Saturday, June 30, 2007

"I See the Moon and the Moon Sees Me..."

For the first time since arriving home with Kenny, we were all able to relax, hang out, and do as little or as much as we wanted. It was a much needed respite in an otherwise hectic schedule, and we all took full advantage of it! We slept in late (9:30!!!), laid around in our PJ's for another hour, and then the boys played "Fort" in their bedroom for a couple of hours while Dominick and I visited uninterrupted! "Fort" has become the latest cool thing to play, gathering every pillow around the house and stacking them up near the bunk beds, draping a couple of blankets from the top bunk to create a dark fort inside it, and then pretending they are in the Army. As this will be our last weekend with nothing going on for awhile, it was nice to just be lazy.

We finally got training wheels on Matthew's old bike for Kenny to ride, and on his first day out he already received a skinned up knee to wear with pride. He has been riding Joshie's little bike with training wheels but is much shakier on a larger one, but I am sure in a couple of weeks it will be old hat to him.

We laughed our hineys off later in the day as he was listening to an MP3 player our friends sent us for the trip, and all of a sudden busts out in song, singing at the top of his lungs "We will...we will WASH YOU!!!" Hahahahaha! Wish we had a camcorder in hand to get that one. I think we have found our new bathtime song :-) It was so funny and Matthew and Joshie also laughed like crazy over that one. Guess we need to work a bit on those old rock classics.

We had dinner than we all drove over to Delta to check on our Geocache, which is hidden in a park there. It is about a mile walk in and out to the cache (for those of you unfamiliar with Geocaching it is basically a treasure hunt using a GPS unit...much fun and free to do!), and Kenny did so without a complaint and seemed to really enjoy it. Confluence Park is beautiful and has many trails to walk on, and there is even a rope-type bridge you can walk on over the river, and much to his delight it even rocks! As the sun slipped down over the horizon we walked out of the park, stopping along the way for the kids to try and do chin ups on the chin up bars along the trail, and then we headed over to McDonald's for a cool treat of ice cream, compliments of Kenny and his vaccination reward. Both Matthew and Joshie were given gift certificates too by the nurse for being such caring brothers, and they both turned around this evening and said "Thank you Kenny!" because as Matthew said "Without Kenny getting his shots we wouldn't be getting the ice cream!" and then they both insisted that he get his first. While eating his ice cream Kenny indicated for the first time that he had a boo boo inside his mouth, as he called it, and he had to eat it very slowly. I know he won't like it that he is visiting the dentist on Tuesday, but I think it is quite necessry at this stage.

On the way home, we had a "moment", one of those wonderful summer evening moments that you hope your kids will remember forever. As we are driving along the highway, not too far from our home, the moon begins it's ascent into the evening sky, and we see just the very tippy top of it peeking over the mountain range behind our home. Dominick quickly pulls over and tells the kids to look out the window, and to notice how quickly the moon actually rises...Matthew in particular was astonished to find it only took about 2 minutes from the time we first saw the tiny sliver at the top until the entire moon was completely visible. We could tell that Kenny was confused, he asked us "Utra, Mommy?" (Dobre Utra is "Good Morning" in Russian), as he must have thought it was the sun! I wondered as we all sat there silently in the car if this was the first time in his 8 years of life that he had ever had the pleasure of watching the moon rise. I replied "Nyet Kenny, Noche...moon" and he thought about it and then said "Ahhh Mommy....sleepy???" as we each stumbled to find the words to explain what he needed to know and I said "Yes, moon...sleepy...noche...moon" and then he grinned as he finally understood this was the moon, not the sun! As bright as it was, I am not surprised he was confused!

We quickly drove the remaindedr of the way home, and Matthew broke out his telescope that Grandma Alice gave him for Christmas, and we all stood on our back patio watching the moon rise hgher into the sky, trying to keep it in the line of site of the telescope. Matthew was VERY excited and jumped up and down as he looked through the viewfinder, of course knocking it out of focus :-) He told Kenny "Tokie..quick...quick...come see!!!" and both of them were there taking turns with the telescope, each enamored of one of God's little surprises in this world. The warm evening, the moonlit field behind us, the outline of the mountain range serving as a platter for the large orb of swiss cheese dangling from the sky...and the voices of our children lifted in the lilt of was a Kodak moment for sure, or I guess in this 21st century world we live in it was a CompactFlash moment...hahahahaha!

As I looked at the photos later this evening, I realized that there was some incredible symbolism that had escaped me earlier in the day but was struck by it as I saw it appear on my laptop screen. Tokie was wearing a shirt given to us in a batch of shared clothing from some friends of ours. Emblazoned across his chest is a fish and the phrase "I'm a Keeper". As I saw his happy smile shining above those words, I realized nothing could be more fitting than this.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Happy Anniversary!!!

Today is our 21st wedding anniversary, and it was 25 years ago this month that we first started dating. It was a totally uneventful day, we didn't go out for dinner, we didn't even buy each other a card. Even in this I am may think to yourself "What??? 21 years and NOTHING?? Why be grateful???".

I am grateful because I have a husband and a partnership and a marriage where we can look at each other honestly and say "Man, I just don't have it in me at the moment...I am tapped out emotionally and I am exhausted, but I sure do love you!!" and we know that we do love each other completely. We don't make a habit out of not celebrating our special holidays, but we don't always make a big deal out of it either. I guess we both make a point of telling each other almost daily how we feel about each other, that we are glad we are married to each other, so the anniversary date isn't such a big deal. We don't hold it all in reserve for that one day a year. We are not a "mushy lovey dovey" type of couple, we are very matter of fact with each other actually. We know we have something that most people never will have in their lifetime and we don't take it for granted for even a moment. We joke with each other all the time, we laugh often, we live life and all of it's ups and downs...and yet we try to take time to let each other know we appreciate each other very much. I tell Dominick all the time how much I am thankful to have a husband who will do whatever it takes to put food on the table, working unglamorous jobs that no one else really wants to do...washing cars, killing bugs, delivering newspapers, working at a candy factory...these are justa few of the odd things he has done over the years. I mean every word of it too, and he does as well when he tells me that he recognizes all the hard work it takes to get everything done in the other areas of our life, or when I work during the winter months and drive the long, cold 1 1/4 hour drive back and forth each way to work.

We are broke this year, flat out broke, and we don't have money for dinner out or presents that we don't really need. We jokingly said today thatw e got Kenny for our anniversary!!

I have loved this man since I was 15 years old, I recognized him as my future husband when I was still a child. We have been faithful, loyal, loving and committed to one another ever since, long before vows were ever spoken our respect for one another dictated our future. Now, I am sure that to others neither of us is a great "catch". Somehow though, that doesn't matter at all. We have built a wonderful life, a loving family, and we are happier than most couples I know.

What more could I ever want out of life? Would a dozen roses make me any happier? Or does he show his love for me in other less traditional ways such as calling this afternoon to know if he could stop by the store for anything so I wouldn't have to go out, or making sure I have an ice cold Diet Coke in the fridge when I am craving one. He may not be Prince Charming to some, but he is to me when he makes sure I come home to not an ounce of laundry after being gone to New York, and that the house is picked up, and when I see him snuggled up on the bed reading to the boys after such a long, hot day I think he is the best thing since sliced bread.

I love my husband so much, Dominick has always been the love of my life, I can't even remember life without him. He has held me as well as my family up through the hardest, saddest of times, he has been tough when necessary and soft when required. He IS a man and sometimes doesn't "get it", but I quess that is what I am here for, to help him figure it all out...

My best friend, I love you and will remain with you all of my days. May God grant us long and interesting lives together, the past 21 sure haven't been boring!! What do the next 21 hold for us? Please DON'T say trips to the outer reaches of the Congo or some such nonsense...I am not sure I am up for that!! Hahahaha! Well...maybe if we could visit an orphanage...hahahaha! Just kidding :-)

Love you THIS much Domby, as the boys would say "I love you all the way to Kazakhstan and back!!".

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Power to Serve

I just finished reading a book that really deepened my perspective on helping others. The book is named "The Power of Serving Others: You Can Start Where You Are", and I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever thought of helping others but doesn't really know where to start. This book was one of those that really keeps you thinking afterwards, causing you to look at your life differently. It is an easy read, relatively short with lots of anecdotes rather than preaching at you. For those of you who have followed my blog and wonder where I am really coming from, this book defines my outlook in many ways. It is NOT about having to go halfway around the world to make a difference, but is about doing what you can where you are, and you would be surprised the impact you can have on others with small actions. In short, I LOVED this book and will no doubt check it out again and again to re-read it.

Things are going relatively well here, with some challenging moments here and there. We started things off this week on Tuesday with Bible Soccer camp again, which if you read the blog last week you are aware that it was not the biggest success we've had to date :-) This week I was dreading it. You may wonder why I don't just give in, after all...if the kid doesn't like soccer, why force it? Well, I guess it is because from the few good moments I could tell it wasn't really about liking it or not liking it, but it was all about the physical effort put into ANY outdoor adcitivy. Now, don't get me wrong, you are talking to the mom of two other kids who are truly NOT jocks so this is not us living vicariously through our kids or trying to make jocks out of pocket-protector types. It is about trying to get Kenny (I am trying to force myself to start calling him that, as he wants it...but doesn't yet answer to it so we are in name transition) to start becoming involved more in physical activities to develop better motor skills, for health, for endurance which he totally lacks. And frankly, it is about doing what is requested of you even if you don't always like it...or learning to express your dislike for something in a manner better than sitting down and crying! Hahahaha!

This week though, I made a couple of adjustments. He started whining from the second he woke up about not going, but I told him he only had 3 more times and he had to finish what he started. When we got there, I asked that they keep him in the group playing in the shade, as I realized his internal thermostat is not really regulating him well yet and hoped that maybe that would help with his enthusiasm. He really seems to enjoy the crafts and story time, it is just the physical activities he doesn't seem to like. He also expressed with the help of someone translating that he didn't know how to in his mind there was no reason to try. We had explained to him that no one would get mad at him, that the only way to learn all the new things he had to learn was to just get in and try. Well, when it was his group's turn for soccer things started off a little rocky. He will regress to very babylike behavior when not getting his own way, and walks around with his tongue hanging out, purposely ignoring others, basically acting as if he doesn't have a brain in his head, which mommy knows is SO not true! They did a couple of drills which were not really to his liking and mom had to get out there and push, poke and prod, much to Kenny's dismay. Then they split up into groups and played a real game. Kenny is scared to death of the ball, which is quite understandable, and when the ball hit his shins at all he started crying, and of course all the other kids are looking at him like "What's the matter with you, kid??".

But slowly and subtly, things started to change course. Kenny got the ball a couple of times and kicked it down field, and then a team mate scored a goal and he was SO excited! He understands "goal" and ran up and gave this kid a high five, and you could see this other little boy begin to soften towards him, and the next thing I know this other boy starts feeding Kenny the ball gently, encouraging him, and they each pat each other on the backs, give high fives at goals, and all of a sudden soccer isn't so bad at all! He got to play goalie and enjoyed that, he got the idea that you can't touch the ball with your hands unless you are playing goalie, and he caught himself trying to do it a couple of times. Kenny was transformed in about 10 minutes from a pouting 3 year old toddler to an excited and happy 8 year old boy, overjoyed at having so much fun playing a sport on a team. It was a sight to see, this little clueless guy out there finally having fun doing something he had really dug in his heels about, and this other little boy who was so much more mature even though they were close in age, who decided to take it upon himself to show antother child such kindness. It made a difference. I still expect that next week we will have groans and pouting, but maybe it will be a bit less, and maybe he will have fun like he did this week! One baby step at a time...

Yesterday was a tough one though, with very difficult behavior when we were at the grocery store. He was upset at not getting things he kept asking for, he kept walking away from me and ignoring the rest of us, he screamed out in the store just to get attention...and I ended up dragging him across the parking lot by the wrist as he was crying and angry. He exhibits very good eye contact when all is well, but he will absolutely refuse to look me in the eye when he is angry over something or not getting what he wants. This is a real no-no in our fmaily as it is disrespectful. We never mind when our kids express dissatisfaction with something, but they need to talk about it like Big Boys, and they have to look us in the eye. Now, don't get me wrong, I know Kenny is incapable of this right now and needs time, but when do we begin to teach this...that baby antics are unacceptable out of an 8 year old boy? When do we decide that enough time has passed and now we can let him know we have expectations? Do we wait a week...a month...a year...two years...and THEN try to let him know? NOT, that will not work, at least not in ours minds. So while we definitely understand why he may not be able to comply with rules or expectations, we are not going to wait to begin letting him know what they are. And by his own behavior I can already tell that he knows when he has pushed it too far, when he is being rude, uncooperative, or disrespectful. I think part of it is that anyone who meets Kenny can tell he is intelligent, so he can't hide behind his lack of education and use it a crutch. He expresses himself beautifully considering his lack of English, and he is quite creative at getting his ideas across. I have been amazed at times how well he is doing. But then there is Stubborn Toddler Kenny who sticks his head up out of the sand at times, and it is that Kenny that we need to work with and to be firm with.

He got in the car, and he cried and sobbed, I pulled his chin around to look me in the eyes as I explained to him what he did wrong (not that he didn't know it) and he has this tendancy to be overdramatic and acts as if I have broken his jaw...or his arm...or whatever the case may be :-) Some of you who may be reading this with older adopted kids may be laughing right now with flashbacks to your own first months home. I told him that when mommy tells him to stop, he needs to stop and when mommy tells him to look at me, he needs to look at me even if he is mad. If he doesn't look me in the eye, I know he is zoning out purposely and not hearing me.

Most of the way home he cried and mumbled, and then stopped a couple of blocks from home. Matthew and Josh got out of the car and he was in there alone with me. He gets out of his seat, leans over and says "I'm sorry Mommy, I'm sorry..." and then proceeds to help carry in groceries, hold doors open, and look me in the eye when talking to me. It wasn't much later when I was putting something up on our bulletin board and stuck myself with the pushpin. Kenny was standing right there and in perfect English asked me "Mommy, are you ok?" and then made a BIG fuss over me, getting a wet paper towel to blot my invisible injury, kissing the tip of my finger and generally letting me know all was ok with us. The rest of the day was very, very good and he was cooperative and more engaged with us all.

Sometimes I think people assume we are expecting too much too early, but I wonder when they would decide that it is finally the appropriate time to offer up discipline and expectations. Just because we are letting him know what is ok and what is NOT ok, doesn't mean we don't understand that he probably won't do it yet, or that we shouldn't have patience with him...we do. I just can't figure out when that magic "time" is that suddenly it becomes ok to let him know that all of this is inappropriate and NOW he should start to act differently. In my mind, THAT would be unfair to him. And thus far, I am really proud of him, of how well he is doing, of how he is trying hard to figure this all out and become part of this family. That doesn't mean there aren't times when I roll my eyes and hide my laughter at my 8 year old toddler who reveals himself with regularity. But compassion without action is pointless, at least from my perspective which perhaps is totally skewed.

I asked Matthew what he thought of all of this after it was over and settled, and he told me that Kenny had to learn sometime, and if he didn't learn it he would get in trouble at school. I reminded him how hard it was when Josh first came home and he grinned and said "That was a lot harder, Joshie cried a lot more and NEVER stopped!!" and my oldest son (in every way but age) and I realized at that moment that we shared a history that the other two children did not share with us, it was one of those sly, quiet moments when two people know they have waded through the same waters together and beat down the alligators. I explained to him that in 6 months Kenny would be a different kid and he said "But he is already a good boy mommy, he just needs to learn the rules and that is your job to teach him..." so even if I get strange looks in public from other misunderstanding adults I have my compatriot by my side in my son.

He is a good, sweet, kindhearted boy who is going through incredible stress and turmoil right now, but he is also experiencing great joy and love. He has an incredible amount of maturing to do...and yet at the same time there is this balancing act because he has to step backwards and MUST experience much of that young childhood that he has already missed out on. He also has an enormous amount of confidence, and that is fun to watch as he navigates this new world of his fearlessly.

Every day brings us a new challenge and a new reward. I see things in my own children and others that are brought out in this new and different situation they find themselves in, and I see things in my new son daily that show who he can become and what his heart is really like. That's what it is all about.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Back Home

We arrived back home at 10:45 last night from New York, after an eventful day. Saturday we spent half the day at Dr. Gindis for the speech evaluation, which was nothing better or worse than expected, as we had already recognized that his speech needs were pretty serious. The interesting thing was that the speech pathologist, also a Russian native, had nothing but praise for Toktogul, talking about how gentle and sweet he was, how he was unlike many of the older kids they often see who have a bitter attitude and a toughness about them that Toktogul doesn't have. She said he uses kind and respectful language that also is not as common. These things were so nice to hear, especially in light of the huge challenges in so many areas that we have ahead of us. We know and can easily see the wonderful child that lies within, and I hope that others who will work with him in the future will see it too, rather than simply seeing a little boy with huge deficits.

I also realized that we were very, very blessed as I read through one of the parent checklists and was able to list "not at all" to many of the behaviors that are attachment disorder related. I sent up a prayer of thanks to be able to honestly answer in the negative to so many issues that I know many families of older adoptees are struggling with daily. Having experienced so much intense attachment stuff with Josh, and knowing where it could have led us, I am deeply grateful that we are not seeing any serious signs with Toktogul. While I am not claiming at all that we are firmly bonded...that takes far more time than this...I feel justified in saying that we are definitely headed down the right path and I actually think Toktogul is feeling pretty connected to us in some ways. It is not what it will be in a year or so but certainly no red flags have been raised in my mind yet about attachment.

Sunday was an eventful day, as we deliberately took a 10 hour layover so we could attend a picnic for our agency's Kyrgyzstan families. Our coordinator was here from Kyrgyzstan, and Tokie was VERY excited to see Saule. Karen, our Kyrgyzstan coordinator here in Denver for Adoption Alliance, kindly offered to pick us up at the airport and then had arranged to take us out to another adoptive family's home for an introduction and horseback ride for Toktogul. You should have seen his face, what a grin he had! He loved the ride and it was a highlight of the entire weekend for him. Seeing Saule was like seeing an old friend, and though I didn't have the chance to visit with her as much as I would have liked it really was wonderful to visit with her and the other families, a few of whom are in progress. I also had the opportunity to get to know Tami better, the woman who provided us with Toktogul's baby photos, and I so enjoyed her and her daughter.

But frankly, the best part of the weekend was coming home. Man, I love my family! Seeing the other 3 guys there waiting for us at the airport was so heart-filling. Hearing "Mommy!!!" yelled out, and seeing Toktogul run into the arms of Matthew and Joshua and all three boys are tumbling over one another like bear cubs playing together under mama bear's watchful eye. Although I was speaking about attachment with us as mom and dad earlier in this post, it is not at all the same as the attachment that is obviously forming between the 3 boys. Every single time I called home, Tokie wanted to say Hi to Matthew and Joshua, and when he was given his "reward" from Dr. Gindis which was a battery operated jet and helicopter combo unit, almost the first thing he said about it was that he couldn't wait to show it to Matthew and Joshie...and he repeated that over and over the entire weekend. He even asked to talk to Matt so he could play the sounds it made over the phone to him! While we were in Denver he repeatedly said he wanted to go home to see Matthew and I guess it is safe to say that the Brother Bond is coming along quite nicely.

We will settle down at home for a couple of weeks, and then Matthew, Toktogul and I are off to La Foret, our church's youth summer camp. I think we all need a couple of weeks of Maxin' and Relaxin'! Matthew, of all the kids, is a real homebody and loves to just hang out doing his thing. I'm with him, enough world travel for awhile! I want to be home long enough to hear "I'm bored!!" out of the kids...but even as I write that I realize that I don't think that thus far, in all our 7 years of parenting, that I have heard that uttered even once at our house!

Friday, June 22, 2007

To Infinity and Beyond...or at least to NY!!

A mere 2 weeks after returning from half way around the world, Toktogul and I find ourselves back in the belly of another plane, trying not to whack people on the head with our ever-too-overweight carryons! Hahaha! We spent yesterday heading to Nanuet, NY for Toktogul's evaluation with Dr. Boris Gindis. It proved to be a somewhat frustrating day for me, as I tried to navigate around New Jersey's highway system, then was subject to one woman's wrath and display of her 4 letter word vocabulary as she claimed I took the parking place that she was waiting for in the she was 3 aisles away. Hmmm...guess we now can claim rights to parking spaces if we are even IN the parking lot, regardless of whether we have identified a spot as available or not! Needless to say, I was happy to get settled in our hotel room and look forward to a good nights sleep and a better tomorrow. The one highlight in an otherwise sour day came while flipping through radio stations in the rental car as I spent an hour lost yesterday and I stumbled across a Russian language music/talk station which caused Sleeping Tokie in the backseat to suddenly awaken and spring back to life. I thought to myself, only in New York!

This morning things were much better and we found ourselves at Dr. Gindis' office at 9:30 AM, fresh and ready to face the day. Dr. Gindis and his Assistant, Tatyana, were warm and inviting, and Tatyana immediately got down on Toktogul's level and spoke with him for several minutes. How excited Tokie had been to know he was going to be able to communicate with someone in Russian again! I asked Tatyana to explain to Tokotgul that this visit was not like a regular Dr.'s visit, that he would take tests for school and NOTHING would involve any pain. Toktogul had asked me repeatedly if this Dr. would work on his mouth or his ears, and although I tried to reassure him, he was still quite uncertain and insecure about what might be happening. Tatyana explained what would be happening over the next couple of days, and Toktogul finally seemed to relax about everything. While he played with toys in the waiting room, I visited with Dr. Gindis took a social and medical history, such as it was since we have almost no information. Then, with a break for lunch, the testing began and lasted most of the day.

At the end of the day Dr. Gindis spent over an hour going over all the results, discussing proper placement for Toktogul. I learned so much about what to expect educationally and developmentally from Toktogul, what his future might hold, how best to work with him and advocate for him. We got a baseline assessment of where his skills are right now, none of which was a major surprise to me at all, but confirmed much of what I already suspected. There were discussions about reasonable expectations for addressing delays, looking at long term, slow gains rather than overnight success, etc. Tokie is essentially starting at ground zero, with no firm grasp on the cyrillic alphabet, truly completely illiterate. His speech is in the severe category, again something I easily could spot and we have his actual speech evaluation in Russian tomorrow. He tested out at early 1st grade for math, so that seems to be an area where he might excel. His cognitive skills are pretty solid, so the expectation is that one day he will be able to catch up, go to college, and pursue whatever he wants in life. However, this is a child approaching 9 years old, so in many respects he is far behind his chronological age peers. However, he is not really any further behind...other than speech which is due to a physical impairment...than other kids from his unique background. His curiosity and personality will take him far, and Dr. Gindis commented that his willingness to use language was a surprise, that most kids from his background with his kind of speech impediment and lack of ability to be understood are shy, reserved, and unwilling to speak much. That's sure not Tokie!

As Dr. Gindis put it, the important thing is not to put too much importance on school, but on the person he will be, and everything else will happen in time...and that has always been our attitude. But having realistic goals and expectations is so important, or assumptions might be made about Toktogul's progress, or lack of it, and we might have been tempted to put too much pressure on him. Knowing that he wasn't even able to write or read in Russian yet is huge, and knowing what his strengths are so we can capitalize on and encourage him in those areas so he can experience success is incredibly important. He is going to have a lot of work ahead of him, a lot of struggling in many areas over the next several years. If we can help him find talents and pride in other areas, it will help build his confidence and draw the focus away from the areas where the challenges lay.

Tatyana kept remarking on what a happy little guy he is, and with all that lies ahead medically and educationally, I think my main job will be to make sure that happy, contented spirit is not murdered!! I am so thankful we went ahead with our plan to get the evaluation done by Dr. Gindis. It will be invaluable as we head into this new life with Toktogul. We gained insights, were given a firm baseline of skills or lack thereof, a game plan for the future, and the report will be a tremendous asset when working on trying to obtain services from the school or others. We would have had none of this information had we not elected to come out here, and in our case we received no information on Toktogul's school history, other than a speech evaluation, so we really were flying blind. I know feel as if I have 20/20 vision where Tokie is concerned.

I think the most important thing though, for me, is that I have a remarkable, resilient son...a child who has enormous potential, and who I will have the pleasure of seeing grow in ways most parents of "normal" homegrown kids will not. Surely we will have tears of frustration from him in years to come, anguish ourselves over questioning our decisions where education is concerned, and worry over painful medical procedures. But what successes will we be witness to?? What incredible moments of victory over FINALLY finding mastery over skills acquired, long overdue?? What kind of decent, warm, loving father and husband will he eventually become??

Test results are important, skills are necessary, an education is paramount for success. But as I watch my sleeping little boy in the bed next to me, when I think of how far he has already come...and the distance he still has to travel, I realize that I already see in him the most important qualities...the things he is already successful at...loving others, accepting people for who they are, lighting up a room with his smile and warmth, sharing and caring, having an ingrained sense of right and wrong. These are the things that test can't measure, these are the things that are the makings of a phenomenal man. The rest is icing on the cake, as far as I am concerned.

An Awakening

I have so much to share with you all, nothing earth shattering but things I want to write about anyway. I had an interesting evening with Toktogul Wednesday night. After our long translated discussion on Tuesday evening, we realized that Tokie may or may not understand that he was born with his cleft lip and palate, that it was a birth defect. During the conversation he alluded to being hurt in the face a long time ago, but then kind of backtracked and affirmed that he knew he was born that way. In light of this possible confusion, and because I realized we hadn't done it yet and should have immediately upon getting him in Bishkek, we decided to sit down with him and show him his baby pictures. I am SO THANKFUL to have these from Tami, the woman who knew him over there while he was younger. They are priceless and really proved to be very interesting to Tokie.

He was sitting on my lap at our kitchen table, laptop in front of us, and anxiously taking in each and every photograph, spotting himself and pointing to his lip. We have a couple of him when he was very, very young, and then a few at various ages as he was growing up. He asked to see a few of them over again, and then wanted to see the pictures of other kids that had been originally sent to us as we were considering Kyrgyzstan. He talked about each child that he recognized, he pointed out things in the backgrounds and caretakers, he identified whether it was at Sokolok or Belovodskoe.

As we sat there, I wondered what this must feel like for him, seeing himself as he looked when he was a baby, knowing he had probably never even see baby photos of himself before. It was like an awakening for him, a first chance to see the child he was. I never remember a time in my life when I wasn't able to recall certain moments captured on film, studio portraits of my brother and I, sports photos, my childhood ready to be relived anytime I wanted...etched in Kodachrome and Super 8 films. Fading yellow first day of school pictures snapped in front of the oleandar bushes...year after year...parading in front of me. These photos jog my memory 30 years later, taking me back to a time I remember so happily.

What will Toktogul think when he sees these pictures 30 years from now? What memories will these photos dredge up? Will they be fond rememberances of friends tinged with curiosity of what ever happened to them, wondering if they ever found their families, what their lives turned out like...especially since his took a left turn that was certainly unexpected by him. And I wonder if he will look in the mirror eventually and compare the handsome young man who stares back with the raw, open-wound-like lip on the child who is in these photos. I wonder if he does that even that evening as he stares intently at the screen in front of him.

Then, as this very thought runs through my mind, he points at his lip in one picture and makes a disgusted face and sound and using the thumbs up and thumbs down gestures we have come to rely on to decide on everything from favored foods to rotten rejects, he gives a definite "thumbs down" to himself. It hit my gut, this beautiful little boy who felt he was not attractive when he was young due to his birth defect. He wanted to quickly move on but I stopped him dead in his tracks, and forced him to look in my eyes as I told him I thought he was handsome...I kissed my fingertips and gently pressed them against the offending lip shown on screen saying "I love you!". I pointed at both his photo and his lip now, and gave both a big thumbs up, hoping that somehow he was getting the idea that I loved him regardless of what he looks like now, then or in the future. From the look of his wide, now familiar smile, I hoped he did.

I noticed that in many of the older photos his buddy Turat, who also had a cleft lip, was also featured. When meeting him at Sokolok I knew I had a couple of pictures with him in them, but I hadn't realized how many he was featured in. Toktogul began to talk about Turat, giving him a huge thumbs up, saying things in Russian about his best friend. And then, unexpectedly, he turned to me and pointed at the photo hopefully, then me and questioningly asked "Mama...Turat?" indicating that he was asking if I could be Turat's mommy.

Tell me, how in the world do you respond to that one?

And again, the ones left behind haunt you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Medical "Care"

"Than I remembered being at an orphanage in Central Asia. There the entire collection of dental equipment consists of a pair of pliers and a tin bowl containing the teeth of the last 40 victims.....I mean patients. Once a week they would get out the pliers and bowl and make the rounds . Up to 400 kids could be checked in a day.... same pliers, same bowl..... No filling..... No drilling.....No freezing.... No caps and masks and rubber gloves....only one tin bowl and pair of pliers. Suddenly I feel a little silly about my dentist phobia." From John Wright's Blog, .

As I saw the fear on Toktogul's face last night at the thought of more medical care for his cleft lip and palate, as I thought of the half missing molar currently in his lower jaw, I better understood where that fear came from. I recall hearing horror stories of a child from an orphanage in Kazakhstan having her tonsils removed with no anesthesia, many stories of others with so-called dental work consisting of John's description above, and of seeing Matthew ldesperately ill from something as simple as bronchitis that was diagnosed as "teething" by a "physician" in Kazahstan while we were still there, I shudder to think what many of those kids that are left behind are going through when sick or injured. I also wonder what has happened in Toktogul's past that we might never learn about.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Kindness...and Judgment...of Others

Today was a rough day in some respects, and ended on a great note. It started out challenging as we headed over to Soccer/Bible Camp. We went last week and it was Tokie's first real outing with a large group here. He loved the craft and story time, but really didn't care for the soccer part. We have since noticed that he does not seem to enjoy anything physically active, and we think much of that is due to his previous lack of experience with sports and outdoor activities. He gets tired when even walking two or three blocks, and his endurance...probably due to non-existent. So we are trying to slowly get him involved in things a little bit at a time, to encourage him to do more physical things like jumping on the trampoline, running around playing tag, etc.

When we arrived, he did not want to participate in the soccer portion and then proceeded to get obstinate and pouty about it. He kept sitting down in the middle of the field and I told him 3 times to get up, and finally he got kicked in the face with the soccer ball and his lip bled. I felt sorry for this little string bean of a boy standing there crying, blood dripping slowly from his lip, crying out for me saying "Mamma...mamma". So I picked him up and we went to get cleaned up and then returned, and I tried to explain to him that I asked him to stand up for a reason, because I knew he could get hurt by pouting and flopping down on the field refusing to move. I then told him to get back out there and play, and he really got angry but did it...and surprise, surprise...when he tried to do what he could, he really got in there and hustled and even got the ball a few times! That is, until he decided it was too much and went back into Pout Mode. Then he tried to walk off and when I called to him he turned to me and said "Nyet" and kept on walking. Oh boy, wrong thing to do to this I got ahold of his arm and pulled him aside, and kneeling in front of him I let him know in no uncertain terms that he is never to say "no" to mommy or to walk away when I call him. That's when the meltdown happened, his face crumpled up and the sobs started...and I got some pretty disgusted looks from a couple of other older woman around who saw what was going on. I am sure they thought I was just the worst mommy in the world and felt so sorry for him...heck, at that moment I felt sorry for him too!!

It is proving to be hard on my soul to be the mommy I think he needs me to be right now, and yet turn a blind eye to the judgment of others. It is all so complicated to explain, and I really don't owe anyone witnessing our "moments" an explanation, but I always feel as if I ought to offer up some sort of excuse for why I am doing what I am doing. I had the same thing happen often with Josh, one time in particular when we were out in a department store and he was throwing a royal tantrum over something and wanted to leave. Well, as those of you with RAD kids know it is all about control, and if we left with him that gave him the power over the circumstance, so we had to let him scream it out in public rather than do what you might do with a "normal" kid, take him outside...we simply couldn't let him win this particular battle. Oh man, the comments I endured as we walked around trying to be casual and ignore his outburst while others shot us dirty looks and cast pitying glances at Josh. This was only one ocassion, there were millions more like them.

Today brought some of that back, and it was hard and disheartening to me. Why is it that those who have never parented a child from the unique circumstances that ours come from feel so knowledgable and can judge what and how we do it? Why is it that firm discipline today comes across as mean and unsympathetic? What would those bystanders have me do...have my child, who has no real understanding of what can and can not harm him out in the "real" world run behind a car backing up, or lick a steak knife because I didn't have the guts to teach him quickly that "no" means "no" and that he HAS to listen to mommy and daddy? How can I explain that there is a 3 year old lurking in that 8 year old body in terms of life experience, and that the 3 year old is going to test me over and over to prove my mettle as a mother, that in order for him him feel more secure in the long run I MUST create firm boundaries even though he might get mad at not getting his way, so that he can trust that I will be strong and can really, really parent him and keep him safe.

I don't know which is harder, parenting a child who has been hurt by life, or taking on the scorn of others.

Just as you begin to feel down in the mouth about it all, someone comes along and offers to lift you up. Thanks to a wonderful family who gave up an hour of their time tonight to translate for us over the phone, we were able to explain many things to Toktogul and to have him ask us questions too. It was so helpful and so encouraging, and we appreciated it enormously. The delight on Toktogul's face as he was able to express himself after a couple of weeks of near silence other than pantomime was palpable...and the fear he carries at the thought of further surgery and pain that he knows lies ahead was obvious. My poor little guy has done tremendously well under circumstances that would drive most adults to tears. Thankfully, this family has a better understanding than most of our son's background and I know that what we wanted to say was fleshed out a bit and made clearer to Tokie. They translated conversation about school and the trip to NY, about summer camp and house rules. They were able to share with Toktogul that we will never send him back to Kyrgyzstan...ever...and that we think he is doing an outstanding job and we understand how hard all of this is, and that starting school will be scary but we'll be right here to help him. We told him he is a good brother and a good son, and we love him very much. Many things I wish I had the language to tell him every day, and I hope he carries it in his heart as we struggle through these first few months.

I also realized today and was able to verbalize that one thing that is bothering me right now is that I can not explain things to him and that goes totally against my grain. I always explain things to my kids, reason with them, and share with them...and then if they don't like what I am asking of them too bad, but at least they understand the logic behind the request. I feel like a Bad Mom right now because I don't have the ability due to language constraints to be the kind of parent that comes naturally to me.

So this is a time of learning for all of us, and a time to turn our backs on those who don't understand and accept the support of those who do...or at the very least even if they don't understand trust that we love him and know what is best for him and our family. I look at Josh and wonder where we would be with him right now if I had fallen victim to worrying too much about what others said about how we parented him...what kind of child would he have become?

As I watched all 3 boys yesterday I grabbed on to the fact that they...and only they...can really show me how to parent. Toktogul had to have his first of many vaccinations yesterday, and as he sat there on my lap being stabbed at with needles 3 different times, sobbing, he had his big "little" brother Matthew wrapping him in his arms, near tears himself as he tried to console Toktogul. Later that day as Tokie accidently ran over Matthew's toe with the trike he jumped up and hugged him as he was crying and apologized over and over for hurting him. As both Matthew and Toktogul helped Joshie on the merry-go-round at the park I thought to myself "Go ahead, judge doesn't matter what you think, the only thing that matters is what they think!".

So we continue on, this little family of mine...trying as hard as we can to get it right, knowing we will fail sometimes, learning as we go along. I am so grateful to those who care and have offered help, and it overshadows those who would stand back in quiet yet obvious judgment.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Struggles and Successes

The past 3 days have seen some ups and downs as Tokie begins to settle in a bit. As expected, we have had a few...and I do emphasize only a few...challenging moments. Some of it is nothing worse than any parent of a normal 8 year old boy would experience and some of it is definitely testing us to see how far he can go, what is going to be tolerated, etc. There are moments when I honestly feel so mean and strict, when I really have to remind myself that consistent and clear rules are a necessity right now, regardless of how it makes me feel. I fear that if we don't lay solid ground rules right now, then 6 months from now we could have a monster on our hands!!

95% of the time, Toktogul is responding really, really well to everything, then there are those unexpected moments when he decides to dig his heels in on something, almost never anything of any real consequence. The other night (and yesterday afternoon as well) he stood toe to toe to Dominick and told him "No" about some minor thing, I can't even remember what it was about now, but it led to quite a little scene the first night in which I let him know in no uncertain terms that he is never to tell his mommy or daddy "No". Now mind you, what makes discipline really difficult at this stage is the inability on our part to explain anything other than through hand gestures and pantomiming. However, I think at this stage some of it needs no explanation and he clearly understands that he is refusing to do what we ask, pay attention to us, or whatever. Sometimes it is on issues of safety, some of respect for us as his parents, sometimes just learning to participate as a member of the family. We have had a lot of "play acting" when he doesn't want to do something and we are not falling for it, and the past couple of days he has tried to say that he doesn't understand what we want him to do because "Nyet Angleski!" but amazingly once he sees we are upset about it, he has this uncanny ability to suddenly understand English! Hahahaha! At this stage it is clear to us when he understands what we are saying and when he does not, so I hope he will quickly get the idea that he can't pull one over on us, at least not while using that excuse;-)

We have also seen the time tested "Divide and Conquer" already, going to Daddy and asking for something, getting an undesirable answer, and then moving on to Mommy to see if she will give you the answer you prefer. It is actually funny to us as we see him doing such classic things, things we all pulled ourselves when we were kids. We also have noticed that much of his more challenging behavior has been directed at Dominick, he tends to say "No" more often to Dominick...but even at that it hasn't really been extreme at all.

The other 95% of the time things are going so well!! Unlike some older adopted kids I have read or heard about, I have none of the "constantly underfoot" behavior as he just goes off and plays and entertains himself very easily...sometimes with the boys and sometimes alone. I get the feeling that he is actually enjoying having some time to himself, which he has likely never had before, and he seems quite content when playing alone. We have curbed much of the earlier behavior of the prior couple of weeks when he tried to discipline the boys himself, and he seems to be getting the hang of this having a mommy and daddy thing. I also am trying to interject myself into areas where he at first thought it was wierd, and for a bio 8 year old it would be wierd, but I tell him over and over that certain things are mommy's putting jelly on his toast for him, taking care of small things like putting lotion on him, etc. It is hard with an 8 year old who wants to assert his independence naturally at this age to take him back a couple of steps to learn what it is to be taken care of, rather than having to take care of yourself. So I am trying to find small ways to do it. I think it is very important that he learn to be nurtured in some areas, to learn to accept mothering and fathering and come to rely on it.

There has been nothing at all that we weren't prepared for or didn't fully expect, and truthfully we expect things to go downhill for awhile and then climb back up. He has so much to learn, he is taking so much in, and he is discovering what a family operates like. I am glad that we have had a couple of incidents with both Matthew and Joshua so he could see that the discipline goes all around, and is not just for him. I'll thank the kids later for thinking of that and providing me with perfect moments to point it out to Tokie! Hahahaha!

Last nght he asked if he could sleep with us as Matthew and Joshua do on a regular basis. I got to see first hand how difficult sleep is for him, as he tossed and turned and kicked and squirmed all night, until at some point after 2:00 AM he elected himself to change into his own bed. We have heard every night his movements late into the night as he knocks on walls, accidently banging limbs as he tries to move into a deep slumber. I think we have a long time before that kind of really restful, deeply peaceful sleep arrives for him. There must be so much going on in his head, so much tumbling about in there that he is processing!

One thing I will share with you that has been frustrating a bit is how some people almost gleefully have wanted to know if the boys are not getting along. For some it is an innocent and valid question and for others it is a way of waiting for the other shoe to drop, to be able to have an "I told you so" moment. The funny thing is that they simply don't want to believe me when I tell them all is well, and it is as if there has been nothing more than a mere blip on the radar with the addition of Toktogul. I actually am quite proud of both Joshua and Matthew as they have really proven their stuff with all of this, the travel, the new addition, etc. My kids aren't perfect, by a long shot, but I sure do like who they are, all 3 of them! Matthew told me Saturday evening that he was going to make some special time with Tokie, and then he went outside and they had fun crushing peanuts open and playing on the trampoline together. Matthew later told me he thought it was important for him to spend some time with Tokie, to be brothers together even if they couldn't speak together. I think he has struggled to connect at moments as Matthew is pretty introspective and self-contained, and although younger he is into more mature game playing, where Tokie is very much into play acting, etc. which is more along Joshie's lines. But I noticed this evening on the way home from our friends house that Matthew was working diligently at trying to explain something and was using a lot of sign language, etc. to get his thoughts across.

Toktogul has been incredibly efficient at speaking to us the best he can and somehow I seem to be able to understand much of what he is trying to communicate. Not always, but more often than I thought I would. We are using a lot of thumbs up and thumbs down to express likes and dislikes, and sound affects also work well.

In spite of our strictness, Tokie seems to be very happy with us, and easily snuggled in my lap this evening as we played a game. He has really started taking great pride in being part of the "team" and loved saying "LaJoy's!!!" when we played Uno or Yahtzee this evening and Dominick or I did well.

This Wednesday we leave for NY for the evaluation, and I am terribly interested to see what the various test results say, and if I have misread anything about him or will learn something new. I also think it will be great opportunity for he and I to be alone together for an extended period of time. We will be laying over in Denver for several hours on our way home, and will have the chance to visit with other families connected to Kyrgyzstan adoptions as well as our coordinator, Saule, who will be visiting from Kyrgyzstan. We are really looking forward to it! I know Toktogul will be very happy to see her, and to be around folks he can speak to in Russian. Myself, I am tired and could use another week or two at home before flying off again, but am glad we are doing this so it will be worth it.

So here we are, 10 days home and things are much, much better than I thought they would be at this time a few struggles and many successes, and not a single regret!! We have only hearts filled with gratitude...for so many things. For a loving, funny and bright new son, for 2 other wonderful, awesome sons to show him the way, for understanding friends who back us up no matter what our life holds for us. I am learning so much, just sitting back and watching all of this unfold!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Strange Things In A Strange Land

1) Real grass you can run and play on! The first day home he ran, and ran, and ran around our yards just enjoying the cool, green grass underfoot.
2) Taking apart Daddy's razor - And yes, it DOES make a mess!
3) Toasters are cool, and the bread pops up!
4) Milk cold is icky! We have to warm it in the microwave for him to drink it, then he drinks it like crazy.
5) We LOVE playing with the remote control for the the doors, close the doors, lock the doors, unlock the doors, open the doors, close the doors, unlock the doors, lock the doors...well, you get the picture ;-)
6) We do NOT turn the swamp cooler on and off over and over again, one of the no-no's of the house
7) Sam's Club and the snacks there are FUN and we get to try new foods for free! Likes: M&M's and popcorn mixed, Dislikes: potato salad
8) Mommy will read as many books to you as she can, anytime.
9) You can ask a gazillion times for binoculars, and you STILL are not getting a pair! Don't ask me why binoculars are the hit.
10) We still haven't figured out what the dishwasher it a dish drainer?
11) Clothes Dryers are amazing, and the lint trap is totally the best!
12) When mommy says "No", she means it, period.
13) Super Soakers make great weapons, but Daddy's pressure washer wins!!
14) Ordering a waitress around in Russian when in America simply doesn't work.
15) You don't have to say "I'm sorry" for every little thing, Mom and Dad love you and will not get rid of you for a minor transgression.

It's Happening...

The one thing I was most curious about, prior to actually meeting Toktogul, was how long it would take to really feel "in love" with him. Would he feel like a neighbor kid hanging out and overstaying his visit? Would it take months...or even feel that this was not an interloper in our midst? If I am honest and admit it to the world, I was afraid I might never feel "it" for him, simply because he had not been in my arms since infancy. Inviting an older child permanently into your life is much different than taking in a snuggly, adorable infant (OK, in Joshie's case a prickly, screaming infant!). They are fully formed in many ways, they have their own quirks, attitudes, and years of experiences behind them that you are not privy to. While there are many children I have met over the years that have been easy to love, despite the fact that they were not mine, there were just as many that I could never imagine parenting...and I wondered if Toktogul would be one of the former or one of the latter.

I wasn't unrealistic in my expectations, and in fact I think I had none. I knew this was an ongoing process and frankly, I didn't fall instantly in love with Matthew or Joshua either. They were complete strangers to me and while I was "in like" with them, it took time to discover who they were and to fall in love with them. I have never put any pressure on myself about this, as I always knew it would happen in time if I just allowed it. I just figured that this time around I would have to have a lot of patience and we might be looking at months before I really felt like "Mom" with a capital "M".

Guess what? It's now. Toktogul has so smoothly fit into our family, his temperament is SO much like Matthew's and Joshua's. There is a softness about him, a kindness and thoughtfullness that is something I am not sure you can teach, but is part of our souls. He is familiar to me and my heart in a way that is something I can't explain, either you have experienced this yourself with someone in your life or you won't understand.

Last evening I was sitting in our dining room chatting with Dominick as he worked on fixing our freezer (only an ice dam, not a new fridge issue luckily!), the other boys were outside with 3 of their friends racing around, hooting and hollaring and having a grand old time, and Tokie was inside with us. He was standing next to me, the golden early evening sunlight casting a beautiful glow about him, and we were just talking amongst the 3 of us about nothing in particular, goofing around and giggling about something as he has this wonderful sense of humor. I realized at that moment that I loved him, that I wanted nothing more than to hold him, to cradle him in my arms and make up for lost time. I had this dizzying sense of joy at God's goodness at bringing this little boy into our lives, and in such a way that His plan could never be denied. You know how it feels when your heart fills up? When you are so happy with someone, and you just want to grab on and never let go? That is what it feels like right now for me and Tokie. I think I have truly claimed him as mine, and this is very, very soon for that to have happened.

But what's not to love about the little guy? He is very thoughtful and helpful around the house...never complaining about picking things up or doing anything that is asked. He is much like Matthew like that, just gets in and gets it done, I am a lucky mommy to have two out of three who really don't mind doing work. Joshie always does it, but is more like a "normal" kid and whines often about it :-) Keeps me grounded, I guess! Hahahaha! Tokie's curiosity is phenomenal, and Dominick and I both get a real kick out of seeing his little brow knit together as he tackles putting together and taking apart a flashlight, and we are allowing him to do as much of that kind of stuff as he wants, as long as it is safe. I mean, is it really worth correcting him over flipping the lights on and off every time he passes by them?? What does it hurt? He'll eventually stop once he gets past this stage, we've got a lot of toddler exploring to cram in right now!

He is also thoughtful in other ways. Joshie was sleeping in our bed last night, and Tokie came in and brought him his special blankie knowing Joshie has to sleep with it every night. He saw Dominick had emptied the kitchen trash can yesterday, and he went in search of bags to put back in the can. A couple of the younger boys were playing roughly on the trampoline yesterday, and he gently made them stop it. He had a snack and he gladly shared it with Matthew with no prompting. He thanked Matthew for reading us all books last night. In some ways, it is as if he has already been raised by us the way he behaves around our home and with the other boys. I have found myself shaking my head many times at how God obviously made this child for us and our family, and how He also helped us find him so far away. I know there are folks in our lives who think we are nuts to adopt these children, to spend this money, to go so far away. Thank goodness I never put much stock in what other folks have to say :-) I would be missing out on 3 blessings of a lifetime.

Tokie may dig his heels in at times when told "No" or may ocassionally exhibit typical orphanage behavior, but overall he is a delight, he is special. He is the kind of child that even if I weren't adopting him I would have advocated for him, knowing he simply HAD to get out of the environment because he has so much to offer the world and a family. I am so grateful that Karen at our agency, and so many others who had met him reassured us that he was adoptable and adaptable...I am so glad I didn't let fear step in and take over.

This is not to say we don't have our battles ahead of us. He is headstrong, he can be forcefully pushy at moments, his "selective listening" is a bit TOO male for my taste and needs to be tamed a bit :-).

But he is my son, and not a stranger in our home, and already we love him dearly. Already, I give thanks each and every day for the chance to be the mother to this particular extraordinary child, just as I do every day for Matthew and Joshua. It is not a ritual, it is what I feel daily with my kids. This barren woman who is so filled up with love for children she didn't give birth too...I have been rewarded far beyond anything I have ever deserved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lazy Days of Summer...NOT!

We have now been home officially 6 full days, and life is slowly faling back into routine...not that we really have one anyway :-) Our lives are too action packed for a real routine I guess. But as I type this I have three kiddos plopped in front of the TV resting a bit after a morning of sleeping in late, cleaning up the house, and jumping on teh trampoline in the hot Colorado sun. Dominick has been madly working days and nights, trying to catch up and earn us some grocery money. Don't laugh! We have gone through 5 gallons of milk in 6 days, 3 bunches of bananas, 2 watermelons...and that's just for starters! Whew, this kid can eat and the others are no lightweights in the food department either! Visions of teenage years are closer than I had at first anticipated!

Our first real problem with communication hit us last night as Tokie was trying to explain something to us and we had no clue what he was talking about. It was hilarious for quite awhile as we all tried hard to figure out what he was saying using pictures, searching through dictionaries, etc. and he took it all in good stride up to a point, and then he started slipping over the edge of frustration so we decided to get help. This was at 9:30 at night so I didn't want to call the first person on my "call" list who spoke Russian as they go to bed early. I called a gentleman in town who I found out speaks Russian but he couldn't figure it out, and then Dominick had the bright idea to call a friend of his sister's in California who we learned spoke Russian. Olena (I have no idea if I got the spelling right, sorry if it is incorrect) was SO sweet and spoke with him for several minutes and then explained to us that he was trying to tell us he was excited about going to summer camp and wanted to know if he was going to go swimming there. She kindly helped us clarify a few things for him about the adventure he will have in a few weeks, and then offered to help us in the future if we need it. I am always so amazed at how caring and kind others can be to complete strangers. The look on his face when he finally realized someone on the other end of the line could understand him was one of relief and joy, even if he did think for most of the conversation that he was speakikng with Saule, our coordinator in Kyrgyzstan! How frustrating it must be for him to be unable to communicate his thoughts, and even more so because he appears to be so bright and have a lot to share!! But he has really done well at working with us to figure things out, and seems to understand that we truly do want to know what he thinks or needs but that sometimes we just can't understand. We are all showing great patience with one another, and are trying ahrd to smile and not take it all too seriously when we can't "get it".

I took the boys out to a vacation bible school soccer camp that they attended last year, and Toktogul did very well for his first foray into American kid life. However, there was a strong reluctance to do anything physical and we need to encourage that in fun ways so he can build up his endurance and strength. We had one episode where I marched him to sit in the car until he decided he wanted to participate, but curiosity killed the Tokie and within 5 minutes he was out and back at it.

I scheduled an appointment with a specialist in Denver for the cleft issues but couldn't get in until August 8th, which actually is ok as it gives us time together before we start attacking some of those more painful procedures we know are in the near future. We have enough to do with redoing all his vaccinations, which we begin on Monday, getting ears cleaned tomorrow and fitting in other things like teeth cleaning and dental work unrelated to the cleft. One step at a time, as a friend reminded me today.

We celebrated Matthew's birthday this weekend, he turned 8 years old. Now I have virtual twins, just like our friends do, although a different gender ;-) I already mentioned the trampoline, which will obviously be the hit of the summer. My special first son is growing up, and it brings such pride to see who he is becoming and a hint of sorrow to think he is already about halfway grown up, that in a very few years that will pass oh-so-quickly he will want nothing to do with mom and dad and will be heading down the path that leads to his own future life, whatever that may be. Dominick and I just talked about Matthew and his needs, that it will be quite easy for him to be overlooked in this family of 3 boys, 2 of whom are actually quite dynamic and have very outgoing personalities. Matthew is the calm, quiet thinker of the bunch, and the focus is almost never on him but on Joshua and now Toktogul as well. Matthew will grow to be a man of great depth of spirit, for there are already signs of that in the child he is. He won't care about being the center of attention much, but that won't mean that it might not be painful at times if he is always the one igonored. I have vowed not to let that happen, as he is just as special and each of the others are. I am glad he has some special friends in his life who also understand this and care about him too.

Our summer is so busy with church camp, swim lessons, a hopeful trip to California to meet grandmas, and other local activities that I don't know how we are going to fit it all in! It's time to print out the calendar for the next 3 months and see if we can even squeeze in a camping trip or two...but mainly I want to hang out with my sons doing exactly what we are doing now, nothing. Playing games as we feel like it, visiting with friends, laying around relaxing in the sun, puttering around, visiting the library, sleeping in. Oh yea, and laundry...yuch!

It is sad when we actually have to work at keeping the Lazy Days of Summer in place!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Settling In

We have been home for 4 days now, and life is beginning to settle in a bit as jet lag wanes. Thanks to the wonderful meals prepared for us, we have been able to really relax and not feel like we immediately had to get stocked on groceries, etc. although we did end up making a Walmary run to get Tokie a few clothes that actually fit right, mainly pants. He is so thin and even though he is 8 1/2 he is wearing a 6 slim!! We also had a small gathering at home last night for Matthew's birthday, which is actually tomorrow.

We attended church Sunday, and it was a special service held in a local park. Due to traveling and the fine weather, many of the "regulars" were not in attendance, but it was so nice to be back among our extended faith family. There were lots of warm hugs, many questions, and several people who told me they had read the blog and surprised me with their complimentary words and explanations that they found themselves in tears almost daily as they read it. That so many people have been affected by this blog has been amazing to me, as I guess I don't see why...while this adoption is certainly moving to our little family, I never imagined it would touch others lives as it has. I mean, when it is your own life you are living, it SHOULD touch you to the core, but I didn't envision it could touch others. It made me quite happy to know that our experience and my writing about it was really able to bring others along with us, but it was surprising to learn how many hearts were knocked on, and how many doors were opened at hearing that knock. I know that simply hearing from so many of our friends while we were so far away helped us feel less disconnected, and so very cared about.

Our first few days at home have been calm, quiet and restful. Toktogul needed the "downtime" and so did we. Saturday though, was filled with a few firsts, even as we were just hanging out, and made me realize that we are in for many more first moments, despite his advanced age. He proudly got to sit on Daddy's riding lawnmower and carefully drive it around with Dominick's guiding hand, same as the other boys have done in the past. He got his first ATV ride from our neighbor, Grandpa Don. Living in Colorado this is almost a rite of passage :-) He also enjoyed his first run at a slip and slide, which was hilarious to watch as he carefully approached the slide decked out in Joshie's life vest. He carefully scooted across it on hands and knees the first few runs, then slowly became a bit less cautious and eventually disgarded the life vest completely as he became more comfortable with the sensation of the cold water splashed on his skin.

One thing we have noticed is that his internal thermostat is a bit messed up, no doubt due to the orphanage environment which kept children clothed well beyond the norm at all times of the year. As any of you who have adopted infants can attest to, even in the summer these kiddos are bundled up as if it is...well...winter in Colorado! Well, we are now seeing the affects of this in an older child who is always complaining that it is too cold, even when it is 85 degrees out and the swamp cooler is on trying to cool the house down. He gradually seems to adjust throughout the day, disgarding jackets and long sleeves, and it has been funny to see him slowly "strip" down from morning to the point where he even went to bed without his jammies last night and wore only underwear. Never would have imagined that happening 2 weeks ago as he and Dominick had "Air Conditioning Wars" in our apartment in Almaty.

He also got his first go at a trampoline, as Matthew (and really all the boys) received one for his birthday, compliments of Grandma Alice, Mommy and Daddy, and Walmart's Midnight Christmas sale! All the kids' eyes bugged and they spent the evening jumping on it, eating dinner on it, and pretending it was a boat. This will be a terrific tool to help build up Toktogul's stamina while having fun at the same time.

All has not been without a couple of moments where a firm parenting hand had to come into play. Most notably, Toktogul tried to help Dominick correct Matthew by cornering him in the hallway and locking his arm across his throat to get him to listen to Daddy. Matthew's shocked look, as described to me later, was a combination of astonishment tinged with a hint of fear. Tokie was told that under no circumstance was he ever to be rough like that with either Matthew or Joshua, and that it was Daddy and Mommy's job to take care of all the kids. Of course, this was relayed with pantomime and few words, so who knows how much was really understood, but apologies were made and all was well. That is the first and only sign of any aggressive behavior we have seen, and we explained to Matt that often in the orphanage the older kids take over the parenting role for the younger ones, and Tokie was doing just what came naturally and was accepted there...but that was why young children don't make good parents because they don't understand how to discipline without physical force. Matthew in his usual way took it all in stride and went on his merry way. Thank goodness I have an "oldest" son (at least in all ways except chronological) whose calm nature helps set the tone for all our kids. His feather rarely get ruffled, and anger is slow to erupt. That will surely help in the coming days as things like this occur.

We have had some fake tears at being told "no" a couple of times, and are working on saying "No, thank you" when food is served that he doesn't like rather than forcefully pushing it away making nasty noises :-) One thing I am glad we did right from the beginning was to make manners a priority, as it makes accepting other behaviors easier. This may sound strange to pick as a first priority, but Dominick and I both realized that the first few days we found ourselves being put off by the little things...the lack of please and thank you that we have come to expect from our own kids was oddly disconcerting. So we decided that would be one of the first things we worked on, as it might also make others see him differently right away. Don't ask me why, but when a child is sitting at a table grabbing at food, not looking you in the eye, not aware of how his interactions with others are affecting them, it causes a subtle shift in the way they are thought of, even by those who know his background and understand. So, Manners 101 was lesson #1, and it has made a big difference immediately in how we all feel towards him. Hearing a loudly proclaimed "Thank You, Mamma" with a grin as he looks us in the eye goes a long way toward building bonds. Stupid? Maybe, but it is working for us.

We went into parenting him full force immediately, with no "poor orphan boy" attitudes accompanying our disciplinary actions. I know this may seem cold hearted to some of you who recognize his deprived background, but we felt that if we did not "hit the ground running" and let him know from the beginning what our expectations were for his behavior then it would make it that much harder to get under control later on..and we might find we had created a monster. Sure it has made for some uncomfortable moments, some power struggles as he learns his place within our family. But things he has already learned are A) You will never be able to play Mommy against Daddy...ever! B) No means No, with no exceptions C) Matthew and Joshua have the same rules as Toktogul does, and they too are disciplined with a firm and loving hand. We had our friends explain to him while still in Kazakhstan that we love him just the same as the other two boys, and that they all have the same rules.

Now honestly, we know there are a million things he needs to learn, and we also would love to spoil him with a billion new toys, new bike, candy galore, etc. as wouldn't that make us feel great to give a child all the things he has dreamed of but never been able to have much of? But that is kind of the point, isn't it? It would make US feel great, momentarily...but it would have long term consequences in establishing what life is really like, and it would not be helpful to him. We did not adopt Tokie to help a "poor orphan boy" and feel like we are "Saint for a Day", we adopted him because we desired to make him our son. They are two very different reasons for adopting. So, as mean as we sometimes feel, Dominick and I keep reminding ourselves that we feel this is the right approach and will be best in the long run, and jokingly call each other the "Mean Mommy" or the "Mean Daddy" to keep our own feelings of pity to a minimum and drop the stress down a notch during those moments that are, shall we say, less than pleasant.

Overall though, we couldn't ask for this to be going more smoothly. Josh was a real training ground for me, and after that perhaps anything would seem easier! I am reminded almost hourly in dealing with Toktogul that things could be much harder, and at those moments I am grateful for the challenging (man, is that putting it mildly!) two years with Joshua. Toktogul is warm and loving, and comfortable with appropriate physical displays of affection. He gives great hugs, and loves to sit on our laps. He is very, very helpful around the house and sees something needs to be done and gets in and does it without being asked. Here is a pause for more sick LaJoy humor but we have been joking for 2 weeks now that you gotta love those orphanage trained kids!!!! Hahahaha! He has good personal hygiene, and the instances where we have had issues have been mainly cultural differences, not indifference at taking care of his body. On the contrary, he is obsessive about washing his hands, brushing his teeth, etc. and I have never seen a child enjoy a shower so much! I know he didn't get the chance to shower daily there, and he relishes being in the warm stream of water, having it pound on his back. He is a very outgoing child, and yesterday at the church service he gladly went around introducing himself to everyone, shaking hands, saying hello. He is not overly affectionate with others, reserving that for us and our close friends who has seen us be affectionate with, but he is naturally warm and open to others.

We keep getting asked by everyone how Matthew and Joshua are doing with all of this, and I get looks of disbelief when I explain that all is just fine, that really...things are as if Toktogul has always been with us. We have never had tons of sibling rivalry between the boys, a moment here or there but far less than I suspect exists in other families. We prepared the boys for months for this, for Toktogul's expected behavior, for the changes in our lives and theirs. We talked it all out, asked them to have compassion as he learned about his new life, etc. We also have 3 sons who have mild temperaments, who are by nature not pushy (with a couple of "parenting role" exceptions for Toktogul), and have pretty gentle and kind spirits, and this may have helped. I know that some folks think we are just putting a happy face on what MUST be worse issues behind the scenes, but the truth is they are already settled in as brothers for the most part, and Dominick and I have worked extremely hard at keeping expectations equal for all the boys, and at giving each of them one on one mommy and daddy time as we can manage it, and all of the above has helped enormously. I also think bringing the boys along helps them relate better to Tokie's experience as we can say "Remember seeing the orphanage? That is why Tokie is doing X Y Z" and recognition of the truth of what we are saying lights up their face. Matthew said 2 days ago "Tokie is a nice boy mommy, I am glad we have him."..and that pretty much sums up the attitude of Matthew and Joshua both.

Today I will be making calls to specialists, both medical and educational, to firm up plans for evaluations, etc. We have much to do and much more to learn, and we need to get moving on it. Toktogul and I will be traveling to NY in two weeks, as I mentioned in an earlier post, to have a 2 day evaluation by Dr. Gindis, and we need to set up an evaluation for his cleft needs in Denver.

One thing though, that is the biggest joy of all of this, is watching this child be filled with delight. Saturday, Toktogul was singing all day long as he walked in and out of the house, little songs he was making up. He would periodically bounce back and forth between Dominick and I with hugs and quick kisses as he tried out these new activities. He pranced happily down the hallway and in and out of the house, barely able to contain his inner if he could hardly stand it all. As he jumped up into my arms he proclaimed loudly "America Harosho"...America Good!!! He also firmly said in English "Kyrgyzstan...Tokotgul, America....Kenny!" so he made it quite known that he wants to use his new American name of Kenny. However, it still is not familiar enough to him to respond to it when we call...or perhaps that is more of the selective listening we often experience with we still are calling him Toktogul much of the time but are transitioning slowly to Kenny.

There are also other things happening behind the scenes that I can not share with you right now, but have touched us deeply. God is working overtime here, and your continued prayers are very much appreciated...mainly that His will would be obvious over the coming months. I'll share more when I can, I promise. Thanks again for caring about this little "nobody" family in rural Colorado, for wanting to know what is going on in our lives. The support of each and every one of you has made a difference, and will continue to as we go through difficult medical procedures and all adapt to a new version of the La Joy family. If anyone out there considering adopting has any questions or anyone simply wants to know something specific about what is going on, don't hesitate to email me at and I will gladly answer your questions.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Our Last Day In Kazakhstan

We had a wonderful last day in Kazakhstan before heading home, thanks to our dear friends. Salta and Ayana, and Salta's parents treated us like royalty, and we felt more like family than long distance friends. Salta's parents took us to a WONDERFUL restaurant which offered a beautiful setting and traditional Usbek/Kazakh food. It was so special and we loved every minute of it. Sadly I can not recall the name of it, but will post photos and maybe someone else knows of it and can share the name. The boys enjoyed playing with Askar, Salta's 6 year old little brother, and we so enjoyed seeing Lyazzat again, Salta's mother who was also our coordinator in Almaty for Joshie's adoption. Although we know Salta and Ayana far better, Salta's parents are our ages so we have much in common. Bulat, Salta's father, had to return to work but the rest of us went up the mountain to Medeo and took photos, then returned to town where Lyazzat bought our family a gorgeous coffee table book about Kazakhstan which was in English, Russian and Kazakh and will be a treasured item in our home. Later that evening Ayana treated our family to a late pre-flight dinner out at Il Patio, a really nice Italian restaurant and we had fun teasing her about her handsome and very sweet new boyfriend. He was good natured about being around our bustling bunch of boys, and we all had a great time our last night in Almaty. Next it was on to the 2:40 AM Lufthansa flight, where we were delayed checking in for 1 1/2 hours as all of our passports were scrutinized first at Lufthansa check in and then at Passport Control. Seems no one in authority understands the dual citizenship status of our adopted kiddos and if had to be explained over and over again. We must have had every passenger on that flight mad at us for holding up one of the check in counters for so long!

We will miss our friends in Kazakhstan so much, our dear Salta and Ayana. We treasure our friendship with them and this time it was very hard as none of us know when we might see one another again, although we all agree that it won't be the last time. We had Salta's parents extend a heartfelt invitation to our family to come visit them when they move back to their new apartment in Astana and they would show us around...and we seriously might do it someday if we can ever come up with the money for airfare. And we too told them all they were welcome anytime in America again and we'd love to have them there. As I hugged the girls one final time before going through security, I realized that age makes no difference when it comes to friendship, and that hearts connecting is the most important thing in life.


We arrived in Almaty in mid-evening, exhausted, hot and ready to get to bed. Salta and Ayana, my young college friends, had rented an apartment for us so they met us to show us where our new home would be for the next week. We stayed in a clean and comfortable very typical Kazakhstan apartment, 4th floor walk up (yes, dragging all that luggage). It had one bedroom, one bathroom, a teeny tiny kitchen and a bathroom. The boys slept on the floor in the living room (Don't tell anyone in Kazakhstan, that is a big No No there!). We could only fit two people in the kitchen to eat at a time, and interestingly the refridgerator had no freezer...mainly because no one there buys enough food to worry about storing frozen stuff. The fridge was much smaller than an American fridge, and the clothes washer was a luxury that was wonderful to have...but before you get any ideas that we were living in the lap of luxury let me explain that the washer was much smaller than you are imagining, and could only hold about 2 pairs of adult sized jeans, and there was no clothes dryer, so we spent most of our stay in the apartment with wet, dripping underwear hanging overhead in the hallway on the indoor clothes line. Here are kuddos for Dominick, who did ALL of our laundry during this part of the trip and was s proud of himself for keeping up with it.

We were within walking distance of Zum, the department store that everyone hits to get souvenirs...actually it is many vendors under one roof and not a department store by our way of thinking. We had several small markets along every street that we could also shop in, a play area in the middle of our block of apartments, and friendly Kazakh neighbors.

Almaty has changed dramatically since our first visit there in 2000 to adopt Matthew. There are so many cars on the road that congestion isn't really an appropriate word for it...gridlock is. There is obviously a lot of money flowing into Kazakhstan's former capital, and new construction of very expensive apartments and business buildings is everywhere. There is a new mall, named Mega, which had everything you might find here in America including a restaurant with a climbing wall which Matthew tried, a Sbarro restaurant and a 31 Flavors. The cost of EVERYTHING has increased there, and for those of you who are like us and returning for an adoption or visit after 4+ years, better bring your cash and think of it as any upper level city in America. We ran short on cash due to the much higher cost of food and lodging there and unfortunately just couldn't afford to buy some of the souvenirs we had hoped to be able to bring back home.

The air in Almaty is filthier than ever, but the streets are much cleaner than Bishkek. There are people everywhere, at all hours of the day and night. But for all the modern conveniences that have arrived, drive to the outskirts of the city and you see the "real" Kazakhstan once again, where the poverty is oppressive, housing is abysmal, and the struggle to maintain any sort of decent life is enormous. Old women sweeping dirty sidewalks with brooms made from the branches of nearby trees, asphalt being repaired by men walking behind a truck with pitchers of patch in their hands which is poured into the cracks of the roadway, outhouses and lack of indoor plumbing are the norm so you see folks carrying huge bottles of water away with them from the corner pump fo the neighborhood. Things are improving overall, but it is slow and will be years before life for the average Kazakhstani has improves significantly. I can't remember if it was in Almaty or Bishkek (which are much alike in some respects) where I asked about employment and was told that it is at 25%. However, at least in Kazakhstan, it is easy to see that the country our children came from will look vastly different by the time they reach adulthood. I am not so sure I could say the same about Kyrgyzstan. The instability in the government there may slow progress, but even in Kazakhstan people we spoke with seem divided about President Nazarbayev...some praising him for the progress made and others complaining that he is slowing things down and keeping progress from happening even more quickly.

I left Almaty for Petropavlovsk a day later than initially planned and arrived there on Saturday, June 2 instead of Friday, June 1. More on that to follow in the next post...

Toktogul's Adjustment

We had a long drive to Almaty after leaving Bishkek, where we would complete the adoption process at the US Embassy there. During the 4+ hour drive I visited with Saule and Toktogul in our car while Matt, Josh and Dominick followed in the next car. Saule asked Toktogul how he liked his new family and if he was happy, which he said he was very happy. She asked him if he was mad when we corrected him, as we have had to do many times over various issues. He responded that he knew it was his mommy's job to do that, and he was not mad at all. She asked him if he would someday return to Bishkek and he made us both laugh when he said that he would come back again, maybe in 5 years, but he could only stay for a couple of days then because his parents would be old by then and need help at home and he would have to buy our medicine for us!! So...look for me to be in a wheelchair by 45 years old, at least according to Tokie :-) We had an interesting conversation about Kazakh and Kyrgyz men and how they always take care of their parents, even if their wives don't like it.

Toktogul is truly an enigma at times, showing this nurturing and mature caretaking role with the boys as well as us at moments, and then slipping into the curious toddler stage just as quickly. It is like have "Combo Boy" live with us, one who we have to watch constantly as he has no idea of what dangers there are (like licking a knife is a "no no", but he's never handled a knife before so how would he know???) and yet he is very grown up at other moments, reminding us that it is time to do things like brush his teeth or take a shower. He was laying on the floor with the boys who had both fallen asleep, and he gently covered them both up with a blanket, wanting to make sure they were warm...and then the next minute had his feet up on the wall while singing a little ditty. We have had to explain about the dangers of light sockets, traffic, stoves (I am afraid to leave him alone with anything on the stove at all as he is too curious and will play with it), and store merchants who are not happy about you touching everything. We have not had to teach him to cut his fingernails, wash dishes, pick up his room or take fastidious care of his body in most ways.

He really bucks against "no" at times, and purposely ignores us when called if he anticipates we are going to tell him not to do something. He makes a HUGE deal out of seeing anyone smoking in public, or even out of seeing an ashtray, and that has provided us with an embarassing moment or two and caused us to wonder where he picked this attitude up from. Glad we weren't smokers!!! He knows how to give us a good pouty face and it reminds us of Josh when he does that once in awhile :-) He has a stubborn streak a mile long, but we are seeing it soften a bit, feeling more acceptance of our parenting each and every day. And actually, these moments are not long in duration or frequent in occurance. We have maybe 3-4 times a day where obstinance arises and we deal with it, and the rest of the day is spent quite happily following our rules and listening to our guidance. He is a genuinely happy child whose heart is full and ready ot give and accept love.

Language hasn't really been an issue yet, and we are communicating fine at most levels with sign language and pointing, smiles and frowns. Of course, things have yet to come up when we don't have a Russian translator around to ask for an explanation to be given, and we will deal with that when the time comes around for it...probably in the next few days. Pantomiming can only go so far. However, already it is amazing what he seems to understand when we speak to him, even without signing it to him. I had been less worried about the language than people might expect because I had heard from many, many adoptive parents of older kids over the years that this had been their biggest concern pre-adoption and their smallest issue post-adoption. It was also the one thing that amazed everyone else when the subject of our adoption came up....that we would have to parent a child who didn't understand a word we said!

All in all, things have been going much better than we expected, and his adjustment thus far has been nothing short of amazing!