Monday, June 11, 2007
We have been home for 4 days now, and life is beginning to settle in a bit as jet lag wanes. Thanks to the wonderful meals prepared for us, we have been able to really relax and not feel like we immediately had to get stocked on groceries, etc. although we did end up making a Walmary run to get Tokie a few clothes that actually fit right, mainly pants. He is so thin and even though he is 8 1/2 he is wearing a 6 slim!! We also had a small gathering at home last night for Matthew's birthday, which is actually tomorrow.
We attended church Sunday, and it was a special service held in a local park. Due to traveling and the fine weather, many of the "regulars" were not in attendance, but it was so nice to be back among our extended faith family. There were lots of warm hugs, many questions, and several people who told me they had read the blog and surprised me with their complimentary words and explanations that they found themselves in tears almost daily as they read it. That so many people have been affected by this blog has been amazing to me, as I guess I don't see why...while this adoption is certainly moving to our little family, I never imagined it would touch others lives as it has. I mean, when it is your own life you are living, it SHOULD touch you to the core, but I didn't envision it could touch others. It made me quite happy to know that our experience and my writing about it was really able to bring others along with us, but it was surprising to learn how many hearts were knocked on, and how many doors were opened at hearing that knock. I know that simply hearing from so many of our friends while we were so far away helped us feel less disconnected, and so very cared about.
Our first few days at home have been calm, quiet and restful. Toktogul needed the "downtime" and so did we. Saturday though, was filled with a few firsts, even as we were just hanging out, and made me realize that we are in for many more first moments, despite his advanced age. He proudly got to sit on Daddy's riding lawnmower and carefully drive it around with Dominick's guiding hand, same as the other boys have done in the past. He got his first ATV ride from our neighbor, Grandpa Don. Living in Colorado this is almost a rite of passage :-) He also enjoyed his first run at a slip and slide, which was hilarious to watch as he carefully approached the slide decked out in Joshie's life vest. He carefully scooted across it on hands and knees the first few runs, then slowly became a bit less cautious and eventually disgarded the life vest completely as he became more comfortable with the sensation of the cold water splashed on his skin.
One thing we have noticed is that his internal thermostat is a bit messed up, no doubt due to the orphanage environment which kept children clothed well beyond the norm at all times of the year. As any of you who have adopted infants can attest to, even in the summer these kiddos are bundled up as if it is...well...winter in Colorado! Well, we are now seeing the affects of this in an older child who is always complaining that it is too cold, even when it is 85 degrees out and the swamp cooler is on trying to cool the house down. He gradually seems to adjust throughout the day, disgarding jackets and long sleeves, and it has been funny to see him slowly "strip" down from morning to night...to the point where he even went to bed without his jammies last night and wore only underwear. Never would have imagined that happening 2 weeks ago as he and Dominick had "Air Conditioning Wars" in our apartment in Almaty.
He also got his first go at a trampoline, as Matthew (and really all the boys) received one for his birthday, compliments of Grandma Alice, Mommy and Daddy, and Walmart's Midnight Christmas sale! All the kids' eyes bugged and they spent the evening jumping on it, eating dinner on it, and pretending it was a boat. This will be a terrific tool to help build up Toktogul's stamina while having fun at the same time.
All has not been without a couple of moments where a firm parenting hand had to come into play. Most notably, Toktogul tried to help Dominick correct Matthew by cornering him in the hallway and locking his arm across his throat to get him to listen to Daddy. Matthew's shocked look, as described to me later, was a combination of astonishment tinged with a hint of fear. Tokie was told that under no circumstance was he ever to be rough like that with either Matthew or Joshua, and that it was Daddy and Mommy's job to take care of all the kids. Of course, this was relayed with pantomime and few words, so who knows how much was really understood, but apologies were made and all was well. That is the first and only sign of any aggressive behavior we have seen, and we explained to Matt that often in the orphanage the older kids take over the parenting role for the younger ones, and Tokie was doing just what came naturally and was accepted there...but that was why young children don't make good parents because they don't understand how to discipline without physical force. Matthew in his usual way took it all in stride and went on his merry way. Thank goodness I have an "oldest" son (at least in all ways except chronological) whose calm nature helps set the tone for all our kids. His feather rarely get ruffled, and anger is slow to erupt. That will surely help in the coming days as things like this occur.
We have had some fake tears at being told "no" a couple of times, and are working on saying "No, thank you" when food is served that he doesn't like rather than forcefully pushing it away making nasty noises :-) One thing I am glad we did right from the beginning was to make manners a priority, as it makes accepting other behaviors easier. This may sound strange to pick as a first priority, but Dominick and I both realized that the first few days we found ourselves being put off by the little things...the lack of please and thank you that we have come to expect from our own kids was oddly disconcerting. So we decided that would be one of the first things we worked on, as it might also make others see him differently right away. Don't ask me why, but when a child is sitting at a table grabbing at food, not looking you in the eye, not aware of how his interactions with others are affecting them, it causes a subtle shift in the way they are thought of, even by those who know his background and understand. So, Manners 101 was lesson #1, and it has made a big difference immediately in how we all feel towards him. Hearing a loudly proclaimed "Thank You, Mamma" with a grin as he looks us in the eye goes a long way toward building bonds. Stupid? Maybe, but it is working for us.
We went into parenting him full force immediately, with no "poor orphan boy" attitudes accompanying our disciplinary actions. I know this may seem cold hearted to some of you who recognize his deprived background, but we felt that if we did not "hit the ground running" and let him know from the beginning what our expectations were for his behavior then it would make it that much harder to get under control later on..and we might find we had created a monster. Sure it has made for some uncomfortable moments, some power struggles as he learns his place within our family. But things he has already learned are A) You will never be able to play Mommy against Daddy...ever! B) No means No, with no exceptions C) Matthew and Joshua have the same rules as Toktogul does, and they too are disciplined with a firm and loving hand. We had our friends explain to him while still in Kazakhstan that we love him just the same as the other two boys, and that they all have the same rules.
Now honestly, we know there are a million things he needs to learn, and we also would love to spoil him with a billion new toys, new bike, candy galore, etc. as wouldn't that make us feel great to give a child all the things he has dreamed of but never been able to have much of? But that is kind of the point, isn't it? It would make US feel great, momentarily...but it would have long term consequences in establishing what life is really like, and it would not be helpful to him. We did not adopt Tokie to help a "poor orphan boy" and feel like we are "Saint for a Day", we adopted him because we desired to make him our son. They are two very different reasons for adopting. So, as mean as we sometimes feel, Dominick and I keep reminding ourselves that we feel this is the right approach and will be best in the long run, and jokingly call each other the "Mean Mommy" or the "Mean Daddy" to keep our own feelings of pity to a minimum and drop the stress down a notch during those moments that are, shall we say, less than pleasant.
Overall though, we couldn't ask for this to be going more smoothly. Josh was a real training ground for me, and after that perhaps anything would seem easier! I am reminded almost hourly in dealing with Toktogul that things could be much harder, and at those moments I am grateful for the challenging (man, is that putting it mildly!) two years with Joshua. Toktogul is warm and loving, and comfortable with appropriate physical displays of affection. He gives great hugs, and loves to sit on our laps. He is very, very helpful around the house and sees something needs to be done and gets in and does it without being asked. Here is a pause for more sick LaJoy humor but we have been joking for 2 weeks now that you gotta love those orphanage trained kids!!!! Hahahaha! He has good personal hygiene, and the instances where we have had issues have been mainly cultural differences, not indifference at taking care of his body. On the contrary, he is obsessive about washing his hands, brushing his teeth, etc. and I have never seen a child enjoy a shower so much! I know he didn't get the chance to shower daily there, and he relishes being in the warm stream of water, having it pound on his back. He is a very outgoing child, and yesterday at the church service he gladly went around introducing himself to everyone, shaking hands, saying hello. He is not overly affectionate with others, reserving that for us and our close friends who has seen us be affectionate with, but he is naturally warm and open to others.
We keep getting asked by everyone how Matthew and Joshua are doing with all of this, and I get looks of disbelief when I explain that all is just fine, that really...things are as if Toktogul has always been with us. We have never had tons of sibling rivalry between the boys, a moment here or there but far less than I suspect exists in other families. We prepared the boys for months for this, for Toktogul's expected behavior, for the changes in our lives and theirs. We talked it all out, asked them to have compassion as he learned about his new life, etc. We also have 3 sons who have mild temperaments, who are by nature not pushy (with a couple of "parenting role" exceptions for Toktogul), and have pretty gentle and kind spirits, and this may have helped. I know that some folks think we are just putting a happy face on what MUST be worse issues behind the scenes, but the truth is they are already settled in as brothers for the most part, and Dominick and I have worked extremely hard at keeping expectations equal for all the boys, and at giving each of them one on one mommy and daddy time as we can manage it, and all of the above has helped enormously. I also think bringing the boys along helps them relate better to Tokie's experience as we can say "Remember seeing ...at the orphanage? That is why Tokie is doing X Y Z" and recognition of the truth of what we are saying lights up their face. Matthew said 2 days ago "Tokie is a nice boy mommy, I am glad we have him."..and that pretty much sums up the attitude of Matthew and Joshua both.
Today I will be making calls to specialists, both medical and educational, to firm up plans for evaluations, etc. We have much to do and much more to learn, and we need to get moving on it. Toktogul and I will be traveling to NY in two weeks, as I mentioned in an earlier post, to have a 2 day evaluation by Dr. Gindis, and we need to set up an evaluation for his cleft needs in Denver.
One thing though, that is the biggest joy of all of this, is watching this child be filled with delight. Saturday, Toktogul was singing all day long as he walked in and out of the house, little songs he was making up. He would periodically bounce back and forth between Dominick and I with hugs and quick kisses as he tried out these new activities. He pranced happily down the hallway and in and out of the house, barely able to contain his inner joy...as if he could hardly stand it all. As he jumped up into my arms he proclaimed loudly "America Harosho"...America Good!!! He also firmly said in English "Kyrgyzstan...Tokotgul, America....Kenny!" so he made it quite known that he wants to use his new American name of Kenny. However, it still is not familiar enough to him to respond to it when we call...or perhaps that is more of the selective listening we often experience with him...so we still are calling him Toktogul much of the time but are transitioning slowly to Kenny.
There are also other things happening behind the scenes that I can not share with you right now, but have touched us deeply. God is working overtime here, and your continued prayers are very much appreciated...mainly that His will would be obvious over the coming months. I'll share more when I can, I promise. Thanks again for caring about this little "nobody" family in rural Colorado, for wanting to know what is going on in our lives. The support of each and every one of you has made a difference, and will continue to as we go through difficult medical procedures and all adapt to a new version of the La Joy family. If anyone out there considering adopting has any questions or anyone simply wants to know something specific about what is going on, don't hesitate to email me at CyndiLJ@aol.com and I will gladly answer your questions.