Sorry for being so quiet for the past few days, I really am trying to blog more as there seems to be so much I want to record for the kids forever but it just gets pushed aside with daily life being topsy turvy at the moment. In time I know we will settle into our new normal, but for now it is difficult to pull it all together. I do feel I am making a little progress, but still not where I want to be. So it may be that you get fewer posts but longer and more boring ones as I can only write when I catch some down time and will include as much as I can...hence the boring part :-)
Last week it felt like Christmas around Casa LaJoy!! First of all, much of the homeschooling materials I ordered for this next semester arrived, and when multiplied by 5 kids that is a LOT of stuff! For 3 days we had the kitchen counter piled high with interesting workbooks, puzzles, games and other misc. curriculum as I created new files and storage for all 5 kids. When I am not filled with fear I have to admit this is pretty darned exciting and FUN! Having a bit of a game plan in mind now has helped calm my nerves...of course we have no idea if that game plan will work or not...hahaha!
The kids were all so excited to see it all, and can't wait to get going on it. Aside from the the R's we are studying the human body next year and I ordered 5 small scale models/puzzles of a skeleton, brain, hand, etc. which are the coolest things ever and will make it come alive. I also found a book with patterns of various parts of the human body and we can make a full scale human out of card stock and brads, including internal organs and layers that move...totally awesome, huh? We have a friend who is an optometrist who has offered to have us come learn about the eye in a real setting and I'd love to find a dentist to explain more and shadow for an hour or two as well. Joshie in particular is going to totally love this, he is our scientist in the making and I love how even within our family we all turn to our resident "experts" on things...Matthew with history and construction, Olesya with crafts, Kenny with drama and business, Josh with science and scheduling (Hey...I need HIS help!) and Angela with sports. Age and experience doesn't matter, we all help one another learn and grow and know just who to go to within our tribe for help.
We are also going to study geography and I have some neat materials for that. We will cruise the continents...hmmm...maybe THAT will be the title of our course "Cruisin' the Continents"..haha! I plan on us making a full sheet of plywood sized world map of salt dough, complete with flags and labels for continents, oceans, major cities and landmarks. Big undertaking and I hope I can pull it off as it will be truly memorable if we can...of course I reserve the right to give up at any time :-) We are going to make notebooks for our study, each child creating their own. We bought cool colors the other night and they are very wide allowing for us to put in all kinds of materials. We will be learning about the basics of maps and mapping along with facts about various countries and creating paper outline maps too. I found a terrific book with hands on activities for learning about geography and need to find time to pull all these ideas into one big study. It should be a LOT of fun. We have pulled our globe out for years regularly as we talk about things or see things on TV and always enjoyed it, and I already have the girls starting to bring me the globe to show them something so we are halfway there to studying it. I thought that for this first year when language is more challenging it would be a good "field leveler" as all the kids have new names and terms to learn, and it is very visual so can be more easily taught to all of them. Now if I could just find a cheap humongous set of National Geographics to cut up we would be set! We also have geography bingo, a huge floor puzzle of the world with each country getting it's own piece and a US map puzzle too. I almost can't wait myself...I LOVE learning and am so happy that our kids will be able to have even more engaging opportunities if I can pull it off well and not dissolve into disorganized chaos with it.
So aside from the boxes of ordered school things we had some terrific surprises from our personal Santa's. From Dee over at Crab Chronicles we received a box of goodies from her kids which included clothes and movies. I love how these two children from the same orphanage touched by parents who abused and neglected them have found love and safety...and have reconnected themselves in their new land. It is quite poignant when one thinks about how far they have all come.
Then we had an unexpected gift arrive from a blog reader. I am sorry Theresa that I can not find your address to send a thank you card, as the kids threw away the box...but we received the most amazing (and much needed) set of math games that will truly make math come alive. She had no idea I had been searching online for various games to play with the kids to cement learning in a fun way and practice skills. This is called RightStart Mathematics and it looks incredible! Thank you SO MUCH for this surprise..it will get oodles of use and it was beyond thoughtful of you to go out of your way to send this special gift.
Christmas continued when we received a box full of "repurposed" Magic Tree House books as well as A-Z Mysteries. This was such an incredible library for us and exactly the level we will be at for the next couple of years. I had been considering trying to find a few on Ebay to get us started so this was a huge Godsend to us and is so appreciated.
We had another long time adoption buddy send us a ton of videos her children had outgrown, and the kids all oohed and ahhed as each one came out of the box/
Then to top off our week filled with blessings our real life and blog commenter friend Lael went out of her way to help arrange a mentor for Matthew for weaving...and this mentor is the nicest woman who has also borrowed a loom for us and coordinated materials, etc. and will be teaching Matthew how to weave his rug for 4H. Lael and I joked about how we had wished that Matthew would have selected one of the easier styles to make...maybe a hooked rug or something reasonably simple. NO...of course not. He had to pick the hardest one because we had been in Silverton last summer, a little mountain town, and had seen a large loom and saw a demonstration of it that he thought was cool. So, while I have not a single crafty bone in my body and wish for an easier project, who am I to discourage any of the kids from trying something super challenging? After all, we often are surprised at what can be accomplished if we just try, so more power to him and God Bless those who are helping in an area I am hopeless in!
The support and encouragement our family has received has been extraordinary. This new path we are beginning to walk with homeschooling is a scary one filled with unknowns and, let's face it, an enthusiastic but unskilled teacher. I know it seems nuts with all the special needs we have in front of us with each child and no training, and yet it feels like the best solution at the moment. I have hesitated to reveal our decision to others as I have already had several look at me skeptically and with poorly disguised doubt in their voice say "Really? And how do you think you can handle that? Don't you think you are taking on quite a bit?"...as if I hadn't already thought about that a hundred times over.
But with time I am growing ever more certain our decision is the right one for us at this time. There is not a single other person on this planet who will bring the one thing to the education equation that we will, as their parents. Love. Now I am the first one to say that love can't fix everything, but it does mean that we will approach this with a passion unlike anyone else who will ever work with our children. I may be only a high school graduate, but I mastered 13 years of school with good grades and have managed to teach myself a million other skills that I never would have thought I could learn. I know HOW to learn, I LOVE to learn, I am EXCITED about learning...and I think I can pass that on to our children. Facts can be memorized, passion can not.
And I was reminded of that today when we were working on a writing assignment with our young friend who I am working with along with Matthew on physics (Newton's Laws). They were completing an assignment on creating more interesting and descriptive sentences starting from a "core sentence" they created themselves. Matthew's core sentence was "Matthew flies" and it grew to something close to this: "During a long 10 hour flight, Matthew flew the President and several Congressmen to Germany to discuss the SALT III" Yes...my 10 year old son included in his sentence the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. Was he supposed to study the Fall of the Soviet Union and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 5th grade? No...I suppose we wouldn't find that on the standard Scope and Sequence charts for Colorado 5th graders. Did we capitalize on a teachable moment in time for him? Did we help him follow his passion? Did we have the single most amazing teacher for him (certainly not mom!) to work with who loves and cares about him too? Somehow, I doubt he will be worse for the wear for not studying Colonial America this year as was slated in some Colorado public schools for 5th grade. Besides, he has already read more books about Colonial America than I can shake a stick at and could probably teach ME a thing or two!! We'll get back to it in time, maybe after we "Cruise the Continents"! Hahaha!
As I spoke with a dear friend this afternoon who has tutored the girls for an hour a week on her own time, God whispered in my ear again what a lucky, lucky woman I am. The goodness of others has touched our family in such profound ways. A community has gathered to help us raise these children...kids who have had such deprivation in their backgrounds...who were sometimes starving both literally and emotionally. The healing power of God's goodness has transformed each and every one of our children. We are just the conduit for it all, it is so many others who are the very concrete picture of God's abundance. We have given it our all, Dominick and I, to find the way to get them home, to love them with all our heart, to give up whatever we can to be the parents we feel they need us to be...not necessarily to provide them with every "goodie" we can give them but to give them our very souls to grab on to when their first parents for whatever reason could not. How we love these old souls in little bodies we live with!
But it is deeply moving to think of others who have offered so much who had no reason to other than kindness. I am not really speaking of "things" although books and games are wonderful. I have pointed out each and every time that someone was thinking about them and cared enough to make the effort to do something kind for them. We have been blessed with the offer of the gift of time over and over again, and our children have had input, direction and love from others that has helped fill the gap when extended family is simply too far away to be directly involved in the ways they might wish to.
We do what we can to teach our children that value as well and to see themselves as having much to offer even if in the eyes of other adults it isn't much yet. We spent Sunday afternoon with 4 of the 5 kids doing highway clean up and not a whine was uttered and nothing but joy in the doing was had. Matthew and the girls will be spending next Thursday helping our church Women's group ready itself for the huge rummage sale they hold each year which has benefited our family over and over again with camp scholarships, etc. They participate with us in driving friends an hour to the airport or babysitting or feeding cats or many other things where they do not directly benefit, and never have we had a moment's grumbling. We want service to be seen as a joy and our offering to God, not as a "have to" or a chore. If our kids leave our home someday with nothing more than the basics, but have an "attitude of gratitude" with which to live each day, they will live happier lives than most ever will. It is not hard when you live in a family for which there is more than the average to be grateful for.
Sitting watching the girls play in the park this evening while visiting with a friend during Joshie's soccer practice, that gratitude hit me and I feel it more strongly every single day. 5 years of waiting, of agonizing, of praying and hoping and carrying them in our hearts. They walked in our home that first night and found their photos pinned to the bulletin board where they have remained since the day we first received them...waiting...always waiting. They are home, they are ours forever and we are theirs forever! THEY BELONG!!!! Oh how you can see that is so important and evident to them!
Yesterday we worked on a project I wasn't so sure about yet, but we needed to tackle it so why not now. It was a family tree. Yes, the much maligned project most adoptive parents hate when assigned. In our case, it was necessary as the girls have no idea about family relationships or titles of people we are connected with. They understand Babushka and Dadushka (Grandma and Grandpa), but had no concept of aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews. So we broke out the poster board, copied photos of everyone, and found a format that worked.
We started with each girl in the center of their board, then to the right was our family...Grandmas Alice and Toni, Uncle Peter and Auntie Beth and their kids, Auntie Liz and her kids...smiling faces staring back at us in tiny photos. A family tree branching out filled with love and warmth. Perfect? Not on your life. Family? Very much so.
Then we broke out the adoption documents and searched for full names. The left side was the Russian side, and it was interesting to me the signal that this was not an easy area when it was left for last by both Angela and Olesya. An empty space to be filled awaited them, a discernable consternation at the information we had to put there. "What was your mother's name?" I asked. I was met with silence then some mumbled words. "Let's look it up in the court records, and we can find her birthday too.". On to Daddy's information, and it was the first time that Angela indicated all wasn't roses with Daddy as had previously been expressed. Olesya said "Kazakhstan Papa good Papa." and Angela's eyes darted upwards towards Olesya and some things were said in Russian which I picked up on that Angela said about her Dad being mentally unstable. She turned to me and said "Kazakhstan Papa not good Papa like Dominick Papa...Kazakhstan Papa very very lot of vodka...balshoi friends drink vodka...Papa Koo Koo, not good Papa."
I stopped, put my arm around her and she leaned in to me. I said "Kazakhstan Papa sick in his brain, Kazakhstan Papa not bad." We then went on to talk at length about how lots of American Mama's and Papa's drink too much or are bad parents as well, that it isn't just Kazakhstan parents. Olesya said "Me baby, me forget papa mama." I said "Good...it's OK to forget...sad mama and papa.." I then, for the first time, really got to express my sadness at what they had been through. I looked them both in the eyes where I saw such expectancy, saw the words "why" hanging between us all as the poster board stared back at us with such emptiness on that left side of the tree. "I am so sorry your first parents were not good to you. I wish I had been your Mama when you were little. I would have kept you safe, so would Daddy. I wish you didn't have boo boos on your legs from them, or boo boos on your heart from them. It makes me want to cry for you both and Daddy and I love you SO MUCH. But you are good kids, you are not like your Kazakhstan Mama and Papa...you will not drink, you will take good care of your kids, you are nice, nice girls. I feel bad for your Kazakhstan Mama and Papa because we get to be your parents now and you are the best daughters in the world."
They sat there quietly, staring back at me steadily, piercingly, trying to take in the love and lack of anger at their parents, and yet the acknowledgment of their wrong doings. Olesya unsmilingly gave me a long slow hug, Angela looked at me unblinkingly and said softly "Thank you, Mama...you balshoi good Mama.". The three of us sat there a moment, staring at the white empty space waiting to be filled with the names of two people who created them and yet harmed them on so many levels. Angela picked up a pencil and drew the boxes for each of their names and said "Mama...papers...Kazakhstan Mama and Papa names?"...and we matter of factly filled in the blanks of a life left behind, but a life never really shaken. Nor should it be, for it has changed them forever into the women they will become. It has also created them to be the daughters we parent, daughters we are infinitely proud to call LaJoy's, daughters whose strength and courage surpass most adults we know.
The healing has begun, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases....God's mercies never come to an end...we are new every morning, new every morning, great is thy faithfulness oh Lord, great is thy faithfulness. That hymn speaks more to me day by day, it has come to life in our family...faithfulness in so many ways and from so many directions. Steadfast love, it's what its all about.
Sometimes that steadfast love needs to be offered to those who have caused us to suffer, for God IS merciful. I have had moments of anger at the damage birthparents have inflicted upon my beloved children, but that anger never remains long before compassion replaces it. Maybe not compassion for the wrongs done, but certainly for all they are missing out on that we are able to have in our lives. Matthew...Joshua....Kenny...Angela...Olesya...4 sets of parents who didn't receive the giggles and snuggly bedtime hugs tonight. 4 sets of parents whose lives will forever be a little emptier for the loss of the children they could not parent. 4 sets of parents who will spend a lifetime asking themselves "What if?". 4 sets of parents who just might be living with terrible regrets in those quiet more introspective and honest moments. 4 sets of parents who don't see the light of the smile, the quickness of wit, the depth of love offered to those strong enough to accept it along with the baggage that accompanies it. Thankfully, Dominick and I have a huge luggage rack between the two of us, and can tag team it as we throw that baggage in it's rightful place, up on the roof rack where it belongs...never totally forgotten but no longer truly a burden.
Thanks to everyone else in our lives who have helped us construct that strong luggage rack and continues to strengthen it daily.
This job I am doing right now, 24/7, is so intense and yet so rewarding. It is also very obviously one of the things God created me to specifically do. I have never been taxed so much, never had to be so aware of every nuance, never had to anticipate so many different possible outcomes to conversations or events. At times it feels like graduate school in parenting without the accompanying diploma at the end of the road. There is really no way to describe what this is like, despite how hard I try. From the outside, it looks like a happy family and that it happens automatically. From the inside it is tremendous intentional work, it is deeply emotional, it is hard, hard work in an intangible sort of way. I have nothing to point to at the end of the day to say "Hey, look what I did!". But I have warm hugs where even 2 weeks ago they were absent. I have connection where once there were walls. I have honest and heartfelt affection that once was closed off and unable to be expressed.
Those are tangibles of a different sort, I guess.