Friday, August 18, 2017

Hello, Adulthood...But Not Goodbye, Childhood

During these waning days of summer, new adults are slowly blossoming and, for one, childhood is very gradually beginning its tentative wave good bye.

We have yet another full fledged adult in the house, Olesya turned 18 this past weekend!  For those who may have lost track, Angela is 19, Kenny, Matt, and Olesya are 18, and Josh is 14.

This year has been one of enormous change for Olesya, as she moves further toward viewing herself as capable and confident, while accepting she has some disabilities that may make life a wee bit harder for her.  The painful, moving conversation we had back in the spring (see post here if interested) about her growing realization that she does indeed have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has helped in surprising ways, as knowledge IS power.  Now she better understands herself and her "glitches", and no longer does that possibility have to bring about fear for the future, but can be worked with to create a new vision for a different kind of "tomorrow" that is hope filled.  She is laughing more, far happier, and interestingly is more willing to try new things where the effort of "hiding" her disability may have kept her from attempting something new for fear of being "found out".  Owning who she really is...not just the parts of her that have FASD but ALL the wonderful goodness that is Olesya...has been life giving, and I am so grateful we have always elected to handle these pieces of hard news with honesty.  There are no elephants hiding in the rooms of our home, no need to be anything other than all that we are, and no one will ever make fun of you, but will support and encourage you in every possible way.

For her birthday, we bought her shoes.  Yea, boring, yet necessary shoes!  When we visited CA for my mom's 80th birthday in June, we visited an SAS shoe store as we have always had a near impossible time fitting Olesya for any kind of shoe.  She has a double wide foot, with triangle shaped toes and one foot is over a whole size larger than the other.  On a whim I thought we should check out SAS Shoes and we found shoes that she glowed over, saying that they fit better than any shoe she had ever worn!  Though we intended on only getting one pair, as they are pricey (but my own history with this brand revealed they were incredibly well made) we ended up with TWO pairs of shoes that had her literally dancing for days.

We also attended a fine arts outdoor show in Ridgway, which we all thoroughly enjoyed, and then drove the long way home over Owl Creek Pass and past Silver Jack Reservoir as we tested out our new family member, a long desired and desperately needed 15 passenger van we have nicknamed "The Beast"!  She performed well over miles of dirt roads  At church the next day, Jane and Steve, our dear friends, attended and brought a cake to share to celebrate her special day with everyone.  All in all, it was a lovely 18th for her.

And how loved she is!!  Have you ever had one of those moments where you sat back and stared at your child, feeling so overflowing with love for who they are that you almost can't stand it?  This girl is perhaps the single most kind young lady I have ever come across, she is thoughtful, helpful, tender, funny, and has overcome so much.  I am humbled at the thought that God selected us to be the parents of ANY of our kids, and Olesya is no exception.  A gift beyond measure, my prayer for her is that as time moves on, she sees herself for all that she is.  Having come to us with almost no self-esteem, perceiving herself as absolutely "stupid", giving in to everyone and anyone solely to be accepted, Olesya is remarkably resilient, learning and growing in ways she never thought possible. That we got to spend her 18th birthday with her and the past 7 years is a total gift, that we have watched her begin to truly flourish is beyond words.  I love you, sweetie!!

 Speaking with her on her birthday, I asked her if she felt 18, if life felt different knowing she was now a legal adult.  She quietly responded that most days she felt about 15 or so, some days 17, but never really 18.  And she was so grateful that she has been allowed the time to be "Daddy's little girl" and to be a kid a little longer.  Folks often have no idea how much children adopted at older ages yearn to hang on to a childhood they feel was finally allowed them, and how hard it can sometimes be to move into the future having not been quite filled up.

Imagine really having a family for only 7 years by the time you are 18 or 19, as in Angela's case, and everyone already pushing you out the door, and asking when you are leaving home!  My goodness, the first three years were spent learning how to adequately function in a new language!  It was spent learning everything preschoolers were taught, for make no mistake of it, orphanage life in the former Soviet Union is far closer in relationship to a prison than a day care.  As I have witnessed many families with older adoptees fall apart over the past couple of years, I will fight to the death for my kids to have what they need, regardless of what others think about it.  I fully expect that some of our kids will easily live at home until they are in their mid-twenties, soaking up all they didn't get when younger, and helping them move on when they finally feel ready and have had their fill of family life.  There will come a time when they will be anxious to reach out into the wider world, but for now they need something very different and it is our job to provide that security while they continue to mature and grow fully into the amazing people I know them to be.

Then, there is Josh who is working his way toward leaving childhood behind, walking confidently toward adulthood.  Today was a day that could have a mom feeling a little weepy, as this is what I saw him preparing to get rid of:

Pooh, abandoned along with other stuffies being prepared to donate.  Childhood staring me in the face, as his deep voice replies, "Yea, I think I am getting rid of these now."  and yet I laugh inwardly as I know without question that if I tried to take his blankies from him, I would be threatened with death!  Haha, baby steps into adulthood, right?

Then, behind him, tucked into the corner of his bed where he has lived for 18 years, Matthew still has his beloved Froggie, the very first item I ever bought any of my children prior to becoming a mom.  Froggie will never leave, Froggie is a symbol of longed for family, of children dreamed of yet not found.  For Matt, Froggie isn't something he "needs", but it is the sole nod to his childhood, and the recognition that everyone should remain young at heart.

Kids AND adults need to recognize the power of a well enjoyed childhood, we need to value play more, we need to stop telling kids to "grow up" when, in fact, they are often acting appropriately their age and should not be expected to live as if they are 40 year olds weighed down with bills and choices that can't be easily changed.  I am not advocating for endless adolescence, what I am saying is that childhood really, really matters, and I know better than some just how important it can be.  When you parent kids whose childhoods began at 11 or 12 years old, it is very clear that a lot of damage can be done when developmental stages aren't fully experienced, and that does NOT lead to successful, happy adults.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Soul Sick

Sometimes you don't fully realize where you have been until you have moved on, and can glance backward.  Taking a hasty look over my shoulder recently, I did a double take, and shook my head with a mixture of alarming dismay, and great gratitude.

We all have those growing times, regardless of age, and most often the periods of leaps in maturation emerge from weeks, months, or even years of wrestling with unexpected challenges.  As the caterpillar morphs into a new being after cocooning, so to do we humans morph into new beings after these personal cocoonings.

Though many might look at my life and assume I was suffering from depression due to single event, the attainment of a certain age, or even the solid settling into peri-menopause, that wasn't what was going on.  In fact, I wasn't actually depressed at all.  Life simply stopped being as brilliantly hued as it once was, and instead took on a dull appearance, suddenly formless where once there had been shape and texture and clear outlines. What I determined through self-diagnosis was something completely different...

I was Soul Sick.

There had been too many years of caring for others and not myself, too many years of living on the edge of financial crisis, too many years of heartache and struggle as we tried to parent aching hearts into wholeness.  There were too many years of relative isolation as I homeschooled, too many years of being judged and quietly criticized by well meaning folks who had NO CLUE how to parent kids from our childrens' backgrounds but had plenty of advice to offer.  There were too many soul emptying years of "church work", and not enough Spirit filling times of heart connection.

And too many years of not being truly seen other than for the role you fill.

I know I am not the first person to stop and look at their life and realize there is something not quite right.  I live in the midst of what is truly a family beyond description, with love offered up in generous heaps, and wisdom shared at just the right moment.  Yet something was missing, and that something was the soul connected me.   I was drifting into old and unhealthy ways of thinking from my twenties, and that needed to stop.  It wasn't anyone's fault, it just happened.  Life pulls us adrift, the rudder gets stuck, the wind doesn't catch the sails any longer. I needed a course correction, I needed time and space to breath, I needed to regroup and recenter myself so that I could find the joy that was becoming more and more elusive.

That is exactly what I did this past three months, my Summer of Me...I stopped. I approached summer very differently this year, insisting that I was not going to play taxi driver multiple times a day, and I was not going to teach for the first summer in all 8 years of homeschooling.  I was not going to feel the need to have to "do" and instead decided to spend some time simply "being".  I was relatively quiet on social media, electing to pull myself away from much of the negativity shared there.  I was also going to try and accomplish this with a minimum of self-inflicted guilt.  Yea, that was the hard part :-)

Wow, I had no idea how very much I needed this!

Being intentional about meeting your own needs is hard when you are a mom, and even harder when you are the mom to multiple special needs kids. Somewhere along the line the last 3 or 4 years, as I was working so hard at helping the kids find their voice and their meaning, I lost myself.  As everyone else was "becoming", I was stagnating.

My best friend, through hours and hours of deep conversation and insightful observation began the process of helping me see that I mattered, too.  My husband has allowed me space and time to get away from the 24/7 role of "mom" and "teacher", something I hadn't realized was as important as it turned out to be.  I am Cindy who happens to be a mom and a home educator, not the opposite.  My kids, my five singular blessings, have all encouraged and supported me, and literally celebrated my claiming of my own little niche in our lives.

I created a mental list, a prescription if you will, of what might help heal my Sick Soul.  I needed music back in my life, something that had always ministered to my heart at its most weary, and our new church has a small choir I have joined and oodles of congregational singing throughout worship.  I needed to lose myself in an activity I enjoy, and so I took an iPhone photography course over my Summer of Me and reminded myself that even if I am NOT good at it, that matters little, I can spend hours in great enjoyment anyway.

I also needed to admit that I will forever be the mom of at least one special needs adult who will likely live with us for the remainder of my life, and I needed to create healthier patterns as a caretaker so that I can envision a "whole Cindy" alongside a "whole Kenny".  Dominick and I have instituted a practice that will have me out of my "workplace" (home) at least quarterly for a few days, so that my own brain can refresh itself before coming home to regularly be a second brain for Kenny, as well as the girls from time to time.  Having an 18 year old whose brain can't help him get to bed on time (last night) or can't even quite set an alarm correctly despite repeated efforts isn't easy.  He often can't select appropriate clothing for the weather, he can't cook more than microwave meals, and he can't manage his money despite desperately he did this week when he decided to spend all of his money replacing a computer, only to recall after my prompting that he had $400 due in the next 3 months or so to various places.  All those things he can't do for himself are my job to help him with, and will be forever.  That doesn't feel like a burden, but it can be mentally exhausting day after day in ways that I don't always recognize myself.

I have been leading a book study via Skype with my friend's church in Massachusetts on The Book of Joy, based on conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  Another great Rx for my Soul Sickness.  The timing of God putting certain influences in our lives at just the right time is amazing.  This book and our discussions around it have served to remind me that what I seek is not "fun", nor being "happy", but is something richer and fuller than is Joy with a capital "J".

You know what?  This intentional three month sabbatical of mine has literally transformed my heart back into the Cindy I once was!!  A couple of weeks ago I realized that even I heard a lilt back in my voice.  I was FEELING again, not walking around numb,  but instead a genuine warmth had returned, and a love for others had crept back in that had fallen dormant for quite awhile.  What a powerful reflection this was for me that I can't love others unless I am actively taking care of myself, even if only in small ways.  Laughter bubbles up more, and more importantly, God feels infinitely closer.

This is Joy.

Surprisingly, like a Colorado storm that you hear rustling leaves off in the distance before it surrounds you, blanketing you in cool air with the wind whipping against your cheeks, the desire to write again has enveloped me.  What once came so easily, almost bursting to be let out, had gradually faded over the past couple of years.  Blog posts felt like work as my Soul Sick self struggled to find its voice, which was drifting further out of reach.   Suddenly, the excitement of words on the screen has returned!  I am uncertain what that might mean, as I highly doubt I will be writing sermons in the future, and am not sure what life might offer up that is "bloggable", but I know I need to find an outlet for writing again and will be actively pursuing that now.

The Summer of Me is coming to a gradual end, a couple more weeks and we will start hitting the books again, harder than most do.  I am bringing a renewed and invigorated Cindy to the kitchen table, and I am eagerly anticipating the wonderful discussions ahead as we all learn and grow together.  My Soul Sickness has been kicked to the curb, a months long process which ends in myself declaring myself at least temporarily in remission.  I have no doubt that if I am not diligent I may suffer a relapse, but it will be more easily recognized if that happens, and I already have an Rx that will help.

I am me again, and it is well with my soul.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Reflections on Matt's Graduation

Blogging has taken a back seat to real life lately, and I think that is the way it should be.  Graduations, celebrations, and vacations have all filled our schedule to the brim, and the planning and mere "doing" have taken up brain space otherwise reserved for writing.  I hate not blogging more regularly, but the posts will come when they come, and I am giving up pressuring myself!

Matt's graduation season, for that is what it truly ended up being, was just lovely in every way.  He was celebrated with more sweets, and more tenderness than we would have ever imagined.  What could have been quite a painful and lonely experience was doubled with kindness from God's people all over the place!  Leaving our church behind a few months before graduation left us sort of "community-less", and we knew that creating a meaningful graduation experience for Matt would be difficult, but it was only faithful to do what we felt called to do and leave, and we all agreed on that. 

So come along with me, and let me share with you what Matt's graduation season was like, and how blessed we were:

First, there was celebratory ice cream cake with Miss Mary, our special friend and teaching companion for 8 years. 

 Then there was cookie cake at our wonderful new church, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, where we were so kindly taken in and treated as if we have always been there, and Matt's graduation was recognized despite so few knowing us very well yet...a super kind gesture.

Then there was cake #3, celebrating my best friend's son's graduation along with Matt's, as Billy very thoughtfully offered to allow Matt to be part of his experience as well.  

We traveled to Massachusetts to be present for the high school graduation of Billy, and his sister Christi's graduation from middle school.  While there, Candi's church (she is the pastor) offered to hold a graduation ceremony for Matt as part of their traditional Graduation Sunday service, so that is exactly what we did!  I delivered a commencement address/worship message, and Matt offered a piece of prose he crafted over.  The small congregation who has suffered the loss of their building in a freak tornado recently and now meets in a school library offered their best welcome to us, with special snacks for each of the recognized graduates, including homemade root beer and gold fish crackers for Matt!  The intimacy of the smaller setting was perfectly suited for a family homeschool celebration when the family itself has always integrated faith with real life.

A couple of excerpts from my commencement address, leaving out the more "worshipy" parts which would be of little interest here:

Daily around our kitchen table we were able to live a life few could imagine possible, one where we engaged in conversations that really mattered about life, relationships, culture, politics, and faith.  It was startling to see what integrated learning could look like, and how much more sense the world and our studies made when we didn't have to drop our faith or political beliefs at the classroom door.  Family came first, work was seen as a learning opportunity rather than an interruption, and “school” became something far more precious than merely a place we went to everyday, but was simply part and parcel of who we were as a family every moment of every day.  

Character and moral dilemmas playing out in our daily lives and on the national scene were hashed out and dissected, helping to develop not just the intellect, but the heart as well.  Learning became exciting and grew to include far more than textbooks, essays and meaningless worksheets.  It became practical, and subjects took on new meaning as they became connected to real life.

After sharing a few of Matt's accomplishments, all of which have been read about here before, I ended with:

While all of this is lovely to point toward, what stands out most for me, as Matt’s educator, are not the worldly accomplishments, but the breadth of his love of learning.  Images of him patiently explaining physics and economics principles to his siblings come to mind, his excitement over recently discovering the great works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, his intensity as he mulled over ideas presented in the Tao Te Ching, and his obvious love of great art and philosophy as you scroll through the wide array of images saved on his ipad.  He also has an almost uncanny ability to pluck from his brain an appropriate and applicable quote that adds richness to any conversation.  We have taken to calling him our modern day version of a Renaissance Man, a title that truly fits Matt well.

But what stands out most for me as his mother, rather than as his educator, is his quiet thoughtfulness, his deeply embedded sense of right and wrong, and his well developed faith.  Matt is graduating “whole”, as God intends for us all, he is a well integrated, stable, solid young man with principles and passion, and a sense of purpose in the world.  The exact direction he heads off in may be murky at moments, but who he will be when he arrives is crystal clear.

 We made it!  Eight years, thousands and thousands of discussions, books galore, and a deep and abiding respect that is mutual.  How grateful I am for these past years that bonded us in a way few moms and sons ever manage to bond.

Then Matt shared his writing, titled "Red", in which he reflected upon the impact of his faith on his life in a uniquely symbolic way.:

Part I

I am Beautiful and beloved in the eyes of God

Young-lings need not heed that advice
They live for fun
Their past is short
With a future too big to ponder
They resort to the present
In the here and now they live
Such things like particle physics, computer science or molecular mechanics
They rather jump in puddles
Of the Bible, Qur’an, Torah, Tao and philosophy they live:
          But do so unconsciously
Of their native tongue, science, reading and math
They try to learn
Of their environment they observe,
          The greens of spring
          And oranges of autumn
          White of new fallen snow
          And black of the night
But of being beautiful and beloved in the eyes of God,
          Of the deep blue of the new dawn
          They discard
For they have Mom and Dad
Friends and family
Pets, and Teddy Bears which scare the monsters away
They are already loved

Scales cover them
innocent we say
As they freely live and love in Gods’ own garden
But in do time
          Scales do shed
Sometimes one by one
 Other times, many
          The rarest of all, all at once
And then they see the world as it is;
Of thieves, thugs,
Crooks, criminals
Murderers and rapers
They see evil
          Resentment of man by man
          Arrogance on the entry to Auschwitz
                     “Work will make you free”
          They understand their new found nakedness in the world
          And masterfully construct their shell

Part 2

What is Red?
it’s the passion in your lovers eyes
the dance of the universe
the color of your beating pulse
the energy of the athlete
the reason we are here, together
and the end of the day

Red is everywhere,
for those who seek it
But it is too clever to get caught
Red is the reason that today,
I have left my shell at home

But red is the color of blood,
War, death, tragedy and destruction follow close behind
In the eyes of your angry neighbor,
Abducting innocent children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins, relatives you forgot and will never see again.

Red is the color of conflict, of fire, of hate
Red is the color of God

Part 3

I have a fire in my eyes
Charred landscapes are in my wake
As I devour all that is nice

Monsters under the bed don’t exist
If I want one, I look in the mirror
This wasteland has transformed me
To something I fear

I know of the wrongs I have done:
          In the third grade,
          Last year,
Red blood drips from my hands
I still have the fire in my eyes
This fire in me, it requires more
More to consume,
With each new valley my shell gets stronger, my fire gets bigger
But, one day
enough wasn’t enough
the magnificent warm transformed into a pile of charcoal

In my shell cracks formed,
They were quickly tended to
Until it burst
Came out

My shell held more than I knew;
Protection became storage
Everything floated away, my life's work out of my grasp
In the night I had no shell to insulate me,
No fire to warm my body

Red is the color of God
The sky went from black to deep blue
To brilliant red

Everywhere red surrounded me,
Everywhere red became me
Was it the fire that once resided in me, or love which went into hiding?
Red rays radiating heat reach me,
My entire naked body warmed by them

I am beautiful and beloved in the eyes of God
Even me
A blue tear falls
But that’s OK because blue is the color of God.

Congratulations, Matthew!

Yes, I cried halfway through speaking...not because these years passed too quickly, not because he is moving on in new directions, but because of gratitude.  

As I was speaking about the conversations we have had, I literally couldn't go on, as I tried to compose myself and thought, "I have had the privilege with ALL my children of being present every single day, of having the kinds of conversations every parent yearns to have with their kids and seldom gets, and I have had them at a depth and with a richness few would believe or even understand.  There have been no silent dinners, no slammed doors and loud music with pouting faces.  There have been no fights, and no carelessly flung accusations.  Instead, clear into his senior year and continuing on with each of the other four there has been snuggling on the couch and reading together daily, there have been explorations of the heart and soul, there has been laughter, messes, and shared dreams.  It simply doesn't get any better as a mother than what I have been offered by God, it just doesn't."

Now how do you put THAT in a commencement speech???

You simply can't pack all the love, respect, and growth in any speech, as words will never be enough.

And yes, it has truly been that good.  People doubt us every single day, they ask how the kids could possibly get along, they add the dreaded "Oh my gosh, FIVE teenagers?? I am so sorry for you!".

If they only knew :-)  Well....I do and God does, and that is enough.

Do we have  our challenges?  Sure, but we have somehow been given an extra measure of peace and a larger dose than average of love to help us overcome the very real disabilities, trauma, and loss.

We had a party to celebrate and I gave Matt a 50 page "Life Album" to celebrate his graduation.  Oh, was I touched to see how much that obviously meant to him!  Candi created one for Billy as well, and it was a really wonderful thing to see how the entire party came to a halt as each young man simply couldn't move on until they had thoroughly reviewed and enjoyed their albums.  

That photo album and the piece of artwork Matt requested were all he received for graduation from us.  Here is the piece we got him on canvas which now hangs above his desk:

And so I will end this ridiculously long post with the note I created for Matt's photo book, because this blog has been 10 years of love notes to this family of mine and I ought not leave this out!

Dearest Matthew,
Graduation is a time of mixed emotions, of reflecting on the past, and gazing expectantly towards the future.  Parents have to gently let go, and children must boldly march forth...or so the world would have us believe.  In truth, if relationships are solid and caring, and if life has been truly lived well in the years preceding that last day of your senior year, then there is a level of deep love, respect, and interdependence that the world eschews, but that is the ideal for parents and children.  You see, forever our lives are intertwined, bound tight by years of side by side learning, joyful experiences, and walking through difficult challenges together.
 You will continue to live into who God has called you to be, and we will continue to be engaged and present.  This is how it should be in healthy relationships.
You are ready, of that there is no doubt.  We see how determined and capable you are, we see how self-directed and confident you are in your chosen path.  More importantly, your faith is strong, your heart is kind, and your dreams will no longer remain dreams, but will be brought to life by your effort and diligence. fully, speak honestly, walk determinedly, live faithfully.  Chase beauty, Matt, continue to be the Renaissance man that you are.  Let your heart be moved by art and music, read voraciously, and perhaps most importantly, remain pliable and open to new ideas.
But most of all, know that you are always, always loved.                                         
Love Always,                                                                                                   Mom and Dad

Friday, May 12, 2017

Unflashy Graciousness

"Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you.
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn't show your spirit quite as true." - Jackson Browne

This week, as I have been trying to recover from a very painful back injury (bent over to pick up a sock, go figure!), I have worked on a little graduation project for Matthew.  The past year I discovered Mixbook and have so enjoyed putting together a couple of photobooks.  I decided to create a sort of lifebook for Matt, and had to sort through thousands of digital photos.

Oh my.  The memories, the emotions, the journey we have walked.

You know, when you are in the midst of something, you just put your head down and plow through, lifting it once in awhile to offer the Universe a great big bowl full of laughter because you didn't know how damned beautiful life could be, and sometimes so your tears can stream more freely as you maneuver through the field of undetected emotional landmines.

Of course, none of us live with the magnifying glass pointed in the direction of our own lives, peering backward in regular close examination.  Like Dory, we forge ahead and say, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!".  Sometimes though, it is important to stop and reflect.

But photos only reflect so much, and true character reveals itself subtly, quietly, and with a graciousness that often isn't flashy.

That's Matt.

In fact, that really is all our kids.  I recently had a conversation with my best friend about our kids, and I was concerned that awards and recognition don't seem to matter, they are not a motivator whatsoever and I was puzzled by it because it is almost universal in our family.  It feels "wrong" somehow, that a person would have a great achievement and it doesn't really seem to matter, and I was wondering aloud if I had done something wrong to create that natural response from the kids. We have intentionally de-emphasized competition as a family value, as we feel our faith leads us to think differently, and maybe that is the problem...if it is indeed a problem.  We feel that competing is the last thing God wants from any of us, but rather unity and supporting others ought to be goal. That doesn't mean we don't give our best at all times, but I guess the reason why is different, if that makes sense. 

Last night, I realized what being counter-cultural really means, and that maybe we are at a place where years of teaching that being "uniquely developed" is a positive thing, and that the reward really comes when the journey itself has been fully embraced.

Matt was being celebrated in his local Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Squadron after attaining his final rank of Cadet Colonel.  A couple of weeks ago with a lot of pomp and ceremony, he received his official recognition from Congressman Scott Tipton at a regional black tie affair for CAP.  

Later that week, Matt was featured on the front page of our local paper:

He didn't read the article for two just wasn't of importance to him.  That was sort of what prompted my conversation.  Why didn't any of this matter?  I mean, as the adult Captain of their Squadron emphasized yesterday, this is a "really, really big deal"...Matt is cadet #2102 in the 70 year history of Civil Air Patrol to reach this goal.  Less than 1/2 of 1% of all cadets ever make it this far.  So why did this not at least bring about more of a reaction from him?

Last night, I understood why.  At the Squadron celebration, there were several cadets being honored for their achievements, including a cadet close to Matt's age who was receiving the Billy Mitchell Award, which signifies that a cadet is halfway through the rank advancements.  I recall when Matt hit that point a couple of years ago, we all thought it was quite the accomplishment.  This cadet was recognized fairly quickly, then they moved on to Matt.  

Part of Matt's "cheering squad".

Matt being honored.

Standing there, camera in hand, I watched my son become a man I admire deeply right before my eyes.  Instantly, I "got it", and had to hold back tears.  He stood there, accepting the words of his adult Squadron leader, and then when it was his turn to speak, he immediately said he would like to share a little about the meaning of the accomplishment of the younger cadet who received his Billy Mitchell Award.  He took a few minutes to explain that many people had no idea how extraordinary that accomplishment was, because they had no reference for it, and then went on to explain it was, statistically speaking, similar to achieving the Eagle Scout honor in Boy Scouts, and that it was something to be very proud of and should be highly recognized.  You see, he wanted that hard working cadet's accomplishments not to be overshadowed by his own, and he felt a little like the other young cadet had been "cheated" of his moment in the sun, so he took it upon himself to cast the light in that direction.

Cadet Colonel LaJoy honoring another...

Men...right before your eyes...Matt and his fellow honored Cadet.

Then, like a true leader, he shook hands and stepped away...never saying a word about his own accomplishment, grateful to serve and encourage others to move forward.  

Real men show gratitude.

Later, he gathered everyone to thank his adult Squadron leader and presented him with a thank you card, acknowledging that he didn't achieve it on his own and he has had wonderful role models along the way.  

Recalling words Matt had said after passing his test, when he shared that, "We have several cadets right now who I think can get this far, my job is to see if I can help them get there!", I realized that my son understood something that goes far beyond being meme-worthy and beyond platitude.  There exist in the world many fine quotes about hard work being the truest reward, but few I have ever met really exemplify that.  For Matthew, it is clear that his academic career and his Civil Air Patrol career have been far more about all he has learned on the journey, and the final destination was of little importance other than that it could be a role model for others to show what can actually be achieved.  I recently saw this, and realized it fit Matt very well after what I saw last night:

He is about to end one journey, and begin another.  On Monday, he takes his second certification test for Comp TIA A+, which is an exam to demonstrate competency for PC computer pros for installing, maintaining, customizing and using personal computers.  With this alone, if he passes, he has been told he could gain an entry level computer technician position.  That is not his end goal, but it is a stepping stone to more in depth computer knowledge.  He also has an official start date for his pilot's license, and lessons will begin in July.  

All of this hard work is part of the journey for him, awards are not the reward. 

Mr. Quiet isn't perfect, he is a typical teen in some ways...leaves his clothes on the floor sometimes, stacks 6 or 8 dirty glasses on his desk, and hoards the gallon box of goldfish crackers keeping them from anyone else who might want some. He can be as oblivious as any male on the planet sometimes, tease his sisters, and drag his feet getting up some mornings.  But, he is also courteous, helpful,  wise, kind, and makes a mean chocolate chip cookie (and quiche, as we learned tonight!).

His photos reflect little of the man inside, they offer barely a glimmer of his character and deep goodness, of his quirky way of viewing the world and his quiet contemplative side.

His actions though, speak loudly.  Last night, they spoke volumes.

Friday, April 28, 2017


The past week has been one of important-to-us milestones, the ones you mark that others may not find to be of much consequence, but to us they really, really matter.

For one thing, we are now parents of a nineteen year old!  How did that happen?  Seems that just yesterday she was the feisty almost twelve year old we arrived home with, and now, she is a sophomore in high school who is blossoming into womanhood gently and happily.   Still asserting firmly that she does NOT think of herself as nineteen and wants to continue to have time to feel deeply embedded in her family, Angela has learned how to live in the present moment and squeeze out all the joy she can.  What a beautiful soul we all live with!

It must be boring to see our birthday pics every year, they all feature the family favorite chocolate cake with sprinkles!  We are a boring bunch :-)

Our entire family has been on pins and needles for weeks as Matt's last opportunity to test for his final rank advancement with Civil Air Patrol approached.  Five and a half years of very hard work in content areas such as leadership, aeronautics, physical fitness, and character and the final chance to pass and become a Cadet Colonel was at hand.  The Spaatz test, named after a WWII general, is the highest award a cadet can earn in Civil Air Patrol, and it is quite rare for anyone to get that far.  In fact, fewer than 2300 cadets in the 50 year history of CAP have ever attained it...1/2 of 1% of all cadets.  

Sitting in the room as he tested, I kept hearing sighs and thought to myself, "Oh man, it sounds as if he is struggling.", and I saw his hand shake as he lifted it and held it mid air before finally pressing "Enter" to see his results.  The look of relief on his face moments later as the results were shown on screen was unlike any expression I had ever seen on from him before!  He did it!!   

All of us rejoiced with Matt!  
Soon to be 3 diamonds on that uniform!

Perhaps the most significant milestone for all of us came as we joyfully joined our new church, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Grand Junction.  This was truly an important moment for our entire family, one that was born of great turmoil, much grief, and a need for rebirth.  Heartache led us to deep listening as we asked God to show us the way to a place where we could all grow in our faith, and feel part of a community that spoke to each of us.  We were astonished when my best friend, Candi, showed up on our doorstep a few days before to surprise us and be present for our special day!  Also in attendance were dear friends, Jane and Steve, whose presence also meant so much to us.  Being loved so deeply by others really matters, and though we left behind many who we also love very much at our old church, we were warmly embraced by our new congregation and we have felt at home since the moment we first walked through the doors.

My heart smiled as I heard Olesya say over lunch afterward that, "I woke up at 6:00 am and couldn't go back to sleep, I was so excited to join the church today!".  Yesterday, we talked about grief and loss, and about the process of claiming others in our lives.  Angela said that Sunday she felt that not only had we joined the church, but that through the warmth and acceptance of others, we had been claimed by our new faith community...a pretty powerful statement to make, and indicative of what we all have felt.  

 Smiles all around :-)
We are home!

 The best friends show up.

 Handsome man in pink, he read the Scriptures this morning for the first time!

 Happiness from ear to ear!

Celebrating milestones...loving friendship.

New chapters in our lives often begin by creeping in, we don't always know it until we look back and can discern with great clarity, "Oh, that was when it all changed."  We are beginning a new chapter in our lives, a new church family, a new graduate soon, a new freshman in high school, and probably many more milestones that are not yet recognized as such.

I love reaching new ones with these special people in our lives, the ones who carry our name and the ones who carry our hearts.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

No One Else's Time Line

She sits on the couch, tears streaming, fingers wound tightly around mine as we get very, very real.  It has been a difficult couple of months, well, difficult is too weak a word to use, but repeating "challenging" over and over again as it pertains to broken brains grows wearisome, and it loses its potency.

The realization has settled in among the entire family that we have another FASD'er among us, a child whose brain was damaged by alcohol use in utero who has very little choice about how she is functioning at the moment.  Independently, every one of her siblings has privately asked the question of me, "Is Olesya ok?" and I have replied, "No, something is really not working right and we all really know what it is, don't we?", only to hear a sad sigh in response, accompanied by a knowing nod.

The only one who didn't really see it for what it really is was Olesya.

Just as it was for Kenny, the 17th year of life has been a killer in many ways.  For Kenny, brain malfunctions were constant, as were total shut downs in a way that are impossible to describe.  In Olesya it has manifested in a further breakdown of logic, as she has said many things over the past several weeks that left us scratching our heads, trying to figure out what in the world she was talking about.  She has started to make statements and then drawn a complete blank and been unable to finish them.  Math skills, which were poor before, are almost non-existent...she couldn't do a simple math problem like 2000 minus 400 without paper and pen, and even then she got the answer incorrect twice.

Worse yet, my sweet daughter who had struggled so much throughout the past 7 years to gain confidence and a sense of self was beginning to regress, and "No, I don't want to try." was becoming a new mantra.  Where a growth mindset had gradually developed, we were now seeing a pulling inward that bothered me far more than any math malfunctions.  Years of work appeared to be suddenly wiped away, and one night I began to do a little math work of my own, and putting two and two together, emotional arithmetic answers were revealed to me, and my gut told me it was time for a serious talk.

Two days after a particularly frustrating shopping trip for a few new blouses for her, during which "No" was resoundingly offered at every possible suggestion made by either Angela or myself, Dominick and I sat down alone with Olesya.  Though we had talked in generalizations with the girls in the past about the likelihood of them being affected by their mom's alcohol use, we had no evidence of it being used while she was pregnant, though definite solid knowledge of use very early in their lives.  Facial features are present for both, more strongly in Olesya, and the sort of "disconnects" we deal with on a daily basis with both of them made it obvious to us that we had more than one FASD child in the family, though not diagnosis-worthy as we already "knew" and they were far more functional than Kenny is.  Angela is the least impacted, but reflects it in frequent memory issues where information is totally lost, even if it has been shared  hundreds of times.  Thankfully, it doesn't happen often.  She too struggles mightily with math, and Algebra is truly beyond her.  She has the occasional disconnected moment, but they are not regularly occurring and her processing speed is rapid.

Olesya, on the other hand, has far fewer memory issues, but the disconnects are a daily occurrence, the immaturity gap (Dysmaturity) is far greater, and critical thinking is hindered on a regular basis.  Her processing speed is far slower, in other words, she has knowledge and can come up with answers, but it is more difficult for her to access the information.  This is often not as noticeable to others because it hides beneath a cloak of introversion, but I know her well enough to tell the difference, and can always see when she is slow to respond because her brain is working harder.

My light bulb moment arrived when I realized that Olesya was hiding from her increase in disabling behavior, she was "stuck" and needed someone to name it, and help her claim it.  I don't care for labels, but I have learned through the years of working with our kids that labels can be incredibly helpful if it offers someone an explanation of "why" things don't work the same for them as others.  I suspected that Olesya was hiding from her "why" right now, and was confused, scared, and lonely in it.

She needed it named clearly, she needed to accept that what we are seeing and experiencing with her is true disability.

We started the conversation, Dominick present but quietly observing and allowing me to lead.  I asked her if she had any thoughts about why the past couple of months had been so hard.  There was a little bristling, a little verbal avoidance but an acknowledgement that things hadn't been going very well.   After a few minutes of dancing around and drawing her out a little, I stated clearly and firmly that I didn't know if she saw it the same way we were seeing it, but that she was experiencing classic signs of an adolescent with FASD, and we wanted her to know we understood she wasn't doing anything in purpose, but that she had a true disability...and I wondered aloud if she realized that.

That was all it took.

Dissolving into tears, we proceeded to be very real, very honest, and very raw.  We talked about the "misfires" she had been having lately, she admitted she had been anxious and nervous because she had discovered on her own that she had left the flame on the stove five different times over the past few weeks, and things weren't making sense in her head at all a lot of the time.  I gently explained that this age was harder for kids like her, and I kept repeating words like "disability", "fetal alcohol", and "handicapped" as I explained that she couldn't fight her brain and none of this was her fault.

"Do you realize you really and truly do have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?", I asked, catching her off guard.

"No, I really didn't even though we talked about it before.  I wasn't as bad as Kenny, so I didn't think I did.  Now that we are talking and because of the past few weeks, I really do think I do." she said, choking back the disappointment and fear.  Coming to acceptance can be a painful, painful road to we have had to walk far too many times with our children.

Olesya then spoke herself and brought up driving, which we had planned on working on this summer.  She explained she was truly scared of it, wasn't sure she would ever be able to be safe because it took her so long to process information and she realized she needed to be able to respond quickly behind the wheel.  Seeing the dismay in her eyes, knowing she understood full well what this might mean for her future if she indeed really couldn't drive, I wanted more than anything to just make it all go away, to fix all that isn't working right.

How many times through the past 20 years have I wanted to carry all the pain for my beloved ones?

I was so proud of Olesya as she also spoke honestly and forthrightly about how our gingerly approached conversations about future thinking and possible career training were scaring her, and she admitted she doesn't feel at all ready to think that way, that she felt more like 13 or 14, not at all like a 17 year old who really should be wanting to think about her future.  "It scares me, mom, and I don't even know what I like, or what I can do, or if I can ever even support myself if my brain is like this."

Reality is hard to contradict.

Dominick and I have talked for awhile about our concerns for Olesya.  While we have no worries about her being a productive employee who works full time, does she have the capacity to work at a job that allows her to earn anything beyond minimum wage?  She has MANY gifts and talents, particularly when it comes to organizing, and she is bright and intelligent.  People don't always get that FASD isn't always IQ, it is the brain's inability to access or use that IQ in a fully functional way.  Her introversion is a big one for her to overcome, and her stuttering is growing a bit worse.  She seems to have poor tongue muscle control and often chokes on her own saliva randomly, which she spoke about in detail as it embarrasses her.  When she is nervous, she stutters a lot and struggles to get thoughts in order, causing her to slip to the background so it isn't noticed.

At this point, we asked Kenny and Angela to join us in conversation, both of whom had been asked prior if they would mind taking part in this particular discussion.  These three beautiful human beings have overcome so much, and have to work so hard every single day just to achieve what comes easily to others.  Kenny actually asked if he could be helpful in talking with Olesya, and he offered to explain how hard it was for him to accept his limitations and begin to start working with me as a team to move forward in his life versus denying it and hiding from it.  The talk I had with him prior to speaking with Olesya was an important one, and helped me focus on the things that might be most helpful.

There we sat, in the afternoon glow, having a conversation no parent should have to have with their 17 and 18 year old kids.  We reinforced that no one had to "grow up" at any pace other than that which was appropriate for each individual, and that FASD often means kids need far longer to mature and gain skills to move out into the world (often not until their late twenties).  We reiterated that not a single child was a "burden" to us, but instead never failed to delight us, to inspire us, and to instill in us a passion for helping them that would never, ever dissipate.  We claimed this home as theirs forever, just as it is for Josh and Matt should it need to be, but reminded them that in time, they would gain more confidence and they would know when (or in some cases, "if") it was time to move on in life.

There was so much love expressed in that moment, from parents to children, from siblings to siblings.  What could have felt hopeless was instead quite the opposite, it was an afternoon filled with authentic concern, safe exposure of fears, and a recognition that no one was alone in this.  Sweetly, each of the three expressed deep worry for me as their main caretaker, as they shared their gratitude for all I do to advocate for them, and for the work I do with them to help them understand and be understood.  It was the perfect opportunity for me to express my own gratitude for them, for how they accept correction from me, for how they work harder than anyone I know to overcome so much, and how we are a team...always, always a team

The truth is, as I explained, none of us caused this, it is not the fault of a single one of us, so we need to never fight against one another and view ourselves as a strong unit who will work against what outside forces caused.  All nodded in agreement.  I also shared how both Matt and Josh are concerned and had shared a lot with me recently about their siblings, and provided me with great insights as well...and that they, too, are on their own journey that at times has been quite difficult, so they "get it" too, even if this particular issue isn't one they struggle with.

We parted after an emotionally exhausting two and a half hours, with no secrets, new understandings, and a lot of fear aired.  Over the next several days, it became immediately apparent that the conversation and been a cathartic experience for Olesya, and her entire demeanor changed.  I asked her a few days later how she was feeling about our conversation, noting that she appeared to be lighter hearted and more herself.  With a smile she said that it had indeed helped, and she felt safer and more secure now, and that she realized she really did have a lot working against her but knew she had plenty of time to grow up and we would all figure things out together.

And that's really the point, isn't it?  That none of us are really alone unless we choose to be, and in our self-imposed isolation our problems are amplified by our inner voices.  Naming something, sharing it, unburdening ourselves of the fears, both real and imagined, is healing and draws us closer to those whose support can breath new life into our lives.

For now, we will take it one day at a time with each and every one of our burgeoning adults.  Some will need us longer than others, all will be there for one another.  We are on no one else's time line but our own.

Hello, Adulthood...But Not Goodbye, Childhood

During these waning days of summer, new adults are slowly blossoming and, for one, childhood is very gradually beginning its tentative wave...