Today marked the day we became fully family. It is funny how often the things that signal the biggest changes in our lives go unremarked upon. Our blog keeps that from happening for our family, the little things that truly are significant in the grand plan are noted...not really for you, our readers, but for us to look back on and reflect about just how far we have come. 700 posts and over 3 years of our life are recorded here, events big and small have been documented as our little family grew from 2 to 5 children, tiny little dramas are played out in the life of one family as they grow in connectedness. Often the things that are important to me as the mom are not at all important or interesting to you, our readers. That is OK, this blog is not really for you all, despite the fact that I have thoroughly enjoyed having you along for the ride. This is for me to share with our family the things that for us are a treasure...and I realize that our treasure might look quite different than yours.
We are 3 days shy of being home 8 weeks. 2 months as a family, and as I think back to where we started, the thoughts running through my own head the night we got off the plane with a less than auspicious beginning as Angela and I had our little "moment" boarding the plane home from Denver, feeling so completely disconnected from my "real life" for so long, I can hardly internalize where we sit tonight (or this morning, as the case may be).
I remember laying in my bed, another sleepless night before me as thoughts ran rampant through my brain. Our life had changed forever, a dream had been realized, and yet we had so far to go to become truly family. Walls were thick on hearts, we were tip toeing around one another as we all reassembled our lives into this new order and decided what was allowable and what was not. I recall wondering if we'd ever have our ritual of bedtime stories and bedroom campouts again, if this was going to signal an end to an era in our family and a greater distancing of all of us as we felt the strangers amongst us change us in ways that perhaps we would have preferred remained the same. I steeled myself for the onslaught of emotions I knew were coming and tried to recover from all that had already been experienced...basically I was trying to recenter my soul. I wanted warmth and physical affection to continue to be a cornerstone of our family, I wanted quiet sharing and openness with our new daughters and I didn't want our sons to feel shy about continuing to be sensitive and close with us. At that stage, all of us had been affected by the newness of relationships and there was a wariness and hesitancy to express our need to be close with one another, because it felt so uncomfortable for our two newest additions.
Tonight, we rounded third base and slid messily yet gracefully into Home Base.
Tonight I feel we became fully family. It is a day I will long remember as the one where I heaved my last sigh of relief and began to be the mom I was finally allowed to be and always wanted to be to our new daughters.
The day started with a little fanfare, as it was opening day of soccer season, and we had 2 girls who were inordinately excited about it and 3 boys who being less sports minded were happy to have an activity but weren't nearly as thrilled as the girls were. Dominick and I also realized that no longer will any activity be one we can merely jump into the car casually and attend. This takes the planning of a troop movement! Chairs? Check. Water bottles? Check. Snacks? Check. 10 shin guards? Check...and the list goes on for a 4 hour soccer extravaganza involving 4 fields, 4 different overlapping game times, and a lot of traipsing back and forth hoping we are not missing important action and us saying "Tag, your it!" as we pass each other trying to cover each game for each child so they all know how important they are to us.
Joshua and Kenny are out there for fun, they could care less about winning, they exhibit more exuberance then skill. In the middle of the game Kenny suddenly had a chance to get the ball and actually got in the fray and kicked it a couple of times...then comes bounding over to the sidelines while the ball is still in action shouting "Mommy...Mommy...did you see me? I kicked the ball!" as I laughingly acknowledge having caught his great action and remind him the game is still going on and he needs to go back across the field...then he skips back over flailing his hands in the air shouting "Yea!!" and I realize I may not have a jock there but I have one happy little guy so who cares. He is still very scared of the ball and turns in fright most times. He told me the other day when they were at one of the other kids' practices playing around that Angela was trying to help him not be afraid of it anymore and was practicing kicking it to him over and over.
Joshua cracked us all up looking for all the world like a cowboy out there with denim shorts on and hands thrust in his pockets while running around. Angela and Olesya laughed so much over that and thought he was so cute.
We trailed over to watch Matthew's game where he is on a very talented team and they won easily. Matthew isn't a star but certainly holds his own and has some pretty nice moves out there. However, Dominick and I are both concerned and have been since returning from Kazakhstan as we noticed he is having significant problems again with his feet. Orthopedic shoes are not helping as they first did a couple of years ago, and Matthew is slowed down a lot by it right now as he is in gradually increasing pain from what at first glance doesn't appear to be a problem anyone even notices. Long time readers might recall we took him to a pediatric orthopedic specialist about 2 years or so ago, and it was determined that the rickets had had as a child had created some issues in alignment as his shins are turned just a bit. Xrays showed it is not a joint problem that causes his feet to turn inward in a pigeon toed fashion, but it was felt that orthopedic shoes should correct the problem over time, and indeed at first it helped quite a bit. Recently though he has been complaining again that his feet and knees are hurting, and we have seen his feet turning inward again. By the end of the game today and for the rest of the afternoon and evening he was in a lot of pain with it...and Matthew is the last of our children to ever complain so we know when he says something hurts we need to pay attention to it. We are debating trying new shoes again to see if that takes care of it or making an appointment again with the specialist to see what other steps might need to be taken. Unfortunately, the next step might be surgery which we are really hoping to avoid but also don't want him having hip and knee problems in adulthood from ignoring this.
Then it was down to the final game which was the girls'. They group them by grade level, not age, so Angela and Olesya are a little older than the other girls on the field, and Angela is markedly taller as she is tall for her age anyway. Thankfully our town is not overly competitive at this stage with the kids and no one makes a big deal about such things. It was a lot of fun to watch the girls play, and hearing their Russian thrown out at each other across the field cracked us up. Angela scored the only 3 goals for their team, and the grin on her face told the entire story of how much she loves sports. Olesya showed a lot of skill out there as well, and played goalie for a good portion of the game.
Watching both of them I couldn't help but think back to the basketball game at the orphanage we all went to see, when Angela refused to look at us and rudely walked past us without so much as a glance or a whispered hello. It was the day Dominick and I felt the most defeated and knew we were done trying, telling Irina outside the gym that we needed to end this and admit it wasn't going to work...that we couldn't drag a child with us who didn't want to be with us.
What a contrast to the girl today who grinned as she saw me trailing them around the field with my camera, who kept looking over to see if we were still there watching, whose bright smile was flashed to us with every good kick. And what a lift my heart received as she bounded off the field after the game and went straight into my arms for a hug.
Although older and scoring the goals, I was extremely pleased to see that she didn't try to dominate the younger, smaller kids and instead thoughtfully passed the ball often, encouraged them, and even offered a hand up to a fallen competitor.
As we left the field, Olesya kept comparing herself to Angela's skill on the field and I can see we have some work to do to find her special place and skills in the world, as she has often lived in the shadow of Angela's obvious gift for sports which was so valued at the boarding school by everyone else. Olesya's gifts will reveal themselves in time and we will be on the lookout for them. Her nurturing qualities which are truly her greatest gift are not necessarily ones that our society holds up and values as being special.
After attending a birthday party for our little 2 year old friend, it was home for a lazy evening together and a planned 10:00 PM Skype call with a family who is in Petro adopting one of Olesya's old family mates. They had sprung their daughter from the boarding school to their apartment for the call, and the kids were really looking forward to it.
As we waited for 10:00 to roll around, I sat down on the couch and offered to rub Matt's feet to see if we could bring him a little relief after taking some aspirin. I grabbed the lotion and started trying to work out the soreness as he was laying down and the next thing I knew, surprisingly Angela plopped down next to me and started rubbing his other foot with me...asking if he was OK and seeing he was really in a fair amount of pain with it. When finished I was stunned when she propped her feet up on my lap and asked if I would do her feet, so with Olesya on one side and Angela on the other I proceeded to give foot massages to both of them. Dominick peeked around the corner from the kitchen where he was working on dishes and then folding and stapling a ton of early readers we printed off from the internet, and seeing what was going on quietly returned and went to work not expecting me for a moment to leave my spot and understanding the significance of what was going on here, that we were hitting a new level of intimacy that was totally unexpected.
We then spent a few minutes with the girls lifting up their PJ pants cuffs showing off scars and freckles, both of them snuggled up to me as Olesya shared that a large scar on her leg was from broken vodka bottles from her first mom. Didn't really get the entire story, but I kissed it and told her I was very sorry, and I got a long and quiet hug from her. We sat there comparing toe shapes, becoming more mom and daughters with each passing moment. More stories were shared about other friends from the orphanage whose first moms were alcoholics, of injuries they suffered. They brought up how much they liked Michael, Dee over at Crab Chronicles son who was in Angela's group and how difficult his life had been. It is heartbreaking to think of this shared common thread of sadness that runs through the lives of each of these special kids. We Skyped Michael this past week and it was the first time Angela had seen him since he was adopted. She later commented about how quiet and shy he was on Skype but that at "the internat" he was very funny and one of her favorite boys there. Both girls have read Dee's first book about "Jack's New Family" which describes from the perspective of an adoptee what this new life feels like, and is in Russian and English. I think it really helped them to see they are not the only ones experiencing all this weird new stuff!!
As we sat there talking, Angela grabbed the lotion and said "Me...Mama" and then started rubbing lotion on my sunburned arms, then gently had my hand in hers as she massaged it, noticing every line and curve...allowing herself to touch and feel. She lay there, head on my shoulder, Olesya on the other side with her head too snuggled in next to me, and it was almost as if they wanted to burrow inside of me, to feel as close as they possibly could so as to fill up on something they have each discovered for the first time. Sometimes I feel that way when Kenny hugs me, that it is so full bodied and wholly all of him hugging me that he wants to crawl inside and never leave. This was the very first time I have ever been this close for more than a minute or two with the Angela, and even with Olesya it was the closest physically we have ever been.
I truly assumed we might never feel comfortable enough with them being older adoptees to ever get to this stage. I was willing to accept that and be the mom they needed me to be even if I might always wish for more. Tonight, for over an hour, we slumped there together, holding each other, talking and sharing quietly.
Tonight I think I really became "Mom" to them, not just another Mama.
After our Skype call it was time for bed, and the boys all asked for the first time since we came home from Kaz if they could all have a campout in our bedroom. Of course we said yes, expecting it was just the boys who would want to when down the hall comes two girls with pink blankets and flowered pillows trailing behind them, and we all settled in our bedroom...5 kids on the floor (and no it is not a big bedroom!), Mama and Papa in bed, and I quietly began the ritual we have had for so many years which I know will be far more remembered than any trip to Disneyland or any cool birthday gift...I started to tell a story as they quietly drifted off to sleep.
Oh how many times I can recall telling these silly stories that included two little girls we were long waiting for with only 3 boys present!! How I remember thinking to myself "I wonder if I'll ever be doing this with 2 daughters here!". Then after their entrance to our lives asking myself "Will we ever get back to that level of closeness? Will the girls participate or will it feel like we are half of a whole with them not ever feeling comfortable enough to be fully family in the ways the LaJoy's are family?".
Tonight, God answered the final prayer I had for the formation and completion of my family. We became fully connected, fully loving, fully comfortable...and in record time. Love wins again.
And we are fully family.
We made it.