Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Long Journey to Paradise

Do you know what a privilege it is to watch hearts unfold?

We have had a very good past couple of days, despite moments that are hard. It is a roller coaster over here, one in which we find ourselves throwing our hands up in the air as we rocket downhill at lightning fast speed, screaming all the way with smiles on our faces, then steady ourselves as the coaster clickety clacks it's way uphill for the next run down.

We are very slowly creating order from scheduling chaos, one little day at a time. A huge problem for me personally is...well I have two problems that others will laugh at, but here they are anyway.

#1 - I didn't get to nest appropriately as I was planning on some heavy duty mucking out of cupboards and reorganizing between adoption trips. Obviously, the "between" never happened. Consequently, I find my inner self quite disturbed at drawers that are packed and were put off being emptied (i.e. the kitchen junk drawer everyone has that in our case barely closes!) and deep cleaning not done. I feel incomplete and unready for the girls even though they are already here, and as I type this I know how stupid it sounds and that no one will understand. But it's me, and it is extremely unsettling to me.

#2 - Homeschooling organizational nightmares...Big Problem. We do most of our work at the kitchen table, we have a cheapie fiberboard entertainment center with glass doors covering shelves that no longer open or close right, and this is where I store our homeschooling stuff...which is not being stored because I can't open or close it easily plus we simply have too much stuff already. I know, go ahead and laugh at me, but I can't find a system or a place that works well for Matt's stuff, the girl's stuff, art supplies, books for future reference, books for current reference, storage of ongoing projects, answer keys, manipulatives, etc. It is growing, it is chaotic, it is driving me bonkers and we need to figure this out quickly. What we really need is a wall of bookshelves that I can close off and not look at. I really don't want to spend the next several years feeling like I am living in a school room, and yet don't really want to relegate all of us to a separate space as it is super convenient and downright cozy to work in our kitchen and dining area where I can see the kids while folding laundry or getting dinner started. I like that they can grab a blanket and curl up with a laptop on the couch in front of the fireplace...but we need to give serious thought to what to do here so I don't have every inch of kitchen counter space taken up each day with school items. that off my chest, thanks for listening.

I am also suffering brain fry, Big Time. Working with the girls is sort of like a spider web, where one little piece of information leads to the need for another to fill a gap or offer an explanation that makes sense, and it requires serious attention and thought to present material, words and sounds in ways that are meaningful to them. Pantomiming, pulling out our Russian-English dictionary, drawing pictures, referring to their tiny base of knowledge, and thinking of creative ways to present things to keep burn out at a minimum is not easy. I am always "on" and that can be exhausting in ways that are hard to explain.

They are doing fantastic though, and are working hard when we sit down.

We started our day Friday morning with about an hour of Time4Learning. Angela and Olesya both seem really engaged by the way the material is presented. We have Olesya working at the Pre-K level to build alphabetic awareness and vocabulary, while Angela is working at Grade 1 to start phonics and blending of sounds. Thus far she hasn't acted as if it is too juvenile and seems to enjoy some of the learning activities a lot.

We are blessed that our friend Mr. Steve has offered to work with Matthew on a couple of areas, and he came to take him hiking to look for eagles which allowed me some guilt free one on one time with the girls, and we made the most of it. It is so cute that at "school time" they each get their school bags which thus far just have a couple of notebooks and folders in them, along with the girlie pens and erasers they bought, and they bring it to the table and set it down, ready to work. We have small white boards for all the kids and the girls take theirs and we work on writing words, and I introduced the vowels which are proving a little tough to differentiate the short vowel sounds. But it was the first we worked on them and it will take a lot of listening to discern the differences. I am having them work on identifying letters and sounds, going back and forth between asking what sound a letter makes, or making a sound and asking them to write the letter. We introduced th, sh and ch sounds...and "th" is horribly difficult for either of them to reproduce as it still is for Kenny.

We reviewed our vocabulary words from the day before and I was pleased that many of them stuck and Angela in particular seemed quite proud to show me that she remembered most of them. I am trying to work mainly on words we are using every day right now, and body parts as well as a few school oriented words like paper, ruler, eraser, etc. We need to get quickly to time references as that will help us a lot.

We worked with flash cards and with the Oxford Picture Dictionary I spoke about in a previous blog. They added more new words to their personal vocabulary notebooks...and then overload set in so we quit and went for a bike ride together for about 30 minutes. We made lunch together, and then played some foosball after Matthew got home. Olesya and I looked at pictures in a couple of animal books and I started using more adjectives with her while Angela started reading a Harry Potter book we got for her in Kazakhstan and then our day was done and it was time to go get Kenny and Joshie. We didn't get to math but I am hoping to put together some sort of plan for that in the next couple of days. In the meantime we will work on speed with math facts and play games which include math like more Blackjack, etc.

We did learn one interesting thing, and that is that both girls were dismayed at the lack of discipline they saw in the boys' school, and the attire of the kids. They are used to such regimented classroom environments with uniforms that our average public school is quite disturbing to them. They spoke to our translation friends about the lack of respect, kids sitting on desks, etc. Of course what they come from stifles individuality and is not necessarily the answer but in this case for them to have that attitude might work in our favor for them to be happier at home for awhile rather than feeling like aliens dropped from another planet into public school here. The culture shock is enormous in ways we don't always even think about!! I also chuckled when I realized that the day they went into Visions for testing there were kids present for a class and it was Pajama Day, and I wonder if the girls questioned what in the world THAT was all about! Hahaha!

I felt we had a huge breakthrough when we had finished eating dinner and I decided to go to Walmart because once again we were out of bread, milk and fruit and I needed to restock. Angela quickly asked me if she could go alone with me, which was a big surprise but after Olesya and Joshie begged to let them go she relented and with a smile offered to go ahead and let them come, as I had left it up to her. I can't tell you how much it touched me though that she wanted to be alone with me for the first time.

We went and I picked up some play dough in addition to another 5 pounds of apples, 2 bunches of bananas, 4 pears, 5 kiwis, another bag of carrot sticks, and another 3 gallons of milk . That was last night and one gallon of milk is gone, all the pears and kiwis have been devoured, 5 apples have been munched on and I think about 4 bananas. These girls can not get their fill of milk and fruit!! And I am having to totally readjust my thinking...if everyone has even one sandwich in our family that is most of one loaf of bread.

Oh yea...and they ate 4 lbs of strawberries on top of that!!

I led them over to the toy aisles where I picked up 2 sets of cans of Play Dough. Angela asked me "Joshie?" and I nodded and said "Yes", knowing full well my intent was to have the girls play with it but realizing I couldn't present it that way. Off we went home where we unloaded everything and headed off to bed.

I had told the kids they could sleep as late as they wanted this morning, and the girls did! They didn't get up until 10:30, and they both luxuriated in feeling that delicious sense of being awake but not having to move from a nice warm bed until you actually want to. They came out and had pancakes for the first time, which they both liked a lot.

Now it was time for my experiment, and after they asked if they could stay in their PJ's longer and acted so happy when I allowed them to, I had Matt bring up the cookie cutter/PlayDough box and I had the boys all sit down at the table to play with the Play Dough. Olesya was quick to be intrigued and sat right down ready to check it out. Angela came over a few minutes later and casually sat down, obviously interested but feigning disinterest because, after all, 11 year old girls do not play with Play Dough, right??

Especially if they don't know how to play.

It was a little bit startling and heartbreaking to see both the girls sit there at the table, this huge array of Playdough and at least 100 different items to cut and manipulate it with, and they were clueless what to do. They quietly sat there, watching the boys out of the corner of their eyes and eventually leaning over to see what they were doing, and not a blob of Playdough came out of a single can. They didn't even know where or how to begin, and by this time it was obvious they both wanted to. I gave the boys all a heads up with hints that they all picked up on that we needed to show them what to do, so Matthew abandoned his creation and pushed himself closer to Angela and showed her how to press the dough into molds, I grabbed a rolling pin and showed them each how to roll it out and use the cutters to create shapes. The grins slowly crept across their faces as they began to try it on their own, and soon they were making gingerbread men, animals and kneading the dough into all kinds of fun things. They all played there for an hour and a half, and I felt like we had just climbed one tiny mountain as the girls took another step towards becoming the children they have never had the chance to be.

Angela's creations

Joshie getting to work!

Kenny making a Playdough Pizza!

Matthew working on a pyramid...what else?

Playdough noodles are pretty cool!

Olesya LOVED using the molds to make Bob the Builder!

Later we somehow piled 6 bikes, 5 kids and 1 mom into The Bomb (our $900 15 passenger van) and I thought to myself that this was God's little gift to me, this moment where all our dreams as we purchased the van had come to fruition and geeky though we are, we were heading down the road with a van packed with kids and bikes. It took all of us about 20 minutes to figure out how to squeeze the bikes in between seats as we forgot to have Dominick remove another one of them so it would be easy to load. Matthew, Kenny and Angela took over. At one point it looked like my bike, which was the last one, would not fit in and I told the kids to just forget it, that I would be happy walking. It was again much to my surprise when Angela vehemently disagreed and insisted I be able to ride with them, even going so far as to pretend cry to get the idea across that "Mama ride bike!".

We went to a local park with bike paths and all rode for a couple of hours, the girls LOVE riding bikes even though they are not riding their new bikes as they are both scared of them! Hahaha! Olesya is riding Joshua's tiny little bike until she gets up the nerve to move up in size to a more appropriate height...doing just as Kenny did until he gained confidence...and Angela rode Dominick's and offered to let Matthew ride hers since he had shared his bike with her.

Hey...think these kids have spent the winter in Petropavlovsk? See the snow? See that 3 are not wearing their jackets? That's not Colorado tough, that's Kazakhstan tough!!!

Matthew leading the way, both literally and symbolically.

There's our crew!

So progress is being made on all fronts, although as usual there are a couple of steps backwards. Angela still is quite stiff with me pretty often, and when Dominick is present it is as if I don't exist as she looks to him for everything...asking for fruit, help or anything...her eyes don't even look my way. He redirects her to me, but the comfort level is not there. We are making great progress though, and she actually showed concern for the first time when I split my finger back open for the 3rd time and drew blood again. She walks way ahead of me, reminiscent of Kenny when he first came home, and often because she appears very uncomfortable to be physically close enough to me to walk side by side.

Olesya is gaining ground in seeing me as Mom and pulling a tiny bit away from being the follower to Angela's leader. Tonight Angela went to bed around 10:30 and Olesya was working with Kenny on some project and waited another 30 minutes before heading off herself. This gentle role reassignment is what is necessary for both of them to have more appropriate child-like roles in the family, and it seems to be happening naturally without our having to force the issue all that much other than light encouragement.

Joshua is struggling with "re-entry". Things are fine at school, but he and I had a "date" tonight as we attended a small birthday celebration and he was supposed to spend the night with his buddy who was there as well, but he was in tears when the time came and couldn't do it. We have been concerned about him as we are seeing some compulsions or obsessive behaviors that appeared just before we left for Kaz. We had a problem several months ago with hand washing with him to the point he developed raw and scabbed hands, and that finally disappeared only to be replaced with tugging on his eyelashes. Tonight at his friend's house he was not engaging with the other 2 boys at all, preferring to be near them but not playing with them, and that is highly unusual for him. In every other way and with his siblings he appears to be doing great, and he is absolutely in love with his sisters who are extremely nurturing with him. But change is hard, and even good change is still disordered. I talked to him on the way home and didn't catch anything wrong as I worked my way around how he was feeling, what he felt about Kazakhstan, if he was thinking about birth parents at all on our trip, if the orphanage reminded him of his own, etc. So while there is nothing really wrong, there IS something wrong and I need to find a way to get to the bottom of it.

Matthew has been in tears 3 or 4 times over minor things during the past couple of weeks. He too is quite taken with his sisters and is so glad they are here, plus I have been ever-so-pleased to see the relationship he and Angela have in which she is definitely deferring to him, they are working very well as a team together, and she appears to have quite a bit of respect for the point that she has seen him reading so much around the house that after declaring that she didn't like books she is breaking out the two or three Russian language books we have and showing what seems to be more her real self as we learned she DID like books through our friends who are kindly interpreting for us. She just wasn't ready to show it until she saw Matthew with his nose buried so much in a book. Matt just has no idea the impact he has on his siblings. But again, even though things ARE going phenomenally well for older child adoption and a sibling group, things still feel a little odd.

And I am glad that I see I am not the only one feeling this "odd" set of emotions, for tonight I found myself briefly in tears again myself with an understanding friend. Seems to happen so often these days, but I am worried about Josh and it was at her house this all took place. I also know she won't judge me, and I tried to explain how it all just feels sort of out of synch for the entire family...that it is not like going on vacation and coming home and having to get back in the groove. You come home and NOTHING is ever the same. That does NOT mean it is bad, it is just different, and for me it is even harder because I am hyper aware of all that is going on around me and that kind of vigilance is difficult to maintain without some stress.

However, despite all of it, God has provided us with a front row seat to the miracle of 2 children virtually springing to life right before our eyes. We ALL see it, feel it, and rejoice in it! Feeling different or odd is not a bad thing, but it is moving into a new zone and it can be disturbing. We have all been through a lot the past few months, each and every one of us is walking a new and unfamiliar path, and I am ever-so-grateful for God's presence with each of us as we strap those hiking boots on and trudge along, continuing on side by side until we find rest for our weary souls beside the hidden placid lake of our new life. We will eventually arrive there, kick off our boots and wiggle our toes in the muddy bank relishing our newfound peace as we look back at the long path and say to ourselves "Man, that was hard...but it sure was worth it! THIS is Paradise!"...for isn't that what a loving family really represents? A lush paradise in an often harsh world.

We are slowly working our way towards our own LaJoy Paradise, and I guarantee you we will get there, no matter how hard the journey. God dictated it already, and in the early morning hours as I type this blog post and fret over all my personal worries and fears, I hold tight to my trust in God's promise for our family. We've never been let down before and we will not be let down now as long as we keep our feet firmly planted on God's path for all of us. Thankfully, we have many standing beside the path nudging us back to center when we veer off course.

And that too is God, isn't it?


Joyce said...

Seeing your photos and reading this entry jsut brought out how beautiful each of your children are - so wonderfully and uniquely created with such sweet hearts evidenced by their facial expressions. You are all truly blessed and I realize the work in this all, but God has richly blessed you with such wonderfully gorgeous compassionate sons and daughters.
Love Joyce

Anonymous said...

I only homeschooled K with six of our eight, as the last two were past that age when they came home. So, that being said, I'm no expert on homeschool materials. But I did use Abeka Book's Blue Backed Speller for phonics. I liked the charts with photos to work with vowel sounds and blends. Our kids chuckle that they can still say the chart...", b...bell,". So that at least tells me it stuck. Our newest daughter still has trouble with vowels sounds, even calling them "bowels", as the v and b in Spanish are the opposite of ours. I've explained why that is not a good word to misprounce!

I identify so much with the overwhelming journey through academics with English language learners.

Nancy in the Midwest

Becki Stone said...

It is a great sign she wanted to go to the store with you alone =)
When I ran my daycare center we did "fork and knife" training with the 4 & 5 year olds. We used playdough that we cut to look like meat, and they used a plastic fork and knife to learn how to properly use them. Thought it might help if they are still having a hard time with a knife.
Take care!

Christina said...

Hi! with kids who are having trouble remembering vowels, I do a few tricks. The short e an i can be hard to tell apart for beginners, so I use other clues to help... like with short e sound "eehh" I stick out my lower jaw.... then I draw a stick figure with an "e" as the mouth... so each time we sound out short e, we stick out our jaws.... then for short i, we crinkle up our noses for the short i sound "iih". Then on our stick figure face, we draw an i, with the dot of the i being the nose of the figure... so each time we sound out a word with short i, we nose crinkle. I find that this way the kids who are struggling with the sound differences have a visual clue to link the letter to.

I also use a story for the "h" blends... harder to do for you, but we talk about how H is the mean letter. He doesn't like waiting in line, and hates not to be first. His only friend is w. So if c is in front of him like in "ch" he is so mad he changes the sound to "cchhh" not "cuh-hhh" and if t is in front, he changes the sound to "tthh" not "t-hhh", and if p is in front he changes the sound to "fff" not "puh- hhh" His only friend is w, because in wh, he lets the sound say "wuhh-hh" I then add in parts of the story about how we feel when others are mean, and don't like to wait their turns... how poor h must feel to only have 1 friend, and how we should treat each other so that we don't change the people around us with our sour attitudes... you know, public school teachers have to get in all the character training that we can! Hope this helps!

Kelly and Sne said...

I think we need to get all the blog stalkers together and nominate you for one of those Extreme Makeover - Home Edition shows! Also, you might want to think about putting in a big garden somewhere (if you don't already) or joining a CSA (community supported ag) - which is essentially a 'subscription' to a farm for fresh fruits and vegetables and sometimes meat and eggs and dairy too (search on for farms in your area). Some farms let you lower the cost by working on the farm for a certain number of hours. We do this cuz we go through loads of fruits and veggies (and milk) in our household too! Always an adventure!

Anonymous said...


Great post Cindy, it's wonderful to know you are growing into a big happy family!!!

Fruitwise, I think Matthew could be your answer:
Ask him to research all fruit trees and berry bushes that can grow in your climate.

Next step research where you can buy as-big-as-possible fruit trees and start your own little family orchard.
This way you'll have plenty of thank-you-God priced fruits every year and the children can learn loads about food.

For a large family as yours in a big plot of land, it makes sense, it's educational for the kids, and much cheaper.

You'll always need to buy bananas!!!

Language wise, no advice. Sesame street still on??

Have a lovely week,

Anonymous said...

Concerning Josh's challenges, there are a couple of books that you might find helpful:

Robert Karen's book "Becoming Attached" goes through the history of attachment theory and is a fascinating read. Altho it won't necessarily give you solutions,it might be very helpful background reading. Yes, I know Josh is "attached" to you, but what many people don't realize is that attachment is not an on or off switch--the quality of one's very early attachments can have profound implications for long-term development.

Patty Cogen's "Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child" is a recent book that reviews some of the research on attachment and brain development, as well as gives some ideas for approaching attachment issues. I don't expect that this book will give you clear solutions either, but seems to me it would be helpful knowledge for beginning to understand what's going on with him--seems to me that some of his issues might be "hard-wired" and having a better understanding of this might help you in thinking through how to help him.

Forgive me if you've already read all this or similar--I know you are a VERY resourceful mom. I'm certainly no expert myself. Just have done lots of reading and these two books really helped me in understanding the invisible yet profound challenges that adopted kids can face.

My best to you and your wonderful family.

Anonymous said...

Have you chosen a name for your home? I would suggest Eden. Here is a paradise on earth, a place where you can grow up loved, learn to be adult and human in a wonderful environment, and then be launched into the wider world. Unlike the first Eden, this one would and does remain open, not only to the original inhabitants but to all refugees who need a safe, loving place to rest for awhile. Rest--ah, yes, that includes you, Cindy.

Love ya,

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