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.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holy Macaroni, Batman!! You Did It!!!!!

I can not believe it, I am seriously speechless, and believe me (you can ask Dominick!!) that doesn't happen often. It was less than 12 hours ago when I was sharing with friends over Thanksgiving dinner what our little blog family here was trying to accomplish...and saying I highly doubted we would reach the 2nd $1000 as I figured we had pretty much tapped everyone already and was thrilled with the 1st thousand we had raised. If we were able to manage to raise the 2nd $1000 I assumed it would take at least 3 weeks or so and arrive in dribs and drabs.

I apologize profusely for underestimating all of you, my dear virtual family.

Do you realize what you all have done? In only 7 days...count that...SEVEN have donated $2000 and seen to it with your incredible generosity that over 250 orphans in Kyrgyzstan will have a real Christmas, most for the very first time. This is phenomenal, and I stand before you quite humbled at your response to our request.

You know, it is one thing to give when asked, and to do so begrudgingly, it is an entirely different story to give so enthusiastically! And that is what you all have done, in record time. You heard the plea, you cared for the kids and you responded immediately.

To think that the majority of this was totally anonymous giving is so cool, and though I will never be able to thank most of you individually, I do offer up my heartfelt gratitude here to all of you...those of you who encouraged others with their comments on our blog here, those who sent out private emails to family and friends, those who linked to John and I from your own blogs and wrote heartfelt pleas for the cause of children you have never met. Thank you for remembering that really, these are all our children.

John has an outline on his blog now of all that "our" kids will receive, and MAN has he been able to do a lot with $2000! Check it out:

61 kids from 2 orphanages as well as other children from very needy circumstances (Removed from the dump, recently reunited as a family, and others) will be treated to a trip to the local version of McDonald's and receive a Kyrgyz style "Happy Meal" including a burger, fries, coke and little toy. Kenny had never had a soda before we adopted him and took him for his first lunch out, so you can imagine that some of these children might never have had a soda for a treat. They will then receive a small gift each...and then, get this, there will even be enough money for them to attend a special children's theater!! The other orphanage with 150 children will have a special Christmas dinner as well as a gift for each child and a small gift for the caretakers as well whom we all know are sorely underpaid and almost as underprivileged as the children and are often forgotten.

So as we kick off our Advent Season, as we trudge through the malls of America (and Canada!) loaded down with sacks of gifts for our friends and family members, as we sing carols and light candles and drink eggnog and decorate trees, let us all remember the real reason for Christmas is not Santa Clause or reindeer or presents for ourselves, the real reason for the season is what you all have already represented here this is the Spirit of Giving, it is showing God's love for all, it is caring for those who are uncared for.

And while John has a pie or two thrown at him this evening in front of over 100 people, and as the LaJoy's plan the logistics of our own pie throwing extravaganza this week, we will have giggling sons and daughters, thousands of miles away from one another celebrating the joy of giving to others, and I know that all of us will have certain faces of children left behind come to mind as we willingly submit ourselves to the faux humiliation of being firmly splatted in the face with a pie. It is something I will eagerly look forward to, as will John and Dominick (who didn't even realize he was volunteered for it!).

Can't WAIT for the photos to come over the next month, of pies and messes and children with happy faces!!

Hey John, is there any way at all we can locate a Santa suit in Kyrgyzstan and have him visit for real????

Thursday, November 27, 2008

20/20 Special/Happy Thanksgiving!


Just wait until you see the special day these kids have in store for them! And I have to add that John's accounting for the dollars spent is meticulous, down the the penny. He has quite a crew over there and you can rest assured that every dollar spent has been negotiated to the best possible deal and that nothing is being spent unwisely. I think that is what I like about John's work...everything goes to help others, and he "gets it" about building communities that are someone and then they help others and so on. Pull someone out of the dump, provide them an opportunity and often they will "Pay it Forward" tenfold. Thanks again to everyone for your effort, your CASH, your showing love to those so far away. That's what it is really all about, giving without thought to gain for yourself. But we DO get the reward in the photos that will be coming this Christmas, and personally, it will absolutely make my Christmas the most special in years. So thanks to everyone, let's not quit now, we have MORE CHILDREN TO HELP...and yes...MORE PIES TO THROW!!! As you eat your pumpkin or mincemeat pie today, think of the Pie Challenge and share it with others, see if you can collect over the table a few bucks from your families :-)

I just watched the trailer for the 20/20 IA adoption failure special airing tomorrow night on ABC and reserve comment until after I view the episode in its entirety. What I saw on the trailer was gut wrenchingly touching and as the parent of both an older adopted child and a RAD kiddo, my perspective might be different than others who view it. I am not immediately on the defensive nor passing judgment, we'll just see how the whole piece turns out then I'll throw out my 2 cents worth, which is worth exactly that. However, I urge everyone to watch it if they can, it should make for some interesting food for thought either as a way to prepare yourselves for what lays ahead or to see it as incredibly sensational journalism...I can't yet tell.

Aside from that, I want to wish every single one of you a wonderful, heartfelt, warm Thanksgiving Day. This is a time for us to recognize all we have to be thankful for, and that is so cliche it is easy to overlook it and not think of it in a more deep way. But I bet anyone who has battled cancer is thankful to be here today, anyone who has been homeless before is thankful for a table full of food, and a child who has been without a family feels much gratitude for finally belonging somewhere.

I personally have much to be thankful for this year...for God in my life and the difference that has made for our entire family, for my husband and children, for special friendships both near and far, for our Adoption Angels who are making it possible for 2 more children to sit around our table next year, for not being alone this Thanksgiving, for the love and care each of you has shown children you have neve rmet by praying for them and for offering up funds for their Christmas.

May you all be blessed today with love and plenty of all you really need (notice I don't say what you want!).

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Christmas is Coming...Can You Be Santa??

YOU DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

11/25/08 - I am in awe of each and every one of you who read this blog. Over the past couple of years we have become a family of sorts, this often unknown collection of people who have followed the escapades of this little family in Western Colorado. You have rejoiced with us, you have prayed with us, you have lifted us up when we were feeling low, you have carried us in many, many ways.

But this, this is extraordinary. Do you realize what you all have done? You are giving Christmas to 65 kids who, at least this year, won't have to ask "Why doesn't Santa come to Kyrgyzstan?". From a mommy whose very son asked that question last year as we celebrated his first real Christmas, I can't tell you what this means to our family.

Now, just as I thought we were done and I could jump up and down doing a jig, the gauntlet was thrown down by John Wright over at . He has "upped the ante", and frankly I can't help but give it a try. The 65 kids that will benefit from this fundraiser do not include the kids from Amir's orphanage, Kenny's buddy who was left behind. You all know our prayers for him have been repeated over and over this past year and a half, and I would love nothing more than to have he and all 150 kids at his orphanage have Christmas too. If we could somehow do it, folks, that would be 215 Kyrgyz Kiddos who St. Nick would visit!!!

It's a lot to ask, I know. You've already given so much.

So to sweeten the deal John has started the next $1000 off with a $50 donation. AND, here's the fun part, John has issued a direct challenge to Dominick...if we hit another $1000 and Dominick lets the boys hit him in the face with a pie as well as me, then John will have his daughters splatter him with a pie too! $2000 total for 3 pie splattered faces (heeheehee!) and 215 very, very happy Kyrgyz orphans. I will even try and post video of the event on the blog in addition to photos, and I recommend John do the same thing.

Now tell me, where are you going to get a bigger bang for your donated buck?!?!

If we don't make it, I understand. It's the holidays, everyone is stretched so thin, everyone is busy. But I see Amir's face in my mind daily and I have to give it a try. Kenny's old orphanage at Belovodsk will be taken care of with the first $1000, but Amir will be left out.

Whaddaya say folks? A few of you have spread the word on your blogs and I thank you so much for that. It captures another audience who might not know about Santa not visiting Kyrgyzstan. Could you maybe ask your church this weekend if they want to help out? Your Scout group? Your Book Club? Your co-workers? John and I will make sure that anyone who asks for it who is not part of our little blogosphere will get photos of the kids at Christmas. Their smiles will be so worth it!

And as I type this right now I received a comment on the blog from a regular reader, Peggy in Virginia who said:

"OK fellow blog readers – in less than a week we made $1,000 for the kids in Kyrgyzstan – want to go for the second $1,000 and see if Dominick will go for the double pie whammy?? I’ll start by pledging $100.

How about we start recommending pie flavors? I like chocolate, YUM! Looking at it in the photo would be almost as good as eating it myself."


Stay tuned, I'll update tomorrow and we'll see if we are making progress.

Thank you all, on behalf of John Wright and his family as well as the kids who have no one to speak for them.

And if we do it before Thanksgiving evening I will walk around all dinner long with turkey feathers on my head in front of our friends!!!

Good night, may God bless each and every one of you.


Ok Guys, I am issuing a challenge. So many of you are regular readers, and I am wondering if we can all be Far-Away-Santas for the kids in Kyrgyzstan. John Wright over at Act of Kindess has stated it would take about $1000 for 65 kids to have a special Christmas meal at a restaurant similar to McDonalds, along with a small gift for each and the cost of the transportation. What do you say? Can WE do it?

Dominick and I will start it off with pledging $50...

Will you join us and make this happen? As I ask this I am remembering the excitement in Kenny's face in the days leading up to his first Christmas last year, and I am thinking of 65 kids for whom Christmas will be just any other day when they are anonymous.

And even as I type this the tears are coming as I recall Kenny asking me last year "Momma, how come Santa not come to Kyrgyzstan?".

Let's not let that happen this year for these 65 kids. No, we can't bring Christmas to every kid, but we sure can for this small group.

If my Blog Readers manage to raise the $1000...let's see...what can I offer...I will let all 3 boys splat me in the face with a cream pie and take a photo of it to post on the blog. Yes, I will.

So, if you want to see me with egg on my face, or at least a lot of whipped cream, PLEASE consider donating to John's project for Christmas! You can find the post about this at:

At the upper right of John's blog page is the "Canada Helps" button for donations. You can specify your donation for a purpose, and be sure to type in Christmas for Kyrg and add in a mention of the LaJoy blog so John can calculate it and tell me if the boys get to have a lot of fun and splatter me.

Instead of just reading about it, make a difference...give a gift to someone else this Christmas that matters, print out a picture from John's blog and wrap it up telling your parents or siblings that have plenty of aftershave and cologne that you are giving a gift in their name that is making 65 kids feel special for once in their lives. Do the same for your kids' teachers who have enough gifts with apples on them, and spend that $10 for John's kids. I know if I received that kind of gift I would be thrilled.

Come on guys, the little we all have to offer can really add up. Can you think of any better gift for yourself for Christmas?

11/21 - PM - Woo Hoo! $150 so far including our family donation, $850 to go! Come on guys, $10 here or there even would add up!

11/21 -Later PM - John added another link for donations specifically from the US so you can obtain a tax receipt:

11/21/08 - Even Later PM - "Hello Cindy (or if someone else reading the comments can help), I'm having trouble navigating the "Canada Helps" website. It asks you to designate a "Fund/Designation"--which is the right fund to select. Also, it show the donation amount is in Canadian currency. Can you please provide some guidance?Thanks!Marcia"

Marcia, the fund designation should be "The Wright Stuff" and then in the notes section you can put Christmas for Kyrgyzstan - Lajoy Challenge. I have not yet donated myself using the new site where you can click for the US receipt so can not explain that if someone has a problem.


11/22/08 - AM - "We would be honored to support such a wonderful cause!I can not wait to see a pie face!Will it be chocolate?" - It will be any flavor that is requested!! I mean, I have no preference as long as it is messy and puts on a good show! However, the boys might prefer long as there is an extra one they can eat!

11/22/08 - 9:00 AM - Per John, we have $200 donated total towards Christmas in Kyrgyzstan!!! $800 more to go!!

11/22/08 - 6:00 PM - I told the boys this afternoon about the Challenge, and they were all grins at the thought of having the opportunity to throw a pie at me!! We all worked today in our restaurant which we closed down for a deep cleaning, and the boys worked SO hard! Seriously, they are such incredibly hard workers...hours of scrubbing and moving stuff around and not a whimper or complaint out of any of the three of them. So, we decided to pay them each $15 for their labor which is unusual but they certainly earned it...and it gives them a little Christmas spending money as well.

They all decided they wanted to contribute a little towards the Christmas in Kyrg challenge, so we added another $10 tonight! Now if a 5, 9 and 10 year old can cough up $10...can't you do the same???


You guys ROCK!! Can we do it? Only $570 to go...PLEASE help if you can! I have never asked for anything from any of you who have enjoyed the blog over the past 2 years...but consider me on my hands and knees begging to make this dream come true for these kids. I know not everyone will feel called to help with this, but if you have been reading the blog every day and have this niggle RIGHT NOW that maybe you could help a little bit, then please do it. We all know that John will get us plenty of photos to see the resulting smiles and joy that your $5 or $10...or $50 gift will bring. If you'd like to help but don't want to send money via the internet, contact me at and you can mail me a check and I'll get it to John.

Remember guys, one person CAN change the person CAN bring hope to others. If you were going to drop $5 in the Salvation Army bucket this week, why not send it to John instead?

And thanks from the bottom of my heart to those of you who have contributed so far. I have never met any of you in person, and I probably don't even "know" any of you via anything other than a one way ongoing conversation I have with myself here on the blog, but your generosity is so appreciated.


11-24-08 10:00 PM - OK, you guys are totally outdoing yourselves!!! Another $110 came in this afternoon and evening so we are now only $385 short of our goal of $1000! If there is anything extra than Amir's orphanage can be included...need I say more about how I'd love to see that? I know, shooting for the moon, perhaps. We were at the store today buying dinner items and the boys all looked at the pies asking "Which one do we get to throw at you, mommy?". Only Joshua was the lone dissenter, as it seems to disturb him to think of throwing a pie at my face. Not Matt and Kenny...noooooooo...they are debating the flavor and amount of whipped cream.

I wish I had made it $2000 and included Dominick as a target as well!! At least then I wouldn't feel all alone :-) It will be worth every lip smacking, eye wiping moment if you all come up with it. And John, if you are reading had BETTER get us TONS of photos!!!


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

20 Adoption Bugaboos

Ok...this is a warning...I KNOW I am going to lose some blog readers over this posting, but with Maureen's comment on the Family Tree Project about thinking she was the only one who felt sometimes we adoptive parents get a bit too sensitive over things I decided it was time to state my case. This is intended to be a bit sarcastic, humorous, snarky...whatever you want to call it...but within it is truth for me. After 10 years of being a participant in online adoption lists and talking to literally thousands of parents over the course of time, there are certain things that have always gotten under my skin. If I offend anyone, I am sorry. If you see yourself in this, I am sorry. It is my opinion and that isn't worth a hill of beans! But I am wondering if any of these little Adoption Bugaboos get on anyone else's nerves as well. So let's begin, and I have my Fire Retardant Suit for the inevitable flaming:

1) Focusing too much on "PC" language. Political correctness has its place, but to make it your mission to savagely correct any poor innocent unsuspecting soul who happens to use the words "real mom" when asking about your child's adoption or who does have the gall to ask "How much did he/she cost?" is going over the top. Personally, I also think it is unhealthy to walk around with a spirit that is laying in wait to pounce on someone for stating something in a less than ideal manner. For goodness sake, my own KIDS sometimes call their birth parents their "real" parents!! I don't take offense at that, "real" is VERY DIFFERENT from being the "present" parent, which is what we are...and I'd gladly that that over "real" any day.

2) Getting angry over every "adopt-a-something" campaign. Again, going too far folks. So what if the shelter wants to use "adopt a pet" in their advertising or if we want to "adopt a school" to keep it in good shape?? How in the world is that negating the experience of child adoption? So...why don't we just have a "adopt a kid" campaign and call it good??? Adoption = caring, nurturing. In every instance when I have seen the "adopt-a-something" phrase used it has been about exactly that, caring or nurturing something. Totally appropriate, in my ever so humble opinion. Besides, since when did adopting a child give us total control over a word??

3) "Oh you are such a saint!" - I didn't realize that my selfish desire to have a family somehow nominated me for Sainthood.

4) "I could never do what you have done!" - Oh yea you could, you just don't want to...and I am totally cool with that!!! No justification necessary, we are all called to do different things in life.

5) Adoptive Parents who present themselves as the Savior of their adopted child - Boy, that sure does make me feel good, doesn't it? Look what I took you from...everything that is familiar, everything that is all you have ever known, and I drug you halfway around the world to thrust you face first into crass commercialism, a society often short on moral values, and not only that for the REST OF YOUR LIFE you need to be filled with gratitude for what we did for you. Oh yea, and NEVER refer to your birth parents as your "real" parents or I'll really crawl down your throat!

6) "I don't know how you did it,I don't know how you handle it all, I don't know how you made it through Reactive Attachment Disorder..." - I know how, its because I am their mom...period.

7) The entire domestic adoption vs. international adoption debate - I'll put this as simply as I can: It ain't your business where my kids come from.

8) "They are SO lucky!" - How do you know? Live in my house with Dominick and I for a few weeks and you might walk away thinking otherwise. Now, every once in awhile someone speaks to us who "gets it" and I love nothing more than hearing "YOU are SO lucky!". Now THAT'S our truth.

9) The prevailing attitude of so many that every orphanage adoptee is "so screwed up". Oh yea? Maybe it is YOU who is "screwed up"!! Not every kid has RAD, not every kid hoards food, not every kid will yearn for birth parents. Quit painting adoption with such a broad brush. Trust me, I live with 3 and we have totally different experiences with each one. And NO NO NO they are NOT "all screwed up"! And yes, someone actually said that to me.

10) "How do you afford it?" - We do without. We fret and worry about finances constantly. We live differently than some (and that's a whole different post)...yea, differently...MORE HAPPILY and we trust God a whole lot more.

11) The whole "Circumcision Debate" - Should we or shouldn't we? Come on now, is this REALLY a life or death decision to have angry confrontational debates online about? And every 6 months like clockwork almost? Sheesh! Intact or not, as long as it WORKS!!!

12) "Are you babysitting?" - In this day and age why is it that so many people still can't conceive of the fact that families can "look different" and not be matched like Garanimals clothing??

13) Adoptive parents who fall in love with a photo - You've waited for years to become a parent and you get your referral, and you fall madly in love. Madly in love with what??? You've never met the child, you have no idea what their temperament is like or what their personality is like. Would you fall in love with a prospective husband that way? Someone you are going to spend the rest of your life with? Well, maybe a few would but the majority of us wouldn't. This isn't a fairy tale and you can not be truly in love with someone you have never met. Seriously "in like", well, I'll give you that one! Hahahah!

14) "Can I have a Caucasian infant girl from 2-6 months older...with no special needs, blond hair, blue eyes and a perfect birth family history." how about "Can I have a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, ketchup only, no lettuce, pickles on the side?". We aren't ordering dinner, people. I think we ALL have forgotten that somewhere along the line.

15) Overzealous Cultural Clinging - Yes, it is important that your child have a strong sense of who they are, that they feel confident and have an understanding of their birth culture. But does that mean you have to force feed them Mandarin lessons? Do you HAVE to attend "Culture Camp" or feel like your child has missed out on something? Do ALL of their friends have to be adopted from their birth country? If YOU have a fascination with the birth culture of your child, then YOU explore it in deeper ways. I am NOT saying that some of this is not important, and obviously we do it to some degree here in our home as well, but there are those that would be placed in the "baseball Dad" category of "Cultural Awareness in Adoption" because they place so much emphasis on it that their child then even sometimes feels more torn between two worlds. How about a healthy balance? And yes, I guess this means if my kids want to learn Spanish in High School instead of Russian I will be allowing them to do so.

16) Rehashing your adoption story to everyone you meet, from the grocer to the mailman - Now, don't get me wrong here, we end up chatting about adoption far more in our day to day lives than even I would like. Part of that comes from living in a less culturally diverse area (maybe we should move to wherever city has a Kazakh Town or Kyrgyz Town! Oh...wait...don't think we'll find that anywhere!! hahahaha!) so we are often asked as our difference sticks out more here than it would in a more urban area. I also go on and on and on and on here on the blog, but this is where many of you are coming to become educated yourselves. But there are people we interact with every day who only guess at what our story is but have never heard any part of it from our lips. Of course our dearest friends know just about everything and then some, but there are some adoptive parents who wear their child's adopted status and/or race difference as some sort of Badge of Goodness, and who never fail to tell anyone they can find who can't escape them all about their child and the adoption.

17) "I've adopted from XYZ country, so I am an expert." - As anyone who follows the ever changing circumstances in international adoptions knows, you can be home 10 days from your adoption trip and what you have to share suddenly becomes hopelessly outdated. Adopting 1 time...or 2 times...or 3 times...does not make you an expert. Do you know more than someone adopting for the first time? Yes, you do. Does that make you right? No, it sure doesn't. You are ONLY right for your specific experience, and every parents' journey is different, in large part due to their own world view.

18) Parents who blame their agency for things that are totally out of their control - Agencies can not control foreign governments, agencies can not control orphanage directors, agencies can not control birth parents returning for kids. Blaming them is pointless. Save the blame for the things they CAN do wrong!! hahaha!

19) Parents who forget that a child is not yours until the court documents are signed and waiting periods have expired - The sense of loss of a referral is understandable, we cling to photos and hope for months sometimes only to learn things fall apart. However, the anger over it is inexcusable. These are NOT our children, and if a birth family comes back and can care for a child, Hallelujah!! If a child is adopted by another couple who is paper ready first, then that child was not meant to be yours. I do not understand laying claim to a child and then having a hissy fit afterwards when something good happens for that child that just happens not to include you.

20) Adoptive parents who speak negatively of their child's birth country in front of their child - Notice I don't say "honestly", but there is a difference between saying "the poverty there was so sad" to saying "the place was a dump! The streets were filthy, the people were rude..." etc. Or sometimes people will do Item #15 on the list and subject their child to all kinds of "cultural connections", and then say not a kind word about the actual experience in country!! Sharing what you saw while trying to place it in a positive light is important, while traveling look for the happy things, the beautiful, the sacred in what you see and share that. And don't hesitate to share the poverty, the sadness, the true circumstances...just remember that much of your child's self-worth is derived from figuring out who they are and where they came from.

Whew! That felt GOOD!!! hahahaha! Now, flame away if you'd like...or take a humorous look yourself at the things that annoy you and post a comment about it. I'd love to see what Bugaboos stick in your craw!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It Finally Happened, The Dreaded "Family Tree"

This morning when I volunteered in Matthew's class as I do many mornings, his teacher talked to me about the project he was sending home with the kids. This was not as a "heads up" for us, but just discussing as we often do what is going on in class during the times I am not there. I was so glad that his teacher approached this in such a matter of fact, no big deal way. It told me that he sees as us no different than any other family, which frankly I appreciated.

Mr. T informed me that he was having the kids all do a Family Tree tonight, as their latest reading assignment was a story about becoming a new citizen. We have many immigrant children in our school, and it was a great opportunity to share their diverse backgrounds.

All these years I have been participating in adoption groups online, I have read many differing perspectives on these projects. I am always a bit taken aback by just how many adoptive parents are disturbed by this, by how many feel that it is insensitive to the adoptee. I have actually read of very few parents who are not in some way or another troubled by a family tree, and many who inevitably make it a far bigger deal than their children ever would.

Sometimes we forget that our own issues can be projected onto our children, and create something where at first there existed nothing. Our own insecurities and insistence that we are indeed the "real parents" can come exploding out with an assignment such as this. I made a conscious decision early on when reading of the angst of so many parents that this was just not something that should ever be a major issue in our house, that, in the words of our church, "our diversity unites us".

After all, when you think about it, how many of us who were NOT adopted don't know our complete family history? How many of us have no idea what ethnicity or blend of races we really are? How many of us have "blanks" in our own trees?? So tell me again why our kids adoptive family trees are such a big deal? I know, I know...I am just an insensitive buffoon of a mother, and I readily agree to that. In our home we tend to take a humorous approach to many things, and this is just another one of those areas where we are the same way. Drama is not a major player in our house (I know as I write this with girls on the way that I WILL eat those words, so no one need snicker as they read it...I am enjoying a Drama Free Zone while I can! hahahaha!).

And maybe it is because we have had enough real tough pills to swallow over the years as we have delved deeply into the pain and loss of adoption that we don't need to add unnecessarily to it.

Matthew came home and was quite interested in doing it, and in fact wanted to make a bigger version than what was assigned so he did the single sheet paper one then asked if we had anything that would work to create a larger version. I happened to have some leftover black posterboard and just got some silver and gold markers at the dollar store for no particular reason other than I thought they were cool, so we were all set to make his Big Family Tree!!

We pulled out Grandpa Rock's family album, the one he made for me just a few months before he passed away. There, neatly outlined for us, was his family tree all the way back 4 generations to Germany. We filled in spaces for Grandma Alice and her parents, for Dominick's parents and Italian grandparents. As we looked through Grandpa Rock's album we saw photos of him as a child and in uniform while serving in the Korean war. I thought to myself that I bet he never would have imagined having Asian grandchildren, and yet I know how he would have adored them. We looked at photos of Grandma Alice as a child and all three boys instantly said it was me before I could reveal it was her, so there must be a strong family resemblance.

I then went and got Matthew's adoption documents and found the names of his birth parents, which we are certain were created for the sole purpose of making birth certificates as he was abandoned at the hospital and we were told that his birth mom entered under a false name, which is very common in Kazakhstan for an out-of-wedlock birth. But we added those names anyway, as it is all we have and those names are at the very least a symbol for his birth parents, and I feel that not acknowledging them in some way is disrespectful and an attempt to rewrite a history that is not mine to rewrite. He also wrote on it both of his names...his birth name and his adoptive name.

When done adding all the names, Matthew added some flourishes and I suggested maybe putting flags on there from all the countries our family represents, which he thought was a great idea so I printed them out and handed them to him to add to the tree.

When he had finished it, we stood back and looked at it and determined he was happy with the end result. He is excited to take it to school tomorrow, and I will be interested to see how the other kids react to it.

As he was working on his project, Joshua asked if he could have some of that cool board to draw something too, so I gave him an extra piece and he drew a volcano and himself climbing up a mountain nearby, and he wrote his name and "I am 5" on it. He was quite pleased with his own masterpiece, and then it was bedtime so they all went to bed. It wasn't 2 minutes later when Josh came out and begged to write just one more thing on his picture. I could tell it was important to him and he said he would be fast so he went and got the silver pen, flipped over his picture and then looked up at me and asked " do you spell my first name before you 'dopted me?". That was a first for us with him, so I slowly told him how to spell it "Alem Bulatovich Sahtanov" which he slowly wrote in a run-on fashion, and then quite matter-of-factly marched back to bed.

God's timing is so funny, as just this evening after Scouts I ended up in a long conversation with a couple of our moms about the boys, the girls, their adoptions, etc. We talked about how every kid has their own issues to deal with, and ours just happen to be different than most. The things we deal with are far afield of what many families have to handle, but that doesn't make our struggles and issues more important than someone else's, it just makes it different. Most of the families we know don't deal on a daily basis with race, abandonment, and unknown histories to the degree that we do. But they may have to explain divorce, drug abuse or other things. No one has a "Leave It To Beaver" life. OK, so maybe SOMEONE does, but no one I know of.

And yet when I look at our life, for all it's failings, mishaps and challenges, it actually DOES feel a bit like a perfect sitcom. We have a laugh track created by all of us, we always seem to have some sort of minor dilemma (and may they always be minor), and we have some zany characters who occasionally let us see the deeper, more emotional side.

I always wonder though why it is that we, as human beings, have this need to pigeon hole ourselves into categories. Why can't we see that we are not all one thing or all another, but are ALL a blend of so many things? What is so uncomfortable about being "undefined"? If I can give my kids anything, I hope I can provide them with the security to see all that they and everyone else they know are. I would hope that they grow up to look at someone and take it all in, rather than instantly placing them in some arbitrary category because that is the easiest "fit". Like a "soda pop suicide" where a kid walks up to the fountain drink dispenser and fills his 32 oz. cup with a little bit of every single variety available, why can't we do the same as we view people?

Sitting here looking across the room at the gold and silver Family Tree propped up to remind Matt to take it in tomorrow, I see misspellings and crooked lines, I see unpolished script. I also see a real family, I see flags of many nations, I see an exuberant acceptance of all that Matthew is, both by blood and by adoption. Others may make a distinction for him between bio and adoptive family, others may try to place him in the "immigrant" category or the "Asian" category or the "adopted" category, but he just sees "Family".

And that is what it is all about.

It's Monumental...

I had a strong reminder today of how important the human connection is, of how we can have an impact on others people's lives in the little things and in little ways...and those are often the most important. We sometimes forget that every little thing we say and do has a ripple effect. It is in the smile you give someone you pass in the hallway at school, it is in the courtesy you show someone trying to make a turn on the road and being constantly "cut off", it is in the thoughtful, encouraging word said to someone just when they needed it.

Our family has had the unique blessing of having some pretty amazing and incredible people touch our lives who have left (and continue to leave) enormous footprints on our hearts. For all the negative things that happen, for all the less-than-pleasant relationships we have all endured, we all often fail to focus on the good stuff, on the rich and rewarding friendships that add so much to our lives. We don't always take the time to offer ourselves up for friendship, to be willing to "put ourselves out" for our friends, and then we wonder why we are standing all alone. I am so honored to think of the wonderful people who make up our life, my fellow mommy friends who are dear to my heart and with whom we are watching our children grow up together, my mentor friends who lead me when I need leading, who listen when I need an ear to hear, and who show me so much about growing up myself.
I also love all the people who contribute to our children's lives, who show them things that we can't, who teach them things we don't know how to teach, who add to their lives in a million little ways. Wonderful teachers, adult friends, teen aged role models, all have had an impact and left their mark...and probably never realize just how big that mark is.

This weekend we went with a dear couple who are friends of ours who suggested we take a trip to the Colorado National Monument together. Kenny had never seen it before, and Joshua was too little to remember it the last time we were there. Matthew had a vague memory of it. We all packed a picnic lunch and went exploring, and what a great time we had! The temperature was perfect, crisp and cool but not yet truly cold. While we didn't see much in the way of wildlife, we saw rocks....big ones and little ones, red ones and sandy ones, climbing ones and smooth ones. Basically, yes, it was any boys dream!! For those of you who have never been to the Monument, which I would assume is most of you, it is a beautiful landscape to see with rock formations that are astounding and ever changing.

The boys had a blast! The terrain is far different than where we live, despite the fact that it is a a mere hour or so away from us. We see it from afar during our monthly trips to Grand Junction but just have never taken the time to explore it before. The Visitors Center there has a Junior Ranger Backpack Program where you borrow a backpack filled with interesting goodies for the boys to use, then return later. The binoculars were a huge hit.

I was struck by a couple of things though, one being that I think one reason sometimes our kids tend to become a little jaded in this artificial world of force fed media and false, plastic-like images of supposed "stars" is that they seldom grasp the fact that there really IS something out there far greater than ourselves, that our worries and cares are relatively insignificant in contrast to the Greatness and Power of God. Driving the meandering road through the Monument or standing on the edge of a great abyss, our "smallness" becomes quite apparent, and the "oohhhs" and "aahhs" let me know that the boys were all gaining an understanding of something larger than themselves.

The second thing that I was reminded of was how we often don't see for ourselves how we can change the world for others. For someone to request to spend time with us and our children, for someone to want to be with us, for someone to say "good job" or "That's exactly right!" and offer encouragement...well, that nourishes the soul. And children's souls need much nourishment to flourish. I once thought that Hilary Clinton's book "It Takes a Village" was a total joke, that it somehow took away from the concept of parental authority and tried to allow others to "sneak in" and take over the raising of our children. As a parent I now see that in the light of truth that it casts. Others ARE important in my children's lives, Dominick and I could NEVER give them all that they need to become well rounded people, the contributions of others really IS a gift. I am so glad I learned that lesson, as I think of all the phenomenal people, young and old alike, who have helped our children become the little people they are today and I am grateful beyond words. I try to repay that gratitude as I can by also being that contributing person in another child's life by volunteering in the classroom as often as I can, by being a Scout Leader, by just sitting and talking to a young person about life and what it all means.

As each of the layers of rock and sediment stack upon one another to create a glorious landscape of postcard perfection, so too do the layers of relationships and input of others in our lives create a Monument out of each of us.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Birthday Aftermath

The Kyrgyz Squat

Kenny had a terrific birthday, even though it was relatively low key. We took our three plus three other friends bowling, then back to our house for pizza and cake...and of course presents. We adults shared in the celebration with some adult friends as well who are close to our family and Kenny, and we ended up having a really nice time with everyone, visiting and enjoying the kids.

It was great to watch Kenny this year with his gifts. While he was definitely VERY excited, we had a long talk ahead of time about trying to be more careful now and not going crazy and opening everything up all at once, losing parts and then having toys that couldn't be played with. That happened with at least 3 or 4 gifts last birthday and Christmas, and we let it go realizing how new all of this was and that his need to touch, feel and experience it all was ultimately more important than the toy itself. But now he is a bit more mature and we wanted to make sure that what he got remained something he could play with for awhile rather than having game pieces end up inadvertently thrown away or mixed up with another game and lost forever.

He did a great job...and so did everyone else! We have struggled this past year in the whole "gift buying" arena, as his developmental needs dictated that he have toys that were much younger than he is, and that was what he made a beeline for at the store (and still does, actually!). However, his cognitive skills are well at or above his developmental age level, and so those toys that captured his attention first only held it for a short time, then he was left with nothing to really play with long term. He flitted so much from one thing to the next, in a way that is hard to describe as it was not at all a lack of attention span, just another way of him showing this dichotomy of being 4 years old one minuter and 12 the next...we almost NEVER see a full on 9 or 10 year old boy, which believe me can keep my brain humming as I try to keep up with who he is at any given moment! Even at the bowling alley, he ended up playing with Joshie (5 years old) and Joshie's buddy who Kenny also adores who is the same age rather than the boys from his class...he preferred at the moment to play imaginary super heroes than to hang with his friends! Luckily they are really nice boys and it didn't bother them at all as then Matthew was close enough in age to be their playmate for the time that Kenny was a 5 year old :-)

I know we are not the only parents of older adopted kids who struggle with such things, and we were very pleased this time around though to find that Kenny was far more focused on his gifts, and they all seemed quite appropriate for his age/developmental level. I have been secretly disappointed in myself this past year at not being able to key in on things that would work well for him, but I also let myself on the hook when I realized that a difficult task that is at times. A few days before his birthday I sat him down with a toy catalog and asked him to show me the kinds of toys that most interested him. He gave me a few ideas...some from all age categories, many of which most 10 year old boys would have nothing to do with...but he did seem to be fascinated with magic kits and science kits, things that were really interactive. He also loves cooking in the kitchen with me, and had expressed a strong interest in this new kind of robot called a "tribot" which is read and wheels around on three wheels. I gave others asking us what he would like hints about what direction he was going and their thoughtful gift selections really showed. Our "adopted grandparents" got him a FANTASTIC cookbook for kids and then created a cover overlay for it that said "Kenny's Cookbook" and took a picture from the blog and added it. Kenny got a huge kick out of it, and actually looked at it several times over the weekend...for those with adopted kids learning English at about this level it is a perfect book to work with as it has drawings of every single item needed...not just ingredients...and Kenny reading at about a 1st grade level could sound out many of the words and figure it out from the drawings. The book is "Paula Deen's My First Cookbook" and it would make for some GREAT bonding times in the kitchen as your child tried to figure out how to make some very good recipes with a little help from mom or dad but being able to partially figure it out themselves, giving them a little independence in the project. Kenny also got a magic set, and some sort of Alien Making Factory which makes little plastic aliens. Of course, the ever present Nerf Gun gift was also a huge hit, as it is for ANY boy around this age.

We looked at the Tribot but couldn't afford it, as it was $100, but as we were looking found another robot which was FAR cooler than the Tribot (which seems to be this years "it" toy) called a grabs, it even farts and burps...yes folks, we DO have boys and they LOVED those features, gross though they may be. This robot was half the price, did far more, and I had a sneaking feeling it might be exactly up Kenny's alley. Wow, did we score on this one...and for the first time as Kenny's mom I felt I truly gave him something (other than love, of course) that he was thrilled with. I must admit, after feeling like a bit of a "loser" in the gift department, it was nice to think I made a good decision this time.

After all the excitement died down and all our guests left, Kenny and I sat on the couch and talked about his birthday, and the conversation turned deeper than I expected. We spoke about how he did much better this time with not losing things, even keeping his friends and brothers from opening everything up and spreading it all around. He talked about how his first birthday everything was so new and he didn't know what to play with, how exciting it was but how much better this birthday felt to him. I think he too has enjoyed settling in. We then talked about how we were all finally feeling as if we knew each other very well, and that he himself knew more what he liked and disliked now. He told me "Momma, how you know exactly what I want this year? I didn't know about this cool's different than the other one I said I you know I like this one better?". I told him "Because I am your mom, and we finally know each other really, really well. It takes time, Kenny, to get to know someone and it took a long time for you to get to know your new life too.". He sat there and thought for a moment then said "I think your the best mom in the whole world, you know what I like even if I never see it before!". I, of course replied "Well it's about TIME you figured out I was the best mom in the whole world!! hahaha!" and that was met with a huge grin.

I think what I loved most about the evening aside from Kenny's obvious joy was something more subtle, and that was how happy Matthew and Joshie were too about the day. There was no jealousy as he opened his gifts, there were excited squeals as he got something they knew would be totally "cool" to play with, neither of them had to be the center of attention and take away from Kenny's special day. They really were just as excited as Kenny was, and Kenny, in turn didn't want them left out of a single thing. In fact, when I took cupcakes to his class earlier in the afternoon, there were a few extra and he asked his teacher if he could go give one to each of his brothers, which he did. That thoughtfulness and joy they share with one another is so unique, so special, and I feel like a privileged observer as I see them with one another. Sure, they have their moments as all kids do, and they have disagreements once in awhile, but overall I am so thankful to have sons with such kind hearts.

So, Kenny's 2nd birthday has come and gone, and we now have Christmas and Joshie's to look forward to. I admit that seeing the number "10" on the cake made me feel a bit sad, as our children are growing up far too quickly for my liking, but of that I have no control and I am trying to squeeze every drop of enjoyment out of each day, as they sure don't remain children forever.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Some Real Heroes

I was surprised to receive my latest email edition of Dr. Boris Gindis' newsletter (a real helpful resource for parents of older adopted children) to find that A) It addressed the very issue I was trying to get across to Kenny's teachers recently...that his verbal skills are not indicative of his written/reading skills and B) That one of my own recent blog posts about the controversial article about international adoption was linked within the newsletter! To think that anything I have ever written would be considered worthy of linking by someone like Dr. Gindis and his staff is a real honor. You can find them at the link on the left hand side of the blog.

I checked out the other link though that led me to a web site which touched me to the core. There is a web site dedicated to the adoption of children with Down's Syndrome, they advocate and educate in the hopes of finding homes for children that in most countries are institutionalized for life and here in the US have a chance at having a productive and happy future. The web site is .

I checked out the web site and found a page that highlighted the children who have come home and their families. These are some real heroes, these are the families that are extraordinary: . You have to go and see this for yourself, and if you don't find yourself in awe of the love exhibited there, then you must need a heart transplant. There are links to many family blogs, which no doubt will provide you with many hours of reading enjoyment. I have yet to hit more than a couple of them, but will slowly read them all as I have time.

I will post pictures of Kenny's birthday later this week. Thanks to all who wished him a Happy Birthday!

Have a Happy Sunday!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Happy 2nd Birthday Kenny!

On this, my 350th blog post, I think it is most appropriate that this one be just for Kenny, who was the reason the blog was created:

My Dearest Son,

Today we have the privilege of being with you as you reach another milestone...your tenth birthday! Your excitement and enthusiasm for this special day which you have only celebrated once before is contagious and over the past couple of days the entire family has felt a bit of anticipation along with you. Even yesterday as we were walking out of school Matthew said "I can't wait for tomorrow!" and I asked "Why?" wondering what I had not remembered that was on his schedule and he exclaimed "Its Kenny's Birthday, Mommy!".

You have also officially been with us a year and a half now, and I wonder what we ever did without you! You have added a spirit of dynamic optimism that is now ever-present, along with a work ethic that rivals your Dad's.

Much has been asked of a very young boy, you were uprooted from all that was familiar and transplanted into a new culture and a new life, one that you had no idea how to negotiate but somehow managed to do so in spectacular fashion. In case you can't tell, Kenny, my admiration for you knows no bounds.

It can not have been easy, and there must have been times when I was unaware of just how difficult it was. There are still moments that are extremely hard,for you are not a finished product. Neither am I :-) My compassion for your struggles and challenges had to be curbed, for although you have been showered with affection, with great BIG bear hugs and bedtime kisses (Ok...and good morning kisses...and "just because" kisses, you know us we are an affectionate family!), I have sensed all along that what you needed most from me was not an overdose of empathy and concern for your battles, but a vision of strength from which to draw on when the going got tough. You needed and continue to need to see the confidence Daddy and I both have in your abilities so you can trust that one day what once seemed monumental will begin to seem minuscule. As you progress rapidly through grades at school that you never were able to experience, I see that confidence slowly growing. We are enormously proud of you, Kenny.

What I love most is now that we are at the year and a half mark home, we find ourselves laughing at where you started at and at the lessons you learned. It is you who seem to get the biggest kick out of bringing up the time when you tried to fake being sick at school and Mommy felt "so bad" for you that you had to lay in bed ALL DAY instead of watch TV and play, which was what you thought you'd get out of tricking us! Hahahaha! It is you who is pointing out how you rarely lie anymore as you did quite a bit over silly things when you first came home. And it is you whose face lights up as you realize you have read an entire Dr. Seuss book with almost no help. Your delight in your progress and your insight into just how far you have come speaks to your growing maturity.

Kenny, you have quite a year ahead of you. I have a feeling you will be confronting many demons as we launch into what will be the first of many surgeries and as we have the incredible opportunity to travel overseas together to wrap our arms around two more equally courageous children. I wonder what emotions that might bring up for you, I wonder how you will view your former life as it contrasts with your new American family life. I also know you will be a role model of successful transition for your new sisters, and you will be able to offer them valuable insight and understanding as they find themselves walking in your shoes. I couldn't ask for anyone to be a better role model than you.

We love you so much Kenny. All of us are blessed with your presence in our family, and I often get the odd feeling that I am having the chance to view what it must have been like to raise your Daddy, as so many of your personality characteristics remind me of him!

:::We interrupt this love letter for the real thing, as you just bounced in, all dressed, your beloved blankie in your arms, with the biggest grin on your face in anticipation for the coming happy day. You snuggled with me, and pulled away, then snuggled back in for a bit longer, as if you could remain glued next to me all day long. Your openness to love and your willingness to express it so easily is one of my favorite things about you.:::

Happy Birthday, My Dear, Sweet Kenny-Kenny! May your day be as wonderful as you are imagining it to be, may it be perfect in every way for you. And may you always know how deeply you are loved, how God has watched over you from the day of your birth. I can't help but wonder what amazing things you will end up doing someday, for there is no doubt in my mind at all that you are destined for the extraordinary. Daddy and I will do our best to help you get there!!!

Forever Love, Hugs and Kisses,


Who hopes she doesn't land on her bottom while bowling!!!