I sit here on the couch with not-so-little-bodies-anymore surrounding me as Scooby Do is playing to a rapt audience. 11:30...one down, 4 more to go. Angela went to bed at 10:30, and is right now snoring along with Dominick as she is bundled up on our bedroom floor, and just as I type this I look over on the couch next to me and Matthew has lost the battle as well :-)
It was an emotional day that ended on an easy and tender note. I have felt melancholy all day, as we end one stage and begin another...trying to fight off the creeping fear that I know will dissipate soon enough. Why is this last day of school triggering so much? Joshie ended his day well, said goodbye to his beloved teacher, but ended up in tears before we made it home. Oh how he will miss Mrs. Weber! What a gift she and his first grade teacher were for him, both gentle, nurturing, tender women which was exactly what he needed. What a sweet little guy he is, so special to us all. He feels things so deeply, and others seem to respond in the same way feeling deeply about him as well.
We arrived home and I sat in the car with him on my lap as the other kids went inside to give us a moment. He heaved great big sobs saying "Mommy, I love Mrs. Weber and I will miss her SO much!". I talked about how God has placed such special people in his life over and over again, and how God will continue to do so in the future as well. I reminded him that he felt the same way about Mrs. Taylor last year, and look how God took care of him with Mrs. Weber this year. He hiccuped and said "I know Mommy, and I am so glad! But it makes me sad for nice people to leave me." . Will he always feel abandoned? Will that ever, ever be part of his life he can put behind him?
And I continue to pray that God will bring others into our lives to contribute in positive ways to our children's development and growth. As doubts assail I remind myself that God knows what we each need, and trust that those needs will be met in remarkable ways. Please God, they need so much more than Dominick or I can ever provide...more input, more encouragement, more insight.
Matthew and I spent a little time alone together as we went to the local video store to rent a long promised Wii game to celebrate the end of school. He asked me if I was OK and I shared with him honestly that I have a big challenge here, and I am worried that I will let them all down somehow but will do my best. I then apologized for even bringing it up. He gently laid his hand on my arm while driving and said "It's OK mommy, that's why we all have each other. Everyone needs to share sometimes." He then added "You are a great teacher, and you know more than anyone else what to do. I have had the best year ever in school. Besides, you love us, no one else does even if they like us. That means you work harder." Ahhh, the wisdom of my son. How I love you, Matthew. You have always been my wise companion in parenting.
I think all of us sort of clung to family tonight, and it was just what we needed. We BBQ'd then I played softball with the kids while Dominick worked on our swamp cooler. The evening was perfect...mellow with a touch of evening glow. None of us wanted the closeness to end, so we built a fire in the little fire pit on our patio and gathered around where we sat bundled in blankets as we giggled and laughed over silly things. We occasionally got serious as we threw out questions like "If our house burned down, what would be the one thing you would want to take with you?". Interesting how many responses including "Mommy and Daddy's mattress!". We then asked about what one or two people other than those in our immediate family do they feel the closest too. We were surprised to hear from the girls that our family friends here were the highest on their list, and both also said they could not name just 1 or 2.
This afternoon our neighbor brought over some toys long abandoned by grandchildren who do not visit often. In it were two life size baby dolls, and she had asked previously if I thought the boys would be upset if she gave them to the girls and had nothing to offer the boys. I reassured her that would not be an issue, and besides I'd bet Kenny and Josh would play with them anyway. She laughed, I was serious. Guess who was holding the dolls around the fire pit tonight? While the girls had them for awhile, the boys also babied them and wrapped them up. Olesya TOTALLY loves dolls, and she carried these around all over the place today, and even Angela played with them quite a bit.
Seeing all of them playing "Mommy and Daddy" with these dolls, it was hard not to recognize that for better or worse, our kids are a little different than their age mates, and we are making the right decision for them as individuals. I know there are many who would criticize us, saying we are "sissifying" our boys or not forcing any of them to grow up. I guess we just see it as 3 of our 5 had to grow up in some ways far too early, and they need this time to revisit what they missed without fear of being made fun of, to relive the stages they never walked through before or were at the very least rushed through.
And as I reflect on this past 12 months, and take it all in, I find myself in awe of our children's resilience and good natured attitudes. They have weathered so much this year of constant change, and for children so young we have had virtually nothing but love and concern for others, honesty and heartfelt expression of emotions, and a willingness to turn the corner to see what challenge awaits them there. They have handled everything far better than I have, in fact they put me to shame! They aren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they are decent, loving, helpful and accepting children. What very, very blessed parents we are to live with and learn from each of them.
They joy the girls exude these days with us is so surprising. While in public Angela in particular is still more reserved, fearful of others speaking to her when she can't respond while Olesya is her usual easy going fearless self. At home and with those she is comfortable with Angela lets go. The past few days have taken us to yet an even deeper level in our gradually maturing relationship with one another. The expressions of gratitude for everything are unnecessary, yet touching. Tonight talking about our house and answering a question I threw out there about what was everyone's favorite part of the house, each said "all of it, everything...we love our house!" and Angela added "I love kitchen, I love refrigerator, I love Mama Papa's bedroom and sleepy there, I love outside, I love machina (van), I love all I love!". I have been told over and over "thank you for being my mama", more than once we have been on the receiving end of apologies for the first torturous couple of weeks in Kazakhstan, despite our efforts to share with them that it is over.
Most telling was this afternoon when somehow one of the kids brought up the subject of "I Love You Forever", the children's story book that has meant so much to us all. Angela and Olesya started talking about it in the car explaining that like in the book, we would take care of them now and when we are old they would hold us and rock us and take care of us...that families love each other forever. To think of how far we have come in such a short time in relationship building utterly blows me away. This is no act, this is truly a sense of belonging and an acceptance of unconditional love, along with offering it up on their own as well. 6 months ago we thought we might never be bringing them home, fast forward and now none of us can imagine them NOT being with us!
The outward affection is easy and comfortable now, so much so that no one would imagine we have been together such a short while. Angela snuggles and cuddles, Olesya stops every time she walks by just to get a hug, trying to fill up what came to us as an empty "love bank". Both of them are completely totally "LaJoy'd out" now, freely and willingly offering warmth and love in the form of bear hugs, kisses, heads on our shoulders, and the surprising step of Angela reaching to hold my hand in public several times lately. We giggled our way through our visit this week with Elinor, our favorite weaving teacher, as she worked with Matthew and Angela and Olesya both tried to teach me how to make a tight braid. Failure was complete, I will add, and I heard several "That's OK, Mama's" as I tried over and over again and ended up with what looked like a half baked braid. I think it is good for them to see us try and fail at things, and see us struggle with things they can succeed at. I am thinking about maybe taking piano lessons myself, just so they can visibly see I can identify with them in learning something difficult. When you have so many kids for whom every day brings with it constant challenge, you want to have them feel joined by someone who understands in a tangible way that learning something new is really hard, but you stick with it and eventually find it gets easier and easier.
We have so very much work ahead of us, so much that when I see it in total I want to shrink in fear and melt away. It is then when I feel the greatest empathy for what each of our children adopted at an older age must feel. Nothing is easy, everything is more complicated that it at first appears. But the support and encouragement offered by one another helps make the load lighter.
Sitting there in the firelight tonight, Matthew and Kenny across from one another with feet propped up on each other's chairs as they tickled each other and laughed themselves silly, some of the fear dissipated. For the next week or so, I am going to tune out, not think about it all, and simply enjoy our family with no weight on my shoulders. We are entering summer, we are together, we are happy, my children are loved and most importantly, they are all finally home. Each one has the character I hardly dared hope we would see. Everything else will fall into place.
Joshua summed it up beautifully on the last line of his biography we received yesterday. After stating so many facts about his family and what his likes and dislikes were, he ended it with a phrase I will repeat to myself over and over in the coming weeks. This child, whom we had been told by professionals would likely never heal...this child who was essentially thrown away and who has spent years working to overcome all that comes with the knowledge of his beginnings...this child said what I needed to hear.
"I have a wonderful life."
And I do too.