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 time...it 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 of...one 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, because...hey...my 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.
How I love this photo...it shows a tiny piece of what our family life is really like 98% of the time...love, carrying one another, unabashed nurturing and warmth.
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 know...here 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: