Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Love and Laughter Get You Through

Alas, the blog has been silent far too long yet again.  I am posting fairly regularly on Facebook with little snippets of life, but haven't seemed to be able to settle down and get much long form writing done lately.  I miss it, and there really is much to share, but it seems hard to get dedicated time to write.

The past 3 weeks or so have been filled to the brim with goodness emanating from many directions, though at the same time it has still been quite challenging as beneath the surface we continue to grow ever more concerned about our future.  One reason for less blogging time is the ongoing internet searches for opportunities and ideas for Dominick to consider as he moves into this next stage of life.  We are trying to be as faithful as possible as we try to be wise and listen for the Spirit's guidance, but as of this writing, nothing is even on the table as a possibility, and that is troubling.  We continue to trust that if we remain diligent and open, God will reveal something ahead of us that is well suited to meet our needs...but in my weaker moments it is harder than I care to admit.

On the brighter side, daily we are surprised by our special little clan here, as years of loving, teaching and hounding (Haha!) are rising to the surface in truly beautiful ways.  When we are struggling in other ways, it has served as a very potent reminder that keeping our priorities straight is the single most important thing we can do, and even if life should deal us a tough blow here with financial issues, there are things that matter far more.

This past week we had two little ones staying with us as we helped out a young family from church with temporary childcare.  I had no idea the precious gift that I would receive by offering this, as I got to watch all the kids gently and sweetly care for these young kiddos.  The biggest surprise was Joshua, who surprised us all with his nurturing care for his little buddy, and the ease with which he worked with him.  We all would watch him and grin over his head as he would wash hands, play with, or guide this tiny little 2 year old.  I couldn't help but think back to 10 years ago, when another gentle, kind Big Boy was a gift in Josh's life as he carried him around on his shoulders, snuggled with him, and showed him the very same kindness.  Paying it forward without realizing that was what he was doing, Joshie showed just a little more of the young man emerging:

Great Daddy material here someday!

Josh also shined in another way, as a couple of weeks ago, as a 6th grader, he started high school math, as he completed Pre-Algebra and began Algebra 1...reaching a big goal for himself!  It was sweet to watch him just this afternoon take Olesya to the white board and help her figure out a problem with decimals in it, and I realized how much respect he has garnered from his older siblings that Olesya would even feel comfortable enough to go to him and ask for help, regardless of his age, and knowing he would not make fun of her but would kindly guide her to figure out the answer.  Watching them together, I was quite moved, actually.

We are proud of Olesya as well, as she has spent the past 6 months working with not one, but TWO math curricula to try and see if we can shore up some of her basic math skills.  Having a math disability that was initially not recognized prior to her arrival in our family led her to feeling like an utter failure, and as a family we have circled her and continue to point out her academic strengths, which are many.  Math is always going to be very difficult for her, but she finally sees herself as being quite smart and not allowing a weakness in one area to cause her to view herself as less than capable in every other area.  Things like number and time lines, analog clocks, and more may never quite click for her, but using remedial tools, she is finally starting to see success with math.  For some reason, fractions are making sense to her while something as simple as place value still occasionally stumps her...go figure.  Decimals are going to be a nightmare, I fear :-)

Hurray for you Joshie Poo!!

There are moments when he is so obviously maturing into this husky voiced, broad shouldered young man that it feels odd to still call him "Joshie", but with those close to him he still signs cards "Joshie" so I guess it is still OK for a while longer :-)  I fear he will always be "Joshie" to our family...or "JJ" to Matthew.

In Kenny news, first a cute interlude:

See?  I told you it was cute! Haha!  Kenny has had a rough couple of weeks, as we all have had to deal with the ebb and flow of his attention and memory difficulties.  He was quite out of kilter the past several days, and it frustrates him just as much as it does us.  This guy still gives it his all though, and has the most gracious attitude of anyone I know when being corrected or firmly disciplined.  We have had to repeat and repeat instructions, constantly remind him to wait his turn to speak, remind him of where all his school materials are...or his wallet...or his dinner plate...or...or...or.  His work ethic, when he is gently guided, is incredible, and recently we are seeing that he is more able to notice when he has veered off course, though he still needs help to be pulled back on.  It is a step in the right direction.   Kenny is a doll, seriously, a total doll of a young man, and it breaks my heart at times to see him suffering from so many permanent deficits.

We are still waiting for the Neuro-Psych evaluation from Shriner's performed in December, and we are almost positive that the cumulative deficits are pointing toward Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  We have decided to get a disability lawyer and see what is necessary to try and get a disability rating for him for permanent SDI.  We know he will always be challenged to find suitable employment, and we are not at all giving up on him, but being realistic we need to plan for his future.  He will fall between the cracks, far too bright for a typical sheltered workshop situation, and yet truly handicapped enough to probably  ever be employable in the traditional sense without a deeply understanding and patient employer willing to spend years training him.

And all of this is so frustrating, because even with being unable STILL to recall the months of the year, or deal with dozens of malapropisms a day (for those who don't know what that is, here is a definition and example: the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect, as in, for example, “dance a flamingo ” (instead offlamenco ). , he is currently studying Comparative Religions at a high school level, and of his own volition is also reading Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and creating his own "Pro and Con" list of each chapter as he explores the atheist perspective.  Kenny is SO incredibly bright, and we continue to try and feed those areas of interest, nurture and fill up all we can, and will trust that God has something very particular in mind for him somewhere along the way.  There is a difference between learning disorders/processing speed/memory loss and being "dumb", and Kenny is a constant reminder that you can not judge a book by its cover, and that every chapter in that book has its own strengths and weaknesses.

We found ourselves quite bored with a couple of areas of school this year, so we decided to veer off course and follow the Muse of Learning, letting it nudge is in new directions.  I cast off the boring old traditional textbook we were all growing so weary of, and found new resources for history and government that are fascinating, and have allowed me to think outside the box a little more as well.  We are in our second and final year of American History, and are at WWI.  We are also nearly finished with our US Government course as well, and we started a little project that I thought would be short and sweet, but which morphed into this amazing, thought provoking larger activity that surprised even me in its eventual depth and triggering of much deeper learning.

We were talking about the Bill of Rights, and contrasting it with laws, and at the suggestion of my friend, I decided to have the kids create a Bill of Rights for our family.  This idea was actually well received, and I told them I was going to stay completely out of it, and that they were to come up with this all on their own with no input from me whatsoever.

Uh oh.  None of us had any idea where this was headed.  I certainly didn't expect it to become perhaps the single most engaging learning project we ever did.

They elected a leader, and I was surprised that Olesya was their temporary "president".  I think all the kids recognize her need to put herself "out there" more and wanted to offer her the chance to do so in a safe environment.  It wasn't long before she was truly leading, as I listened in from the other room, and she very quickly guided them to stay on point when the drifted.  A couple of hours later, I was called into the room and asked, "Mom, we think we need to do more than a Bill of Rights, we think we need a Family Constitution, too."  and most touching was when I was asked with the most serious of expressions on everyone's face, "Can we take this seriously and really create something that we actually follow in our family?  We think this is important, and we don't want it to just be a school project.  It will mean more if it is real.  If we come up with something good, will you and Dad agree to it?"

Oh man, you bet we will!

And they were off and running.  Sitting in the other room for THREE entire afternoons, I was able to hear them all wrestle with whether something was a right or a law, what kinds of rights and laws there should be, who was going to be tasked with which pieces, how enforceable something might be, and the need for even more documents to create a fleshed out governmental system for our family. I heard conversation about how things would be handled with spouses eventually part of the dynamic, with friends who are "adopted" and considered permanent members of our family, and how things should be handled before and after 18 years old in terms of parental control.

At the end of the 3 days, they had a Constitution, a Bill of Rights, a set of Laws, a list of Family Values, and an Oath to be taken by anyone who eventually would join our family.  They then convened a family "assembly" as our meetings will now be called, and asked for parental review, agreement and blessing of this governmental system and guiding principals.  There was absolutely NO better way to have them understand how difficult it was for our Founding Fathers to create a living, breathing, well planned government, and they were absolutely engaged the entire time in the process, which pleased me inordinately.  Here are some pics of our Founding Mothers and Fathers hard at work for hours and hours:

Here is the list of Family Values they started with to build on:

         Time Together
         Life Long Learning
         Inner heart
         Open Acceptance of People and Ideas
         Relationships Over Material Wealth 
         Listening to one another
         Individual Contribution
         Work Ethic
         Words Mean Things
         Accomplishing Goals
         Living in the Present, Knowledge of the Past, Hope for the Future
         Helping Others/Paying it Forward
         We Value to Keep in Touch, Even When We Have Our Own Lives
         Compromise and Agree to Disagree
         Respect in all Forms

         Embrace and Celebrate Individuals Within Our Family

I loved this list so much, and I was deeply moved to see what they all viewed as things our family values. It provided me with great insight into the hearts of our children, and all that they take away from all these years of being in relationship together.  Seeing "laughter"on the list, and that they really want to remain connected when the have moved on to their own adult lives was quite touching to me.  

There was a lot of work that went into the creation of their documents, and they utilized their white board just as mom does as they crafted their Bill of Rights, editing carefully 2 and 3 times:

It was an enormously profound exercise, and what made it so powerful was the ability to let them take as much time as they wanted to on it, once we saw this was growing into something deeper than I had initially thought it would be.  One of the single best things about homeschooling, for us, is the ability to linger on a topic as long as we want, exploring it as deeply as we desire and not feeling bound by 40 minutes class sessions and a school bell that will ring to tell us we should drop what we are engaged with and quickly move on.  Rarely a day goes by when we don't toss out the clock as we deeply immerse ourselves in interesting conversations about history, current events, the steps of writing, or some lovely piece of literature we have all read.  It has been a real gift, one I think we all appreciate, to learn at a pace that suits us...often spending 2-3 hours on a subject.

I know these are the days I will never forget, and I think it is obvious the kids won't either.  For that, I am so grateful.

Matthew is healing nicely, and is able to sit for as long as needed now, though he can not stand long yet.  He has no pain, though he is not bending at all yet and might when he begins to put that to the test.  

And Angela...what can I possibly say about that beautiful, emotionally aware young lady?  She continues to grow in her ability to speak her heart clearly and boldly, and so often sends me lovely emails of encouragement, as well as reaching out to others with great love.  She sent me a video clip that I shared on Facebook this past week, about the power of a caring teacher, and she said this in her email:  

I thought you might like this video. We rarely tell you or dad how much you are changing our lives with simple words that push us to be the best we can be.

To feel as appreciated and cared for by our children as we so often feel is the greatest gift ever.  I have no idea how Dominick and I were fortunate enough to become the parents of these specific awesome kids, but during times like this, when everything feels a little heavier, when it all feels so much out of control and a bit scary, knowing that we have the support and love of these five remarkable young people means a lot to us.  

Then there are friends...who are offering support in so many ways, loving us through this time of uncertainty, reassuring us that we are not alone, blessing us with financial support here and there for things with the kids...and coming incredibly long distances to visit and show their love.  When on shaky ground, having a foundation as solid as we have with the circle of kind and caring people around us definitely helps keep us from feeling as if the floor is ready to cave in.  The coming months are going to be hard ones for us, scary and uncomfortable and requiring new ways of thinking and perhaps new risks being taken.  I am going to be very intentional about looking for the Spirit's presence in every little place it appears, to focus on not being abandoned, and to recognize love and laughter is all around us.  

That's really all that ever gets any of us through, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

Here is a thought about why Olesya is able to do fractions... she cooks. Cooking is all about fractions. Try having her get involved in making your shopping list and helping in the budget and see if that will help with fractions. Just a thought :)
Kim in Korea

Anonymous said...

Welcome back :-)
I loved catching up with you through this post.
Just listened to a talk a couple of weekends ago and found a couple of take aways for you. "People with LD are not stupid. In fact 33% of them are actually gifted". (Just reaffirming what you already know)
And "people with dyscalculia usually have problems with learning by rote and with arithmatic. However, arithmatic is only one portion of the huge field of math. (Over 200 disciplines) Let them use a calculator and move on to these other areas."

Take care,
Teresa F

Anonymous said...

Hi Cindi,

Haven't left a comment in a long time but always checking the blog. Just wanted to let you know that two of my daughters have FASD and have their unique struggles. Despite these struggles, they have the biggest hearts and are so loving. Both girls are very deep thinkers too...just like Kenny! Glad to hear that you guys are doing well. Will continue to pray for you on this new chapter in life!!!!

Robin Gillis

Candice Ashenden said...

Love and laughter have brought you all this far and will bring you through anything...along with the faith that guides your every step!