Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

Wow...3 posts in 1 sitting! I MUST be dedicated!! Or at least have a couple of early morning uninterrupted hours to use as I woke up at 4:00 AM today. Getting a little closer to a more normal routine and getting a bit more sleep which I desperately need.

Day 2 home was spent picking up a little more, and running to Grand Junction to Sam's Club for restocking, which with 7 of us is a must. I know...I would be great if we could just hang out at home with nothing to do for a few days, but with me leaving for my ministry class retreat on Friday I have this sense of urgency to get things taken care of here at home before leaving. The meals which we were given have taken so much pressure off, and by the end of the day I am a total wreck with exhaustion and would probably be ordering pizza every night for a week if it weren't for the kindness of friends.

Well...we had a one day reprieve with Angela on Day 1, but Day 2 the real work began, and no it is NOT really a game at all! Lots of subtle stuff is going on, there is so much for her to process and adjust to. She is really pulling away from me, showing incredible comfort with Dominick...thankfully...but almost recoiling from my touch or even interest. If I sit near her, she walks away. If I look at her and smile, she looks away. She applauds silly things Dominick does and does her best to ignore me at every possible chance.

And yet there are moments when she is fine with me! Times when she will grin across the group of kids at me when Joshua does something cute, whom both she and Olesya absolutely adore and indulge. She is outwardly still very respectful and it is as if her innate goodness will only allow her to treat me dismissively in indirect ways, at least at this atage. It may get more pronounced and obvious before it is all over. She will allow me to give her a huge and kiss goodnight but is not very comfortable with it yet. Guess what? I ain't stopping! Hahaha!

I am sure she is utterly confused about what her role is amongst us she a child? Is she an outsider looking in? Is she part of the group and "one of the kids" or is she somehow different, as I am sure she feels. She doesn't really even know HOW to be a kid, and this will take a long time for her to figure out. I was very happy to see her actively playing with Olesya's dress up doll head even when Olesya hd walked away. At the airport in Frankfurt she spent about 30 minutes playing with Josh and his action figures, which might very well have been the first time she had ever done any sort of real imaginative play like that. When she was just a little younger than Josh, maybe a year or so, she was struggling to keep her and Olesya alive in the most unbelievable of circumstances that were dangerous, inhospitable...and...well...the word that keeps popping to the forefront of my mind is "unholy". Where would she find food today for her and her sister? How would they keep warm? How could she protect them from being hurt by someone?

She never learned how to be a child and play.

When they were rescued they were then placed into an institution where every moment was structured for them, every minute was schedule and accounted for. There was no time to create, to explore, to examine, or to simply good around.

It is very uncomfortable to be witness to someone else's discomfort, and yet we have to force her to let go and learn how to relax and play, and that means standing back and letting her be bored and uncomfortable to a degree until she can learn how to entertain herself, how to let go and be a kid. She is only 11, not 14...but I think she must feel like a 30 year old inside sometimes. We still have time to help her grab on to a little bit of childhood, but it will be a very unsettling time for all of us as she goes through this.

She is in the process of regrouping and has lost her role as caretaker. She also has no ability to express her emotions and frustrations about all of this, she can't talk it out. That is not even because of the lack of a shared language, but because she has never had anyone teach her HOW to talk about her feelings, how to interpret them, how it helps to unburden yourself and share your heart with others. That task alone is so daunting to me, how to teach them to open their is the one that scares me the most.

She doesn't know how to let herself be taken care of. Hopefully, eventually, she will. So we are in for some power struggles big time, I am afraid but also knew before we ever arrived in Kazakhstan was a strong likelihood, so there is no surprise here.

We go to Sam's Club, and for some reason she has this thing about wanting to push the shopping cart, as does Olesya. Of course, neither of them has ever done so before so it is a novelty, but for Angela it is more about control and she grips that thing and pushes her way around as if she is leading the troops. Hmmmm...having the astute and ever understanding husband I have (or at least he understands after I explain what is going on subtly! Hahaha!) he sees what is going on and forcefully takes the cart himself even after she tries to argue a bit with him about it, and lets her know she will not be controlling the family. Later she tried again when Olesya had the cart, and out of the corner of my eye I see her shove Olesya aside gently so she can push it, and Olesya of course defers to her. Surprise!!! You are now not Olesya's Mom and I immediately step in and tell Angela to give it back to Olesya, and I think both were a little taken aback by the fact that someone else was now running the show, and Olesya happily went back to pushing the cart while Angela pouted a bit.

Oh, how I hurt for her during this transition time! This has to be so very, very hard for her! I may come across as finding this all humorous at moments, and if I do please don't think it is because I am being insensitive to what either of them are experiencing. It is because there is no other way to survive it and keep going back for more...if you don't see this from the "Funny Angle" you can be eaten alive by the heartache and rejection that comes with them readjusting their thinking! But underneath the humor and sarcasm is a true understanding of how scary and sad this all is for her...and yet how necessary it is so she can learn to trust that adults around her can take care of her and her sister and she doesn't need to be the one in the role of caretaker anymore.

While in Sam's Club we had a wonderful surprise and ran into our Pastor, seeing her for the first time since leaving for our trip. We had a long visit standing there while the kids ate their pizza lunch, and it was so nice to have some adult conversation. I hadn't realize until we got home just how little true adult interaction I had with someone who spoke our own language. Other than the Oborn's and the Yagers, I really had no one on one deeper conversations with a single soul over the age of 11 for 2 1/2 months, and it is as if my soul is starving for that kind of connection. That has been a little bit of a surprise to me.

We had taken the girls to spend some of their Christmas money and leftover Kazakhstan money so that they might be able to buy a couple of things to play with or entertain themselves with that would be truly what they wanted and not what we thought they might enjoy. Angela was uninterested in anything, and I took her over to the sports department to see scooters and bikes and such, and she feigned a total lack of interest, mainly because I was the one showing it to her. We also find her falling back on saying "Ya ne panaymayou" (I don't understand) dimissively all the time when she wants to pull out of a situation she finds she doesn't know how to handle. She later told Dominick at the check out register that she was going to save her money to buy a bike, which is a good plan, but would have been nice for her to share with me when I was standing there feeling like an idiot showing her bikes as she looked the other way.

Thankfully she is not always acting this way with me, and we are having some good times together as well. We played basketball with Olesya yesterday afternoon and she relaxed a lot with me then, we roughhoused for the ball on the grass and she giggled and allowed me to tickle her to get it away from her.

It is hard to describe, as at the moment she is not really snotty or mean, she is just dismissive and trying to figure out what power she has in this new family dynamic, and she is understandably uncomfortable with physical affection from anyone who is a true Mom figure whom she might find herself drawing too close to. I am not worried that we won't eventually make it, as I saw her warmth with a couple of the caretakers she respected, and I know that part of the puzzle for us will be me meeting her where her interests lay, and me keeping firm and strong boundaries in place and letting her know she WILL respect me. She has shown us over and over again and even said it in words that she disdains those who are not strong enough to control children, so she definitely ended up with the right mom for that one! She may resent it at first, but her past words and actions have served to guide us in what she ultimately needs, which really is what every kid needs anyway.

I know that part of what is churning inside her is fear of losing her role in Olesya's life as she sees Olesya naturally and easily growing closer to us. Yesterday, it was as if something let go inside of Olesya, and throughout the day I got unsolicited long hugs, hand holding for a little, and genuine warmth and love from her. I am so thankful to see such terrific progress being made with her, and it helps a lot to feel as if we are NOT bad parents but are instead dealing with one troubled child who has every reason to be conflicted right now. Olesya is slowly starting to let og of Angela as mom figure for her and turn to me, but it will take awhile. Last night Angela went to bed at 8:00 PM before everyone else, and Olesya felt she had to go to bed too even though she was not really tired yet. Dominick tried to encourage her to stay up with the rest of us but she indicated she had to go to bed because Angela was in bed. In time though, we can see Olesya will strongly and deeply love us and bond well even if it takes Angela years. Olesya has a very strong personality of her own, knows herself well and while she may have a hard time for a bit feeling tugged both ways I think in the long run she will be able to see that Angela's decisions should not necessarily dictate what she does.

I went to the school yesterday to drop off homework for the boys and touch base before they start back next week. What a lovely surprise it was to discover that so many of the staff there had followed along on our journey and were pleased to see were back home! I had no idea that anyone other than Kenny and Josh's teachers were even remotely interested but quickly learned that the prayers and good wishes of perhaps almost the entire school were with us and everyone I bumped into seemed to know all that had happened, even those whom I had never personally met before! What a blessing to have kids in a place where the adults are so special themselves, where the care for every student is so strongly felt.

I spent way more time than I expected visiting with Ms. Lloyd and Mrs. Weber as we hashed a few things out, talked about the trip, and shared our thoughts about it all. I know there was no way to really express to them how much their help made a very difficult time a little easier.

So today as I write this from bed while the kids are all still sleeping themselves and trying to get back on some sort of schedule, I wonder what our day will be like. Dominick is back to work today, so there will be no Daddy to turn to for Angela and it will force things a bit with her. I am praying for seeing small strides daily in our growing relationship, but expect it might be very hard for the next few months. We'll let you know tomorrow how our first Daddyless day goes!


Anonymous said...

My grown children are frequenting your blog occasionally. Their childhood was spent with parents who never seemed to have a clear understanding of how to parent. I guess we were so busy bumbling through that we didn't give the deep thought nor come up with the wisdom you have. Love, laughter, structure, even games are so basic and necessary. I guess we managed some of that, but to see it spelled out and worked out and lived out is awe inspiring to me.

Thank you,

Sarah said...

Wow, well some of the similarities are just crazy, but can I say ever so comforting at the same time. This may not be comforting to you, when I say we are 3 years out and I say these similarities are still relevant, but some of them are. Is it sad to say that I look forward to seeing how you handle some of these things in hopes that maybe I can take some pointers from you?

The biggest one I guess is the whole free time thing. My son, who is now 11 and has been home since just before he turned 9 has just an awful time with free time. He is our wanderer. He literally wanders around the house when he is not given something to do. It actually has become some what of a family joke it's gone on so long, and is just how things are now. I'm not proud of that, but I really don't know how to fix it. We tell him to go find something to do, and he'll sulk off to his room, but left on his own he wanders around. Literaly.

He has very little he is truly interested in. For the first year to a year and a half or so it seemed like he had things he was interested in but it turned out he was just looking to his peers and choosing things they were seemingly very interested in and following along. I still don't know what he really likes and I don't think he does either!

We homeschool now, and it has helped. He is not constantly following the kids at school and trying to fit in with. every. single. move. He has matured and does have a bit more I can say he "likes". There is a series of books he loves and a movie just came out he truly is excited to see. But overall he's all over the board with no real passions. Just the other night during while watching the olympics he said he would like to do tennis in the olympics some day despite the fact that he goes to gymnastics weekly. Really? He doesn't play tennis at all! It's puzzling.

We also have issues related to his inability to let go of parenting his younger sister. She is 2 years younger than him. They were with their birth family until they were 4 and 6, and came to us at 6 and 8. He his hyper, hyper vigilent when it comes to her. And he shows her a preference, but he is also very good to our two young biological children. More than showing a preference for his sister, he shows a dislike for our other adopted daughter. It's very complicated, but there is a lot brewing underneath there and it causes a lot of tension at time. He does not trust us to care for his sister, despite us never dropping the ball there. Quite the opposite of course we feel.

Well. You have a lot ahead of you, and here I am rambling. It's been a long road and I realize I am expressing some of our frusterations but overall we are a happy loving family and that is what matters. I would love to talk more with you and be here to help in any way I can, but like I said I hope to learn from your journey as well. My son was a classmate of your daughters in Petro. I'll have to email you some photos soon so you can show her. :) I hope she would remember him. He remembers her. :)


Becki Stone said...

Ok yes I admit I'm stalking your blog. First I have to tell you that you have an amazing crew there! My husband and I were in Almaty for our first trip (bonding with our son) we were there 19 days, and I'll be honest it was rough. I have no idea how you did it!
I wish I had words of wisdom for you. Angela is at a crossroads- she is so use to being the "mom" that she has no idea how to let a mom in. It will be hard for her to let go of the control she has- it is probably the only thing she feels she can control in her life. Everyday she will learn how to be a kid, and everyday she will let you in- even if it is a small piece at a time. Keep playing basketball- that will be a great thing for you two to do- maybe show her the website for the WNBA- taking an interest in her interests will show her that you accept her for who she is and you aren't going to try to change her. I'm sending HUGE hugs to you. Hang in there.

Marta said...

Please don't view all of Angela's behaviors as coming from a place of control. It's not adversarial. It's not a power struggle between the two of you, and there is no clock ticking. More fundamentally, it's an issue of trust. Can she trust you take care of her? To treat her fairly? To care about how she feels? To recognize the bond she has with her sister so she doesn't feel you are trying to take her place in her sister's heart?

I can't imagine what it must be like for them. You found yourself so exasperated at times when you were in their country, with the problems with language and local customs and nothing feeling like the familiarness of home. But you knew it was just a matter of time until you would be going home. They know they will never be going back to their friends, their city, their home. You have a lot of good insight and I know you'll do a great job helping them through that grief.

Anonymous said...

Wow, so good to read your post, it sounds like you are still so busy, I hope you are getting time for you, and for You and Dominick as a couple.

I am sorry but this still reminds me of a 'pack' situation, the old alpha relinquishing the control to the new, more powerful alpha, she has to come to know her place in within the pack. I hope this metaphor does not offend you, what I am trying to express is that it is a natural process. I am glad that you are respectful of the process that she must endure right now, you are a compassionate alpha, who works and rules out of love and wisdom. So you are the appropriate alpha.

You still and always will have my prayers and best wishes.
God Bless You, all 7 of you

Carol said...

Once again, I am amazed at your ability to "read" situations and discern what is going on under all the layers, and to keep that in perspective. Sounds like you and Dominick have everything under control... I'm glad these "bumps" in the road have not thrown you off course. Humor IS a good coping mechanism! Also glad you are able to enjoy some moments of bonding with Angela.

So nice to be reading posts of all 7 LaJoys at home living "real life". I learn a lot from reading your blog, and look forward to the ongoing LaJoy journey!

Christina said...

I love the pics on the previous post! Such lovely kiddos! Wondering if this could help.... my oldest has trouble talking and sharing emotions... Someone once suggested using the emotions through pictures (like happy face, angry face, sad face) There are some you can buy... perhaps at a "teacher" supply store... this might help teach the emotions and how to deal with it while the language is still a barrier. I think that it might be kind of nice (although perhaps annoying) that Angela can say that she doesn't understand the language, and gracefully back out of a situation that she doesn't have the skills to handle yet. If this becomes a trend that is hurting her growth, you can always bring it up with her later and "talk" again through picture emotions about how to deal with it... perhaps Dominic can start this if she is more comfy with him? I don't know, just a thought.... I truely feel that you are going to be spending your time teaching the kids, especially Angela how to deal with emotions... its hard (at least not easy). I continue to remind myself about my own kids, that they are learning how to handle the situations.... and your kids have never had a better role model. She's watching... how will you handle it if she isn't perfect... So much love I have for you guys and certainly respect for what a great job you are already doing.. . Blessings to your day!

Anonymous said...

Becki above shouldn't worry about stalking you--it isn't stalking when it's a blog. I know this because my brother-in-law assured me it didn't count as stalking when I made some comment about stalking your blog to him over the Christmas holiday WHILE I WAS ON MY OWN ADOPTION TRIP IN EAST AFRICA!!! Yep, I did it; I read your blog while picking up my year-old son. Clearly, your thoughtfulness is helpful to a lot of people.