Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Weaving of a Family

How absurd is it to thrust complete strangers together, slam the label "family" on them, and then have the expectation that "happily ever after" will somehow magically occur?

The incredible thing is that it works.

We are far from having arrived at happily ever after, but yesterday, for the first time, it felt as if it might one day be in sight.

It was a less than orthodox school day...I am sort of good at those I I go against the grain of my supposed Virgo tendencies for order and organization. I am already seeing how I am internally speaking to myself successfully to "let go" of certain things. For example, my house will never, ever feel the same. 2 more bodies pushes it over the edge and the sheer quantity of shoes near the door is somewhat stunning. The laundry is OK as long as I don't miss a single day doing 2 loads. The vast amount of food that is being consumed will not wane until 2025, as just as the girls find they have sated their long felt hunger the boys will enter the teen years and we will be paying more for our monthly groceries than our mortgage.

In the midst of it all, surprisingly, there is peace. The order within the chaos that exists in our home is not something I expected. It is a testament to each of our children...Kenny and Olesya who drug out the girls laundry hampers unsolicited last night and started a load of their clothes. Matthew who drug out the 5 heavy trash cans down our long gravelly snow packed driveway and then reminded the other kids when we got home that they all needed to come back in. Without a word from me, Joshie comes traipsing in the house to grab snow boots to go out and help Kenny and Angela bring them in. Angela who gets up quietly from the table and starts cleaning up dishes. That this teamwork exists between siblings, old and new, is actually a bit of a shock and is certainly a blessing as we work on weaving together a new family.

So we started our day out by dropping off 2 members of Team LaJoy at school then heading off to Walmart. I wanted the girls to feel a bit like they were starting school officially and even though I have plenty of supplies around they needed to be able to select a couple of inexpensive things for themselves. We picked out notebooks to use for writing vocabulary words in, folders to hold completed worksheets, and a crate each for them to store their books and folders in. I love that they hesitate to spend too much money, they are so thoughtful of the cost of things for us. We have not experienced at all what some do and what Kenny first was like in that they seem to understand what we explained a long time before ever arrived. We will love them fully and completely but are not a wealthy family. They will have all they need and some of what they wish for, but it will not be Christmas every day. Believe it or not, most kids are told at the orphanages that they will get anything they ask for, Kenny sure was and I have heard of many others whose caretakers created that false expectation as well.

As we picked out items, comparing cute colors for notebooks, I was moved when I saw Angela select folders for she and Olesya that had Disney princesses on them. This tall, slender, 14ish looking young lady reminds me in subtle ways that she does still have a little girl in her that needs to be experienced and enjoyed, if only for a little while. My gut instincts are right on this, even if 90% of the time I feel intimidated because she appears so much more mature. It showed 2 nights ago as I crawled up the ladder to her loft bed to say good night and I caught her tucking her stuffed animals in tenderly under a separate blanket. I thanked God for that moment as it gives me a better understanding and perspective of this new daughter of mine.

I have half joked about calling our homeschool "Lajoy Lifeschool", because that is more my idea of where education ought to be. No more teaching to a test, more recognition of what the goal of education is all about, and understanding that yes, even Walmart, is a place full of learning opportunities. I am really working on letting myself get rid of traditional ideas of education because it won't work for most of our kids and is unfair. So we wandered around Walmart yesterday, learning vocabulary words without them realizing they were, explaining about how this store is different than Taiga in Petropavlovsk, comparing and contrasting life experiences, using the limited abilities we have to communicate, and somehow it all works. Matthew is proving quite good at explaining things and thinking of models to use in those explanations, which some might not think of as learning but sure looks like great problem solving and logic learning to me. Angela stood beside me as I asked a clerk a question about where yeast was and she was the one who spoke up clearly saying "Thank you!" when we walked away which is a great sign that she is more willing now to practice the English she knows out in public.

We stopped off at Matthew's school, called "Visions", and showed the girls the very small library there and the building itself, which was a bit confusing to them...homeschool has a school building? What is up with that? I grabbed a ton of books as did Matthew...and they helped me sign them out. We will work with them over the next couple of weeks as easy readers.

At home we began making labels for items around the house...window, door, fork, spoon, etc. They each wrote their own index cards then we wandered around taping them everywhere. We took a break and all 3 kids got up and we played a sort of Simon Says by finding body parts and working on English words for left and right. It was a hoot and they all had fun goofing around with it. We started adding words they know to their vocabulary notebook, and they laughed up a storm when we added our favorite terms for conversation right now..."fart" and "burp". You'd roll your eyes if you knew how much these two topics are the focal point of our lives right now, but hey, whatever works, right??? Don't fool yourselves with the fact they are girls.

We had early release day for Kenny and Josh so we quit then and had about 30 minutes of play time. Matthew didn't get much accomplished but 1 grammar assignment and some reading, but he taught others new words and did a lot of critical thinking and I am having to also tell myself things won't be orderly for awhile, and that is OK. Relax, Cindy, relax.

We picked the boys up from school and getting back in the car, for the first time Angela wanted to sit up front next to me. We headed back to Walmart where the girls had decided to pool there money and purchase one bicycle for the two of them for now. Before we left Matthew came out from his room handing me a $100 bill to cover the money he spent in Kazakhstan that he had earned, so I tucked it into my jeans pocket and off we went, as I was going to surprise them and buy the second bike with that money. And they WERE surprised! Huge hugs and smiles along with "Oh Thank you Mama!". Angela picked out a soft blue bike that fits her tall frame, and of course Olesya selected a pretty pink one. Matthew and Kenny told us to "step aside and let the men get this" as we tried to muscle the bikes out of the racks at Walmart, and the girls proudly wheeled them up to the register where they did NOT want to take the money and pay for it themselves but I forced it standing next to them and they did just fine. Then out to the car where we already had it full with 6 of us but somehow with Matthew taking charge and Kenny assisting inside we managed to get them in. As they were doing it Angela was standing at the back of the car and said "Good Brats"..."brats" is brothers in Russian. I put my arm around her and said " they love you!" and she smiled. In the car we were talking about something which I can't recall and the boys were chatting about our family somehow and how goofy we are and Angela said firmly "LaJoy family GOOD family...all good family!".

We are getting there, one step at a time.

After choir I zipped home to dinner and Angela sat across from me, and I feel these feet begin hugging my knee. I look up, she grins, and I grin, and we continue participating in conversation that centers around who burps the loudest. There is still a strong tension that exists, there are moments she definitely pushes me away strongly or rebuffs what I suggest. It will take us years to develop a healthy and whole relationship, but this looks different than attachment disorder. It feels different. It is as if there are 2 people staring back at each other with great respect, understanding that life events have led to inner conflict that is understood by both, and both are willing to let time do it's healing magic. When she does this, I turn away and focus on another child and try not to take it to heart too much. It hurts, it is hard, but I know she can't really help it. I treat her no differently than any of the other kids, I hug her at bedtime and she sort of allows it. I put my arm around her shoulder often and she sort of accepts it, but moves away quickly. That is it forcing anything else. In sharp contrast, Olesya can't seem to stop hugging me, she is craving affection and time together, she is my little shadow often...which frankly brings with it it's own tension but is terribly sweet.

But the loom is our family, and the shuttle moves back and forth, weaving in and out, creating a cloth of magnificent beauty...but it takes time and can not be rushed. Mistakes we make will forever be captured in cloth, and we will look back on them saying to ourselves "We corrected that" as we see the weaving continue on afterwards with the mistake woven firmly in the design, surrounded by corrective weaving and the beauty of seeing that the weaving continues on and somehow the error takes on a life of its own as part of the design.

Harder days are ahead, better days too. All become part of the tapestry. That tapestry has woven within it the words "Team LaJoy", and somehow I think the girls have already picked up that mantle and are wearing it proudly, even if at times confusedly. We are all trying hard, we are all feeling the real love grow, the bad moments are overshadowed by the good ones.

The weaving continues...


Dee said...

I am so pleased to see you had the girls playing Simon Says. It's a fun game for English learners.

I love the weaving analogy, because it so aptly captures how it feels to adopt older kids. There will be good days and bad days.

My daughter, adopted at 13, had never had a doll of her own, and she loved and played with her barbies for several years. She needed to play and be a kid, rather than an abused, stressed out little orphan. Angela may seem to "regress" a bit but that will mean progress, strangely; she already feels safe enough to be a kid sometimes and I hope that continues. Her acting 14 is just bravado, I think. Inside she is still a little girl, maybe even younger than 11 emotionally.

Michael was more like Olesya, glued to my side for months after he came home. He is fine now, although at 13 we still have some cuddle time fairly often. Some parents treat their older kids like babies for a while and it works well. I never felt a need for that sort of swaddling and bottle feeding stuff, but you can "baby" them in other ways as they need it.

You're doing great! Kudos!

Becki Stone said...

I have quite a few early reader books (I think K-2 maybe?) Strawberry Shortcake, Princesses, and other early reader books. They are no longer being used at my house, and I don't think our son will take to Strawberry Shortcake and Princesses! If you can use them and would like me to send them to you they are all yours!
Just let me know =)

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful metaphor--weaving a family. As is Team LaJoy. And the love and care and support you are receiving from other families who have adopted.

It's an eye-opening education for me. Wish I had had this support when my children were growing.

Thank you, all of you educators.


Lisa in CO, USA said...

It sounds like everything will work out wonderfully. Angela and Olesya seem to be great girls, especially after all they've been through. How blessed you are! I only hope our own adoption ends as well. We travel in March, just a couple of weeks now.

Anonymous said...

Woo-hoo, as we say around here! It is once again a testimony to all the prayers that have been answered concerning your girls and your family and the adjustments. And it's also a testimony to God's love for us and in us. "We love because He first loved us." And when others sometimes wonder how we could love "someone else's child", we wonder how on earth you couldn't. No, it's not always easy when they come older, but it's so possible to share God's love with a child the Lord gives to matter how or when they arrive.

You are doing so many wonderful things, not the least of which is slowing yourself down and allowing your expectations to fit the need. A favorite cartoon clipped for the scrapbook said, "I finally figured out how to deal with dust bunnies. I've lowered my expectations." How true. I used to be more particular about my house, but with this many people living in one location... the goal is just to be teaching them some of those skills themselves. And you've seen the saying about 100 yrs from now no one will remember how you kept your house. But they'll know you've been important in the life of a child. So true.

It's with great joy I read your posts, knowing that you are all pushing forward through good times and bad, working towards the day when it all feels very "normal", with mostly good times and few bad.

I agree that our older kids come home with the need to play and regress a bit back into childhood. They've missed so much in growing up without a family, being put into the role of caretaker of younger children sometimes, etc. I think it's important that they have the time to "practice" those childhood experiences they might not have had. The scene of Angela tucking in her animals is so tender and sweet. We can only imagine how much goes through their heads, as they try to process all that has changed in their lives. Doesn't make the difficult times or curt reactions to moms any easier, but does help us work at not taking those things personally.

What a wonderful blessing to be able to gift them with their own new bikes! Thrilled young ladies, I am sure.

This is exactly why older kids should come home to "seasoned" are doing some amazing, wonderful, bonding, teaching, loving things with your new daughters, Cindy.

Nancy in the Midwest