Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Power to Serve

I just finished reading a book that really deepened my perspective on helping others. The book is named "The Power of Serving Others: You Can Start Where You Are", and I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever thought of helping others but doesn't really know where to start. This book was one of those that really keeps you thinking afterwards, causing you to look at your life differently. It is an easy read, relatively short with lots of anecdotes rather than preaching at you. For those of you who have followed my blog and wonder where I am really coming from, this book defines my outlook in many ways. It is NOT about having to go halfway around the world to make a difference, but is about doing what you can where you are, and you would be surprised the impact you can have on others with small actions. In short, I LOVED this book and will no doubt check it out again and again to re-read it.

Things are going relatively well here, with some challenging moments here and there. We started things off this week on Tuesday with Bible Soccer camp again, which if you read the blog last week you are aware that it was not the biggest success we've had to date :-) This week I was dreading it. You may wonder why I don't just give in, after all...if the kid doesn't like soccer, why force it? Well, I guess it is because from the few good moments I could tell it wasn't really about liking it or not liking it, but it was all about the physical effort put into ANY outdoor adcitivy. Now, don't get me wrong, you are talking to the mom of two other kids who are truly NOT jocks so this is not us living vicariously through our kids or trying to make jocks out of pocket-protector types. It is about trying to get Kenny (I am trying to force myself to start calling him that, as he wants it...but doesn't yet answer to it so we are in name transition) to start becoming involved more in physical activities to develop better motor skills, for health, for endurance which he totally lacks. And frankly, it is about doing what is requested of you even if you don't always like it...or learning to express your dislike for something in a manner better than sitting down and crying! Hahahaha!

This week though, I made a couple of adjustments. He started whining from the second he woke up about not going, but I told him he only had 3 more times and he had to finish what he started. When we got there, I asked that they keep him in the group playing in the shade, as I realized his internal thermostat is not really regulating him well yet and hoped that maybe that would help with his enthusiasm. He really seems to enjoy the crafts and story time, it is just the physical activities he doesn't seem to like. He also expressed with the help of someone translating that he didn't know how to play...so in his mind there was no reason to try. We had explained to him that no one would get mad at him, that the only way to learn all the new things he had to learn was to just get in and try. Well, when it was his group's turn for soccer things started off a little rocky. He will regress to very babylike behavior when not getting his own way, and walks around with his tongue hanging out, purposely ignoring others, basically acting as if he doesn't have a brain in his head, which mommy knows is SO not true! They did a couple of drills which were not really to his liking and mom had to get out there and push, poke and prod, much to Kenny's dismay. Then they split up into groups and played a real game. Kenny is scared to death of the ball, which is quite understandable, and when the ball hit his shins at all he started crying, and of course all the other kids are looking at him like "What's the matter with you, kid??".

But slowly and subtly, things started to change course. Kenny got the ball a couple of times and kicked it down field, and then a team mate scored a goal and he was SO excited! He understands "goal" and ran up and gave this kid a high five, and you could see this other little boy begin to soften towards him, and the next thing I know this other boy starts feeding Kenny the ball gently, encouraging him, and they each pat each other on the backs, give high fives at goals, and all of a sudden soccer isn't so bad at all! He got to play goalie and enjoyed that, he got the idea that you can't touch the ball with your hands unless you are playing goalie, and he caught himself trying to do it a couple of times. Kenny was transformed in about 10 minutes from a pouting 3 year old toddler to an excited and happy 8 year old boy, overjoyed at having so much fun playing a sport on a team. It was a sight to see, this little clueless guy out there finally having fun doing something he had really dug in his heels about, and this other little boy who was so much more mature even though they were close in age, who decided to take it upon himself to show antother child such kindness. It made a difference. I still expect that next week we will have groans and pouting, but maybe it will be a bit less, and maybe he will have fun like he did this week! One baby step at a time...

Yesterday was a tough one though, with very difficult behavior when we were at the grocery store. He was upset at not getting things he kept asking for, he kept walking away from me and ignoring the rest of us, he screamed out in the store just to get attention...and I ended up dragging him across the parking lot by the wrist as he was crying and angry. He exhibits very good eye contact when all is well, but he will absolutely refuse to look me in the eye when he is angry over something or not getting what he wants. This is a real no-no in our fmaily as it is disrespectful. We never mind when our kids express dissatisfaction with something, but they need to talk about it like Big Boys, and they have to look us in the eye. Now, don't get me wrong, I know Kenny is incapable of this right now and needs time, but when do we begin to teach this...that baby antics are unacceptable out of an 8 year old boy? When do we decide that enough time has passed and now we can let him know we have expectations? Do we wait a week...a month...a year...two years...and THEN try to let him know? NOT, that will not work, at least not in ours minds. So while we definitely understand why he may not be able to comply with rules or expectations, we are not going to wait to begin letting him know what they are. And by his own behavior I can already tell that he knows when he has pushed it too far, when he is being rude, uncooperative, or disrespectful. I think part of it is that anyone who meets Kenny can tell he is intelligent, so he can't hide behind his lack of education and use it a crutch. He expresses himself beautifully considering his lack of English, and he is quite creative at getting his ideas across. I have been amazed at times how well he is doing. But then there is Stubborn Toddler Kenny who sticks his head up out of the sand at times, and it is that Kenny that we need to work with and to be firm with.

He got in the car, and he cried and sobbed, I pulled his chin around to look me in the eyes as I explained to him what he did wrong (not that he didn't know it) and he has this tendancy to be overdramatic and acts as if I have broken his jaw...or his arm...or whatever the case may be :-) Some of you who may be reading this with older adopted kids may be laughing right now with flashbacks to your own first months home. I told him that when mommy tells him to stop, he needs to stop and when mommy tells him to look at me, he needs to look at me even if he is mad. If he doesn't look me in the eye, I know he is zoning out purposely and not hearing me.

Most of the way home he cried and mumbled, and then stopped a couple of blocks from home. Matthew and Josh got out of the car and he was in there alone with me. He gets out of his seat, leans over and says "I'm sorry Mommy, I'm sorry..." and then proceeds to help carry in groceries, hold doors open, and look me in the eye when talking to me. It wasn't much later when I was putting something up on our bulletin board and stuck myself with the pushpin. Kenny was standing right there and in perfect English asked me "Mommy, are you ok?" and then made a BIG fuss over me, getting a wet paper towel to blot my invisible injury, kissing the tip of my finger and generally letting me know all was ok with us. The rest of the day was very, very good and he was cooperative and more engaged with us all.

Sometimes I think people assume we are expecting too much too early, but I wonder when they would decide that it is finally the appropriate time to offer up discipline and expectations. Just because we are letting him know what is ok and what is NOT ok, doesn't mean we don't understand that he probably won't do it yet, or that we shouldn't have patience with him...we do. I just can't figure out when that magic "time" is that suddenly it becomes ok to let him know that all of this is inappropriate and NOW he should start to act differently. In my mind, THAT would be unfair to him. And thus far, I am really proud of him, of how well he is doing, of how he is trying hard to figure this all out and become part of this family. That doesn't mean there aren't times when I roll my eyes and hide my laughter at my 8 year old toddler who reveals himself with regularity. But compassion without action is pointless, at least from my perspective which perhaps is totally skewed.

I asked Matthew what he thought of all of this after it was over and settled, and he told me that Kenny had to learn sometime, and if he didn't learn it he would get in trouble at school. I reminded him how hard it was when Josh first came home and he grinned and said "That was a lot harder, Joshie cried a lot more and NEVER stopped!!" and my oldest son (in every way but age) and I realized at that moment that we shared a history that the other two children did not share with us, it was one of those sly, quiet moments when two people know they have waded through the same waters together and beat down the alligators. I explained to him that in 6 months Kenny would be a different kid and he said "But he is already a good boy mommy, he just needs to learn the rules and that is your job to teach him..." so even if I get strange looks in public from other misunderstanding adults I have my compatriot by my side in my son.

He is a good, sweet, kindhearted boy who is going through incredible stress and turmoil right now, but he is also experiencing great joy and love. He has an incredible amount of maturing to do...and yet at the same time there is this balancing act because he has to step backwards and MUST experience much of that young childhood that he has already missed out on. He also has an enormous amount of confidence, and that is fun to watch as he navigates this new world of his fearlessly.

Every day brings us a new challenge and a new reward. I see things in my own children and others that are brought out in this new and different situation they find themselves in, and I see things in my new son daily that show who he can become and what his heart is really like. That's what it is all about.


Shea said...

I hear you about the when thing... a lot of people (esp family) think that I'm too "hard" on X. I believe that to let him do the offending behaviour and then suddenly say "oh by the way, we really don't allow that" is wrong and confusing. Mind you X is only 4 but he's got an incredible memory!

Anonymous said...

Love and limits... sounds like you're all doing a great job... just hang in there and don't let the "back seat drivers" bother you --

I imagine Kenny is searching for what the boundaries are in his new life, and he won't know unless you teach him. Hmmm.... 8 years of boundaries to learn in a few months, I imagine there will be a few more temper tantrums down this road as he continues to test you.

Everybody tells me “Just wait until the teenage years!” Does that mean this is the EASY time?

Blessings from Peggy in Virginia

LaJoy Family said...

I am so glad that there are others out there in cyberworld who can relate to our experience right now, who don't think I am Nasty Mom or a freak :-) You guys all make me feel much better about everything, I am grateful for you taking the time to comment and to share this time in our lives that can be confusing even for me sometimes! Yes, I do expect a lot more temper tantrums as time passes, and I hope my description of what all of this is like doesn't sound overly negative or turns people away from older kids...on the contrary I hope it simply gives them a sense of what reality is like...that it may be difficult but is also extremely rewarding and these kids are AWESOME! But it is not a fairy tale, as I am fond of saying, it is real life and kids struggling and families struggling is real. If that is too hard for some to handle, then this isn't a path they should trod. And hard as it is, sharing it makes it easier...so thanks a bunch! And pardon all the typos in this post, I'll go back and correct them. I can't believe I didn't proof it and it was THAT bad!


Jen G said...

Wow. I just sent you a personal email earlier today, but I really have to say .. although I don't have kids, and don't really desire to, (cuz God has other plans for me), I think you are doing an OUTSTANDING job. And I say this because of what you write, how you write it, and what the real-world results are in your children. It is SO MUCH BETTER than some parents I see out there asking permission of their children to discipline them!!
Hey, I'll be the first one to tell you I don't know JACK about how to raise a kid .. I can't even train my DOG. But I will tell you ... I know when it's being done right by the results. And it looks like Kenny is coming right along .. and if you can, ignore those judgmental eyes on you from folks on the outside. Our world would be a far better place if parents would (A) spend a little more time nurturing their kids and (B) balancing the discipline with the praises.
I'm tellin' you .. I couldn't do it, but I admire those who can, because parenthood under ANY circumstances, isn't easy, and you have certainly taken a different path .. but it works for your family, and that is what makes it sooo awesome!
Keep up the good work, Cindy!! I see God's hand in your life, and it is an incredible thing to watch .. and read!!!