Monday, October 31, 2011

A Hard Workin', Hard Playin' Halloween

After a brief lull in work on our rental rehab project last week due to volleyball and Halloween party prep, we were back in the groove this morning.  We were anxious to get the remainder of the outside work completed as the forecast calls for a strong chance of snow this week, so we knew we had to kick it into high gear.  Once again, it seems I ended up with the easy end of it, as I drove here and there paying for things and picking up needed items, as well as getting dinner ready early so we could be ready to hit the streets for Trick or Treating.  I am sure I will more than make up for it in the coming days, as Dominick finally has some detailing work scheduled and will be absent from our project for awhile.  We are grateful that his phone started to ring suddenly today, so will gladly sacrifice to have him bring home the bacon.  Kenny alone eats enough to feed a small country!

The kids all pulled together to get the gravel finished, and Kenny chopped away at a large and deeply rooted evergreen of some sort, as Matthew learned how to use the chain saw and took out a lonely half dead shrub of some unknown variety.  They each took turns painting trim, which was completed today as well, and FINALLY the fence staining was finished, which I took on as the majority of my work for the afternoon! 

I am glad the kids had a sense of accomplishment today, as it has continued to be a rough time here in some ways.  When I say that, it is not what some would imagine with mouthy pre-teens, etc.  Thankfully, for the time being, we have been spared that for the most part with an occasional lapse here or there.  No, unfortunately Kenny is really walking through a bad spell with lapses in memory and logic...putting on a long sleeved church shirt this morning to go paint in along with his old faded paint pants, or asking me a question about exactly what I just said that he heard but somehow didn't process.  Doesn't sound so bad until it happens 8 or 10 times a day, then frustration rises which is pointless to give voice to because he can't do much about it.  He is forgetting everything under the sun, having to go back into the house when we leave 2 or 3 times to gather whatever it is he needs for wherever we are going.  He is forgetting words he knows as well, stumbling to describe things as he reaches for words that have slipped away for awhile.  It is really challenging for all of us when he goes through these phases, but somehow we manage to help him make it through the day unscathed and feeling positive about himself, at least for the most part.

Joshie is deeply into the throes of his regression, waking up with night terrors again and now permanently residing for the unforeseen future on our bedroom floor so he can be comforted, even if he can't be truly wakened.  It is scary for his siblings when they hear him in the middle of the night and he sits straight up in bed crying out, and won't wake up when they try to help him.  Kenny and Matthew led him into our room around 11:00 PM the other night, and although upright and moving, Josh was completely not with us, very much in a dream state and unable to pull out of it.  It took me about 20 minutes to get him to lay down, and he promptly fell back into a deeper sleep within moments.  During the day he is exhibiting signs of being more insecure as well, checking up on me often to see if I am still there, wanting to be near me.  Interestingly, he would never even see that he is like this if I tried to explain it to him.

I was telling Dominick Sunday afternoon that there are times when I don't even realize how very tired I am, how I need a break just to clear my head.  I am not the first Mom to ever deal with such things, for sure, but homeschooling and being around the kids 24/7 means there is little time to recharge my own batteries.  Then there are the other things going on, swirling around my life which need attention too.  Sometimes I am better at balancing it all than others, right now I am not doing a good job of it. 

I ended up taking several photos today, and as sometimes happens one kid happens to be in better light more often, or is doing something that photographs better than the others.  It all eventually evens out over time as each child has "their day", but this time it seemed to be Joshua who was front and center.  Oh yea, two paragraphs above might explain that! HAHAHA!!!  What a hoot, I didn't even think about that until this very minute!!!  Duh...

Here are some photos from our work today:

Learning how to hold the brush.

Practicing with Daddy.
I can do it myself!

As I took these photos this morning, I thought about how blessed I am to be parenting with Dominick...a man who adores his family, would do anything for them, and spends more time with his kids than most Dads I know.  He is firm and patient, strong and yet cuddly.  He is playful and silly in ways I could never be, and is the one whose work ethic has rubbed off on the kids.  They see a wonderful example of a man committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure his family is provided for, who trusts that God will help him if he puts the effort in, and who expects more out of himself than he expects out of others.  As I see the kids working so faithfully on this project, willing to put in such incredibly long physical hours hauling gravel, painting tedious fence board after fence board, ripping out carpet and doing so without complaint, I know they have already begun to internalize lessons from their Dad that will carry them far in this world, no matter what they do.

Matthew painting the trim up high...the only one not afraid to be up there!

Gosh, he looks like a man these days, one we are very proud of.
Our Fence Stainer Extraordinaire moving on to trim paint.

Angela has worked so hard, as she spent most of the day hauling gravel and still had the desire to paint trim.
Kenny ready to help unload the car, heavy with flooring!

"Hey, at least I don't have a paint brush in my hands for a change!!"

These two were really having fun together today, wait till you see their Halloween costumes below!  I loved this photo of the two of them, as I thought about how homeschooling has really enhanced their relationship with one another.
"It's heavy, but if the big kids can do it, so can I!"

Our numbers kid, counting the cases.

Maybe the baby of the family, but certainly not a baby anymore and well on the way to being a young man we all respect and admire.
And now on to some Halloween fun!  The kids all brainstormed on ideas for their costumes one night over dinner a couple weeks ago, and came up with some good ones.  A special thanks to our lovely friend Miss Jill who shared some of her own garb with the girls.

Olesya as a Business Woman.  Dominick thought she looked like a Flight Attendant!  It's a skirt, you KNOW this didn't come from my closet!!  Thank goodness for friends who dress better than I do!
Josh as a sort of zombie-ish Kyrgyz cowboy.  Don't ask, it was the look he was going for and he was pleased!

Angela who added the webbing and spiders to her costume, and I did her face.  She loved the green look!

Our special pair of dice!  They may look mismatched in some ways, but they are both totally goofy and had great fun creating these and going out tonight dressed alike.  Love the joy I see on their faces, simply because of being together.  That's worth more than anything to us, that our children love one another and are willing to show that to the world.

It's really hard to hug when you are a big ol' square! HAHAHA!
It doesn't matter how hard things are, it doesn't matter how much we struggle financially or emotionally.  We are together, we find wholeness in one another.  A cardboard box and some paint is all it takes sometimes :-)  Ultimately, how can that not help heal us all?  How can our work together as a family not help us succeed in ways none of us can imagine?  How can keeping God in the center of it all not be the key? 

When I see the pictures here today, it helps me re-center myself and recognize what is real, what is good, what is...dare I say it...Holy.  Looking at Matthew and Kenny, unabashed in their delight with one another, that surely is what Holy doesn't have to be solemn.  Seeing Olesya dressed up, looking for all the world like a bright business woman, how can I not have hope that indeed one day she will see what we all see is possible for her?  Seeing Angela gain a little piece of the childhood she was long denied, dressing up like a little girl and pretending, how can that not have a thread of God running through it?  And Joshua, growing so strong and capable with each passing day, learning to count on himself and see himself as able to conquer anything, God's healing is right before my eyes.

We have a long way to go, all of us together.  There are times when I get discouraged, times when I am overwhelmed, times when we doubt and fear the future for the kids AND for us.  Today the kids asked us sincerely about the risk we are taking with the purchase of this little house, and they know Dad hasn't had a lot of work lately so they wonder how we can not be afraid.  We the dark, when we are tired and the receipts are adding up, and we whisper about the bills sitting on the kitchen counter.  We speak of things like faith in God's leading, of life not offering guarantees that it will always be easy, about hard work and stick-to-it-iveness paying off, about making commitments and trusting that honoring those commitments will be a reward unto itself.  Mostly though, we pray and back up that prayer with action as best we can.  We laugh as we talk about other risks...with every single child we brought home, with moving to Colorado in the first place and trying to make a life here with no jobs...just dreams.  We share about ways in which God has blessed us over and over again in ways not measured on a calculator, and how THAT is the stuff that is important.  And we look around the table at one another and say "We are LaJoy's, we can do anything.", and we mean it with all our heart.

These tough times shall pass, as they always do, and more will blow in behind them.  But if we can live in joy in the midst of it, if we can feel loved and supported through them, then we can accomplish a great deal in this world.  If we can stick together, if we can hold on to what so many lose every single day as families break apart, either literally or spiritually, then we will indeed be blessed even if Top Ramen is on the menu for dinner.  Been there, done that, will be there again I am sure...and never happier :-)

After all, I have a king sized set of dice to roll, and from the looks on their faces, we will be winners!

Happy Halloween, One and All!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ups and Downs...Today Was UP!!

Seen this evening on our way home from volleyball.
Hot air...sometimes we are all "full of it", sometimes we all need a little lift from it.  It's all in perspective, it can be obnoxious or elevating :-)

We have had quite a week, full of ups and downs, and today was a strong reminder of what it is all really about.  Kenny and Angela had their season end volleyball tournament, which was a really big deal for everyone participating.  It was an all day affair, and we had to be up early to head to the next town over for it.  This was after a late night filled with friends, pumpkins and hot dogs as we held a small Halloween gathering at our house last night.  We had about 20 people over, more pumpkins than we needed, and a nice time of visiting with friends, old and new. 

Here are the teammates, ready for their big day!  I love that they enjoy being on the same team, and that being siblings with starkly contrasting skills hasn't been an ounce of trouble:

Go Flames!!

I was a little concerned initially about both of them being on the same team, but I shouldn't have been.  Yes, Angela is a natural at the sport and Kenny will never likely be a natural at much of anything that relates to sports.  The love they share for one another is so evident though, and a respect for each other's gifts is always present.  Even their coach told me today what a blessing it was to see the two of them playing together, and how sensitive Angela was about Kenny's feelings.  She said she intentionally tried much of the season to place them side by side on the court, as she quickly saw that Angela would take great care to set Kenny up with the ball, and she would purposely back off when Kenny was next to her so he could have a chance at the easier lobs.  Funny how what in some families would be a really sticky situation turned out to be a wonderful chance for both Angela and Kenny to appreciate each other's gifts.  Kenny became the best cheerleader ever for the team, and showed such graciousness in never being upset at not playing as much as any of the other kids on the team. Angela always complimented Kenny, and Kenny always compliment her and all his other teammates on a well played game.

Today, Kenny only got to play for about 4 or 5 points the entire 3 games of the tournament.  Honestly, it was probably the right move by his coach, as the competition was fierce the entire time, and Kenny would have felt terribly if the team lost due to a costly error on his part.  This way, he went out of the season still feeling good about his performance overall for the season, and not feeling any regret due to any mistakes made on the final day.

He also became even more my hero, and I think that is true for all of us on Team LaJoy.  Sometimes it truly is the "least of these" who show us how to live a life filled with joy and grace.

Angela had a great tournament, playing quite well, making a mistake here or there, diving for balls, and really contributing to her team's victories.  It was a great first year experience for both of them, and all 4 of the older kids are looking forward to playing next year.  Poor Joshie will have 2 more years before he is old enough to play, guess he'll be the official Team LaJoy mascot!

Their team went on to win two medals, one for being #1 for the season and the other for being #1 in the tournament:

Our family is a little weird, and in a long conversation with my mom tonight we yacked about how, for some reason, our kids are just not motivated by awards and accolades.  Oh sure, they enjoy it just as we all do from time to time, but in the long run they don't have a need to be the center of attention.  But when it comes to things like sports or other competitive things, they are in it more for the fun of doing it.  When we missed the track meet this spring due to the death of our nephew, not a single one was upset about it, saying that they had fun practicing and that family was more important.  None of the kids cares at all about proving how smart they are with good grades, and I quickly found that for them, issuing "report cards" was pointless.  They want to learn, they love the comments and encouragement, but they don't have the need that so many of us have to show they are better than others, and instead tend to prefer to lift others up.  Time and time again I have been surprised at how little sense of competition there is between all of our kids, especially with the 4 older ones being so close in age to one another.  It surely helps that each has their own interests that are quite different from one another, but I keep waiting for it to creep up and explode on us...and it still certainly could...but thus far it hasn't even come close.  That alone makes our home much more peaceful than it was even for my parents with me and my brother!! Hahaha!  My poor parents, it was ROUGH!!

Really though, isn't THIS what it is all about???:

Kenny gained far more this season than skill or playing time, he gained a wonderful new did Angela.  Sports are not the end all and be all, they are supposed to be a means to get fit, and to build relationships.  I think I can say honestly, "Mission Accomplished!" and I am GLAD we have the kids we have, despite the fact that most will never be the "rock stars" on a court, field or even in the classroom.  They are special in their ordinariness, they are walking a path all their own, they are not letting the things of this world call out to them and dictate who they become.  Will they remain this way?  I hope so.

And as Kenny jumped up and down, yelling for his team during the final game, rooting for his sister and teammates, I realized that being different is in many ways,  a much happier way to be.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Older Adopted Children and Brokenness

Perhaps I felt it coming.

Maybe that is the explanation for the feelings I have had the past week or two.

I didn't realize a full on tornado was coming, and this morning it touched ground.

It all started with Dominick last night, who was quite frustrated and angry when he shared that yesterday evening Olesya had told him "I don't want think."  Yea, we sorta noticed that already.  We had company and I didn't have time, or even the mental space, to work with that at the moment, so I let it pass and planned to deal with that one later.

This morning we were going to get busy with school, and while I showered, picked up my room and got a little laundry going the kids were to get dressed, get breakfast, and be ready with their notebooks.  I come to the table and Olesya is sitting there with a cup of tea, not yet dressed, looking for all the world as if there was no need at all for her to do anything.  Using my best Mom Voice I said "What are you doing?  Why are you not dressed?" and she looked up at me and said "I was getting breakfast."  I asked "Where's your breakfast?" and she said "I don't have it yet, I couldn't figure it out."


Oh yea, I went Mom on her all right..."You mean it took you 45 minutes to get a cup of tea?  Do I have 'stupid' written on my forehead?  What in the world did you do the last 45 minutes??  Do you expect me to believe that took you 45 minutes??"  She hung her head and said "I played with the dog." I sent her off without breakfast to get dressed.  She returned to the table and while we were alone for a few moments I told her I wanted to talk to her.  I began a conversation about her comment to her dad about not wanting to think.  I asked her what she wanted for her future, and I asked her why we could never have a real conversation with her.  She didn't respond, and I could tell I was getting nowhere with her, I wasn't reaching her at all.

I tried a different direction, and I asked her why she thought she was so stupid. She hung her head and I could see the tears well we were getting somewhere.  I asked her again, and she said "I don't know." I then asked her "Who ever made you think you were dumb?  Who was it that told you that you couldn't learn?  Who made you give up on your very good brain??"  Then she really started to cry.  I asked it differently, and I made her look into my eyes across the table.  "Olesya...who ever told you that you were smart?  When was the first time you remember someone complimenting you and telling you that you were good at something?"

That did it.  She totally lost it and started sobbing.  I pressed her to remember, and she looked up at me and said "1st grade I think, one time the teacher said something to me about doing something good in school, and one time in 3rd grade my teacher told me I was a good speller." 

I sat there in dumbfounded silence for a moment, taking that in.  Our daughter was 8 years old before a single person told her she was good at anything.  Here she was at 12, thinking she was too stupid to learn much, thinking she wasn't really good at anything.

Is it any wonder she doesn't want to think?  No one ever told her she was good at it!  Or anything else, for that matter.

The other kids had gathered round the table by this point, and they all were uncertain what to do.  I asked them all to sit down, and then I told them what Olesya said.  I asked them each to tell her what they saw in her, what they saw her acting like.  Every single one of them said in one form or another that they saw her zoning out a lot, that she said nonsensical things just to get attention, and Kenny added that she pulled away from conversations that were important when we were all together in our "family times", and it made him sad and he felt like she didn't care when she did that. 

I told Olesya that a year and a half later, I didn't feel like I knew her all that much better than I did the day she came home, because she never shares her opinion about anything, she always defers to others, and she never shares her heart.  She sat there quietly then, taking it all in.  I then did an experiment to show what I meant.  I asked every one of her siblings to share for 2 minutes about who they are, what they like, etc. and to then answer one quick question for me with their opinion.  Matthew started and shared that he loves history and building things, that he was interested in strategy games and anything having to do with aircraft, that he enjoyed certain kinds of music and time with his family.  I then asked him what he thought about America and he immediately launched into a couple of minutes of what he liked and disliked.  Every one of the other kids did the same thing, rattling off things they enjoy and don't like, what they thought about things, etc.  It was effortless.

Then it was Olesya's turn.  The silence was deafening as she struggled to form an identity and put it into words.  She cried within 30 seconds as she realized she had no clue what to say, that she had spent years "not thinking" and that it was so hard for her to reveal herself to us.  I told her "Olesya, this is what we are talking about.  You don't even allow yourself to have an opinion.  You have taught yourself that nothing you say is important, and that leads you to not thinking because there is no point." 

In tears myself, I turned to the other kids and said to the boys "Guys, this is what happens when no one cares about you.  This is what happens when it takes until you are 8 years old to before a single person points out that you are good at anything."  I asked Matthew "How many times did Dad and I tell you that you were good at things before you were 8 years old?  How many times did we tell you that you were smart, handsome, intelligent, that we liked your ideas?".  Matt didn't know how to respond but Olesya did, and she looked up with such pain in her eyes as she said "I know Mama, thousands..." and she dissolved into deep sobs.

Which lead to Angela starting to cry soulfully as well.  Obviously, this hit a nerve for her too.  I told Olesya "The only reason Angela isn't the same way is that she had sports and everyone told her she was good at that" but Angela then choked out "Yea, but no one told me I was smart.  No one showed me I could do things, or ever told me I was pretty. I HATE basketball now!  I don't want to only be good at sports, I want to be good at different things.  Sports isn't for real life helping you, it is only a game."

I sit there, knowing the words I say will long be remembered, if not in actual word but intent.  I begin to speak "You know girls, I can never give you back the years we missed.  I can never, ever go back and spend your first several years telling you all the things you are good at, how beautiful we think you are inside and out, how amazing you are.  I wish I could, but I can't, and I am sorry no one was there to do that for you.  But you can decide to move forward Olesya, you can challenge yourself to use the wonderful brain God gave you and discover all the things that are possible for you.  But you can't be lazy in thinking.  You are one of the hardest working kids I have ever met, but when it comes to thinking you take the easy way out.  You will never prove to yourself just how smart you are if you continue to do that, and it means your future will not be all it could be."

Then I added "I wish for all my kids I could go back in time, that I could be there from the moment you were born and hold you, hug you, and care for you.  But none of us can do that, we can only work together as a family to support one another and encourage one another now.  We don't have to live in what wasn't, we can live in what is."

And as I look across the table, Joshua has tears streaming down his cheeks and his chest is heaving.  "I wish you were there too and that my birth mommy hadn't left me.  I wish I had come from your tummy and not hers!  She was an awful, bad mommy and I don't know why she didn't want me."  He rushes over and into my arms, back to me...for facing me would be too intimate...and he adds "And I want to know my real birthday!  I want to know what my real name would have been.  Why can't I at least know that?" as his body is wracked with sobs at this point and he can not speak further.

At the sight of Joshua's pain, Kenny and the girls all start crying, and even Matthew has a hard time not crying as puts his arm around Angela, who now is really, really losing it...and I realize this is about so much more.  She is almost at the stage she was a year or so ago, beginning to cry in a way that signals she is not really with us at the moment.

Kenny's face is screwed up as he too begins to cry out loud and he says "I know what it feels like to be Olesya.  I wish I had her brain, mine NEVER works right and I just wish it would so bad sometimes.  I would trade with her in a minute.  Sometimes it makes me mad when she doesn't even try to think with her school stuff and I try so hard and never get it right.  Sometimes I think my mom gave me up because she knew I would be stupid."

Angela rushes out of the room, into her bedroom where I hear her muffled howls.  Josh is clinging to me, Kenny is a mess, Olesya has her head on the table and Matthew is sitting there not having a clue what has just happened, looking at me as if to say "Wow...what now??".  I tell Josh I need to go check on Angela, and I find her on the floor of her room, huddled under her blanket which is completely covering her entire body as it shakes.  The kids all follow me down the hall and sit around us as I gently rub Angela's back trying to comfort her.  Josh is in my lap, his head on my arm as the tears are still coming.  Olesya is saying over and over again "I'm sorry Mama, I made this happen, I'm sorry." 

I look at her and tell her "Why are you apologizing?  Did you abandon Josh when he was a baby?  Did you tell your mom to use alcohol and kill someone?  You need to stop exactly this, Olesya, you need to not feel responsible for making everone happy and ignoring yourself."  Matthew chimed in at that point "Yea, Olesya, you do that all the time...try to make everyone happy by giving us stuff or doing what you think we want.  What about you?  When you do stuff like that, it doesn't mean anything because it isn't don't really want to show you love someone, you just want to make people like you and you think doing that stuff will make them like you.  Instead, it makes people take advantage of you even if they don't really want make it too easy."  Then he said "We want you to be happy too and to really love us, not pretend."

Kenny added "And we WANT to know what you think about things, we WANT you in our conversations, not acting like you are not interested or are afraid to tell us what you think.  We're never going to think you are stupid."

Angela, in the meantime, is slowly calming a little and she reveals through cries that she doesn't know why, but she was thinking about her grandma the past 3 days and she can't get her out of her head and it scares her.  She wound up again and said "I wish you had gotten me before all that happened!" and I quietly say "I wish I had gotten all of you before anything bad had happened."

And I am so damned helpless.

We all sit there, reflecting on so much that was heavy in the room, wishing we could help Angela and Olesya, Kenny and Joshua...each thinking of their own pain and how it mirrored their sibling's in one way or another.  Matthew sat respectfully through it all and finally said "I am really lucky none of this stuff happened to me, but I wish it hadn't happened to you guys."  I said "Yea, but you have lived through each and every one coming home and all their adjustments, and that hasn't been a piece of cake either."  He smiled over Joshie's head at me and said "Yea Mom, but it was worth it."

Slowly, with more gentle conversation, the room became quieter, and huge sighs were heaved.  Angela scooted over and with her head still under the blanket, rested her head on my knee, her hand held in mine.  Olesya spoke "Mama, I know you are right.  I don't know how to change, but I'll try.  I do like when you tell me all the time how smart I am at things.  I guess I just don't always believe it." and she almost started to cry again, but caught herself, and then I added "And Olesya, don't think I haven't noticed that you don't yet quite feel 100% connected to me.  I feel your hugs, I know they are halfway.  But it is hard to love someone else when you don't fully love yourself.  The day I get a real hug from you will be the day I know you are almost there, that you will be loving yourself."  She looked up at me with the most stunned look on her face, and she said "Mama...I love you...but I think I know what you mean.  How did you know when I didn't?  I do feel like I am not really hugging you all the way but I don't know why."  I said "Someday, you will know.  In the meantime, let's work really hard at being very real and honest with each other...I will never ever give up on you, and I am NOT going to let you get away with not thinking, so now I am going to be harder than ever on you, OK?" and she actually smiled and said "Yea, I know Mama, it's because you love me."

We all sat there on the girl's floor, together as feet touched feet, arms were flung over shoulders, everyone wanting a piece of Mom, who had far too few arms to place around too many children.

This remarkable group of children, whose pain runs so deep, and who so few would ever suspect suffer so deeply over their past.  They appear so whole to the outsider, as if we somehow snapped our fingers with each one and declared them healed from their past. 

It doesn't work that way.  This is pain that will be carried with them forever, there are deficits that last a lifetime.  We do our best to help them, we screw up often, we worry and fret and wonder every single day as their parents.  Are we doing the right thing?  Is this something to let pass or is the time right to work on it?  How much do we press?  How much do we let slide? 

It is fall, and this is Joshua's time to regress, I have been feeling it for a couple of weeks as he has reverted to checking on me around the house, clinging a bit more to me, and now today's breakdown.  We talked about how he may not know his birth name, but Matthew and I shared about how Dominick and I spent two nights trying out names, and what his names might have been.  I told him that our birth dates are important only as symbols of the date we were born, and that he might even have really been born on his birthday as we know the police made an educated guess, and maybe they guessed right.  I asked him if he would like to pick a different day to celebrate, and he said no that he actually liked his birthday.  He just wished he had something that he knew for sure.  I told him he could know for sure that God was with him, that we loved him enough to wait for him and go that far, and that God had put us all together.  He seemed to think about those things for awhile.

Angela has suffered true trauma, and it will reappear many times during her childhood, I am certain.  What she witnessed, what she endured, what she haunts her.  Therapy?  Maybe, eventually,  but I have a funny feeling it will get us nowhere more than we are now.  We are making progress in helping her deal with things, she at least is comfortable enough to share it, and in time more and more comes out.  And this is one young lady who will flat out have to feel someone is extremely intuitive and honest before she would ever trust them with her emotions. 

Kenny, he has lasting issues that will forever challenge him.  He is gaining confidence, healing has occurred but still has a long way to go.  Frustration at his inability to have his brain function the way everyone else's does takes it's toll, and at times like today, grieving happens for all that is hard for him and easy for others.

Olesya, dear sweet, people pleasing Olesya.  She is a reminder that sometimes, what is not said or done is more harmful than what is.  The lack of early affirmation has forever altered who she becomes, and we have a very, very long road with her to help her view herself as worthy, to help her learn to tune in and turn on.  I honestly don't know how to do that, but I'll keep trying.

Then there is Matthew, seemingly unscathed emotionally, yet who has witnessed so much as each child has come along, who has remained steady and calm, who has never tried to draw attention to himself in order to keep it from others.  What do we not see there in him?  What ways has all of this affected him which we are not even aware of?

Tonight, the aftermath is that Mom is feeling wrung out and very, very helpless while the kids are all purged for awhile.  Where do I purge?  Here, I guess.  Where do I let go of the guilt of being unable to hold four hurting kids today...of not being able to spread myself that thin?  Where do I turn to teach myself how to help our children work through all that haunts them? 

I do what I can, I let God do what God does, and I recognize that some things may be out of my power to alter.  I almost lost it at choir practice tonight, as we sang "Consecrated, Lord to Thee"...just the beginning lyrics were so true for me, so hard to live...

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
*Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

If I can manage to live this out, if I can let myself be that in tune with God's will for my life, for our life as a family, then somehow I can trust we will all make it.  On days like today, it is all I have to cling to, for it feels as if I can never, ever be what the kids truly need me to be., or even Dominick for that matter.
I am trying very, very hard not to let the feelings of failure that were already on the surface take over.  Tonight, as we all sleep together with kids gathered on the bedroom floor around us needing connection and security, gentle breathing the only noise we hear, maybe I will somehow find peace with everything.  Maybe it'll make sense, maybe I can sort it all out.  If not, I trust that God will somehow use someone or something to help me.
I have to believe that, for THAT is my true salvation...not heaven, not promises of streets of gold...but salvation is making it through the things that feel impossible alone.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Operation: Rental Rehab, Week 2

It has been a long first week, but we accomplished so much that we can look back with great satisfaction.  Week 2 will see slower progress I think, but we might be surprised.  The kids have each spent a total of approximately 38 hours on the "job site", and then have spent another 5-6 hours working on their notebooks, which are coming along nicely.  We need to spend more time on them in the next couple of days, and I need to get photos together for them to print out and label.  However, our printer is giving us fits and I seem to be GONE a lot from the house this past week...hahaha!

What are some of the lessons learned this past week?

1)  Don't let the dog get near the stain.
2)  A roller works best for applying stain on the fence.
3)  Water rots wood badly when allowed to seep in.
4)  Teamwork and music can make a dull job more tolerable.
5)  Bleach can clean a moldy toilet as easy as pie.
6)  Measure once, buy paint and stain, don't take into account that no one has ever sealed the fence before, buy LOTS more stain.
7)  Cost overruns are an unpleasant surprise.
8)  Thinking ahead helps keep you on schedule...thinking 4 weeks out for ordering carpet is a priority!!
9)  Keep the job site orderly if you want to avoid spending time over and over again looking for cutters.
10) Duct work can get nasty, and mouse droppings can be very, very dangerous.

and most importantly...

11)  I can do anything if I set my mind to it.

The "stick-to-it-iveness" of each of the kids has honestly completely surprised Dominick and I.  We expected that once the "new" wore off of any particular task, the kids might be complaining or wanting to quit.  These are kids, after all, and only one teenager in the mix...and that one just barely at 13.  You'd never know it though. 

Olesya has spent hours and hours and hours on the fence, rarely stopping even for a break.  Seriously, I think that in 3 days alone she put in 16 hours or more.  Matthew and Kenny begged to do the gravel themselves, even after spending two long afternoons on it.  They said "We started it, we'll finish it...then when we look at it we'll know we did it all by ourselves."  Angela said the same thing about her gravel project on the other side of the front of the house.  Josh has bounced between the fence and the gravel, not really caring about "ownership" of any project but not wasting time playing either.  That kid at 8 years old has hauled, cleaned, painted, dug out two large plants all by himself,  shoveled, and swept for hours and hours.

We are expecting weather this week, so we are rushing to get the outside work completed.  The kids helped mask the easier things off, but Dominick sprayed it all as we have no time to lose.  When it comes to the inside they will get their lessons on painting, both with the airless and with brushes and rollers as Mr. Steve is planning on teaching them the proper way to approach a project.  We plan on turning them loose once they know how.  There is no carpet to ruin, nothing to worry about, and it is the perfect place for them to practice and learn technique.  They are excited about that, as they know it will be different than slapping stain on the fence outdoors.  We still have gravel, exterior trim, and fencing to finish but hope to make headway on most of that tomorrow. 

Looks like a lot of fence?  You can't see what is behind the photographer still yet to be stained :-(

Sundown, and one tired young man.

See all that gravel behind the pile?  Most of it was moved one shovel full at a time by Kenny and Matt.  We calculated about 1000 square feet including what is on the side to the left that is not pictured.

Angela pulling weeds in preparation for more gravel on the other side of the front of the house.

Miss Lael's prized wheelbarrow has come in quite handy...thanks for letting us borrow it!
Matt's 6 Hour Project = Redoing wooden landscaping timbers
Step One:  Remove very rotted old timbers, spend an hour trying to remove metal rebar holding rotted timbers in place.

Step Two:  Spend 3 hours digging, leveling, and backfilling the trench for the replacements, which were a different size that the original timbers.

Step 3:  Stand back and give mom a smile :-)

Step 4:  Drill holes, insert new rebar...and do the entire project without ANY help from mom or dad!!
Before, trim masked off, almost ready for painting...we wanted to change the color because there was a home a similar color across the street, and the house needed repainting anyway.

After, or sort-of-after as we still have white trim to paint.  New roof is on, almost completed, as they were short a few shingles.  Plants to the left of the front door were removed by Josh.  Do NOT laugh at my very bad window masking job, now you understand why my Christmas gifts are wrapped so poorly!
It has been one big job to tackle, but we are still having fun!

The girls have more stain on their clothes and faces than they do on the WONDER we needed 5 more gallons!

Despite being exhausted at the end of each day, we have still found ways to "get 'er done" and yet have some laughs along the way.  Matthew was the honorary fence post as he got stained this afternoon. 

Hour by hour we are seeing the confidence and assurance grow in each of the kids as they take on more and more, and as they stand back and admire what they have accomplished even at this early stage.
Although personally I am feeling overwhelmed at the moment with all we still have to do, and all I am trying to cram in around it, this will go down on record as one of the single best experiences we ever gave the kids.  I have not done as much physical work yet around the place as I'd like to, as I have been the designated runner for the project so that Dominick and the kids can remain on the job and not have to keep constantly pulling off.  Today is only Monday, and since yesterday afternoon I have put 120 miles on the van, simply going from Home Depot and back, to volleyball and back, to the roofer's and back, and so on.  We selected carpet and other flooring today, and it is now ordered.  Angela and I spent quite awhile before giving up on our original choices and starting over, and now we are quite happy with our selections. 

I have spent a few days living in frustration and disappointment over a several things, all of which tap my weaknesses and not my strengths.  Basically, I am feeling like a bit of a failure lately in many areas, and I am not sure what to do to turn that around.  I am out of my comfort zone, and not doing well, which leaves me wondering why in the world I am even bothering.  Silly though it sounds, even selecting carpeting and flooring was a disaster for me, and served only to remind me of yet another thing I stink at...I can't pull things together to save my life, I have no eye at all, and find it confounding to even attempt to try.  There are other, bigger things that this is about, but standing there in Home Depot for over an hour trying in vain to do something as simple as match colors was just the wrong thing I needed to be doing yesterday, as it served only to heighten the sense of incompetence.  And yea, I know that is totally stupid, but it's still true.

Maybe I need to take lessons from the kids.  I always learn more from them anyway :-)

It's almost midnight and I need to get some sleep myself, so I am off.  Maybe tomorrow I'll only put 70 miles or so on the van!

Friday, October 21, 2011

1000+ Posts, About What??

As I opened blogger this evening I was greeted with data that indicated I have written a grand total of 1004 posts.  Somehow I missed the 1000 Post mile marker, so celebrating now seems a bit belated and pointless.  Sometime today, my Hit Counter turned 260,000 hits too. 

Five years of our life as a family together is shared on these virtual pages.  I have written to my family here, recorded our history here, lived our life here on these pages.  One thousand love notes, tens of thousands of opinions, beliefs and ideas reside here.  Our metamorphosis from a family of 4 to a family of 7 happened right here before the world's eyes.  I went from a frazzled working mommy, to a still frazzled homeschooling mama.  I traveled a faith journey that continues today and has often been written about in a variety of ways here.  I am wiser, older (notice the "wiser" comes first! Hahaha!), more capable, more sensitive, more flexible, more questioning, more forgiving, more certain of some things and less of others. 

Those of you who have been along for the ride since those early days know our family more intimately than you may some members of your own.  You have probably shaken your head in amazement at ideas read here that you view as sheer lunacy.  Some of you know us in person, others only know us as a URL.  These were the first photos of "home rehab" we ever posted, way back then when we were waiting for our beloved "Tokie/Kenny" to arrive:

Joshie at 4 years old

Matthew at 8 years old, the age Josh is now!
Contrasted with yesterday's post, they seem so tiny, don't they?  Here are photos of all the kids when they were younger, the photos of our children adopted at older ages were posted and carried in wallets for years as we awaited their arrival:

Oh how I loved our daughters, years before they were legally ours.

Taken on my one visit to them in Kazakhstan.

Joshie as he was finally beginning to come out of the depths of attachment disorder.

Our first moments with Kenny, posted here on the blog hours after meeting him.  The bond began in those first moments continues, as three brothers are inseparable today.

Our first decent photo of Kenny, hung on our fridge for months and carried in my purse to show off our new son to all who would bother to listen.  Who could ever have passed up that smile? 

My favorite picture of all time of Matthew...the most loving, sweet little baby a Mama ever held, turned into the biggest gargantuan of a 12 year old who is STILL the sweetest a Mama ever held!
My favorite group photo of the kids was taken last year at the Grand Canyon, quickly snapped and such relaxed and genuine smiles.  This limited edition collection of God's children bound together by nothing more than the single thread of love:

This is the Real McCoy...oh, I mean the Real LaJoys!
Love sounds easy, it is simplified and memorialized in ways far grander than this blog.  But love is not easy, and there is not an abundance of it in our world.  There are too many of us who are orphans of a different sort, whose lives are lived in silent sorrow.  We live lives of apparent great abundance, but what is that abundance worth if we walk through this world in spiritual and emotional poverty. 

What is this blog about?  It's about love being hard work...and well worth it.  It is about relationship, connection and the little moments that touch our hearts.

It is about tears shared at a volleyball game, friend at your side cheering on your child whose success at FINALLY getting the ball over the net while serving feels like he just climbed Mount Everest.

It is about your daughter of a year and a half telling you she'd rather not play another sport for awhile because she has missed too much family time, and that is more important.

It is about working together, playing together, and loving together.

It is about God's presence, always.

It is about rejection and acceptance, about renewal and reward.

It is about trust and tentative steps in relationship with one another.

It is about offering ourselves up to be used in whatever way God chooses.

It is about family campouts on bedroom floors, surgeries and recoveries, Legos and dissecting ducks.

It is about commitment.

It is about one main thing:  Love Wins.

Will this blog continue into adulthood for our children?  I have no idea.  I hope so, for I'd like to think I'll have the desire to keep writing and recording their childhood for them, keeping up the family scrapbook, so to speak.  It sure won't happen in hard copy form so I guess I'd better keep it up.  It was hard to imagine five years ago posting pictures of graduations and marriages, but five years later it now seems not all that far off.  The time passes at the speed of life...calling upon us and challenging us to be present and aware every moment, before it is all over.

But if we've done it right, if we have parented well, it won't really ever be "all over".  It will merely be a shift in relationship rather than a door slamming shut.  Time will tell, but I'll say this, I hope we do it right, for I have a feeling these kids will be people I will really want to spend time with as adults.

So thank you for reading, and if you have followed since the beginning let me say I can't believe you have read 1000 posts anymore than I can believe I have written 1000 posts!

Here's to five more years and another 1000 posts filled with adventure, learning, struggle, discovery and life.  May the love of the LaJoy's continue to weave us ever closer to one another.  May God be ever present, may our family be used individually and collectively to touch the lives of others. May we one day years down the road be even closer as a family than we are at this moment.  That would equal success in my book.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pictures of Work in Progress!

As promised here are some photos of the past couple of days.  The kids look grubby, but it is hard earned grub! Hahaha!

What a mess!  That's OK, it'll get worse before it gets better :-)

Kenny and Angela scraping the floor

Of course our 6th child had to come along, although she looks a little confused by all the activity.

Olesya getting instruction from Dad.

I didn't realize just how tall Angela was until I saw this picture!  Where are my babies?  Oh yea, we never HAD Angela as a baby.  Sometimes I forget that, it seems as if all the kids have been with us forever.

Taking a much deserved break while Kenny is out taking his turn pressure washing.

The last room to rip carpet out of.

What kids wouldn't love the demolition phase??

My 6 kids! Hahaha!

Using cutters to split carpet into smaller pieces...yes, I held my breath as they used them, but you have to let go eventually and no one got hurt despite using them for 2 days!

Dad is a slave driver.

School is in session even in the midst of remodeling.

Every once in awhile, with each one of the kids, I catch a glimpse of them and think theya re just the most beautiful children ever to walk the face of the earth.  Love those eyelashes of Josh's!

The girls wanted to do their math lessons amidst the rolled up carpet and padding, and of course Sunny had to be right in the middle of it.

Love how someone dug out a little canal in the ceiling drywall to bury a cable in, it was FUN to rip it all out!

Macho Men

Safety goggles, remembering to wear them is not always easy.

Taking a break...

Our own Guitar Hero!

Dad is giving a plumbing lesson.

One dump truck load of gravel, quickly being handled!

Matthew's going to attack the platform

Looking like a pro with the drill!

Kenny and Joshie replaced two bathroom faucets all by themselves after Dad instructed!  Oh yea, and tightened :-)

Beginning to stain the fence, more stain ended up on them than the fence!

This is serious...and!
We'll keep taking more pictures to document the progress as we move along.  We have a couple days ahead where we are booked and won't get as much accomplished as we'd like to, but we'll make up for it.