Monday, March 08, 2010

Tender Times

WARNING: This is a very long post, complete with pictures. I can not update every day, so I save up a few things or give you a quick hit when I can. If you are bored, sorry!

As the flu flows through the house, as we deal yet again with another episode of stomach issues and cleaning up afterwards, there are some sweet moments occuring between the messes. They are continuing signs of growing closeness, of strangers blending into family. It takes awhile, it has to ferment a bit, but eventually you end up with something almost magical.

Angela's guard is slowly coming down, she is relaxing more and more. There are still periods of discomfort and uncertainty, but generally there is a gradual willingness to be more engaged and less pulling away. Perhaps it is the time of year, but it is as if we are watching a crocus slowly reveal it's beautiful blossom as it peeks out from the early spring snow.

It is as if she has agreed to let go of a little more control, and her revelation of last week about her past seemed to have been a wall breaking down a bit. Later that afternoon, after I had complimented her on how she had braided her hair, she ran to the bedroom and got her hairbrush, sat Olesya down, and proceeded to gently show me how to braid it. It was a big moment, it was her expressing without words that she trusted me with Olesya's care. Whether I can ever braid hair well or not really isn't the issue. The symbolism was quite clear to both of us, and while Olesya's exuberant hugs and warmth are wonderful, there is also something equally wonderful in this unspoken communication that Angela and I both share. It is unusual, and I think we both understand each other well and respect one another very much.

I have tried to be very intentional about all of this, not always succeeding but doing my best. There are many things that others would approach differently. They might step in and immediately assume control, letting both children know who was "boss". They might step completely back, fearful of tipping the apple cart and allow Angela to continue to parent Olesya as she does a fine job and it would be easier. They might want to make immediate changes so that they could "fix" things they didn't like or correct issues.

We have elected to be more subtle about it all. We might find in the long run we are wrong, but we are doing what we feel is best with these particular children. Our methods might prove the be the "right" ones, or we might find we are big fat failures. But with these kids, we decided it is very important to show Angela the respect she deserves, and in fact I have done it for years in letters as I complimented her for taking such good care of Olesya and being such a good big sister. I want to earn Angela's respect and trust before trying to fully "take her place", for she needs to feel that they both are safe so can let go of that control without feeling she is losing more than she is gaining. I also personally feel it would be belittling and disrepectful to Angela to cast her aside as if she hadn't been a wonderful nurturing caretaker for her sister all these years. That would in some ways be more about me and my own insecurities than about wanting the girls to have healthy roles within the family, and for Angela to have the chance to be a child herself.

Both of the girls have huge breakouts on their foreheads, and we are not sure if it is from nerves, from having oily skin or hari for so long, from diet or what. I got them a mild facial cleanser a couple of weeks ago, but it doesn't seem to be doing the trick. We are going to let it go for now, as they don't need us picking them apart as if they are not fully beautiful to us just the way they are. In time we will address it, but they need not feel as if they are somehow lacking because of it. We will work behind the scenes on diet and see if as they destress it calms down.

They both are at the training bra stage, and soon we need to go bra shopping...but not just yet. So many changes already, and I want them to feel more comfortable with me before we go do something so intimate which has the potential to be hugely embarassing. I'd rather we are close enough to make it an event that is special and makes them feel as if they are entering womanhood, not something they die inside over as I hand bras in and ask to check how they fit. So others may not understand and judge us for it, saying quietly to themselves "Is she that lame of a mother for girls? Doesn't she know they should be in a bra?"...but another month or two won't make that much of a difference especially since they are not going to school.

I guess that for us, it is all about respect and awareness of what it might feel like to feel like a fish out of water already with a new culture, language, living situation, and family. We don't need to add undue pressure over things that can be held off awhile.

My mom reminded me I have focused more on the blog on homeschooling issues that I have personality and transition issues. Sorry about that! As I explained to her, I think it is due to two, homeschooling them is daunting and I am new to the whole thing so it is what is on my mind more than anything at this particular moment. Then there is the fact that despite what is below the surface that will obviously be coming up in many ways, things are going beautifully. I don't think we could ask for it to be going any better!! That doesn't mean it hasn't been a challenge on many levels, and that doesn't mean things are perfect...they never will be!! Hahaha!

BUT...but...but...we haven't had a single meltdown other than the night on the plane coming home which was totally understandable due to exhaustion. We have had not a single moment of true disrespect...dismissiveness as a protective mechanism, yes, but true disrespect? No. The girls have shown remarkable grace, patience and kindness as we all go through this difficult transition time. I credit THEM with this going so well, there are moments they could totally flip out on us, and yet they smile, they say "It's OK" which comes out sounding like "Eeeet's HoKay!" and we move on. Incredibly flexible, their ability to go with the flow has been so helpful.

The fact is folks, we feel we once again totally scored in the Adoption Department!! How could God have blessed us 5 times over??? These girls are hard not to fall in love with, and we have all fallen hard.

Here are some answers to unasked questions, but ones that have been asked by a few friends in "real life":

1) How are the kids all getting along? Anyone getting their nose pushed out of shape?

No...and if you don't believe me, there isn't much I can say to make you believe otherwise. I know it IS hard to believe, but it is honestly as if they have all been siblings forever. And day by day as language is growing and comfort level is gained it is even more obvious. There is no real pairing up, it is all dependent upon who is available or willing at the moment they hang out, ride bikes together, etc.

2) Does Matthew feel like his role is taken? Are he and Angela having any issues?

Surprisingly, no, and we were a little concerned but not horribly so going into this. Once again we counted on Matthew's maturity and once again he has done a fabulous job. I had hoped against hope that Angela and he would click together, as Matthew often was left out by sheer virtue of maturity when Kenny and Joshua were playing. Thankfully our prayers were answered and he and Angela really love each other and enjoy each other a lot. As time has passed, Angela is actually showing quite a lot of respect for Matthew, she admires him a lot and is impressed with his study and work ethics. She is much the same, and the admiration is mutual. But they giggle and laugh together more than I have seen him giggle in a very long time.

3) How are they doing with learning English?

Quite well actually. Their receptive language is more advanced than their expressive language, as one would expect. Olesya is fearless and uses what English she has unself-consciously while Angela is a bit more hesitant but daily grows in confidence in trying new words as she sees no one laughs at her. Olesya is almost bursting at moments with the effort to explain something to us! They have thus far learned maybe 100-150 words, understand more than that, and actually our communication is pretty in depth considering what we aren't able to talk about.

4) Will they go to public school next year?

The plan is to keep them at home permanently, as with Matthew. As long as it is possible, we hope to homeschool through high school. They are not wanting to go to public school and are quite intimidated by what they have seen when picking up the boys, as it is all just so BIG and LOUD and DIFFERENT, and I think they are overwhelmed by it. We will look at participating in sports, etc. through public schools though.

5) Do they miss their friends?

Of course, and we are encouraging them to write and we already send off a package as well as photos. Their life didn't begin with us, and their friends are really more like brothers and sisters after many years together. We respect and appreciate that, and will hopefully maintain contact for years to come.

6) Have they made any new friends here?

Not yet really, although they have been around other girls their age here and there. It takes time, and frankly we are not going to encourage too much outside the family for the next several months with a few exceptions. They are very vulnerable, are at a critical age, and need to turn first to their family before turning outside the family. I know you may disagree with us on that, and that is your right. They have met a nice girl through homeschooling who is 12 and is quite interested in befriending them, even making them bracelets and cupcakes for class today, as she is the daughter of their horse/science teacher. We have an older trusted friend of 15 who has offered to connect with them, has already met them and will be spending next Saturday with them. Another friend and fellow blog reader brought over her young friend who is about their age and they might hook up again sometime in the future. But they have their brothers whom they really enjoy, they have each other, and in time will find a few appropriate and understanding friends.

7) What is Olesya really like?

I have written more about Angela because more dramatic interactions occur with her, but Olesya is a total doll...a Munchie Monster who can't stop eating!!! She has a strong personality, and Angela revealed that the joy and dancing around we are seeing is a totally new Olesya to her, that she never acted that way at the "internat", as they refer to the Boarding School. She told Dominick that last night, so it seems Olesya is as happy as can be with us and it is showing as it sounds as if she has changed dramatically. She is WONDERFUL with little children, and our special friends have a daughter who is approaching 2 years old and Olesya has proven to be so attentive and sweet with her.

She is active yet will stop earlier and say "I'm tired!" more quickly. She has a shorter attention span and reminds me more of Kenny when he first came home, having to touch and explore everything. She was insitutionalized at a younger age and I think her behavior reflects it, but she is far more mature than Kenny was when he came home.

She is artsy craftsy, she is more girlie yet not really super girlie, she is boisterous, she is joyous. She is spontaneous and delightful. Tonight I got my first "just because" kiss, and it was sweet. She gives terrific, warm, full bodied, hang on for an extra moment hugs. She shows great compassion. Her mind is sharp but wanders more easily than the other kids, but brings it back around when corrected. They are both extremely thoughtful and step in to help around the house with many, many things unexpectedly and without being asked. She is a total ham bone. Her smile lights up her whole face, she is really relaxed with all of us and she has grown far more comfortable with Dominick.

8) What is Angela really like?

Quiet much of the time, but once you get her going she is quite conversational in Russian and tries to be in English when she has not shut down. I think because she is older, she tends to get exhausted more easily with trying to follow the language and she will retreat to her bedroom often at the end of the day for a quiet time to herself reading books in Russian our friends sent for them. She is a deep thinker, highly intelligent, perceptive and a good judge of people. She has the cutest laugh...and the highest girlie squeal I have ever heard!! Hahaha! She is a hard working student, and shows her love not so much with hugs but with thoughtful gestures. She shows us in quiet ways...when I have my lunch in the microwave and have my back turned, she will take it out and set it at the table for me with a spoon or fork. After our conversation the other day, she later went outside unasked and swept the patio. She will never allow me to carry anything if she has a free hand. She gently corrects Olesya in Russian when she senses I am looking for a way to express something to her but can't find the words.

Both have wicked senses of humor and totally keep Dominick on his toes, and that takes some doing!! They laugh a lot. Angela IS athletic and really enjoys the outdoors if it is only riding a bike. Olesya's athletic prowess may have been overlooked a bit but she too is quite coordinated and as she grows could prove to be as successful in sports as Angela, but probably won't be interested. Both adore Joshua, both have compassion for Kenny...both love schooling with Matthew.

Angela is a moment allowing closeness and another pulling back. But each moment of closeness is becoming more and more intimate, and it is very, very sweet and tear inducing to witness. Angela is wise, and old beyond her years, and yet yearns to be a child and feel freer. We are getting there...

9) Does it feel like living with strangers?

At moments yes, but very few after only 3 weeks home which I think is stunningly remarkable. They have strived to please use, have quickly learned the ropes in many areas, they seem to feel safe and secure and have relaxed a tremendous amount in the past 7 days or so. I think we have been very blessed to have settled in together so easily. I also thank God we made the right choice in staying rather than making 2 trips as originally planned. It may not have been my preference in terms of feeling ready for them to arrive, but it was absolutely the best decision we made and I think we are reaping the rewards now.

10) How is it being a mom to 5?

As wonderful as being the mom of 3...with more laundry and dishes. There are, of course, other stressors involved but they "fit" so well with us that it hasn't been nearly as bad as I actually anticipated. I AM far more tired at the end of the day, I have yet to really fully catch up on my rest from the trip, and I am not going to lie about it being simple. But many people have families far larger that ours, we are not all that unusual, and it just takes being more organized and not "sleeping on the job". I don't resent it, I relish it at moments. I do get tired of running out of food, of washing clothes, of doing so many dishes, but some of that is due in large part to us homeschooling and having 4 people now at home all day long...there is more activity and traipsing through the house going on. We are living in our home more than we ever have, and that is actually quite nice. We worked our way into 5 gradually, and we often have friends over, so it isn't too big of a shock.

11) What do they think of America?

The past few days there have been many comments that have been praising of America versus Kazakhstan. I have actually tried to downplay that and when we have more language I will be able to point out the many terrific things about Kazakhstan that they didn't get to experience due to their life circumstances. America is better in some ways, but it isn't paradise and it isn't perfect. It is important to us that they keep a strong sense of pride in where they come from, for it is well deserved.

12) Are you done adopting?

Oh yea, totally, utterly done. Of course if some odd thing happened and God called us, we would never decline. But interestingly I finally feel as if our family is complete, and it is such a a burden has been lifted. I hadn't honestly realized how heavy hearted I was at times feeling as if I had children who were alone, unloved, unfed and uncared for...and not just with the girls. I felt it each time after we adopted. It is our sense now that we are done and I don't have any niggling feelings at all. The thought of never compiling another dossier is enough to make me literally dance a jig!

If you have other questions, feel free to email or comment and I will respond to them.

We are seeing the girls slowly become "little" girls at moments, they are learning how to play even if it is taking some urging. We received a late Christmas present Friday night of a couple of games for the Wii. One of the games was a dancing game. Angela was in bed feeling under the weather and Olesya was unwilling to play it. Culturally kids are far different in Kazakhstan than America, the entire culture is very buttoned up in many respects. It is taking a little work to get them to let go, let alone actually teach them how to play. It was interesting to me that our Skype buddies who translate for us commented a short while ago that Kenny's demeanor now is all American, there are no Kyrgyz mannerisms left. I wonder if we will one day feel the same about the girls. For us, we don't neccessarily see it as Russian or Kazakh behavior but orphanage behavior declining as family behavior kicks in and the ability to play, think and experience life enters the picture.

Slowly though, the lure of the Wii has won out. I am SO GLAD to see that for us, the Wii has added to our family fun rather than served to isolate us all or glue us to a screen. It is as different as I had hoped it would be, and is quite fun for the family to gather round and play together. After great encouragement and both Mama and Papa playing...and seeing the boys wiggle their hinies like girls...Angela and Olesya finally both got up the courage to play. It took 2 days though. This afternoon they were in there playing for an hour with Matthew and Joshua, and far less self-conscious about it as they hooted and hollared. It was terrific to see them really playing and enjoying themselves, letting loose for awhile. I also think it is pretty darned funny that the boys are enjoying the dancing game more than just about any other they have played, and it is praticularly funny with a pink remote in their hand. They could care less!

I am so very grateful they are at home right now, that they are not being influenced by "mature before their time" pre-teens. It would hinder their ability to step back a few paces which they truly need to do. When did you last see a 10 or 11 year old play behind the wheel of a car making "vroom vroom" noises? When did you see a kid this age get a total kick out of wiggling jello? Today Olesya pulled every single game out of our newly established game closet so she could look at them and play with all the pieces. In our new science class we made "Ooblick" out of corn starch and water, and the sheer delight and astonishment was worth a million bucks as they sat there for 45 minutes or so just rolling it in their hands, letting it liquify again, rolling it, ooohing and aaaahing over it. The tactile stuff has been so lacking for them. I think I need to get some starch and finger paints!! Thankfully having boys around who also don't think they are "too cool for school" helps tremendously as well.

++++And as I write this I was interrupted as the kids were settling into bed and Olesya called out to me. I went in, and she said "Mama...listen Angela"...and she was singing in a sing songy voice "I love you very much and I am very happy...I love you very much and I am very happy...". Tell me this isn't worth the last 5 years of heartache. She may not be able to show it physically, she may not have the ability to look us in the eye and say it yet, but she feels it just as we do.++++

There are still very uncomfortable moments watching them as they wander around trying to figure out what to do with themselves. There is a lot of improvement but it literally takes a lot for me not to jump in and be Entertainment Mom and set a bad precedent, plus deny them the opportunity to learn to engage themselves, to explore, to discover what they enjoy.

They had a blast looking at a few of our family albums, photos of Dominick and I as kids in high school prom attire, pictures of Matt in his first year home, our history which they are now a part of is intriguing to them.

But by far the loudest laughter came from learning body parts using Matthew as their model. Tolerant to the end, he even giggled when they labeled his bottom.

So in between the frustrations and anxiety, somewhere in the middle of the newness and the fear of intimacy, there are tender times that stand out, there is growth and nurturing and healing happening here.

I was thinking today how very different our story could have ended, how very close we were to flying home as a family of 5 rather than our long dreamed of family of 7. We are all realizing how fortunate we are that we all took a chance on love. What we would have missed out on!!! What if Angela and Olesya had not reached out for us after leaving? What if we had been unable to walk through the fear of what we had experienced the week before?

What if God had not been working overtime through it all??

I don't really want to contemplate it as I hear Angela still humming in there and Olesya whispering her to "Tee Ha" quiet. Her little love ditty will ring in my ears for a long time to come.


4texans said...

Great update and I love the pictures! It warms my heart to read how well the girls (and boys) are adjusting. When Nicholas came home, he had a rash on his arms and some on his face. I ended up using aveeno products (oatmeal bath, lotion, etc.) and used 'free' dryer sheets and detergent, it eventually went away. He still gets a rash around his mouth sometimes when he is chewing on his finger.

Gavin said...

Psst. Don't forget to change Oleysa's age to ten ;)

Anonymous said...

What a blessing God brought these personalities into your family. If the girls were testing you more and trying to remain isolated or team up against you, you might have needed to challenge those attitudes. But because they are quite obedient, sweet, and gentle, you've been able to do ease into so many things. That is just such a blessing for all of you. It makes me so happy for them, that amidst all the changes they are dealing with, you are able to transition them so "gently". Your decision to homeschool the girls sounds like just the thing they need for bonding, healing, comfort. Even though we did it differently, I can see that your girls are thriving under your style. Looking back, if I'd have been braver, I know homeschooling would have been a good option for a time for our girls. In spite of it though, there were also good things that came out of sending them to public school with our other kids. I'm sure having Matthew home makes it all very "normal" for the girls. The day our other kids went off to school, leaving our daughter (now 15) home alone with us was a very sad, emotional day for her. And though we very soon sent her to public school, she dug right in and worked hard and is doing well. Our newest daughter would benefit highly from one on one time with academics. Again, if I were more brave and thought she would work for me, I think the best would be to give her more support at home. And yet, God is also doing some great things in their lives being at school. We just spend plenty of time overseeing the homework.

Our kids have some skin issues, being darker skinned, which is not your case. One daughter seems to break out in bumps, rather than acne from certain soaps, deoderants, etc. You've probably already thought of that, and it may just be acne from the changes you have mentioned. The fact that they're biological sisters means they might have some similar "allergies" or just skin type. Hope that's a "gentle" solution, too, with little effort or embarrassment. You are doing so many things so well. And God did many huge things perfect in your family!
Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

And what an amazing journal you are creating for them to read one day of all the love and purposeful living you did, as you welcomed them into your family and loved them so deeply.

I never blogged, but I have reams of paper filled with letters written to our kids while we waited for them to come home, my feelings, fears, frustrations during the process, and those anticdotes of their early days home.

Hope you have a video camera and can tape the girls' Russian and early interactions. You will all be amazed as you look back. It's neat to have our kids speaking Spanish on tape. And I can't believe how young they were or looked! I know you are great at taking pictures! I love seeing your kids enjoying activities and life together. I truly believe that older kids do well in larger families, as they can slip into the numbers without so much "notice" and focus on them.

Nancy still in the Midwest

Stephanie and Gary said...

What a beautiful post about the triumphs of the human spirit, love and family. You continue to inspire me in the ways you know how to be a mom. I found myself calling my family Team Karp this weekend and happily thought of you! ;-)
Steph Karp

Anonymous said...

Don't know if you've thought of this - could you give both girls a journal that can be locked that they can write down what they are thinking now, and keep it private? You mentioned Olesya is bursting to get stuff out but can't communicate. If she could communicate her thoughts to a journal, at least they won't be lost. And they might be interested in looking back years from now on who they were when they first joined your family.

Anonymous said...

You pack into a day and a week experience after opportunity. On the highways and byways, in home, at church (when all are healthy). I hear when I read your lingering fatigue, but you have hit the ground running and are already moving into a rhythmn that sings to my heart.

Thank you again for letting us be silent participants in your life.


Anonymous said...

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

After years of waiting, frustration, sorrow, waiting, paperwork, hoping, waiting.... Love wins.

He is faithful and true.

Peggy in Virginia

Paige said...

Wonderful update and so happy to hear things are going well!

Lisa in CO, USA said...

It is truly amazing and wonderful to see how well it is going for your family. I am so happy for you! For all that they have been through, it is obviously to me that the hand of God is at work.

Carol said...

Thank you for the detailed update. I am amazed at all the progress the girls are making... and by how well everyone is doing together. There is so much love in the LaJoy household... very heartwarming. And I must say... you are doing a rockin' job as a momma, Cindy!

Ohiomom2121 said...

Dear Cindy,
Wow again, what tremendous progress everyone has shown! The only suggestion I might make is that most adolescents really agonize over pimples, so you might want to ask the Dr. if there are any checkups ahead whether there is medicine he/she might recommend. Today, there is almost never a need for a child to suffer embarrassment over skin. I don't know if you can convey your lack of caring about it to them given such limited language skills, and might want to use a translator to let them know that if THEY want to set an appt w/a Dr. about it you would be willing and medicine would be cheap to get for it (actually they are horrendously expensive although generics are available and covered by insurance!) but think there is no need as they are beautiful and it might go away on its own. They might be wishing to get rid of the bumps but have no idea that help is available. In our case, the meds were usually $3, but once when we were at a non-network pharmacy we learned the true cost was like $95. We quickly went back to the network! Also, I looked carefully at the pics and I agree it does not look like a major deal, although I know even the most beautiful kids find themselves to be "ugly" and that's why I am sensitive to wanting them to know you support them if they are interested in the issue. However, you know best about your relationship and if you think you might have trouble communicating your thoughts w/o hurting their feelings, this is certainly not the time to do that! All in all, though, what a fabulous update. Yeah! It seems to be going better than anyone could dream. Congrats! Sherry

Carol M said...

What a wonderful post! If you would have had more to write, I would have happily kept reading! :) (In other words, it wasn't too long at all!)

Tammy said...

Oh Cindy, every time I read your updates I end up getting all emotional. Angela's song is beautiful and I can hear the joy all the way over here. I know it's still exhausting...but hearing their joy will continue to give you the lift you need! Keep up the great work!

Lisa said...

It brings me so much joy to read your blog, Cindi! GOD BLESS YOU, LaJoy Family of 7!!! Wow. The Lord is working in your lives, and I praise Him for that! What an amazing blessing. So, so happy for you!

Melissa said...

Hi - here's some advice on the bra thing. If you can visit a high end department store like Bloomingdales, or an independent bra shop(not Victoria Secret), they will have a fitter available. This person will be a total pro and will be measure the girls for their correct size. You'll pay more for the bra, but it will be worth it. Combine it with something like manicures, or ladies brunch, and you have a special Girls Day Out.

Anonymous said...

Been there done that. Everything you are going through is a typical post adoption adjustment. You are juggling so much and are doing an awesome job. Cyber hugs for you!!!