Thursday, May 01, 2014

A Week of Observations

Home now for a full 24 hours, I feel a little rested and caught up on urgent tasks, and now have time to blog...something that, sadly, has taken a back seat the past few months but which I refuse to give up on!

Our trip to California to help settle my mom back into her home after a 6 week stay at a nursing home for rehabilitation turned into a  bit of a Girl's Road Trip, and was a wonderful opportunity for me to spend some time alone with Olesya and Angela., something that rarely happens in a family of seven.  The drive out, our time there, and the drive back was filled with conversation and multiple observations which were both enlightening, and very heartening as well.

We left early, early Thursday morning long before sunrise.  With just three of us in the minivan, it felt quite empty! Haha!  I was not very well prepared for the trip, as  found out at a relatively late date that mom was being discharged, and I had a packed schedule leading up to the day we left.  In fact, the night before, our dear Mr. Miller had hired the kids to "cater" a birthday dinner at his house for he and three of his friends, so just a few hours before needing to get on the road, the kids were in his kitchen wearing aprons, serving a beautiful birthday cake Olesya and Angela had made, washing his good china, and performing waiter and waitress duties.  Needless to say, I hadn't thought about "road snacks" or much of anything else before getting in the car, but I had a secret weapon...Olesya...who had so thoughtfully gathered a cooler filled with Diet Cokes and a bag of items to nibble on to offer sustenance along the way.  While it was still dark, and we had been on the road awhile, I heard the glorious "pop" of the Diet Coke being opened, and a chilled one being placed in my hand as she quietly whispered, "Here mom, I knew you'd need this to stay awake today."  Being cared for in small, subtle ways would be a hallmark of this trip, and make it extremely special for me.

For anyone who has not taken the drive across Utah and Nevada into California, let me describe it to you.  Hours and hours of NOTHING!!  Desert landscape stretches out before you for as far as your eye can see, though there are definitely stretches of red rock beauty that are particularly captivating if driven through at the right time of day, preferably sunset.  Otherwise, there is no cell service through a fair portion of the drive, there are almost no radio stations available other than the faint, static filled occasional blip of talk radio.  The wind can beat your car up pretty good as you drive at legal speeds in some places of 80 mph, and the roads are dotted from time to time with enormous black birds that are munching on road kill and don't decide to fly upward to safety until the very last moment, leaving you on high alert through much of the drive. You pass through a larger city once in awhile, with St. George and Cedar City being "landmarks", but otherwise, for much of the 15 hours it is incredibly desolate, and you find your mind filled with images of old grainy black and white cowboy flicks from your childhood.

The unremarkable landscape before you leads you to pay more attention to the "entertainment" you can provide yourself, and in our case, it was conversation.  Well, let me rephrase that, Angela and I talked up a blue streak while Olesya softly snored in the back seat! Haha!  If I hadn't been driving, I probably would have enjoyed the same luxury!  We talked of things that often don't have time to come to light on short jaunts at home, there was time to think carefully about responses, to feel unrushed as we drifted from one topic t another.  Angela is much like me in many ways, very observant about people and their interactions with others and the world.  She has great insights, and is very willing to reveal herself...both the good and the others as she prefers authenticity over a facade.  She greatly values relationship, and eagerly dives in with others, but she trusts less willingly than some...and usually for good reason, as her keen sense of understanding of motivation helps her quickly discern what a person's heart is really like.  She is almost always 100% accurate, and I find this fascinating and it makes for rich chats.

Both the girls truly adore their brothers, no matter how annoying they might be at moments, and throughout the trip it was so touching to me to hear them defend them, or include them in things even though they were not there.  If they were told "thank you for helping so much" by either grandma, both were quick to say, "Oh, if the boys were here, they would be doing this, too!".  Angela spent a lot of time on the drive sharing how she feels so blessed to be adopted into a family with such nice, kind boys.  She had been scared about "American boys" and how mean they can be, as she and Olesya had some very nice boys as friends in their family group at the orphanage...really decent kids.  I hadn't realized quiet to the degree it had been a fear for her, that the three boys would be tough guys and unwilling to be close with the girls.  Luckily, her fears were for naught and they all five have extraordinary relationships with one another.

We somehow found ourselves talking about birth stories, and she wanted to know the details about each of the boys and their circumstances upon entering the orphanage. Though that has been talked about in snippets the past four years, she had never heard each of their stories in full, so I explained all we knew about each one, and what their orphanages had been like, what their cities had been like, and as many details as I knew.  It was quite interesting that she expressed so much care for Josh and Kenny, who had both been abandoned in the street, almost as if their situation was far worse then hers and Olesya's.  She asked why I thought each had been abandoned, what my thoughts were about it, and what I would say to birth moms if I had the chance.  What an interesting question to be asked by your own daughter!  She really had me thinking.

When we talked about her birth mom and dad, she revealed some interesting things.  Four years later, she said she feels much less angry at them, and has come to accept that they were not evil or bad, but were "just messed up".  She thanked me for helping her get to a better place in her thinking about them, and told me she had a lot of respect for me because I never tried to make myself seem perfect next to her birth mom. (I am SO not perfect,and over time, she'll come to recognize that more and more.) Another surprising thing she said was that she appreciated that Dominick nor I cared at all what names she and Olesya called their birth parents.  Often she'll say just her "mom"  or "dad" in conversation, and we know exactly what she means and feel no need to correct her.  Evidently, somewhere along the line, she has heard someone corrected harshly or someone has talked about how their adoptive parents get mad about it, because she was quite firm about saying how grateful she was that we weren't offended by that.  She then added,"You know, I don't even think about them as my parents anymore, so it doesn't matter what I call them.  I have only one mom and dad, and that is you guys, because you are real parents who give up everything for your kids and love them no matter what.  That is what it takes to be a real mom or dad, and mine never could do that.  But I like it that I don't have to always be careful about what I say or how I say it, because I never called them 'birth parents' before and won't always remember.  But you and I know you are mom, and I think you are very grown up acting all the time about our other moms and dads, and aren't jealous acting or anything.  I think it is a little babyish for adopted parents to get mad about what the first parents are called."  Frankly, I have to agree with that, and I think that when an adoptive parent forces that sort of language issue, the problem rests more in the insecurities of the adoptive parent than in the child.

She asked another interesting question, about whether we had ever tried to find biological parents for the boys.  I told her I knew a few parents had tried, but it was quite expensive and we never had the money, plus we really only had what might be true starting information for Matthew, making it pretty impossible to find the parents of Kenny and Josh.  I added the only one we had a high likelihood of success of finding would be her parents.  She sat there quietly for a couple of miles, then said, "I don't think it would be worth the money to spend.  I know Olesya doesn't care to ever see them or know anything more, and I don't think I have anything to say to them these days.  It's all done, they are probably still very messed up, and they really don't care much anyway."  I then took the time to correct her, for I truly believe that even parents who have drug and alcohol problems go through moments of clarity with deep regret and remorse, even if they are incapable of changing their behavior.  Olesya had awakened and chimed in at this point, saying, "I hope all our parents think about us sometimes, because it would be nice to know we aren't forgotten, but I wouldn't even recognize my mom or dad if I saw them, I can't remember them at all so I don't care if I see them again."  Then, much to my surprise, she threw out, "But I am very curious about the boys' parents' sometimes and wish we all knew what their families look like.  Maybe because Angela and I have each other and everyone thinks we look so much alike, I am not as curious, but I wonder if Kenny's parents were as skinny as he is, or what Matthew's parents are like.  And sometimes, I'd like to chew out Joshua's parents for doing what they did to him and tell them they had no idea how bad they hurt him!"

Then, Angela dropped a bit of a bomb when she said, "At the orphanage, the tall blonde woman said something one time about us having a little brother.  I don't know if that is true or if I got it all confused, but I remember being surprised about that and wondering if it was true."

REALLY??  And I am just hearing about this NOW, four years later???

I haven't even had time to share that little nugget with Dominick yet, but will tonight.  I wonder if there is any truth to it, as so much is like playing a game of telephone over there, and information can get convoluted without intent very easily as it is passed from one person to another.

We had a lot to do in a very short period of time once we arrived in California, and I had one business day to accomplish several tasks.  Exhausted, we took off running early Friday morning and didn't stop.  Several items needed to be located and purchased to keep mom safe, such as a transfer shower bench, and an adaptive seat for her toilet.  We also ended up, at the last minute, buying a lift recliner chair as she really struggles to get upright from lower chairs.  We found the perfect chair.  Decisively and with little fan fare or price checking we bought it.  With little time to waste, decisions are easier.  We grocery shopped and went through old items in the pantry, cleaned up a bit around the house, and made 20 or so home made meals to be frozen.

Watching the girls who so capably got started in the kitchen making simple but decent meals for their grandma, I was so moved.  Mom and I went outside on her patio to have some important conversation about her care and management of her finances while the girls went to work. They occasionally popped their head out to ask a question, but before we knew it, they had meals cooling in containers on the counter top, the kitchen all cleaned up to start meal #2. They worked hard, side by side there in that tiny little kitchen, chopping, stirring, and cleaning.  I joined them from time to time, but three working in there was almost impossible, and I made more meals later by myself.  There they were, listening to a mix of Russian and Bollywood music, laughing and being so is hard these days to not think of them as more "woman" than "child". I chuckled to myself as I observed them, and remembered that the confidence they were showing in the kitchen these days has been hard earned, starting from four years ago when they couldn't identify different kinds of meat, and had no idea what food belonged stored where.  No longer do we put frozen meat in the pantry! Haha!

I have some wonderful women growing up quickly, right before my eyes.

We had another special treat when the gang back home used FaceTime to visit with all us girls in California (and no, those of us from California NEVER EVER say "Cali"...that is SO lame and marks you totally as a non-native!).  Mom and I both talked about how it almost brought us to tears to watch the boys and Dominick talk with the girls and see the sheer delight on the faces of all of them. Dominick was a total goofball, and the girls get such a kick out of his antics.  Matthew and Kenny spent quite a bit of time talking with the girls, most of it silly nonsense and teasing, but it would be impossible to miss the joy they all get from one another, and the excitement in voices on both sides of the screen as they joked and teased.  The genuine affection they all have for one another, and appreciation they have for the good qualities in each, is so, so rare.

Seeing that mom had all her needs met, and having the chance to visit for several hours, it was time to get back on the road again Monday morning.  I need our family to get back into a routine, which has been missing for about 8 weeks or so.  There is a lot going on right now for us, and a lot of details to attend to as well as we try to come up with a solution for shop space for Dominick's detailing business, handle the sale of our rental which happened in 24 hours (a story I'll share later this week), and continue to think about other future options for work for Dominick. Oh yea, then there is actually teaching the kids and moving forward with their school work.  Keeping up with the schedule as a One Man Show back home is hard for Dominick, too, so I wanted to get back home as soon as I could.  We ended up breaking the trip into two days on the way back, stopping in Vegas overnight.  My hip and back were pretty achy, and I didn't want to push it the entire 15 hours again without a second driver.  We did nothing but lay around the hotel room and recuperate a bit, watched a really dumb movie while laughing through it all and asking ourselves out loud WHY we were still watching this dumb was hilarious.

Up bright and reasonably early the next morning, we were on the road by 9:00 am.  We sang, we slept, we talked, we snacked.  Early evening, we were driving through a part of Utah with stunning red rock formations and the "Golden Hour" light cast shadows that were truly remarkable.  We kept pointing out new vistas to one another, saying "Hey, look over there!" and then there would be a collective, half joking, "Ooooohhh....ahhhhhh" until we saw the next one that drew our attention away.  We all three decided we want to take a self-taught photography class together and we might want to return there to take photos.  Olesya giggled about how much Angela and I talked through the drive, and we giggled over how much she slept.  We had no usual LaJoy Trip Misadventures, but did have a low tire problem once we hit Grand Junction, so we came close.

What we did have was time together.  I am always astounded at how much gratitude the kids show, and I was thanked at least 10 times for this little road trip.  Both girls talked about how much fun they had, even though we did nothing but drive, work, and drive back.  There as cheap food, long tedious hours of seat time, and nothing special done in California once we were there other than shop, work, and clean.  Still, they remarked about having an awesome time.  Olesya said, "It doesn't matter what we do, we always have a good time with you and Dad...even if it is just painting a fence or working around the house."  Angela added, "So many parents don't spend time with their kids, especially when they are our age, and you and Dad always do.  Some moms wouldn't have taken their kids on a trip like this, so I am glad you want to be with us and you are a fun mom to be with!"  What they don't realize is that, in fact, most kids their ages wouldn't care to spend that much time with their parents...but shhhhhhh...don't tell them that, and maybe they'll never figure it out!

A week filled with observations, it humbled me as I learned more about our daughters, and as I learned more about aging as I watch my mom try and maneuver as best she can through the trials and insults of declining physical abilities and keep fighting.  There were all the trappings of a great story...beautiful sunsets, a beach (15 minutes away which we never saw! Haha!), an old life being looked at (both theirs and mine as I drove through the streets of my childhood), and quiet and not-so-quiet conversation.  There was healing observed all over the place, and struggles as well.

We have missed so much of the lives of three of our children, yet sometimes I think God has given us an extra measure of wonderfulness to make up for it.  As I traveled with the girls this week and listened to their own observations about family life, parenting, and so much more, I realized that even though we have most definitely missed a lot, there is an awful lot that has imprinted itself already.

I also was reminded of something I already knew.  I am the single luckiest mom in the whole world, and even as Dominick and I both work hard to care for our brood, they too are taking very good care of us.  Arriving home late at night, the boys stood ready to unload the car for us, and we all flopped on the couch and talked for a couple of hours, big ol' bodies sprawled everywhere and bean bag chairs strewn across the floor with more bodies.  The next morning, realizing that we had all forgotten to do so, Joshie woke up and remembered it was trash day, so all alone he threw clothes on quickly and ran out taking all of the cans to the street...which with full cans and a very, very long gravel driveway is no easy feat.  When I woke up before everyone else, I found him up, eating cereal, reading the news online.  When he told me not to worry about the trash, I asked him why he didn't get help, and he said, "I tried to be really quiet.  Everyone is so tired, and I knew they needed more sleep."  We've always joked about how Josh is our 30 year old man inside a little body, and it surely felt like it yesterday morning.  He then offered to go to Walmart with me to help with grocery shopping because he didn't want me doing all the work of hauling and loading by myself.  He further cracked me up when we were standing at the register and a little infant was in a cart a few feet away.  The cashier even laughed loudly when she heard Josh remark, "That little baby is so cute!  Look at him, Mom!" then he added, "They are so cute until they grow up and get a mind of their own." and he sounded 50 years old, not 11.

At every turn, I find more and more that our children are showing us that they know how to care for others, and we are sometimes the beneficiaries of that care.  I know many moms who dread this stage, but I am finding it utterly special, and the teen years are not at all what I had been expecting.

Here's hoping mom settles back into her routine safely and comfortable, and that we somehow get back into ours!  Spring is upon us, new life...and no doubt, new observations...await.  

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

Still remembering your Mom, and all of you, in my prayers. I so enjoy reading your updates, and of the children's progress. God bless you all.