Monday, May 07, 2012

Growing...Learning...Growing Some More!

The past couple of days have been so wonderful, in a rather ordinary way! Hahaha!  Seems "ordinary" might just be the key phrase of the month.  However, when you have had times in your life that have been like riding an emotional roller coaster, "ordinary" can be a blessing in itself.

Yesterday we spent time in the morning at our church, doing yard work outside, sinking knee deep in mud, laughing and joking all the way.  We were minus one LaJoy as Matthew was at his Civil Air Patrol open house, but by the time all 7 of us made it home in the early afternoon we looked at one another and decided we wanted to veg out the remainder of the day.  Sure, we had a lot we could have done, but we were simply not in the mood, so it was early in the PJ's and we laid around watching movies, which was so unlike us during daylight hours that we all felt a little as if we were committing some sort of sinful pleasure. Angela was super cuddly and wanted to snuggle all evening, and soon Josh and Olesya joined us while the other menfolk were off in the TV room watching something else as we sprawled out on our bed giggling, talking about the moral of the story we saw which was multi-layered and just enjoying all being together.

Before settling in for the afternoon, however, we had a little something to look forward to.  It requires a little explanation.  Before we left on our field trip, I realized I had to do some last minute curriculum purchasing in order to submit receipts for our last funding of the year through our homeschool program.  That meant that on top of planning for our trip and trying to get everything done around here, I had to quickly get serious about our  study plan for next year...and I had about 4 days to do that for all the kids to maximize the use of the funds we had left. Hmmm...Mama got crackin'!  Our homeschool style is "eclectic", and official term in homeschooling circles, which for the uninitiated means that I cobble together my own materials from a variety of sources rather than purchasing a "year in a box" which covers every subject.  It also means we use a variety of methods including work books, study units, reading "whole books" rather than just anthologies, incorporating hands on learning where possible, etc.  None of that is new to you, as you have already seen a lot of what we do but the term "eclectic" as it relates to homeschooling is probably new for most of you.

Anyway, there is this great company named "Sonlight" which puts together a year for you using mainly real books and they have a parent guide, etc. to help the parent work through it.  I love their catalog and wish we could use them, but it wouldn't work as well for us with our situation.  However, "Sonlighters" have a cute tradition of taking pictures and sharing them of "Box Day", which is the day they open up their curriculum box for the year for the first time.  Since I had a large portion of our curriculum being ordered for the year all at once, I thought it would be fun to have our own "Box Day", and it WAS fun for the kids!

This is actually not everything we will be using, as not pictured is the math textbooks for everyone else (Matt's Algebra 1 is there), nor is the grammar, spelling or writing workbooks pictured here.  All the kids were really excited to peruse the books we will be using, discover what they will be reading for assigned books/book studies, and see the cool stuff to supplement our history and social studies this year.  We have a super heavy year ahead, beginning next week when we will consider ourselves sort of starting the 2012-2013 year, even though we can't begin officially counting hours until July 1st.  We are taking this next week off as part of our break, then back at it...even the kids all said they'll be ready by then.

We are going to be studying Westward Expansion including the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the Oregon Trail.  That will be our "biggie" for the year as far as Unit Studies go, and that's a whopper.  I found some terrific tools to use including The Oregon Trail video game, a boxed strategy game titled "Oregon", a CD to listen to telling personal stories of the Lewis and Clark expedition, biographies at several reading levels, and we'll be hunting down the documentaries we can find on Netflix for it. They'll put together notebooks holding all their information, book reports, worksheets, etc.  I gotta admit, this one was FUN to find things for!

We'll also be studying a brief overview of the great composers, writers and artists throughout history, and I discovered this great series of books that has brief 3-4 page bios of many of them along with super interesting facts about each.  We will listen to music, look at works of art, and read samples of writings.  Because of the kids' art classes and our museum trips, they can already identify a Picasso,  Monet, and a couple of others, so we will learn a little more about them now.

We are also going to do a short study on the upcoming election, and delve into what the various parties believe.  We have been asked many questions about that and I found a good resource to use that straddles all our levels here, so that will help a lot.  For reading the kids will all continue with their anthologies, and study in depth several novels with book study units, including Amos Fortune Free Man, Hatchet, Caddie Woodlawn, and Sign of the Beaver for the four lower grades, and Matthew will be tackling Last of the Mohicans, and Call of the Wild in addition to his upper level biographies for our history studies and his anthology.  LOTS of reading this year to come, and I am hoping we can keep Kenny moving along with us as much as possible.  We also will be spending an extra hour or so every day before the other kids wake up or in the evening working specifically on his new reading remediation program.

What was so funny to me was that the kids had to be convinced to step away from all the materials, they were already quickly getting into them and didn't want to put them down.  That was when I realized, in all seriousness, that we had "won"....we have them each hooked on learning!  While of course like any kid they enjoy their time off, they do not dread schoolwork at all and they love learning new things all the time. With kids from our kids' background and with their language learning and challenges, that alone means we have been successful.

But learning doesn't take place only with books, and today was another hands on learning day when we all left church saying "What are we going to do this afternoon?" and I threw out that I really wished we had some flowers to plant.  That was all it took and we were off to the nursery!  We have a fabulous local nursery in town that has the widest selection of really healthy plants and ridiculously low prices...lower even than Walmart.  What I hadn't realized was that this was all new to the girls, we hadn't done flower planting since we adopted them.  Wow, were they overwhelmed with the choices and they LOVED the flowers!  Everyone grabbed trays, and it was time to get my early Mother's Day gift :-)  We looked closely at prices, explaining that the smallest little "pony packs" would ultimately result in many more flowers at a far cheaper price.  We all looked at the cost of pre-planted pots versus getting our own, and they quickly realized you pay a LOT more for someone else to dig in the dirt for you.  The girls were so cute as they said "Mom, this is so much fun...there are too many to pick from and they are all so pretty!".  We let them select colors and varieties, and Josh quietly asked if he could have a strawberry plant so that he could take care of it all by himself.  When we got home, he spent 20 minutes at the white board calculating the intervals between waterings and somehow came to the conclusion that every 56 hours he had to water them.  At one point he spoke about setting his alarm for 2:00 AM so he could go outside and water his strawberries.  He is the only kid I know who could take something like planting a single plant and turn it into an mathematical equation.

The boys ended up handling the veggies, and the girls handled the flowers, and that continued on when we arrived home and began planting.  I showed the girls how to remove the tiny plants from their plastic trays, and we talked about the difference between compost and top soil which was what we just studied in science.  Everyone worked very hard, and the girls asked if they could do our small back planter all alone, so off I went to get dinner started while Joshua eagerly pitched in to help them.  Of course, I only got a little done at a time because I was called over and over to come see what they had done as they worked their way around the bed.  By the time they were done, they had such a sense of accomplishment that was totally unexpected by us.  Matthew and Kenny learned about drip systems and how to replace parts.  By the end of the afternoon, everyone was feeling as if they had really gotten a lot done, and in reality they certainly did!

I don't know what it was about this afternoon that I loved so much, but watching the girls and their delight at making something beautiful, seeing everyone working together to accomplish a goal, seeing how capable they all are, and watching Dominick be the absolutely terrific father that he is just had me feeling verklempt!  To top it off, Kenny, Angela and I had the best conversation as we took a break later in the afternoon.  Those are my two who find it far easier to talk about emotions than the others, and we ended up sharing about both sides of what it is like to adopt older children.  Angela was so deeply honest about how hard it is for older kids to trust adults to take care of them, about how you guard your heart for so long that it is not easy to let go of it to someone who wants to love you.  We spoke of older children she knew who had been adopted when she was much younger and how she wondered if they ever were able to really love their new families or if they "played tough" and missed out on so much.  She looked at me and said "If you had been much longer before coming, I am not sure I could have trusted and loved ever.  I would have wanted to, but it would have been too hard."

Kenny who is so insightful said "When you think about it Mom, our family is a real miracle!  What if Josh had never been able to let go and love?  What if any of us had a wall that was too high and thick?  I am sure there are lots of families who have a lot harder time that we do, and are not as happy as we are, because their kids just can't trust their new parents.  When you think there are five adopted kids in our family, and we all really, really love each other and don't have the problems lots of other adoptive families do, we are so lucky!"  Then, he thoughtfully added "You know what though? I think it is hardest on you, and sometimes Dad.  You are the mom, and you have all the hard work of getting kids to open up, to share their hearts, and   even though it is hard for the kids, I think the mom has the worst job ever!"

I laughed over that and said "Not the worst job ever!  The best job ever!  You have no idea how cool it is to see you all change and grow, to watch those walls come down, and to see you succeed.  I don't know if I think it is harder on the mom versus the kids.  At least the mom and dad know more about life, they have had a lot of positive experiences, and they know how special love is.  A child who has never really known love has to imagine what it is first, then decide if they are willing to risk giving their heart to a stranger.  That is scary stuff!"  Angela piped in right then "Yea, it is REALLY scary!  I remember wondering if we would be safe with you.  I wanted to think we would be, but no one had ever been a real mom to me before and I was so confused and didn't know what to think.  Mom, you were crazy to bring us home the way I acted!" and thankfully she laughed over that very difficult trial by fire we all had.  Then Kenny said "And we are changing all the time!  One day we are one way, and the next we are totally different.  I remember back when the girls first came home, and how it seemed they were different all the time.  I know I have changed so much too, and I don't know how you can figure it all out, Mom, especially when there are five of us!  I sure couldn't!" then he giggled and added "But then, I sorta need you to help me figure out things all the time anyway..."

We also laughed as we talked about the rumors that are always present about how we are adopting children only for their body parts, so we could sell kidneys and livers.  Kenny cracked himself up as he asked how much all of them might be worth if we "parted them out".  He said "Mom, you and Dad could be millionaires!", which took something actually quite tragic and lightened it a little.  The idea that adults would try and convince vulnerable children not to go with prospective adoptive parents to a better life because they would be in danger of becoming organ donors is something most can't fathom, but it is one of the things that almost lost us our daughters.  How strange it was to be sitting on our couch two years later having the kids see the absurdity of it.  At the time though, Angela was terribly confused and had to find the courage and use her own wisdom to make a decision counter to those whom she had trusted for years.  I don't know if I could have done the same in her position.

The most helpful part of the conversation was when Angela asked why some parents want to hide facts about their child's adoption or not tell the whole story even to the kids.  We had watched a movie where it was all secretive.  With such wisdom she said "Mom, all that does is make it look like something is to be ashamed of.  It's not the kid's fault, and there is nothing wrong with adoption that people should hide.  I am glad you and Dad are not like that, and that we all understand everyone's story in our family.  It helps us all to not hide things, and there's no reason for it anyway.  It just tells the kid there is something wrong with them.  Like I am glad you tell us about Kenny, so we can help and understand instead of make it a big secret.  I am glad you aren't afraid of us talking about things, and you are not embarrassed of us or our birth parents.  I am really glad you don't say our birth parents are awful, because sometimes I don't know what to think just say the truth and don't pretend they were perfect or that they were terrible."  Then with more openness than she has ever had about her mom she said "Sometimes I hate my mom, and then I don't know why I want to protect her from other people feeling that way about her.  You've really helped me to see she was just messed up and that it's OK to feel lots of different things about her and my first dad."

I then told her "Angela, you'll find as you grow older that many relationships fail because people are unwilling to be completely honest.  They want things to look perfect to people, and they don't realize just how much it hurts them to try and pretend like that.  It damages families to hide things, to pretend, or to leave someone out because you want to keep a secret from them.  It also damages families when the parents think everything has to be perfect.  It never works to keep people closer together.  There is no reason why any of your stories should be some big secret, because it just is what it is.  We're all human, we all do the best we can, and we all fail sometimes.  There is no reason for you or I to be ashamed, embarrassed or hide a single thing."

Kenny then chimed in "I am glad you share on the blog about me, because otherwise people don't know what happens to kids like us.  You telling about how hard it is for me and what works for you may help someone else with their kid and make it a little easier for them.  Kids like me are really hard to figure out!   Like you said, Mom, it isn't my fault my brain doesn't work normally, but we are doing the best we can with it.  At least I am still a loving kid who works hard and maybe that will make people less scared to adopt older kids."

Our kids teach Dominick and I so much.  The growing and learning continues daily, and it certainly is not just those under 18 years old. How I have changed!  How Dominick has changed!  How glad I am that we have had these experiences to mature and season us.

Growing and learning, continuing for each of us daily.  Glad we are doing it together!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your conversation with Angela and Kenny. It reminds me how important honesty and openness is in a family.

Much love,

Peggy in Virginia

Anonymous said...

Looking at your pictures and reading your blog I was struck by colors. Your home is a lovely, quiet, subdued color until you add the humans--the colors of faces and clothing, of books and pictures, of flowers and hands, of stories and backgrounds. The deep peace of home becomes a canvas for color and life, for stories and reflection, for insights and discovery, and, above all, for love.

Thank you again for passing it on so that when we "Pay It Forward" we pay out of our stock of love, which you have partially provided.


Difference2This1 said...

I don't even remember how I ran across your blog a while back (I think it captured my attention because we are natives of CO and we miss it so!!!, but I have loved reading about your beautiful family and take any words of wisdom about older children adoption with appreciation. We just finished our 1st year of homeschooling 3 of 6 of our children. We completed a 6 week study of the Lewis and Clark expedition using "The Captain's Dog" (my kids found it SO interesting to take the journey from a dog's perspective!). We documented all the Indian tribes, plants, and animals found along the way. I just thought I'd share because it definately was one of the most FUN things we did this year. There are so MANY great Netflix videos that touch these topics- esp. from IMAX and National Geographic. Nat'l Geo's "American Serengeti" and "Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West" were our favorites. We used many resources from this link also:

Anyway, just wanted to stop by and say "hi" and share how much fun we had taking the journey of westward expansion this past year!! :) Very cool idea to open the boxes together...someday I should do that with my kids. But, I can never wait to open the boxes!! LOL!! Blessings, Jennifer in DE

Carrie DeLille said...

I love you Cindy Lajoy and fam!