanish or English.
Cablek said the children received counselling when they returned but she admitted she spends more time in therapy now than they do.
Abby, now 10, seems to be adjusting more readily to school life, she said, adding Dominic, now 11, is the more sensitive of the two and is having some difficulty adapting to school and new friends.
"It was very hard on them to be ripped away from me and then to be ripped away from their father," Cablek said. "It was a while before they understood that going by different names was something to hide them, not for fun.
"Now, it's more about getting settled and trying to move on with life."
The children are suspicious of authority figures, Cablek said, attributing their mistrust to being on the run and watching their father manipulate authorities here and avoid capture for four years.
"The change into regular society and being part of the school and community is a huge difference for them but they are enjoying it."
Cablek said she was unemployed for the four years she spent searching for the children and remains on social assistance. She said she still hopes to return to university to finish her studies one day but realizes that will have to wait.
"It's been a hard struggle financially getting things in place," she said, adding she had to register her family for a Christmas hamper, which was difficult to do.
"It wasn't part of my plans, when the kids came home, to be struggling this much but that's the reality.
"We're here as a family and I'm really grateful for that."