Saturday, September 20, 2014

One Step at a Time

Once again, I have failed to blog this week until this very moment.  It is not because of a lack of interest, but because my "free time", such as it is, has been taken up with other projects, including writing.  I was blessed with the opportunity to write for a new homeschooling magazine, Learning Tangent and here is the cover of the latest e-issue (they are working their way toward print):

See that article at the top?  Toss the Textbook! An Eclectic Approach to History is mine :-)  I really enjoyed writing this, and will be writing for their Winter edition as well, which will be right up my alley as it is about Family and Faith, but from a very respectful...not proselytizing tone.  For those who don't know the homeschooling world very well, it is largely Christian, and secular, non-Christians, or more progressive Christians can find it difficult to connect with others.  I am hoping I can craft an article that is interesting, and yet perhaps addresses this specific issue.

I also was asked to write a review for a new homeschooling handbook written by one of our favorite curriculum developers, Steven David Horwich at Connect the Thoughts.  Here is a link to my review, at the bottom of the page, for anyone who is slightly interested:  The Homeschooler's Handbook .

In addition to these little writing projects, we have been hard at work...and learning some hard we continue to develop our newest family "member".  I have mentioned previously that there is something going on behind the scenes, and this week it became apparent that already it has grown larger than we ever anticipated when we first kicked the idea around.  We are working on a homeschooling web site with special needs as the focus, and this week we had to abandon one platform and look at moving to another as we needed something with more capacity and features than we initially thought.  This meant hundreds of hours of work had to be ditched, and I was feeling quite depressed about it, enough to feel like walking away from the idea all together.  It was inspiring to me, upon sharing what was going on with the kids, to have all three of my Data Input staff (Angela, Olesya, and Matthew) look at me and say, "There is NO WAY we are going to quit!  When do we start over?"

I was "schooled" by my own kids in Resilience 101, and Stick-to-it-iveness 201.

With the help of our adopted auntie, who is a Web Diva and incredibly talented, we are going to begin anew.  Reminding myself that tackling something new means taking it one step at a time is important.  I learned a lot, and realized we wouldn't be at Iteration 2.0 of our project if we hadn't learned so much from Iteration 1.0, so it is worth it...still a little disheartening, but we'll get there.  If everything works out, it is going to be phenomenal, and hopefully a huge help to other families out there like ours.  That is what is keeping me going, because I know how hard it can be, I know the frustration and how lonely moms of learning disabled kids can feel, and I don't want anyone to have to feel that way.  Our kids are all quite excited, for this is really going to be a family thing and each can participate in one way or another.  Already they are learning a lot about using images online, spread sheets, marketing, etc.  Kenny already is proving to be quite creative in thinking of social media, despite never using it before himself...he just gets it.  We will see where all of this leads us, but it is occupying an enormous amount of time at the moment and is where my focus is.  In time, we will reveal our New Baby.  

Tomorrow we are taking a little camping vacation, or first "real trip" with the trailer.  We are heading out to the Grand Canyon and Southern Colorado to explore, take photos, and slow down a bit as a family together.  We have driven through this area, but never spent much time there, so we are all looking forward to it, and I should have lots of photos to post!  This is a test run for what we hope will be several more longer trips in the trailer to explore America.  We'll see how it goes, and if we are comfortable with that many people in that close of proximity to one another for that long :-)  Hahaha!  Saying a little prayer for us would be a wonderful thing.

Now we are off to participate in the Montrose CROP Walk, which is sponsored by Church World Service to raise awareness about food and water insecurity locally, and throughout the world.  It is a small event here in town, which we hope will grow over time.  Dominick is working at a BBQ and Street Dance at Sharing Ministries, the local food bank we volunteer at,  as they strive to raise funds for a new facility.  I guess it is Service Weekend for the LaJoy's before we head off into the sunset tomorrow!   

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to Love Well

Today dawned crisp and clear, a beautiful Colorado fall morning.  Everyone slept in late, enjoying the opportunity to rest more after a busy week.  Angela and I were preparing to head up toward the Grand Mesa, where I was going to sing at a wedding in the afternoon.  The location was stunning, a small ranch with log cabins dotting the hillside, sheltered by aspens.  It was a great chance to spend a little one on one time with Angela, and the drive up and back was lively as conversation flitted from one topic to the next.

The young couple, so earnest as they recited their vows to one another, were completely authentic and endearing.  This was a wedding that was not a high budget, over the top extravaganza.  A beautiful homemade dress, a groom donning a cowboy hat and tails, decor pulled together by the mother and future mother-in-law, all helped to create an atmosphere that was the antithesis of "Say Yes to the Dress" kinds of affairs.

Someone thought to visit each table with a video camera and asked guests to offer their best marriage advice to the newlyweds.  Put on the spot, everyone sputtered a quick sentence or two with general comments of well wishes, and I did much the same.  Afterward, however, Angela and I talked a lot about what love is, and I was called upon to give some real thought to the questions, "What makes a great marriage?  What is real love like?"

Interesting to ponder after this week's news reports of the fact that, by official count, 50.2% of the American population is now single.  So often I hear such negative comments about married life, including today at the table as those who were embittered over love gone wrong struggled to find any positive things to say at all about being married.

I realized something as I conversed with Angela.  While not an expert by any means, I do know a little something about the topic.  I am blessed with a thriving, healthy marriage of 28 years, and we have welcomed five strangers into our home to live with us, developing deep bonds of commitment and respect, let alone abiding love.  I had never given it a whole lot of thought before, but I have finally arrived at an age and stage of life where I have gained a little wisdom and experience.  I know things now.  I've tried and failed at many things, succeeded at others, and figured out "how to do love well".  

I know that love is acceptance, not of mediocrity, but of human frailty.  If only we could look inward in complete honesty, we would see our own failings, and that honest assessment might help us come to a place of humble acceptance of others and their very human failings.  

We want one person to be our Spiritual and Physical Everything.  That order is far, far too tall, and incredibly unrealistic.  While I deeply love Dominick, and I know he deeply loves me, we are far from each other's Everything.  The human soul is much too complex to be able to have a single person fulfill each and every part of us, and to expect that from another is unfair.  It is also lazy, as that means we are unwilling to do the hard work of putting ourselves out there to meet others who can fill in the cracks that our One and Only leaves not quite completely covered.

We are harmed more by our pasts than we ever want to admit, or are even capable of seeing.  Love doesn't stand a chance if we hold every potential partner accountable for the sins of others that came before.  We generalize, we categorize, we don't leave space for new people we meet to be wholly themselves, as they stand before us forced to be imaginatively dressed in the garb of our former partners or parents.  We make them pay for all the wrongs of others, then wonder why they don't live up to our expectations.  Such difficult patterns to break, and yet break them we must in order to allow someone to stand before us undiscovered and unfettered.

I have learned that love is often contradictory, it is a study in opposites attracting...then having those very opposite qualities that once called out to you drive you nuts!  Appreciation wanes, and frustration drifts in.  Acknowledging that this will inevitably happen is how love survives.  Forcing yourself to see the value in partnering with one whose strengths are your own weaknesses, and vice versa, is what can help love to thrive.  That whole "You complete me." romantic statement can only be true if your "other half" is indeed the other half of you that is missing, and not an exact replica of the you that you bring to the table.  This can infuriate and fascinate those who are willing to grab the hand of their mate and, fingers entwined, move forward in gratitude for those very frustrating qualities that we don't always understand, yet intuitively know we need in our lives.

Being voluntarily accountable to one another is love, and one key to that mysterious emotion that many resent the most.  We must be willing to be bound to another, and that can be very hard to do.  
Men and women alike tug at the reins, unwilling to be yoked to someone else and pulling in the same direction.  Of course, we are Americans, boot strappers and lovers of all things independent.  But love leans on one another, and freely recognizes that in relationship with others, we have an obligation to them.  For many, this can be the hardest thing to do, but it is necessary for a healthy, committed relationship.  Are you giving up something?  Yes, undoubtedly so.  But I have a secret for you, one that few today ever want to readily admit in our "You can have it ALL" world.  You can't have it all, you really and truly can't.  You are playing head games with yourself if you believe this to be true, for you have to give up something to gain something.   Love can often be more about deciding what it is you are willing to give up, than it is what you will take.

Love requires presence.  It asks of us that we work hard at it, all the time, and that we don't neglect it, leaving it sit on a shelf only to be pulled down from time to time to appreciate.  Love has a shelf life,   if left disregarded, it withers.  Oh, it might still be sitting there, waiting for you, but without regular attention, you are missing out on the sweetness of all that love can be, and are instead settling for a stale version, hardened and lacking texture.

Most of all, I have come to learn that everlasting love, the kind worth giving your heart over to, asks of us to be courageous.  To be in a satisfying relationship, be it with a spouse, partner, parent or friend, means exposing as much of your whole authentic self as possible, and that can be terribly frightening.  It means asking the questions you are afraid to ask, it means boldly risking rejection as you share your innermost thoughts, and it means daring to trust another with your yearning and devotion, hoping against hope that it won't be thrown back at you.  The kind of love that is singularly fulfilling means you must have the courage to reveal your tender spots, as the one you adore gingerly does the same.  It is that process of bringing all of ourselves to the table and laying out the emotional buffet that makes the kind of love that fills us up possible.  Without that courage and revelation, there will always, always be something missing. 

Loving well is a complicated, messy affair.  We think it is the thing of Romcoms and billowy white wedding gowns, when in reality, it is everything but that.  We also almost never get it right the first time, or even the second or third time.  It must be practiced and tested, but over time, we just might eventually get it right.  If not, keep on trying, for love is worth all the effort.

Now, if I could only learn to love myself as fully and completely as I seem to be able love others.  There's always something to work on, isn't there?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Season of Chaos

Fall is my favorite time of year. It is also our busiest.  Volleyball with three different teams, trying to get schoolwork done, other activities in the mix...I know some families have it worse than us, but it seems as if we are always on the move each day.  I don't mind, but I prefer the calmer months of winter.

We are planning a week long camping trip this month.  It will be our first longer trip with the trailer, and we intend to go visit the Grand Canyon, Durango, and Southwest Colorado.  We need to get away together, we need to regroup.  It has been a long and challenging year thus far, with more on the way.  We need some breathing space "in between".  Getting away from Dominick's constantly ringing cell phone, and stopping everything for just a short time will be so wonderful, even if it does mean we are 7 people crammed in a camping trailer.

Angela had it right when she told me this afternoon how excited she was about the upcoming trip when she said, "Even when we went to Lake City and it was only for 1 full day and 2 nights, it felt like we really got away and got to be together.  I love those times."  Dominick and I are blessed that, particularly at this age, our kids still enjoy spending time with their family because most are off doing their own thing by now.  A dear friend was at our house recently and we talked a little about the kids probably living with us longer than kids who are the same age but in higher grade levels.  She looked at me and in all seriousness said, "There's another reason...why would they want to leave love?  This house is filled with it,  Everyone should be so lucky."

I don't think I have ever been paid a higher compliment.

We made what for us was a big decision recently, when over the Labor Day holiday we decided it was finally time to replace some furniture, and actually go and purchase a set for our main living area.  The decision was sort of made for us the last time Dominick used the upholstery cleaner to try and clean the couch, and threads kept popping and stuffing was visible.  I didn't mind at all the fact that it was 25 years old and faded a bit, but if I can't keep it clean without shredding it, then it is time.

So off we went, all piled into the car and headed to Grand Junction...the Big see if we could find a deal over the holiday weekend.  We had no idea exactly what we were looking for, only that we really wanted something to accommodate all seven of us, finally.  We had discussed the possible purchase ahead of time with the kids, and this was not the first time we had gone Dream Shopping...but last time a couple years ago Kenny stopped me by wisely asking if it was a need or a want.  This time, we all agreed, it was at the point where it was a need.

We also agreed on something else, that this was going to be a family decision, not Mom and Dad's decision.  We are trying to be faithful about not getting into debt for "wants", and the only way we were able to consider this was because of the sale of our little rental that the kids all worked so hard on.  There wasn't a ton of profit from it, but enough to get a badly needed new roof installed, which is coming later in the fall...hopefully before too much more rainfall or snow.  We had a little more leftover, and we felt it was only right that the entire family benefit from it after the incredible job the kids all did and how much heart and soul they offered for the project.  Everyone thought new furniture, which we could never otherwise afford, was the best use of the remaining funds.

Oh, we had so much fun...and I am sure we drove the young salesman crazy!  We must have "test sat" every sofa in the incredibly large store.  If any one of us didn't like something, it got crossed off the "Possible List".  We were pretty certain we preferred leather, for cleanability, durability, and keeping allergy issues down.  We narrowed it down to two different sets, and after carrying over various coffee and end tables to see which went best with it, which surprised the salesman as we traipsed all over looking like an efficient moving crew, we settled on a set that was super comfortable, cozy, and truly "all us". I don't think he was used to seeing kids so involved in furniture purchases, but they asked pertinent questions about the materials it was made with, pricing, etc.  They are growing into smart consumers, and they did a great job.  It is not fashionable or magazine ready, but we are all so thrilled with it, and the way it is set up is more conducive to the way we talk as a family together.  Every single one of us has said multiple times, "I love our new furniture!", so we definitely selected what suits us best.  It is a bit large for the space we have but our family is a bit larger than this space was designed for, so it is what it is.

It's the first real new furniture we've had in 25 years, and it feels so luxurious and special that I feel spoiled beyond belief.  Sitting here enveloped in soft, squishy deep brown leather as I type this, I am so, so grateful.  I can imagine winter days spent with all of us sitting side by side, tucked under blankets reading history together in the mornings.  We all thanked each other over and over for the back breaking work that went into this being possible...each of us feeling as if we accomplished something extraordinary as a team together.  The first night was sat there laughing and remembering how poor Olesya spent days staining the fence at the rental, how many wheel barrow's full of gravel were moved, how depressed we were to have to go in and clean after terrible tenants.  We all agreed that it was worth it, and made us appreciate the new furniture more than we would have had it not taken so much work to earn.

Aside from that, blogging has been hard to get to because I am spending hours and hours in front of the computer screen for other reasons.  The web site for our new business is slowly taking shape, and we hope to have it life by the end of November. Not quite sure if we will make it, but we are going to work hard to try to hit that goal.  We are easily at a couple of hundred hours spent, between my Data Entry Team, consisting of Angela and Olesya, and my IT and Imaging Team, made up of only Matthew.  I am doing Content Development, overarching planning, basic design, and more. Dominick is lining up vendors, and Kenny and Josh get a pass until later in the plan, as they will be our Show Salesmen.  I have no clue if this will lead to anything of substance, but we are putting our hearts into it and will see if we can make something happen.  My hope is that it will be able to help others, and if we make a little something out of the deal, great.  The kids are learning lots of new skills as we talk it all through,

Kenny in particular (no surprise) is a great big picture thinker and has some terrific ideas on a bigger scale than I am thinking.  He may not have organizational skills that will allow him to do the back end work, but that young man will really be an asset as we move along.  Matthew is also quite high on the idea, and is imagining a much bigger future than I am :-)  I hope all their enthusiasm is catching!  LOL!  The two of them are planning another little small business, which will take quite awhile to unfold.  They want to sell their existing 50 lbs of Legos to allow them to purchase a 3D printer.  They are talking through the design of some sort of device that will sort Legos robotically, utilizing some sort of laser "eye" system that can help determine color and size.  I have no stinkin' idea what they are talking about, but they have a Plan, and with a 3D printer they can create the individual parts to build this machine.  Of course, they have to learn a lot in the process about electronics and robotics, and I am not sure how they will manage that, but Matt is the builder, with Kenny's input, and Kenny will be the Marketing Guy.

They have so much confidence in each other, and it is actually kind of sweet.  Individually each of them keeps talking to me with great excitement about their joint venture.  When I questioned Kenny about whether Matt could really build this, he looked at me sort of incredulously and said, "Mom, of course he can!  I helped him talk through the design, and made him think about how people might like to be able to sort Legos.  Matt can teach himself anything and is brilliant.  I don't think you know how smart he is, Mom.  He can totally build this, but it is going to take trial and error, and he'll mess up.  But when Matt gets on a project, you know how he is, he won't give up until it works."

Later, Matthew was talking to me about Kenny, and he said, "People don't understand just how smart Kenny is, because he can't remember things or organize things.  But they underestimate him, Mom.  Kenny can think...better than most people can, and he thinks deep about things.  I know he is always going to have a hard time because of the things he can't do well, but there is so much he CAN do well.  I never want to sell or talk to people, and that is where Kenny is awesome...he can talk to anyone and if he hears "no" it doesn't bother him at all.  He said if I can build it, he can sell it, and I believe him.  He is already talking about figuring out how to get someone at Lego to see it if we can get it designed right!  Haha!  He'd totally do that, too, Mom."

There has never been two young men so completely different from one another, who understand one another so well...and respect each other for their differences.  It is a far better blessing than a new couch.

Lots of dreaming going on around here, and lots of hard, hard work that is not visible yet, but getting there.  What a wonderful team I have in Team LaJoy.  I have made the commitment to continue blogging throughout the kids' childhoods with us, and I am sticking with it even when it is hard to fit in the time.  Lately I have missed blogging the moments, the glimpses of things I want to remember, and I have to do better at it.  I'm trying, but in the Season of Chaos, I might slip a little!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

No First Day of School

The past several weeks Facebook has been replete with photo posts of bright, shiny faces toting new lunch boxes, and chalkboard signs thrust into their hands upon which is written, "First Day of School, 4th Grade".  There are the Kinders, whose moms are catching the moment through teary eyes, there are middle schoolers whose tolerance of the camera allows mom to capture a fleeting glimpse of the very last remnants of childhood on their faces. Most of them harboring mixed emotions, one part dread, one part anticipation, as they adjust backpack straps and head off to school.

I realized that we have not continued that First Day of School Photo tradition.  I felt a brief stab of guilt, knowing I had not satisfactorily captured those images to look back on years from now.  How could I fail this way?  Why didn't I think of this?  Homeschooling shouldn't mean we give up every cultural ritual, should it?

Leave it to the kids to help me gain perspective.

Over lunch as corn dogs and Dagwood-style sandwiches were being consumed with gusto, I brought this very thing up.  I wish I could share the look I received, it was priceless...quizzical...a big ol' wordless "Huh?".

"Uh...Mom...why would we need to do that?" Kenny asked.

Silence greeted his question, as if I could almost see a comic book style word bubble hovering over our kitchen table.

"Well," I replied, "To help us remember what you looked like each year as a new year begins, it is a tradition!  We took photos the first day of school when all of you were in public school."

More silence.

Then Matthew ventured a comment.

"But mom, we aren't in public school anymore.  Those aren't our traditions.  Why would we do that?", he asked.


Why would we?

One last weak attempt.  "Do you think we should take one today?  School really just started, we could pretend it was the first day of school."  My voice drifting off at the tail end of the sentence.

Angela spoke up, "I don't think we need to, you just took some great pictures of us when we were camping last weekend. I mean, school pictures are really life pictures for us, aren't they?"

Man, have I missed the point all along.

School and life are not separate things for us.  We don't have a beginning and end point other than completing one book and and starting another.  Life IS learning, and wasn't that my goal when we began homeschooling?  Wasn't it about creating an environment where learning happened organically all the time?  So why was I trying to create separate boxes to place "school" and "life" into?

Cultural norms are hard to shed.  From time to time, part of me really wonders if the kids are missing out on something by homeschooling...and if I am being honest, I wonder if I am missing out on something.

I miss the casual hallway conversations, waving at other moms in parking lots, attending school events where everyone is abuzz with excitement.  I miss fitting in, not being constantly questioned when out and about during the day.  I miss the easily created Rights of Passage that are simply part of a public school experience.

Oh, the list of what I don't miss is a mile long...enormous Back To School Supply Lists, exorbitantly priced photo packages you are expected to purchase or are classified as an uncaring mother, bullying, trying to make square pegs fit into round holes.  I don't miss IEP meetings where tears of frustration trailed down my cheeks as I kept my anger in check as best I could.  I don't miss peer pressure, hours of homework each night, and concerns over all that comes with the social expectations typical of American Middle and High School attendance.

There are things that are missed, but there are things that are gained.  I had a long Facebook conversation with someone considering homeschooling for the first time, looking for some suggestions and information.  It was an important reminder, and the timing was perfect to put my mind at ease.  Our kids won't be missing  something that is not part of their own cultural educational experience.  Instead, they will look back fondly on time spent snuggling on the couch reading together, long and deep debates and conversations over Things That Matter.  They will have been able to discuss God and faith as they relate it to their own lives and overlay it on the history of the world...something that would never be allowed in a public school setting.  They will recall having time to explore anything and everything they want to, library and field trips, and most importantly, perhaps, they will recall the many special people who have entered their lives and taught them something interesting.

OK, so I don't have cute Facebook photo to post, with an adorably crafted chalkboard sign.  I guess the trade-off is worth it.  They know there is no real "first day", for learning happens every single day, as long as we pursue it.

Besides, I don't know how to make that cute lettering anyway:-)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

And We Will Smile

You'd think that with homeschooling we get enough family time, but in some weird way, school is school, and family time is family time, and never the twain shall meet.  I don't know why, but maybe it is because we take school very seriously and it just feels differently, plus Dominick is not around so it is never fully family time without him.

Or maybe....maybe it is because we deeply love each other and enjoy each other's company.

We took some time to go camping this past weekend, and traveled to Lake City in "Juanita", our trailer, with "Jorge" pulling all the way.  We had no plans, and let's face it, we aren't the most outdoorsy family, but there is something so peaceful and healing about being in the mountains near lakes or streams and enjoying a campfire with your feet propped up.  Heading out with no agenda, we decided to just enjoy and do as little planning as possible.  Let me show you where we went, and I just might hear a little sigh coming from your end.  I wish we could share our piece of paradise with everyone, for I know so many of you could use a mountain getaway yourselves.  This is about 2 1/2 hours from our home:

Welcome to Lake San Cristobal deep in the San Juan Mountains.

Could you possibly get anymore serene, my Dear Colorado?  
How my soul loves you.

Beautiful late afternoon sky, photo courtesy of Joshua LaJoy, Budding Photographer.

Arriving at noon, we discovered that we did not have the most rustic camp site, ending up in a super clean, wonderfully well maintained private campground that at first disappointed us because it was not much different than a Walmart parking lot, with $300,000 rigs from Texas surrounding us in very tight rows.  However, the folks we met were "regulars" who returned year after year, some coming for 40+ years, and they were warm, inviting, and quite friendly.  We overcame our dismay quickly, though humble little "Juanita" versus the extravagant mobile digs we were tucked in with made us feel a bit as if we were out of our league.  No bother, we set up camp quickly, thanks to our lovely new-to-us trailer and felt like we were living high off the hog compared to our prior camping accommodations.  With popout beds on both ends and a small slide out in the middle, it was SO nice not to be literally walking over the top of one another with every step we took inside.  Soon, the boys were off on their bikes while the girls remained behind and puttered around walking Sunny, reading , and visiting.  The boys went on an Exploration and were gone a couple of hours before returning, feeling very grown up. 

Riding around the lake, Kenny was SO tired when they came back to the campsite!

Naww...they aren't having any fun.

Another photo compliments of Joshua, taken during a break while biking.  That boy is developing a real eye.

We made dinner, then headed off into town for a walk to explore the quaint, historic buildings still standing from the mining days in the late 1800's. This little town boasts a population of just around 400 people year round, but it swells to more than 1000 during the summer season, many coming in from Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri to escape the heat year after year.  While wandering downtown, we stumbled upon a beautiful little Presbyterian church.  We joked about trying to get in to see the interior, and sure enough, we pulled on the door and it swung wide open, inviting us to explore.  It seats maybe 70-80 people, and has wonderful stained glass windows and original pews that creak with a gentle squeak as you sit down in them.  On the door was a handbill informing us of a concert to be held the following evening, and I was pleasantly surprised when all the kids chimed in, saying we ought to come into town for it, so we decided to do so.

Ready for dinner!

Best buddies

The church we stumbled into.

Still used every single Sunday, two services each morning!

We returned to the campsite, and THIS is what we did...ahhhh...

This is what camping is all about.  Forget all the rest!

The next day we had a little surprise in store for the kids.  Toward the end of last summer we purchased a used inflatable boat that could accommodate two passengers.  We brought that along to try out for the first time, and we also rented a kayak so that two more could go out on the lake and enjoy being on the water.  The kids were so excited!  They couldn't wait to get down to the lake and start paddling, so after a quick breakfast, off we went.

Blue vests, blue kayak, blue's time to ride!

Looking quite coordinated here, like old pros.

And away they go! 

Kenny helping Dominick get the boat ready.

Angela excitedly anticipating their turn on the water.

We thought they would all want the kayak, but these two definitely wanted this little boat.  Angela had a hard time getting the hang of rowing, so we teased her that Kenny was her personal Gondolier.

And there they go!

Now, you might be wondering what Olesya was doing, and if she was feeling left out.  Nope!  She decided she didn't really want to go out at all on the water, and instead wanted to work on her crafts and play with Sunny on the dock.  She said she didn't feel as stable in these boats and was a little afraid of them.  She did eventually go out with me for a few minutes, but really preferred being on solid ground.  She kept quite busy though:

Watching Sunny play in the water.

Sunny was disturbed that everyone left her behind!

Working with one of her birthday gifts, a rubber band loom.

Everyone in the family received a lovely bracelet, some in the colors of their country's flag.

We went back to the campsite for lunch, then returned to the lake for the afternoon, where I then took my turn sharing the kayak with Matthew, and there, in that little kayak as we paddled around the lake, we entered into the sacred with one another, something that doesn't happen as often with him as it does with the others, as he is slower to reveal himself to others and his need for time to gather his thoughts and then share them often gets trampled on by the presence of his more outgoing and talkative siblings.

First, we traveled near an island where there was an interesting private bridge.

I thought this was a cool photo opp!

As we drifted further and further away from the docks, our paddling settled into a steady rhythm as we worked our way across the lake.  Up, dip, pull...up, dip, pull...we quietly rowed in tandem, a complete, lovely unit speaking more and more softly as we traveled further into the marshy area at the edge of the lake.  The weather began to change, and the skies darkened, and with the overcast skies came a settling of the water and gradually, a little at a time, a fish would jump up here...then there...then again over behind us!  We sat there near the shallow end by the shore watching in rapt wonder as the circles rippled out over the surface as everywhere we looked there was another and yet another fish breaking the surface in search of a late afternoon snack of mosquitoes and other flying insects.  It was magical, and we kept whispering to each other, "Look!  Did you see that one?  He was HUGE!", and "Oh OH!  That was so COOL!".

Metallic blue dragonflies flitted all around us, landing casually on Matt's shoulder or on the side of the kayak, then quickly flying off to dive bomb the surface of the water then soar upward and whiz along the surface yet again before hovering near us once more.  We giggled together, my deep voiced son and I, his broad capable shoulders all I could see in front of me.

Then he began to speak.  He is very, very scared about the back surgery that looms on the horizon.  He is certain he needs it, as he is often in a great deal of pain that he doesn't speak much of, and even recently on a flight in a small aircraft for Civil Air Patrol they hit a patch of turbulence that left him hurting for the rest of the day.  Despite knowing how necessary it is, and despite him actually wanting it, he is fearful of the impending pain and long recovery process.  Dominick and I have both noticed how Matt has drawn even closer to me since our trip to Salt Lake City and receiving that verdict, and I am glad he can turn to me and share his fears and concerns.  

When you have kids who routinely have to face demons that others don't, you have to make decision early on about how best to handle it.  The hits will keep coming, and your children will feed off your emotions.  We also decided long ago that we would pull no punches, that our job was to walk beside them as they dealt with the blows life would inevitably deal them.

As such, I spoke quietly from the back of the kayak, admitting to Matthew that I wished this wasn't in his future and that we had no idea exactly how hard it all might be.  I explained to him, though, that he had the finest doctors caring for him who were extremely experienced and would do their best to keep his pain under control.  Who knows?  He might sail through this, but I don't want to downplay that it will be rough for a bit.  
"Matt, throughout this, you will have to tell me what you need from me.  You are older now, and not a little boy, and you may decide you don't want your mom in with you as you talk to the doctor, or that you prefer to deal with certain aspects of this on your own.  But I want you to know that your Dad and I are here for you 100%, and I will be beside you every step of the way, as much as you want me to be...and I won't be offended should you decide you want me to step back a bit.  You just name it, OK?"

At 15 years old, I want him to have the space he needs.  

He didn't waste a moment before saying, "Mom, you are never out of place, and I really want you there all the time.  I know some kids don't like that, but you aren't just my mom, you are someone I really enjoy being with, and who makes me feel calm and safe.  I'm just glad I have parents like you and Dad, you guys are always there for us no matter how hard it gets."  Then he laughed a little and added in a high pitched voice, "I'm scared and I want my Mommy!  Don't leave me!", and we both chuckled over that.  I reached out and laid my hand on his shoulder and said, "You'll never get rid of me, and together, we'll get through it, Matt.  I promise."  He reached up and grabbed my hand, enveloping it in his ever larger one and in a whispered voice said, "I know.  Thanks, Mom."

And there we sat, the shadows cast on the water as the heavy dark grey clouds gradually moved in.  The lapping of the water on the side of the kayak spoke to us of peace, of safe keeping.  We must have sat there 10 minutes or more before deciding of one accord that it was time to move on, each of us dipping our paddles gracefully back in the water and pulling our way toward the others, those dear ones we call family.

Later that evening, we went to the church to listen to the music and sing along to old favorites. Our kids were the only children present, as the crowd consisted largely of "Old Timers".  What a surprise terrific event this was for us!  Most of the performers were 80 years old or pretty close to it, and some were darling while others were down right incredibly talented.  We heard old hymns, Broadway tunes, a little Johnny Mathis, Ray Charles, patriotic tunes, and more.  There were two different pianists that brought down the house, fiddle players and a sax player as well.   We heard a tune from the Ken Burns series we just completed watching on the Civil War, and it was cute to see the kids' eyes all light up and hear them whisper as they recognized it.  

Sitting there as moths danced across the ceiling as the doors were flung wide open allowing the cool summer evening air to wash over us all, I was struck by what unique and incredibly special opportunities our children have had growing up here in rural Colorado.  We all chattered without end as we left the church, and in the car as we drove back to camp.  Every single one of them had a total blast, and we had not initially expected much and had even talked about if we could make a graceful exit should it prove to be tough to sit through.  Here we were sitting in a church that was almost 150 years old, in the original pews the miners who built it worshipped in, listening to music that teens today would never recognize nor care for at that is dying a slow death as the generations who appreciated it are slipping away.  It was a genuine gift to hear the kids talk about which was their favorite tune, which ones they recognized, and listen to their attempts to recall lyrics and sing them.  "Georgia on My Mind", "Oh Danny Boy", "Moon River", and Joshie's favorite, "I'll Fly Away" were recalled with such glee, and we all agreed we had stumbled upon quite a little event.  They each expressed such respect for the musicians, regardless of their age, and how cool it was that folks of that age were still offering up their talent for the community.  It was a night we all said we would remember always.

We will talk more about the concerns we have about our future as time passes, I know that.  We have no idea what will happen with Dominick and work over the coming months.  The foreboding feeling won't disappear, as that and the possibility of not one, but two back surgeries hangs over our heads.  For now, we will not let our minds linger too long on it, nor on the additional surgeries we have been told that Kenny will need, one of which involves breaking his lower jaw and removing bone so that it aligns better with his upper jaw.  We have major medical needs ahead of us, but all is well.  We came away from the weekend really feeling that. 

 For today, all is well, we are together, and we will face things one at a time.

We will let God carry the load, we will ride the water and paddle our best.

We will smile...

And smile...

And smile...

And smile...

And smile...

Forever, come what may.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Olesya is 15!!

When you've been cheated of years less than most parents have with their children, it becomes ever more precious. As they grow older, each birthday is tinged with a sweetness that only parents and children who have been denied making memories together can truly understand and appreciate.  Olesya's birthday was this past week, and she turned 15 years old.  We have only had the privilege of celebrating five of those birthdays with her.  We have no first bite of birthday cake photos, no 1, 2 or 3 year old cards saved.

But what we have is here and now, and it is a gift to each of us.  We had no big party, just dinner and a cake together:

Matthew insisted on baking Olesya's cake, and Angie patiently customized it with decorations.  We rarely call Olesya by her name, and she has a couple of nicknames that we most commonly use.  The kids call her Ole' and I tend to call her Lessie, so Angela put Ole (as in Olay) on the cake for her name.
It is hard to believe she is 15, and she admits she doesn't feel 15 but more like 13 or so.  That is probably a pretty accurate assessment of where she is, developmentally and emotionally, and as she says, she is in no hurry to grow up!  I love watching her and Angela savor what remains of their childhood.

Best Buddies!

The Gang

Olesya is in love with some Bollywood hunks, so Angela bought her a poster of some cuties!

Kenny isn't so sure about Bollywood...Haha!
These two regularly crack us up!  Our gift to Olesya was new boots, she has wanted them for ages.  Josh decided to model them with her!

An incredibly tender moment for us all to witness was when Matthew and Joshua presented Olesya with their gift to her.  She was shocked and they just couldn't wait for her to open it.  They both were with me one afternoon and said they wanted to get her something special this year, just because.  They selected a very beautiful bracelet, and I know she felt a bit  like a treasured princess because of their thoughtfulness.

So pretty!

The biggest gift of all, siblings who truly care for one another.

Kenny got in on it by helping her put it on.  
Angela watched and later said to me, "Mom, we have such nice brothers.  Olesya and I are very lucky we ended up in this family.  We could have had brothers who were mean, or just didn't care about us.  I think we will always be friends and be close."  I hope so, Angie, and I am glad the boys have you, too!

Joshie is digging Olesya's pink bag...he is such a goof!

What a sweet evening it was.  Nothing exciting, no major expensive gifts, just time spent together enjoying what a family is all about.  Olesya, you are the kindest young lady I have ever met.  You are beginning to gain more confidence in yourself, and are very slowly seeing your own worth.  Team LaJoy needs your creative spirit, your tender soul.  May your 15th year be as wonderful as you are!!  We love you dearly.