Monday, December 29, 2008

Merry Aftermath!!

I am sorry it has taken me so long to post, but we have been swamped here and trying to keep our heads above water has taken some effort. While I haven't been blogging, I HAVE been writing as I have many assignments I need to complete before my lay ministry class on the 10th of January, so most of my "spare" time has been reserved for that.

We had an amazing Christmas, it was just about perfect in every way. No one was sick, presents weren't the focus (although definitely appreciated!! Hahaha!), and in church yesterday when asked during the children's portion of the service what was the most exciting part of Christmas for each child, Matthew responded with a tear inducing (for Mommy at least) "Spending time with my mom and dad.". Now how in the world can you improve on that one bit?

We had a houseful for Christmas with 2 additional unexpected and yet very welcomed guests, bringing our grand total to 16. None were related by blood, all were related by love so it was a warm and special way to spend the afternoon as we ate until we could stand no more and laughed until we were sore!

I decided for once to not take any photos and just be present in the moment with the kids and everyone else, rather than viewing the events of the holiday from behind a lens. Yup...purposely not a single photo was taken and I actually enjoyed it! As much as I love my camera, sometimes it comes between me and the subject I am photographing if I get too "into" it. Besides, when you think about it, does anyone ever really care to see the kids each and every year as they open their gifts with the same background and same faces, just growing a bit larger each year? Hahaha!

While the festivities were just as I had hoped they would be, at our Christmas Eve candlelight service is when I felt it the most...the missing little bodies next to me, the yearning so deep it brought tears to my eyes instantly as I looked down the pew at the faces of my outwardly mismatched yet inwardly perfectly matched family lit by the single flame of the candle they held. Oh how I had hoped that our daughters would be here for this day! It was a year ago exactly when we discovered that God indeed was going to grant us our fondest wish, and surprised us with the fact that it was all worked out for us and we need do nothing but get moving on it. Although we experienced some stutter steps, we now are closer than ever to realizing our...and their...dream of uniting as a forever family.

But somehow, at that moment and for the remainder of the evening, a bit of melancholy settled around my like a warm shawl around my shoulders. Patience can be so hard when one allows oneself to picture the plight of our beloved children before they come home. Sure, their basic needs are being adequately met, but their heart needs certainly are not. But we moved forward and I made a conscious effort to shrug it off and enjoy what I do have instead of pining for what I don't have, and life was good.

Last night we had a really neat experience when we were invited over to a Scouting friend's home to celebrate the last night of Hanukkah with them! This was a great opportunity to learn about their traditions and we had a wonderful time visiting and getting to know them better. They were very thoughtful in thinking to ask us to share this special evening with them, and I am sure that all that was seen and tasted that night (Oh yea...we all decided latkes were mmm...mmmm...good!!!) will be a springboard for later discussion as we explore the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. After hearing some prayers in Hebrew we were going to read a children's book about Hanukkah and Kenny asked "Is it in English?" as he thought it might end up being in Hebrew as well. No doubt he is already tired of trying to master a new language! Hahaha!

So on to anticipating the new year! We will likely be working hard this week and I will try to blog as I can, but we are at the time of year when spare time is slim...and sleep is paramount :-) Hahaha! I'd ask those of you who are praying folk to remember a friend of mine who just lost his mother in an accident, and to think of Kenny as we prepare to leave for Chicago on the 13th for another appointment at Shriner's when hopefully we will be scheduling his first surgery. His anxiety level is always so high about MD visits, and knowing we are approaching his first surgery here at home I expect that to continue to escalate.

Hope each and every one of you had a special Christmas, and are safe as we enter the new year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

You Wanna Know What Christmas Is All About????

As I sit in my warm home with plenty of food in the cupboards and gaily wrapped presents underneath a beautiful tree...

As I was awoken this morning by Joshua jumping up and down on my bed excitedly declaring "It's Christmas Eve! It's Christmas Eve!"...

As I am feeling inordinately bless this year to be spending it within the arms (and as much as we hug around the LaJoy house it really is "within the arms") of my loving family...

As Christmas Day will be spent celebrating with wonderful friends as 9 more people from our church join us at our home to create an extended family for the day...

As I think if two little girls who are not home but will be in my heart EVERY SINGLE MOMENT...

I can rest a little easier knowing that YOU ALL made Christmas happen elsewhere. Children who were forgotten by society were shown they were not really forgotten after all. Not only did you make the LaJoy family's Thanksgiving extraordinary due to your astounding giving of over $2000 in a mere 7 days, but you have helped take the sting away from Christmas this year when we thought we just might have our WHOLE family home. You have brought light and joy, smiles and love to over 200 children in Kyrgyzstan.

Through a little thing called the internet, the world suddenly doesn't seem that small, does it? For us, having been there, the faces of those children all feel as if they live just around the corner...or, who am I kidding, in my very own house. That is how real it is to us. They are not anonymous children as they may be for many of you who have never been to Kyrgyzstan, they are the same eyes that look up at me every day residing in much different circumstances.

When one hears about generic "kids who are hungry" or "kids who won't have Christmas" it is easy to pass by, to ignore it. When one SEES those gleeful faces, when one can almost imagine hearing the laughter and singing, or when one can easily imagine holding those very kids in your suddenly isn't as generic isn't as easy to turn a blind eye.

We can NOT all adopt, nor should we all. We CAN all make a difference though.

And look at the difference you made:

You can see many more photos of the party at the Red River Orphanage at John Wright's blog: where the kids from the Orlofka orphanage entertained the other children with break dancing and singing. Again, another wonderful example of how John creates that interconnectedness that is so important.

You guys did this! Not me, not John...YOU. Your generosity was so overwhelming, I was truly amazed at what I had initially thought might have us lucky enough to raise $200 and help a little towards a party which instead turned into...well...a virtual giving marathon!! I always knew my readers were wonderful, caring people as evidenced by their kind, thoughtful comments and warm emails, but this was so beyond anything I ever expected.

Go check out the full story at John's blog, it will leave you with a smile on your face all day. There will be more photos to follow as the next group (the first $1000 we raised money for...Pie #1 actually..hahahaha!) gets their hamburger dinner at a restaurant and their gifts. You have no idea what this will be like for them, I remember taking Kenny from the orphanage that first day and his reaction at going to a restaurant for the first time...having soda and not expecting bubbles...grinning from ear to ear and preferring to sit at the table and EAT EAT EAT (OK, so he STILL does that!) rather than go play on the swings and slide.

Merry Christmas, Amir (soon to be Isaac!!!). You were NEVER forgotten.

Merry Christmas, my dear sweet A & O. How I wish you were here...

Merry Christmas to every one of my Blog Readers. May you pause for a moment during the festivities of the next couple of days and think of "our kids" in Kyrgyzstan. Light a candle for them, say a prayer, mention them around the laden dinner table. Share these photos with your visiting family and friends...for THIS is what Christmas is all about.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


The boys are at this moment watching the 30+ year old Christmas specials we watched when we were children know, Rudolph, Frosty and the gang. It is easy to forget sometimes that the traditions we create for our kids will be remembered long after we are gone. I am not really good at creating traditions...I am not one of those moms who has caught up scrap books, every school photo in dated frames, locks of hair saved from first haircuts (Actually we have never been present for first haircuts! Guess I am off the hook on that one!) or teeth saved from tooth fairy midnight raids. It is something I wish I was much better at...routines and traditions. We do have a few such as watching these classics, trying to bake sometime before Christmas, going trick or treating with friends every year, and things like that. But nothing really enduring I guess has ever become a firm tradition. I always envy moms that are good at that sort of thing.

I also envy moms who are "classic moms"...who look and dress and act like "real moms" which I never really see myself as. You know as I'll bet many of you are more what my image of a "real mom" have cute holiday vests for every occasion hanging in your closet, you are always ready with cool cupcakes and special treats from magazines for school parties, you are members of the PTA and are always the Team Mom, your hair always looks great and is styled nicely, you have more than one purse to match different outfits, you likely never wear sneakers and instead know exactly what kind of loafers or whatever name you call cool shoes go with jeans and you probably have great socks to go with them too instead of white athletic socks. You are soft and warm and fuzzy, you have smiles that light up a room and you can actually hem a pair of pants. That is the kind of mom I have always wished I was and yet know instinctively was impossible for me to be.

No, I am more the mom that is frazzled looking all the time, and wouldn't know how to be stylish if I tried. I ALWAYS and I do repeat ALWAYS turn our library books in late and owe fines, and if given the option for a gift I would never select a day at the spa but would die to go shopping for an electronic device of some sort. I wear really scruffy sneakers. I don't have cute decorator items on our walls as I have no clue how to select that great looking stuff (see, I don't even know a good term for that kind of stuff!). I am not polished and in fact more often look like the polishing cloth! hahahaha!

But as I thought about it today, I realized I have generated some silly little making up songs for each of my kids as I rocked them to sleep and singing quietly to them as they beg for even now that they are older. Overnight campouts in our bedroom where I tell really stupid adventure stories that make no sense but have everyone dissolving into giggles. Recognizing loving acts and pointing them out for the entire family to celebrate. Having friends over often to fill our house with warmth and laughter. Having "dates" with each of the boys that might not be terribly exciting but allow us to have some "alone time" to visit and share our thoughts. Singing in the car at the top of our lungs really, really badly and laughing about it. Involving the boys in serving others in one form or another, whether it is raking leaves for neighbors, picking up trash from the highway or shucking corn for Habitat for Humanity at our Corn Festival. Or whenever we attack a project we get in a circle and put our hands in the middle, football huddle style, and yell "Go Team LaJoy...WOOOOO!"

So while I could never send our traditions into Parenting Magazine in the hopes they would be written up in an article, I guess we have a few LaJoy memories that will be held in the kids' hearts when they are old and gray. Not sure if they are worthy of being passed down from generation to generation but they are ours, and we love 'em.

Today after church we went with a few friends to sing carols at a couple of local nursing homes. It was the first time the boys had ever been in one, and they were curious and a bit taken aback as we went in. Let's face it, most adults don't even enjoy being in places such as this to visit, as it cuts to the core of our very worst fears...that we might find ourselves living in such circumstances one day. It makes us think about things we'd prefer to relegate to a closed file cabinet drawer within our mind, never to be opened.

There is a scent that permeates such facilities, and a sense of hopelessness that is impossible to shake. Life there is suspended, the outside world forgotten and a new very limited world is presented. I was struck by the comparison of nursing homes and orphanages, of people warehoused and long forgotten while just outside the front door life moves on for the rest of us.

We sang carols, this little group of ours, and slowly I saw the boys each become gradually a bit more comfortable...Kenny walking up to wheelchair bound seniors shaking hands with those who had little recognition of what was going on around them, Joshie wandering up and down the halls ahead of us singing Jingle Bells, Matthew peering into rooms shyly waving hello and saying "Merry Christmas". The longer we were there, the less uncomfortable all of us became as the humanity of each and every person before us became apparent. The basic human need for love and the touch of another exists within all of us, and it was good for the boys to see that although these older folks might look a bit scary or act a bit different they are really the same as you or I.

So perhaps today we stumbled upon what might be a new LaJoy tradition.

Another unwanted tradition seems to be that the beginning of ski season triggers the destruction of a computer caused by one defect or another. One reason I have not posted this week was that my beloved Yellow Dellow, which admittedly had well over 100,000 figurative miles on it and worn out keys already in 11 months, decided to choose this time to crash its hard drive. My laptop is to me what most people's wristwatch is to them, or perhaps their cell phone. Being without it is like wandering around half naked!! Dell has stepped up to the plate though and offered to replace both the hard drive and the DVD drive and to have a technician take care of it all for us, which is great but will take awhile. I am hoping I can salvage some of what was on the hard drive but am not holding my breath.

We look forward to Christmas Eve service this week, spending time with friends on Christmas Day at our home, and yes even opening a present or two. Hopefully, the most important traditions have already been embedded...a tradition of recognizing the real reason for the holiday, a tradition of seeing that God works through us to touch the lives of others, a tradition of understanding that the love we have for one another is the most precious gift we have to give.

If I don't have time before hand to write, Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kazakh Klaus is Coming to Town!

We have had such a wonderful weekend and although I don't quite have the "spirit" yet, its not for a lack of trying. Some years it just takes longer than others, or it doesn't really settle in at all, but what I have this year in lieu of the childlike excitement is a great trade off...somehow I have been imbued with a strange sense of calm, a nice little place to be in right now as things are topsy turvy with the economy which our little family is definitely feeling along with so many others. Auto detailing is an "extra" for most people which can definitely be put off till a later date, but we are very thankful to have work at all and a warm roof over our heads. It is at these times that we most need a reminder of what the holiday is all about, that giving gifts should not be the focus and that mega shopping and the stress associated with it literally saps the meaning of the holiday clean out of us.

This entire weekend for us was spent doing the things that make the holiday special, and they had nothing at all to do with spending hours walking through a mall. Friday night we gathered with the younger youth from our church and had dinner then baked cookies. We were making some for the "Cookie Walk" our Women's Union has every year which helps support our kids going to summer camp, and then we made up small packages to deliver to some of the older members of our Congregation, which we did Saturday evening while "caroling". I say that almost in jest as we realized all the kids are so young they only know all the words to 2 Christmas carols, so we ended up singing Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. We found they knew the words to a few others but they were...ummm...shall we say "creative" or they practiced "poetic license" with them? For example, Kenny came up with Feliz Navidad but instead we found he sang "Feliz La Lee La" which had us all hooting in laughter. Another little guy's Frosty The Snowman had lots of "da da da's" in it too. As Matthew was the only one of the kids who could read, printing out song lyrics wasn't going to work either, so we just stuck with good old Rudolph and the Bells.

When we went out on Saturday evening, the boys wore their sweatshirts that we made. We couldn't afford those killer cool ski sweaters from Land's End or LL Bean which I always love and would one day like to get to have a family portrait taken, so I had a "Martha Moment" and decided to see if we could make something ourselves. We went to the Dollar Tree (Love that place for many items!) and bought some plastic snowflake ornaments, then on to Wally World for some fabric "spray paint". Last stop was Walgreens for their 3 for $10 sweatshirts and then we created our own using the snowflakes spread across the shirt and spraying over the top of them. While definitely not super stylin', they at least get the whole holiday theme across without spending a fortune, and the boys enjoyed making them. Add the Dollar Tree Santa Hats and...Wallah...Kazakh and Kyrgyz Klaus's!

This afternoon we went to the annual Christmas concert by our local symphony and chorus. We had 4 talented friends performing and one of them provided us with his extra tickets to attend, which we thoroughly enjoyed. For a small community, we have a lot of incredible musicians here, and it is nice to see them showcased. Matthew most enjoyed the music they played from the Polar Express and was naming each scene the music came from. Kenny was delighted to recognize so many tunes this year, as last year they were all new to him and this afternoon he kept saying "I know that one Mommy!". I am so happy that the boys enjoy such things, that they are proving to be more well rounded than I ever was as a kid and interested in more diverse things. For me, it was like going to see even bigger kids of mine as we proudly sat and watched our friends who we love so much as they shined on stage. I thought often throughout the afternoon performance that we are surrounded by incredibly gifted people who are woven throughout our daily life, but better yet are people who are very, very special for far more than their musical gifts.

We rushed home to prepare for some friends to share dinner with us, as they will be out of town for Christmas and we all wanted to spend some time together so we ended up having a "Pre-Christmas" meal. Having the house filled with babies and Big Boys reminded me how lucky we are to be at this stage of our life, with so much life and joy surrounding us. We had a fire in the fireplace and just hung out watching the kids, talking about life and parenting and nothing in particular but enjoying the warmth of good friendship. Joshie was deep in discussion with the mommies about eye color and how babies look like their parents, and you could almost see the wheels turning as he was trying to figure that all out.

Kenny has been such a joy lately, we are well past the challenging couple of weeks we had and he is back to being his more mellow self, his more compliant self. The magic of Christmas still thrills him even at 10 years old, and he thoroughly believes in Santa still, which is a lot of fun. Matthew is at that in between stage, caught between older childhood and wanting to cling on to his younger self. He is not at all acting as if he doesn't believe in Santa, but I have a feeling he is afraid to say he doesn't for fear it might mean he is leaving a part of himself behind that he is not yet ready to walk away from.

Tomorrow begins my work season in earnest, as I begin my daily drive back and forth between Gunnison and Montrose, quite literally through the frozen mountain range and through the beautiful canyons. While I don't relish the danger of the drive at moments, there are times when it is the most breathtaking sight I would ever want to behold and I find it hard to complain. I am hoping for a good ski season spent with wonderful, hard working friends who will be fun to be with for the next 4 months. the negative part of the whole thing is how much time it takes away from the family, and how hectic everything gets with tons of things crammed in at the last minute, lots of items left undone, etc. But this year I am hoping it will help the time to fly by as we are in "wait" mode.

So it is off to bed for me, later than I had intended but ready to face the not-so-bleak-mid-winter. The quiet surrounds me, ok well sort of quiet as Dominick is heartily snoring on the couch beside me, the fire is nothing but warm embers, the cold outside is a "balmy" 5 degrees above zero and all is good in LaJoyland. May it continue to be so for a long time to come!

And I will leave you with the LaJoy Boys wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a reminder to leave the shopping behind and grab on to what it is all about...go sing, go spend time with someone, go shovel snow for someone, give everyone you care about a big hug!:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Putting it into Practice

Micah 6:8-9 (New International Version)

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Often we go through our every day lives, compartmentalizing our faith into the "Sunday" box and maybe pulling it out once in awhile during the week when it is convenient. We might find ourselves around the water cooler debating which version of the bible is the "correct" one, or whether God really created the world as we know it in 7 days. Perhaps we pray over our evening meals or throw a "what a blessing!" into a conversation. But blending our faith with our daily life to the point where there is no separation between the two can be a challenge for most of us, as it seems to be the natural order to see things as "either/or" rather than "both/and".

I had a long phone conversation with someone this week in which they were seeking my opinion about how a particular circumstance should be handled. This person was struggling to gain a new perspective and wanted to visit about it. Without going into too many details, it was a dilemma that many of us face as we are involved in activities with our children...some families gladly pay their fees and others are less willing or are simply unable. When it becomes a regular occurrence, often parents will find themselves feeling angry at subsidizing those children whose parents are not contributing.

I listened carefully as my friend revealed what was known about the circumstance and as she expressed her ambivalence about it...admitting she could see both sides of the story. Her sense of fairness was winning out, her desire for all things to be equal was leading her.

I felt a sudden strong conviction that this was a moment for me to show that blending of faith with my "real life", that regardless of how this person...whom I happen to like very much...took what I had to say, I simply could not deny what I knew in my heart to be the right approach, and that I couldn't tippy toe around it.

At times like these, when we are involved in a dialogue with someone who does not share our worldview or our particular faith, it can be awkward and uncomfortable to proclaim something that is faith based. It also can invite criticism of our beliefs as someone may see us as naive or unwilling to see the world as it really is.

I forged ahead though, and expressed that I hoped my thoughts and deeds accurately reflect what I carry in my heart, that God doesn't want us keeping a tally chart when it concerns an innocent child who is not at all in control of the situation. We would essentially be punishing the child for the actions of an adult if we don't do all we can to include them despite their ability to pay.

I also feel to the very core of my being that like the drops of rain that nourish the soil, so too does our love and care for one another nourish a growing child...or anyone for that matter, but for the sake of this discussion it is children. It doesn't matter to me if that child doesn't look as clean as I might wish them to look, it doesn't matter if that child doesn't always act the way I wish they would, it doesn't matter if that child is the picture perfect image of what we all wish our children would be...that very child who is often left behind in the group, that child who perhaps looks a bit scruffy or unkempt, that child who often is the "wild one" of the group...THAT is the child who needs us most. They need that hug more than ever, they need someone to look for the good behavior and recognize it when all day long they find themselves reprimanded in class, they need someone to look into their eyes with a smile and offer them a warmth they might not always find amongst their peers as they struggle to fit in.

My children go to school in a small town where the graduating high school class hovers around 70 each year. We have an average of about 10 boys per grade level in our Scout group now. That is more than 10% of each graduating class which hopefully finds a place every week where they finally fit in and are accepted for who they are, where they can succeed at something even if they will never be academic stars, where they can explore new things and discover new talents and interests. Of that 10%, how many might treat others more kindly because kindness was shown them? How many might be moved to serve others because they saw it demonstrated? How many might not strike out in anger at others around them because they were shown how to better handle their feelings?

How many will be different because they knew love?

These are the very children my own will be sitting next to in class for the remainder of their school careers, these are the very children who will grow up to be our auto mechanics and our fireman, our doctors and our carpenters. They are ALL our children in a sense. How can we possibly justify excluding any one of them because a parent can't or won't pay a fee?

I am so fortunate to have an outstanding group of parents in our Pack, many of whom have quietly offered to help others should a need arise as they too don't ever want a boy left out for lack of funding. This issue has thankfully never been something we have faced, no one has ever questioned as we all see that we pay what we have the ability to pay.

But what if we pull money from the equation and for a moment let's assume it is about sharing our time or our efforts. Do we only help the kids who will be academic superstars because it is rewarding to see them shine? Do we force ourselves to lean over the desk of the unbathed child whose hair is a rat's nest, even though we'd much rather be working with the child next to him or her whose hair gleams and teeth shine? Do we show compassion and smile kindly to the kid who drives us nuts with his or her erratic behavior? When it is the hardest or most uncomfortable for us, do we step up to the plate? With all the WWJD bracelets out we ever really blend our faith with our physical "real" life and put it into practice? After all, what WOULD Jesus do?

I know what He would Micah teaches us he would act justly...He would be fair to all regardless of outward appearance. He would be merciful regardless of whether others thought He was a sucker for allowing Himself to be taken advantage of. He would walk humbly, as we all so often don't do as we see ourselves as being above so many others in our life...we see ourselves as above the migrant Mexican mom with the infant on her hip struggling to speak English at the school office, we see ourselves as somehow better than the obviously poverty stricken family who has a hard time meeting financial obligations yet still finds money to buy cigarettes and we judge them for their "excess" we stand there with our $4 Starbucks coffee in our hand.

Proclaiming Christian or not, it is hard not to look at the declaration made in Micah and not see it as the ultimate best rule for life. "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.". Be fair, show mercy to others, be can you ever go wrong if you do those three things? Whenever we are faced with a situation where we need to make a judgment call, if you just see how it fits within that verse you will quickly have your answer about how to handle just about anything. Ere on the side of mercy, ere on the side of fairness, if it makes you feel "higher up" the pedestal than someone else reconsider it. If we make our decisions based upon these basic principles, we will not loose sleep when we lay our head down at night, even if ultimately others think we are being "saps" and are being taken advantage of. If we make our decisions based upon "getting even" it might be much harder to get that good night's sleep.

It is THIS kind of faith I want my children to practice and possess. While admirable it is not the end of the world if they don't memorize bible versus or if they don't know every bible story backwards and forwards. But it is life changing if they learn what humility means, I do care if they understand how to show mercy for someone else and how to stop for a moment and put themselves in the other persons shoes. I do care if they know how to be fair.

After explaining in general terms to my friend how I felt, and not knowing how it might be taken but also not being able to express it without being fully forthcoming about my view from a faith oriented perspective I finally said "You know, for me it comes down to something that to others is not a rational way to balance it all...I try and see how God would want me to act and then act on that. Often it doesn't make sense if one is weighing the scales and trying to get even. Not everything can be measured that way."

As I finish typing that I also see how spending $35,000 to adopt a child from another country makes no sense at all either. How many of us have born the judgment of others for that one? But there you go again, there is yet another thing that can not be measured by the usual scale. How can you equate a child's life? What is it worth? Is it worth $500? $5000? $50,000? Your entire retirement fund? As any mom, biological or adoptive, would quickly tell you...our children are priceless. There is no way to measure their worth.

So when considering a child other than our own, is there suddenly a price tag that can be placed on them? Are the worth less because they are not "ours"?

Sometimes as we walk through our days, mind numbing though they may often be, we don't recognize the millions of opportunities we have to put it all into practice. Its not in the big acts, its in the little things we do each and every day when we walk in our faith daily and don't carry it around in a brown lunch bag to be pulled out when we are hungry and need nourishment ourselves. Sometimes it is we who need to nourish others and in turn we find ourselves being fed.

"Apples are from Kazakhstan"

I recently finished reading a book recommended to me by a couple of people "Apples are from Kazakhstan The Land That Disappeared" by Christopher Robbins after another friend alerted me to the fact that it was now at our local library. Our library staff are awesome, twice now they have purchased books about of which I know was specifically at my request for information on our kids birth country. Very thoughtful of them, especially when there are so few resources available about Kazakhstan in the first place.

Within 5 minutes of cracking open this book, I was hooked. Part travelogue, part history lesson, part personal interview, Robbins blends all three beautifully into a marvelous manuscript which provided me with the most incredible background on Kazakhstan. In 10 years of trying to research this amazingly diverse country, I didn't learn as much as I did in the reading of one chapter. After being subjected to the less-than-humorous and utterly inaccurate depiction of Kazakh culture by Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame, it was a treat to have our kids' country portrayed in a positive light which focused on the indomitable spirit of the Kazakhstanis who persevered despite incredible Soviet era repression to become a country poised on the brink of climbing out of "third world" status. Of all the former Soviet Republics, Kazakhstan is the one to watch to see if reforms and globalization that came along with independence can lift it up from the ashes of the infamous gulags and images of being the preferred location for banishment of intelligentsia from Soviet society.

Robbins writing style captivates you with his off beat observations and humorous insights. He weaves relatively in depth history lessons throughout his travel stories with such adroitness that you find yourself riveted rather than bored to tears by the vignettes he shares with his readers that vividly tell the story of a country in the process of a rebirth. I am not a huge history buff myself and the history of Kazakhstan is such that it is hard to trace easily due to its scattered and shattered past, but Robbins somehow manages to impart an incredible amount of information without making you feel as if you are in the midst of a college history lecture.

Having traveled to Kazakhstan three times now and knowing no one else other than adoptive parents who has seen some of the sights we have seen or can offer that wonderful "I know what you mean, I loved that" reciprocation, I found myself grinning throughout my late night reading. Throughout the book there are lovely little drawings that instantly evoked a sense of my "home away from home"...the Russian Orthodox cathedral in Panfilov Park where I spent a magical afternoon photographing the visiting wedding couples, yurts, dombras and even an image of three elderly Kazakh men reminiscent of a photo I took myself in the History Museum in Almaty. These little black and white illustrations added a lot and for those who have not yet traveled there are very accurate depictions of what you might find there.

The biggest surprise about this novel was the access that Robbins had to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the only President the country has had since its independence was won. He had hours of interviews with President Nazarbayev and a man who heretofore had been an unknown personality to our family took on life, and his dream for his country and his understanding of what it would take to raise the standards for all were very interesting. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the President, his perspectives and own personal story are compelling to read. This sometimes controversial figure comes across as someone I personally would like to meet someday, as someone I can point out to my children with pride as a leader who is trying to change his country and is slowly succeeding. I can attest myself to the fact that the Kazakhstan we first saw in 2000 no longer exists, and the Kazakhstan of 2007 had changed remarkably in a mere 7 years. I would not be at all surprised if the Kazakhstan that my children will see in adulthood will no longer have a need for international adoption, that the level of poverty that may very well have led to their abandonment is somewhat a thing of the past.

One can at least hope...

For anyone adopting from Kazakhstan this book is an absolute "must read", having borrowed a copy from the library I can guarantee it will be purchased eventually and will sit on our bookshelf at home, awaiting the time when the children are all old enough to understand its subtleties and learn about their own past from it. No, it is not an adoption book, but you will not find a single better combination of history and culture presented in such an entertaining and readable way about your child's homeland. Robbins covers a lot of territory, visiting many Oblasts and providing the reader with an overall feel for the various territories of the country with varied and lush landscapes which are aptly described. If you have never been to Kazakhstan nor planned to, you might come away from reading this book feeling as if you need to pick up the phone and call your travel agent.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Peace of the Season

This is a post that will bore most of you to tears, but I seem to need to write it so come back again on another day when it is more kid talk, adoption talk, whatever it is that you most enjoy about visiting me here.

Don't laugh, but I am about to reveal to you all what a huge geek I am. OK, you can laugh if you want to as then at least I will know I brought a smile to your face.

Is there ANYTHING at all in the world as wonderful as hearing Karen Carpenter singing "The Christmas Song" (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)??? To me, that alone says "Christmas" more than anything else. As I was driving home from the retreat I was listening to a Carpenter's Christmas CD that I treated myself to for the holiday and once again found myself thinking that she had the single most beautiful voice I have ever heard in my life. If I could really sing, hers is the one voice I would kill to rich, so smooth, so uniquely hers and when I hear it there is an innocence that comes through for me that is not heard in the voices of today's popular songstresses...Mariah, Whitney, Beyonce...while they all have extraordinary talent and range, there is a "show off" quality to their singing, an arrogance that is never present in Karen Carpenter's deeper melodic voice. I imagine it as being as smooth and warming as brandy must be...but then again since I have never drank brandy or anything else for that matter that is ridiculous for me to try and make that comparison, but you know what I am saying.

Driving home along deserted winding mountain roads after my retreat this weekend, stars above me as Karen's music serenaded me, I was filled with a sense of warmth and peace I haven't had in quite awhile. My life the past 8 or 9 years has been a series of dramatic highs and lows, it has been an awakening to a deeper part of myself as I have matured as a woman and as I have invited God in to gradually become the most important part of my life. The changes in me have happened slowly, but as I look back at the bitter, mistrusting, angry woman I once was about 10 years ago to the person I am today I am amazed at the work God has done. I have learned to love in new ways, I have been released...albeit slowly...from the feeling of being utterly alone in the world. All that "new person in Christ" stuff seems so canned and corny, and I tend to shy away from those catch phrases that most Christians use as for me they are almost too trendy and commercialized, almost like Christmas itself is. While I understand the deeper meaning behind all the "WWJD" bracelets, etc. and I have no problem with them, that kind of expression of Christianity has never really fit me well.

But I can not deny that I AM indeed a new person in Christ, "canned phrase" or not, that simply coming to the conclusion that my life works better with God in it than it did without Him as much a daily part of my life has literally transformed me into the woman I had hoped I could be(although definitely still a work in progress). I feel and see joy in the midst of the negative where before I couldn't, I feel protected, I no longer dwell on others' failings but instead often can see the success within the failure. My glass is now half full far more olften than not, and my heart runneth over at moments. I think that as I reflected on all of this during my drive, I realized just how far I have come from the Cindy of 10 years ago...and how the unhappy events and the challenges brought me to where I am today. With maturity I can see how I am still being molded, and it is very cool to step back and see yourself from the outside and be able to smile at the work in progress, for surely that is what it is and I recognized that this weekend during the retreat more than ever.

Initially I was very intimidated, feeling insecure and inadequate as I approached this weekend. I still am feeling that way, if I am being honest, but have realized I am not going to let it stop me. Part of the insecurity comes from having no clue or clear cut answer as to why I am doing this, the faith part of it is coming in the form of trusting that I feel I am doing what I have been told and letting go of the control of "needing to know" everything. The vision of me ministering to ANYONE is almost laughable to me, and yet I guess He has something in mind that I can not yet see.

I have never spent that much extended time dedicated to nothing more than growing my soul, to attend to the spiritual and shutting out anything else. It was a treat to go to something that was nurturing to me and not have to be a part of the planning or running of it. It was also a gift to be with a small group of others who are like minded, who are yearning to learn more and go deeper than what they can in their daily lives, although they each seemed to have a more clear answer about the "Why" of their participation than I do. Believe it or not, I actually succeeded in leaving all thoughts of everything else behind which I have never really been able to do and took some real work on my part. I even had something come up on my drive over that a few years back would have totally derailed me but this time did not, and I was pleased to be able to take this period of time to do nothing more than simply present in the present for myself. It is something I have never been able to do before. Even as young child I was always talking about 10 years down the road and my mom used to joke with me about it.

The retreat was held at La Foret, where our children go to summer camp and a place which due to my week there with Kenny has already come to have great meaning to me. The Black Forest where the camp is located was already blanketed in snow, and as much as I enjoyed the spiritual activities I think what I would have loved even more would have been to have an hour to just walk and talk to God and myself. Surrounded by tall pines and the occasional squirrel and with very few other people present, it was the perfect place to just rest. If I hadn't had a couple of obligations at church the next morning, I would have more than likely spent the night again and been able to grab a little more time for myself and to take that long walk my soul seemed to crave.

There were so many things touched on during my short time there, but one of the predominant themes that stood out for me was God's BIGNESS and how many different ways there are to approach our relationship with our God. During discussions about spiritual practices I somehow found myself thinking about the myriad ways we all come to God...that each denomination serves its purpose and there is no "right" or "wrong", but merely another appendage to God's church that we as humans sometimes fail to see as necessary diversity. Each person has different needs, will find different spiritual practices that best fit them just as they will find the church that best fulfills their needs...but we as humans have this need to see "our way" as the only way, the right way, the best way, the only "truth". God is much bigger than that I think. The arguing about theology and finer points of faith practices only push us further from God and drive us further away from deeper fellowship with one another. Why IS it so hard for us to accept one anothers differing perspectives? And as I read what I have wrote, why is it that THIS is what stood out for me at the retreat when it was not really discussed at all in this context?

I also enjoyed very much the points that were brought up about the physical versus the spiritual, about blending the two and about balance, about living in a 2D world without the spiritual versus a 3D world with it. Balance seems to be the theme for the year for me, not necessarily in a personal sense but it is something I have seen a need for in general in our world today in a larger scope as we have come through this political season, as I ponder the meaning of our faith lives combined with our "real" lives and wonder why it is we all have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives rather than blend them...for we would be healthier and happier for it.

I was only gone for one night, but coming home to my family is always a gentle nudge about how blessed I am. Yea, I know, you've already heard that too much on this blog but TOO BAD!! This is for them, remember? So skip a paragraph if you have even decided to read today at all. I see other families we know around town, those we interact with on occasion or who we know of, and I think that in comparison we must at times look like such goofballs. We LOVE each other, I mean LOVE. We FEEL it when we are apart from one another, all of us. When Kenny is away spending the night at a friends house, when Dominick was away in California, when I was gone, there is a hole in our family that is not able to be filled. The gentleness of my sons is the single greatest blessing of my life, their genuine warmth for one another and for us as their parents is beyond anything I ever could have hoped for prior to becoming a mom. It sustains me and all of us throughout our days, knowing we can come home to this family once again. When we said our good nights last night, we talked about what our best part of the weekend was and Matthew said "My favorite part was when you surprised us when you came home and we all hugged" as I had snuck in the door and hidden behind a couch to pop up and surprise them. Sitting in the pew at church yesterday morning I felt as if each one of the boys was gently expressing their love for me and their joy at my presence with a hug, a head on my shoulder, an arm around me.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with Matthew alone as Joshie and Kenny were playing at a friends house and Matt elected to remain home with me while Dominick was working on a project at church. He and I have not had any "alone time" in quite awhile, and we both treasure it when we have it. We did the mundane things of life, grocery shopped, cleaned the house, wrapped presents for our girls to get in the mail, played a game of "horse" outside with the basketball, nothing earth shattering. Yet again I saw the emerging man in Matthew, one who I like even more if that is possible than the boy he still largely is. As we walked through the store together talking about school and meals and he pushed the cart for me, as he said "Mom, I'll take the bedroom and back half of the house while you clean the kitchen and dining room", as I was interrupted while wrapping the girls packages with a phone call and he continued on finishing the job and then carefully labeling things in Russian, I was filled with the companionship of simply being with my son who is a really, really nice and thoughtful boy. I sometimes wish that those doting parents or weekend fathers who seem to think that all time spent with their children has to be an "event" would be able to see that relationships are built within the mundane and celebrated with the events rather than the other way around. Shooting hoops with Matthew, playing Sorry with Josh, or reading a book snuggled on the couch with Kenny is where our relationships are built...the every day boring times. And I realized a need for more of it and less busy-ness.

I also came to a realization this week of why I have spent every year waiting until the last minute to finish my Christmas shopping. The anniversary of my Dad's death has arrived, and that Christmas was the last Christmas when I actually had everything done early, bought and paid for, wrapped and ready to go. His death the first week of December left me staring at wrapped gifts that would eventually have to be returned. I'll never forget standing at the return counter at the department store with a lump so big in my throat I could hardly speak as I was asked my reason for returning, and how I quickly made up something before the tears could spill. I think that I have somehow equated being done with shopping early with his death all these years, and it has kept me from moving forward to try and have a less frenetic holiday season. This year I have been successful at pushing past that, and I'll admit it feels good...yet a part of me still feels as if I am waiting for bad news, for the other shoe to drop.

I miss my Dad so much as I think of Christmas's spent laying on the floor staring up at the twinkling tree lights in the dark, whispering with him about what Santa might bring and yes, having Karen Carpenter or Bing or Perry singing softly on the K-Tel Christmas record playing on the console stereo system. I wish I could witness the same thing with my own children and my Dad, perhaps with a CD versus a record playing in the background and with snow outside instead of a warmer California evening as I had growing up.

We have a friend who is also missing someone this Christmas, though a couple of years have passed, and we will be spending the evening with him at his invitation as we all focus on the present and decorate his home with him. For no matter the strength of the depth of the loss, life does march on and we can submit ourselves to the sorrow or we can CHOOSE joy and light and happiness, finding it in the ways we can. Reaching out to others is something I am learning to do, but am not very good at, and this friend is one who is teaching me this lesson by example and I am so glad to have received the call this morning from him which will allow us as a family to share time with him and make memories ourselves.

Maybe the peace of the season is reaching me finally, I am such a slow learner! While there are so many unanswered questions facing me from many corners of my life, I am also filled with many certainties as well and that brings great peace. The material gifts may be fewer this year but the love will be greater and the focus on that is what makes the season all it can be.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

OK Folks, Here's What You Have Been Waiting For!!!

The Peanut Gallery

The First $1000!!! Was it worth it???

The second $1000...

The Bonus!!

Never let it be said that the LaJoy's don't give you your money's worth :-)

And here are the videos so you can experience it as if you were right there with us!

Beware the "girlie" screaming out of the boys! Hahaha!

A special thanks to everyone for contributing to bring Christmas to Kyrgyzstan. John will post photos on his blog after all the events have taken place and Santa arrives. I will try and post a few photos here on our blog as well.

I still can't believe we did it!

Now, off for a shower :-)

Reminder of How to Run the Race

As usual God reaches out to us from unexpected places, and this morning I was touched unexpectedly by a "viral video" which literally had me in tears. It was what I needed, it expressed how I view myself as a parent to our children...all of them, those home and those not. My fears of the past week were allayed to some degree by those of you who have emailed me privately to offer words of encouragement and shared such great wisdom far beyond "It will be OK", you took your time even at 4:30 in the morning to write me, to hug me from afar. You wrote me from work this afternoon taking time from your busy schedule to reach out to me with all your experience and expertise. You have ongoing email and in person dialogues and said "we're with you" and God used each of you, whether you are Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Atheist or Agnostic, whether you know it or not, God used you to lift me up.

But this video, oh man, if you aren't in tears after watching it then your heart is hardened far more than it should be to be walking around on this earth as a human being. Please let me share it with you, then I will comment about it below. Here is the introduction I was emailed about it:

This is a True Story

A son says to his father: "Dad, would you be willingly to run a marathon with me?"

The father, despite his age and a heart disease, says "YES".

And they run that marathon, together.

The son asks: "Dad, can you run another marathon with me?" Again father says "YES".

They run another marathon, together.

One day the son asks his father: "Dad would please do the Iron Man with me?"

Now just in case you didn't know, "The Iron Man" is the toughest triathlon in existence; 2.4 mile swim, then 112 mile by bike, and finally another marathon 26.2 mile running, in one stroke.

Again father says "YES"

Maybe this doesn't 'touch' you yet... until you see this movie (watch with sound!):

With tears streaming, I "got it" in a new way, or perhaps on a deeper level. THIS is the kind of parent both Dominick and I want to be, the one who goes the distance and never gives up, the one who lovingly accepts their seemingly imperfect child because I see the imperfections in myself, the one who would do ANYTHING for my child to help them achieve their dreams.

Our job is not to "pick" the perfect children for our family, for in truth if we listen to God that is already handled. Our job is to parent them with all we have to offer, to carry them and push them and steer them, just as the Dad in this video did. There IS no perfect child, just as there is NO perfect parent.

If our daughters arrive with injured souls, as I am most certain they will for any abandoned child has received a devastating blow, we need to run the marathon with them. Our marathon will look much different than the "Iron Man", but it will feel just as exhausting.

It doesn't matter what another parent would do, how they would handle it, or what their outcome ultimately is. Our future and our children's future is not dictated by how successful anothers adoption was. Our futures are dictated by God and our willingness to do everything within our power to cross the finish line. And if for some unknown reason any of our children are unable to heal, then our job is to see to it that God's JOY does not leave this home...that our eye is always on The One who is the Giver of All.

Success is in the eye of the beholder, and our success just may not be measured the same way others measure it. That vision of success might end up having to be adjusted a bit, tweaked, and it just may be that coming to a level of acceptance will be a measure of success.

To anonymously quote an email I received today from someone who has walked this road already and with less than perfect circumstances:

Some think all it takes is love and in one way they are right. It is not love that makes everything all right for our children but it is love that makes us get or give them the help they need to help them heal – love that makes us get out of bed on those days we want to curl up in a ball and wish they would sleep they whole day thru – love that makes us love them even when we don’t like them – love that makes us put one foot in front of the other when we feel we don’t even have the strength to stand. So in one way – all it takes is love.

As we gear ourselves up to run the "Love Marathon" I will carry today with me for a long time, I will work hard to remind myself that one person's outcome doesn't dictate ours. I will remember Who is in charge even when the fear seeps in undesired.

Thank you all for helping me see things more clearly, thanks for not pointing out to me that I am borrowing trouble or imagining a poor outcome. The fears are not unfounded, they are real and serve their purpose of causing us to take this all very seriously. They can overwhelm if they are allowed to.

But here is what I need to remember:

If I have to push a figurative emotional wheelchair across the desert sands for hundreds of miles, I will do it without question.

For I am already their Mom.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pie Man is Coming To Town!

I am sorry we haven't been able to get it done, but our schedule since Dominick came home has been kind of busy, but we have determined that tomorrow is officially "Pie Day", and the kids are excited thinking of slamming us in the face tomorrow. I will post photos tomorrow night, with a bonus thrown in for good measure...maybe THREE bonuses, if you get my drift! Hahahaha! Yes, Mommy bought some extra supplies.

You don't really think I am going to let them escape, do you?????

The past few days I have found myself slipping into a bit of a rocky place, mentally speaking. I am not sure why, but I have a couple of ideas. I think the 20/20 special had a bigger impact on me than I would like to have allowed it to have. I guess there was really no way it couldn't have hit me hard unless I was a totally oblivious adopting parent, which I am not. I may be many things, but oblivious isn't one thing I would label myself with, at least not when it comes to this subject.

I have received many private emails about this, and I have read tons of comments about it in various online groups. Many of the comments have been pretty dismal, very negative and not at all encouraging. There are a few success stories out there, but I tend to think that those that are successful find themselves drifting away from the online groups as they no longer need the support once they get to a certain place post-adoption.

I have found myself questioning our choices this week, wondering why I think we would be the one family in how many hundreds who would end up with a happy outcome, wondering if I am turning a blind eye to the whole thing because of my own desires...and then moving to anger at myself for the lack of faith in what I feel was already firmly expressed to us by God. It becomes more about questioning my relationship and trust in Him than it does about a decision to adopt.

There are moments when I am absolutely certain I do not have a diamond encrusted pair of rose colored glasses, when I think about it more logically and see that we are as prepared as any parent in our position could be, that I can no longer consider ourselves inexperienced parents...but we would be with serious RAD issues with an older child. Infant RAD and older child RAD are completely different ball games. However, we are not wearing those rose colored glasses, nor any others at this stage. Nope, in fact it is more like we are squinting as we look squarely into the sun as we try to be as realistic as we possibly can be.

That may not be enough. Of course, you all know me well enough to know these thoughts aren't even close to stopping us...but I harbor secret fears once in awhile that what I saw portrayed on TV will be replayed in our own home. It might not have been as powerful to me if the girls shown on 20/20 had not been exactly the same age as our own, if they weren't also coming to us with a terrifying past to overcome.

And yet despite these very real worries that are taking up way too much brain time right now, there is NO WAY we are not going to proceed, for our faith has to take precedence over fear. I sometimes wonder if I am being incredibly naive to walk into this feeling relatively secure and safe (other than this week), if I am not any different from any other "oblivious parent" who is choosing not to see what can happen or not to hear what others have been through, and believe me they have been through hell and back.

I guess time will tell, and I promise to share as openly as I can on the blog what the realities are once we experience them. I will continue to pray that we are one of the few families for whom older international child adoption works splendidly...and if not then I pray that we have the resources and courage to do whatever needs to be done.

I am also struggling with a sense of disconnectedness spiritually, and have been left feeling pretty empty the past couple of weeks with the feeling growing stronger with each passing day. There has been no obvious reason for this sense of distance, it has just happened and is not a place I want to be in. It was only after a brief conversation tonight with someone who has come to know me very well that I had an epiphany of sorts and realized the fear might be deeper than about adoption. As I mentioned earlier in the week, I will be attending my first Retreat this weekend as I begin the Licensed Lay Ministry program. All of a sudden, I am finding myself questioning something else which I thought I had a solid understanding of, and wondering if I have a "call" to serve others in a spiritual leadership capacity of some sort at all. Or maybe, it is that I am still bucking that call a little bit, that I am uncomfortable with the whole concept and yet feeling I have no choice in this. Yea, I know we all have choices but I have no choice if I want to follow God's will for my life, and I am scared and uncertain and feeling very vulnerable from many directions right now.

Maybe I'll walk away from this weekend reconnected and reinvigorated, or maybe I will walk away asking myself "What were you thinking?". Regardless of the long term aspects of it all, my hope is that I will tap back into that place where I really need to be right now.

I was given a gift from this friend to take with me as a reminder of others who "have my back" and will support and nurture me when I need it. It was one of the single most thoughtful gestures I have ever received. It was a sweat shirt that had appliqued the word "Joy" on it in holiday material.

Remind me it will...of the joy I have in my life right now never to be taken for granted, of the joy of this wonderful season and its true meaning, of the joy I want to carry always in my heart even when it proves difficult. Who knows, I might need to lean on that joy an awful lot in the coming year...

and then again, it might just come our way without me even trying.

So good night, my friends. If you have a moment, send a little prayer our way. And I'll see you tomorrow with Pie in my Eye!!!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Little Men

This past week Dominick was in California helping our moms out with a couple of things, and while he was gone the boys and I decided to surprise him and have him come home to all of the Christmas decorations put up. This is normally my most dreaded job, and it is one of those things that over the years has pretty much fallen on his shoulders to do. I love seeing the house decorated and all lit up, but I HATE doing it. Makes me sound like a Scrooge, doesn't it?

Well, the boys decided to take it upon themselves and put up lights outside this year. Matthew and Kenny begged me to remain inside the house, they closed the blinds so I couldn't see what they were doing. We haven't had lights up outside for a few years, but last year at the after Christmas sales we bought several strands with the intent of doing it this year. Joshie ended up inside with me as it was very cold out on Friday, and I wondered how long the other two would stick with it. There was much discussion and teamwork going on between the two of them, hollered directions and giggles could be heard behind the darkened windows. Finally they came stomping in, red cheeked and stiffly frozen hands and huge smiles on their faces. They told me I couldn't see it until nightfall, so I promised to not peek.

The end result was beautiful!! They were so proud of themselves, and I was as well. While there are lights unevenly draped across our front bench and oddly on one bush and not another, and to others it might look strangely out of kilter, to me it was the most beautiful yard in town! What I loved most was that this was another step toward manhood, in a tiny way. They were "taking care of business" for their family, they stuck with the project, they figured it out all by themselves without an ounce of help from their parents, and they ended up with a finished product that was creative and actually worked!

There are moments when I have learned to wisely bite my lip and be quiet. It is not always easy, as when there was yellow paint splattered EVERYWHERE on our back patio as the boys all "helped" touch up much of our peeling siding paint to get us through another year. But they worked hard for over 2 hours in the sweltering heat this summer to do the job, and there was no way I was going to criticize a job most kids would not have stuck with. Every day when I walk up our back step and see gobs of paint all over the cement (and I do mean GOBS) I smile as I think of them with paint brushes and trays in hand, yellow splashed shirts on as their sweaty little bodies were tiring out from their hard labor.

Letting our kids gradually assume responsibility and learn from activities is sometimes hard to do, it is much easier to do the job yourself and save the mess, or have it look better, but what they gain from their experiences no matter how seemingly trivial is priceless. Ever so slowly I am seeing the young men emerge who are going to eventually be very capable of taking care of their families, their homes, and contribute to their community in positive ways. We may have some messy and imperfect jobs over the years, but the day will come in the not so distant future when we will stand back and say "I couldn't have done it better myself." and we will mean it.

We also put our tree up and decorated inside, and the boys did 90% of that as well with only some help from me with the lights on the highest points. It was fun to watch Kenny along with both Matthew and Joshie as they dug through the ornament box, each looking for "their" special ornaments...ones purchased to commemorate our time waiting for them to join our family, their first ornaments once home, the first family ornament with their name added. As many families do, we have a tradition of buying one or two every year to add to our collection, and the majority of them are personalized in one way or another to mark the year in a special way. Kenny got a big kick out of it this year as he felt part of those traditions now, as he celebrates his second Christmas with us. He remembered the ornaments from last year, he looked for his own and grinned widely when found, and he felt far more like part of the family this time around rather than like the newcomer. He said throughout the afternoon many times "Remember Mom last year when...", and we all said more than once that we hope we are not sick this year as we were last year, with Josh and I contracting pneumonia and being miserable for over 2 weeks as we laid in a feverish state not caring at all about the holiday. It wasn't the way I envisioned Kenny's first Christmas with us, but he took it in stride and I hope we can make up for it this year.

I have the honor of placing our newest special ornament on the tree this year, our final "waiting for you" ornament which I found and was a perfect match.

How I had wished that they would be here this year, but I feel remarkably at peace with it all, knowing there is a reason why that I might not understand, but happy that we are in the home stretch.

I love how our life the past 9 years has been marked by these little baubles which remind us of our years' journey. It is a neat way to document our family's growth on display on our tree.

We also had our stockings hung from the chimney with care, and we have two empty spaces waiting to be filled which will remain that way until this time next year when hopefully there will be five stockings hanging there rather than the three right now which look a tad bit lonely.

We spent the afternoon today filling a couple of non-LaJoy stockings for our church's Outreach Ministry and they will be distributed to families in need this year. The boys had a lot of fun filling one for a boy and one for a girl, and Kenny donned items meant for the girl's stocking...and he pranced around in perfect imitation of a Barbie Loving, Princess Dreaming girl, much to the delight of Matthew and Joshua. Matthew actually had it on first and then flung it off quickly as the camera came out, as he now knows many photos are destined for the blog and he didn't want to be seen wearing it, but Kenny is our ham bone and loves parading anytime in front of the camera. They then teased calling him "Ice Cream Princess", which don't ask me where that came from but has been their private joke all summer, I think it came from a time when Kenny and Josh were playing super heroes and trying to come up with a name for a new villainess, but it stuck and they all dissolve into hysterics over it anytime one of them remembers it and uses the title to crown one of them with for the day.

In the midst of all the fun the past few days, we have found ourselves once again in the middle of some power struggles with Kenny. We are also working hard on making him start bearing more responsibility for his personal items. I know that to many families our issues are so minor and I consider ourselves blessed because of that, but it doesn't mean we can slack off just because we are not dealing with raging temper tantrums or huge explosions. Towards the end of last week I discovered that Kenny had not turned in his week long homework assignment, after having lost the worksheet and doing it on separate pieces of paper all week. He has left his backpack in cars 4 or 5 times over the past month, left jackets at school, misplaced things at home time and time again, and trying to teach him to care for his things and be responsible for them is a real constant and ongoing battle. I know it is because up until his adoption he never owned anything so it was not something ever taught to him, but his scatterbrained approach is not improving and we need to come up with a better plan. I also know that some of it is due to immaturity, which is slowly improving but needs far more time to catch up to his peers. He still fits in perfectly with Josh and his friends in terms of how he plays, which puts him at about 5 or 6 years old in his play development and social skills. However, despite the fact that he prefers those younger kids to be with and plays so much like them, he is not really at all an outcast at school and seems to do fine when with his peers, for the most part. It is just that he seems to fit in much better at the younger age group.

The control battles, however subtle, are still in full gear. Many times over the past few days he has tried to gently tell us what to do and how to do it, tried to take charge with other adults, tried to grab things from them or us. He doesn't seem to trust me when I tell him something and we had an issue tonight over some silly thing where his reaction said "I don't trust you to tell me the truth", and we had a long sit down talk about that tonight, and about how he needs to quit thinking he is the only one who should be in control or is correct about something. We pointed out several instances where he was proven wrong, and asked him if we had ever lied to him before, which he of course said "no" to. We then emphasized that we are right even if we are wrong, that it is his job to to as we ask and not question us, that he wouldn't like it if we questioned him over everything and didn't believe him....and that comparison seemed to spark some understanding in him.

I am at moments very conflicted about this issue, as I see how it is part adoption oriented and part personality. Kenny is a major leader-type, and I don't want to squelch that, but his inappropriateness with it needs to be curtailed. I want him to trust his family and parents to make good decisions for him, I want him to be able to relax into that familial sense of being cared for. I also don't want to be told what to do for the next 10 years!! It is definitely cyclical, with 2 weeks on and a few weeks of rest from it. Right now though it is very much Kenny Control Month, even to the point where he had 12 library books in his desk at school when he was only allowed 3, and when I made him empty his desk out last week and explain why even though he knew the rule he said "Because I want to read them." as casually as if rules were not made for Kenny LaJoy, only for the rest of the kids in his class.

So though we had a mini-battle today, we ended the evening trying something new. After reading a book for my first Lay Ministry Retreat coming up this weekend titled "Sleeping with Bread, Holding What Gives you Life" I wanted to give something a try. We lit a few candles and turned off all the lights in the house, then we sat around the table holding hands in silence for a few minutes. We then each took a turn talking about what was our favorite moment of the day and what was our least favorite moment of the day. We all named some nice moments that had made us happy today, and then it was time for the least favorite. Matthew started first by saying that he didn't like it when one of his brothers was in trouble, because it changed how our family felt and he loved them and it made him sad. That one was a bit unexpected and I was pleased with his honesty and ability to express those thoughts. When it was Kenny's turn, I expected him to say his least favorite part of the day was being reprimanded but he too surprised me and said that the worst thing that happened today was when Joshie's best buddy broke one of his toys at church and was very upset about it. He said it made him sad to see his little friend so upset.

Now tell me, how can you remain angry at a child who has such a caring heart?

After ending in a family prayer, we all agreed it was a lovely way to end the evening and we are going to try and do that two or three times a week as it added an element of peace and connection between us all that I think we each felt and enjoyed.

Tomorrow begins a new week, Advent has arrived, and we look forward to Christmas with joyful hearts. Regardless of the challenges, I wouldn't trade anything for the world.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

20/20 Special - Failed International Adoptions

Broken Hearts, Broken Lives, Broken Families

After hearing so much about the 20/20 special on failed international adoptions I had to make sure I saw it. I watched the trailer and tried to reserve judgment until having view the entire show. So, along with friends yesterday evening I sat down to watch it, trying to keep an open mind throughout. I hope many of you watched it as well so you can contribute your 2 cents worth (after all, you contributed much more than that on this blog this past week! Hahahaha!).

Watching something like this when you have already lived through RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) is VERY different than watching it having never truly understood the reality of what RAD is. I also found myself in the somewhat interesting position of viewing this while also having experienced what in my mind has been a 100% successful older child adoption. Finally, as we await the arrival of our daughters who mirror the ages of the ones presented in the special, the show took on a much deeper meaning for me.

My first general thought about the program was that IT failed in a couple of ways. Assuming that this program was to inform the average American about the perils of international adoption, it did not explain at all what RAD really is, it highlighted behaviors (and I thought didn't do a very good job of that) and showed video of children from a particular family, but it didn't explain at all how a child becomes so damaged. How can the layman begin to understand what RAD is if they don't know how the disorder even begins? I also thought it glossed over with just a mere mention that children adopted domestically also have high rates of diagnosed RAD (and in my opinion many undiagnosed cases are out there as well). It was obvious there was an agenda...a bias against international adoption when the exact same issues arise with children adopted domestically. Why focus solely on international adoption then? Why not do a show on "Failed Adoptions"...but of course we probably do not track statistics for children whose adoptions were not completed but also "failed" due to RAD from the US foster care system because the adoption had not yet finalized here in the US courts.

I also thought that a show such as 20/20 could have come up with a better statistic than "10-25% of all international adoptions end in disruption". Sorry folks, that is such a wide margin for error that I find it a "throwaway" statistic and not worthy of my attention. I also do not believe it, after almost 10 years on international adoption boards online. 10% maybe, 25%? No way. That would be enough to be statistically significant to almost every prospective adoptive parent and dissuade most from ever adopting. To throw a statistic out there as fact in such high profile journalism is irresponsible, and a 15% margin of error is ridiculous when speaking of people's lives.

The Mulligan family was the focus of the story, and they adopted 3 children from Russia, biological sisters for their first adoption then a son later on. 2 of the 3 children presented with significant issues as were presented on the show.

The most disturbing footage to me was the home video taken the first week the family was home with their daughters. The oldest daughter, Margarita, who at around 11 years old was in such obvious distress, emotionally a wreck, wandering around the house sobbing, utterly lost and alone. And what do Tanya and Mike Mulligan elect to do at this moment? They decide it was appropriate after ONE WEEK to follow their child around with a video camera filming her "extreme behavior". They were in her face pointing a video camera as their daughter was experiencing incredible grief and disorientation in her new home, and they thought THAT was a way to help her. It showed an almost unbelievable lack of compassion and understanding of what our older adopted children go throw as they transition to their new lives.

It made me want to reach through the screen, grab both parents, and plop them down in a country where they knew no one, they had no resources, they had no one who loved them (obviously), and to know they would never go home again. Then thrust a camcorder in their face and film them as they wandered through the streets sobbing...yea...that would really help them, wouldn't it? How could they not see what I am certain most of America saw reflected in that footage? Fear...grief...loss.

Now I want to make it perfectly clear here that I am NOT pretending to be a professional, I have no idea if Margarita indeed is a RAD child...or if she arrived with RAD or developed RAD later on. And while I found that particular moment totally inappropriate I readily admit I do not live in that family's home so I have no idea what other behaviors presented themselves other than the lying and stealing that was discussed by the parents as their daughter is now 16.

And therein lies the problem with this special...this enormous gap that anyone who has parented a child adopted internationally must have felt while watching it. We have footage of a confused and sorrow-filled child one week post adoption, then we jump to the angry, distanced parents of a 16 year old. There was nothing in between, no explanation of the gradually escalating behaviors, no presentation of how RAD shows itself, no real discussion about the lack of affection other than a brief comment and then showing it at 16 years old after years of problems with the relationship when almost any of us would be worn out and show little affection. Where was the interim? What were the behaviors aside from that first week that led the Mulligan's to determine that Margarita had RAD? Huge holes led to a less than authentic presentation of their story, it did a very poor job of explaining to the average American why these kids are hurting so bad, why these adoptions fail. It left out the most important components which could have led to a much better understanding which is what I thought was the intent of the program.

Instead we were left with very conflicting images to use in analyzing it all.

We were shown additional footage of Margarita as she and all her siblings (including Elena, the younger sister who was supposedly "normal", I didn't quite get that at all) were taken to The Ranch For Kids run by Joyce Sterkel in Montana, where they participated in a treatment program which includes a spartan lifestyle, equine therapy, chores and straight talk about their issues with none of the interference of having parents present. There, all three children including Mulligan Slater, the son, were given as much a respite I think as the parents were. Mulligan, who quite obviously did have some mental issues and might have been a more classic RAD case to present was for some reason not the main focus of the story. Slater had multiple diagnosis as many of our children do, and the family's life had become a nightmare for many reasons due to his and Margarita's issues.

There were several moments within the program that spoke volumes, one was when Elena, the younger "normal" sister started crying as she was interviewed and she spoke about life here versus life in Russia and how much happier she was here. She seemed quite puzzled about her sister's behavior, and Elena was presented as the "perfect child" of the family. There was no discussion at all about her transition and how difficult or easy it was, what issues came up, etc. All of us know that any older child adoption could not have been that seamless, even if a child is quite resilient as it does indeed appear Elena is. Again, another gap in the story which left me wondering and wanting to know more.

But for me, the very brief interview with Margarita was the most profound and provided me as an international adoptive parent with the best piece of advice. In her interview she spoke about how her sister had changed during the two years she had been shipped off to boarding school, that when she returned her sister was spoiled and that her parents just bought anything that was asked for. Her obvious disgust at this was shown a little earlier in the show as she returned home from boarding school (again, why in the world would any caring parent allow a film crew to participate in such an important moment in the family's life?) and immediately made negative comments about her sister and her room which was decked out as any Princess would expect. The Mulligan's later showed the room in the new house which had been prepared for Margarita and essentially said "Why wouldn't anyone be happy with this?"...and then one contrasts that with the obvious relaxed and happy Margarita everyone saw at The Ranch for Kids where there was no designer decorated bedroom and every possible advantage in the world.

I wonder if after viewing the show the Mulligan's themselves "got it" at all.

As Joyce Sterkel of The Ranch said herself, and I am paraphrasing here as I don't have a transcript, one of the biggest mistakes international adoptive parents make is giving their new child everything, spoiling them.

They also interviewed an adoptive mom who is now in jail for murdering her internationally adopted child who suffered from RAD. Again, not the best example they could have used but effective. The mother, Peggy Hilt, discusses how she sank into alcoholism and was drinking the equivalent of a 12 pack of beer a day before finally losing control and murdering her RAD daughter. While sitting there watching this interview, I could easily see myself in her shoes as she discussed her child's extreme behaviors, the anger and the physical acting out. The frustration, lack of sleep, and rejection of a child can do incredible harm to a mom's psyche. Patience can only last so long, and I definitely thought to myself that I am SO GLAD I got help for Josh and I before we got to that point and I found myself behind bars. Yea, I saw myself in Peggy Hilt...with one exception which is why I wish they had selected another interviewee...the alcohol. I would have much preferred that they used an example that did not have the excuse to fall back on of "I was drinking heavily", as sadly even those who are not at all impaired have hurt their RAD children when their emotional reserves are depleted, and an example that didn't have that built in excuse would have been more effective at getting the point across.

I think this program, although well intentioned, did a great disservice to the international adoption community. By focusing on one family, ABC didn't use their programming time to their best advantage to present their case of disrupted adoptions. The family they did present no doubt has suffered deeply, have wounds that will never heal, but were not the best example of a true RAD affected family that could have been used. They were merely a family willing to be paraded on TV in hopes of perhaps feeling more vindicated. Their story was not adequately shared, and perhaps if it had been I myself would have found that I was more sympathetic, because sadly I DO understand what RAD can do to a family and I also know that the challenges we experienced would seem like a cake walk compared to the reality of what many adoptive families go through.

Where were all the other parents...whom we know are out present their experiences? Where are the folks who have attended Nancy Thomas' seminars in an effort to learn how to better parent their damaged kids with firmness and compassion? Where were the videos of children taken 2 or 3 years post adoption showing true raging?

After all, if there are actually 10-25% of all international adoptions that have disrupted, one would think it would be very easy to find a handful of parents willing to go on camera. Interestingly, as I read the ABC accompanying article online I came across a statistic quoted by them of 81 children placed in foster care in 2006 who were adopted from overseas. If one takes a ballpark figure of about 19,000 international adoptions a my calculations that is far less than 25% of adoptions that have been disrupted. I also have to wonder how that figure compares with supposedly "safer" US foster care adoptions.

I think that the 20/20 special did nothing to better prepare me as an international adoptive parent but its sensationalism did do one thing it set out to accomplish, it struck fear in my heart that didn't really need any further assistance. As we sit on the cusp of bringing into our hearts and home a sibling group almost identical to the one presented in this special, how can I not view it with trepidation? How can I be expected not to see myself in all of this?

The truth of the matter is that international OR domestic adoption is a risk. You can bring home a child who can wreck havoc on your life, deplete your finances, scar your soul. You can adopt a child who is mentally unstable, who is violent, who is incredibly angry and with good reason. Are they "damaged goods"? Some would say "always", others would say "never" and some would admit "sometimes". The reality is that there are children who despite every ounce of effort from their new parents will never heal. There are children who are deeply was not really show in this show, sadly...but who will be incapable of achieving some semblance of a normal life.

There are many who have said to us that our impending adoption is perfect, they believe it has taken on an almost fairy-tale like quality to it. Others who have met our daughters-to-be have said that they are a perfect match. I have continually said that we pray it all works out, that we know our newest children will be coming to us with the most destructive histories of all of our kids, and we fully expect it could be awful for a long time to come. We know this is not necessarily going to be a "happily ever after" story and if we make it there will be accompanying pain, revelations, fears and much sorrow that might have to take place before true healing begins.

There are moments when I am terrified of the reality of what our life might eventually be. Others try to "pooh pooh" it, others who have never adopted before nor never witness RAD and its effects have no idea what we might be willingly walking into. Even I don't know the full extent of what lays ahead.

Questions run through my mind constantly...was Kenny's successful adoption an "accident"? Do I have any idea at all how to parent these children who will walk into our lives soon? Am I really the mom they will need me to be? How better can I prepare myself? Are we ruining our family by "tempting fate" one last time? What if they are so damaged we can never help them live a normal life? What are the things we don't know?

The only thing I have to hang on to, however ignorant that may seem to others, is our Faith that these are most certainly our daughters. I have tried to shake it for years, I have made every effort to let go of it, and still it lingers. I have to trust that God would not lead us down a path to destruction, He would not make something possible when we were told all along it was not, He would not have moved mountains to bring them home only to abandon us. I also understand that doesn't mean He doesn't have things for us to learn that might be very, very hard.

International adoption isn't a fairy tale, folks. Kids aren't institutionalized for happy reasons and institutionalization itself takes its toll very quickly. Not every family is emotionally or otherwise equipped to handle such children, I don't even know if we are. That doesn't make the parents monsters, it doesn't make the kids evil. It simply means that sometimes it is too late to help them, or that sometimes we don't have the right tools to do it ourselves.

How I wish ABC had done a better job with this, how I wish they would have accurately showed the gamut of circumstances within RAD families, that some children can heal and some have suffered so much that was out of their control that they will never present as normal adults. What ABC did was show a borderline disrupted adoption, what they did not do an adequate job of explaining was why it happens, what it looks like to live in a family with an RAD child every day, the great lengths that many parents go to who are not shipping their kids off to boarding school go through (I do NOT include The Ranch in that category as that is a therapeutic solution that may result in reunification). What it DID show me is a gap in our therapies, that we often want to treat the damaged child, but we do very little to work with the parents to show them ways to better parent these show our own failings and lack of training for dealing with such extreme issues.

I also think it is important that parents understand that your adoption agency is NOT the only purveyor of information out there, and if you rely solely on them to prepare you for international adoption then it is YOUR FAULT. Yes, you read that right...your agency facilitates an adoption, they are NOT RESPONSIBLE for long term ongoing education for you as the parent or therapy for your child. They can not possibly know everything about the child you are bringing home and you sign documents to that effect, that you understand the limitations of your agency. Your agency helps prepare you, but that is only a beginning point.

If you were buying a used car, crass though this comparison sounds, would you rely only upon the information the salesman provided you? Would you run a Carfax check? Would you have a good mechanic lined up for a pre-purchase assessment and for post-purchase repairs...after all, it is NOT a new car. Would you make sure your car dealer had a solid reputation? Would you learn as much as you could about the make and model of vehicle you were buying before you bought it so you could recognize its weak spots...oft repaired transmissions, timing belt problems with a certain year's model, etc? Or would you walk onto a lot totally unprepared, listening only to the salesman, having done no preparation of your own prior to visiting the lot. And do you recognize that no matter what, you are buying a used car and it may have some dents and scratches, it may come to you with a history of a major accident or at the very least a fender bender?

I have never understood why people who would never approach an auto purchase in this way would walk into an adoption agency having done so little self-preparation and self-education, then blame the agency when EXACTLY what the agency said could happen actually occurs.

I would love to cling on to the dream that our upcoming adoption will indeed be a fairy tale, that it will be wonderful and magical and the girls will feel as if they have always been with us. Wouldn't that be lovely? Wouldn't that be great for all involved? However, refusing to view this from a more practical and reality-based perspective will help no one, not us and not our children. I pray daily that our daughters transition will be a smooth one, that their fears would be reduced, that their trust in us as their mom and dad would be wholehearted and possible.

I pray that we do not end up like the Mulligan family, for whatever reasons, nor like many of the other families I know exist who have done their best despite great odds and still find themselves throwing their hands up in the air in defeat.

Too bad ABC didn't take better care to more fully and clearly present what we might be facing in a few months. It sure would have helped.