Thursday, November 30, 2006

Grief Versus the Good Life

Dominick and I were talking with one another this weekend, and we were chatting about "T" and all we had to do to prepare. As we talked, our conversation became more subdued as we began to grasp the reality that our new son would have to face. So often, people...adoptive parents included...tend to focus only on what their new child will be gaining by being adopted by an American family. The benefits are huge overall, no doubt, as a child is always better off with a loving family, enough food to eat, a chance at a good education...a future. But what about what they are leaving behind?

Those of you who are parents, imagine your child leaving behind all that is familiar to go to a new place that is totally foreign to them, a place where no one speaks their language, they'll never have the same foods again, they know absolutely no one. And it is forever. How would your child handle it? I think of Matthew in the same circumstance and I know he would be terrified, and would feel so lost and alone, regardless of the good intentions of the people he might be with.

What some people fail to recognize is that regardless of how much better his life will be, he is leaving the only family he has ever known. He has been in the orphanage since infancy, and grown up with the kids that are there. They are his brothers and sisters, and he will be leaving them forever, most likely never to see any of them again. He will leave his home to go live with strangers, knowing that he will never return. What panic might he feel? What all will be happening around him that he doesn't understand? What will he wish he could tell us but won't have the language to do so?

And what courage must a tiny 8 year old boy have to jump off this virtual cliff? Surely more than I could ever muster.

I hope that somehow I am able to convey to him a sense of security, I hope that I can ease his mind at moments when he might feel like he wants to explode with feelings he can't yet express. I wonder if there will be moments when I question the wisdom of what we have done, if we have taken away too much from him. I wonder if I will have the wisdom to be the mother he needs me to be as he goes through the grief and adjustments he will need to face.

I have an inkling that when all is said and done, I will come out of all of this with a great deal of admiration for a young boy who just might be willing to risk his heart to embrace a new life. And if it takes him awhile to get to that point, than we will be right beside him as he takes those tentative first steps into his new world.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Sorry it has been so long since I have posted, we had an incredibly busy week or so! I hope everyone reading this had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We spent the day with great friends, hit the Black Friday sales, and completed the tiling of our kitchen and dining room...Hurray! Way more time on my achy knees than I would have liked but I am thrilled with the outcome. Dominick and I are not necessarily the Home Improvement Guru's. We have done a few projects over the years, mainly limited to painting and electrical work, some landscaping...but let's just say that it is a good thing that I am the mommy to boys. I am not Martha Stewart, I can't put clothes together unless they have Garanimals tags (if you know that brand then it shows your age!), and am the least likely to ever have my home featured in Better Homes and Gardens. I am impaired in the areas in which most women are often elevated...I am a very boring and basic cook, and I can't decorate or accessorize to save my life. I have the imagination of a gnat. I am, however, gifted in other areas (yea, right!) such can do a "Taco Tongue" where you roll your tongue like a taco, and let's see...I am quite skilled at boiling over ANYTHING that I cook on the stove (Yes mom, I still cook everything on "Flame Broil"!). I also am a World Champion Diet Coke Drinker. That's it, all my gifts in a nutshell.

While I was on my hands and knees up to my elbows in grout and mortar this weekend, I found my mind wandering to an article I read recently that really stuck in my head. In it, the author was trying to get the point across about our lack of thankfulness for the small things in life and he said something like "What if God decided to take away, one thing at a time, all the things that you had never said "thank you" for? What would you have left in your life?". Hmmm...interesting to think about, isn't it? What if you woke up one morning and God took away your underwear, the sunrise, or any number of other things you had taken for granted?

So, in the spirit of the Thanksgiving Season, even if a bit delayed, below is my list of the little things in life I am grateful for. It goes without saying, of course, that certain big things like family and health, food and shelter top the list, but this is a list of the little things that make my life so much happier, not necessarily in the order of importance:

1) Melting snow on my tongue
2) "Butt Warmer" seats in my mini van (Are you seeing a theme here? After 1 foot of snow yesterday, it isn't a surprise!)
3) The internet and how it has helped me make many "virtual" friends from around the world
4) My children smelling like baby lotion and snuggled in "footsie" PJ's
5) A fire in our woodstove
6) Macaroni and cheese
7) Our generic "Sleep Number" style bed, best investment we EVER made!
8) The view from my own backyard at sunrise - it is Colorado and it is awesome
9) Swing-Away hand operated can openers
10) Dominick wearing English Leather cologne
11) Music from Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, the Eagles and Journey
12) Friends far and near who are dear to my heart - Friends who call you up to say they are worried about your drive today and wanted to tell you to be careful, friends who take your kids at a moments notice and aren't annoyed by them but actually love them, friends who despite distance still care enough to stay in touch and remain connected, friends who "get it" in ways others don't, friends who give great hugs, friends to laugh and cry with.
13) Singing in the choir, reminding me how much I loved making music when I was in school, even if I am not very good at it! Everyone should do something they love, even if talent isn't evident.
14) Laura Ingalls Wilder
15) Contact lenses
16) Living in the country and having neighbors who check on us
17) God's voice in my life
18) SAS shoes
19) Ice cold Diet Coke - the pop of the can, the sound of the fizz...ok, I admit I am an addict!
20) A flushable toilet
21) My Land's End jacket
22) Infertility
23) A broken in baseball glove
24) Relationships that didn't last, for they still added enormously to my life
25) Any books that are handy, regardless of subject

So those are a few of the little things I am thankful for. What about you?

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Sigh of Relief

Today is my first "post-dossier" day, and I must say it was like getting a load of...uh....turkeys (fitting for this week, right?) off my back! I went to Office Depot to ship it off unceremoniously and then went on to cell phone conversations about Cub Scouts, lunch with a dear friend, church meetings...and on and on and on. It will take a week or so for our agency to review all the documents, add in what they need to add and then send it on it's way to Kyrgyzstan.

My life is a jumbled chaotic mess right now with our floors torn up, paperwork scattered everywhere, and trying to gear up for our busy winter schedules when I go back to work part-time for ski season, traveling an hour and fifteen minutes one-way to the airport restaurant we run in Gunnison, Colorado (Anyone planning to go skiing at Crested Butte this winter? Come by and see me!!!). There is much work involved in preparing to open, and much guilt involved with being largely unavailable in many ways for my kids for the 4 months.

Having the dossier done by this week was imperative, and now I can focus on other tasks, which will no doubt help the time pass quite quickly before we travel. However, there are still a million adoption related things that I need to attend to while we are waiting, even though the paperwork portion is largely completed. I have run so many things through my head that I realized I need to sit down and make a list!

Just thinking about traveling someplace like Kyrgyzstan with a then 4 year old and 7 year old tagging along creates it's own logistical challenge and the need for special planning. You wanna talk about patience?? Drag kids along those ages on the long flights required. Actually, when we took Matthew to get Josh he was only 4 and he was a better traveler by far than either Dominick or I! Then there is learning as much as I can about cleft lip and palate issues, post-institutionalization/adoption of older children, speech therapy, attachment in older kids and how to promote it, trying to wrap my mind around all of the things he has never experienced and trying to figure out how to make up for as much of that as we can eventually, thinking of ways to best integrate him with his new siblings, learning "adoptive parent Russian" to help us communicate with him, updating wills, planning for gifts to take with us to give to those we encounter, the logistics of the travel itself for our entire family and how to best do it as cheaply as possible. There is the planning of a wardrobe for a child who comes to you virtually naked with the clothes you bring him to put on his back when he leaves the orphanage, talking ahead of time with school officials to begin to work out a plan for placement, watching the mailbox for our INS approval (I171H form) to arrive, worrying about finances, gathering medications to take with us that might not be available there, plan a zillion Cub Scout meetings, getting Josh's passport taken care of, and figuring out how to handle everything at home while we are gone for 2-3 weeks. Oh yea, throw in Christmas shopping too.

Oh man, I guess getting the paperwork done wasn't such a big deal after all...whose bright idea was it that I make this list? I'll have nothing to do while waiting???? Yea...RIGHT.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dossier Done!!!!!!!!!!

I spent yesterday morning compiling our photos as the last document for our dossier. It was fun as I dug through hundreds of old digital photos trying to piece together what our life is like so the officials over there can see what Kenny's new family looks like and what we do together. I realized that I am always the one behind the camera and seldom in the photos (this is partially due to my own reluctance to be photographed), so I really had to look hard for a few that included me!

I also realized that I am one very lucky woman. 20 years ago, if you had asked me what my life would be like, I don't think I ever could have pictured the sheer joy I experience every day just waking up to the people I wake up to in my home. It's not that I have ever had a bad life, but that what we have as a family is extraordinary, and I don't take a single minute of it for granted.

As I looked back over the past few years documented in photos I see friends who have come and gone and friends who have remained, I see love and laughter, mini-adventures and lots of local trips. The smiles are real, not pasted-on. The photos reflect the love we all have for one another, with the subjects always holding one another as if encircling each other in the warm embrace of our family.

It reminds me of a couple of days ago when the 4 of us had a morning "group hug"...yea...I's corny but it's us. Joshie stands on a kitchen stool because he is so short and Matthew is in that in-between height as we all hug each other at once. Suddenly, Matthew took a step back and leaves a space in between he and Dominick and says "Here's Kenny! We gotta make room for him!!" and we all giggled and of course I had tears in my eyes as I once again said a quiet little prayer of gratitude for this little family of mine and the open heartedness and love we all share.

So, the dossier is done and goes out via FedEx Monday, fingerprints now done for INS/CIS, now the real waiting game begins!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

WOW! Blog hits galore!

I can't believe this! I learned how to check my stats and was STUNNED to see that I have had over 1000 page views on this blog...and it is only 1 month old...and my counter has only been on it for 3 weeks!! Who in the world could possibly find my drivel fascinating? There have been readers from Canada, South Africa, the UK, and Kazakhstan. I am so surprised as there have been just a few comments and I had no idea anyone was actually reading it, aside from our moms :-) What a huge surprise this is, and now I feel far more "public" than I did before. What started as a way to make a diary for Kenny's (as well as add to Matthew and Joshua's as it has turned out) lifebook and keep our families informed has grown beyond my wildest expectations. Thanks for visiting and I do hope you are enjoying reading this blog, although I have no idea why anyone would!

November 17 - Add Belgium, Sweden and Austria to the list!!!! Don't you just love the internet?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Mommy...I'm Black"...from my Asian son

Matthew and I have had some interesting conversations lately regarding race, ethnicity, etc. These stemmed from an initial question last week in which he asked "Mommy, how come everyone always stares at us?". It brought me up short and made me realize that I have become immune to the stares, having grown used to our status as a "marked" interracial, obviously adoptive family. The new has worn off for me, where Matthew is just growing into the age of awareness of differences, and this new maturity has him recognizing more of the world around him, and how others react to him and with him.

Matthew has identified himself as being "black" for a long time, despite my best efforts to explain the differences in ethnicity and heritage. My obviously Asian son, who admittedly gets extremely dark skinned during the summer, sees things in a black and white world, and in his world I am white and he is black. We are different, and others stare.

Not trying to supply the answers for him and wanting him to think for a moment, I asked him what he thought, why he thought we were often the object of others' curiosity. He immediately came up with the answer I knew he would provide, "because we are different colors.". I asked him if this bothered him, that we were often stared at and he said "No, but I get tired of them staring.". I then took it further and asked him if he would prefer it if I looked more like him, if it would make life easier. He instantly giggled and said "No silly, then you wouldn't be my Mommy!", I then laughed and said "Good, 'cuz I have NO idea how I would ever get enough of a tan without burning to look more like you!". Having seen my lobsterlike sunburns after only a few minutes without sunscreen, Matt thought that was hilarious.

I realized though that he needed to know something else so I then asked him "Matthew, what would you do if a man walked in your school and had a peacock on top of his head?". He thought for a moment but wasn't quite getting the point. I then asked "Would you stare at him because he looks different? Do you remember staring at someone in a wheelchair, or when we saw twins, or when you saw that guy who had lost his arm? You stared at them because they were different, didn't you?". I saw the dawning of understanding as I watched him in the rearview mirror. I went on "It is human nature to stare at something that is different, you have done it a million times too. But being stared at doesn't really mean anything. It doesn't mean anyone is thinking something good or bad about you, it's just different and they are curious, just like you are.". He piped up then and said "I'll bet the guy with no arm gets tired of people staring too!" and I said that I'll bet he does, but that it isn't worth wasting any time thinking about it, that people are not really mean, just simply trying to figure out why we don't "match".

I'll admit though, at times it would be nice to go through life anonymously. When we are in Southern California, we are rarely given a second glance. But living in rural Colorado where the ethnic diversity leaves a lot to be desired has it's joys and challenges. Having a multi-cultural family in a county where the Asian population is less than 1%,'s easy to see why Matthew sees himself as black. He has rarely even seen an African-American person other than on TV. And being an Asian from Kazakhstan jumbles it all up even further. When we go to a Chinese restaurant, we get glances from others and I just know they are thinking "Oh, isn't that nice, they are keeping their sons connected with their culture by taking them out for food that is familiar." not knowing that my Kazakh sons would be more likely to be eating borscht than egg drop soup. The funny thing is that the Chinese waiters will watch us with a puzzled look on their face, as they can tell immediately that our sons are not Chinese, but they can't really figure out where they are from. At our favorite place in town, after our 3rd or 4th visit one of the waiters finally got enough nerve up to come over and ask us where the boys were from.

Sometimes, because I am so used to how we all look together, I actually have to remind myself so that I am more sensitive for Matthew's sake (Josh is too little to "get it" yet). I have grown used to our contrasting skin tones, to our different facial features. Sometimes, in my heart of hearts, I think more often about how beautiful my children are and how people must wonder how someone as unattractive as myself came to be their mother.

Each time we have adopted since Matthew, I have spent months looking at photolistings, and my eyes are drawn only toward the Asian children. It is funny, as the blonde haired, blue eyed kiddos that actually look much like my brother and I did as children don't captivate me. I'll see an Asian child and I'll say to myself "Oh, isn't he/she adorable!". It is what is familiar, it is what my children look like, it is Asian faces that I have lovingly wiped every day, kissed every day, and smiled with every day.

You know, it is a fine line we walk, as an interracial adoptive family. I want my boys to have an appreciation for their birth culture, to be proud of their ethnicity. I will never deny that they they are A) Not mine by birth, but are a gift from God that I have been allowed to have for awhile B) They had a life before we ever arrived, and we always acknowledge that fact C) We are different than some other families. I will not go through life pointlessly pining away for the time we didn't have them (which will be far more of a factor with Kenny than Matt or Josh), we will not go through life or teach them to go through life with a chip on our shoulders because others see us as different. We are, it's a fact, get over your Bad Self!!

But as much as I try to incorporate their culture into our family, just like we do my husband's Italian-ness, there is also no denying the fact that my sons are also thoroughly American children. Actually, they embody all that is America...they came here from somewhere else for a new life. So we all walk a tightrope of American-ness and Kazakh-ness, knowing that somehow Dominick and I are both a tiny bit Kazakh (and soon Kyrgyz) now in our hearts too. Ultimately, I guess the thing I want the boys to know more than anything is that black or white, asian or caucasian, nothing is as important as the love we all share, and the character they exhibit.

It will forever be a process, this understanding and embracing of all that they each are. We continue to teach and they continue to absorb. And the day my Asian son comes home with an Afro I'll realize that maybe I missed something...or...maybe not. After all, why CAN'T an Asian have an Afro???? It's America!!!

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Cost of Love

Yesterday, as we were working on our tiling project, we discovered a serious problem under the house as we were looking for what we thought was a minor leak. A shower/tub drain had been leaking for years, from the look of it, and had caused a lot of damage. I was quite depressed, seeing only dollar signs that we didn't have to repair it. Any unexpected cost this year could really hamper our ability to complete our adoption, we feel like we are on a precarious ledge hoping a strong wind doesn't kick up. Thankfully our friend Pete came over and took a look at it, and he is going to be able to make the repair much more easily than we expected. It still won't be cheap, but it won't be the kind of massive repair we initially thought it would be.

I was visiting with a couple of our neighbors today and the subject of our little home improvement project came up. One of them obviously thinks we are a bit off our rocker to adopt again, and pointed out how expensive it is going to be to adopt and raise another child. "Are you still going to adopt another one?" I was asked.

Sometimes I have to try very hard not to lash out at what I know are not necessarily meant to be rude comments. But I can't help but think that if I were pregnant instead of adopting, no one would dare make those kinds of comments. I get tired of being asked "How much did your kids cost?" as if there is any price tag in the world that could be put on them that would ever equal their worth to me. People ask this knowing darned well it is expensive, but it is almost as if they want to gloat at times, or roll their eyes because they don't get it.

I get frustrated at justifying over and over and over again why we are not adopting from the US. I get angry at the implication that a child from the US is somehow more deserving of a loving home than a child from another country. I know this works well for some, and recently I have had the wonderful privilege of being around a little guy and his sister who were adopted from the system here who I think are fantastic kids with great adoptive parents. It fell into place for them, and I couldn't be happier for all of them. But it has never clicked for us, and even when we made efforts to explore it all signs seemed to point us away from it. Before finding Kyrgyzstan, I made no less than 30 calls to various Social Workers around the US with kids available, and I received exactly 1 return phone call. I inquired about a 17 year old African-American young man, a Hispanic sibling group of 3, an Asian boy of 12, and many, many others. Doors were inexplicably slammed in our faces. Now, I have my own theory about this that those who are not spiritually minded might not agree with, but I think it is because our children live elsewhere, that God has a plan that we are not always privy to for reasons we may not ever understand.

Quite honestly, I would have a houseful of kids if we could. I love parenting, I love kids in general, there are even some that hold keys to my heart that are not my own kids. Maybe we are adopting from overseas because we can. I am not talking about financially because it has definitely taken it's toll on us in that regard. We drive around in minivans with 85,000 miles (our "new" van) and 175,000 miles on them. We simply can not go out and buy a new car. We don't take extravagant vacations, we have seen our moms in California only 4 or 5 times in 10 years. We rarely eat out. We don't go to the movies. My husband works extremely long hours doing work most people would never imagine doing, detailing the heat, in the cold, in the wind. Don't get me wrong, we are not poverty stricken by any means, but we live tightly.

What I mean by saying we adopt internationally because we can is that maybe emotionally others can't. We all have a calling in this life, God speaks to all of us if we listen. I have seen myself adopting overseas ever since I was 14 years old and saw "Who Are the DeBolt's and Where Did They Get 19 Kids?" on TV. I remember watching it mainly because "the Fonze", Henry Winkler, was the host, but once I saw it something inside of me whispered "You could do that...". years later when the media captured what was going on inside the Romanian orphanages I heard that same voice whispering "Keep an open mind, you could do this...". When we realized that we were infertile we immediately decided we would not waste money in infertility testing or treatments. It just wasn't important to us to have little Mini-Me's running around. What was important was that we have the chance to parent at all. I've always half-jokingly stated that we were improving our family's gene pool by adopting. But what held us back from adopting internationally was the cost...the huge, overwhelming cost. Rich people adopted from overseas, not people like us. I recall looking at a photolisting online for the first time, being such a rookie at all of this, and seeing literally hundreds of faces of children who needed parents. Although not even serious at the time, it was odd to think that if we made a decision to move forward, any one of those kids might end up being my child. It made it tangible. Real faces, real opportunities. But then again was the cost...oh man, that was a hard one to swallow. Finally, Dominick came home one afternoon and looked at me and said "I've been thinking, plenty of people buy a new Pickup and pay as much for it as it would cost us to adopt. I think a child is worth more than a Pickup, don't you?", and that was all it took to move our thinking forward from a place where it was impossible to a place where we would see how we could make it happen.

But I do have one question to ask, why do people who get a new car every few years never get asked about the cost and if they afford it? In today's America it is not only accepted, but almost expected that you will have a new car every few years. What we are doing is not really any different when compared to the cost of a new automobile. Except our investment will never end up in a junkyard spewing oil, our investment can wrap it's arms around us and hold us tightly, our investment can giggle and smile and bring joy to all those around them, our investment could change the world...for I feel that not just my children but any child is capable of changing the world.

So as I proudly wear my Walmart wardrobe and have my Big Night Out at Taco Bell rather than Outback or Applebee's, I won't be having any regrets about the Cost of Love. It's all relative, pun intended.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

And the name is.....

This week we finally agreed on a name, and some documents have been sent off including it. It is the first time I have seen his name in print, knowing who it is attached to and that soon it will be as much a part of my life as Dominick, Matthew and Josh's names are. We tried out several and even had a post-it note stuck to the fridge to see if any of them "grew" on us. My mom and I spent a couple of late nights IM'ing about it.

This was HARD! Imagine, those of you who perhaps haven't adopted or haven't adopted older children, sitting down at the kitchen table and looking at your child who is then 8 and having to come up with a name that captures their essence. Imagine that task being made harder by not having even met them yet! So much is wrapped up in a name, so much of our identity, isn't it? There are names we didn't like because we had known someone with that name and didn't care for them, or because it sounded too "weak" or not smiley enough. I wanted a name that could be used two or three John, Johnny or Jonathan (not the name we picked).

What if you had gone along, merrily living your life and suddenly someone starting calling you by another name? Wouldn't that be the oddest thing, and something that would anger you? I imagine, frankly, that he will go by his birth name or a diminutive version we have already taken to calling him here at home. But we wanted to put some thought into an American name just in case he changes his mind and wants to be called by something less unusual.

I remember seeing Matthew's name for the first time in writing from an outside source. It was on his plane ticket home, which we bought prior to leaving. Wow, did that make it all real...and it made me cry. This was really happening, there was a little boy out there who would become Matthew La Joy and having that ticket PROVED it! Now we have a name for the newest La Joy, and that too makes it a bit more real.

So, after much discussion and consideration, the name is :::::::::::drum roll:::::::::::::

Kenneth "T" La Joy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Loving My Boys

Do any of you ever have those days where you look at your children and think to yourself "I love you so much that my heart feels like a volcano waiting to explode!!!". I know we all love our kids, I know we take delight in them, but there are those moments that just get you and you trap them in a little box to bring out when things aren't so good. Now don't get me wrong, my boys are no different than others, they can be obnoxious and loud and messy...and right now we are going through a paper airplane phase that is driving me nuts because Matthew has an entire ream...yes, 500 sheets...of old office paper that he is determined to turn into an air force ready for battle. If I step on another paper airplane...or plastic army man...or Lego (man, they hurt!)...or Matchbox car...I'll sputter and fuss and complain, and then I'll stop and realize that I spent years walking on clean floors and that I almost didn't have this pleasure! Coming to motherhood in your mid-thirties as opposed to your twenties brings about a certain maturity that puts things a bit more in perspective I think.

But I digress (this often happens, you'll just have to stay with me to see where I am leading you! hahahaha!), back to those special moments. I have one son who is more introspective, less social, more focused on the task at hand and at moments could totally do without people period. Matthew is 7 and has always been content to do things on his own, although don't get me wrong, he is not anti-social, just more of the engineer-type personality. Josh is our social butterfly who happily flits from one person to the next with joy, and now that he is well bonded he returns to our arms contentedly as well, but it is obvious that he will be our outgoing child. I know, labels aren't good, so sue me! Anyway, suffice it to say that I have the wonderful experience of raising two total opposites and I get to enjoy the determination and concentration of a builder as well as the musical love and dancing spirit of a left-brainer. There are moments lately when I wonder if Josh's innate outgoingness will overshadow his older brother's intensity, even once the "cuteness" of a 3 year old fades.

But God gave me the right children in the right order. Matthew, bless his little soul, was the calm, easygoing child I needed while faced with Josh's attachment explosions. He reminded me through words and drawings that I WAS a good mom, that he loved me very much, and that he understood. His maturity during those times amazed me, and I know it wasn't at all what he had bargained for in a brother. But he was kind, gentle and very patient with Josh and he seemed to understand without it being said that Josh needed him in a different way. He needed Matthew to not lose his temper, to model calm, peaceful behavior, to show him love when he couldn't show it himself.

Yesterday, I had one of those "moments" that I realized are not experienced in every household. Matthew is leaving for school and he calls out to Josh "I'm leaving..." and Josh comes running and they hug and kiss each other. Then as Matthew is almost out the door, Josh jumps up one more time to kiss him again. We have had days where dropping Matthew off at school Josh has cried all the way home because Matthew didn't give him "one more kiss". How many 7 year old boys will even kiss their younger siblings without prompting? How many 3 year olds will care to give their sibling a kiss good bye? While we were in California visiting my mom a month ago, my boys spent more time on the phone chatting with each other than Dominick and I did! They have such a strong bond, sprinkled with boyish antics.

I am so deeply in love with my kids, I think I have an extraordinary family hidden below the surface of what others see. Sometimes it is like this secret that I get to hold on to forever, these moments that others don't get to have within the loving arms of our family...this family created not of blood connections but out of the decision to act lovingly until you feel it. I am NOT in love with "T" yet, and I have always marveled at those who say they are in "love" with their prospective adoptive children before ever spending a moment with them. But I am determined that he is my son, that we will love one another deeply too. I know that love won't be instantaneous nor necessarily easy, but will take time. He is an utter stranger to me, other than seeing his photos. How could I be in love? Yet how could I make the decision to adopt him before ever meeting him? Because it is a decision one makes on faith, hoping we have discerned God's plan for our life correctly. It is a commitment (I know, it's the "C" word that everyone in our society today tries to avoid if at all possible) to act lovingly when I may not yet feel it (just like with my husband if we are having a bad moment), a commitment to take this child and make him my own even if he doesn't look at all like me or have any of my mannerisms or any hint of Cindy in him. It is my comittment to help him discover who he is inside, what his gifts are, how to experience and grow to appreciate a family environment.

When I look at our most recent family photo taken at our niece's wedding this summer, I see 4 smiling faces staring back at me, connected by nothing more than commitment. Soon that will be 5 faces. What I do see is love formed despite differences in skin color, facial features, personalities, and blood type. I guess what I am trying to say is that I see a family.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Borat: Is that REALLY what Kazakhstan is like??

Many of you are aware of the new movie out, which was #1 at the box office this weekend, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. It is a satire about a Kazakh reporter who visits America. I have not yet seen it but kept my eye on news reports on the internet about it.

Susan Saxon, Volunteer Administrative Executive Director of the Kazakh Aul of the U.S., Association for American & Kazakh Families recently sent out a press release on behalf of her organization that aptly sums up some parents feelings. In her press release she stated:

"We recognize that Sascha Baron Cohen's movie is a vehicle for satire and many people - including some of our own members enjoy his humor. Nonetheless, our members also comprise children who do not yet have the adult skills to understand and separate their young identities from those of the Kazakhstanis who are portrayed by Cohen.

For example, one mother reported that she and her 9-year-old daughter from Kazakhstan recently viewed a television interview with Mr. Cohen as Borat in which he described how one would not want to marry a Kazakh woman because they are ugly, and in the background a scene was panned with peasant women in a very poor village. Another adoptive mother described her children watching an announcer on VH1 segue from a story on Madonna's recent adoption of an African boy to a story on Borat, saying something along the lines of, 'And, now, a country you wouldn't want to adopt from, Kazakhstan'. The woman's 7-year-old Kazakh daughter burst into tears.

These two examples demonstrate what Kazakhstan adoptive families in the U.S. are dealing with in response to this movie. Given that the film will live on for years on DVD, its impact upon Kazakh adoptive families, their friends, and their school mates, may be felt for years to come.

We ask that viewers of 'Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan' understand that the portrayal of Kazakhs in the movie is not true to life, and to be sensitive to the very real feelings of Kazakh children here in the U.S."

I am not at all sure what my feelings are about this film, it's a mixed bag at best. Frankly, from the reviews I have read that describe some of the scenes it sounds quite funny to me, and perhaps that is because with satire it is a take off on something that is true or close to real life, but it is carried to the extreme. There were many things about Kazakhstan that struck us as funny, not because of a lack of cultural sensitivity but largely because of the incredible differences to our own life. I mean, going into a store and finding "Picante Pringles" was funny, seeing some game show on Kazakh TV that we couldn't understand but we eventually named "Wheel of Fish" because it was somehow vaguely similar to Wheel of Fortune but involved placing fish on a large wheel, well to us it was a crack up! Now I realize that those things are not necessarily offensive to most people, but perhaps laughing over eating horsemeat (true), drinking fermented horse milk (also true), or playing games with goat's heads (again, also true) IS offensive to some...but it is incredible different than our life here in America and most people DO find things that are extremely different to be funny. I am sure that if I want to, I will be able to find a million things in the movie to be offended about, both as an adoptive mother to Kazakh children AND as an American whose igorance and lack of multiculturalism is also poked fun at quite well in the movie, from what I understand. Would I be up in arms, so to speak, about the humor about Americans if I didn't also have the Kazakh bandwagon to jump on? Hmmm...not sure.

We live in an age that is a dual edged sword, our "political correctness" has helped in many arenas to increase awareness and create an appreciation for diversity that is unprecedented in modern times. And yet that political correctness also causes us to take ourselves and our strongly held beliefs so seriously that we can't see the humor in anything anymore, and we also are fearful of even stating the obvious when trying to make a point about something. Have we crossed a different line? One where we elect to live a life of weak-heartedness, of bristled backs due to imagined slights based upon innocent comments? A life where we work hard at rooting out any and all possible politically incorrect statements for the "joy" of making a public spectacle of something? And look at what has happened with this movie, Kazakhstan's government immediately expressed it's displeasure and all that happened was the media was fueled by the story and the movie opened to far larger audiences than ever expected.

I guess I take this to heart because it cuts to the chase of how I want our family to live, and our children to view themselves and their own adoptions. Every comment, even if not put in the "proper" format, is not meant to harm or offend. Innocent things can be said that come out wrong. Do I really want to spend the remainder of my life correcting every person who calls the boys' birth parents their "real mom and dad"? Do I want the boys to have their feelings hurt every time someone asks why they don't look like us? Do I want us as a family to walk around in this world assuming people think negative things about how we all came together, or that they even give us a second thought at all? Do I want my kids to worry what others will think because of a silly movie that will come and go? It is not that I don't see how this kind of humor can be totally offensive, hurtful and flat out obnoxious. I get it, I really do, and ocne I have seen the movie I may come away repulsed, angry and ready to go to war! Or I just may come out laughing...I am not really sure. But I choose how I handle it, what I project to the world about it, and in large part I also dictate through my own reactions how my children view their world and themselves. And I guess sometimes my glass is simply half-full. Instead of worrying about all the possible misperceptions that are created due to a movie, I will instead choose to point out that FINALLY maybe people will not ask us "Where is Kazakhstan? I have never even heard of that place!".

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Happy Adoption Day Joshua!

Although I am writing this at 1:30 AM on 11/4, it still feels like the night of the 3rd to me and I couldn't let the day go by without marking it somehow. Today is the third anniversary of the day you became our son. I remember standing on the steps of the courthouse in Uralsk after court feeling as if there should be some fanfare, some sort of parade of celebration. Instead it was business as usual for all passers by, their lives had not just changed forever. We went to take you from the orphanage that afternoon, from the familiar surroundings you were used to. I'd love to say it was a fond farewell and off we went, but it was gut wrenching and heartbreaking, and left me in tears. It wasn't because of the joy, it was due to the sorrow you exhibited. We literally took you from the orphanage kicking and screaming in fear, and not for just a moment did I wonder if we were indeed doing the right thing that overcast afternoon. We took you back to the apartment and you spent the entire evening screaming and sobbing, so much so that we were actually concerned that our neighbor might report us to the Police. I have a photo of you, finally worn out and asleep, thin hair matted to your head. You looked so peaceful then, and as I lay beside you I had no idea just how much was yet in store for us, so much pain to be worked through, so much fear to be overcome.

In sharp contrast to that day three years ago, yesterday you and I went shopping together...a perfectly unremarkable trip to Walmart to get shoes, groceries and other sundry items. And I did pause and reflect on the unremarkability. This same store was the one I had to walk through with you screaming at the top of your lungs in anger a couple of years ago. Now I had this affable, warm, tender hearted boy of almost 4 with me who willingly helped get items off the shelf, who conversed back and forth with me about everything under the sun, who wanted to sit in the seat in the cart just so he could hug me easily. You spent the morning gazing directly into my eyes, something that was almost comically impossible 3 years ago. You have become a child that radiates good humor and happiness, you have become the child that hid within. You, my dear son, are my treasure. You are my joy. You are living proof of God's goodness and grace.

I know many parents who are so happy to send their kids off to camp, or to get that night out without them...but we are not like that. Just as I have always felt with Matthew, there is nothing that I enjoy more than having some time alone with you, doing nothing more than the ordinary. My sons are FUN to be with!! They are intelligent, are wonderful company, are people who if they were adults and not my own children would be dear friends of mine. Josh, I see in you oodles of potential. You are a social butterfly with a flair for the dramatic. You have an imagination that is put to use every day in your play, it is a gift that I hope you tap when you are older for other pursuits. You are my little old man inside a 3 year old body. You are also one of the most empathetic children I have ever been around. Your beginning in this world was a difficult one, no doubt, but it has served to make you emotionally deeper than most your age.

Saying I love you and that I am so happy I was chosen to be your mother seems so inadequate. You walked me down a path I never would have chosen for myself, but one that was life altering and allowed me to see things in myself I never knew have been a wonderful teacher. You have prepared me for bigger challenges. And even though there are moments when your insecurity still is apparent, as it was today when I was outside in the yard and you couldn't find me...and you came out sobbing calling my turned to me for comfort, you expected me to be there, you WANTED to be in my arms. You are precious to me, my son. Much Love Forever, Mommy.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Celebrations of a different kind...

Today we sighed with relief when we went to our mailbox and found that finally our fingerprint request from the INS, BCIS or whatever they are called now was here. Although with each of our adoptions we have taken the paperwork stage and the waiting time all in stride, it had been over 4 weeks since we sent our I600A off on 9/26/06 and we seemed to recall the last couple of times getting the fingerprint notice rather quickly. Here we are in the photo sending off our I600A.

Funny the things we celebrate as an adoptive family. We don't have a traditional pregnancy with prenatal vitamins and ultrasounds and "Baby on Board" shirts to wear. Instead we get to mark time with paperwork mailings, memorizing Russian phrases, and photos of children far away replacing our ultrasound. I remember prior to adopting Matthew when this was all so new, and Dominick and I stood in the baby aisle of Walmart trying to take that first step in making this all real and buying our first baby things. Ultimately, after standing there for 15 or 20 minutes we walked away empty handed, both of us feeling as if somehow we had no right to be purchasing baby items. We had no proof of a baby coming, and it felt odd, like we were so out of place.

It is sometimes hard when you are expecting by adoption, and no one around you knows it. There are no outward signs that you are an expectant mother, no one asking your due date as they meet you in the store, and no one really views it quite the same as actually having a baby. Yet you are just as excited as the next expectant mother and want to share your joy with everyone you meet. It is like you are carrying around this fantastic secret in your heart that you want so badly to share with others but how do you bring it up? It is sort of weird, like awkwardly announcing to people you meet that it is your birthday so they can wish you happy birthday. Biological moms don't have to announce anything to share their joy, it's obvious and right out there for all the world to see. When you are adopting there is nothing there to continually remind everyone of your "delicate" condition...and anyone who has adopted internationally can attest to the stresses of homestudies and dossier preparation, travel plans and concerns about lining up professionals to help with everything from speech to attachment to educational assessments to sensory integration issues. Delicate??? You tell me our condition isn't delicate!! Hahahahaha! We may not have swollen ankles, bad skin and stretch marks to contend with (ok..well...let's agree not mention the stretch marks, ok??) but we certainly have our share of stressors and worries. My hormones may not be out of wack, but I am on an emotional roller coaster all the same.

Then there is the nesting...yes, you may not have realized it but that instinct kicks in with adoptive mommies as well as bio mommies. Let's see, with Matthew I was up at 3:00 AM a couple of weeks before we travelled and I was scrubbing my kitchen floor with a toothbrush. This was not military boot camp punishment, this was mommy wanting her house to be perfect for her new baby! With Josh it was pulling all the blinds down and taking them to get cleaned. With T it is a larger project, as we are currently tackling tile work in bathrooms, kitchen and dining room (maybe so I don't need to use the toothbrush this time around???). I laugh as I write this because it is funny even to me that the nesting kicks in so strongly, and it was totally unexpected the first time around. I thought it was a hormonal thing, not an emotional one. I am just glad I have an indulgent husband who after all these years just laughs at his quirky wife and does what she asks, even if he can't see any use in it at all. Hey, I figure he is getting off easy...he only has to tile a couple of floors. He could be spending 9 months going to the store at 2:00 AM to procure a jar of pickels and a pint of pistachio ice cream!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Ninja, a Bear, and Buzz Lightyear

Yesterday was Halloween and we went to a party at our church and then Trick or Treating for awhile. The boys had such fun dressing up...and I mean ALL the boys, including Dominick. As I have often said, we are not adopting what will be my third boy, he will actually be my 4th! Dominick has a tradition of taking off work for Halloween and going to the school with the boys for their parties. We also have a Cat in the Hat suit that he has worn, but I really feel it is time for a new one...Bear in the Big Blue House has run it's course after 5 years of use...or has it? After all, so much will be new for T, so many things he has yet to experience...the big things like Halloween, Thanksgiving with a turkey and all the trimmings along with our Thanksgiving hot air balloon festival held here in town, and little things like riding a bike, playing a soccer game with mom and dad cheering and videoing the whole thing, or most importantly being tucked in to bed by someone who loves him dearly.

I think I must be an odd adoptive mom, or maybe I will have my comeuppance with this adoption, but with Matthew and Joshua I never once longed for what was missed during their first year with them. I was just so darned grateful to be able to parent at all after 13 years of marriage, that what we had missed ceased to be of any importance and what we would have became our sole focus. Our life together began the day we met, but they had a life before I wasn't a part of, and that was ok. I didn't yearn for lost months without them. With Josh there were moments I wished I could have made things different for him so he wouldn't have needed to suffer so much emotionally, but it wasn't like I wanted what I had missed with him. Maybe that is my own protective defense mechanism, I don't know. Or maybe I AM wierd! I have spoken with lots of other adoptive moms over the years who have felt that longing for what was missed.

I wonder what it will be like to see T as he encounters so many things for the first time. Before we even leave for America to come home with him, things like being out of the orphanage much at all will no doubt be new to him, staying in a hotel, going into stores with us, flying in a plane, having so many people around him who hug and kiss one another, even the toys that Matt and Josh will have brought along with them for entertainment will all be fascinating and new. Will I be able to capture that in film and with words? What a special honor it will be to experience this excitement with him and see it all through his eyes. Of course, there is always the strong possibility that it will all be too much for him and what could be a wonderous new world will be shattered by tantrums and melt downs, and we might simply be praying to get him home in one piece. Overstimulation by the "outside" world is always something to consider when adopting an older institutionalized child and bringing them home. But maybe we will be fortunate and he will adapt easily and we will be sensitive to his needs, and all will be relatively calm and smooth. More than likely, it will end up being something in between the two extremes, with some highs and some lows as we all struggle to accept what will be the new La Joy Family. Whatever we get, it will be a wonderous new world for him AND for me!