Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All's Quiet, Finally!

Home a couple days from retrieving kids from camp, and all is quiet on the Western Front.  Laundry is caught up, life has settled down, and reflection is happening all around.

As always, church camp was profound for the kids, each in their own way. Angela said it was the best camp ever, that she felt it was much more grown up 5now that she and Kenny moved up to the older kids camp that Matt jumped up to last year, and that she was ready for it.  She shared that she had a very long and deep conversation with one of her counselors there, and that she got a lot out of that in terms of learning to not worry about what others think or say, and to do what makes her happy.  Sometimes I think Angela needs to hear that even more than Olesya, for Olesya is a more traditional female, one who will easily fit in due to her natural interests.  Angela has a long way to go to find herself, and she is a very non-traditional young lady.  It is easy to see why she is taken with the Amelia Earhart story, for I can see Angela blazing a unique trail of her own one day.  She is frequently mentioning wanting to work to help people in other countries, and is very interested in politics and social justice issues.

Kenny had a total blast, and it is always interesting to see how well he interacts with everyone.  He is totally "that boy", you know, the one in every group who is gentle, social, funny and kind and makes friends with virtually everyone he meets.  When we left, I must have heard "Bye Kenny!" a million times!  He was wearing friendship bracelets made for him by others, and told me that this camp was the most meaningful he had ever been to, and that he really felt God there.  It was an hour after we left, while walking through a mall that he broke down in tears and lay his head on my shoulder saying "I know that it wouldn't feel like it if we went every day, but La Foret is so special, Mom, and I just love how God talks to me when I am there."

As Matthew grows in self-awareness at an astonishing rate, he is openly acknowledging things he is seeing in himself.  He said that he liked everyone he met, but that he is realizing that in some ways he is a bit of a loner and that he is different from most of the other kids.  He told me "Mom, it's not that I don't enjoy being around people, and especially my family, but I like being alone a lot too and I don't think I need a lot of friends the way some kids do.  Is that weird?"  I told him that many people are like that, and there was nothing at all wrong with being a bit more inward as he walked through the world.  I also explained to him that I had seen that in him since he was a little guy, virtually in his toddler years, and that it was not about quantity of relationships but quality.  He then told me "Well, maybe if I had a different family I would need more friends, but I just don't feel a need to pretend to like things I don't like just to have friends, or to be 'cool' so that people will like me.  I just want to be me, and I am interested in weird things that other kids are not interested in."  I responded that I thought that was exactly what he should do...just be himself and God would take care of the rest.  I also explained that his ability to do exactly who he was without concern about what others think, is what make a very strong leader and he was a quiet leader in the family already.  He pondered that one for awhile and said "I don't see that.", I said "I know you don't...but one day you will.".

It was also wonderful to have several of the camp counselors make remarks to me at camp pick up about how "insightful all your kids are", and "what a remarkably kind group of young people you are raising".  If that is my report card or job review, I feel successful.  To have anyone tell you that your children are very kind is music to a mommy's ears.

It was over dinner, a special treat at Chili's compliments of Daddy sending along a little extra for a treat, that I had my own awakening.  Kenny and Matthew across from me, Angela beside me, and the conversation and laughter flowed as it would between dear friends.  I have said often ever since Josh and Matt were little that I really love being with my children, that they are interesting people to me.  What I realized this weekend is that they are already turning into young adults who are a complete joy to sit and share a meal with.  They are indeed the sort of people I would search out to be friends with, and who in many ways already exhibit the qualities and traits of my adult friends.  As we left, even the waiter made a remark, though at first he was trying to figure us out.  "What a nice group of kids, are they your students?" he asked.  "No, all three are my children." I replied.  He then said, "Oh sorry I guessed wrong!  I am so used to kids that age coming to dinner with their iPods on and headphones in, totally ignoring their parents, I never would have guessed you were a family!  Those are the nicest kids that age I've served in a long time.".  Sort of sad that when a young teen acts like we all used to act that it gets noticed.  I am sure that you and I would have never gotten away with "plugging in" at the dinner table back when we were kids the way many kids do today.

We laughed, we shared, we talked about a wide variety of things, and the conversation turned serious as more discoveries came out about camp.  As is typical for middle school kids, there was some drama, but in this case it served a wonderful purpose.  Angela told me that she was so surprised to hear kids talk about their lives and how so many of the kids had really bad things happen to them.  She said "It made me realize that I am not the only one whose life has been hard, but it made me more thankful that I am where I am now, with you and Dad, because some of those kids will never make it to a happy life, and I already have made it, thanks to you."

Kenny added that he too was very sad to hear how bad life was for so many kids there, and how camp was the only place he thought some of them felt OK and safe.  He then paid me an extremely high compliment when he said "When we were all talking one time, I told them I was super lucky to have you and Dad, and that having you for a Mom was like having a little piece of La Foret all the time, because you always talk with us like the counselors talk to us at La Foret."

Matthew noted that a lot of the kids there didn't like their brothers or sister, and there was a lot of negative talk about family members.  He said he was glad none of that happened in our family, and that we might tease each other but we'd never want to hurt each other's feelings for real, nor would any of them ever say they "hated" their brother or sister as easily as some of the kids there did.

They all spoke in generalities, trying hard to share what happened but to honor the code of "What happens at La Foret stays at La Foret."  It was explained to me quite seriously how important that was, how sacred the conversations there were.  The conversation then turned to families, how different they all are, and how many kids there were from divorced parents, along with how hard that was on the kids.  I think it was the first time they all were aware of how prevalent divorce is in our culture,  but not only that, how painful it is for the children of divorce a d how torn they often feel.  Angela said, "I want a marriage like you and Dad have, not like my birth parents had.  If I get married, because maybe I won't, I will only do it if I can be like you guys together and I will copy the things you do.  I remember the first time I saw you guys argue, and at first it scared me, then you explained it was normal to disagree and it was super important to talk it out and not ignore it.  I thought people who loved each other never argued and that it was bad to argue.  Now I see how smart it is to talk things out, like you always do and like you always make us do together as a family.  It's not disagreeing that's the problem, it's not caring enough to talk together that is."  I'd say Angela is one step closer to a terrific marriage someday, if she understands that.

Overall, they each agreed that camp was where they always met the nicest kids, and that no one picked on anyone, everyone was supportive of each other, and it was something that means an awful lot to each of them each year.  They each said, in one way or another, that camp was the one place each year where they met kids that felt more like them.

Real life pulls us back in, and with it the very real challenges and sorrows.  Yesterday was a tough one for Kenny, as we worked alone on his new reading curriculum and within minutes he started to cry.  He has had such a positive attitude about revisiting phonics at a beginning level yet again, that it caught me a little off guard.  It took him about ten minutes to collect himself, and when I asked him what was wrong, he told me that it was depressing to think he was never going to read better than this, that he knew reading was the key to learning everything else and he feels like he is never going to succeed.  I sat there quietly holding him for a bit, then I asked if being at camp had made him think about it differently, and he started crying again and admitted it had, that it was so easy to see just how far behind he was from everyone else.  He said no one embarrassed him or made him feel bad, it was just that he was able to compare himself to kids his own age who could read "like an adult" and it was even more obvious how far behind he is.

"Whoa!" I said.  "Let's stop for a minute and think here. and listen to me..." and I proceeded to read a sentence from his reader the way he read when we first brought him home for homeschooling 2 years ago.  I then looked at him and said "Two years ago, that was exactly  how you read. Look how well you are reading now!!  We have made tremendous progress!  We just have to figure out the little glitches now that are stopping you from making it all the way, but that means we have to go back to the very beginning to find those little hang ups.  We ARE finding them, you can see it too...mixing up "o" and "u", fixing "p" and "b" mix ups.  That's why we are doing this, not because you need it all, but because we are discovering the final problems."  Then, with tears in my eyes and a catch in my voice I told him "I know how discouraging this is, believe me, I felt it with math when I was a kid.  But I wasn't stupid and neither are you.  I promised you I would always tell you the truth and I would give this my best.  I am telling you the truth when I tell you that we will get you reading even better if you stick with me on this, and I would not waste my time if I didn't think this would help. I am also telling you the truth when I say there are things we are not ever going to fix, things like you struggling to recall what word you want to use in a sentence when speaking, or trying to remember certain material at all...your memory may never be fixed but we will find you tools to help with that.  But reading, THAT we can get even better at, I promise you!  Just don't give up on it, hang in there with me."

He looked up at me as he wiped his tears away, and with that big old Kenny grin said "You know what I just realized?  As hard as it is for me, it must be SUPER boring for you!!  OK, we'll suffer together...Haha!" and we both laughed about that, then turned our attention back to the business at hand of trying to teach my almost 14 year old son to read higher than a 3rd grade level.  Thankfully, his comprehension is well above that and he understands things at a 7th or 8th grade level, he just can't sound it out to read it.  But, I can use that to reinforce how intelligent he is, I can read things to him and he totally understands it, and I can remind him that he has all the other skills in place to analyze and comprehend material at his grade level.

Funny how long this post grew to say merely "Camp was great, Kenny had a hard time reading."!  But its the little things that often go unrecorded make such statements seem like they are missing something.  I am glad I have the blog to flesh that out, that some day the kids will read this and look up saying "Hey, remember that night at Chili's after mom picked us up from camp?  Here was my 13 or 14 year old self and what I said to her!"...and then they might grin to themselves as they read on about what experiences touched them at summer camp during their 13th year.

And they will see who they have become because of it.


Anonymous said...

Struggle as hard as some of your children are each is way ahead of most people their age and some my age (old)in insights into their own psyche. You can't grade or quantify that. Most don't put value on that. To say they are aceing insight doesn't count toward school credits, but it does speak to their growth into a compassionate, loving adulthood.

Funny how your report card, Cindy, comes not from a school but from a waiter, a blog reader, a friend. You and Dominick are magna cum laud in parenthood.

Love you all,

Henry's mom said...

You are an AMAZING mom, it always warms my heart reading your blog. THank you so much for sharing so openly and honestly to all of us outsiders, I really enjoy your blog.

Carolyn ( Mama to my Kaz beauty Henry age 5 )

Cindy LaJoy said...

Carolyn, thanks so much for your very kind comment! I love knowing there are those out there who get something out of reading our blog.