Thursday, January 24, 2008

Affirmations and Confirmations

The past week or so has brought about new revelations where Kenny is concerned, one a confirmation of my initial thoughts in the first couple of days after we met him in Bishkek, and the other an afirmation that one of our disciplinary tactics worked it's magic.

I often take Matthew with me to work on Saturdays, as he enjoys getting some one-on-one mommy time during our 2 1/2 hour round trip, and because he likes to earn a little money working. I pay him $5 for the day if he helps out, and he does things like dispense drinks for customers, teach other college aged employees how to count change (No's a hoot! Sadly, he's had to do it more than once.), call out orders, etc. It is fun for us both to be together, and also helps build his confidence in many areas as he has to be prodded sometimes to be more interactive, socially speaking.

Well, this past Saturday we were going to be slower at work, so I thought it would be a perfect day to give Kenny his first opportunity to work. He was so excited and jumped right up out of bed while the others soundly slept nearby. During the drive I tried to prep him for the kinds of things he could do there and what to expect, as well as that I needed him to be on his most-grown-up behavior. I was curiously anticipating the day, as I had a gut feeling he might like it and I wanted to see how he would handle himself.

Upon arrival, I quickly realized that my statement early on about him being a young Bill Gates was not too far off target. If this kid isn't meant to be an entrepreneur I don't know who is!!! Holy Toledo, he walked in there, tied on his adult-sized apron with a few adjustments to it, and went to work...and I mean Work with a capital "W". He immediately grabbed a damp towel and started wiping down tables, dispensed drinks as best he could while being too short to even see over the top of the cup, filled bottled Coke coolers, yelled out orders like a pro, went from table to table asking people "May I take your trash? Can I help you? Would you like a refill?" as if he was born to do this. Needless to say I found myself involved in several conversations with people asking about him, all of whom were astounded that this little guy had only been with us for 7 months. Talk about some serious Mommy Pride kicking in :-) One woman, who happened to be a elementary school teacher commented "I have never seen a 9 year old work like that, and be so happy about it too!" and another woman said "One day that boy is going to own this place.".

While of course it was kind of fun to sit back and visit with people about our adoption adventures, I was fully aware that this was also a terrific oportunity for others to see that older child adoption CAN work beautifully, that sometimes all these kids need is a chance and they can acheive far more than anyone might expect. Surely someone walked away from there Saturday who will one day be involved in a conversation concerning adoption and Kenny's little face will pop into their minds.

I also walked away myself with a newfound respect for my son. I also realized that Harvard Business School is very expensive, so we had better get him thinking about scholarships right now...hahahaha! Of course, perhaps we better work on learning to read first . But this is the kid who already has talked about shoveling snow for neighbors and charging them $5, so I guess he will probably be able to come up with creative college cost solutions himself.

On to the affirmation, Kenny has been involved in a couple of incidents at school this week. As best I can tell, the first incident somehow involved a group of 2nd grade boys of which Kenny was one, rocks in someone's pants and a show in a toilet. Hmmm...if you are confused now, then we are in this together. Try hard listening to that being explained in broken English and not laugh out loud! Whatever occured, the principal was the one who stumbled upon this scene and handled it very well. Today Kenny's teacher asked to speak with me as Kenny had a little trouble on the playground this afternoon pulling on others kids jackets and choking them because he was running interference with a couple of kids who were picking on one of his friends.

Sooo...I decided it was time to have a quick sit down with the Principal and make a statement in front of Kenny. We walked down to the office and asked to meet with him briefly, and I could tell Kenny was nervous. Mr. B is a GREAT principal and has been very supportie of our family in many ways. I asked him to explain what had happened earlier in the week, and he said he was very proud of Kenny because he was the only one of the group of boys who admitted immediately that they all were involved in the shoe somehow ending up in the toilet on accident, and that all the other boys involved tried to pass the buck and not accept responsibility. Kenny looked at me and told me "You told me not to lie and I not lie...I did do it too...we all did." and so I congratulated him on telling the truth and said I too was proud of him. Mr. B did not know about the event this afternoon, so I explained it to him in front of Kenny, and also discussed how Kenny often thinks he is the adult in charge and he needs to learn to go get an adult if there is a problem. Dear Mr. B immediately seemed to instinctively know what was going on and he looked at Kenny and said "I can help you when something happens, come and see me or any other adult, that is our job and it is not your job.". We talked for a few more minutes with Mr. B reinforcing that Kenny is not in charge, being kind but firm about it just as we are at home, and I was so grateful once again for the people that have been put in our lives that make such an impact in our kids in so many ways.

As we left the school, Kenny looked at me and said "Mom...I told you I try hard not to lie anymore." and I told him that not only did he not lie, but he had also told me about it all before I heard about it from someone else, and I was proud of his honesty and was beginning to feel I could trust him again, and at that I got a huge grin. It is moments like that which are the payoff for the moments of guilt when they are laying on their beds sobbing because you have left them out of a fun activity to get a point across.

And then I repaid his honesty by taking he and Joshie to get vaccinations...Bad Mommy that I am!!

In other medical news, we took Matthew to an orthopaedist this week because he has been walking "pigeon toed" and it has grown worse over time. We explained to him that they would only look at him and maybe take X-Rays, but they would do nothing to hurt him. Though I know he understood that, it was obvious he was nervous as he was very clingy with me the entire morning before the appointment, and Matthew...while a very affectionate and "huggy" little guy with not in the least clingy. Once we were in the middle of the examination he became more relaxed. The MD determined that it was not joint related, but was most likely related to his malnutrition in infancy, and the X-Ray showed that his tibia actually had a bit of a curve to it. When we arrived home Matthew weighed a mere 14 lbs and was in the beginning stages of rickets. Contrast that with the 8 year old boy whom the MD said quietly to us was likely one of the strongest she had ever seen at his age, and it seems a long time ago that the tiny, spindly little boy was in my arms. She was actually stunned at how well developed his leg muscles were, and overall how muscular his body was. He has always been that way, and even his pediatrician when he was only about 15 months old said that he had never seen a little boy who already had a sturdy little V-Shape going on with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. We were advised to get him some expensive, well built shoes and keep him in more Walmart cheapies, and to come back again in 10 months for a recheck. He is on the borderline of needing medical intervention and she wants to see if the problem worsens over time or if it stablizes with better shoes.

So in spite of the weeks ahead filled with doubt and hesitation, the week of affirmation and confirmation has brought a much needed respite.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Family God Built (or Why All The God Talk??)

This week I came to the realization that this blog is about far more than our experiences with adoption. Somewhere along the line, instead of being a mere love letter to my husband and children, it has morphed into something I never intended...a love letter to God.

I don't know how it happened really, as I am the very last person to be "preachy" or evangelistic in nature, as I am really far too shy for that. I know, you are thinking "Too shy? This is the woman who spills her guts online on a weekly basis!!". But blogging is a very anonymous thing, actually. Even though you know my name, what I look like, and many of my most basic and deeply held beliefs, I won't see you in the grocery store or at school. I can say things here that I might not have the courage to say face to face, although I admit that the older I become the more open and honest I am able to be with others, particularly when it comes to saying "I love you" or "Hey, I think you are awesome and I'd love to become friends.". I am less fearful of putting myself out there in that regard.

So, back to the topic at hand, this week I received 2 separate emails from regular readers of the blog which focused largely on God, how I have expressed my relationship with Him, and how they have viewed that...both positively and negatively. It really made me step back and think, to go back and re-read some older posts and to examine it with a critical eye.

You see, I don't see myself as a particularly "religious" person. To me, that is so far astray from being a person of "faith" that it doesn't fit. I don't claim to have all the answers, and in fact I mostly walk around with questions floating through my head. I would not dare hold my life up as an example of virtue, I have made far too many mistakes for that. I can not hold up a lifelong church membership card as a badge to be shown to others as if it proves my worthiness of being included in certain circles. I am not at all "religious" in the typical sense of the word.

So how did my posts grow to include so many references to things religious? Why have my writings taken a decided turn as we have moved through this past year? After all, isn't this a blog about adoption, not church?

As I thought about it, I quickly realized it is because no one with even a smidgen of faith could go through the adoption process and not be profoundly affected by it and have their faith restored or grow because of it. I think older child adoption is even more prone to bringing about this growth in a parent, as there are inherently more fears about the child you are bringing home.

The fact is, I am living within a family that God built.

How could I not acknowledge His goodness, His love for the children that were placed in our arms...and his love for us in filling those empty arms? The "miracle of adoption" is a phrase that is so often over used it has lost some of its punch, but believe me, it IS a miracle. This miracle has thus far bound together 5 people forever, 5 people who were not connected in any way other than as part of His plan. It may bind 2 more to us in time, if we are so blessed.

And yet, this blog is not intended to be a sermon. This blog is not a "Women's Retreat". It is not a religious tract left at your doorway, it is not the Internet version of Elders knocking at your door, it is not a Televangelist asking for more money to fund programming worldwide. This is not a prayer meeting, nor an alter call.

This blog is about our family, and God is at the center of it. We don't pretend to be some sort of "Super God Family", giggles are often heard during bedtime prayers, we don't make a show of praying in public before meals at restaurants, we don't make a point of condemning Harry Potter, and we are not likely to be found picketing a Walmart because it elects to sell CD's for artists we think are less than appropriate.

And yet for all that we are not, for all we don't do, God IS here with us. He is as much a part of our daily, casual conversation as any member of our family is. His guidelines for living our lives are often brought up when discussing a situation. He is consulted daily about all things, big and small. He is known to speak to us if we know how to listen for Him. It has also been decided among all of us that it is highly likely He has a terrific sense of humor, and that our faith and appreciation for all He has done for us doesn't need only be expressed in quiet, somber tones but in joyous laughter and off-key singing.

Faith need not equal being "religious". Faith need not be always serious. Faith need not be "in your face". Sometimes, faith is funny, faith is unanswered questions, faith is quietly expressed in an act or deed rather than loud proclamations, faith is uncertainty mixed with underlying belief.

I have faith that our future is in His hands. I have faith that He knows better than we what is best. I have faith that He has already touched the hearts of two little people far, far away.

I have faith because I have lived within His workings, I have seen it firsthand. I can't always explain it, I can't always cite chapter and verse, I can't begin to say "I know He thinks...". What I CAN say "He is here, He has touched my life.".

And as I look into the eyes of my 3 little miracles, I can say with absolute certainty "He exists.".

No doubt about that one.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Roller Coaster Ride

What a ride 2008 has already been for our family, I hope the remainder of the year has fewer ups and downs than we currently are experiencing.

This past Sunday I shared at church about our upcoming adoption plans, and didn't even realize myself how emotional I am over the whole thing until that moment. Feeling like a complete idiot, through my tears I could barely speak. The support we have in our small congregation is enormous, and has more than made up for the plentiful naysayers we have already encountered. There have been numerous negative comments already, and plenty of eye rolling. It was wonderful to be surrounded by those who know our family well, care about us, and "get it" about following God's will for our lives.

Then came a couple of evenings later when we received the bad news...we may be delayed with all of this or completely derailed by an unexpected turn of events. We are hopeful it is just yet another bump in the road that slows us down and doesn't give us a flat, but as of this writing and for awhile to come we may be living with uncertainty. Your prayers for us at this time are appreciated, for all of you have been with us from the beginning and we need you once again to hold us up and ask for His will to be clear...and the sooner the better, if I may be so bold to ask.

The boys, who have been excited about the prospect of our family growing again, are very concerned and they have been asking many questions, saying their own prayers, and often saying to me "I hope our sisters come home someday!". I am often reminded though that life does not always offer a straight path, and the crooked ones are many times much more interesting...well, I could do with less interest this time around, I'll admit :-)

So I sit here finding myself a tad bit numb over all the events recently having taken place in our lives. Not sure what to expect, not sure what the future holds, not sure whether 2008 will be joyful or sorrowful. And yet, there is a peace that I know I would not have had a few years ago. Maturity, an increased connection with God, a willingness to let it happen and not fret the small stuff that can't be changed, all of the above is helping at a time like this.

One of the biggest things that helps is having the kind of family I am blessed to have, we all love each other so darned much...that is said by all of us at least 20 times a day to one or another member of this little mismatched group. I have children who don't argue with me, who are kind to one another, who actually do treat me like the Queen I have been joked about wanting to to get car doors open for me, carrying things in for me, grabbing my arm to help me walk across ice. I know many of you are saying " I believe that!" but come live here for a few days and you will see I am not exaggerating. My sons are the sons I never could have ever even imagined dreaming of. My husband is awesome, and he has set the example they happily follow...they didn't learn it from me. Just last night Matthew was laying in bed with me and I asked him "What are your 5 most favorite things to do?" and #1 on his list was "Cuddle with you", it even beat out "Playing with Legos" which told me I have really "arrived"...hahahahaaha!

But having a family like this helps when the times are hard, and having a spiritual family like we have at our church helps just as much. Interestingly, that was what our sermon this weekend was about, our spiritual family. It was very appropriate for where we are right now, and perhaps it was written just for us as God knew what I needed to hear. I needed to be reminded that in spite of downturns and sorrows, despite those who might not understand, there is a place we can turn for support and love and encouragement, and in our case, very little judgmentalism exists in our congregation.

So, as we are still strapped into our Adoption Roller Coaster, we pray that what our desires are will turn out to be what God desires for us as well. We remain in our car, waiting for another go round and will see what lies ahead. If you could be standing just outside the fence cheering us on, it sure would make us smile!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

Tonight we had a reminder of the real emotional cost of adoption, of the losses as well as the gains that our children experience. It is so easy, as parents, when an adoption fits and works so well to gloss over or forget our children's past. It may not be purposeful, but as we settle in we begin to quickly compartmentalize their little lives into "before" and "after", and if they adjust reasonably easily the "before" begins to fade into the background.

Tonight we received a phone call from Kyrgyzstan, and Kenny was able to speak with his buddies Turat and Askar who were adopted by an Australian couple living in Bishkek, whom we actually had the pleasure of meeting briefly while there. The conversation was stilted at best, as Kenny's speech over the phone is very difficult to understand plus he has basically lost all ability to communicate in Russian, so I am trying my best to rephrase what he is saying in English, and Turat and Askar do not yet have enough English understand so their mom is on the phone interpreting for them all while there is the delay due to distance. The grin on Kenny's face said it all though, but that grin quickly faded the moment he got off the phone, and I could tell he was near tears. He and I were alone in the bedroom to keep the confusion down for the call, and I scooped him up in my arms so we could talk about this call and it's affects.

I asked him what he was feeling and he said "I miss my brothers, I sad they so far away.", he then started crying as he also shared that he was very sad that one more friend whom we talked about on the call has not yet found his family and Kenny said he knew he must be lonely. We talked about the concrete things we could do about this, that we could send a letter and pictures to his friend who was left behind, that we could pray that he might one day have a family of his own too.

I asked Kenny if he wished he had been adopted by a family who lived in Bishkek, like Turat and Askar were, he sat straight up, touched the tip of his nose to mine and said "No Mommy, I love my family, I like America. I sad I never see Turat and Askar again, but I love you.", which was followed by a kiss and more tears.

It is so easy for us, as adoptive parents, to see all that our children gain by being adopted, by their good fortune to be living in America. We see what we are taking them away from as less than desirable, as beneath them and then we hold up a standard of living in front of them as if it is a gold star to be awarded to them.

The fact is, at 8, 9 or 10 years old, we are taking them away from their family. No, it doesn't look like our vision of the traditional family with a mommy, a daddy, 2.5 kids and a minivan in the garage with a "Soccer Mom" bumper sticker on the back. But the children they grow up with are their brothers and sisters, just as firmly as their new siblings will eventually be. The orphanage caretakers are surrogate mothers and often the only version of a mother they have ever known. We rip them from all of this in the name of providing them with a better life, and we quickly want to move forward and sweep the past under the rug because to us, it has no appeal, no emotional pull. But to our children, it is their family they are leaving behind...and we often forget that WE are the strangers they have the courage to walk away with.

It is so easy for us to say to ourselves "They'll forget it all quickly enough." or "Their new life is SO MUCH better than their old life.", because to us viewing it from the outside, it IS better.

It would be much simpler if I could be so cavalier about it, if I could convince myself of the illusion that Matthew and Joshua are Kenny's "real" brothers and Turat and Askar were merely casual playmates. But the only thing that makes Matthew and Joshua his "real" brothers is a piece of paper signed by a judge. They are no more nor no less "real" brothers to Kenny than Askar and Turat, and if the truth were told, they have far less shared experiences on which to base that sibling relationship than Turat and Askar. It isn't biology that creates that sibling bond, it is learning and growing together in the same environment, it is laughing and playing has nothing to do at all with blood ties.

And after all, isn't that really what adoption is really all about?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire

Last night we had a standoff with Kenny, one which I hope makes a permanent impression. We have honestly had very little problems as he has integrated into our family, with the one main thing being his desire to control everything, to run the show. This is part personality, as he has obvious very strong leadership qualities, and part history as he was used to telling many of the younger kids what to do as he has explained that he "took care of them" often at the orphanage. It has required us to be very consistent in reminding him that he is NOT the mommy or daddy, and that he is NOT in charge. A few times it has led to some real head banging moments but most often it has only taken us reminding him and he has backed off.

Recently though, we have had a problem with him lying about little things to keep himself out of trouble. Unfortunately for him, "Momma's in da House" and he can't manage to really get away with anything without me catching him...sometimes I actually feel a little sorry for him. Yesterday evening, it started off as something small...there was gum stuck to a tray that we used to carry some snacks downstairs. I asked him "Kenny, did you put your gum here? It's not a big deal but gum belongs in the trash when you are done, not put on plates or trays." and he instantly...and quite nervously replied "No". Hmmm...the boys were given a small gum ball machine a week ago and Kenny has been the one constantly chewing gum, and I hadn't even seen Matthew or Joshua chewing gum since the first couple of days they had the machine. I had even seen Kenny chewing gum at the time he was using the tray.

I realized the time had come to make a bigger point of these smaller little lies. We have not been ignoring them, but it was time for the "Big Guns" to make a statement. So I called Matthew and Joshua in and asked them each point blank in front of Kenny, "Did you you chew gum and put it here?", and of course both indicated they hadn't. Well, thankfully Dominick quickly and wordlessly caught on and went right along with me on it with no explanation and he let all 3 boys know we were very angry, not over the gum but over the lying, so we sent all 3 to their room and told them to think about it for 5 minutes and one of them had better fess up, hoping that Kenny would not want his brothers to get in trouble for something he did and would step forward and admit it. 5 minutes passed and we called each one out, first Matthew, then Josh, and saving Kenny for last and speaking to them each alone. We didn't do more than quickly ask Matt and Josh one more time, then said thanks and asked them to go into another room while we talked to Kenny.

We asked Kenny one last time, and he again said "No", and then I looked him straight in the eye and said "Kenny, I know you are lying and so do you. You did it, and I am not going to let you sit there and lie to me. Are you going to let us punish Matthew and Joshua for something that you did? Do you love your brothers? Would they ever do that to you?" and at that he finally admitted it. He said he had lied because he didn't want to get in trouble, and I told him "But just like the last couple of times, now you are in bigger trouble...and I told you it wasn't a big deal in the first place, but now it IS a big deal, because we don't lie in our family and I have had enough of you doing this to avoid getting into trouble.".

So, we made him apologize to his brothers, during which he sobbed because he really does love them and wouldn't want them to get into trouble. Then even though it was only 7:00 PM we told him that because he had lied, he now would have to miss out on playing Monopoly with us as we had planned and he had to go to bed very off he went to bed crying as if we had just stabbed him in the heart. We made sure to have plenty of fun so he could hear what he was missing, which further increased his tears along with my feelings of guilt. But we have had 5 or 6 incidents in the last couple of weeks and we had tried talking to him, reasoning with him, etc. to no avail...thus it was now time to try a new tactic.

As we sat at the table playing, Matthew reminded me of when he lied when he was around 3 years old. I finally had to make a point with him too, so one day I promised to take him to the library which has always been a real treat for our kids, and then we drove right past it and he asked "Mommy....why aren't we going to the library? You promised!!!", and I said "Oh, the library? I lied, we aren't going." and said nothing else for a few minutes as I watched him in the rearview mirror and the tears welled up. I then pulled over, got out of the front and opened his door so we could talk. I asked him "Matthew, does it feel good when I lie to you? Does it make you feel mad and hurt?" and of course he said "You aren't supposed to lie, Mommy!" and I said "Well, why not? You do and you think it is ok...but the way you are feeling right now is how I feel when you lie to hurts me, and keeps me from trusting you.". He looked up at me and said "OK Mommy, I won't lie anymore, it doesn't feel nice." As bad as I felt at the moment, it was the most effective way to prove the point, and Matthew has honestly never lied since then, even when he knew ahead of time he would get in trouble he has told us the truth.

As our evening drew to a close, I left the game and went in and sat on Kenny's bed. I told him I was sorry he was having to miss out on the fun, that we missed him and would much rather have him with us. I asked him if he understood why he was being punished and asked him to tell me why so I could be certain he "got it". He said he was sorry for lying and he would try to be a good boy. I told him "Kenny, you ARE a good boy but you are doing something that is very wrong. We want to trust you, but right now I can't trust anything you say because you have lied a lot, haven't you?" and he admitted he had. I pointed out that all he had to do was say "Yes mom, that's my gum" and nothing at all would have happened, that it wasn't the gum that got him in trouble, it was the lie that got him in trouble...and I reiterated that every time we caught him in a lie he was going to be punished more severely than if he had told the truth, so maybe next time if he felt the need to lie he ought to stop and think about it.

This morning Kenny was his cheerful little self, and this afternoon he was happy...and a lot less controlling as well. He and Matthew shovelled snow off our patio and when I told them they didn't need to do it Kenny said "Oh yes Mom, I don't want you to walk out here and fall down.". He has a terrific heart and with consistancy, patience and love...and perhaps a little creativity...we will nip this in the bud and be able to have the kind of trustworthy son we know he is capable of being.

In other Kenny news, he had his palate spreader "installed" yesterday, which will spread his upper jaw to match his lower jaw, and will then allow us to move forward with his first surgery to close the fistula, or hole, in his palate. For the uninitiated, the palate spreader is essentially a metal bar across the roof of his mouth that can be opened gradually with a key-like device and it will slowly spread his upper jaw to the proper proportions. We have to manually spread it a tiny amount every 3 days with the key, and they anticipate him having this for about 10 months or so to achieve the results they are looking for. I thought he would find it more annoying than he did, but he has adjusted to it very quickly and it hasn't affected his speech as much as we anticipated.

This weekend we are finally celebrating Josh's 5th birthday. He had been so sick on the actual day, and for a week afterwards, that we decided to just delay it until he was feeling 100%. On Sunday we are taking him and a couple of buddies up to Grand Junction to go to Chuck E Cheese's. It's not something we normally do as we can't afford much of that kind of thing and don't want the kids geting into the habit of thinking we will do it every year, but thought that since he missed it altogether we would do something a little special. He is very excited, and in some ways celebrating his birthday a little later than the day after Christmas is better, as it allows the focus to be more on him and less on Christmas.

So birthdays and punishments this week. It all keeps life interesting!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Doing the Hard Thing

What a sorrow-filled day, and yet incongruently a celebratory day as well. We attended the funeral of our 8 year old friend this morning, how in the world can something like that be anything but gut-wrenching?

We had a dilemma with this, as did many of our Scout parents who struggled with the decision of bringing their children to the service or not. Most of our boys are 7-9 years old, which is so young to be witness to something so desperately sad. Each child is different, each child handles things in their own way. It also is hard to know at this age when it is time for real life to start being introduced and when it is time to continue to protect their innocence just a little longer.

In our case, we quickly came to the conclusion that Kenny was simply too emotionally immature to attend...we couldn't count on him to act appropriately and understand the solemnity of the occasion. Josh is tender hearted and too young to handle it well. Matthew was the one we were uncertain about.

We ultimately decided to let him lead us a bit on this, to steer us down the right path. I hated that his first real encounter with death was with someone his own age...that seems so wrong, so out of order. But here we were, faced with this situation and having to make a decision. The night before the service we sat him down alone and had a long talk with him.

Matthew had already hinted a little that he might want to go, but was obviously uncomfortable with not knowing what might happen. We explained what would happen there, that everyone would likely be crying at some point during the service because it is all so terribly sad, we talked about what it means to the family to know their child was loved and cared about by people other than themselves...and frankly I told him that sometimes doing the "hard thing" is the right thing because sometimes we need to put others feelings and needs before our own...but that I also totally understood if he felt he wasn't ready for this, if he wasn't up to facing that much sorrow. I also told him that Daddy and I would most definitely probably be crying, but that those tears are also important and nothing to be ashamed of, that if he cried it was ok and if he didn't it was ok too...but that the tears were also not just about his friend dying, but that his happy little smile had brightened our life and we were filled with joy that he had lived at least 8 years so we could get to know him. At that Matthew smiled widely himself and said "He was always smiling, wasn't he? He never got mad or anything that I ever remember!" and then he looked up at me and quietly said "I really do want to go I think...I know if I died I'd want my friends to come and remember me.".

So off we went this morning, all 3 of us not saying much, each of us lost in our own thoughts. We parked the car and walked through the snowy streets under the deep gray skies, all the while feeling the weight of our final destination. We stood in line along with the many grieving family members and friends, and as we came to the podium where the guest book awaited our signature I had a very hard time holding it together when there, sitting right next to the book, was the Christmas ornament this little boy had made in Cub Scouts a mere 4 weeks earlier, his name and the year emblazoned across it. Oh, if time could only be turned back. Who would have ever guessed it would be his last Christmas?

The service was lovely, a wonderful way to remember a special little boy. I found myself quietly crying throughout, my arms wrapped tightly around Matthew as if I could ever truly protect him from something as tragic as this...knowing full well that if God ever called any of my children home to be with Him I would be powerless to stop it.

After the service we left, Matthew leaning into Dominick and I as we found our way back to the car, asking me quietly if I was ok as I in return asked him the same thing. He said it wasn't as scary as he had expected it to be, but that it was very sad. The discussion then turned to the practical aspects of death...what happens to the body before and after they put it in the casket, who gives them the clothes and dresses the body. We talked about how hard it would be for his family for a really long time, that even though they knew he was in heaven they would miss seeing him every day. We also talked about how people are so uncomfortable with death that they often avoid talking about the person who died, and that sometimes that can make the family left behind feel as if their loved one wasn't important...that it is ok to talk about someone who has died, to rejoice in their life...and that ignoring someones loss because we feel uncomfortable about it can be unkind, and that it takes courage to "do the hard thing", which really has become a core value of our family.

I find I am often caught between wanting to protect my children, and knowing they have to grow up eventually. I was proud of Matthew for making the decision he made, and yet I wondered if this was just a little too much while still too young. I reminded myself though that my job as his mom is not necessarily to protect him from the normal, natural things that occur in life...and death is certainly one of those things...but to walk with him hand and hand right through those events, offering him support and encouragement, and setting the example for him. Our society has mystified death, has so distanced itself from it that death feels unnatural, even though each and every one of us will eventually find ourselves experiencing the same fate. I am not sure that is a good thing, but then when we have a society that medicates itself for every possible uncomfortable situation under the sun I guess it is natural for us to want to turn tail and run rather than face the grief and sadness that accompanies a loss.

So tomorrow I am officially starting 2008 all over again in the hopes that the remainder of the year will prove to be happier than the first week has been. We will leave the illness and sadness where it belongs and move forward. Saturday I received paperwork in the mail to begin our final adoption, and as overwhelming as that seems at the moment it is time to dig in and get to work. We have winter to get through with weather delays and flight cancellations and long drives through snow packed roads. We have elk to avoid (saw a HUGE one on the road the other day) and much planning ahead. I never really make serious New Year's resolutions, but I think I am going to do so here:

1. I will make more of an effort to let those who are important to me know that they hold a special place in my heart. I will show more appreciation to those who touch our lives.

2. I will trust in God, I will not question His guidance even when others think we have gone stark raving mad.

3. I will work harder at letting go of the things in life that are not important, and embracing all that is.

4. I will make more time for me, carving out an hour here or there to go out with my camera, to read a good novel, to go for a walk. I will rejuvenate more frequently so I can give more to others without feeling hollowed out.

5. I will blaze through adoption paperwork faster than I ever have before.

6. I will be more complimentary of my husband, who really deserves it.

7. I will drink less Diet Coke. Ok, maybe not significantly less, but a little less.

8. I will blog more frequently.

9. I will work hard at not being a pious, judgmental, holier-than-thou Christian, but a more real, touchable, down-to-earth Christian. Without preaching I will make every effort to have others see how God has worked in my life and continues to do so on an hourly basis.

10. I will keep the inside of my car clean enough not to be embarrassed when someone else gets in it.

OK..#10 may be a flat out impossibility, but I'll work on it!

So here is to "doing the hard thing", here is to 2008 and all it will bring with it.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Grasping for Peace

Yesterday we received news that brought us great sorrow. One of the Cub Scouts in our Pack, a little boy in Matthew's grade, was killed in an automobile accident. This child had a light about him, a tenderness that was so appealing to all who knew him. Our community is a small one, and this will hit everyone very hard. This is a little boy whom I have hugged, helped in reading groups, and thoroughly enjoyed being around.

We have 25 boys in our Pack, 25 little men whom we love to death. Each one has their own quirks, their own gifts and talents, their own unique way of seeing the world. For us, it is truly a labor of love to work with them, to be surrounded by the chaos that accompanies that many boys, to watch them grow and mature and learn.

It is at moments like this when one wonders why...why do things like this happen? Why are some children taken from their parents at such a young age? Why is a life snuffed out so quickly, as if it almost never existed at all because that life wasn't in existence long enough to make it's mark on the world?

He made a mark on my heart, this sweet little boy. His bright smile and easy going spirit will never be forgotten by us. 8 years old, 8 years on this earth.

It serves as a reminder to be filled with ever more gratitude for each and every day with my family. In an instant, it can all be lost. As parents, we never want to let our minds wander towards the "what if's", to contemplate the unthinkable, that we might outlive our children. Throughout their childhoods there are moments when you hear news like this about someone elses family...a abduction...and you quickly pull your mind away from it, fear eating at your heart. Or perhaps it has actually happened in your own family, and you have had to climb your way through the grief to find the life that exists "after".

What can we do? We hold them closer for awhile, we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that things like this don't happen often, we have that sick feeling in the pit of our stomach for a day or two, and then the shock value of the incident wears off, and we slowly drift back to our normal way of viewing the world, convincing ourselves we are safe and secure, that nothing bad will REALLY happen. It takes such a short period of time for that gut wrenching emotion to depart, and then we find ourselves once again invincible, untouchable by such enormous loss and tragedy.

And yet the family it happens to lives with it forever, just as if it were yesterday. The mother and father forever ask themselves repeatedly "What if...what if we hadn't left at that particular time? What if I had turned left instead of right? What if something had delayed me by mere seconds?". Events converge to cause a tragedy of untold proportion, altering lives forever.

I know we can't always live in that state of hypervigilence, it is not productive, it is not emotionally healthy, it is not the way God wants us to live our lives. But you can bet it will be more than a day or two before I stop wanting to give Kenny, Matthew and Joshie extra hugs, and it will be months before I stop seeing this little boy's smiling face every time I drive past the location where his life ended.

While I know he will rest in peace, I fear his parents may take years to find that peace.