Friday, March 12, 2010

Brain Fry

Where do I start tonight? It is late, my brain is a little fried (who am I kidding...totally burnt to a crisp is more like it! Hahaha!) and I am struggling to communicate in any way at all that makes sense.

Thank you to all who reached out to me in my muck and mire of the other day. There are so many dimensions to what is going on right now, so many layers that I am trying to sort through, and often it is scary and overwhelming. I know you are all right and I need to make sure I make time for myself, but in some ways at this point in time that is easier said than done. However, we are trying...and my amazing Team Mate and love of my life is stepping up to the plate in ways I never expected showing great understanding of how very taxing my job is right now. Yesterday Dominick came home at 7:30 AM after getting to work at 3:00 AM to go to work, and told me he was taking the day off so I could finish my ministry class homework and have a break from the kids. He was also going to take care of some last minute technology issues here at the LaJoy Lifeschool campus such as getting all the various used laptops given to us hooked up to the special deal laser printer we just purchased from Office Depot (anyone needing one? They have a bottom of the line HP one that is only $69 after an in store rebate! Will save a ton on ink cartridges!).

To have a husband who sees what I am doing as not only valuable but knows I simply can not stay in the game at the level I need to without encouragement and regular help in the ways he can offer it makes all the difference in the world. Want to know how we do it all? That is how...none of us are in it alone, we are all together and when one is flagging, another steps up...even at the kid level. What is going on around here is a crash course at the PhD level in "Parenting 501 - Trauma and Institutionalization and the Effects on the Pre-Adolescent Heart". Believe me, it is intense, it is at times miraculous, and it is also very, very hard to remain on an even keel yourself when all around you the seas are stormy.

If you are tired of crying, there is nothing to do but laugh!

As I tried to explain tonight to a dear, dear friend and seasoned pro, so much of what is going on is non-verbal, not due to the language issues but because there are emotions that can not be expressed by 10 and 11 year old girls who have never had the opportunity and blessing of having someone care what they are feeling and help them sort it out. There are risks being taken, emotional steps forward and tugs backward that are visible in very subtle ways, and it is exhausting when I can not, nor should I, turn off my Mommy Radar. Don't get me wrong, there are moments when I would give just about anything to be one of the Oblivious Ones, those who don't pick up on non-verbal cues, those who don't agonize over every nuance and perceived signal. MAN I wish I could turn it off!!! And yet I realize that is exactly what I need to be turned on to right now, it is my job.

Thankfully, unlike my daughters up until now, I do have people who help me sort it all out. You are keeping me sane, you are helping me drop it all down a notch when at moments I can see nothing but my failures at a time when there are plenty of them to focus on. You are saying to me "We love you, hang in there...reach out and I am here." You are picking up the phone and calling me, sharing in the laughter and the tears as I try not to ride the roller coaster but attempt to be the one controlling the speed in the control booth.

It is not that I don't want to reach out more, it is not that anyone has failed me as my nearest and dearest has thought. It is that I don't even know how to ask for help or what help I need right now. Does that make sense? It is so much effort to make it through each day and be attentive and focused, that when it comes to my own needs, I feel so drained it seems easier to just keep moving rather than stop, analyze it, pick up the phone and call, schedule just seems so hard. That probably sounds so stupid to some of you who are saying "Go ahead, complain and then you can't even pick up the phone to call someone????. But I think those who have walked in our shoes understand without further explanation. Dominick told me after working with the girls on some homeschool stuff the other day "Man, that hour and a half wiped me out! How do you do this?". I am back to the toddler stage times two at moments, with someone standing at the bathroom door saying "Mama...mama...look!" and being begged to ride bikes 8 or 10 times a day. Sure I could and DO say no many times, but the fact is what we are seeing is huge growth and now is not the time for me to let up, but to encourage that growth. They are "getting it" that someone actually cares to see their latest drawing or watch them play a game!!! They want to be filled up in ways they have never been filled up before, and for real healing to take place, that is exactly what needs to happen! It is like watching an awakening in slow motion, and knowing you can't take your eye of the video camera or you will miss the most important part.

I am being tested as the mom of toddlers as well, and in many ways emotionally we ARE dealing with toddlers who are working hard at understanding this brand new world they find themselves a part where love is expressed freely and often, where accomplishments are applauded, where we put the needs of the family first and the needs of the individual second. It is also a world where Mama means what she says, and that is final. Before Dominick began working with the girls yesterday on school stuff, I took the first couple of hours and we had one of those moments which then led to me getting the cold shoulder the remainder of the day. Going from a rigidly structured school environment to the unknown and seemingly overly relaxed world of homeschooling is a monster change. It also can feel more like play than school, as we go back to some basics or work in more creative ways. I was getting some lax attitude yesterday and I stopped, put things down on the table before me and looked them both in the eye saying "Did you act like this at school at the internat? Would you be allowed to not pay attention? This is still school even if it is at home, and you WILL pay attention and work hard.". Yes, I know they don't speak English, but it is surprising how much can be inferred and from the hung heads and the sudden straightening up in the chairs, they both knew exactly what I was saying. Luckily, they really are good kids and although Angela was a little perturbed much of the rest of the day, she admitted she did not act like that at school and her behavior immediately changed, along with Olesya's.

But it is hard to spend the rest of the day being in your kid's Nasty List. Cold shoulders do NOT feel good. Going to bed without saying goodnight is not a great way to end the day. Seeing the warmth with Dominick and yet being on the receiving end of the conflicting emotions running through Angela is at times both compassion inducing and tear inflicting.

And yet progress is made every single day. Today was a mostly good day with less rejection and yet a heartbreaking one in the middle of the day. It was dentist day with all 5 in for free screenings. Much to our dismay it was NOT a good visit, not due to the kids but due to the findings. 14 cavities between all 5, and one crown needed. 8 of the cavities were between Angela and Olesya and the winner of the gold crown goes to Angela. Can you say OUCH???? Not sure yet how we are going to handle all that but it is not the girls' fault. A couple of the boys are minor ones, almost preventative fillings.

Sadly though, as Angela was in the chair she cried out in pain over one of them that was examined, and I jumped up and grabbed her hand as she had expressed 3 or 4 times fear on the way over about going to the dentist. Her rejection this time was again subtle...she refused to hold my hand, laying there squirming and breathing fast as fear and pain crept in and yet being unable to literally grab hold of the support being offered. It broke my heart that hers had been so hardened and that she had long ago learned that leaning on someone would lead to disappointment. I tried not to let it hurt my feelings, but it is hard...especially when she then had to sit back down afterwards on the bench seat next to me and sat so far on the edge of it that she almost fell off, just to get as far from me as possible. How hard it must be for her, to feel this much fear of even the smallest intimacies!! How can I EVER help her break through this?

And yet this afternoon at the pool, she was trying to gather the courage to jump off the diving board and couldn't do it. Finally I went over to her trying to encourage here and she said "Me Baaack baack" which is my lame attempt to write out her sounding like a chicken. I then figured I'd throw myself to the lions once again, heart needed a little more stomping on for the day and I am a glutton for punishment...and I said "Next time mama swim, and save you" and pantomimed her jumping off the board and me there underneath to get her back to the side. I asked if she would try it then, and got a surprised grin in return and a hearty "Da!! Me Do Mama swim!". And the clickity clack of the roller coaster car could be heard again underneath my feet as we climbed another mountain.

Joshua loves the baby is warmer there!

How I love this shows a tiny piece of what our family life is really like 98% of the, carrying one another, unabashed nurturing and warmth.

The Elder Trio!

The Youngest LaJoys

Tonight, after staying out late for a long overdue visit, I got home and Olesya was almost asleep on the couch, the boys were up late for "Party Night", and I was saying good night and asking where Angela was. Olesya snuggled up under the blanket under my touch, grinned and said "Good Night Mama!!!!" with a sweet smile. Grabbing solid hugs from the boys I then ventured into the girl's bedroom where Angela had been in bed for over an hour. I quietly climbed up the ladder and she moved, kicking her blanket around and I gently covered her feet. She lifted her head slightly and then reached her hand out for me, wiggling her fingers for me to grab hold. There, in the dark with only the soft light of the nightlight glowing, we held hands, she gripped me oh-so-tightly, and I just stayed there for a bit, relishing this effort of hers masked by the darkness as she showed me she wants to reach out to me, but needs time to learn how to do it and to feel comfortable and safe to do so. I regretfully let go and whispered "Good night sweetheart, I love you." as I traipsed gently back down the ladder. "Night mama" she called back to me.

For now, it is enough. Maybe one day I can come to expect real hugs, maybe one day she won't shy away from me in the light of day. In the meantime, it is the quiet moments in the dark that will have to do, where she can hide from the intimacy of love that is growing and feeling so unfamiliar.

In the meantime, I still shake my head in wonderment at the relationship between the kids. What fun they have together!!! What laughter we hear! The pairings continue to change depending upon the activity...Angela and Kenny finally paired off yesterday afternoon for some bike riding, that was the last one I was waiting to see happen. Olesya and Matt go back and forth, and Joshie ends up with either one on a regular basis. It is a joy for a mother to watch her children loving each other.

In the midst of the emotional roller coaster ride, we have finally brought some order to the homeschooling chaos which was really disturbing me and making it hard for me to function well. I know, call me anal retentive, you'd be right. Here are some before and after photos, not that you'll find it all that interesting. We decided to go the cheapie route, after having thought about revamping our living room with a fill line of sturdy cabinets or built ins. It was just way too much and we couldn't justify spending that much money, so we ditched the non-functioning glass doors on our entertainment center, bought a bookshelf at Target, got some storage boxes for hanging file folders, and went to work creating space. The linen closet became "repurposed" (I hate that term but find it funny using it!) as a game and photo album closet. We organized under bathroom sinks and that became our towel storage area. We got rid of school supplies as part of our dining room adornment, and hopefully this system will work well for all the excess. The one thing we have not solved in terms of beautification is the library book situation. We are currently using two laundry baskets in our living room, one for the city library and one for the school library. The fact is, I guess I think books ARE beautiful and if they are out, they will be read. If they are stored neatly away somewhere to keep them from view, they are likely to go unread and forgotten. So, laundry baskets it is. And really, is there anything more lovely than a pile of books waiting for some "Curl Up" time??

So here is the big "reveal"...totally unexciting I are the 2 before photos, jam packed and disorgained entertainment center with doors I literally had to force open by pounding on them (What do you expect from poorly constructed pre-fab furniture??). Then there is the stunningly beautiful treasure trove of plastic drawers filled with pens and the shelves filled with everything from dry erase boards to magnetic letters...what is not showing is the kitchen counter piled high with books and binders:

And below is our new and improved storage space! Plenty of bins for schoolwork, books, reams of paper, toner cartridges and projects in mid-completion! Plus a real live bookshelf!! What more could a mom want??

And remember the kitchen mess? It all stores neatly in my fabulous new storage cart which now has labels courtetsy of the girls and a few new English words!:

Slowly, from the chaos comes order. In time, hopefully, the rest of our life will feel that way as well. Thank you to all who care, who read between the lines to find the things I can't always put into words. We are getting there, one step at a time, even if our backwards steps sometimes look huge. As I look at where we started the first week of December, I am able to see things from a more appropriate perspective. God is working overtime here, just because it is hard does not mean good things are not happening. Patience....right? After all, we waited 5 years to get them here...what's another 5 to bring them on the emotional journey that is also necessary?

Isn't that what "real Mom's" do???


Anonymous said...

"Real moms" vary as greatly as there are moms. I wish I had been as aware and conscious in my mothering as you are. Conscious living is taxing, tiring, and, as you know, sometimes exhilirating. You are reminding me with each post and each of my prayers to live more consciously and fully.

I'll be more specific in my prayers--energy for adults. Although, I don't think that prayer works for me. I used to pray it all the time when mine were growing up, and I remember complaining all the time that it wasn't fair that children got the energy and parents got the children. In retrospect, I see that we got so much that we hadn't expected, so many joyful surprises--but I still think God could have distributed the energy a bit more evenly.

Thank you again for sharing the love and care and joy at the LaJoys. Where do you get the energy to blog?

Blessings on each of you,

Brooke said...

Hi Cindy,
My husband and I have been following your blog and wanting to do something for your family.

If it's alright with you, we would love to buy you dinner this week. If we lived nearby, I would of course make something myself, but since we are not we were hoping that take-out would suffice! :)

Perhaps you could pick a night this coming week and we can order some pizza or chinese or whatever else Team LaJoy enjoys to be delivered. We are hoping it will give you a few minutes of free-time for yourself.

Please email me! Thanks so much!


Anonymous said...

Your latest photos are beautiful. Is it a new camera? I just love that photo of you and Dominick. You both look so happy. Cindy, your face lights up like "sunshine" when you smile and your eyes sparkle with gentleness..... I'm serious! You both have a kindness that radiates from within and it shows in photos.

Anonymous said...

"tag-team" parenting -- it's a great way to watch over kids and give each parent a little breathing room.

Love the drawers -- did they come from Target too?

Today I had an interesting conversation with a new friend who had two sons (11 and 8) and then recently added two teenage daughters to her home (they were extended family who needed a more stable home) -- she said that what has been hard for her is adapting to the different emotional make-up of girls. The emotions of the girls are much more volatile than the boys.

Love to you all from no-longer snowy Virginia, hope your spring hits soon

Peggy in Virginia

Anonymous said...

I just read your posts, and you still amaze me in your ability to write.
It is amazingly difficult sometimes, with kids. They are all so different and kids with special issues need more. and so do the parents. My own issues pale in comparison to what you will have with the girls and boys.
If you are like me you won't have too much time for yourself. its ok, but try to have your "down time".
I just gave in to this is my life. Whatever I need will happen when it can happen.And it is working.

My friends all say they don't know how I do it. Neither do I but I just do!!!! We are resilient!!! You will survive!!!
God will provide.
Please tell all the kids who we are. I wish you were closer. I would love to visit.
One day we will.

Hang in there, your life is good!!

Tammy said...


I know it is exhausting right now. You are never "off" because even when the kids are in bed or when you are away from them you are thinking about them. You are processing what has happened, trying to interpret what is going on and trying to figure out how best to help your children.

Life will probably feel chaotic for awhile because relationships are unpredictable right now. That was the hardest part for me. Which child will I get this interaction? But as you know, one day you will step back and wonder when did things got easier? One day, you will feel "normal" again. Remember, you are not alone in this walk.

Anonymous said...

Great picture of you and Dominick!! Who took that? Little moments such as you described when you tucked Angela in last night and she held your hand - HUGE!!! Really huge! She is telling you that you ARE her momma. She knows it, she feels it, she is showing it in her own way, a little at a time. Loved sharing a few moments with you and your precious children at the pool! Thanks so much for sharing them and your love story! Love to all, Miss Joan

4texans said...

You write really well for having a 'fried' brain. I know how that is and that is the reason I haven't been able to write much in my blog. I also cannot be as honest in my blog. I understand your feelings of overwhelm and how hard it is to be available for the kids physically AND emotionally. It's really hard to find time for yourself when you are simply exhausted at the end of the day.

I want to give you a pat on the back and tell you what a phenomenal job you are doing to parent your kids!!! Bless you! I can see how really really scared Angela is to open up to you. I hope with time she will learn it is safe to let you in. Please keep doing what you are doing and tell her you will never give up, I know you won't. It may take months, it may take years for her to realize how much you love her. Try to hold on to the love you get from your other kids and just remind yourself the positive things about your relationship with Angela.

Also, are you asking friends for help? Is someone helping you a bit with meals? Take time to talk to someone (a friend or someone at your church) even if it means the dishes pile up that day. I know (believe me, I know) how hard it is to let things go and to ask for help!

Anonymous said...

Home from our wknd with Guatemalan Adoptive families from our area. I was reminded this time, maybe more so than before, that adopting older children gives us a lot more in common than just having children from the same country or even the same orphanage. Among the older kids there, the ones who came home as toddlers, preschoolers, or younger have so much fewer issues. The older the kids were when coming home, the more of a sure chance we moms had some questions and encouragement for each other. Same boat, though the turbulence of the waters varies according to the child and circumstances and personalities.

Some of the teens who have been home many years just seem to have the typical thoughts/concerns about their origin/birth families/feeling different. And then there are those whose kids have more difficulities with bonding because of coming home later in life. I fall into both camps with our four international adoptions, two boys home each at 4yrs, two girls home as preteens.

It's interesting how the conversations have changed through our ten years of attending these weekends, as in these later years, the number of older kids coming home increased. Of course, now adoptions are closed in Guatemala, and the wonderful children's home these kids had in common is closed.

When the toddlers and preschoolers came home in the late 90s and early 2000's, the moms were more about the excitement of adoption. This time, I was aware of more of us discussing the struggles our kids have had. Personally, I didn't get it before. Our boys were young enough and things just worked quite wonderfully, quite graciously of God. I couldn't have done two more adoptions, had our first three been difficult the way our older girls' have been.

I really hope you have such a group near where you live. It's really been a very good thing for all of us moms to gather, I think. Of course the kids benefit, even if they are shy and might not remember each other from their time in Guatemala. The dads? Sometimes their conversations are adoption related...sometimes they're also just being gracious, knowing their wives need the chats.

Anonymous said...

oops. The post about Guatemalan Adoptive families is from
Nancy in the Midwest

Bob; Carrie DeLille said...

What a wonderful picture of you and Dominick!! I hate hearing your discouragement. Do NOT be discouraged, Cindy. You just sit back and think about how far they've come. It IS exhausting and you DO need to figure out how to break it up a bit. It doesn't all have to happen today. You're doing great and they are learning what love is. It just continues to remind me of God's pursuit of us and how badly He wants us to look to Him for everything. With time, we finally got there, right? Don't panick-there's time. As always, you and Dominick do your parenting with great wisdom. All of you will be fine. One day at a time. Goodness, you've only really been in the real part of this life with them for a month. Love ya!