I left off last week the day before heading off to my "retreat" in the Denver area. "Retreat" is sort of a misnomer as it was a 24 hour overnight turn around to attend a lay ministry class on church history and polity. I am blessed with an array of close, committed friends who have supported me in a million ways, and who did so yet once again to take care of the kids while I was gone so I can pursue licensed lay ministry and graduation hopefully by the end of the year. I left knowing the kids would be in super good hands...multiple hands at that. I felt quite guilty for leaving so soon after arriving home but had no choice as the program is shutting down and if I miss a necessary class I will have wasted all this time and effort and be unable to graduate, and for some as-yet-unknown reason, it is very important to me that I complete what I started and move into ministry in whatever capacity God elects for me to be engaged in.
Before I jumped in the car though, I had a small breakthrough with the girls which sent me on my way with warm fuzzies. We had sensed Angela was really missing their friends back at the Boarding School and she had already written a letter to one of them along with Zhazira, the Assistant Director who was so kind to the girls and us. The girls came to me Friday morning and asked if they could send a couple of things to the orphanage. Out comes the items Olesya bought with her money earlier last week...a little pony and a doll with some lip glosses. I suggested that they wrap them and their faces lit up as we found some cute leftover wrap. Then they return with a couple of Barbie style dolls that had been bought for them last Christmas and were still in the boxes. They hesitantly asked if they could send them as gifts to their friends, worried I am sure that I would be angry or hurt. Seeing this as a real opportunity for bonding for all of us, and recognizing the truth that these were their adopted siblings for many years, I encouraged them to do so and received hugs from both and at least 3 "Thank you Mama's!" from each of the girls.
I then did them one step better and walked down the hall to their room where together we all looked at what they had multiples of that could be shared. This was so important to them, and I sensed that they feel a little guilty that they have a family and their friends do not. So I pointed at packages of pretty pencils and strips of unused barrettes and asked if they'd like to send those two. Heads nodded vigorously up and down as I walked out of the room with them. Olesya had walked away to get some tape and Angela stooped what she was doing, looked me square in the eye and in a whispered tone said again "Thank you balshoi mama!"...thank you big Mama. I explained carefully to Angela, who understood almost every word, that I knew they loved Shoura and Tanya and so many others, and that I loved them too! I pantomimed and pointed to photos saying that I had watched them all grow up with Angela and Olesya over the years, and that Papa and I cared about ALL the kids left behind and would help them stay in touch with them and help the kids as we could. Angela then reached out and gave me a stiff hug, and I knew that our truthful responses touched her...she saw our hearts and realized we didn't want to separate the purposely from those they loved, and that we would help them remain connected in the ways we could. Another step in the right direction.
Of course, it was snowing like crazy and my 5 hour drive turned into an almost 7 hour drive. In my jet lag induced stupor I found myself driving across the slushy roads with 80's hair band music playing loudly from Matthew's CD left in the car. It actually suited my mood perfectly. I was within less than a mile of the retreat location when I got stuck in the middle of the road trying to get uphill, along with another couple of classmates. Two attempts and sliding all the way led to a dented back door on the van and a frustration level which I did little to mask for a few minutes. Trudging through the cold, dark snowy night I asked myself over and over again what in the world I was doing there. Suddenly a neighbor stopped and offered a ride, and I ended up with the van abandoned at the bottom of the hill for the night, but with myself ultimately warm and cozy among new and old friends on a couch with a warm fire crackling before us. We spent the evening and the next day talking denominational history and polity, which much to my surprise I found quite interesting after all and thoroughly enjoyed even if only running on about 3 hours sleep that night.
We finished that next afternoon and I headed home ever so gratefully, only to find myself stuck at the top of Monarch Pass where at 6:00 PM I was one of the last to attempt to make it over the mountain, and was followed by many others into the older 70's style lodge where I decided to be smart and get a room for the night. I was so disappointed as all I wanted to do at that point was get home, but Dominick and I both thought it would be smarter to wait it out there as the snow plows had not been through and it was dark by then. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten my saline solution at the retreat and my contact lenses would have to go in the trash as I had nothing to store them in...and no place nearby to purchase anything.
This little trip was adding up in costs by the minute, and at that stage I was just shaking my head with an utter lack of surprise. Of COURSE everything was going to go wrong that could go wrong!
I got up at 6:00 AM to tackle the mountain again, this time after a snow plow had come through. Made it to church just in time, smelling like yesterday's clothes and looking much worse for the wear I donned my choir robe and reminded myself no one could see much of what I was wearing...and God wouldn't care anyway.
When I walked in the door at church after having been gone two nights, there were our children, all waiting to give me a hug and tell me how much they missed me. Even Angela awaited her turn for a hug.
There we all eventually sat, in "our" pew (that always cracks me up, happens in every church with everyone, doesn't it"? Having "your" pew?) and there, to the right of us high up on the wall was a new banner added to the others that adorn our sanctuary walls displaying the word "Peace" various languages. Lael, a frequent blog commenter during our trip had seen to it that a new banner displaying "Mir", the Russian word for peace, was waiting to greet us for our homecoming. It has a wonderful depiction of a "Tree of Life", even more fitting as that is the name of the agency we used to adopt Joshua. I will take a photo soon and share it with you all. It eve incorporated the colors of the Kazakhstan flag!!
I never have to wonder why we attend the church we attend, the congregation is a wonderful example of God's extravagant welcome. It touched me deeply the first time I saw the banner and it will forever feel as if it is a symbolic hug of welcome for our children.
We spent the remainder of the day at brunch for the adults while the kids hung out at church with their own lunch, and the girls got to meet a special young friend of mine whom I love very much from our youth group last year and has offered to be a mentor for the girls as she has time. Over the weekend they also met a couple of other young female friends of some of our adult friends and reports were that they seemed to enjoy them a lot and interact well. Then we were blessed to go to a performance of Peter and the Wolf which the kids all thoroughly enjoyed although Joshua fell asleep in the middle of it. Sitting there between Angela and Olesyas with his head lolling back, it was hard not to be touched as each of them gently covered him with their coats and made a pillow for him out of one of the sleeves.
At dinner yesterday night, Angela was eagerly eating salsa...with a spoon...straight up...when she rubbed her eye and must have rubbed some salsa into it. She was really in a lot of pain with it at first, so we got it washed out the best we could and put some Murine in her eye to try and calm the pain. She spent the rest of the evening on the couch with me hovering over her like a mother hen. Dominick asked at one point "Is she milking the cow over there?" meaning was she making a bigger deal over this than it deserved. Yes, she was...and that was exactly what I wanted to see! She was allowing me to mother her, to care for her, and for once she didn't push me away. She was not necessarily showing in any way that it meant anything to her, but reading between the lines and seeing how long she carried it out well past the time most would have, I think we saw some great stuff going on as she let me nurture her to some degree.
Our first day of "school" had a somewhat inauspicious beginning. 2 minutes from arriving at school Angela vomited all over the back seat and on the floor. Poor thing was so quiet I didn't know what had happened until the kids all told me, and there she was, tears streaming and feeling lousy. I made sure she was OK and then went into the school to check on the boys starting back in class while Angela, Olesya and Matthew remained in the car. 5 minutes later I was back out and we were on our way home. Matthew ran to grab her blanket and pillow off her bed while I got her settled down in our living room and made a fire in the woodstove. It was warm and inviting there with the snow falling in large, wet and heavy flakes outside the window, and she was lovingly covered by her brother and slept about 3 hours before getting up feeling much better.
Both girls have quickly taken to their blankets made by my sister-in-law's mother. She has made one for each of our children, and I have been so surprised and touched to see the girls start their day wrapped in love in them each morning. I guess you never outgrow your need for a favorite blankie!
Angela joined us later but missed out on the morning of school work we had for Olesya. I learned Olesya doesn't know all the letters nor their order but does know many of them and most of the lower case as well. As expected, she mixes up a few that look the same in Russian but have different sounds. I also discovered that she does not know her basic addition math facts well at all, as it took her 15 minutes to do 100 math problems which Angela and Matthew blazed through in 3 or 4 minutes each. Angela is definitely much further ahead than Olesya is, and actually appears to be close to grade level on basic math functions. Angela was about a minute to a minute and a half slower than Matthew on a couple of things, and on multiplication basic math facts they finished at the exact same time. Olesya worked hard with me this morning and we had a lot of fun with it as well, using flash cards and letter tiles with a worksheet or two thrown in for good measure
We all took a break and made brownies thus afternoon, and I got the sense that the girls are feeling pretty good about being home and not yet going to school. They saw how much fun it can be to learn in a smaller group, and they both enjoy Matthew a great deal and we had no signs that they are disturbed with being home. Olesya gathered up her new book bag give to us at our Family Celebration, and sharpened pencils and got erasers ready so she could begin school and seemed quite content. Whether that sticks or not remains to be seen but we will see how it goes. She is an eager learner, so no matter what that makes it much easier. Angela enjoyed the challenge of racing Matthew to see who finished first.
They all got a kick out of cooking together and made a big mess but cleaned it all up themselves. In this I am very grateful, the girls are just like the boys in their lack of attitude about working around the house. They offer without being asked, they are willing to do anything, and they are not complainers at all.
We ended the day with Angela once again sick to her stomach and going to bed at 8:00 PM. Poor thing, she was really feeling lousy and I hope she is better tomorrow.
Some of the odd things going on around here or the observations we have made are:
1) Ketchup sandwiches, ketchup on EVERYTHING. Angela covers every item in ketchup!!!
2) Fruit is devoured as if there will never be anymore. We have been through at least 15 pounds of fruit in 1 full week, no joking.
3) We have broken the pattern of washing our underwear out in the shower!!! Yea!!
4) They have surprised us with their willingness to try new foods...hot sauce, salsa, soy sauce...interestingly some things are disliked that are a surprise...brownies were not a hit, roasted potatoes were very much disliked by Olesya who loves them in other forms.
5) They both seem to enjoy being in the kitchen very much, and want to cut, stir, chop or pour anything!
6) English words are coming slowly, but they are coming. Angela has taken to using the word "Maybe" the apst couple of days and is using it appropriately. Olesya is stringing words together trying to make sentences with the super limited vocabulary she has. I am proud of them for trying so hard and it will be interesting to see where they are in a couple of months. Both are obviously quite bright and will likely do very well.
7) They are surprisingly conversing with each other very little in Russian. Snippets of conversation here or there but nothing long.
8) We are still all in "Potty Word" humor world, with everyone still laughing over gas in it's many forms, over English and Russian words for toileting activities, etc. What the heck, whatever works, right?
9) Angela prefers me to play with at foosball, basketball and other games. She may be uncomfortable with closeness in many ways, but she IS accepting me gradually.
10)"Ya nee panimayou" has disappeared from Angela's vocabulary except when perfectly appropriate. I am grateful as it means she is engaging more and I am glad I took a stand on that one. It might return, but at least I know that being firm can work well with her. But then, she told us that when she was still in Kazakhstan. Glad I am not a push over, even if at moments I admit I am a bit intimidated in parenting her...she is not a younger child, she is very tall, and very teenager-esque at moments.
11) Ice cubes are a total novelty. They had never had ice in their drinks before and actually acted as if they had never seen an ice cube before! Neither one knew what it was and had to check it out the first time...very cute.
<>12) Wii is working well, we are limiting time but they are all having fun together with it. It came with only one remote and we had to buy another so they could play games with 2 players. The boys didn't bat an eye at us getting a pink one!
13) You don't know how to use a knife and a fork to cut a waffle well if you've never had the kind of food that needed cutting on your plate before.
14) The boys and girls all enjoy each other so much! Watching them this afternoon together it was even more obvious just what a perfect fit we all are for each other...at various times they all rotate playing with each other. No one is left out, no one is treated badly, everyone shares. Yes, we are super duper lucky to have the kids we have. And no, I am not making this up to make them "sound good", they are all just gentle, decent little souls whom we are blessed to share this life with.
15) Both girls have already taught themselves how to ride bikes! I couldn't believe it but the second day they tried, both were doing it fairly confidently. We don't yet have the money to get them bikes of their own and with winter and snow it can be put off, but they are riding the boys bikes and were enjoying it so much before this last snow! Angela is saving for one, as I shared in an earlier post. We were so surprised at how easily and quickly they learned...tentative the first day and ripping down the street the second!! So cool to hear them say "Mama...Papa...look!" as they show off their newly acquired skill!!!>
16) Olesya is a love bunny, and is thrilled to be part of a family. Very snuggly, very caretaking, very warm and wants to be loved. It is wonderful to watch her blossom.
17) Angela wants to be loved desperately and wants acceptance so badly. She is getting it unconditionally and slowly, very gradually I am seeing her try to figure out if it is really safe to care. One day I pray she will let go of the anger, be able to fully enter relationships and feel safe and cofident....and I'll admit it, one day I hope we reach a deep level of mother-daughter intimacy. I realize that may not happen and won't be crushed, but I will dare to dream.
I am drifting off to sleep here and need to get the light turned out. In the midst of it all, we have Kenny's next surgery scheduled for June after school is out, and Joshua we are concerned about because we are seeing some sort of classic obsessive-compulsive behaviors and need to address that as we can gently do so.
I was thinking today though that for all the myriad issues we deal with on a daily basis, for all the worries for the future for each of the kids, for all the moments of doubt about our ability to handle it all...by and large we are the happiest family I know! On paper we look like a screwed up mess, but when one looks beyond that, we are a group of Joyful LaJoy's. It isn't easy, it was never meant to be. But within all of it is a sort of special connection, resilience and compassion that is rare. I shake my head sometimes in amazement at this group I have the honor of living within.
And if I am being totally open and honest, there are many, many times I feel quite undeserving of almost every single thing in my life from my husband to my children to my friends. However, I am very, very grateful.
As I turned from the kitchen counter today, blood dripping from my finger that was whacked at with a very large knife as I chopped potatoes, Matthew came running with peroxide in one hand, a box of bandaids in another and instructions to "Put pressure on it, Mommy!". He then proceeded to doctor me up with love and fumbling skill. Olesya hovered nearby, throwing out an "ouch" here and there for good measure. Angela sat passively on the couch, watching it all unfold, and I wondered what she thought. Not a word of comfort was issued to me. Did she simply not know how? Does she not care? What IS going on inside her head these days? How I wish I knew, for knowing even if not expressed would help a lot. Will I always just be "that lady" or will she one day firmly take me on as Olesya has as "Mama" in more than name only? I certainly hope and pray she does, for the sake of both of us. What we will miss out on if she can't do it!!
I know I probably missed a thing or two here, and by now I imagine many of you are growing bored anyway as thing settle in and the excitment of travel gives way to ordinary day to day life. I actually hope that with each passing day it grows more and more tiresome for you, that we settle in so well and firmly that there is nothing going on to draw you on to read more, for that would mean we have fully made it as a family.
Only time will tell but in the meantime, just as the kids are wrapped in blankies made especially for them, we all remain wrapped in a love greater than ourselves...the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases...I remind myself daily of that as each hour brings subtle slights mixed with confusing connection.
Steadfast and true, that's what Mom's do.
And I too am wrapped in love from others, thank you all for that. We'll eventually make it and look back at this time of transition with fond laughter, remembering just how hard it was, and yet how lovely it was all at the same time.
Here's a couple of photos of our first day of school together. The 3 R's + brownies. Now why didn't I think of that sooner???