This past week Dominick was in California helping our moms out with a couple of things, and while he was gone the boys and I decided to surprise him and have him come home to all of the Christmas decorations put up. This is normally my most dreaded job, and it is one of those things that over the years has pretty much fallen on his shoulders to do. I love seeing the house decorated and all lit up, but I HATE doing it. Makes me sound like a Scrooge, doesn't it?
Well, the boys decided to take it upon themselves and put up lights outside this year. Matthew and Kenny begged me to remain inside the house, they closed the blinds so I couldn't see what they were doing. We haven't had lights up outside for a few years, but last year at the after Christmas sales we bought several strands with the intent of doing it this year. Joshie ended up inside with me as it was very cold out on Friday, and I wondered how long the other two would stick with it. There was much discussion and teamwork going on between the two of them, hollered directions and giggles could be heard behind the darkened windows. Finally they came stomping in, red cheeked and stiffly frozen hands and huge smiles on their faces. They told me I couldn't see it until nightfall, so I promised to not peek.
The end result was beautiful!! They were so proud of themselves, and I was as well. While there are lights unevenly draped across our front bench and oddly on one bush and not another, and to others it might look strangely out of kilter, to me it was the most beautiful yard in town! What I loved most was that this was another step toward manhood, in a tiny way. They were "taking care of business" for their family, they stuck with the project, they figured it out all by themselves without an ounce of help from their parents, and they ended up with a finished product that was creative and actually worked!
There are moments when I have learned to wisely bite my lip and be quiet. It is not always easy, as when there was yellow paint splattered EVERYWHERE on our back patio as the boys all "helped" touch up much of our peeling siding paint to get us through another year. But they worked hard for over 2 hours in the sweltering heat this summer to do the job, and there was no way I was going to criticize a job most kids would not have stuck with. Every day when I walk up our back step and see gobs of paint all over the cement (and I do mean GOBS) I smile as I think of them with paint brushes and trays in hand, yellow splashed shirts on as their sweaty little bodies were tiring out from their hard labor.
Letting our kids gradually assume responsibility and learn from activities is sometimes hard to do, it is much easier to do the job yourself and save the mess, or have it look better, but what they gain from their experiences no matter how seemingly trivial is priceless. Ever so slowly I am seeing the young men emerge who are going to eventually be very capable of taking care of their families, their homes, and contribute to their community in positive ways. We may have some messy and imperfect jobs over the years, but the day will come in the not so distant future when we will stand back and say "I couldn't have done it better myself." and we will mean it.
We also put our tree up and decorated inside, and the boys did 90% of that as well with only some help from me with the lights on the highest points. It was fun to watch Kenny along with both Matthew and Joshie as they dug through the ornament box, each looking for "their" special ornaments...ones purchased to commemorate our time waiting for them to join our family, their first ornaments once home, the first family ornament with their name added. As many families do, we have a tradition of buying one or two every year to add to our collection, and the majority of them are personalized in one way or another to mark the year in a special way. Kenny got a big kick out of it this year as he felt part of those traditions now, as he celebrates his second Christmas with us. He remembered the ornaments from last year, he looked for his own and grinned widely when found, and he felt far more like part of the family this time around rather than like the newcomer. He said throughout the afternoon many times "Remember Mom last year when...", and we all said more than once that we hope we are not sick this year as we were last year, with Josh and I contracting pneumonia and being miserable for over 2 weeks as we laid in a feverish state not caring at all about the holiday. It wasn't the way I envisioned Kenny's first Christmas with us, but he took it in stride and I hope we can make up for it this year.
I have the honor of placing our newest special ornament on the tree this year, our final "waiting for you" ornament which I found and was a perfect match.
How I had wished that they would be here this year, but I feel remarkably at peace with it all, knowing there is a reason why that I might not understand, but happy that we are in the home stretch.
I love how our life the past 9 years has been marked by these little baubles which remind us of our years' journey. It is a neat way to document our family's growth on display on our tree.
We also had our stockings hung from the chimney with care, and we have two empty spaces waiting to be filled which will remain that way until this time next year when hopefully there will be five stockings hanging there rather than the three right now which look a tad bit lonely.
We spent the afternoon today filling a couple of non-LaJoy stockings for our church's Outreach Ministry and they will be distributed to families in need this year. The boys had a lot of fun filling one for a boy and one for a girl, and Kenny donned items meant for the girl's stocking...and he pranced around in perfect imitation of a Barbie Loving, Princess Dreaming girl, much to the delight of Matthew and Joshua. Matthew actually had it on first and then flung it off quickly as the camera came out, as he now knows many photos are destined for the blog and he didn't want to be seen wearing it, but Kenny is our ham bone and loves parading anytime in front of the camera. They then teased calling him "Ice Cream Princess", which don't ask me where that came from but has been their private joke all summer, I think it came from a time when Kenny and Josh were playing super heroes and trying to come up with a name for a new villainess, but it stuck and they all dissolve into hysterics over it anytime one of them remembers it and uses the title to crown one of them with for the day.
In the midst of all the fun the past few days, we have found ourselves once again in the middle of some power struggles with Kenny. We are also working hard on making him start bearing more responsibility for his personal items. I know that to many families our issues are so minor and I consider ourselves blessed because of that, but it doesn't mean we can slack off just because we are not dealing with raging temper tantrums or huge explosions. Towards the end of last week I discovered that Kenny had not turned in his week long homework assignment, after having lost the worksheet and doing it on separate pieces of paper all week. He has left his backpack in cars 4 or 5 times over the past month, left jackets at school, misplaced things at home time and time again, and trying to teach him to care for his things and be responsible for them is a real constant and ongoing battle. I know it is because up until his adoption he never owned anything so it was not something ever taught to him, but his scatterbrained approach is not improving and we need to come up with a better plan. I also know that some of it is due to immaturity, which is slowly improving but needs far more time to catch up to his peers. He still fits in perfectly with Josh and his friends in terms of how he plays, which puts him at about 5 or 6 years old in his play development and social skills. However, despite the fact that he prefers those younger kids to be with and plays so much like them, he is not really at all an outcast at school and seems to do fine when with his peers, for the most part. It is just that he seems to fit in much better at the younger age group.
The control battles, however subtle, are still in full gear. Many times over the past few days he has tried to gently tell us what to do and how to do it, tried to take charge with other adults, tried to grab things from them or us. He doesn't seem to trust me when I tell him something and we had an issue tonight over some silly thing where his reaction said "I don't trust you to tell me the truth", and we had a long sit down talk about that tonight, and about how he needs to quit thinking he is the only one who should be in control or is correct about something. We pointed out several instances where he was proven wrong, and asked him if we had ever lied to him before, which he of course said "no" to. We then emphasized that we are right even if we are wrong, that it is his job to to as we ask and not question us, that he wouldn't like it if we questioned him over everything and didn't believe him....and that comparison seemed to spark some understanding in him.
I am at moments very conflicted about this issue, as I see how it is part adoption oriented and part personality. Kenny is a major leader-type, and I don't want to squelch that, but his inappropriateness with it needs to be curtailed. I want him to trust his family and parents to make good decisions for him, I want him to be able to relax into that familial sense of being cared for. I also don't want to be told what to do for the next 10 years!! It is definitely cyclical, with 2 weeks on and a few weeks of rest from it. Right now though it is very much Kenny Control Month, even to the point where he had 12 library books in his desk at school when he was only allowed 3, and when I made him empty his desk out last week and explain why even though he knew the rule he said "Because I want to read them." as casually as if rules were not made for Kenny LaJoy, only for the rest of the kids in his class.
So though we had a mini-battle today, we ended the evening trying something new. After reading a book for my first Lay Ministry Retreat coming up this weekend titled "Sleeping with Bread, Holding What Gives you Life" I wanted to give something a try. We lit a few candles and turned off all the lights in the house, then we sat around the table holding hands in silence for a few minutes. We then each took a turn talking about what was our favorite moment of the day and what was our least favorite moment of the day. We all named some nice moments that had made us happy today, and then it was time for the least favorite. Matthew started first by saying that he didn't like it when one of his brothers was in trouble, because it changed how our family felt and he loved them and it made him sad. That one was a bit unexpected and I was pleased with his honesty and ability to express those thoughts. When it was Kenny's turn, I expected him to say his least favorite part of the day was being reprimanded but he too surprised me and said that the worst thing that happened today was when Joshie's best buddy broke one of his toys at church and was very upset about it. He said it made him sad to see his little friend so upset.
Now tell me, how can you remain angry at a child who has such a caring heart?
After ending in a family prayer, we all agreed it was a lovely way to end the evening and we are going to try and do that two or three times a week as it added an element of peace and connection between us all that I think we each felt and enjoyed.
Tomorrow begins a new week, Advent has arrived, and we look forward to Christmas with joyful hearts. Regardless of the challenges, I wouldn't trade anything for the world.