Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Symbol of Faith

Introducing...The Big Bomber!!
Today was a big day for us...after months of searching, of bidding on Ebay and combing through Craig's List, we adopted a new family member!! As we anticipate the new additions to our family, we realized that our current transportation might not always be adequate. We have 2 minivans...our "old" one which has over 200,000 miles on it and which we actually don't have a clue HOW many miles that is as the odometer/speedometer quite working years ago...and our "new" minivan which is not that old but has over 70,000 on it already thanks to my winter commutes. But these vans seat 7 and while that will accommodate our final family size (and yes, it WILL be our final family size!!) it doesn't allow us to ever haul along friends anywhere which is something we do quite frequently and we also will not be able to load much else other than people, so our Sam's Club runs an hour away would require 2 cars...camping would require 2 cars...driving our kids to summer camp would require two are getting the idea.

So we have spent months debating the merits of a larger van. Is it a true need or a want? Is there any way at all to find something affordable that is not total junk and a waste of money? With Cub Scouts and church outings included, would we use it enough to justify the expense or should we stick with taking 2 cars when necessary? What kind of vehicle is needed...a Suburban which would add a little more cargo space and one more passenger, or were we going to go for the gusto and think large 15 passenger van?

The ironic thing of all of this, and another lesson in "never say never" is that over the past couple of years as we have shared our adoption plans to add 2 more children to our family I have half jokingly said "Then we will be done, as our minivan can't hold anymore!" and had the quick response from others that "You can always get a 15 passenger van!" to which I just laughed and said "No way!".

As we examined the amount of use a larger van might potentially get, and the costs of purchasing one we decided that we would seriously look for one, but it would have to be old but functional and very, very inexpensive. We knew that finding something that wasn't a total wreck would be almost impossible but figured we'd just keep looking and if this was something God wanted in our life we would find the right deal that wouldn't scare us because of poor condition or high cost.

This week, we found it! We almost couldn't believe it when we saw the ad on Craig's List and then called on it...a 1987 van with only 106,000 miles on it...and the best part was it was only $900. Turns out this van had been owned by 2 different churches over the past 20 years, and had been driven infrequently yet regular maintenance had been performed...oil changes and driving it a little during down time so it wasn't sitting too long without at least being fired up. It is a 22 year old van, it is not pretty and it is a little worse for the wear, but this was a real answer to prayer for us and will fit our needs beautifully. A little carpeting, some seat covers and some elbow grease and it will be presentable and should last us a long time as these vans are known to go 200,000+ miles easily. As this will not be our daily driver, that would take us 15 years to put on it!

In the process of our purchase, the pastor and his wife who were selling it learned the details of why we needed such a large vehicle, and he told us they were thrilled that it was going to fulfill a need for us. In a touching send off, our family along with he and his wife joined hand in hand in a circle as he prayed for our family, and that the van would meet our needs well into the future and always keep us safe. Wouldn't it be nice if all transactions ended like that?

As I followed behind Dominick as he drove it home, I realized this was more than an answer to prayer, it was a symbol of faith on our part. It is a symbol revisited, actually, as we also had a vehicle purchase as a symbol of faith 10 years ago. You see, I am not one of the more "girlie" mom's you will find...I didn't buy tons of baby clothes when we were expecting, I didn't do a bang up job on preparing a nursery as so many wonderful moms do. I am more practical I guess, and so is Dominick. When we had started the adoption process for Matthew, our first child, I got a call one Saturday morning from Dominick who had unexpectedly stopped off at a car dealer and suddenly wanted me to come down and take a look at a used minivan he had found. We had never discussed a minivan, and here he was calling me out of the blue begging me to come down as he excitedly said "But Cindy, it has an integrated child seat built right in! This would be perfect for us!". It was his way of preparing for the beginning of our family, it was a symbol of impending fatherhood, and it was so unlike him to do anything this impulsive that I immediately understood how important this was to was "male nesting syndrome".

It was also a symbol of faith that we would indeed one day soon be welcoming home our first child, even if it all seemed a little scary and out of reach at the time.

I drove around in that minivan for months pre-adoption, feeling like a complete idiot with just myself at the wheel. While we certainly used it for business for hauling supplies, it just felt awkward trying on this new persona while no one knew why we might ever really need a minivan as there were no children in sight and no obvious pregnancy either.

The day eventually came when I looked into that rear view mirror and saw Matt's round little face grinning back at me, and the symbol became a precious reality...and with each addition the van felt a little fuller as it became packed with my own children and other's. And I no longer felt like an idiot, I was vindicated in an odd sort of way.

Today, driving behind our new "Big Bomber" I realized this was a big leap of faith on our part, another symbol that reminded us that God keeps His promises and thus we will keep ours to be faithful. We know God has dictated that our daughters will come home, and despite the constant delays, frustration, and momentary lapses in trust, we ultimately do believe they will be coming home. This large, ugly-yet-oh-so-practical symbol has great meaning for us, it is us taking God at His word and acting on faith. For many a $900 purchase would be a drop in the bucket, for us it requires prayer and a good night's sleep before spending that kind of money. But we quickly came to the conclusion that we are going to act on the promise made to us, that we are going to continue to have faith and Believe with a capital "B".

As it sits in our yard, largely unused for the time being, I will occasionally glance at it and remind myself to be faithful, to strongly grasp on to hope. And one day in the not-so-distant future I just might be driving that van and look up into that rear view mirror at 5 smiling faces staring back at me along with friends and bikes and Lord knows what all else.

I can only symbol of faith, our symbol of virtual "pregnancy". We are, after all, the LaJoy family...and a boring old big belly would never suffice for our strange little gang! (Whom, by the way, we have all agreed should now be named IHOF - International House of Fruitcakes! Hahaha! I joked about that and had the kids rolling on the floor with laughter!)

So here's to "The Big Bomber"! May she soon be filled!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Look What I Did!!

One of the only things I have ever regretted about waiting so long for our family to be formed was that our sons have not had the benefit of having grandfathers. My Dad passed away when I was 25 and Dominick's Dad passed the year Joshie came home. We also live far away from grandma's, aunts and uncles, leaving us pretty much on our own in many ways. However, we have been incredibly blessed to have others step in and fill the shoes of those who unfortunately can not be near us.

The boys had wanted to learn more about working with tools and making things this summer, so one of our close friends offered to open "Mr. Steve's Woodworking School" just for them! They have already learned quite a lot, Joshie is adept at using a measuring tape, Kenny informed me today that you are not supposed to sand against the grain, and Matthew has developed a love of the older style drills! He even said he prefers it over a power drill!

Mr. Steve is helping the boys build a couple of their Cub Scout projects, so Matthew and Kenny are working on two different kinds of tool boxes and Joshie is making a bird house which I was secretly told is for me and I am not supposed to know what it is :-) One morning each week this summer the boys have been mentored by this wonderful man...who clearly has to be quite courageous to take on 3 young boys at one time in a wood shop! They eagerly look forward to this more than just about anything they have done, and I am not sure if it is the woodworking or the companionship of an interested elder that means the most. We are very, very grateful for the many people who have contributed to the raising of our children. God has clearly sent us some very special folks to fill the gaps.

This is going to be a photo heavy post, so I apologize, but we have another story to tell that piggy backs on this one, and I had several photos I liked from this afternoon so I am posting them for our own enjoyment...sorry to bore you with them!

The rest of the story is about a poor little red wagon. This little red wagon has served us well, and was a gift from Grandma Alice long, long ago when Matthew was but a wee tyke of 2. It has hauled coolers, firewood, plants, and dirt. It has been used and abused, and for awhile now we have wanted to do something about it...we wanted to show it some love. Today, it got an Extreme Makeover!

Here is our little red wagon, looking as if it has been unloved (or maybe too well loved!). Stay tuned and keep reading, as you will watch it's transformation! By the way, don't you totally dig Joshie's beloved blankie wrapped around him like the Red Baron's scarf? That thing goes EVERYWHERE with him! Raggedy old thing...

They sanded...

And sanded...

And sanded some more!!

And Mom was touched to realize that those once little hands are not so little anymore, and are becoming stronger and more capable with each passing day. One day those hands will be doing great things in this world, and will hopefully will be used in acts of kindness for many others.

Then Joshie got bored and wanted to play truck driver on the riding lawn mower...

While the Big Boys worked diligently.

Then they painted...

While Josh "supervised"!

Then "Team LaJoy" pulled together, "supervisors" rolled up their sleeves, and they got to work varnishing the wagon bed! This was their favorite part...

And, the big "Reveal"....Drum Roll Please::::::brrrr:::::brrrrrr:::::::brrrrr:::::

TAAA DAAA!!!!! It's not perfect, the varnish could have used more coats I suppose, the paint too, but they did it all by themselves, and they are very proud.

One of the hardest things I have had to learn as a mom is when to let go of perfection, in all areas. After all, I had many kidless years before Matthew came along! Everything in it's place, nothing much to pick up but our own stuff. But I have learned that it's OK for the house to be messy sometimes, it's OK for the boys to be filthy sometimes, it's OK if the best laid plans fall apart as long as everyone is relaxed and having a good time, it's OK to have the boys help with touch up paint on the house and end up with yellow blotches everywhere for years on the patio as long as it wasn't intentional. It's OK, because this is how they learn, and someday the standard will come up, the bar will be raised...and they will easily be able to meet it because they practiced and someone wasn't nagging them telling them it wasn't OK. They'll have confidence to try the next thing, they will discover what they are good at and what they enjoy.

And when Dominick came home today, they couldn't wait to say "Look What I Did!".

That's what it's all about!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dear Birth Mom - From Joshua

I have debated internally about this post for a few days, and finally came to the conclusion that I would go ahead and share. Over the years I have had hundreds of emails from parents who are struggling somewhere on the attachment continuum with their children and they have somehow found us and drawn comfort and understanding from this blog and other online posts I have made in group settings.

But what I want you each to understand, before going any further, is that this is my treasured son's heart I am exposing here...and he has been given no choice in the matter. I have let God lead in all of this, in keeping our blog public with real names, in openly sharing what goes on in our lives that is adoption or faith oriented (how can I possibly separate the two?). It seems that having a real name and real faces somehow makes this blog more powerful. We are not hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, despite my reservations at moments. But I think of the moms and dads out there whose tears fall on their pillows at night as they feel utterly alone and rejected by the child they so desperately wanted and I hope something that we discuss here is helpful, if only to keep those parents "in the game" and feeling less alone. It can be terribly hard to go back hour after hour to face an angry, screaming child who wants nothing to do with you. Hearts on both sides of the relationship are battered and bruised. If even one parent will continue to hang in there with their broken child because of us being open here about how hard it can be...and how healing can occur, then any public ridicule or judgment about our decision to post the more intimate side of our family life is worth it.

I don't have the answers, I have tried a million things that have failed to find one or two that work. We are in the midst right now of a regression of sorts, or maybe a "re-processing" of attachment issues is more appropriate to call it. Josh seems conflicted and extremely insecure right now, but it is far easier to handle in some ways than in infancy because there words for emotions now, there is the ability to think things through and to share them, if only his heart will allow it.

I tried something new the other day. We have done some writing projects over the summer and I throw out a topic and have them write about it. I wanted to try something with Josh and decided not to single him out, so I asked all 3 boys to write a letter to their birth parents. I told them to say anything they wanted to, to feel free to ask anything they were curious about, and to remember that they could say whatever they wanted without fear of hurting someones feelings because their birth parents would never read it.

All three were surprised at the topic but started writing more quickly than they ever had on any other project. I did not help or offer suggestions, I just told them to write and we'd correct it later. Here was Joshie's:

I know you can not read it, so I asked him to read it to me and I wrote down what he said:

Dear Birth Mom and Dad,

Were you too young to take care of a baby? Why did you leave me behind a building? What did you look like Birth Mom? My life is good with my new mom and dad. Did I have any brothers or sisters? Did I?

I love you from Alem Bulatovich Sahtanov

When I asked Josh "Are you mad at her?" he said calmly and kindly "No, because I know she didn't do it on purpose and she had a reason."

There were a couple of things that surprised me...

1) He signed with his birth name with no prompting from me...he recognizes at 6 years old that he was known by another name, that he had another life, that his birth parents would only know him by that name.

2) He understands that there are logical, rational reasons his birth parents may not have been able to keep him, regardless of how right or wrong that may be in his mind.

3) I thought it was an interesting use of words to say "new parents", as if all of this was still fresh and happened weeks ago rather than 5 years ago. Does that speak to not knowing exactly how to frame his two lives with words? Or does it instead indicate that his internal pain feels as if all of this was still recent, that he has not sufficiently put enough distance between then and now?

4) "I love you...". I am not at all surprised that my dear, sweet son would express love to his birth parents, regardless of how he has felt wronged by their actions. That is the epitome of forgiveness, and I think that he probably really does love them in his heart, even if that love is mixed with anger and heartbreak at times. Many of us have experienced love/hate relationships in our lives and often those are the relationships that provoke the strongest emotional response from us.

I have let the letters sit quietly on the coffee table for several days, it seemed to help a lot that all 3 wrote to their birth parents and so Josh didn't feel the spotlight was suddenly on him. I think our next step will be making little books about what we think our early life was like, with words and pictures.

I find it kind of odd that with all 3 of my sons, I have never really pictured in my mind what their birth parents look like. I have had very little angst over the whole issue, and would welcome the chance to meet any of them although odds are slim to none that would ever happen. I am not much of a dreamer, I have always approached things quite matter of factly, even my faith is...for me...a logical conclusion to have come to. God exists, I can't deny it, I have seen and felt and heard God for far too long to pretend that is not true. I may not have all the answers, I may intellectually struggle with certain issues, but the existence of God is fact. Just as the existence of birth parents is fact, and sadly we will likely never know anything about them. Accept what is fact and move on, I guess is how I have approached many things in my life.

But each of my son's emotional make up is different, Josh can not seem to move on although he understands the facts. Somehow we need to come up with ways he can live with it all and feel whole and safe. I have no idea right now how we might accomplish this, but as we always have we will try many things...most of which will not work...and find the one or two that do work.

No matter what anyone says, you can not "love them out of it". Love does not conquer all. I have to laugh at moments as parenting these unique boys of ours has been the single greatest intellectual challenge of my life. I never imagined the thousands of hours of adoption and parenting research that would go into bringing our kids home and learning how to best help them as they sort out their lives and take the steps towards becoming the people they are today. Prior to actually becoming a parent, I never envisioned the education necessary, I too was of the mindset that love was what it was all about. Well, in our case, REAL love means putting that love into action and pursuing every avenue to parent as well as we can. Sometimes, admittedly, that is not all that great...but we do the best we can with the skills we have and the circumstances we find ourselves in. Surely 20 years from now we will see many, many things we could have done differently and might end up kicking ourselves several times over for mistakes we are unknowingly making.

And maybe, even taking all those mistakes into account, Josh will one day write in his letters to me "I love you Mom", showering me with his incredible forgiveness and repeating again "...I know she didn't do it on purpose and she had a reason.".

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I have a couple of friends who are amazing gardeners. They use containers and raised beds and their backyard landscapes look like something out of "House Beautiful". Even Dominick has his vegetable garden out in large stock tanks in our backyard. Everywhere I look there is life, there is beauty, there are those who have the proverbial "Green Thumb" which I have always lacked. Oh, there is the ocassional house plant I have been able to keep alive for a year or more, there are geraniums which have lasted an entire season every once in awhile. But no one would ever call me a gardener, no, in fact those who know me well would laugh at the notion! I have even often joked about how amazing it is that my children have lived through being parented by me since I have no skill at all in keeping plants or goldfish alive! Glad our Social Workers have never used that as a guideline for approval.

Is it that I don't lavish enough love on them? Maybe...or it could be that I offer too much by over watering. I don't have the knack for pinching off dead flowers to encourage more blossoms, I don't know how much to fertilize, and frankly, if I am being honest, oftentimes I will walk right by them for days on end paying them no attention. Those gorgeous pots that I lovingly selected at the nursery a couple of months ago remain unnoticed in the busyness of my everyday life. I guess the fact is, that as much as I envy others for their gifts of gardening, as much as I would love to be surrounded by beautiful blossoms and fragrant just isn't important enough to me to make the effort. And that's the God's Honest Truth. I don't like admitting it, it makes me sound lazy and careless, but it still remains true.

But the other day as I was driving home from one of those gardner friend's homes, I was struck by something. We all have gardens we tend, they just might not look like a living Monet painting. My garden is different, yet ever so important. You don't enter my garden through an adorable white picket fence, and the blooms may not look very traditional, but it is nurtured and tended with great love. My garden is my family, my blossoms are my husband and children, the gate to my picket fence is the front door to our home.

I have a field as well, it extends beyond my virtual picket fence, and that is the larger world beyond my home. It is a field of wildflowers which includes friends and adopted family from all walks of life. I water as I can, I apply fertilizer ocassionally when time allows, I see them as adding great dimension and beauty to my life and deserving of my attention and love as I can offer it once I have cared for the growing things within the confines of my picket fence. Yes, that vast field contains a few nasty weeds as well, as any wild field will, but somehow the wildflowers that symbolize those closest to our family circle always seem to crowd out the weeds. If I so choose, I can look out my imaginary cottage window and see the results of my gardening as far as the eye can see.

I have special varieties of flora that I grow in my garden, they are Asian varieties that are more beautiful than any other. They have at times been staked so they will grow to stand tall and strong, I murmer softly to them and encourage them to grow, I express great joy and clap my hands in delight at their numerous blossoms. I recognize that some day there will be cuttings available to offer to others and these well loved plants will then take root elsewhere yet I will still retain a small piece of each.

Right now there are cuttings waiting to be planted in our family garden, and they reside far, far away. I continue to prepare the soil for those that wait, I will have everything all ready for them to be gently placed into the nutrient rich ground. They will join our garden where they will be lovingly tended and will hopefully thrive rather than wither. And one day I will have a vase sitting center stage on our dining room table creating a splendid bouquet filled with mature blossoms I have nurtured from youth.

So while I often sit in quiet envy of those whose gardens are magnificent representations of God's creative artistry, I need to recognize that my garden just may not be recognizable as such, that my cultivation occurs in different fields.

Thus far, as I look across my fledgling garden, I am THRILLED with the results and as my gaze moves beyond the picket fence to the field that boarders it, I see boundless possibilities and much to nurture.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Call to Action: Families For Orphans Act!

I received the news item below and want to encourage everyone to sign the petition available via a link at the JCICS web site at and to contact your senators and representatives to encourage them to pass the act. There are currently 291 signers as of this moment...let's get that to 1000 quickly! Then 10,000!!
We all know it would be best of there were no orphans, if children could remain with biological families and within their birth culture. But the fact is that for the forseeable future this will be impossible on a global scale. Institutions are not the answer, lingering foster care is not the answer...permanent families of any color, race or culture IS the only "next best" answer. Please support this Act!


CALL TO ACTION: Families For Orphans Act

Dear Friends and Families,

Anshula has recently come into an orphanage. She is four years old and alone. Where should she spend her childhood? In an orphanage? In temporary foster care? Or in a permanent and loving family?

The answer should be obvious: a safe, permanent and loving family. Unfortunately, the U.S. government and many aide organizations do not seem to agree. In fact, the U.S. sometimes spends millions of dollars, ensuring just the opposite. And while beloved organizations such as UNICEF keep millions of children alive, many believe it is better for children to live in temporary foster care than in a permanent family. The children of our world need your help to make a change. They need your help to live in a permanent family.

As a founding member of the Families For Orphans Coalition, Joint Council is proud to announce that the first step in making this much-needed change is upon us. In a bi-partisan effort, landmark legislation was introduced into Congress, which will ensure that U.S. government programs, policies and funding are directed towards a singular goal: a permanent family for every child.

The Families For Orphans Act (Senate Bill 1458 and House Bill 3070), sponsored by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and James Inhofe (R-OK) along with Representatives Diana Watson (D-CA) and John Boozman (R-AR) demonstrates our collective commitment to the millions of children living outside of permanent parental care and proactively addresses a global gap in the most basic of human rights - the right to a permanent family.

While the introduction of the legislation is an important first step, there is much more to be done. Now we must ensure that the Families For Orphans Act becomes the law of the United States. To do this, your voice is needed. Speak for those to cannot speak for themselves by supporting the Families For Orphans Act and joining our Call To Action.

What can you do?

Sign the Families For Orphans petition, make three simple phone calls, and get the word out! Here are the details...

1. Sign our Petition!
Sign the Joint Council Families for Orphans Petition
The Petition will be delivered to the U.S. Congress
2. Call Congress!
On July 28th, 29th, and 30th, call your three Members of Congress (two in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives).
You can find your Representative at
You can find you Senators' at
Ask to speak with the Legislative Director or Chief of Staff
For maximum effect, we are asking you to make these calls within this 72-hour window!
3. Get the word out!
Send this email to friends and family. Post to your Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blog or website
What should you say or write to your Members of Congress?
This is an issue that is critical to children in need, so speak from your heart. Tell them why ensuring more children living in families is so important to you!
Ask your Senators and Representatives to become a Co-Sponsor of the Families for Orphans Act.
Please feel free to use the following text as a guideline when speaking with your Members of Congress.
"As a constituent of we are requesting that you support the Families For Orphans Act by becoming a Co-Sponsor of the legislation. For information on becoming a Co-Sponsor, please contact Senator Mary Landrieu, Senator James Inhofe, Representative Diane Watson or Representative John Boozman. Thank you for representing your constituents by becoming a Co-Sponsor of the Families For Orphans Act (Senate Bill 1458 and House Bill 3070)."
More Information

For detailed information on the Families For Orphans Act visit:
The Joint Council website (
For minute-by-minute updates, see Joint Council's page on Facebook

Rebecca Harris
Government Relations and Communications Manager

The Families For Orphans Coalition

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Emotions Run Rampant

It has been an emotional weekend at Casa de LaJoy. Josh and I had our first counseling session Friday morning which was very enlightening for me. We met together with Joan, then at her suggestion after he was comfortable I left for a short period of time. While I was present, it was so interesting to watch Josh, to see the emotions play across his see him try so hard to think about things that were uncomfortable and to offer real answers. There were long pauses as he considered what it was he was really feeling, and times when he honestly couldn't express it. It's asking a lot of a 6 year old to be able to identify and define emotions that even adults would find a challenge to talk about! But he did rather well, and his maturity is really beginning to show.

We talked about many different things, about what he felt like when he has had episodes of insecurity, about what he is scared of, and most interesting we delved a bit into his feelings about his birth mom. Joan asked him to explain to us as best he could what his thoughts were about his orphanage, explaining he may not remember it but we wanted to know what his impression was...was it good, bad or just OK. Then I also asked him if it was more good than bad to give him another level of explanation. We first asked him about people we knew would elicit a positive response, and he would use a "thumbs up". Then we asked about the orphanage and the caretakers there, which he indicated was "OK" but when questioned further was a little more bad than OK. When asked about his birth mom, he at first said he didn't know...then said more bad than OK. It was obvious that any time we came around the subject of bio mom and dad he was reluctant and less open about his expressing his feelings, although not showing any open anger.

When I left the room, they worked with puppets, which is exactly the sort of imaginary play that is right up Josh's alley. Joan tried to get Josh to use the puppets to "talk" to his birth mom, to tell her anything he wanted to say. This was the most telling thing for me...within a few moments he said "I just can't do this." and would no longer participate.

While we have the insecurity issues to deal with and are developing strategies to work with that more effectively, this little guy has a real wall up about his birth circumstances, and I have a feeling that unless we get to the bottom of that we will continue to see this revisit us over and over again...and maybe even if we DO deal with it successfully we might find he still has issues about it all.

In the meantime, I have remembered some of the things I did back when he was 3 and 4 years old which seemed to help. I am now telling him every step I take. If I have to go to the garage to get something out of the freezer, I will tell him where I am going and that I will be back in 2 minutes. If I will be working in another room in the house, I will tell him where I will be and how long he can expect me to be there. That does seem to lessen his need a little to check on me continually. He still has the urge, but it is less frequent. We are going to try to set a timer if I am working on a project safely in the house or in our yard and tell him he may only check on me when the timer goes off, and then slowly stretch that out from his current once-every-5-minutes to less frequent check in's. I also am going to laminate a small picture of Dominick and I that he can carry around with him and I will urge him to look at it when he starts feeling edgy about us not being physically next to him.

I also came up with an idea today, and I think we will try and have him draw and write a story about the beginning of his life, and then talk about it. I want to see what comes out in art and word when he is trying to share it with others in a non-verbal way, then we can talk about each page of his "book" and I can urge him to share what it feels like, not just the facts. I have no idea if this will help or not, but I think helping him put it on paper and get it out in a way that provides us with an opportunity to really examine it carefully one step at a time might just help him organize and explore his thoughts about it.

He was so tired after our appointment and lunch that he fell fast asleep in the car. I looked in the rearview mirror and something about seeing him there with his beloved torn and tattered blankie carefully wrapped around the new stuffed bear he got at Joan's office just touched me ever so deeply. He is such a nurturing little boy, caring so tenderly for his animals as well as those humans around him...and yet he is so vulnerable. It is as if he wants to make sure that those that he loves, living or stuffed, are loved and cared for in a way he never was in his early months. I also said a prayer of thanksgiving that his reactive attachment disorder has been successfully dealt with in most ways. We don't have a son that we fear may harm us or others, we don't have a child who is loud and angry and physically acting out. He is not a liar nor deceitful in any way. He is a very, very good and respectful son.

He just hurts inside. He is scared mommy or daddy will leave him and never come back. When that has already happened once in your life, it is a very reasonable fear. It is not at all irrational. When you think about it, most RAD behavior actually makes a lot of sense when considered from the point of view of the child. We may not like it, we may think it is abnormal based upon comparison with other children...but kids like Josh have been given good reason to push others away, to reject affection and protect their damaged little hearts.

Actually, I think it would be more abnormal if a child came through some of the things our RAD kids have come through and act as if all was OK!! Now THAT would be abnormal! But because the behavior hurts us so much, because we feel rejected and confused and uncertain about what to do we see their behavior as unusual and abnormal. I guess I always saw it as making good sense, even if I didn't like it. I realized we had to provide Josh with a new construct, a new set of experiences to balance against the old that had hurt him so much in order to help him move forward out of self-protection mode, and I knew that would not happen overnight. We were able to do that over time, but now there is this lingering insecurity which may never fully leave him. We now will have to teach him coping strategies to deal with, to help him see it for what it is in a rational way. The older he gets the easier that might be, but we will begin now and do what we can. If we need to revisit this many times over his childhood, then so be it. Each time will strengthen him, each time he will see it anew.

Matthew and Kenny both returned from church camp today, and all is right with our world! Hahaha! I happened to pull up next to our mailbox this evening after my ministry classes in Grand Junction just as Dominick was there with the boys. Absolutely nothing in the world can beat the look on Matthew's face as he came racing out of their van and ripped open my door yelling "Mommy! Mommy!", giving me the biggest hug ever. He suddenly looked much younger and I was thinking to myself "They really are still little guys." which is sometimes hard to remember as the days pass so quickly and they grow faster than I ever imagined they would.

As we all pulled into the driveway and piled into the house, Kenny comes in and I can tell right away something is wrong, his eyes are red rimmed and he is trying hard to hold his emotions in check. He comes straight into my arms and melts, tears streaming and his chest heaving. He tries to tell me what is wrong but between his speech issues and the sobs I can't make it out so I have to ask him to repeat himself a couple of times. Turns out he is terribly sad about this being his last year at La Foret with his amazing counselors, and he had such a good time this year that he doesn't want it to end...he doesn't want to move up to the older group. He has had the same 3 women as his counselors, all of them older moms who saw Kenny from his first week at camp 2 years ago when he had been home barely a month and had no English at all to speak of, was as mature as the average 4 year old at times, and they were highly skeptical that Kenny and I would last even a couple of days. Seeing him only once a year for a week, they have seen dramatic changes in Kenny over 3 yearly visits.

He finally calmed down and a couple of hours later they all went to bed, and I heard him quietly crying again so I went in and took him by the hand, leading him back to our bedroom where we sat in the recliner and I rocked his gangly body in my arms as he cried and cried. When the tears slowed we started quietly talking...talking about loss, about love, about mixed emotions. He said he would miss these 3 women so much, that they had done so much for him to help him "see God", that they made him feel very special. He asked why it hurt so bad. I then took him back mentally to when our best friends moved to Chicago and how painful that was for me, how I cried many tears myself as our friendship was amazing and special and although I was ever-so-glad to have had them in my life it hurt very badly to have them leave. He remembered how hard that was for me and the rest of us, and we talked about how that pain eventually dims and then only the good memories remain. I suggested that it might help him feel better to write each one of his counselors and tell them how special they were to him, how he appreciated them so much. Finally he was calm enough to go back to bed and fall quickly into a deep slumber.

There are moments this Mommy stuff isn't easy, when you can't easily find the words or you don't know what is the right course of action to take. I question myself daily...heck, hourly sometimes...wondering if I am doing the right thing, if I have said the right words. Each of our sons has such an incredible heart, they are so open with their affection, so generous of spirit. I don't want to ruin that. I sometimes feel so inadequate to parent these emotionally deep kids, like I can't possibly keep up with them. I LOVE LOVE LOVE who they are!! While this depth of spirit and unusual set of life experiences which follows them and sometimes haunts them affects them forever, it has also created some uniquely emotionally wise-beyond-their-years young men who are tolerant, forgiving and thoughtful.

I constantly worry about my ability to continue to give them what they need so they are not hindered by their past, but are able to use it as a stepping stone to maturity. I guess it is hard at times for me to keep up with it all and feel I am walking the right path with each of them, as the path is different for each and the terrain constantly seems to be changing. I worry I will miss the crack in the sidewalk that I know will trip them up.

As Matt and Kenny each unpacked their bags tonight, they shared their camp gift shop purchases with Josh and his best buddy who went along on the trip to check out the camp for their first year next year. Both boys had something for the little ones, not knowing that Josh's friend would be with Dominick they each gave away him something they had intended to keep for themselves...a stuffed animal from Kenny and a camp pennant from Matthew. Their first thought was not for themselves as they didn't want to leave anyone else out. It was not just Kenny who was in tears when, after we all settled down and the boys had a late dinner I asked "What was the best part of camp?" and Matthew answered "Shopping for my brothers at the gift shop! I couldn't wait to get them something!". Knowing he had a terrific time and had tons of pictures to show for it, I thought it was pretty darned special that his favorite memory was when he was thinking of giving to others. Kenny's response? "F.O.B (short for "feet on bunk" hour rest time) when I could write you and daddy a letter!".

And as I finish writing this after having spent the past two evenings photographing a group of close friends' family reunion where 60+ family members gathered from round the country, I realize my own mini-family reunion tonight was just about picture perfect itself. We may not be 60 members strong, but we are LaJoy's, and we are DEFINITELY family.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Infant Attachment Disorder A Few Years Down the Road

We have the RAD monster fully active again at our house, and we intend to tackle it full force! Joshie has definitely had a setback, and we are beginning therapy again with our first visit on Friday. I attempted to do so a few weeks back, prior to "FluFest '09" and was thwarted in my efforts as we all had to regain our health. But the past couple of weeks were firm reminders of the fact that my dear son is wandering around with a hurting soul, and we need to do our best to help him.

Much of what we are seeing is revisiting what he was like at about 3 or 4 years old. While the night terrors have subsided, that may be only because we now have an air mattress on the floor of our bedroom and have reassured him he can continue to sleep in our room every night for as long as he feels a need to. Yea, I know other parents would flip out over that and send him quickly back to his room, but we feel it is absolutely the right thing to do to reassure him that we are nearby and he is safe. When he was younger and finally allowed himself to sleep in our bed and wasn't as repulsed by human touch as he initially was, we slowly saw great change in him which we attributed in part to co-sleeping and the security that provided him. As the night terrors have diminished we once again feel it is the right move and as far as I am concerned he can stay there for months if that is what is needed. There is nothing as gut wrenching as having your 6 year old son scream out in the middle of the night "Don't take me back, I don't want to go!" or "Mommy, don't leave me!!" as he sobs with his eyes wide open, seeing no one but the terror of the moment in his dream.

For me though it is the daytime behaviors that are the hardest to see resurface. Let me share with you what Infant Reactive Attachment Disorder looks like in a child as they mature and perhaps regress a bit...

1) Right now Joshua needs to know where I am every single moment. He spends much of his time feeling very uncomfortable if I am out of sight. For example, as I work in our guest bedroom/office and he is in another area of the house, he will come and quietly stick his head in the door at least 7 or 8 times in a 45 minute period...pulling away from activities with his brothers to go check on me and make sure I am still there. He has nothing to say, he wants nothing, he just needs to know I am still there.

2) I am followed every where, he is so insecure right now that unless he is with others such as Dominick or our very closest friends, he will follow me to the bathroom, around the outside of our home, out to the car. If our entire family is in the backyard hanging out and I happen to wander to the front porch to water the plants, I will soon find him right there beside me.

3) If we try to leave him in a certain location with his brothers, for example at the toy aisle at Target and I am going to be the next aisle over...totally within earshot...he will dissolve into tears. He HAS to go with me.

4) I have noticed lately that he is still very genuinely affectionate...but if I lean in for a kiss he will turn his face away, then catch himself sometimes and turn back to me. It is automatic, not something he is even very aware of, but it is one of the subtle things that are huge red flags to me.

5) His personality is a bit more subdued, he is not quite as joyful as he usually is, although not actually depressed acting.

6) I don't know if this is going hand in hand, but his eating patterns have changed as well, he is not eating as much as he normally is, declining to eat some of his normally desired foods.

Thankfully, we are having no other forms of acting out, no anger, no temper. Much of this is huge regression from where we were even 6 months ago, and it is hard for me to see.

Sadness, insecurity, fear...those are the things we are seeing...and it breaks my heart.

I know intellectually we are likely going to be revisiting this many times over his childhood, but I hate that he is walking around feeling so uncomfortable and uncertain inside. I want my son to be emotionally healthy and strong, to be able to feel confident as he walks through the world.

I can't fix this, I desperately want to and yet I can't.

He is older now, he is better able to verbalize his feelings, he is also extremely intelligent. All of this may work in our favor as we delve into things once again. He is not a non-verbal infant who is terribly disturbed and hurting. I remind myself that we made it through once, and we can make it through again...that we are actually much further along than we were years ago. Why then does this bother me so?

But when his instinct is to turn away from me, it still hurts. When he turns back, it feels a little better...but it is as if I am someone whom he still fears will let him down, will abandon him, will once again hurt him. And in spite of it, he still loves me deeply as do I love him.

I think of what might happen were I to meet with an early demise. How would that tear him up? How would that destroy all that we have worked so hard to accomplish? This wonderful, sweet, tender child of mine who has been through so much...I live daily with the secret and often unvoiced fear that something would happen to me and Josh's deepest held nightmare would come true. I pray often that God would lay a protective hand over me, not to keep me here for my own desires but to save my son who might not live through it either. I hate having those thoughts so often, yet I admit it is very true.

So once again we will begin to slowly work to draw Joshie out, to bring his fears into the light and address his insecurities. Maybe I will get my happy little guy back, maybe I will soon have back the direct eye contact that I miss, maybe eventually he won't have to catch himself subtly turning away.

I love this child so very, very much...he is just about the sweetest soul I have ever met. It is hard for anyone not to love Joshie, now if we can only find a way to let him feel that love and rest in it securely.

He is lucky, he has a caring and nurturing family, brothers who adore him, a best buddy who is just as sweet and kind as he is, other adults in his life who contribute so much. It is what has brought him this far and I have to trust it will eventually bring him all the way. God will continue to work through all those around Josh, will use their arms to hug him and hold him, to help him gain all that was lost 6 years ago when he was abandoned and handed from one set of disinterested arms to another in institutional care. He is really a child of many others, not just our child, their love pours into him. He is also a child of God, and as we continue to build that spiritual connection perhaps he will one day be able to find solace and comfort in that when those insecure moments creep up on him.

When I think of all Josh has to help him achieve emotional stability, of all those rooting for him and in his corner cheering him on, it is hard not to think of all those children who suffer such fears who have no one to continue to hang in there with them, no one to even begin to help them find a way to happiness and feeling whole. Foster kids who have been tossed about at the whim of a system they have no control over, children in orphanages all over the world who feel unloved...and remain so in "real life", children who aren't even "lucky enough" to be in an orphanage who survive life on the streets and back alleys.

Why, oh why, does anyone...from the littlest child to the eldest senior citizen in a nursing home...have to feel unloved in a world full of so many people? Why??? Perhaps it is my experiences with Josh that have brought sharply into focus those in my circle who are lonely at moments, who I can imagine having solitary times where they too question why they feel abandoned regardless of their station in life. I honestly try hard to see to it that anyone I know of who might feel uncared for even for a moment would know that they are not alone, that I care, that there is someone who will happily provide a hug, will stop and listen to them and be truly interested in what they have to say, who will think of them when we are apart. I have some tremendous friendships in my life, I have amazing people who surround me who are just the absolute best, and they deserve MY best. Joshie has made me ever more aware of the quiet pain of others, I am thankful to have my eyes opened but wish it weren't at the expense of my son.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

You Know Your Family Is Different When...

You know your family is different when...

1) Your kids ask for wallet photos of themselves to create pretend passports...and they remember to include visa stamps...and they line up at a little table with one of them sitting behind it with a grim face saying "Passport Control" and seriously giving the "passport holder" the onceover as they compare photos with the face.

2) Your kids lay their arms down on the table and line them up according to skin color.

3) A friend asks the evening of 4th of July if your son needs a jacket because it is growing cooler and as he casually walks away he responds over his shoulder "Naw...I'm Kazakh...we don't get cold!".

4) You are at Target with your kids and one of their buddies who happens to be a cute little blond guy, and your kids are spending gift cards received from Grandma, and the clerk says to your son's buddy "Well how fair is that? Mom and Dad buy gifts for your friends and you get nothing?"...and you tell the clerk "You have it wrong, he's the one who isn't ours!"...and she STILL looks at you like you are crazy and you can tell she still can't even figure out which kids are really yours.

5) You see someone at an event in town whom you haven't seen in a long time and they ask jokingly " you still have 2 kids? Or are you up to 5 or 6?"...and they are joking...and they don't even know you currently have don't know how to tell them it really WILL soon be 5!

6) Your kids ask you what countries hit your blog today.

7) You drive behind an SUV with those stick figures of family members on it...and your son says "Man, mom...look at that, that's a lot of little guys on there!"...and you quickly count and say "Yes, but that's one less than we'll eventually have..." and your son's eyes grow ever slightly larger. Then, in some misguided effort to make it sound better you say softly "...but at least we don't have the dog. Yet."...and your voice kind of drifts off...

8) Your son gets into an involved conversation with adults about the merits of traveling via Lufthansa versus other carriers.

9) You walk through Walmart and you see 2 little girls standing off to the side staring at your family and one of them is making "slant eye" faces which thankfully your children miss...and you walk by and don't hesitate before out pops out "You girls ought to be ashamed of yourselves..."

10) It takes more than 5 minutes to explain the birth order of your children.

And finally...#11 - When you experience all of the above on a daily basis and DON'T think of your family as different!!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Fear in Many Forms

As I have tried to discern and follow what I have perceived as a call to ministry in one form or another, I have really had to push myself to enter uncomfortable arenas. I often find that I am laughing inwardly...almost I struggle to let go of old images of myself. It is hard when you begin to pursue something you never would have imagined for yourself. Believe me, this caught me totally off guard and I avoided what was growing more and more obvious for a very long time. I heard God, but chose to ignore what I was hearing because I was so disturbed by it.

When I finally gave in and realized I would know no peace until I did surrender, a wave of relief washed over me which was quickly followed by great fear and trepidation. Those who minister to others have a great responsibility and they need skills which are not always as measurable as those necessary for an architect or a mathematician. The soul is the very essence of who we are, and nurturing that precious part of us is not a task to be taken lightly.

So upon making the decision to follow what I felt was God's path for me and work towards licensed lay ministry, I knew there were going to be great challenges ahead. I was going to be pushed so far out of my comfort zone that it would be like asking a gorilla to excel at needlepoint. I am not at all a person one would point to and call "courageous", and stepping into the unknown abyss is something that most often I would turn and run away from. But I knew if I wanted to honor God and respect the direction I had been given I simply had no choice.

So today, for the 3rd time in 4 years I found myself standing at the pulpit and delivering a sermon. I was asked if I was interested in filling in while our interim pastor was away this week, and my first inclination was to say "no" but somehow "yes" came out. This is so completely out of my element. I am an absolutely horrible orator. I was the kid in high school who would rather die than give an oral report, who was the wallflower and preferred to sit near the back of the class and not be called on often. There are those who exude confidence with a microphone in their hands, who are such naturals at it. I am not one of them.

Why do it then? Because I take this call to lay ministry very seriously, and I have so much to learn. Much of what I have to learn will be uncomfortable at first, and some of it may remain uncomfortable and I may never really feel I have reached a level of proficiency that I am pleased with. So I am forcing myself to follow God into places that are unfamiliar, where I know I might never be satisfied with how I perform. But it is only through this sort of exploration that I will discover those areas where I do excel. And surely there will be one or two along the way.

I stood in front of our congregation today whose numbers were greatly (and thankfully!) diminished due to holiday travel plans, and I did my best. Was it good? No. I am a beginner and know that full well. Was it the best I had to offer with the training and lack of experience I currently have? Yes. That is all God asks of any of us, isn't it? Will I ever be a good preacher? Nope, I highly doubt it. But maybe somewhere in the midst of all that ineptitude there was a message that was received by someone, maybe something I shared as I stood there with knees knocking and heart pounding hit home for someone. If my efforts touched just one heart, I would feel as if my own personal suffering and discomfort was worth it.

I am still trying to figure all of this out, I have no idea what God has in store for me or why I, of all people, have been asked to walk this road. At this stage, all I can manage to see is all the things I can't ever imagine myself doing and all the roles I will never be able to fill. I ask myself over and over again "So why am I doing this????" and the only answer I seem to have is "Because you were told to.". There is no plan for the future at this point, there is no thought as to how I might use the training I am pursuing. There is only trust that what I have been asked to do has value and the use for it will eventually be shown to me.

I am learning a lot from facing some of my fears and pushing myself to do that which does not come naturally to me. I am seeing myself from a different perspective, as someone who maybe does have a little guts. I also like the lesson this is teaching my sons, that you don't walk away from something simply because it is hard or scary. You can tell your children to "do the hard stuff" but there is nothing like showing them.

Tonight as I sit here I'm also giving great thanks that Dominick, our friend Mr. Steve, Matthew and Kenny are all safe. They were driving the boys over to Colorado Springs when their 5 hour trip was interrupted when they came across a road block as the traffic was stopped due to a 4 car pileup on the 2 lane mountain pass they were traveling. There was at least 1 fatality and the road closure caused them to have to double back and lose about 2 hours on the drive. It had happened not long before they were to have passed through that section of road. They were running a bit late this morning, and it might have literally saved their lives.

Isn't that one of our worst nightmares? That we will not be traveling with our family and something will happen to them and we will be left behind? When we read of such stories in the media, we almost wish we hadn't read them for the emotions they bring up in us are ones we want to push away, as it is unfathomable to think of being a survivor when the rest of your family has perished. I am one of those who would never live through such an ordeal, I would never have the strength to go on if I were to lose my family. I am eternally grateful that other than an inconvenience of the boys arriving at camp 2 hours late, tonight is not a night of horrible sorrow.

Thank you God, for so many things.

A LaJoy 4th of July

Our 4th of July started off a bit weak, but ended on a high note. We woke up and had plans to go to our local celebration during the day which was to include a helicopter drop of ping pong balls worth rewards, a "hubby carry his wife" contest, a tricycle race, and other kind of wacky things. We got up and casually got ready to leave, surprisingly none of us in all that big of a hurry to do so. The boys were excited to wear their shirts and I bought Halloween makeup at the day after sale and put it away for the 4th of July so we did our own face painting (thus eliminating any desire to have it done downtown where it would cost a few bucks per kiddo!). Dominick and I wore matching shirts as well....don't know why or how we started that silly tradition for all of us but we manage to find cheap ways to do it and it IS kind of fun.

Here we are getting ready:

Daddy doing face painting

Matthew being somewhat serious...

Kenny's turn to have the more serious look...

Then they both dissolve in laughter!

Then Kenny wanted to show off, he was SO EXCITED that he could finally blow up a balloon. He told me "Mommy, look! For the very first time! I never blow up a balloon before!"...thus causing the palate closure surgery to be deemed a huge success in his eyes. He actually asked me to take a picture and put it on the blog so everyone could see, so here it is at Kenny's request :-) :

Yea Kenny!!!

We went to the downtown event, but it was clear after about 30 minutes that we were all feeling pretty wiped out. This was our first real event out after having been so sick for the past few weeks, and it was obvious we were not at our best. The kids had no energy, it was fairly warm and we decided we would go home and rest in hopes of feeling better for the evening.

We anxiously awaited the arrival of our overnight guests, long time friends of ours from Denver whose son is one of Matthew's best friends. They arrived late in the afternoon, and then we were off to our church evening picnic where we all gather yearly to watch the fireworks. It was so relaxed, and such a nice time spent with friends. All of us were in much better shape to enjoy the evening and the boys had a blast playing tennis, tossing a frisbee around, Joshie was making mud pies and a moat, and running around in the dark. It was low key, but it was just what we all needed...and made me love small town life even more.

Yes, all in all, it was a great 4th. Hope yours was as well!