Friday, June 29, 2012

Fires Raging, Hearts Amazing

Warning folks, it's a "long one"!

As the fires rage around us, smoke drifting skyward as fuel is consumed by the acre, so too do the fires rage within the hearts of the LaJoy's this past couple of days.  Oh, it may not be as obvious as the epic wildfires of Colorado have been this summer, but make no mistake, there are distinct embers smoldering and occasionally igniting into fill blown flames.

I think that somehow, each of us was just a bit transformed by this past week, and after all, isn't that exactly what summer camp was designed to do?  

First, let me share the more mundane events.  The house was quiet with 3 of the kids gone, and both Angela and Kenny declared that though it was indeed nice to have more attention from Mom and Dad, it was just too darned quiet around here!  We heartily agreed with that.  I have a secret admission to make though, and that is that I was quite surprised just how much easier it was to keep the laundry caught up and the house clean! Haha!  Truth be told, I'd rather have the mess :-)

Kenny spent several hours exploring a broken 10 year old laptop, and he was pleased with his ability to stick with it and then put it back together almost as good as new!  This was a first for him, and it is interesting to watch him hit developmental milestones later than other kids his age:

Olesya has been practicing her new cake decorating skills, and learning a lot as she goes:

This was Olesya's Father's Day gift to Dominick and our other favorite Daddy, Donald Vincent!

Flowers made from gum paste at our last class...all agreed they looked beautiful but taste wretched! Hahaha!

But of all her creations thus far, I think this one, left for us on our fridge before she went to camp, was our all time favorite:

There were so many surprises this weekend, so much richness and depth that made it very, very special.  Now, I know it wouldn't necessarily be all that special in anyone else's eyes, but it contained so many little revelations about who are children are, and who they are becoming.

Matthew's handling of his situation was remarkably mature, as he was moved from place to place without even being told why initially.  He was quite calm under pressure, and was not at all nervous or uncomfortable.  He laughed as he told me after the fact "Mom, with all that our family has done and what has happened to us over the past years, it makes this seem like nothing at all to stress about!  I actually was glad that I wasn't nervous like some of the other cadets were.  I knew that eventually you'd catch up to me, that you were smart enough to track me down and I didn't need to worry about it but just needed to do my job."  

The Big Surprise in our little Emergency Retrieval Situation was Mr. Kenny.  Wow, did this young man shine and show that for all the things he can't remember, when the chips are down he can really come through!  He was really thinking ahead the entire time, warning me to make sure that we didn't let the car gas tank sit on low in case we needed to take long detours.  He cautioned us to keep ourselves fairly well packed once we hit our hotel room, because we might have to be evacuated in the middle of the night and didn't want to be rushing around to pack things up.  There were tons of little things like that which had me seeing him in a new, more capable and mature light, which goes hand in hand with his ever-deepening voice these days.  He might not be able to remember to shut the car door, but in an emergency he has a lot of common sense!

We ended up housing two of our close friends also coming to pick their children up from La Foret, as their hotel had been evacuated and they had no place to go!  Thankfully, we had a larger room and it was as if it was planned!  So we had a big ol' slumber party, and Thursday morning we were off to pick up Olesya and Josh from church camp and to reunite our family.  

Camp is set up so that the younger kids have a closing ceremony that the parents are invited to attend, while the older kids have their own Closing Circle that is special and parents are asked to stand back and let the campers have that time alone together to say their goodbyes.  So we didn't get any photos of Olesya as we were all off to see Joshie's last hurrah.

In an odd way, it was a right of passage for me as well, for this was the last of the LaJoy children to go through the youngest camp, called Pioneer Camp.  It was signalling the end of an era of sorts, an era of younger children in our home as we acknowledge the passing of time and the maturing of little souls into somewhat older ones.  Boy, did that ever hit home later that day as we headed back toward Montrose.  

Josh was at camp with two buddies from church, and they all looked like the Big Kids there!  A terrific compliment was paid us parents when two separate young counselors told us that our little Gang of Three was the best behaved group of the bunch, and in fact word had gotten around after last year and a couple of the counselors were crossing their fingers hoping to get them in their cabin!  

Joshie waving after seeing us for the first time since camp started!

There are some truly dedicated counselors at our church camp.  Miss Teddy has been a counselor there for 27 years, and has had all 3 LaJoy Boys!

Our Gang of Three...tremendous little guys, all of them!

What really touched me though was seeing the love that Joshua clearly felt for those with whom he had spent this past few days...and how easily he showed his affection.  For most kids, this wouldn't be a big deal.  For a child with reactive attachment disorder, this is a miracle, pure and simple:



And More Hugs!

This was Joshie's Cabin Counselor, and it is easy to see the affection was mutual.

THIS is why La Foret is important for our kids, priceless for them.  The experiences they have there, the connections they make, the love that is shared fills them in ways that parents alone can not.

My favorite picture of all was this one though, as the kids were all coming back from getting Josh's gear from his cabin...

That raised eyebrow totally cracks all of us up, and it always reminds me of 
Steve Austin, the Bionic Man! Hahaha!

While I was bummed not to be able to get photos of Olesya, there wasn't much I could do about it.  By the time I got to her, all the kids in her camp had already departed :-(

Our family was mostly all together, with the exception of Dominick who was back home working, but we had yet another reunion ahead of us which long overdue.  Our friends from Wichita with 2 daughters adopted from Matt's orphanage were in Colorado with their family on vacation (And their Daddy had to stay home too!).  This friendship has stood the test of time, beginning even before Matthew was brought home as they guided us through the then very much unknown process of Kazakhstan adoption.  We have visited back and forth for years, they have been extraordinarily kind as we added each of our children to our family, and we have watched our collective broods grow from 2 children to 9!!  The saddest part of being with them is parting, as they are so special and such a wonderful fit for us and our weirdness :-)  We love the Ewing's, as well as their extended family, very much, and this relationship has been one of the side bonuses of our international adoption journeys.  I have no doubt that one day in the not so distant future we will be having 18 year old young men and women standing before us as we gather yet again to celebrate the joy that was brought to all of us through loving those who are not biologically connected...and that includes far more than our children.

While, of course, you know that the LaJoy kids are all adopted, but I am not even going to point out which of the others are, for it really doesn't even matter, does it?  Love is love...

After playing in the pool and sharing mass quantities of pizza together, it was time for us to hit the road and head home...finally...where my hubby was patiently waiting and alone for our anniversary!  I was soon to learn that he wasn't actually alone, thankfully, as our pastor and another family-ish friend were out with him having a late night Coca Cola.  Now that is real friends, making sure you don't spend your anniversary nursing a Coke all by yourself! Haha!

We got in our car to head home, the final 2 1/2 hours ahead of us.  It was early evening, the sky was stunning, and the conversation was contemplative on so many levels. What is it about the twilight hours?  What is it about the coming darkness that allows us to open up?  Olesya started the conversation by sharing heart to heart, really for the very first time, and my soul was dancing as she did so.  

"Mama?  Remember when you told me awhile ago that you knew I wasn't really totally able to love you all yat?  That I was scared of showing you what was really inside?  We talked a lot about that at camp this week, and it was like I suddenly totally got it...what you were saying...and I think you were right.  Why do you think I do that?  I can't figure it out, because I DO love you and Daddy a lot, but it was like a light bulb went on and when we talked at camp about being open to people I saw what maybe you see in me."  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  That is the deepest Olesya has ever been with us on her own accord.  Instead of providing her with an answer to her question, I asked her one of my own.  "Olesya, why do YOU think you can only go so far with love?  Why do you think it is so hard for you?  I totally believe that you love us completely, so don't feel bad about that...Daddy and I both know that.  But we want you to be able to fully participate in relationships with those you care about and I am wondering what you think is holding you back, why you feel the need to protect your heart."

She looked out the window for a moment, and you could almost see her deciding whether she should risk total honesty or not.  "Maybe it feels scary, like people won't really honestly love me back."  There  were no tears, it was more of an intentional willingness to share something that she had been unwilling to share before.  The whole care go quiet, no one dared say a word, for even the kids recognized this was sort of a mountain for Olesya to climb.  I asked her "Do you think I am playing at loving you?  Is it hard to imagine that you are special just for being who you are, and that I find you wonderful in every way and am SO happy you are my daughter?"  She looked up at me in the mirror, a serious expression on her face, "No, I trust you, but maybe it is habit now to think people can't love me." That is when the car started to fill with chatter as every single one of her siblings said "No way, Olesya! We all love you!" and "You are so sweet and smart, smarter than you think!"...and I was so glad to see her brothers and sisters all support and encourage her.

That led to her saying "There's another thing I learned at camp, I am not going to play dumb anymore.  There was this girl there, who did it all the time even though you could see she was smart.  It was SO annoying!!  I really understand now what you have been saying to me, Mom, about being smart but acting stupid.  I don't want anyone thinking of me like that!  I am so glad you care enough about me and want me to be  smart and not act like that.  I even laughed out loud once when that girl did that and I could tell what she was doing, trying to get attention.  You are right, that is not the way I want to get attention.  

All the passengers in the van broke out in great big applause!!

As we continued on, Billy Joel playing in the background as Kenny is "yell singing", Joshie suddenly cries out "Stop Mom, Stop!  Look at that beautiful sky!!!  It looks like heaven!" and he urged me to get out and take a picture before the light changed.  We pulled over several times, and I ended up handing him my Big camera and letting him shoot some photos as well.  He just kept exclaiming in total delight at the beauty he saw, and he asked me "Mommy, have you ever seen the sky look so beautiful?  I never have in my whole life.  God  is so amazing."  Obviously, camp was very much under his skin:

I don't know about you, but I sort of agree with Josh's comment.

Later on, as dark fell completely, we had a very close call as I actually ended up hitting a large elk that was with an entire herd on the road.  Thankfully, I was able to slow down enough and swerve into the other lane where no traffic was coming to barely avoid a full head on strike which surely would have caused serious injury...or even elk is huge.  We stopped, got out to check out the car, Angela was very upset and shaking a little saying "Mom, I am glad you are such a good driver!  That was so close!  I can't stop my heart from beating super fast!"  I don't have a clue how we avoided any damage to the van, because we definitely skimmed the back of the elk as Matthew confirmed...he thought it sounded like a flat tire...but we ended up with not a scratch on the van, a miracle in itself.

That was when the conversation took on an even more spiritual and somber tone, as the subject of the after life arose, and soul talk dominated much of the remainder of the drive home.  I'll tell you, there are moments when the dialogue I find myself in rivals anything found in a college course on theology or philosophy.  It was well beyond the simple "do you think we go to heaven when we die?" sort of questions, as I was asked whether reincarnation made sense at all, if the Mormon concept of families reuniting in the hereafter was one I personally believed in, why some people insist they "know" all there is to know about God when God's very nature is "unknowable" to the mere human.  All five were quite animated as we moved toward the concept of the acceptance of theological diversity.  

I marveled at how truly accepting the kids are about people in general, as they talked about how every family operates differently based upon the personalities involved, and how what works for one family doesn't work for another.  We also talked about how homeschooling is the absolute right thing for us to do, but how it might not work well at all for other families. Laughter ensued as we all agreed that we are a crazier family than most we know, and how there isn't another family we are likely to meet who is like us at all, so we should have no expectation that others will be like us...but that we can find all sorts of ways where our lives do connect.

Despite hours and hours in the car, I found myself regretting that home was suddenly so near.  There was so much more to share!  We all said the same thing "I wish we could just drive for another couple of hours, but only if Dad were with us."  

While Dominick wasn't with us then, on what was the night of our 26th wedding anniversary, all that we have worked so hard for was enveloping me at that very moment.  Love, wisdom, presence, grace...and much more was right there contained in 5 growing bodies squashed into a rather ordinary looking minivan.  What was happening was certainly not ordinary though.  Neither was the sun's glow on the horizon before us, and Josh once again declared "Isn't this the prettiest sky ever?  What a special day!"...and it surely was.

The road ahead is still long, but where it leads is pure magic!


Henry's mom said...

As always your posts are so well said and beautiful!

As I read your words, I was thinking about all of you packed in your mini van and all the love that is filling that van. When I think about how much your children have, having you as there Mama, it just puts the BIGGEST smile on my face. You are all so blessed to have each other.


Anonymous said...

As fires rage all over Colorado and the West, as NPR reports on mistakes we made in Afghanistan 50 years ago and are repeating now, as I read your blog, I am reminded again and again that there are some things we cannot change, some that we do not begin but can alter, some that are beyond our scope and take community and cooperation.

The counselors who volunteer year after year at children's camp, the firefighters deployed across the West, the reporters who tag errors and the people who respond with changes, hugs family gatherings, no one of us can change the world. Few of us can change a whole country or state or town, but each of us can do something, somewhere, each day.

I have to keep reminding myself. When we need rain so desperately, I am reminded that even one drop can cool one spot of earth, a sky of rain can stop a conflagration. One hug, one person, one camp or pool or family or friend can make a difference. Now what does this insight mean to me today?

Ms. Lael