This morning I sit here in bed, the house still silent as I try to think of how to put my emotions and thoughts into words. I know that soon there will be one set of foot steps...then two...then a few more...and I must gear up for the day. I am leaving at noon for my ministry class overnight retreat. It is not feeling like much of a retreat at the moment and instead is a heavy burden. Let's face it, right now going to study church polity is not really something I wish was on my agenda, but if I want to graduate I have to go and I have invested too much time and too much of my own soul into this to not see it through. I'll admit though that I am going simply on auto pilot with a small part of me asking "Now will someone tell me again WHY I am doing this?". Sometimes following God's desires for our lives makes no sense at all.
Yesterday was a rougher day. I had a lot of running around to do so had to drag 5 kids to the insurance office, the health clinic, the dentist for Matthew, the store, the social security office, etc. Two of those kids had no idea what we were doing or why, and I hate that but there is no other choice right now. Everyone behaved well and actually they were quite easy to haul everywhere. We went to Sonic for lunch and I got my first sticker shock at having 5 kids when we paid $37 for lunch...guess the "I am too lazy to go back home and make lunch" ocassional treat will absolutely not happen in the future.
We had what many usually have with multiple kids in the battle over the car seats with only one child...Angela. We never have had to deal with this, thankfully, and I know to most of you readers there are howls of laughter over this one because every day you face it just as my own mom did with me and my brother. But Angela has staked out a seat behind the front passenger seat and when Kenny wanted to sit there instead of crammed in the back she balked and at first refused to move, folding her arms across her chest and setting her face in a way that allowed for no discussion. Good thing she has a mom who feels it utterly unnecessary to discuss certain issues, and I made it plane and clear she was going to move her little bootie to the back and let Kenny have a turn there and she didn't like it one bit. It is growing easier to see that she considers herself somewhat above the other kids, probably due to being the "alpha dog" in the orphanage as Raynola has so aptly put it in her recent comments, and she is not at all comfortable for becoming one of the group. She sets herself apart somewhat, not all the time but sometimes. This is a rough path for her, and yet I also know it will be freeing in many ways if we are successful at moving her role to child from perceived adult. At 11, she is far from an adult and needs to reach back to regain childhood. While we see the wisdom in this, no 11 year old ever would!
She did ask me to go bike riding yesterday morning with her when she was outside and the other kids were inside, so I grabbed the bike and rode a couple trips up and down the street with her. My gut instinct is telling me to let her have pieces and parts of me, but not to allow myself to become her separate, more mature "play mate" so she can feel more equal with me right now. So I will play basketball for 30 or 40 minutes, then go back to mom stuff. I will ride bikes a bit, then off to do laundry. She needs to see I enjoy being with her and doing things with her...and let's face it, that I am capable of all doing all the things she is interested in...but that I have another role in her life, and that is the role of "mom".
At dinner things quickly deteriorated when she perfectly understood something silly I said about coke when we were all goofing around and she gave me the whole sarcastic look and "Yanipanamayo" (I don't understand) thing again. Well, I put a stop to that right there calling her on it saying "Yes you do understand, you are being mean...stop it." and I stared her down. And I know she understood the English when she bowed her head low to her plate, wouldn't look me in the eye and whispered a quiet "I'm sorry" while the rest of the table was silent. Thankfully Dominick spoke up as well saying "That's not right Angela, don't be that way" which she may or may not have understood but certainly knew he disapproved too.
Later our friends who speak Russian Skyped with us and helped us explain a few things which needed explaining...such as the limied hot water supply and how a septic tank works so we can't take 45 minute showers, that in America toilet paper goes into the toilet and not in the trash can, and we bagan the conversation about school next week and for the first time explained about Matthew being homeschooled and that the girls will likely not be going to school in the fall. We wanted them to understand that starting in middle school with a lack of language skills, their homework load would be unbearable and eliminate much possibility for outside activities, including sports for Angela. Homeschooling is unheard of in Kazakhstan so this is somewhat a foreign concept to them. It was asked about and explained that Matthew loves homeschooling and is able to go at his own pace, which will be very important for them as well as they learn to read and write in English.
Somewhere along the line right as we began the homeschooling discussion, Angela again feigned boredom as I sat beside her and was talking with them through our friends and "fake" yawned and said "Sleepy" so she could get out of talking. I turned to face her and said firmly at 7:30 PM "Stop it...you are not sleepy...you will stay here" and she turned back to the screen less than happy. It is her way of shutting off conversation with me, too intimate for her. She was not "sleepy" when I was in the other room on the phone and Dominick had started the conversation, this sudden onset narcolepsy only hit when I sat down next to her and became involved in the conversation. Her avoidance of the even slightly intimate would be almost comical if it weren't so painful on both sides.
Later on during the Skype call I asked them if they missed their friends, if they missed the Boarding School and that is when both Dominick and our friends noticed that Angela started to tear up, then reigned it in. I was purposely not looking directly at them so didn't see it, as I wanted to make it less uncomfortable to have my direct gaze on them since the intimacy of real conversation is so hard for her. When they replied that they did miss their friends I reassured them that they could write letters anytime and we would try and call the Boarding School every 3 or 4 weeks, explaining that it is expensive to call there but not explaining that we don't want to make it an every day connection as we are wanting them to settle in to their new life and not reach back too far and too often for the old one as that would make it harder. I also have a pile of over 100 photos for them to send that was sitting next to the computer so they know we are not trying to cut them off from their connections.
I then took the laptop to our bedroom to continue the conversation for a bit and evidently Angela decided she was SOOOOOOO sleepy she was going to pull out of the family time and go to bed, again dragging Olesya with her. Dominick didn't allow it and forced Olesya to stay, who must have felt a bit like it was a reprieve. They started playing games of some sort while Angela was in her bed listening to the laughter. Dominick urged Kenny to go check on her after awhile and he convinced Angela to come back out and join the fun, which she did and I heard her giggles while I was still in the bedroom planning strategy for relationship building between our Russian speaking friends and the girls.
At moments right now I am acting loving even when the love is not always present, and when I came out they were all heading for bed. I walked down the hall and in the darkened small bedrooom hiked myself up the ladders of each of their beds and gave Olesya a hug which was returned enthusiastically, then Angela one which was not nearly as enthusiastic but was returned and not rebuffed. I then asked if they were cold as the house was chilly, and Angela said yes, so I retrieved the extra blanket from the top shelf of their closet and climbed back up to spread it over her so she would be warmer.
"Spasiba" she whispered as I leaned over tugging the blanket over her long, lean body.
"You're welcome Angela, that is what Mama's do...they take care of their children." I said.
I walked out the door throwing over my shoulder a quick "Night...Love you" and as I rounded the corner to enter the boys room I heard Angela respond back quietly for the first time "I love you.".
The see sawing is exhausting, I am still not at all myself and not geared up for battle as I should be so it hurts more. This is very hard, my friends. One moment my heart is breaking at the dismissiveness I am being treated with, and the next it is melting drop by drop as we make a little progress. Two steps forward and one backward. These precious children have so much to go through, so much to learn and take in and absorb. The "fairly tale" everyone sees at surface level certainly exists but it is only the participants who know how much heartache goes into the making of the fairy tale.
There are so many things that are new in addition to emotion, and the girls present as so "normal" that it is easy to cast aside their years of institutionalization as they sure are different than Kenny. Until you see at breakfast that they can't handle a knife and fork together because that was unnecessary before. Until you see Olesya walk in front of cars without awareness that typical 10 year old girls have of oncoming traffic. Until you anxiously watch them as they try to figure out how to do something as simple as play. The pretty gift wrapping does not always hint at what lies inside the package, and the girls certainly have pretty gift wrapping and present as normal, well adjusted kids on the outside...and they are struggling, heartbroken, tender and confused on the inside.
I hate that much of what we are doing right now seems maybe mean or makes no sense to them either because they don't understand due to language or because they don't understand our parenting technique to help them integrate into the family. For example, the othger night the girls shut their bedroom door before going to sleep when they went to bed very early as they have been doing. Dominick went down the hall and opened it, only to hear foot steps and have ti shut again. He went back and insisted it be left open. Now please, no one comment about the fire hazard of an open bedroom door as we were taught to close them in grade school. The fact is that it is quiet down the hall where their room is, and we don't want them using escape to their bedroom at night as a means of pulling away from the family. We want them to hear the noise, the love, the laughter and not have to participate if they need down time but not to isolate themselves either. Hearing the intimacy of the rest of us is good conditioning for eventually falling in with us. With 2 of them it would be easy for them to drift into their own world together merely existing within our cocoon. We can not allow that, no more than we allow the boys to have a TV or computer in their bedroom for the same reason....no pulling away from the family into your own isolated world. Families are for interaction, families are for engagement. We know the girls will need time to themselves to process everything, but we feel it best to not allow complete withdrawal. A step back, certainly, a fortress being built figuratively, no.
Next week things should be working more towards a regular schedule and that might help too. The necessary relaxed down time this week was important for all of us, but no doubt disturbing to the girls whose lives have been regimented for years. As we begin working on some homeschooling tasks and I try and assess where they are at in various areas, we will hopefully create our own schedule each day which will give them some confidence as well.
So I guess I need to get going here, I have to pack my overnight case and clean up the house for our friends who have kindly created a team to help me get through this weekend with child care. Thankfully this is not infants or toddlers, and we simply need someone to come be present should the house burn down. I am not really looking forward to dipping out myself this weekend, but realize that I too might need some down time to get ready to engage in the battles to come next week. I am grateful that for now, the battles are certainly not all out war and there are slivers of reminders that we are making inroads to becoming a family. Someday, with God's grace amongst us, we will look back fondly on this time and laugh over it.
Right now it is often hard not to cry.