Although there has been so much else going on I haven’t blogged about it, we have not been spending our days trapped sullenly in our apartment. Dominick is finding himself going a bit stir crazy as anyone who knows him in real life might well imagine. Dominick is the guy of 13 hour work days, of constant motion. So he has made himself a little routine here as well. Many people ask me how in the world I can manage to do all the things I do and they don’t know my secret weapon. Team LaJoy is the real deal, we are a real team. When at home, the boys help in all kinds of ways, and we are fortunate that we really never get any moaning or complaining. We all take care of our home, they work outside, they clean up inside, they help with dishes and laundry. Dominick does as much Mommy Work as I do, and I only wish I was capable of doing the same for him with his job. There is no way I could ever hold a candle to him.
So here, here he has created his own little routine. He goes shopping every day, to “his” store and sometimes “mine”. At his store he has now charmed a couple of the little old Russian women shopkeepers as he has teased them and they have surely laughed at that Crazy American who one actually surprised him and tagged him as Italian. He will get the daily dose of Coke Light or Pepsi Light, whichever is available, along with whatever we are out of…ketchup, bread, apples. We do not have a hugely varied menu here. We are avoiding most meats but have felt safe with a couple things we have found occasionally. Imagine walking by a frozen food case and seeing fish and chicken lags/thighs sitting there ready to purchase…unwrapped and frozen stiff. That’s right, you pick through your frozen fish with your bare hands, grab the one you want and slam it on the counter. There are some prepackaged items but they are fairly expensive. We have had hamburger a couple times and chicken breasts once but they were almost $8 for a package of 4.
After the shopping adventures, which always have him coming back with one story or another, he comes home and becomes Laundry Boy. He has totally taken over washing, laying out and ironing. I have done some laying out and starting loads but no ironing yet. That is because the truth is I stink at it, am terribly slow and uncoordinated, am very likely to burn myself AND iron more wrinkles in than out. He told me “What else will is there for me to do? I have to do SOMETHING!” and he seems to be quite proud of his laundry skills.
My job is to constantly keep the dishes clean (he does the morning ones as he is also Breakfast Man…he LOVES making breakfast where I can barely tolerate even looking at it), to sweep and mop the floors which is quite an interesting task as the mop consists of this old metal long handle and clasp mechanism to which you affix a towel that you dunk in water and wring out by hand…if you get the rag to stay in the thing in the first place. The brook is a small cane broom about 2 feet high, not the easiest thing to sweep with. I also get the kids started with school work, Dominick corrects math for all of them, I work on reading and writing assignments. I am also the one leading the spiritual/emotional journey for all of us and Dominick has always understood that at times, that is harder than any physical work he has ever done. There is a lot of touching base with each of the kids, lots of heartfelt conversations, evening “debriefings”, etc. Of course, as you all already know, I am in charge of “Command Central” where communications with the outside world are handled. We both do the cooking and snack making, and it seems that with 5 place settings and 5 people dishes are constantly needing to be washed in our tiny little sink. All in all though, we are doing well though, learning to handle the incredible, body numbing cold (it was only 35 below zero here today), and trying to remain close and not let anything come between us no matter what. Thus far none of us are driving the other crazy, and I can honestly say if there were any 4 people I had to be trapped in Siberia with in an apartment where we couldn’t speak the language, then I am with the 4 I would most prefer! I even have the boys mommying me as Matthew continues to zip my jacket as high as it will go when he thinks I don’t have it high enough, and Kenny has warmed my feet by massaging them a couple of times when I have been terribly cold after arriving home at night.
We also have spent virtually every day with the Oborns which helps so much to keep us all from going nuts. There really isn’t much to do here in this city, despite how large it is and Irina and I had a conversation about what there is to do in Montrose versus Petropavlovsk and came to the conclusion that another 160,000 didn’t mean a whole heck of a lot more to do!! The boys have been well entertained with the infamous Pizza House and it’s jumping houses, as well as tonight the playset at the Doner which I wasn’t sure would be enough to keep Kenny and Matthew happy as it is more for the younger set bur we have boys who thankfully are pretty easily amused and that helps a lot. Dominick has been watching the Bonanza DVD’s we brought along with the most annoying theme music ever that is not the original, and I have basically been blogging, answering emails (literally over 1000 since we left), praying, thinking and not even able to read or watch DVD’s much as my heart hasn’t been in it.
So, now that you know a little about how our daily lives are going here, let me share about our next encounter with the girls. Yesterday (Thursday for those of you like me who are time zone challenged), we decided to go back and visit the girls and bring the boys along to see if Angela really had a change of heart or not. We are very, very leery of involving the boys in yet another disappointment but can not exclude them if we want to determine if we can truly create a family with all of these different personalities…and we need to see how Angela is with all of us, and if it goes well beyond a mere apology to us.
We had sat down with the boys after our meeting with Angela and Olesya the day before and explained all that was going on, tried to help them see things from Angela’s perspective using themselves as an example and asking how they would feel in her shoes. We had an hour and a half family discussion about all of this without us leading them at all, just sharing information, talking about what Angela was capable of in terms of expressing emotions without having had anyone to guide her, etc. My amazing, wonderful, sons have hearts that are truly bigger than most adults I know…they have internalized the life lessons we have tried to give them more than I ever would have thought possible. Here they were, hearts broken almost as much as ours 2 days before, and these shining little lights of mine were totally unanimous in wanting to give this another chance. Their compassion is enough to bring tears to my eyes and I wonder how in the world WE were lucky enough to have God plop these 3 souls into our arms to raise.
Off we go to the orphanage the next morning, each of us quiet and lost in our own thoughts and perhaps hopes for this meeting. I actually was feeling quite neutral, not going in with any expectation at all and I later found Dominick and I were in the same place on that one. We got settled in the classroom in which we have our visits, and the girls walk in without us waiting very long. They each had shy smiles on their faces and reached for hugs from both of us. The boys, bless them, acted as if this was a fresh start and they had not gone through a week of rejection already from these two girls in front of them. I even voiced it by saying “We will pretend today is our first day and start all over again.” . There were tentative smiles all around with that.
We sat down and started asking questions of the girls about school and summer camp where they go, and got real answers from Angela…it was obvious she was trying and was working hard to overcome her discomfort over her behavior before. I secretly admired her courage to at least try, it had to be so difficult to look us all in the eye after how she had acted. The boys were a little silly at moments, which kept it all light…and we saw Angela really smile, as did Olesya. They talked about worms at camp, finding part of a long ago decomposed corpse (the camp was built on an old cemetery) and the ring they found on the hand that was turned over to the police. We talked about going camping in the summer, learned who could swim and who couldn’t, talked about what was hard for Kenny at first when he joined our family, and many other things as we tried to find common ground to get to know one another and gently explored our very different lives. It was also at this time that Angela revealed to me that she had saved every single letter I had ever written them, just as she saved every picture, and she wants to show me them. I smiled and told her I had every single picture of each of them that I had ever received, and described one I know she saw as well of Olesya who was 4 at the time and at Poludino separated from her sister, wearing a red dress and one of those huge bows in her hair that all the Russian girls wear when dressed up during their childhood. Angela and Olesya both smiled broadly as I reminded them of that and told them their pictures had been all over our house for years.
Angela was genuine, smiled often and seemed much more relaxed than we had ever seen her. It was a holiday and we arrived in the morning and both girls asked about eating breakfast so Irina told them to go eat. Angela came back less than 3 minutes later and had just gone to change her shirt but decided not to eat. Olesya must have gobbled down her breakfast because she was back with us in less than 5 minutes…so quickly in fact that I asked if she had even eaten. We then decided to play games and broke out the Uno and Rummikub again, which both girls enjoyed.
Angela and Joshua sat next to one another while Olesya sat between Dominick and I. Matthew was down on the other side of the table with Irina, which I had hoped to finagle him being next to one of the girls but it didn’t work that way. As the game of Rummikub progressed, Angela and Josh started really having fun together…hiding tiles, giggling as they grabbed two instead of one, and generally cheating the entire time in plain sight which we all got a good laugh about. Olesya remained fairly quiet throughout the visit, giving us grins but not much else. I think she was trying hard not to get her hopes up and to see where Angela was with all of this. We had time for a quick round of Uno and again Josh and Angela had fun, and we all learned the colors in English and Russian. Angela actually knows all the colors in English, but as we all are, she is not confident using any of her English with us yet whatsoever. I have made a big point of making a fool of myself in front of them, trying to learn and pronounce Russian words and doing so very poorly (it isn’t an act, this language is tough!). Hopefully if they see all of us struggling to do what they might have to do it will make it more into a game and make them less self-conscious.
Time was up, and we all packed up to leave. The girls left rather quickly as they wanted to get some play time in outside. They did give us hugs and zipped up to their rooms, gone in a flash.
That night during our “evening debriefing”, we didn’t say a word ourselves and let the boys talk first. Each of them was actually very, very positive, saying there was a huge difference in how Angela in particular acted. Matthew said “I think we got to see a little of who she really is, and she is nice!”, and Kenny and Josh both agreed. We were happy to hear their responses, and knew that no matter what at least they wouldn’t be leaving here with a bitter taste in their mouth about these two scared and special little girls.
Then it was time for Dominick and I…and interestingly we both felt the same…
Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
We agreed that Angela showed marked improvement, but that we didn’t “feel” anything at all. No strong urge to bring them home, no anger at them, just totally flat. And certainly not feeling we can bring any child home feeling like that about them.
I, in particular, was very troubled by this. Why was I feeling this way? Shouldn’t I be feeling incredibly hopeful? Angela was so very different in all the ways I would have liked to have seen…why was that not enough? What is wrong with me??
I am one who can usually feel connected to just about any kid fairly quickly. I love being around children, I love the way they see the world, I love watching their discovery of it…I “get them”. Why not now, when it came to the most important decision we would likely ever make, could I not feel “it”? And was this an indicator that we should just stop and walk away?
Where had my peace gone? The peace that carried me calmly through the first nightmarish week?
I spent the evening and much of the next day trying to examine my heart, to understand my reticence, realizing that everything that was realistic to expect on that visit was present. I took a shower and had one of my “Aha” Moments, which almost ALWAYS come in the shower (I should live in there! I might think some really wise things!).
First and most obvious was that I was still hurting and guarding my heart. 5 years of emotional investment had been rejected. Then I had been forced to give up the children who had felt like my daughters from Day 1 and try and quickly restore my heart to a place where it could be open to other children who might be ours. Then it was yanked from that state back to trying to understand the pain the girls were in and offer comfort and a sense of who I am as a mom, and to reconsider after such horrible treatment the possibility that they might still be able to join our family. Quite a lot to take place in a 72 hour period and not something most of us could easily do…and yet here I was and I have to AND need to be very clear headed as WELL as emotionally connected to so many throughout all of this. Being in “the zone” I described before leaving was something I never anticipated as being so important before we left.
But I am ashamed to admit what the real “Aha” moment was…I realized that I had not been able to anticipate that an 11 year old here from this background would be so teenagerish in many ways. I was not prepared to parent a teenager in any way, shape or form. I don’t WANT to parent a teenager yet, though I do know we are not that far off from that happening…it would at least be gradual. 11 years old should still have a year or two of kidlike qualities, even if they are gradually vanishing to reveal the young-woman-soon-to-be. If this ever had a chance of working, I had to let go of what was and embrace what is, and I am not at all sure I can do that with any confidence. I am not sure I am a good enough Mom to jump into this stage with both feet and do it successfully with a child of this background and emotional need. It is not a matter of wanting a younger kid just for the sake of having a younger kid, it is wanting that time to bond before the real hard stuff hits, it is not knowing what to DO with a girls of this age, it is not having any real connections with other moms of daughters this age and not being experienced enough in so many areas to handle this.
And yet that may be exactly what God is calling me to do…to let go of the Angela that was, to embrace the Angela that is. In some ways I might be called to do exactly what we were asking her to do…to let go of the comfortable and known to grab hold of that which is uncomfortable and unknown.
I don’t know if I can do it.
Of course there are several other factors at play here…our fear of being rejected again, of the emotional challenges that lay ahead, of the fact she may still be agreeing to come to America if we decide to move forward with the adoption for Olesya’s sake only.
So I have lost the peace that had carried us this far, so much is circling around in my head it is almost too much to bear. I am sort of having to be my own therapist and minister all rolled up into one, as there is only so much that can be done long distance via email. I feel disconnected from God and I hate that, as it is essential that the Spirit be alive and moving through everything we do here. I know it is only a matter of time when I will find myself centered and filled with “presence” once again, but to feel so physically isolated from all that is familiar and all those who love us AND to feel so distant from God is a scary place to be right now.
We will visit the girls again, and see if hearts are changed on OUR side this time.