Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Week

Wednesday night the kids came bustling in from TaeKwonDo, and I had returned an hour earlier from choir practice and a church meeting.  The previously quiet house was abuzz with noise and activity, as jackets were flung off, and everyone was eager to share the goings on at class.  Angela and Matthew were teasing one another, as it seems she kicked him in the throat during sparring, and he got a couple of licks in as well.  Their good natured ribbing led to convulsive laughter, as Olesya threw in a comment or two.  Josh and Kenny were staying out of the fray, and eventually everyone headed off to the bedrooms to shower and change into PJ's.

One by one, they all filed back to the living room, where Dominick and I had enjoyed about 5 minutes of conversation to ourselves.  There was something about tonight, where everyone wanted to yack, and no one wanted to stop.

We talked for almost two hours about everything you can possibly think of...our food bank volunteering and the work going on there, new headphones and their acoustics versus older pairs, and science questions from today's lesson. We even talked about random factoids, and Olesya shared that the average hamburger bun at McDonald's sports 106 sesame seeds!  There was also the giggle fest that surrounded the boys needing athletic cups, and a quick sharing of information about various not-so-polite terms for the body parts of males.  Yup, high brow conversation at the LaJoy home this night!

It was then, after the laughter died down, and lights had been turned lower, that Kenny, Angela and I moved into deeper conversation as Olesya chimed in from time to time, and Matt and Joshua played nearby.  Valentine's Day is approaching, and what makes a good marriage was the main topic.  It was so interesting to hear them speak about marriage, what they hope for when they grow up, how they see that marriages between people who are very different can still be quite close and rewarding.  I learned that all of our kids see us as a very stable, very loving couple who is a perfect "team"...something that is sweet to hear your children say about you.  Of course, by this time, Dominick was so tired from his 4:00 am wake up this morning that he was fast asleep with his head on his chest, so he missed all the "good stuff" from the conversation.

Talk moved on to birth families, and future families of theirs.  Adoption really doesn't come up all that often in our home, we don't talk about it every day, but today it seemed to come into play a lot.  Olesya asked a most interesting question.  "Mom, if you had a baby of your own, would you still want to adopt?".  Olesya has decided she really doesn't want to ever get pregnant, as she is scared of how much it will hurt to deliver.  She wants children, but would prefer to adopt.  Angela has said all along she wants to adopt from Africa, but she might want give birth as well, but she is adamant about adopting.  I answered Olesya saying, "Lessie, I couldn't even imagine having a baby.  I never was able to picture what a child Dad and I might make would look like, and I would never want a biological child if it meant giving up one of you guys."  She looked at me and said, "For real?  You aren't even curious what your own kids would have looked like?" and I smiled and said, "Nope!  I already KNOW what my own kids look like!  They are sitting right here with me.  Giving birth wouldn't make a child any more our kid than adopting.  You are 100% our real kids."

Angela sat pondering that one for a moment, then said, "You know, I think there are a lot of people who couldn't adopt, or maybe who shouldn't adopt.  I have heard enough in four years to know that not everyone can do what you and Dad did, and sometimes I don't think we realize how special you guys are.  I don't think just anyone can love a kid who doesn't look like them, or who isn't genetically theirs.  Sometimes parents can't even be equal to kids they give birth to."  then she added, "It is so funny, but I can't even picture you and dad without when you first got married. I know you were married a long time before having kids, but I can't imagine you guys without kids."  I know, Angie, we can't either.

That same day, Matthew and I were working on his literature, and it was a story written about a young Chinese boy about 60 years ago who was struggling with having to straddle the two worlds he was caught in...his parents' culturally Chinese world and his fully American life at school.  The boy didn't really see himself as Chinese, and was disappointed to discover that others viewed him as Chinese and discriminated against him when he want to try and find a job.  I asked Matthew, as an Asian residing in a family with Caucasian parents and sisters, how he felt about race.  Did he view himself as Kazakh and Asian?  American and Caucasian?  It is something we have never discussed before, and I was curious about his answer.

"I think I feel just like Matt," he replied, "I don't give race a thought at all until someone points it out or stares at us, then sometimes it gets a little annoying because I think it is ridiculous to even care whether I am walking down the street with a white mom or not.  Dad and I don't get the looks or comments as often, it is usually when I am with you.  I don't really think it is important that I think about myself as a race, as I am a heck of a lot more than just my race.  If other people want to narrow me down to a race, then fine, but I am not going to do that to myself."

Finding his answer interesting, I asked a follow up question, "Do you think we should have done more to help you identify as Asian?  As Kazakh?"

Matt laughed and said, "I don't know what more you could have done!  You took me back every single time, we lived there for 2 1/2 months!  You took us to all the adoption get togethers when were young.  But its not like there's this big Kazakh community here in American, you can't exactly go to Kazakhtown and eat Kazakh food or something.  Besides, I am 100% American. I know enough about Kazakhstan to know I am really lucky to be here rather than there.  No, Mom, I don't think there is anything else you can do but keep on doing what you have done all honest, treat me as Matt and not "adopted Matt from Kazakhstan".  You're Mom and I'm your son, and who cares if others want to see how different we are.  Well, I mean, we ARE different because we are LaJoy's, but that's another story!" and he laughed over that one.

I know it is important to share culture with our kids, I know it is important for them to know where they came from, and identify as who they really are.  I think Matthew's perspective is a good one...I am Matt LaJoy first, I was from somewhere else, I am now here, and you can accept me or not, but I am going to be who I am...and who I am is not who you may want to pigeonhole me to be.

There are many folks who dislike this phase of their children's lives...the teen years can be filled with angst as they try on different personas, work at differentiating themselves from their parents, and look at the world through new, more mature eyes.  I can't even find the words to describe how beautiful I am finding this time to be!!  One kind of hard work...the more physical caring of done, and another kind of parenting hard work is now in play...the listening and responding, the thoughtful feedback, the letting go a little and then revisiting for analysis.  Their bodies have changed or are changing, and their perspectives are as well.  We are at a stage where not a day goes by that one of them isn't teaching something new to me!  There are skills that are being honed, and new learning adventures being embarked upon.  The fruits of years of diligence in preaching about kindness, respect for others, responsible behavior, awareness that you really are not the center of the universe, are really being enjoyed.

I was a little surprised to learn to the degree some things have taken root when, on our drive home from volunteering Monday at the food bank, I casually said, "I think I will probably volunteer at the food bank for a long time to come.  I can see Dad and I doing this someday when we are older, if we are ever able to really retire."  I always figured the kids didn't mind volunteering, as it gets us out of the house and doing something a little different.  However, their passion has been kindled in ways I didn't expect, as much to my surprise, every one of the kids chimed in and said that they too hoped they could continue to volunteer there, and Matthew said, "I want to create a job for myself where I can schedule time to be able to do this sort of thing.  It is one reason I want to work for myself someday."  Angela added, "I may not always volunteer at the food bank, but only because I think I might like to volunteer to work with old people.  I really enjoy being around them and helping.  I think they are fascinating."  Kenny was quick to point out that, "The adults we meet there are really, really nice, and there are people volunteering there who are good quality people, they are the kind of people you want to surround yourself with because they don't think just about themselves all the time."  Good insight, Kenny!

Dominick and I deeply enjoy the time we share with our kids. At this age, that is saying something!  I can't count the number of times I hear, "Four teenagers that close together in age?  Oh, you have my sympathies!", then they look at me like I am a lunatic when I say honestly with a big grin, "I actually love it!  They are awesome and I love being with them all day!".  They are "becoming", and it is a joy to watch!

There is often a sense of deep satisfaction now, which I know might sound nuts.  Seeing Kenny with his head bent over an Electronics book as he learns alongside his Dad, curling up to read a good book with your 14 year old Monster Teen Son who still likes to snuggle and secretly share a bowl of Fishy Crackers with you, having long, deep conversations about the challenges of adult life with your beloved daughter who often "sees" more than many adults you know.  These are great miracles, they are the richest of moments in every day life.  Josh came running out of the airport when I picked him up this morning, hands full.  Up since 4:00 am working with Dominick, his cheerful little self hopped in and handed me a fresh-from-the-tap Diet Coke and a breakfast muffin, saying, "Just a little treat for you, Mom!"...this after having left me a sweet  note written on our white board for me to find this morning.  Olesya and I will be spending time in the kitchen this weekend, speaking her language, side by side as we no doubt giggle about the silliness going on around us.

Yesterday, on Valentine's Day, we sat around during our Morning Meeting and reminisced about our homecoming with the girls four years ago.  Angela smiled and said, "I was just thinking about that in the different our life is from what it was, how scared I was, and how I didn't know any of you very well.  Now, I can't imagine living without my parents and my brothers!"  In a little card she made for us, she wrote, "I have the best family I could have ever dreamed of!".  Later, our sweet tutor and dear friend,Miss Mary, took everyone out for ice cream.  We also celebrated Matthew's big Civil Air Patrol promotion to Cadet Officer.  We sat around slurping on cones, freezing a bit as we sat outside the store, and we laughed over English mistakes, taping cards on Matthew's volunteered body so we could learn names of body parts, and how far we have all come academically with our homeschooling adventure.

We all realized we have come a long way, Baby, not just in education, but in relationship with one another.  It hasn't always been easy, but it sure has been worth it!!

Our Valentine's Day doesn't happen just once a year, that's for sure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love this post, it makes me smile!
You can tell the kids that after adopting two, giving birth to three, I would be happy adopting and giving birth again. My kids are all mine no mater how they got here.

Matt should get a laugh out of this... When asked if he is asian, D said, "uh, ya somewhere over there". Now, seriously! He does know where he was born but just could not pull that info up when asked. He is actually surprised when people see him as asian because he just sees himself as D. Just like Matt.