Today was spent on the Strip in the company of our friends, exploring a couple of hotels/casinos and explaining what the games were, checking out the M&M store and marveling at the ridiculousness of American marketing genius, and seeing the man made display of electric excess as we cruised the strip this evening and the kids madly snapped pictures out the windows. 112 degrees, whew! We have all really experienced the gamut of Mother Nature's temperatures this year!!! From -70 to +112 in 6 month's time...that is quite a swing!
I am realizing on this trip that we are entering a new stage of parenthood, and as much as I will miss the stage we are gradually exiting, this new one is very special too. I am no longer the sole caregiver, there are no longer very young children to wipe up who blindly walk around oblivious to much of anything other than their own needs. There is a gentle and tender shift, and a growing sense of outward awareness. I also feel myself stepping back and seeing the strengths and capabilities as "tweens" who are strong and sometimes quite wise are rising to the surface. Walking behind Matthew as he made his way down the street today I saw the broad shoulders and the huge feet that are now the same size as my own, and I realized this young man is one who can be counted on. Angela and Olesya grabbed all the bags (7 duffels and 6 backpacks) while I was checking in, loaded them all on the luggage cart, and pushed them all the room while I stood back and let them have the fun of feeling that much more adult. There is an increasing desire in all 3 to share the load, and to help take care of the business at hand.
I also find myself being cared for in new ways. A silent taking of a heavy load, the "Don't worry Mom, I'll go ask the front desk for more towels.", the arranging and cleaning up of things around our room. Is it perfect? No...but it doesn't need to be. I am more interested in the fact that anyone even sees what needs to be done and does it without prompting than I am that anything look perfect. There is a touching concern for me and my welfare...Angela telling me to leave my purse behind and only carry money in my pocket so I don't get my purse snatched, Matthew saying to me tonight "Mom, you must be so tired after that long drive and being up late tonight. Go ahead and get in bed, I'll take care of everything else.", and Olesya gently removing Joshie's shoes after he feel asleep with them on, then moving on to me to take mine off as well as we both giggled.
Then there is Kenny, my sweet little guy who thinks ever-so-mistakenly that his mother is perfect. He is not at the maturity level or awareness yet that the other older kids are, but he is our little worker bee, jumping in enthusiastically to get the job done no matter how bad it is, and always quick with a complement for me regardless of how rough a day we might have had together.
And we have had some rough ones recently...
Kenny has reverted in his typically cyclical nature to being Man In Charge. Yes, we are back to Mr. Kenny thinking he is in control of everyone and everything around him, so reminiscent of his first year home. We haven't had this kind of backsliding in a very long time, and it is proving more frustrating this time around for me to deal with it, probably because I was beginning to think we had licked it once and for all. He also is paying far less attention than he normally does. With his very real auditory processing issues, we struggle with this daily even when he is trying his hardest, but when he blows it off he just tends to do what he thinks he may have heard and ignores the fact that he really has no idea what was said. This can make for some very long and repetitious days for me as I find myself repeating the same things 5 and 6 times. Some of it is control oriented, some of it is carelessness and inattention. But I realized I was not the only one this weekend being pretty deeply affected by it when he very uncharacteristically said something a little unkind to Olesya (and she overreacted a bit as it touched a raw nerve in her about her own insecurities), and in exploration I realized the root cause was once again Kenny being upset over not being in charge.
So I decided to take a different direction with discipline. Tiring of the same result, and frustrated with feeling "stuck" the past few weeks with him, I realized we needed to upset the apple cart a bit and get creative. If I am being honest, I also recognized that I had left out a key component to any good disciplinary program...God. Duh...
After the incident with Olesya Saturday, Dominick and I gathered everyone around the dining room table where the lights had been extinguished and a couple of candles had been lit. Dominick had no idea what I had in mind, but he is always one to be willing to try a different approach so he quietly followed my lead. I said we needed a family conference, and we needed to invite God to be part of it. We all held hands and were quiet for a moment, then we offered up a prayer asking God to be with us in a recognizable way, as our family needed the Spirit's presence to help us sort out our current struggle.
I then proceeded to tell everyone that we were obviously having some challenges, and I felt it was important for us all to share what our feelings were. I then encouraged each of the kids to kindly explain to Kenny how his behavior the past few weeks had been effecting them, saying that he had heard mainly from Mom on this matter but he was not seeing how what he said or did touched everyone. It took a couple of minutes and a nudge or two for everyone to feel safe enough to open up, but one by one each of the kids looked Kenny in the eye and told him how they felt. I was so pleased that this was not an attack session, as I had hoped it wouldn't turn into, but an honest expression of frustration over being ordered around all the time, and having time continually taken away from their school work or family fun time to discipline him.
He had been pretty immune to Mom and Dad, but it proved to be much harder to be immune to the tears of Olesya as she couldn't look at him as she told him how much he had hurt her feelings with his comments. He also couldn't ignore it when they told him they wanted their family "back the way it used to be" a few weeks ago and that they missed the Kenny who was sweet. His sisters and brothers were far more effective than we ever could have been, and it was an incredibly powerful experience to see Kenny literally connect it all right before our eyes. The tears flowed as he apologized for his behavior, and he was deeply moved by seeing every one of his siblings cry over his own distress. However, they held firm and when I guided them to tell Kenny of the one thing they would like to see him change they said through their own tears things like "Please listen to Mom and Dad", "Don't tell us what to do anymore" and "Pay more attention.".
Then, there by candlelight, each person shared what they loved most about Kenny, and things like "You are so funny and happy all the time!" and "You help everyone more than anyone in our family" came out. He heard so many things that make him special! He couldn't stop the tears as he said "I don't know why you guys still love me!" and then, without any prompting Angela said "We always love you, you are our family." and then Josh, then Matthew, then Olesya all said the same thing...We love you forever, you are our family.
With the help of everyone at the table, including Kenny, we came up with possible future disciplinary actions, and I'll be darned if the kids didn't have some good suggestions including removing Kenny from family situations when he escalates his behavior occasionally. We talked about what we would do if he made our trip to California difficult, and I explained that being the only adult with 5 kids I needed him to be at his best or it would be too hard. We all agreed to come home and cut our trip short, but Kenny said "That's not fair to you guys" and before I could say a word Angela threw out "Yes it is, we love you and will not leave you alone".
We ended in prayer again, thanking God for being with us as we dealt with the hard stuff. We sat there for a moment, candles burning slowly down, staring at one another...this precious family of ours. It was a holy moment, one that was prompted initially by frustration and anger, yet ended in a united family dealing with the every day simple problems we all face. It was obvious that Kenny had "heard" the message in a way he had never yet heard it, and that all the other kids felt they too had been heard. It was a new level of communication for us all, and a moving experience for each of us as we worked with the Spirit to bring honesty, understanding and love to the forefront.
I am also quite pleased to see the results. Kenny took it to heart, his behavior has drastically improved, and I noticed him catching himself twice over the past couple of days as he started to tell one of the other kids what to do, then verbally backed up. I know we are not done with some of these issues, and are likely to revisit them a few more times, but we have broken through and created a new awareness for him which might help significantly in the future when it rears its ugly head and needs to be once again tamed.
I am still stymied by another very heartfelt issue. Tonight as we were on the Strip, it was Angela's turn to sit in the front seat and Mommy stuff came up again. She told me she can't stop feeling badly about how she knows she hurt us at first in Kazakhstan, and it is really bothering her. She tried hard not to cry, and managed to keep the tears in but her chin was sure quivering and the lump in her voice was obvious. As her love for us continues to grow, as we talk more about the years we loved them and waited for them, the more the guilt seems to build no matter how I have tried to reassure her about it all. Even over there it was plain to see she had a loyal streak a mile long, and that loyalty is now eating her up inside as she realizes how hurt we must have been. I have tried every direction I can think of to help her create space for forgiving herself, but nothing is working. She seems to understand we were not ever nor are we now angry over it, and that we knew there were all kinds of complications going on inside her head and heart. It is not about us, it is about her viewing her own actions and being ashamed and embarrassed by it. Somehow I need to come up with a strategy that will help her release that, for I sure don't want her carrying it around inside.
So, as seems to be par for the course for Team LaJoy, in the midst of the laughter and outwardly carefree times, there is always an inner layer of meaning and moments requiring intense attention to the soul stuff. Just as it is a different kind if discipline we tried with Kenny, it is a different kind of life we lead, I guess. And that is just fine with me.
Off to California and first visits with Grandma's!