Friday, March 28, 2008

New Look, New Poll, New Post

I have been busy tonight! Hahahaha! I am trying out a new look for the blog, as I have had complaints from a couple of people that the old format was difficult to read. I personally loved the white on black, but I can see why it might be harder to read so we'll give this a try. I am envious of those with the beautiful custom blogs with their pretty backgrounds and doohickeys, but I am not technologically advanced enough or creative enough to do that myself, nor do I have the money to pay for someone else's skill to do it, so I am stuck with the standard Blogger templates.

In addition to writing a bit tonight, and adding some photos, I also created a new poll. I am anxious to see how everyone views the homestudy process. It is always interesting to discover what people think.

Hope you like it!

Easter Photos

As requested, here are a few of our Easter photos. It was Kenny's first Easter, and his last "first" holiday. As you can tell, I am living up to my "I'm not Martha" reputation as my poor children were stuck dying Easter eggs on a vinyl Halloween tablecloth! How does Kenny keep anything straight with this goofy family? I had hoped to get a nice photo of all 3 boys, but they were being so silly I was lucky I got any shots at all on Easter morning.

Hope "Springs" Eternal

We have had some highs and lows this past week, and it has been hard to remain on an even keel. Even though I have never been pregnant, there are moments when I feel I have a "high risk" pregnancy with our long hoped for adoption. We had what was overall some good news, but not what we at first had hoped for. It had us quite excited for a couple of days, and then let down...but not altogether with hopes crashed.

I was struck by the contrast of this all, and I hope this comes across as matter-of-fact and not whiny, because I don't intend it to be that. I have a close friend who is pregnant, due within a couple of weeks. I am thrilled for them, and I have been so fortunate that God has kept me free from jealousy and anger over infertility...quite the opposite as I feel so blessed by it in a million ways as my life has been enriched and fulfilled by adopting, I have learned far more about myself than I ever would have otherwise. But going through this time in our lives, longing for a couple of children and feeling at the mercy of a system I don't even have total understanding of is a challenge. It can be compared at times to that aforementioned "high risk" pregnancy, where we are on the edge of our seat at all times, hoping all turns out ok but with the knowledge that this will not be an easy road to travel. I thought about it this week when speaking with another dear friend of mine, and I was telling her that the hardest part is that you are walking around with this heavy feeling in your chest, with conflicted feelings and hopes held tightly and yet no one knows it, no one is even aware. If I were indeed pregnant, and ended up in the hospital because of complications, sympathy would be heartfelt and widespread...or at least I'd like to think so :-)... but with adoption, the risk you are walking with is invisible, the doubts and concerns are not easily shared as they are not obvious.

So here we are, months and months of wondering, worry, and wistfulness...and still uncertain what the future may hold. I am "pregnant" and yet no one else really sees it as such...and I know there is a risk I could lose the pregnancy. But still, we hold out hope...we receive letters, photos, comments translated, and we know that a couple of little someone's hearts are yearning just as much, if not more, than ours. And that, my friends, makes it much, much harder.

It is also awkward because as I relay news as we receive it, as I send emails asking for prayers for doors to be feels as if I am begging others to care. I am not good at this kind of thing, it is very uncomfortable for me, and yet I guess I recognize the powerlessness of the moment and that the only thing (and yes, I recognize the one thing WITH power) remaining is prayer.

But I admit to having brief flashes when I wish there really was someone who understood what this is like. I wish that my everyday friends could better see my invisible growing tummy...and right now my fearful heart. I wish that like others who are pregnant, others would celebrate with us, worry with us. Here I have 3 children, perhaps 5 if our dreams come true, and I have never even had a real baby shower. When Matthew came home I didn't really know that many people well in our new hometown, and a friend invited a couple of people over but it wasn't at all "real" shower.

And then there are those in your life who really, really do "get it" or at least make every effort to. Recently, I had emailed a drawing to a few close friends, once again begging for prayers. I came home one afternoon not too long afterwards, and had a small package left for me. I gingerly opened it up, and there in my hand was a framed portion of that drawing, quite appropriately it was a heart with the word "love" in it, and around the frame were the words "Family". That meant the world to me, it filled me up with the knowledge that someone noticed, someone knew how hard this is, someone offered up a little piece of hope to me.

We also have had the benefit of prayers from a special little girl, and that has touched me deeply. This little one is working overtime, and her concern and caring are the things that I think Heaven might just be made of.

Then there is my own son, Matthew. The other day I sat down with all the boys, talking quite sincerely about how our lives might change if what we are hoping for occurs. I openly discussed that our finances will be in short supply, that we will be stretched far thinner than we even are now...and I asked how they felt about that if it meant that they would have less, might have to take turns each year going to camp, that we would all have to accept the fact that we would have to work hard at being creative at gift giving, food shopping, etc. I asked them to be quite honest about how they would feel about this, if they would be angry, or mad or have regrets that we all did this...that I was not exaggerating about any of what this meant. I was never more humbled in my life when, without a moment's hesitation, Matthew quietly said "Mom, I have my $70 that you can have when they come home...we know that money isn't what's important, love is.", then Kenny and Josh both chimed in "We don't care at all...we have fun anyway!". It was a tender reminder of what is really important. It is not the trips to Disneyworld we wish we could offer our kids, it is not the latest video game system or iPod, it certainly isn't driving them to school in a fancier car or dressing them in the finest, latest most popular and oh-so-expensive fad clothing. The single most important thing in a child's life is love. Period. If they have enough of that, they don't really need the rest. Add a dose of laughter and you really have a winning combination.

As I typed this post, I received the most wonderful email...probably one that has already made the rounds as these things usually do, but it was the right thing at the right time for me, so I want to share it here with you:

Wishing to encourage her young son's progress on the piano, a mother took her boy to a Paderewski concert. After they were seated, the mother spotted an old friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her.

Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, the little boy rose and eventually explored his way through a door marked "NO ADMITTANCE."

When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that the child was missing Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway on stage.

In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out "Twinkle,Twinkle Little Star."

At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy's ear, "Don't quit.""Keep playing."

Then, leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child, and he added a running obbligato.

Together, the old master and the young novice transformed what could have been a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience.

The audience was so mesmerized that they couldn't recall what else the great master played. Only the classic, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Perhaps that's the way it is with God. What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy.

We try our best, but the results aren't always graceful flowing music. However, with the hand of the Master, our life's work can truly be beautiful.

The next time you set out to accomplish great feats, listen carefully. You may hear the voice of the Master, whispering in your ear, "Don't quit." "Keep playing."

May you feel His arms around you and know that His hands are there, helping you turn your feeble attempts into true masterpieces.

Remember, God doesn't seem to call the equipped, rather, He equips the 'called.' Life is more accurately measured by the lives you touch than by the things you acquire.

May God bless you and be with you always!

And maybe what I need to do is follow that advice at moments when all feels lost, when the doubts about the future creep in..."Don't Quit." "Keep Playing." The idea that He doesn't call the equipped but rather equips those He calls is a good one to hang on to. I sure didn't feel equipped to handle Josh's issues, I didn't know if I could be the Mommy Kenny needed, and the idea of being the possible mother to 5 children from these backgrounds is at times enough to make me fall off my chair if I see only "Cindy" and her limited abilities. But I have to rest in the fact that He will equip me if it is His plan to bring them home, of that I am sure.

And then there is the line "Life is more accurately measured by the lives you touch than the things you acquire.". Truer words were never spoken, and there is a special person I want to dedicate that to who is walking this journey with us, hand in hand, and who is actively living this out on a daily basis. Without you, we wouldn't even be this far. Thanks for touching not only our lives, but 2 others as well. I promise I'll pass it on in the ways in which I can.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hearts Uplifted

Yesterday proved to be just the antidote I needed, and I should have known that reaching out to others would be the key to helping me get out of the gloomies. Seeing Kenny with his first Easter basket, running around excitedly joining in the fun of gathering could anyone not find themselves smiling over that.

We haven't had the easiest week with him this past week, not horribly challenging but sometimes I don't mention it when things are a bit bumpy. it's not out of an effort to hide anything, it's just not that big of a deal but when things smooth out I realize that perhaps it was a bit more stressful than I gave it credit for being. Each time the more juvenile behavior returns, it is lower on the scale and we are seeing such great strides, but we had a significant amount of regression this week to work with, some struggles over getting homework done and not paying attnetion, etc. He ended up going to school in tears one day without breakfast because he made the choice not to finish it the night before and do it the next morning, and then didn't have time to eat. But that was his choice! Nothing really big or major, just small mini-struggles throughout the week.

Yesterday, however, I felt we had perhaps crossed over the road and are back on track. I am glad too, because we ended up having a wonderful evening. We had invited our friends over for Easter dinner, and then while I was at church I thought about another couple who had no one to be with for the evening so I invited them, and then another...and then it snowballed. We had an impromptu dinner party for 20!! It was a lot of fun and really cheered me up. And several people who, like us, would have been alone without extended family felt for the evening that we had family right here.

Although it is hard being away from my mom for holidays particularly, I am always so grateful to know that she is sitting down to a feast at my mother-in-law's home. Yes, odd as it may seem, my mom and mother-in-law are close friends...and they didn't know one another before we got married. I am glad they have one another, and it helps me feel less sad being in Colorado and unable to afford to get out to CA as often as I would want. We are planning a trip out as soon as school is out, which will be right after our friends leave and that might help take our minds off the sadness of that event.

So a week that started out with me being a bit in the dumps ended on a warm note. Friends near and far...those who took the time to comment or send very thoughtful emails...all helped make a difference. Thank you for caring!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!!

It is 6:45 AM, and I am taking the last few minutes for myself before a busy day begins. Matthew, who I thought might be less than excited this year by it all, was the first to pop up out of bed (at 5:15 AM) and come snuggle in bed with me, whispering quietly to ask if he could go look for eggs. I told him emphatically that not at least until his brothers woke up and the sun had risen :-) So he eventually fell back to sleep, soon to again awake I am sure

It was so cute last night, we were driving home late and were talking about Easter egg hunts and eggs...and just as we were about to turn on our road a furiously hopping rabbit skittered across the street in front of us, barely escaping the wheels of the van. I got this shocked look on my face, stopped dead in our tracks and turned around to look at the boys who had all seen it and said "Man...did you guys see that??? I'll bet that was the Easter Bunny or one of his helpers!! We never see rabbits out here! I wonder if he was already at our house?". Eyes big as saucers they bought it hook, line and sinker and suddenly were so wired they were bouncing up and down in their seats until we pulled in front of the house where Matthew jumped out and said "Come on guys! We gotta get to bed or he won't leave us anything or hide our eggs! And he is right down the street! Hurry!". Talk about having a hard time keeping a straight face, but it sure was cute.

So now it is time to get them all up and the chaos will begin. There is church with new shirts for the boys, an egg hunt there as well, and we will have friends over for dinner, including a couple of friends from my work. Dominick is working today, unfortunately, and has already left so he can not enjoy Kenny's first Easter but we are not complaining...there are times when things don't always go as planned and you just make the best of it. He'll be home for dinner, and he is working so I can be home, and I am grateful for that. I am also always so appreciative of our employees, who by nature of what we do are asked to work on holidays and they cheerfully agree to do so or share shifts. Without the key employees we have who have remained and worked hard over the years, our lives would be much more difficult.

So here is wishing you all a blessed Easter, one filled with bunnys and pastels, with eggs and treats. And may all who consider this holiday to be about more than children's spring fun celebrate that He Has Risen!!

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Sense of Permanence

I mentioned during Kenny's first week of school that an incredible coincidence had occured and by chance there happened to be a Kyrgyz exchange student working in his class who attends the local small high school nearby. Dinara has been in and out of his classroom all year long, and I will ocassionally hear about her exploits at home.

An interesting question came from Kenny this week. He asked if Dinara had to go back to the Detsky Dom (orphanage). It seems that all along, he was under the mistaken assumption that Dinara was an orphan like he was!! So I explained to him that she had a family to go back to that loved her very much, that she was only here for a visit for the school year. He thought about that for a moment and then asked if he was ever going to have to go back. Of course I answered "No Way!", but I was taken aback for a moment as I thought that all along we had been doing a good job of helping him understand how permanent a family is, that this was his home forever. And then sometimes I forget it has only been 9 months, and although it feels he has been with us forever, he has only been with us 1/10th of his life. I guess he ought to be allowed to be insecure about things now and then :-)

Kenny has one alst first holiday to experience with us, Easter. Then he will have had them all. We excitedly colored eggs tonight and ended up with only one broken one out of 30! Joshie dropped the first one within 5 seconds of holding it, but otherwise the rest held up fine. Kenny said that they did do something with eggs in Kyrgyzstan but couldn't quite explain it and he didn't seem to know anything about the Easter Bunny or about the real meaning of Easter.

We have had a fantastic month or so with Kenny, but the past week has seen us revisiting some of the control issues, albeit on a much smaller scale than in the past. He still likes to run the show sometimes and expects to be able to do things his way. But we haven't had as much of the pouty behavior as we used to have at moments like that. He also has reverted to a little more baby talk, showboating, etc. just like a typical 4 or 5 year old...but at 9 there are moments when that gets frustrating. Luckily it never lasts and the times like that are growing shorter and shorter. We realized that certain things we had allowed were exacerbating this...such as letting him have control over making his own breakfast or selecting all his own clothes all the time. This may sound odd as any typical 9 year old ought to be able to do such things, but for Kenny who still needs to learn that you rely on your parents to meet your needs, it was a way for him to have control that he doesn't need at this stage. So during a particularly bad spell about 2 months ago we took away certain priviledges and told him that he would now wait for us to make him breakfast every morning instead of getting it for himself, that he could pick out his clothes but if we didn't agree he would have to change them (sometimes inappropriate for the ocassion, nothing big), that he couldn't tell Josh what to do...that was our job. It seems to have worked really well, and he definitely started to understand what parents are for.

So though we have our ups and downs, it is mostly ups with a few downs rather than the other way around. And maybe by the time we hit the year mark, Kenny won't have to ask if he is ever going back...he'll know in his heart that he is here to stay.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Is He Speaking?

I have been carrying around a lot of doubts lately...a lot of worries...a lot of sorrow. 2008 is proving to be an extremely emotional year for me, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but leaves me in an uncomfortable place at the moment. Do you ever have those times in your life when many changes happen, when life feels out of kilter for a long stretch? I know it is during these times that we tend to grow a lot, even at my advanced age, but that doesn't make it fun.

And I find myself feeling weepy an awful lot lately, which is totally not me.

I think what bothers me the most though, is that my thoughts are drowning out my ability to figure out what God wants for me. I am confused and questioning, and hearing nothing...and it is my own fault.

There is news on the adoption front that now Kazakhstan is, at the very least, temporarily closed to US adoptive parents. This latest bit of information is causing me to really look hard at our hopes and dreams for the future and wonder if I am having a big STOP sign put up in front of me for a reason, or if this is just one test along a winding road that eventually will lead to our daughters coming home. This is in addition to the other difficulties that lay ahead that still are not resolved. My mom and I had a conversation about this recently, and I am not sure if I expressed myself well enough. I also find it hard to talk about with others, as the emotions run so deep that it feels imbalanced and too complicated to go into. I haven't sorted it all out yet, and I sit here waiting and wondering, wishing I would have a large billboard placed right in front of me to steer me. I am willing to accept anything He wants, but discerning that right now seems impossible.

It also feels kind of lonely.

Then I think long and hard about committment, sticktoitiveness, and two smiling faces staring back at me who are counting on me...and I know I really have no choice but to see it through to completion. As one important person in my life reminded me via email, if God really wants to put a stop to something, He will do it and I will have no doubts.

Interestingly, this very conversation has come up in an email dialogue I am having this week with one of our youth group members, a bright young person who is asking all the right questions, searching and trying to figure out what this means for her life. All the while I am thinking to myself "What in the world are you doing helping ANYONE try and see how God speaks to can't hear Him at all right now!". It feels false for me, of all people, to be in a position to talk about such things.

Don't get me wrong, I am not moping around, head hanging low, wallowing in anything. But my inner dialogues lately are not exactly filled with hope and happiness. Our friends leaving is cutting very deep and it is a challenge to keep the joy there while they are still here, knowing just how empty our lives will feel for a very long time after they are gone. Then there is the emotion about the girls, and all that brings to the table. And I try to live day by day, not thinking too much about it all and not fret about what tomorrow will or won't bring and enjoy today, but there is this underlaying discomfort about it all and peace remains ellusive.

Perhaps if I can manage to quiet my soul, I will be able to hear Him. I have no doubt He is speaking to me right now, but I am uncertain what I need to do to turn down the volume so I can listen to Him.

Then there is the risk one runs in expressing such thoughts publicly. Sometimes I really don't know why I am doing this, putting my more intimate thoughts out there for others to judge me with. It sometimes leaves me feeling vulnerable knowing that many think I am a fruitcake for thinking a certain way or feeling something. Or that there is this expectation that I am someone I am really not. What started as a journal for my boys to help them understand what their adoptions has meant to me has grown to something bigger than that, and I am not really sure why. But since this is for them, when I am tempted to be less than forthright, when I backspace and erase something and try and make it sound more Disneyesque, I realize that is not fair to them...that I don't have to be afraid of being vulnerable with them. In fact, it is exactly what I am trying to teach be bold and fearless when expressing their feelings, to know that sharing your emotions should never be embarassing and can lead to more fulfilling relationships. I have been reminded of that truth a few times this week when I have received emails from a couple of people who have taken the risk of sharing their hearts with me.

But the whole public versus private blog issue is answered for me often, particularly today when I received 11 emails off the blog from parents who are currently struggling with their children, and they feel alone, scared, and misunderstood. They come here to this virtual place and read something that offers them hope, or simply makes them feel a little less lonely, and I am reminded then that although I may not be hearing God right now, He is still using me so someone else can hear Him speak to them.

The past year and a half, since I started the blog on a whim, has really given new meaning to the phrase "My life is like an open book.". The ups and downs, the good and the bad, all of it is out there for all of you to take what you can from it. And the temptation to sugar coat it all and become Pollyanna is there, but then I doubt anyone would really care a whit about what I wrote. Real life is messy. it is also wonderful, challenging, scary, and tender all at the same time. Right now happens to be one of those uncertain spells, and I am so very grateful to those who have cared enough about me to write me, or who know me in person and snuggle up next to me and put their arm around my shoulder. When I stop to think about it, if we are not honest with others when we are going through the rough times, we deny them the opportunity to express their love for us, which fills them up as they offer us comfort. But allowing our vulnerabilities to show through can be oh-so-frightening, because it gives others the power to hurt us as well.

So tonight I sign off wondering why I am writing these things...and yet feeling as if I should. It seems like every time I follow through when writing about something that my gut says I should, I am surprised to find it has touched someone's heart. Not sure what all this has to do with anyone other than me and my own stupid thought processes, but something told me to write it tonight, so here I am...actually feeling quite foolish about it. I will go to bed with a slightly heavy heart and kicking myself for feeling that way in the first place when my life is filled with so much good stuff. But the smiles of friends from this evening still linger, and the thought that He hears my pleas even when I can't hear His carries me through. Good night.

And There But For the Grace of God Go I

This week's People magazine features a story about a family's struggle with RAD in their son adopted from Russia. I had already read the story when a friend mentioned it to me, asking if I had seen it. This family had to place their young son in a therapeutic home at a ranch due to his extreme behaviors and their inability to control him. As I read the article, I found myself identifying strongly with the adoptive parents, knowing that others who might read their story might judge them harshly. Having been in their shoes to some degree...and quite honestly having looked at web sites for such facilities for future reference should we find ourselves in need of respite care...I can easily understand their decision to place their child in residential care.

There are so many reasons why a family might come to the conclusion that they can no longer continue to parent a child without outside intervention or going to the extreme of placing their child outside the home. Fear of the violent actions of their child...even the youngest RAD kids can be scary with their threats and lack of emotional connection. Fear of your own inability to control your anger and frustration that comes bursting out in flashes of irrational behavior. Fear that you would lose control and one day harm your child yourself. Fear that you are raising the next serial murderer. Fear that you have ruined your life forever. Fear that your child will never be normal.

And yet, to the outsider with no understanding of RAD and its effects on everyone it touches, it can appear heartless for an adoptive parent to "abandon" their child. It is easy to sit on the outside looking in and judge. What is not easy is to go to bed each night with a lump in your throat, wishing you could receive a good night kiss just once from your child that felt natural instead of forced. Or to have nightmares of what your child might be like as a teenager, that they will turn into someone you are petrified of and yet are still responsible for.

What must this family have gone through before coming to the decision to place their son outside their home? The article explained it briefly, but having our own experience with Josh allowed me to read between the lines a bit more and fill in the blanks that the article barely touched on in terms of his behavior.

And as I closed the cover on the magazine, the single thought that repeated over and over in my mind was gratitude that we weren't the featured story that week, that Josh had indeed largely healed from RAD. I will admit that for many months the future looked bleak, and I fully expected to read about my son one day in the Police Blotter of the local paper for gradually escalating violent acts. For a long time, that sort of thing was never far from my mind.

And there, but for the Grace of God, go I.

For families and children struggling with RAD, today can be frustrating but it is the tomorrows that scare you to death. The blank looks, the lashing out, the deadened souls, all increase in intensity until one day you either get help, or you hurt your child...or you walk away. Those on the outside do not see most of the behavior and don't believe it when described. Their sympathy for the orphaned child causes them to suspend belief in the parent, and instead leads to "mommy blame", as if it is her fault that her child came to her damaged by others and she is in the unenviable position of having to repair what others have wrought. Sometimes, luckily not often, it is too late regardless of how young a child is. Sometimes the soul has been damaged beyond repair.

Although Josh is "normal" now, there are still subtle reminders of his battle with Reactive Attachment Disorder. It pops up at unexpected moments and it catches me off guard. There are times still when we will be in the house alone and it is quiet, and I will be out of eye sight and he wanders through the house with a steadily rising panic obvious in his voice as he fears I have left him. At 5 years old we go through phases where eye contact with him is obviously still uncomfortable and I remind him to "look in mommy's eyes" when we are talking. Recently as I hold him he has begun to pull away, trying to have less physical contact, not leaning in to my body and molding to me, and once I "call him" on it he will do it but it is as if he subconsciously returns once in awhile to that place where all physical signs of affection are uncomfortable, and he can't explain why. And of course, as with all RAD kids, he isn't that way with anyone else, only mom.

That is what makes RAD hard, as these children can easily show affection to others, but can't risk it with mom...and it is usually in the privacy of your own home that the extremes begin to show up. No one believes you, they say "Are you kidding me? He is such a loving child!" and they look at you like you are nuts. In Josh's case, he genuinely IS a loving little guy now, even if at moments we revert back to those early behaviors. With him, it is more insecurity now than full blown RAD, but when those insecurities arise he steps back to the old comforting, self-preservation. He withdraws in subtle ways. We talk about it, I work on it consistently, and then it will disappear for awhile. One day I hope it never returns.

I have often wondered what I would have done had Josh been older, had his behaviors been more dangerous. Would I have resorted to placing him out of our home? I don't know, having not walked in those shoes I can not say...but I'll admit that if I didn't it surely would have crossed my mind.

But we were one of the lucky ones, we made it. Josh now feels compassion, empathy, connection...all things that true RAD kids are unable to feel. He also is delightful and filled with joy, able to relax and walk through life relatively confident. Sadly, that is most often not the case, and we beat the odds.

And yet again, there but for the Grace of God Go I.

Thanks God.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Happy Pre-Spring Day!

What have I gotten myself into? I am now officially going to lead the small Sr. High Youth Group at our church in a bible study/discussion group. To say I am intimidated is not an adequate description. I am not a well educated Bible scholar, I am untrained, I am not at all one of the "cool" or "hip" adults...I guess I am just willing and therefore get the job by default. So I have spent the past couple of days looking at materials to use, trying to find a guideline and ideas. When I told the boys what I was doing Kenny and Matthew said "Cool mom! Then you can do it when we are that age!", like they will even want me to have anything at all to do with what they are involved in when they become teenagers.

It really does cause one to look back at those years, to the intensity of emotions experienced when a teen, to the wide open future ahead of us that was often fuzzy and not quite crystallized in our minds yet. It truly is a time for figuring out what you carry with you into adulthood, what you discard from your childhood, what kind of person you really are. Looking back, I was such a very different person than I am today and yet the teenaged Cindy still lingers inside there somewhere. I was a quiet, studious, "bandsie". In the middle of high school I started dating Dominick and we obviously had found our perfect match so I never dated anyone other than him, never flirted, never got caught up in a lot of the high school drama. I was boring, basically. I was far more black and white in my thinking than I am today, as life has a way of helping you to see that there isn't always a clear cut answer.

So here I am, this middle aged terribly lame woman going to try my hand at working with today's Facebook reading, text messaging, alternative rock listening teens. This should prove to be....ummm....interesting!

We are also as a family doing a lot of praying lately. Praying for an adoption we hope can eventually move forward and yet not knowing exactly might occur. Praying for Kenny's application for treatment at Shriner's Hospital in Chicago will be accepted as that will help us financially more than I can even begin to express. Praying for our friends to have an easy transition in their new home once they leave in a few weeks.

As the end of ski season draws near, I am looking forward to life getting back to some semblance of normalcy. I want to take the kids to the library, to have time for homework and making dinner, I want to be able to breath in between activities and to enjoy the summer together. I am so blessed to be able to work the schedule I do, allowing me so much time with the boys the remainder of the year. As hard as it is on all of us during the winter, it is well worth it. We already have a ton of plans for the summer...camping, dear friends coming to see us for a week, driving trips to Denver to visit friends, a trip to California to visit our moms thanks to earned miles from our trip to Kyrgyzstan last year, church camp and retreats...and more importantly lazy afternoons spent in the backyard with kids running through the sprinklers, planting a garden in our raised beds made of stock irrigating tanks (yes, we have grown corn in them too!), evening walks hand in hand with Dominick as we follow the boys riding their bikes. It is the stuff a real life is made of, the little pleasures. It may be different for different people, but the big vacations and new toys are not what it is all about. Perhaps for some it is cool summer evenings spent on the patio with friends, a glass of wine in hand. Or maybe it is backpacking or hiking 14'ers. For others still it may be a day on the lake, fishing pole in hand. Whatever the case may be, it is good to be reminded that the best things in life are not necessarily the Big Adventures, but instead the good things are the daily things that bring peace to our hearts.

I will treasure this spring with Josh, as it will be our last time at home alone together during a school year, as he begins kindergarten next year. My little companion is an amiable one, and I will miss his quiet kindness when I am not around him all day, just as I miss Matthew and Kenny.

And where, I wonder, will Kenny be at the end of the school year? What a monumental task it seemed at first, to educate an 8 year old boy who came from such a unique and sheltered background, who did not share a common language with us, who had so much growing up to do. 3 more months, and his first year of school will be completed, and already it is obvious he has exceeded all of our expectations, thanks to the wonderful team of teachers working with him.

So now on my day off I am heading over to the school to volunteer a couple of hours in Kenny's class, and to pop my head into Matthew's class as well. Although I had plenty of things to do today, Kenny's pleading look this morning was enough to convince me that laundry could wait :-) I hope all of you are having a wonderful, spirit renewing almost-spring day as well!

Monday, March 10, 2008

A New Loss

The past week and a half have been tear filled days. Our family is experiencing a loss right now, one that touches very deeply and makes it difficult for me to even write about it without crying.

Three years ago we became friends with a very, very special family...the kind of friends that come along once in a lifetime. For some reason, our families just "clicked" even though someone on the outside looking in might not really understand why...our kids were different ages and genders, we come from very different backgrounds, we have different professions.

And yet, despite our differences, the core values were the same...a deep and abiding love for our families, a relaxed and laid back approach to life, homes filled with laughter, and our need to budget blended with our desire to still take trips and explore.

We have traveled together, played together (Another round of Rumikub anyone??), watched movies together, eaten together, prayed together, laid floors together, plastered walls together and watched our children grow together.

Our friends are now about to begin a new life, it is time for them to move on...something we knew was coming but had hoped would be delayed a little longer. Ironically, or perhaps in yet another way that God speaks to us, they will be residing in a home not more than 3 miles from where Dominick grew up.

In spite of our sorrow, we are filled with joy for this wonderful family. They are walking straight into an opportunity that will meet their every need...a new adventure in life. We also wish we could cling to them much, much longer. To say they will be missed is a ludicrous understatement, to say that their departure will leave a gaping hole in our hearts is much closer to the truth.

As we sit around the dinner table together, trying to squeeze in as many laughs as we can, we all promise this will not be the end of our friendship, it will just take on a new life. It will make the times precious when we are together, it will give us something to look forward to when we plan to see one another.

And still I wonder, will this really be the end? Will we drift apart after the first couple of visits as others so often do despite their vows that they will remain fast friends forever? As the day to day interaction ceases, will the bond slowly unravel regardless of our best efforts to retain it?

Or will we beat the odds and will this truly be one of those wonderful family friendships that you sometimes read about jealously in magazines as couples describe how they get together at their beach houses for reunions (ok...none of us can afford the beach house, but you get my drift! Hahaha), and they have group photos taken over the years of adventures they have shared together when they do meet. I guess time will tell.

It is at times like these, when it hurts so badly to have loved someone and then they leave for whatever reason, that you wonder if it is worth the risk to place your heart on your sleeve for all to see, to open your life to others and to give of yourself. Would it be easier to just lead a life of quiet solitude, forsaking any deep relationships for fear of the pain that might be experienced later? Or do we wade wantonly into the fray, professing the depth of our emotions for others, fearlessly looking them in the eye and saying "I love you.". We often don't think about such things when it comes to friendships, as that seems more suited for romantic relationships. However, through the years I have found that we can be hurt just as badly from the broken bonds of friendship as we can from the broken promises of a romantic companion. Sometimes saying the words is so hard, admitting what we feel for another is so scary...what if they reject us? What if it doesn't work? What if they think I am a goofball?

Or what if they return it full force and you would have missed out on one of the best things to ever cross your path?

Well, luckily, this family accepts it and returns it all ten fold. We all love them so much, I love their children as if they were my own...and I have seen the joy and pleasure they get from ours as well. I have learned more than I can ever express from them, I have become a better mother and wife as they have taught me how to accept myself as I am and not to fret about others' opinions. Joshie has benefited so much from the loving kindness shown him by each member of their family, Matthew has had the best role model I ever could have asked for in their kind and respectful teenaged son, and Kenny was so warmly received by them and gained instant acceptance from the moment he joined our family. Dominick found a friend who understood him and had the same playful nature.

Was it worth the risk, even though we knew full well it wouldn't remain part of our daily life forever?

You bet it was, and we'd do it all again if we had to.

Never again will I sing Happy Birthday without also wanting to hear it in Afrikaans, I will still think of chutney as disgusting but as my friend's favorite condiment, and I will never have my camera in my hands without thinking of my dear photo buddy.

So now we face a long goodbye as they prepare to leave and we prepare to accept their departure. The kids have cried, and will most certainly cry again on the day they pull away from the curb. So will we, without a doubt. And yet we will look forward with delight to the next time we see one another.

And I hope, with all my heart, that they know how loved they are in the LaJoy house, and I am so glad that we all stood up fearlessly and jumped into it with both feet.

We are all better for it.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Loving LaJoy's

There are moments when I really see quite clearly how blessed we all are, when it is not this faint, blurry picture of what I hope is true, but when it is presented to me in blindingly clear colors, like going from black and white to Kodachrome (and yes, that always will be #1 for color clarity in my book!). This family I have is remarkable in many ways, but sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who sees that. Tonight, we were in the car on the way home from "game night" at church. We stopped at McDonald's and surprised the boys with an ice cream cone. We try not to do such things often, as we don't have a ton of money to blow and we also make a concerted effort not to spoil the boys too much, to keep things simple for the most part so they appreciate the little things in life and don't have to get bigger, better, broader things to be grateful. You should have heard the cheer from the back seat as we pulled into the parking lot after Dominick had fooled them and said he was going to turn around to go the other way. We went inside and as we ordered, and Matthew asked me "Mommy, how come you guys are doing this for us?" and I said "Silly, because we love you!" and he and Kenny both gave me a great big hug and said "Thanks Mommy!" and there we stood in the empty McDonalds, arms around each other, heads buried in my tummy, and all 3 of us just remained there for a bit enjoying that feeling that comes only from being loved.

Later as we left with full tummies and our sweet tooth sated, I asked everyone in the car "So, what is the one thing you love most about our family?" and everyone had to answer. You know, as parents we realize we may see our family in a certain way, while our children view it through very different lenses. So I was curious what the responses would be. Here they were in order which they were given, the exact words:

Matthew = Happiness
Kenny = We are LaJoy!
Joshie = We are kind to each other
Dominick = We laugh a lot
Cindy = Peaceful

There are so many families in this world who do not have these gifts to come home to every day. I am so glad that this is what my children carry around in their hearts each and every day...that their family is filled with love and joy, with laughter and peace. After we were home and all three boys were settling down in sleeping bags on the floor at my feet with the warmth of the fireplace on their shirtless little torsos, Matthew added "Mommy...I know one more thing I love about our family...that we always share. No one is a bully and we help each other all the time!", this being said after each of the boys was helping one another get blankies and pillows and everything arranged.

During our drive home and after making our list, it was as if something opened the floodgates for Kenny and he talked and talked about our wonderful it is, what good parents we are, what great brothers we have, how sad it is that some parents are "mean" and don't love their kids as much as we love them, and how he understands it is our job to teach all of them, and that I am a good mommy because I teach them everything. Dominick quietly spoke next to me saying "Wow, we have two deep thinkers and didn't know it!! How did you do that??" if I had any control over that at all.

Watching Kenny as he helped wash Joshie's hair in the tub, as he towel dried Matthew as Matt leaned on crutches after bathing, seeing Matthew's wholehearted grin as he gets a kick out of something cute that Kenny said, or as Joshie offers to help me with groceries saying "I'll take care of that for you, Mom" makes every moment of frustration, of gentle nagging and persuasion, of talking often about what makes a good and functional family all worth while.

I have participated a bit in online dialogues this week about boys versus girls, older child adoptions and people's incorrect preconceived notions about girls being more affectionate or easier to raise, or about generalized statements about how very few older child adoptions work out well...and I obviously beg to differ and couldn't keep my mouth shut, surely antagonizing a few people while garnering cheers from a few others.

Today I received a gift unlike any I have yet received from my sons, it is one that shows unequivocally how the idea that boys are not affectionate, open or loving is total and pure bunk. Matthew was working on his homework this afternoon and had dumped the contents of his backpack on the kitchen table. I was doing the usual sifting through of notices and graded papers when there, on a single lined sheet of paper, Matthew's heart was laid open to share with me. It was a Valentine letter to Dominick and I, scribbled in his not yet perfect 8 year old penmanship. Before reading it I asked him why he hadn't given it to us on Valentine's Day, and he first said "Because I wanted to add more to it" and then added "Besides, I am just like Daddy!" who is notorious for buying cards early and hiding them, then forgetting where he hid them and I find birthday cards 5 months after my birthday or Christmas cards when doing spring cleaning. As I began to read, my grin quickly turned to is what he wrote, misspellings and all:

Dear Mom and Dad,

have a specktackeler valentines day. I hope your valentines day is the best one you have!! I always loved you from the day I saw you I always wanted to tell you that I love you so so much but I love you so much i can't tell you.

From matt

What he could have possibly added that would make it any better, I don't know. go ahead and try and convince me that boys are not affectionate, that boys don't show their love, that they are all hooligans and ruffians with wanton disregard for the hearts of others. As I drift back in my mind to the rooms full of beautiful boys languishing in Kazakhstani and Kyrgyz orphanages all because of their gender, as I read so many pre-adoptive parents bemoan their fate at having to wait months if not years for the referral of an infant girl, I literally shake my head. The joy people are missing out on, the love they are rejecting that is waiting for them right now but comes in a package with boy parts rather than girl is beyond description. I know people have their reasons, and I respect that. I guess I just don't understand it sometimes.

And as they wait for their "young as possible" baby girls, I will envelope my Big Kazakh and Kyrgyz Boys in my arms knowing that no one on God's green earth could ever be more fortunate than I.

Catching Our Breath

I'm sorry for not blogging more frequently this month, the past couple of weeks have been hectic and I am sure the same will be true for the remainder of ski season, regardless of my best intentions.

We attended teacher conferences last week where it was very obvious just how far Kenny has come in a mere 5 months of school. We met with his fantastic ESL teacher, his regular classroom teacher whom we love and who was Matthew's 2nd grade teacher, as well as his speech therapist whom we also know well as she worked with Matthew too. All three were enthusiastic supporters of Kenny's, and expressed their amazement at his progress. Educationally and behaviorally he has come so far. He was like a deer caught in the headlights the first couple of weeks. Now he is confident, understands most everything going on in the classroom, and is an eager learner. He has gone from a boy who had the equivalent of preschool and knew only 13 letters of the Cyrillic alphabet, to a child who now knows the entire alphabet and almost all the sounds of each letter, and is now reading at approximately the level of mid first grade. We are so very proud of him, for his courage and determination. Although he is still not being graded on his work yet, he is not far from advancing enough to the point where he can begin to receive grades.

Matthew's teacher was complimentary of him as well, and he had an excellent report card with all A's but a B+ and a B. We yacked casually about him, and his teacher said Matthew is the kind of child who can do anything in the future that he sets his mind too...that he won't really be limited in terms of what he wants to do. Matthew's. It would be understandable for Matt to get his nose pushed out of joint with all the attention Kenny has received this year...and no doubt due to his unique personality will always get in the future. We are constantly aware of that potential and work hard to make sure all 3 kids receive the praise and appreciation they deserve. With our efforts and Matthew's maturity, we have thus far avoided any of those potential pitfalls.

This week has had a Medical Theme, unfortunately. Matthew was at one of our friend's house playing one evening when we heard him crying upstairs. We went up to find him sitting on the stairs, grasping his ankle as he grimaced in pain. I asked him how he hurt it and he vaguely said something about stepping on a toy. Well, I wasn't quite buying it but it was beside the point at the moment so we left to go home, and he sobbed all the way saying it hurt really bad. We got him calmed down and he finally went to sleep. The next morning his ankle was swollen and bruised, and it was only then that he admitted to jumping off the top bunk bed into a bean bag chair, which he thought would be a soft landing but he twisted it pretty bad. It was at that point that we figured we should have it xrayed in case it was broken, so off we go to the ER. Luckily, it was just badly sprained and he was given an "air cast" and crutches to use for awhile. He was off of them last night and today, but tonight was complaining it was hurting quite a bit and he wanted to use the crutches tomorrow. Matthew is my least "whiney" kiddo, so when he says something hurts we tend to really perk up and pay attention. We were upset at him for lying to us, and we explained why it was important to tell the truth especially about injuries. He said he knew he should have told us, but he knew what he did was wrong and he hadn't wanted to admit it. I really shouldn't complain as this was our first real "dumb boy stunt" and with 3 boys I feel we have been pretty fortunate thus far!

I have also had some medical issues this week, hopefully nothing serious but am having some tests done next week which should hopefully tell us more.

In the meantime, we also had our Cub Scout Pack's Pinewood derby Friday night, during which chaos reigned but hopefully the boys had a good time. It is fun to see some of the Dad's become so involved. We have a really nice group of parents with many of them offering to help out as they can. The hardest part of it all for me is coming up with ideas for activities. I am the least creative person you will ever meet, and it is very challenging for me to meet the needs of 1st through 5th graders and make it fun and interesting on a regular basis. Definitely not my forte, so I find myself "winging it" often.

Joshie also had his first real overnight sleepover with his little buddy from church coming over to spend the night just with him. He was so excited and you could see hwo grown up he felt finally having the chance to do just like his big brothers and have his own friend come and spend the night. It was his buddy's first sleepover too, and it was so cute how he kept coming to me after Josh was asleep to talk and I gently sent him back to bed. This is a little guy we love dearly, and he and Josh are a perfect fit for one another. We feel lucky they have found each other.

In spite of it all, we had the greatest news as well...friends of ours who have two children adopted from Matthew's orphanage are coming to visit us for a week this summer! I can not begin to express how delighted we are about this, our entire family is so excited we can hardly stand it. We haven't seen them in almost 5 years and since then we have each added 2 children to our by adoption and they by birth. This family helped us so much before we traveled to get Matthew, and since then we have developed a wonderful long distance friendship. You know how you meet someone and you instantly know you will be good friends? If we all lived in closer proximity we all know we would be fast friends. We have worked hard at maintaining this connection, and it is so funny because you would think it would be all about the kids, but it really isn't. That may have been the initial draw, but it has long sense ceased to be about only the kids. We all care very much about each other and it just happens that we have kids from the same place. So we have some fun planning to do for their visit, and knowing my friend and I, our "anal retentive" sides will shine and we will be emailing back and forth fast and furiously until their arrival, planning every little detail. Dominick and I were laughing so hard this week as we realized it is only February and already our summer is almost totally booked up! That is actually a little sad, but we also have a lot of fun to look forward to during these dreary winter months.

So now is time for catching our breath, maybe this next week will be a bit calmer, a bit slower. I know I sure could use a little down time!