Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cozy Reflective Times

It is snowing here in Western Colorado as we get an unexpected dumping that was supposed to be a minor storm just passing through. The past two days have left us covered in a blanket of crispy whiteness, and there has been no small amount of guilt as Matthew and I sit snuggled today in front of the wood stove as we both work on our studies. More than once we have looked over at one another and said "I sure wish everyone else were home with us!".

It was a little bumpy for us the past couple of days as well, as Matthew is coming to grips with the differences between public school expectations and home school curriculum. He is surprised and not just a bit dismayed to discover that he is actually behind in some areas despite his excellent grades in school in years past. The basics of writing are a real struggle for him...punctuation and capitalization in particular. He was in tears asking me "Mommy, why did they give me good grades when I didn't know this stuff?". We have had a couple of long discussions about what "grading on a curve" means, and how public school has focused on different things than we might at home. It seems that often it was "the thought that counts" and not a strong emphasis on actually spelling or punctuating/capitalizing correctly. While I do not think this is necessarily a completely incorrect approach, and that developing critical thinking skills early on is important, the fact that I have a 5th grader who has not been drilled enough in such basic writing skills is a little frustrating. By this stage, it ought to be on occasional mistake, not every sentence. His writing ideas and development is actually quite good for his age, he is creative and seems to have a knack for pulling things together in an engaging style, so I know he will eventually be a very good writer and I enjoy reading what he writes.

It has led me to a better understanding of what some homeschooling blogs and web sites refer to as needing a period of "deschooling" after removing a child from public school. I think we both need it. I am really finding it a challenge to not worry about "keeping up" with what is going on at the same grade level in public school, to let go and create a more relaxed way of exploring learning here at home. It isn't public school and it doesn't have to look like it, but I am far too fearful of gaps he might have instead of seeing all the gaps we are FILLING. He needs to let go of old ways of measuring success...grades are obviously not a useful tool to gauge mastery of a subject and are often subjective.

So this morning we didn't do any workbooks, no math or grammar. Instead he is finally beginning his study of the Orchestra and has explored the most amazing web sites for kids. He has taken joy in all he already knows and has looked up several times as he has viewed You Tube videos of Renaissance era music, listened to the 1812 Overture, and played around with the sounds of various instruments together and said "Isn't that relaxing mom?" or "Don't you think that sounds so pretty?" or "The piccolo sounds like a bird flying!". He has been at this for 3 hours already with no break, he is enjoying it so much!! He has decided he wants to read biographies about the three composers that were featured at the symphony this weekend, Brahms, Beethoven and Bach. So we will need to hit the library soon. This unit study we bought was worth 10 times the $15 it cost! The web sites it has found are so interactive and he is begging me to keep at it for another 30 minutes before moving on..."Please Mom...can't I just finish the section on the bassoon?". How can I say no to that? THIS is what learning is about.

I was sharing my inner fears and lack of confidence with my mom this morning...about how I worry about being able to actually do this and do it at the level Matthew deserves (and all the kids should we be led in that direction). My mom is always a good person to bring me up short and have me see things from a different angle. She reminded me that my own expectations are always way higher than most people's, that I think I ought to be perfect at something from the moment I tackle it. She is right, I do put a lot of pressure on myself. She then sent me a quote from a recent Guideposts that she remembered and it reminded her of me..."If you live your life worried about the "what ifs'", you'll never enjoy the "what's happenings!". " .

Isn't that so true? And it sort of reinforces my own feelings about our pending adoption. Sure this could be very difficult, we know we are taking on children who have deep scars and perhaps unhealed wounds. What will that mean for our future? What if they turn out to be terribly damaged emotionally? What if we relive our experience with Josh multiplied by the passing of time and age? What if we end up regretting this or finding it rocks our otherwise wonderful world?

But the "what's happening" might turn out to be beautiful...wonderful...amazing. Even in the midst of what COULD be very difficult there will be moments of great "what's happening" to enjoy. As with homeschooling...I need to refocus and not think about the "what if's" of what we might be missing in terms of curriculum, etc. but look at the "What's happening's" as Matthew learns things well outside the standard curriculum...gross domestic product, bassoons, Native American medicine, and where Stone Mountain is and what it looks like. Along the way we will cover the 3 R's, and will do so systematically...but it is what happens outside of that that is where the magic will be found. Just as it will be outside of the expected struggles with the girls where we will see the magic happen as they blossom into the graceful and loving women we know God created them to be. Somehow, we will get there, but only if we can find the joy in the "what's happening" and not focus on the "what if".

So what about you...are you living in "What if" or will you join me in purposely moving to "what's happening"?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Be The Answer

The Joint Council on International Children's Services is an amazing group of dedicated people who advocate for children all over the world. While a good portion of the work they do involves adoption advocacy, they are also are active in all sorts of other projects as well.

They recently started a new campaign called "Be The Answer". Check it out at: .

I missed out on yesterday's goals for fundraising for them, as we were out of town for a dental check up for Kenny. However this is such a worthy let the world hear from those who can not be heard by using our voices. There are millions and millions of orphans throughout the world, and we can "Be The Answer" by stepping forward to tell their stories and try and make a difference.

These are the stories of our very own children, these are the lives of their friends left behind. Can you contribute your time, your funds or your talents to JCICS? They need all of it, anything you can offer. Over 100 million orphans throughout the world have no one to hold them, to rock them, to teach them, to love them. Most of them don't have enough food to eat, or shoes to wear.

What orphans need most is family. They need the nurturing of someone who truly loves them, they need to be able to stay with families and not removed from their care due to poverty, they need to be able to be taken in by relatives when parents die of AIDS, they need to be adopted by loving strangers when no better alternative exists to institutional care. JCICS fights for this and more.

Come on...Be The Answer!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Must Haves for Travel

While we are waiting for "the call", we have been gathering items to pack and currently I am embarrassed and ashamed to show you a photo of our spare bedroom. Yea, I know you want to ask...why do we have a spare bedroom with 5 kids all crowded into 2 rooms? Because our kids want to be together, and we assume that our newest ones will as well. I know that might change some day, in fact I expect it to, but I love the fact that recently Josh and Kenny switched beds so that Josh could be in the middle bunk "so I can be near BOTH my brothers!".

I don't know what is on your "must have" list for travel, but I thought I'd share a few of what is on ours this time around. Keep in mind we are traveling with 3 kids, so don't laugh too hard!:

1) Rummikub - Best. Game. Ever. We all love it!
2) Uno - Second Best Game Ever :-)
3) School work - We will take along everything we need for all 3 kids to stay caught up, and yes that is likely to mean we have one entire suitcase full of books and papers, etc. We are even taking along a couple of lapbook unit studies for all 3 boys, one on Thanksgiving and one on the Symbols of Christmas which we will do just for fun. We know we will have oodles of down time so we need to be prepared!
4) Rubber Sink Stoppers for doing laundry in sinks and tubs if necessary. For some reason, it always seems necessary over there but I am dreading it for 5 of us!
5) Various seasoned rice packages. Easy to cook, filler food, no one will complain about it.
6) Unread Reader's Digest and Time magazines for the last 3 months or so.
7) Blankies for everyone, we are bargaining...blankies or stuffed animals, blankies are sure to win.
8) Laptop. Of course. You don't really think I'd leave you all behind, do you? Hahahaha!
9) Every single medical item I can think of, including fresh hypodermic needles...just in case. Believe me, over there, that is not as absurd as it sounds.
10) Someone special has been writing a daily devotional which will be on the very top of my list to take with me.
11) No jeans ::sob sob:: I will feel naked.
12) Extra contacts. Ever see the Twilight Zone episode where the guy is one of the last left on earth and is thrilled because all he wants to do is read...until he breaks his glasses? I won't ever be that guy.
13) Gummies for snacks. Always, packs and packs of chewy sweet gummies to be spread out amongst backpacks.
14) More DVD's than any child ought to have a right to view. But hey, what else are they going to do on those long flights? We have hit every sale for a year that we could think of and have a Benji trilogy, Best of Bonanza, a collection of John Wayne cowboy flicks (Except my favorite of all time, "The Cowboys" which I'd love the boys to see!), 180 old cartoons like Popeye, Bullwinkle, etc., Andy Griffith, and a few other options. Luckily almost everything we bought was what others wouldn't want so they were usually in the $1 bin.
15) The love and prayers of others. Absolutely essential!

It feels very strange with this being a 2 trip adoption...we are not taking clothes for our new children! I admit I am very glad not to be worrying about things like formula and diapers this time around. It was fun the first and second time around, but far more stressful in some ways. I also realize I might very well be eating those words..hahaha!

I have no idea how we will pack everything, we will look like typical Westerners and will be scoffed at, I am sure. Way back when we adopted Matthew my Mom bought us a really nice set of luggage. I was just thinking today that none of us ever had a clue just how many miles would be put on those bags!! We also have more luggage in varying sizes stored in our garage than most people have in a lifetime, an astonishing array of carryons, mid-size and super sized suitcases! We have a shelf full of backpacks and thermal lunchbags and coolers too.

Today we received our new passports. I didn't think it was possible to have a worse photo than I had on my old one, but somehow I managed it. Dominick almost hooted out loud as we both had joked about how my old one looked as if I had to put this delicately...oh forget looked like I was totally stoned!! Seriously, awful half closed eyes. This one makes me look almost manic, as Matthew and Dominick were making me laugh when she took the photo. I am assuming I will be using this passport for this adoption only with no more international travel anticipated ever again, so maybe I will be fortunate and won't have to have "Passport Control" stare at it oddly anymore after we are done with this go round. I'll be fortunate if this photo doesn't get me put on the Watch List for TSA, it is that bad! HAHA!

So we are ready to drag out the suitcases and get packing, whenever the call comes in. Funny, in the car today the boys remarked about Halloween being this weekend and how none of them really cared...all they were thinking about was going to get their sisters! It's true, I hadn't quite put my finger on it until today when I realized that they hadn't said a word about getting costumes, asked what we were doing on Halloween, or even mentioned their classroom parties. It seems their minds are far away just as mine is.

Happy Wednesday tomorrow, and thanks for waiting with us for the phone to ring, I noticed our blog hits are up quite a bit this week. It's so nice to know we are not waiting alone :-)


Ring phone, Ring.

So tired of waiting, so tired of living in limbo.

Ring phone, Ring.

Want them in my arms, we've waited so long.

Ring phone, Ring.

Or I'll throw you across the room!!!!!!!!


Still waiting...always waiting...NEVER stop waiting...until you come home.

Ring phone, Ring.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Extreme Room Makeover!!

We had an extreme room makeover this weekend, thanks to many friends and much love. It was only 2 1/2 years ago that we were so excited to see a room like this waiting for another new loved one to join our we waited for Kenny to come home:

It is hard for even me to believe the transformation, from boyish girlie pink!!

Here is the "reveal"!!

Above is one of 2 tables the boys lovingly painted and Kenny then stenciled with a little help from Joshua.

It totally cracked me up when I went in the bedroom this afternoon and found three little boys exploring hair barrettes and pony tail holders! It will really be a huge chang for our family when some "girl vibe" is brought in, but from the looks of the picture below, I doubt the boys will have too much trouble with it!

Yes, I think it is not just Mom and Dad who are filled with anticipation...I think there are three brothers-to-be who are just ass anxious as we are!!

Seems like there is much to blog about, but I am feeling pretty pooped and emotionally a little overloaded. I think at moments I can not really begin to take in all that is going on, how many blessings we have, how much love we are surrounded with. We received two special gifts recently, both are shown below:

A dear friend offered us a dresser months ago, and then kindly offered to store it for us until we had the room ready. It was a perfect fit in the girls' closet. On top of the dresser is an incredible gift of love...2 lap quilts, one for each of our daughters. These are from my sister-in-law's mom, who has made a new quilt to welcome each of our children home. Oh how loved those blankies have been!! Matthew's was lost somewhere along the way when he as about 5 years old and he was heartbroken. It was the most threadbare, worn thing you can imagine, and I have the cutest picture of it with him somewhere in his favorite pose...he would sleep with it zipped into his feetie pajamas :-) Here is Kenny with his special quilt, this was taken when he was at Shriner's this year for surgery:I know Kenny's will be traveling to Kazakhstan with us this time around, just as Matt's did with him when we traveled to adopt Josh. I am sure the girls will find great comfort in their special quilts as well, and the love with which they were made makes them extra special.

There were so many moments this weekend where I just felt so full. Josh and I had a special double date with his best friend and mine as we went for a Mommy and Me painting class where they painted skeleton mugs at a paint-your-own-pottery place. I was brought back to the early times of our relationship with this special family, when Josh was 3 or so and still struggling mightily with emotional issues. He would do nothing but give them the "evil eye", wouldn't go near them! To see the little boy Josh is now, the love he has for others, the ease with which he gives that love, and how at least for the moment, he seems to be in a much healthier and secure place with his attachment issues just touches me so deeply. We have gone through so much together, that just simply relaxing in one another's presence is a complete gift of the highest sort. I know that with the travel ahead of us, a separation from me on Trip #2 and just the drastic changes in our family with the addition of our daughters Josh might take a big step backwards during the next few months, but he will step back to a place that is still far further ahead of where he began his life with us. His resiliency is remarkable, and I am very proud of who he is. We mom's totally cracked up when Joshie looked up at us and said "I am going to paint "Jesus"and a cross on my skull mug. So we have a one of a kind skeleton mug coming our way after it is fired, where Jesus is prominently displayed. Whose to say the two don't go together? I know many Christians shy away from Halloween altogether and we have never really had an issue with it, it is a personal decision. But maybe it wouldn't be an issue at all if we all did as Josh did and bring Jesus into the most unexpected places :-)

Kenny was in a "readers theater" puppet show this weekend at our local library, practicing all day for his afternoon performance. While he didn't have much in the way of reading parts, it was a great way to approach reading for fun and he was SO happy and had such a wonderful time. He is definitely our drama oriented child and seeing him find his niche is also very special. His acting classes are something he greatly looks forward to each week, and are helping him be more secure in who he is. He is maturing gradually both in school and out of school, and as a parent to watch a child go from being a 4 year old in terms of development and behavior to more than twice that in 2 1/2 years is astounding, and always makes me think about what courage Kenny has shown.

Matthew had a great weekend spending all day and evening Saturday with his best friend going to watch him play football, hanging out and then going to a "Haunted Corn Maze". Hey guys, it's rural Colorado, we gotta do what we can for fun! HAHAHA! His sheer delight in being with his friend, who brings a touch of innocence and open hearted love and joy to Matt's life is something we have prayed for years about. When you are not a jock, when you actually love your family and are not uncomfortable showing affection in public, when you are the more thoughtful and introspective kind of boy, friendship can be hard to find that is truly compatible. Matt isn't "not" athletic, in fact I think he could be extremely athletic if he wanted to. He is just generally uninterested! His friend is a bit more boisterous than Matthew, he draws out Matt's sillier side. But his friend is tender, his friend is inclusive of Kenny and Josh, his friend gives them hugs when he leaves. His friend has a wicked sense of humor and we all enjoy having him around, but we also recognize how fortunate we are that he and Matthew found one another and that his parents too feel this is an important relationship to nurture between them.

As for me, well, I have been a bit foggy walking through this week and weekend. I went for a walk this evening after arriving back home after going to hear the symphony, and the crisp fall air was the kind that doesn't quite penetrate a warm jacket but makes your face ruddy and your ears a bit achy. I walked and thought, it was the most serene I have been in weeks, maybe months. I plan to get to bed early tonight and start this week off better rested. I know there is a lot on my proverbial plate, so much that I can't really wrap my mind around everything at moments. But it is a joyful time as well, a fall filled with anticipation, gentle outreaches to our family, of understanding conversations. It is a very, very special autumn and one I am savoring. As I complete thank you cards to so many hearts that have reached out to ours, they seem so lacking, so unable to express the fullness of what we are feeling.

I also think of a few of the older members of our congregation this evening who are facing huge transitions in their lives as well. Moves away from the place that has been home for many, many years...surgeries that might bring hope and renewal...lives being reassessed and changes having to be made. People I love, people I care so much about and I know that for very different reasons they too are experiencing that unsettled feeling that fills our home at times right now as well. One guarantee in life is that it keeps moving forward, it continues to change, and happiness can only be derived from how we view that change. I pray fervently for these special people in our hearts, knowing their fall is not as serene as I felt this afternoon.

So we wait, rooms ready, hearts ready, suitcases not quite ready :-) We move through our day to day schedule, we wait for the phone to ring. We continue to learn, to love, to laugh. We continue to be Team LaJoy, whatever that actually means. But being "Team LaJoy" is the only place I want to be.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Homeschooling/Public Schooling Update and Observations

As I continue down the path of self-education as it pertains to homeschooling, and as I read many blogs of homeschoolers, I am learning a lot...and as often happens that leads to further questions! Things are moving along, I think we are making progress, we have adjusted and re-adjusted and I am sure will continue to do so. Are we where I'd like us to be? No, and I have a sneaking suspicion I just might not ever be fully satisfied. I tend to dwell on what I am not doing, what I feel incapable of being or doing, and not seeing what we are accomplishing. We have had a couple of surprises along the way including:

1) Matthew's reading level is quite high, thus justifying his comments about being bored in class when in public school. So are his science scores.
2) That being said, Matthew's grammar and writing skills are well below grade level and need a lot of focused work...something we were totally unaware of. His thinking and expression are in depth, but his "output" leaves a lot to be desired.
3) His intellectual curiosity, along with his brothers, is well developed.
4) I would firmly be categorized as an "Eclectic Homeschooler" without even trying to be one! See, bet those of you who don't do this silly stuff didn't realized that we categorize ourselves so well! HAHA!! Eclectic means that we don't use just one approach, but combine methods such as unit studies, reading, some textbook curriculum, etc. Besides, y'all knew I was eclectic without being told anyway :-)

Thus far in a month and a half we have completed an in depth unit study on Native Americans and just tonight as he was finishing it up he expressed an interest in learning more about Native American medicine and healing practices. He has retained a lot of what he has learned too, far more than I recall him ever sharing before when a unit was completed in public school. We did a quick study of our local water and irrigation system including the Gunnison Tunnel project. He of course did his Kazakhstan country study and display board. He has read about 20 books or so (I lost count as he skims some for War Facts), done 28
math lessons, increased his speed on addition, subtraction and multiplication math facts from 7 minutes per 100 to 4 minutes per 100. He has started blog posting, written 1 report and 2 short stories, done 13 grammar lessons, actively worked on some online curriculum with grammar/language arts for another 15 lessons or so, quickly developed a love of art that didn't exist before, and done 3 science experiments as well as learned more in depth about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thomas Edison.

We have also had the pleasure of hooking up with a little older boy who is homeschooling who Matthew enjoys and I love his mom, so we will be getting together once a week. Also made a connection with another old friend who is homeschooling her son and we plan to start getting the boys together after we return from Kazakhstan. Socialization opportunities are starting to happen and will gradually be firmed up.

I think it has been a productive 6 weeks!!

Things I am struggling with are:

1) Trying to wrap my mind around a long term plan.
2) Letting go of the fact that I am simply NOT creative and will never live up to the wonderful homeschooling glory I see depicted on other blogs. My kids will likely not be taught Latin. My kids will not graduate at 14. They will never produce cool baked goods that look like DNA strands. What we WILL do is read TONS of books, have great discussions, explore at the drop of a hat anything that peaks our interest, take field trips often, have lots of hugs and relaxed learning.
3) Configuring ourselves and our environment for homeschooling is not feeling settled at all. We don't have a "school room" in our house as some do, nor do I really want one. But on the other hand, I would love to have certain things not have to be moved around all the time at the beginning and end of each day and I also would like to have maps and charts displayed, cutesy little classroomy type things. I am betting it will never happen and we will be using the kitchen table (and the couch, and the bedroom...and yes, even the bathroom with a laptop!) for the next 10 years. Oh well, there are worse things.
4) Trying to figure out how we really view education, what will not limit Matt and yet what will be freeing in terms of approach and attitude. It is like developing your personal theology in a way, but instead it is developing your homeschooling philosophy. I feel quite strongly about many things concerning the education of our kids, as many a teacher will attest (poor things!) and accepting "partially proficient" is one of them (See more down below! HAHA!). I want all the kids to be exposed to a broad range of experiences, ideas, thought, and to have an overview of all of history and a decent understanding of the branches of science. I also want them reading and writing at a college level by the time they graduate even if they decide not to attend college, even those who have joined Team LaJoy well into their school years. Somehow we have to come up with a plan to accomplish this. With our unique children and their wide gamut of needs, this is an amazingly difficult thing to wrap my mind around.
5) Knowing we are likely to be leaving reasonably soon and that the last couple of weeks will be hectic, I am in limbo a bit about what to do with Matthew other than the core subjects, as I don't want to get involved too heavily in a history or science unit study we will have to interrupt. I found something online which we are going to try which is sort of an online combination unit study with hands on experiences as well from which we are going to try, and it is about Orchestras. Since Matthew has been going to hear orchestras and performances for a long time and enjoys music so much, I thought this might be a fun and interesting way to tap that interest, and it is a shorter study than the one he wanted on the Revolutionary War. We both agreed this one would be fun as well and might fit our time frame better. It also might help me draw his focus away from Michael Jackson's older music which I already had the distinct pleasure of hearing over and over in the 80's and now get to relive as he plays it non-stop since doing the dance to "Thriller" last year in PE. Maybe...possibly...we can turn him on to some Bach or Handel for awhile! He did like Yo Yo Ma, so there is hope. :-)
6) This is silly and kind of fun, but others seem to have names for their homeschools and I am too lame to think of one! HAHAHA! As if that is the worst of my worries right now :-)

This week was filled with parent/teacher conferences and IEP meetings, all of which went extremely well. Kenny is showing progress, but still is reading at only mid-1st grade level which absolutely concerns us but there is no sign of learning disability nor any other issue that can be resolved with much more than just time to hear, read and work with the written word. Whether that time will be allowed or not in a public school setting remains to be seen and we will continue to monitor his improvement closely. He seems to
have matured a lot in the classroom this year, and thus far there was only one minor incident no more concerning than any other kid. That is a big improvement over last year. He really has a fantastic teacher this year whose skills and understanding of Kenny's deficits are excellent, and her high expectations are something that at this stage Kenny finally has the maturity to live up to. He really isn't working firmly at grade level in any area but is close in math. His comprehension of things that are verbally explained, and his thinking and verbal skills are quite advanced when one considers them in comparison to his scores, so we are confident that time will take care of most of what is going on.

Joshie is doing great, he is a happy little camper who is working well above expectations in all areas and who LOVES LOVES LOVES writing and science, which of course is negligible in first grade but we need to find a way to supplement at home without watching praying mantis's getting their heads chewed off in bug cages. Sorry, that one just about did me in but had Josh enthralled. When I mentioned the idea of dissecting a frog already in 1st grade he was all over the I see a microscope in his future if not the actual frog :-) Dad just might have to handle that one! HAHA!

So basically, Josh and Kenny are working at much the same level with some exceptions. Makes it easy for reading time at night!

And then there is Mom...whose educational needs are also all over the map. As those of you have done will attest to, adopting internationally is a wake up call to what all you need to learn and how little you know. Believe me when I say that even though we have done this a few times, each time is different, each time can be terrifying, and each child brings their own history and challenges to the family. We already know we have much to overcome in terms of challenging past experiences as we move forward with this adoption, and I have been slowly prepping myself with reading on abuse, neglect, older child adoption, triad issues, etc. The "schoolin' ain't done" by a long shot in this regard, and I consider it a huge responsibility to be as educated as possible walking into this.

There is homeschooling educational practices, curriculum, lingo, philosophies and much, much more to research and I know I have barely scratched the surface. I can't believe how infant-like I feel about all of this and what a profound sense of fear there is that I might mess this drives you to want to learn more and as quickly as possible to avoid pitfalls and mistakes, which I am sure I will make anyway.

And let's just throw in lay ministry classes as well for good measure, as I just don't have enough learning going on! HAHAHA! Aside from my classwork, I can't seem to get enough of what others would consider totally boring theological reading. As my own Pastor said recently, she and a friend were categorized early on as "God Geeks". I am afraid I am quickly approaching that category myself, but there is a thirst I can't seem to quench and it is FUN FUN FUN to learn anything when you have a passion for it! Hey, at least it isn't quantum physics...although at moments I think theology might be just as hard to grasp in a different way.

So as I sit here with my feet propped up on the coffee table, the kids downstairs watching late night Flintstones cartoons for a special treat because there is no school tomorrow, I find I am surrounded by learning at all levels. Nearby we have a laundry basket full of library books (Yea, we walk into and out of the library with a laundry know you have a problem when they have to run in back and check in the ones you just dropped off because your new pile takes you over the legal limit!), on my coffee table I count no less than 21 books stacked up including a Calvin and Hobbs comic book, a half read Little Town on the Prairie, an Eyewitness WW2 book, The First Thousand Words in Russian, a bible, and Sand and Foam by Khalil Gibran. Whew! Yea, I guess we are a bit eclectic :-) HAHAHA! Eclectic or neurotic, I can't quite figure out which.

In addition to the books we have a lrage Lego project on the floor at my feet (big surprise, I know), two small tables that Kenny has nicely stenciled for his sister's room, a lapbooking project spread out on the kitchen table along with thank you notes I just finished, yellow and pink balloons hanging from the ceiling above me, pumpkin carving tools are gathered and waiting a fun evening tomorrow night, a Native American tribe map rolled up on our hutch, and a small pile of "little guys and cars" that Josh was playing with and has abandoned for the Flintstones.

It's an unusually messy moment here in our home, a sign of busy and engaged lives with lots of learning and love flowing in, around and through us all. The days are long past when everything stayed in place, when fingerprints weren't all over everything, when I could walk from one end of the house to the other without stepping on hidden Lego bombs. And as chaotic as this all sounds (and it really isn't that bad), I can't help but think crazily "Boy, I can't wait to be avoiding Barrett Bombs from the girls!!"..hahahaha! Yea, I already know I am weird...oh have already determined I am simply "eclectic", not weird at all!

And a sign is sitting on the end table next to us which we received as a gift at our family celebration this past weekend which reads "FAMILY: Other things may change us, but we start and end with family."

Ain't life grand???

He Gets It

Somehow I ended up in an introspective conversation with Matthew yesterday. We had just left from a conference with his school staff as there were some areas I needed some guidance on, and somehow we got into a discussion on parenting techniques and how every family parents differently.

We talked about different parenting styles, and I explained that every parent works with different personalities, their own and their child's, and that we all bring "stuff" to the table that affects how these relationships work. I shared that often we have been criticized for being too "tough" on our children, and I remembered one mommy a few years back who was totally horrified that I expected Matthew to make his bed to the best of his ability when he was 4. We even moved his bed to the middle of the room to make it easier for him! Another mom once told me she thought I should do more for my boys because, after all, I was home and that was "my job". I explained that there were probably some who didn't think it was too cool that they had all come to work with us and helped out, or that the boys now had a cleaning job when they were still so young.

Matthew at first seemed confused by these criticisms, but I further explained that many moms feel it is a sign of love if they do more for their kids, and that having their kids be dependent upon them makes them feel that they are needed and loved back. I told him that we felt a little differently about that than some do, that in my mind my job was to raise he and his brothers to be strong, capable, responsible and loving men...and that dependence does NOT equal love. I DO have an important job to do, and it is NOT to be their maid, their best buddy or their cook. My job was to one day see them each stand on their own, being able to support themselves and their families in a loving and considerate way, and that I felt THAT was the most loving thing I could do.

We talked about how it was our opinion that you had to take baby steps into adulthood, and that started are babies. That making the bed by yourself at 4 years old helps you see even when you are little that you are able to take care of yourself, and that "work" is not an awful 4 letter word! We talked about how he enjoys helping mowing the lawn, how our family works as a team to accomplish things together and that means we all have more free time too enjoy other things. Doing chores is not to be mean, I explained, but it is to build into our children the ability to take care of themselves, to recognize the needs of the family as a whole, to create a sense of satisfaction with a job well done. It teaches them skills they will absolutely need when they grow older. I asked him "When do you think we should have started teaching you how to clean your room? If we waited until you were 10...would you want to do it or would you resent it? What is the magic age for learning how to take care of the yard, to learn how to use basic kitchen appliances, to take out the trash? If you wait too long, kids begin to see it as "Mom and Dad's work" rather than the work of everyone in the family, and then they develop an attitude about work that lasts a lifetime.

He sat there thinking about that, and he said "You know it is so cute to see Joshie taking in the trash cans after trash day. Do you feel that way when you see Kenny and I do things? I kind of feel proud of Josh when he learns something new." He then said he didn't understand why other people would think it was bad that they helped at the restaurant because they had all learned so he could count change better than the college kids, he and Kenny knew how to serve people and have a good attitude about it, that even Joshua had helped sometimes and they all were learning how to earn and save money. "Isn't that important to know how to do when you are an adult, Mommy?" he asked. He also added "Why should you and Daddy have to do everything? We make more mess than you do!".

He got quiet for a moment and then he said something that let me know that he "gets it" and it was one of the coolest moments I have had yet as a parent. He turned to me and, of course using a construction metaphor, he said "You know Mommy, it's sort of like some parents want to build a house and others want to build a lean-to. A house is strong and can stand on it's own but a lean-to always needs to lean against the Mommy or Daddy house. I think you guys are building houses with me and Kenny and Joshie.".

Yea Matt, that is totally it. We want for you to stand straight and tall, to weather tornadoes and earthquakes. We want you to be a "smart house" where things work well and are advanced. We want you to be a "green house" where you are aware of your effect on the environment and take care of your little patch of earth. We want for you to have a strong foundation so what is built on it will last forever. We want you to be a paid off or wisely mortgaged house so your finances are always in order. We want your home to be filled with love and laughter, so that the joy you feel springs forth and touches all who enter your door.

Man, am I grateful that he "gets it". Others may not, but if our children do that is all that matters.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor...You Might Be Surprised!

Every once in awhile, we learn that the way we handled something was indeed the right way, even if we had strong doubts about it initially. This week has sure been a learning week for me!

After having had a bit of a "hit and run" with our neighbor a couple of weeks ago, I had a lot of thinking to do. Was I wrong in not standing up for our family? What kept me from firing back after being down right attacked? Was it maturity that helped me realize it would be pointless? Was it discomfort that kept my lips sealed? I kicked the conversation around over and over again in my mind, and ultimately felt that handling it the way I did without anger or raising my voice was best...even if I didn't get the momentary sense of victory at "ripping someone apart".

As I had said in my previous post, this couple HAD been nice to us off and on over the years, occasionally going out of their way to assist us with some small task, being kind to the boys at Christmas/Halloween/Birthdays, etc. Despite their nosiness, cantankerousness and comments made in ignorance, these are not people I hate (I actually don't hate anyone) even if at moments I can sometimes become annoyed with their outspoken opinionated attitude. This time though I felt they had stepped way over the boundaries of annoying neighborliness, but elected not to further compound the issue by creating a much bigger deal out of it than need be.

This week, guess who stood on my doorstep on two different occasions with trays of baked goodies to be shared with our family...including little miniature cakes with chocolate eyeballs stuck in the middle for the boys. Yup, our neighbors...the ones who attacked me in the middle of the street yelling about our personal decisions for our family. The ones I decided not to yell back at.

And guess who also spent almost 2 hours helping Dominick try to figure out what is wrong with the heater in our "new" van? Yup, our neighbor.

Do you think that finally at 43 years old I am "getting it" about grace? Even in a small way? Not only did keeping my mouth shut manage to maintain a neighborly relationship, but maybe in some small way my mild response was heard and although the words "I'm sorry" will never be spoken, this was a peace offering in the form of tasty treats and selfless service.

Thanks God for teaching me so much, even if it took years to learn it. My mom will NEVER believe I was able to hold my tongue like that!! I sure couldn't as a teenager :-) And this lesson taught me the value of doing so.

Now...what can we do for them in return??? Seems like there are a lot of leaves over there that need raking, like we did last year :-) How much nicer it is to contemplate doing something kind than it is to wallow in anger.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Love Wins

Love Talk...there is a lot of it on this blog, isn't there? I wonder how many times the word "Love" is used in all 504 blog posts since this blog was first created? At times it may get a bit sappy here at the LaJoy virtual home, but I'd much rather be "sappy" than "snappy" with one another!

This weekend though became a conflict of love versus hate. It may have been largely internal, but the battle was won through the external actions of others. I should have known...because always...always...

Love Wins.

Late in the week I was hit with an anonymous nasty comment, one that hurt deeply and whose sting still subtly remains. It is not that I want to draw attention to it that I mention it here, but because it was such a profound learning experience for me and I want to share that with you all.

The timing of the comment couldn't have been worse, heading into the weekend when our very special "Family Celebration" was planned at church. It was a shower of sorts for Big Girls, and more importantly for us it was an opportunity to share our joy (after all these years of waiting!) with those closest to our hearts. But here I was, aching inside from accusations made that were so very hurtful and untrue, and I had to somehow get my head in the right place so that the event that had been so lovingly planned was not tainted.

It was hard. No matter how much we deny it or try to blow past it, when others say things that touch our most sensitive soul-places, it is a real challenge to not question the validity of those claims. If you are even slightly self-aware and decent, you tend to dwell on unkind words. It requires a strength, insight and maturity that I have not yet developed to ignore it and move on, but perhaps this weekend I came one step closer to gaining that maturity.

I am blessed with tremendous friendships, filled with honesty and forthrightness, love and warmth. It wasn't 30 minutes after the anonymous comment before a rebuttal had been posted and another person phoned me late in the evening to comfort me. God was present, and it helped. As the next couple of days wore on I had several emails of concern and reassurance, and a couple of in person heart-to-heart talks which helped as well. But still I was unable to truly let go of the hurt, I replayed things in my mind, I had long conversations with myself which were uncomfortable, at best.

Saturday morning I had to attend a ministry class prior to our Celebration, and had an hour long drive there and back to ruminate further. Leaving class in the early afternoon, I realized my heart just wasn't in this, that a wonderful gathering was going to be ruined for me but I would do my best to muddle through it somehow. I prayed asking God to be present for me when I couldn't manage it myself.

Moments later walking to my car, I gazed at my own rear window and saw a sticker that had been given to me a couple of weeks prior that I had placed there. It says two small words:

"Love Wins"

Suddenly, it was as if the scales fell from my eyes, my heart began to open and a totally new dialogue occurred on the long drive home. If I let this kind of anonymous, angry venom remain in my heart, I was allowing hate to win. If I carried this into our Celebration with me, I was inviting hate into the room with me, tarnishing all the love that was assembled there. I had searched my own heart, and felt that in all honesty here was no validity to the claims made. Those who actually know our family intimately had reassured me that anyone who knew us would never think such an awful thing. So why was I handing over a victory to hate? If I didn't invite God's love which was so evident to wash that vitriol away, then I was perpetuating the hate...I might as well be hateful myself.

Slowly, gradually, as I pondered this as the miles rolled on, I could literally feel the hate and pain brought on by it just melt away. There were people who we loved dearly ourselves waiting to celebrate with us! There were people who couldn't be present who I KNOW love us! There was love overflowing surrounding us, but even more importantly for this moment, our love for everyone present was so strong and I didn't want hate to touch them! So I had a decision to make...was hate going to win or was love going to win?

Love Wins.

What an incredible Celebration it was!! Such care and thought had been put into the decor and we were blessed to have so many friends, young and old, in attendance. It was just beautiful in every possible way.

Matthew's Kazakhstan Study displayed for everyone to learn a little more, below it a banner in Russian and English which everyone signed which will be put up when the girls come home!! I love that "our family" is not limited to biology, but to connected hearts.

Kenny serving drinks, looking quite Central Asian! Joshie in his second generation Kazakh shirt!

One of the only pics you'll see on the blog of me for the next several years...I am not fond of having my photo taken but figured this was appropriate!

Gotta at least let the kids know I existed and wasn't always behind the camera, right?

One of the most creative gifts we received was for our entire family...and was utterly perfect. Check it out!!!:

Isn't this totally cool? For those who don't read Russian it says "Team LaJoy" in both Russian and English! (Thanks Las Vegas for helping on this one!!) and there were shirts for everyone on Team LaJoy, including the girls! What fun it will be to wear these shirt when there are finally 7 of us :-)

And I could tell someone was getting in the girlie mood, embracing his inner "Daughter Daddy". I think he is one stop closer to finally understanding what bringing pinks and purples into his life would really mean:
Lots of love, lots of joy...and most importantly it was what God is all As I said after the slide show was presented, it would be impossible for us to have hung in there without you, both our virtual and "real life" friends and family. Our gratitude simply can not be expressed fully, it would be impossible to find the words.

And while others can find the words to spread hatred and anger, while they can spend precious time working hard to bring pain into the lives of others, thankfully they are outnumbered.

I was asked why I elected to leave the comment posted rather than removing it as I have every right to do. Sure, it would have spared me embarrassment...but it wouldn't have made it disappear in my heart. Sadly, words...once spoken...are like hand grenades, you can't really easily put the pin back in nor can you "unspeak" the words once they leave your lips, or as in this case once they leave your keyboard.

It was out of some misplaced sense of fairness that I left it up. There are times when I struggle with the ethics of what I do here, is it journalism? Is it family diary? Is it more for the public or more for private use as was originally intended? Is it ongoing dialogue with other adopting families? Unlike others who blog these days, 3 years ago when I started it I was clueless of how this all worked and was quite surprised when others found the blog and started following it faithfully. It was unexpected and had I known it I would have been far more likely to keep our personal information confidential. By the time it became apparent that this wasn't just for us to print out or for grandmas to follow while traveled to adopt Kenny, it was too late.

So keeping that in mind, is it fair to pull a comment simply because it doesn't place us in the kindest light? Is it honest to omit such things from view? My intent and my effort here has always been to be totally up front with the struggles of our lives, and to remain open so that others might learn from us...both from our successes and our mistakes. But does that mean that I have to allow us to be a target? I have also made it a personal policy to limit any comments which use foul language, which thankfully I have never had to deal with. But just because a comment doesn't contain 4 letter words, is it any less foul when it is voiced with such anger and contains no truth?

After a discussion with someone whose opinion means a lot to me, who is steeped in common sense and grace, I have decided that from this point forward, anyone who comments anonymously and is negative will have their post removed. If you don't have the courage to identify yourself and stand behind your statements, then I see no reason to feel a sense of responsibility to allow you a forum for your hatred. If that makes me "unfair" then fine, call me unfair. But hiding behind anonymity is cowardly and allows people to feel unfettered in their nastiness.

In the long run, the lessons I learned this weekend were invaluable, and contrary to what anonymous might think I take great pleasure in seeing that it served only to allow me to feel more closely connected to the Spirit of Love that surpasses all understanding. Because, the fact remains:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We Have Pink!!!

Oh my goodness, it looks like girls are going to live here soon!! HAHAHA!! Dominick and I had to leave for Grand Junction this morning to...get this...can you imagine it...get our fingerprints done AGAIN for our immigration approval as they are close to expiring. I can not even begin to count how many times we have been fingerprinted for this adoption, unbelievable!

However, we had something to look forward to upon our arrival back home. Our friend who offered to paint the bedroom for us came while we were gone and added the pink wall to the 3 yellow walls. And all of a sudden, the little room was transformed into Girlie Land!!! The boys went into the room before I did, running down the hall the minute they stepped inside and I heard a collective "WOW!" out of all three of them, and when I stepped in the room their grins were as big as mine. How much fun this is to share our enthusiasm together as a family!

We really don't have much else for the room or them yet. We have a cute butterfly rug given to us by a special little girl which will be perfect for the room...and offers of a dresser and a bookshelf. Not much at all in the way of clothes, toys, or other decor items. Mainly it is because I have not allowed myself to get my hopes up. I have bought nothing but their quilts for their beds, and if those hadn't been on sale and I was afraid of missing out on that it is likely I might not have even had those yet! I wandered the aisles of JCPenneys the other day, trying to force myself to pick up a pair of pants, a shirt...something. But it seems my heart still is trying to protect itself from disappointment should something fall through. We are past the stage I should be feeling like that, but I think I did it for so long it is hard to let go and embrace the fact that we should be getting the call anytime now! So silly, and yet it is what has allowed me to emotionally distance myself through the long overly drawn out process.

Today we hit another small snag, nothing insurmountable though. We had to take our passports along with us for ID at the immigration office, and I hadn't even looked at mine in months. It seems that both our passports expire in January. ARGH!!! One more thing that we need to take care of, seems like every possible document has expired during this adoption journey. And of course, because we are drawing very close we need to pay the additional fees to expedite it all. Oh well, it actually seems very small compared to the mountains of paperwork we have already done..and redone...and redone. It is kind of funny, really, as when we started this years ago we thought for a moment about it and checked them and then said "Oh, we will be done long before they expire.". Hmmm....ummm...guess not.

While in Grand Junction I did some shopping for myself as I simply have nothing at all that is nice enough to travel in. I am such a "Walmart jeans and ill fitting TShirt" kind of mom these days, in part because I hate shopping and in part out of financial necessity, that I have nothing in my closet at all that I even feel good about wearing out of the house. I HATE SHOPPING for clothes...just hate it with a passion. I hate how I look in every single thing I try on, I hate trying things on in the first place, I hate paying for it all because it always feels overpriced, I hate the static electricity in my hair from taking shirts on and off, I hate the bad Muzak that always plays in department stores, I hate the poor lighting in dressing rooms, I hate the fact that if I find something I DO like it is never available in my size, I hate standing in front of the full length mirror and looking at myself...I HATE IT ALL. Do I make myself clear on this one?

But today I totally scored!!! I didn't know that one of the stores was having a major sale, with tons of things marked down that I tried on and actually sort of fit. This never happens to me, and I was so happy I almost could have cried. I have been dreading shopping for the trip, seriously dreading it with everything that is in me. It was all over with fairly quickly, and I got some decent things at terrific prices that didn't make me gulp at the register. It will be nice to not stand in my teeny tiny closet staring for half an hour wishing something would appear. Now if only it all lasts through Kazakhstani laundry and brown water....definitely not guaranteed.

To top it off, I spoke with Leonette at our agency as I wasn't sure about some issues related to the passports, and it sounds as if we are really getting closer to getting "the call". Oh how you will hear me squeal regardless of how far away you are!! Just kidding, actually, I am totally NOT a squealer and will likely be grinning from ear to ear as I calmly and rationally say "Thanks Leonette" and hang up...and then turn into a whirling dervish of activity!

OK...maybe I'll give just a tiny little squeal...which will come out shortly after the tears of joy are shed.

And now, I think I am going to stroll down our hallway, stand in the middle of a little pink and yellow room, and imagine hearing two little voices giggling in their beds.

Let There Be Pink!!!!!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Postcards from the Edge :-)

Kenny's Special Smile :-)

What a quietly wonderful week this has been! It has been a week filled with surprises from all over! It has also officially been declared "Book Week" at our house. Someone who knows quite well the struggles Kenny is going through at school thoughtfully sent him 2 story books with characters that have cleft. It obviously hit the right spot when Kenny flipped carefully through the pages of the first book to arrive, pictured above, and saw a page in which a boy was teased by others about his cleft. Kenny exclaimed "Hey, that happens to me too!". Thanks Carrie for having the brain I didn't have on this one...I should have thought of looking for books before now, but it never occurred to me.

We also received some terrific Russian/English Dictionaries and picture books from a dear, dear adopted Grandpa who was thinking of exactly what we might need soon. They are perfect and will come in so handy! Even Joshie got a really cool book on bugs sent to him, and it came in quite handy as we learned about the praying mantis he captured and put in his bug cage. The book told us they were cannibals, and so he caught another...and another...and we watched Praying Mantis #1 have lunch and dinner...hahahaha!

Another package arrived from a special family with connections to our kids. Dee over at the Crab Chronicles sent a care package with craft projects for all 5 kids, books, some thoughtful travel necessities, and lots of love :-)

And the gift would be impossible to say thanks for our "virtual shower" gifts. Oh, how I wish I could show the same love and care for each and every one of you as you have shown us! I was floored when they first started coming in, not quite getting it until the 3rd one came in. And the sentiments on your cards brought tears to my eyes more than once. It is hard to explain what this feels like, having so many of you whom I have never met show us such love and kindness. We do not deserve it, and are completely and totally humbled by your care. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

We received a package yesterday that even had 2 girlie shirts! All of us were standing around when I opened it and we all said "Awwww..." and the boys teased each other about wearing of COURSE I had to make them do it and post it to the blog! The blog and our followers have become more real these past few weeks to the boys as they see the concrete proof of your existence with the postcards that have come in. Now I find them saying "Are you going to blog about that, Mommy?" or "You AREN'T going to put those pictures on the blog, are you?" as they giggled this evening as they modeled the girlie pink shirts. I dug out a pink girl's shirt for Matthew to model so they could all show off their more feminine sides as they giggled and teased their way through the photo session...and included Kenny shoving apples in his shirt at one time to simulate girlie anatomy...they ARE goofy boys you know!

This is an honestly unretouched photo of Matthew...the pink cheeks were the real thing at the moment after roughhousing a bit and I SWEAR he matches that shirt!

Joshie and his "Hello Kitty" look.

Should I be worried that all 3 boys actually looked cute in girls shirts??????

Celebrating Sisterhood in Pink!

Here are all 3 boys displaying the postcards all of you have sent!! I wish I could show them all close up so you could see your own card, but maybe you can pick it out in the background. What a gift to our daughters you have given us...they will see in a tangible way that we were not the only ones anticipating their arrival. Thank you all so much for what you have done for us. You have also made this an enjoyable experience for the boys as well, which is equally important in helping them lovingly embrace their new sisters...they feel important as well, and a large part of this experience. There will be many moments in the coming months when the girls will get all the attention, and you including them in this by sending cards addressing them to the boys as well is another way of helping smooth the way so they don't feel left out or unimportant.

Amazingly we have received cards from ALL over, including Thailand (a card that Matthew insisted was his special card), the UK, Ireland, France and all over the US including from a beautiful waiting family for trip #2 in Hawaii, and a special card from Disneyworld (Hey Wichita!! We love you!). I have loved receiving photos of other Kaz adoptive we have followed through the years and who are so beautiful, healthy and happy. Lots of old friends and many newer ones. What fun it has been to check out postmarks and the boys have been very excited to see where the one from the furthest away would be. But I think we have a couple of very special winners in that "Furthest Distance" category...

Postcards from the two people for whom this is a life altering adventure!!

Yes, we have postcards from Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan, delivered via an angel here in the US!!!

So sorry, guys, as much as I'd love to say that your card was my favorite...and I DO love all of them from each of you, I hope you'll forgive me if I am partial to these two special cards :-)
I figured you'd all understand! Hahahaha!

Although it was unexpected and not part of our "Postcard Project", other than our "Longest Distance" card there was one other note that reached us recently which touched me to the core. 2 1/2 years ago when we were at our Embassy appointment in Almaty, Kazakhstan finishing our paperwork for Kenny, there was an adoptive mommy there who was truly struggling, feeling very conflicted and uncertain about what she had just done to her family by adopting this cutie patootie little guy who was...well...struggling in his own ways with all the changes. My heart went out to this mom who was also victim to a rotten and unethical agency and had a very bad experience all the way around (this agency was the one run by Orson Mozes who was recently convicted of fraud). I sat there talking to her, not really saying much that I would have even recalled but I was trying to reassure her that she didn't just ruin her life, that time would take care of a lot and that I understood how hard this all was. It was barely a 10 minute conversation as we each waited for our turn at the counter.

We left and I never heard from her again...until a few weeks ago when out of the blue a letter arrived along with photos of her family 2 years later. Our conversation had meant so much to her that when she found our address 2 years later she took the time to write and share with me how much it had helped her through a very rough time in her life. While I don't think I did anything at all but what any woman does...yack up a storm (yea Dominick, don't laugh too hard over that one!), it was such a tremendous surprise to learn so long after the fact that God used me in that moment to comfort her. Even though I really couldn't do anything at all to help her, somehow something I said still did manage to help, and I am so grateful God put us at the Embassy at that precise time. I think we all have had surprises like this, where we find out long after the fact that we made a difference without even knowing it. I know many of you who read this blog have been that person for me, at times when I was low or needed a lift, and perhaps I have failed to let you know. Isn't it just the coolest when that happens? And the happiest part of this story is that all turned out well, her son is the light of their lives and they all settled into their "new normal" and lived happily ever after. Thanks God!!!

In other news, a bedroom is being painted in yellows and pinks, thanks to our friend Mr. Steve! What a gift to have friends who offer their talents and love in unique ways. And to top it off, I pulled a "girlie act" of my own and after the poor man got two coats of yellow on the walls, it dried a different shade than I wanted...way off actually as it looks more puke greenish than yellow as the yellow went over the boys old blue bedroom walls and it just didn't work well. I thought about keeping my mouth shut and living with it, but realized I will live with this for a long time and I needed to be honest. Poor Steve was the best and even though we tried to say we would paint it over (it still would have saved us a ton of time with the under coats) he wants to do it for us so will be repainting a 3rd coat. I feel so bad, and yet totally relieved that I won't walk down the hall for the next 10 years thinking "I hate that color!". We will post pictures soon when the room starts to come together. After all, you are all in this with us!!

And I truly feel that way, I want you to know. It seems to be a growing feeling I am having, that our children may reside with us, but in some odd way unlike in other families they really belong to many, many others. Of course we are their parents, I am not saying that. But there have been so many people who have offered their love to all of us, who participate in our daily lives in so many ways. I was telling someone just this evening that I have never in my life had so many very special people to call friends, and that includes so many of you whom I have never even met before or may have only met once or twice.

We have extended adopted family all over, intense and deep friendships that are more important to us than anything we might own, and so many who have contributed to the well being of our children and our entire family, for that matter. And not just anyone...really extraordinary, insightful, caring individuals who express their feelings openly and put a lot of effort and care into their relationships with us. How grateful we are, and how we know we could not do what we do without so many special people in our lives. My mommy friends, my older friends, my virtual friends, my faith friends, my counseling friends, my own many wonderful voices and so much wisdom surrounds me. If I end up failing at anything I attempt, it won't be for lack of support and nurturing guidance.

I finished the slide show for our Family Celebration, and man was that a hard one! Whew! Glad it is over with, I don't know if my keyboard would have survived the waterworks much longer. It surprises even me how powerful the emotions are surrounding this experience. And still, as I shared tonight, we are this close and I find I am guarding my heart for fear it will fall apart at the last minute. Usually by now I am letting my defenses down, but then we have never had an experience as long and drawn out as this one, where it has continually felt as if this might never actually happen. I might not allow my heart to leap until the day we actually step on the plane.

We head into another week starting with a holiday which will be spent at home, as Kenny has been ill this weekend and all of us are trying to take it easy. We will do a few projects around the house, continue nesting and preparing in many ways. And I guarantee you we are feeling quite thankful for so many things right now, and will spend a lot of time sharing and laughing and savoring your presence in our lives.

PS: I feel the need to apologize as Dominick has pointed out that I often don't catch my typos on the blog. The fact is that I sometimes have a hard time squeezing in the time to blog, and so I do it quickly, get it typed up, do a quickie spell check and then post it. If I carefully scrutinized each post as I would my school homework, I fear I would never get a blog post completed! So please forgive my sometimes less-than-perfect posts. Sometimes I re-read them and see mistakes and think "Well, I should go back and correct that..." and never get around to it. Sometimes I wonder how many of my blog posts have been written after midnight!! Can I blame tired eyes or weary fingers? Or just plain old laziness???? Whatever the case may be I'd love to look more professional in writing but if that is what you want you'll have to wait a loooonggg time for me to have enough spare time to do that!! HAHAHA! Night everyone! Happy Columbus Day tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Finding Meaning in the Alone-ness

Original watercolor by Matthew LaJoy

In the midst of the of the noise, sometimes you need silence.

In the midst of the coming and going, sometimes you need stillness.

In the midst of the conflict and clamor, sometimes you need peace.

Gradually, thanks to the reaching out of others, I am re-centering and re-grouping. An email from a mentor mommy, the only one I truly have whose life mirrors my own (well, times 2 maybe!), who took the time away from the birth of a new life to help me see my experiences through God's eyes. A 2 hour phone call with someone who loves our family and is in a position to offer insight which is based upon knowledge of how we function helped. Time this morning with someone, sitting still, just breathing, being comfortably with God and in communion with one another...and later gaining their considerable insight helped as well.

There is alone-ness...and yet there is not.

What a gift to be surrounded by people who will say "Come be with me...", who care enough to give up their precious time in what I know are extremely busy lives to listen, to help bring voice to things I might not yet even be able to. I am swimming in a sea of warmth and great depth. These people whose lives intersect with mine by choice are what I wish I could be for others...

Today I have filtered through photos, seeing young faces grow up right before my eyes. I have relived the past 5 years in the lives of children whom I love...and yet I am not yet there for them.

And I am reminded that for them too, there is alone-ness...and yet there is not.

This world can be a bleak and bitter place to walk around in. Daily we encounter the hostile and hurtful side of life on the evening news or on our computer screens with up-to-the-moment coverage of current events. We see people exploited and exposed.

Sometimes we feel that way ourselves.

It is at those moments when I can not, for the life of me, figure out how I walked around for so long with a distant and impersonal relationship with God. How did I manage it??? I recall those days easily, and then quickly try and swish them aside, for the loneliness then was real and heavy. Oh, I would try and reach out once in awhile, tried to call God into my presence, but the simple fact is that I just didn't "get it". I was unable to see God in others, I was unable to see God in situations, I was unable to see God walking alongside me...mainly because I was unable to understand that I had the power to distance myself from the Divine. It was all my own doing.

These days I see God in everything, all around me. Probably to the point that if I spoke of it much people would lock me up as a nut case and throw away the key. It doesn't mean my life has gotten any easier. Au contraire, in many ways it is more overwhelming and difficult than ever before. The difference is that I am no longer walking around unaware of God walking beside me. The mere act of looking for God in the mundane daily tasks of life leads me to walk with my head panning the landscape around me as I search for the presence of the Holy in everything. It lifts my head up rather than causing me to look downward at the ground as I shuffle along without that awareness that makes life that much more rewarding.

There may be alone-ness, but then again, there is not.

Tears welled up as I sorted through those missing 5 years of our children's lives...and as I contemplated the years that came even before that. We can never get that time back, and we have missed so very much. Faces matured, bodies grew taller and lankier, hair changed from short bobs to longer tresses. And yet the smiles filled with hope remained. Somehow, God staved off the dullness and the blank stares that institutionalization usually brings. Were we used in that? Maybe. Did our contact and expression of love long before the current new life that is just within reach was known make a difference? Maybe.

We all can be used by God, even those who don't believe in God can still be instruments if they are willing to simply put themselves out there, be vulnerable, and have faith that something...even if in your own mind you do not call it "God" ...exists and you let the Spirit move within you. We think we have to have it all figured out to be able to let God (or whatever you may call it) use us for the benefit of others. If we all had to wait until we had it all figured out before we could be useful in a spiritual sense, then there would be very few vessels around that God would feel free to use! Thankfully though, God looks at the mis-thrown pots, the cracked pots, the leaking pots, the ugly and the beautiful pots and jumps up and down with glee, clapping hands and saying "Whooo Eeeeee....Boy, can I use that one!". And the next thing you know, Shazzam, you find yourself in the midst of a modern day miracle. Big or small is not measured, for anything involving God and a human being who feels connected is a mini-miracle in this world where ever more often God is relegated to the corner to be forgotten for awhile until a crisis occurs. Then we sure do try and pull God out of back pockets, don't we?

But why wait for that? Why not slip God out of that back pocket and let the Spirit loose in your life? You might be very surprised at what you see and learn if you do.

And you might just find there is alone-ness,
but then again, maybe there's not.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Homeschooling Update - Week 4

I promised I'd keep you all updated on our homeschooling saga, and I apologize to those who are totally uninterested in this portion of our lives, we'll get back to adoption drama in the next post :-)

Matthew and I had a talk this morning on the way home from dropping the boys off at school. Here are some of his responses, paraphrased as best I could recall them:

1) Do you miss being in school?

"It's kind of funny mommy, but it doesn't feel like I was ever there before...and it was a lot of years! It just feels like this is the way it always was supposed to be."

2) Do you miss ANYTHING about school?

"I miss Clay (his best friend), but that's about it...and we didn't see each other much in school anyway."

3) Do you think you'll miss the school activities like the Walk-A-Thon, sports when you are older, band, dances, things like that?

"No, not really. You know I don't care much about sports, at least not like a lot of boys. Joshie and Kenny don't either. It's like that is all high school is about...being cool or girls or being good at sports. I just don't want to play football or stuff like that, so I don't think I'll miss much. And I think the kids are getting meaner as they get older. I know my brothers won't be that way. I don't know about my sisters but I don't think they will be like that either 'cuz you and Daddy wouldn't let them be like that."

4) What do you like about homeschooling? And don't say it just because you think I want to hear it...I really want to know what you are thinking now that we have been at this a little while.

"I like it a lot better. It's like we get to study things deeper, not just talk about it for a few minutes and then we have to move on to something else. Kenny gets frustrated with that too because it takes him longer to do stuff and he never gets finished. I like being able to ask you more about something and you don't rush me. Like our Indians study...I am learning WAY more than I ever did at school about stuff, I feel like I am learning everything about it and not just a few important things."

5) What about me as a teacher? What can I do to improve? What is driving you nuts?

"Nothing, serious Mommy. You are the best teacher I ever had...I think it is because you love us and you care more about whether we understand something or not. You are NOT easy and you correct me a lot more than my other teachers. I could get away with things and they'd just let me do it. You catch everything I don't spell write, you force me to write neater, you make me go back and correct math problems when I get them wrong...but at home we HAVE the time to correct them and figure out what I did wrong, and I like that. Plus, like Kenny said, you know what we don't know and you explain things deeper than the teachers do. You don't treat us like we are just dumb kids, you talk to us like you talk to Miss Jill or Miss Jane, sort of like we are grown ups too, and that helps me learn a lot more."

Hmmm....that was one I had never thought about!

6) What do you not like studying?

"Math, but not because it is at home or because the book is boring, I just don't care for math much and I am not super good at it."

7) What do you like doing the most?

"Reading all the time and the unit studies. They are really cool and I like the lapbooking a lot. It makes learning more fun."

8) What else do you want to study? If you could choose to learn about anything, what would it be?

"Nuclear submarines, WW1 and WW2, electricity and how it works, architecture, I want to learn about all the famous landmarks like the Taj Majal and the Eiffel Tower and know how they were built, more music stuff, and I really, really want to keep on taking my art classes. Oh yea, and all about our government and how it works. I want to understand more when we have the next election." Umm, I think I got it all.

So although it IS overwhelming as the mom to suddenly be homeschooling, for Matthew it is really, really working. It is interesting to me that I started at one place in my thinking a month ago and I have progressed to a very different place. It is a real journey of thought, evaluating what it really is we want this to be and where we want it to go. We have already changed curriculum and I am glad I read several blogs and other pointers from others who said "Don't be afraid to make changes if something isn't right or not working...remember it is NOT public school and you have permission to do whatever works for you."

We have gone from thinking we would be more heavily computer based with curriculum to definitely more text/workbook oriented. I floundered a bit with Language Arts as nothing struck me as solid and all encompassing enough. I found that Saxon has a grammar and writing program for 5th-8th graders which is fantastic and I am thrilled to see how far Matthew will progress by the time we are finished with even this year.

I have hated...and I do mean thoroughly hated...the way the new math curriculum at the kids school approaches math. It is not systematic, it doesn't provide enough opportunity for review, it is so busy trying to teach things in a "new" way (do you all remember the last time we had "new" math?) that they don't solidify the basics. We have struggled at home to help with homework for the past two years since it was fact I was interrupted by Kenny asking a question I couldn't answer as I was writing this paragraph. Funny how with the Saxon Math program I seem to have no difficulty at all understanding and teaching 5th grade math. I thought I was a total idiot (and still do with Kenny's math tonight!) and I realize it is the same reason the kids are struggling, because it is so busy trying to be "new" that it isn't teaching the basics. That is why Kenny still can't add single digit numbers with any speed at all.

I am gradually relaxing a little now that we have a bit of structure. I am quickly seeing that I could NEVER be one of those "unschooling" moms who is more free wheeling. I need to know the basics will be covered to feel comfortable, but I am finding the more removed we are from public school, the more I am allowing myself to think outside the box a bit and get a little more creative in my thinking. I think we will be spending 2-3 hours each day working on the core stuff like math, grammar, etc. and the remainder of our day will be more open to exploration.

For example, Matthew wants to learn a lot about architecture and eventually drafting. This is one of the areas which might eventually lead to a career, or at the very least his study early on might eliminate it from possibility. You never know! Well, I had a link sent to me by a friend who knows Matthew is a Lego nut, and I discovered that Lego is producing a new "Architecture" line which will offer kits of famous buildings and a focus on Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. (You can check it out Currently they have available a model of Wright's "Fallingwater" home as well as the Guggenheim. Surprisingly, most of these kits are more affordable, in the $40-60 price range with the exception of Fallingwater which is $100 (still better than the $300 Taj Majal which Matthew drools over!). So I have decided that we will do a unit study on Frank Lloyd Wright. We found a couple of books at the library here, one of which shows original drawings only, the other photos of completed projects, and we had a lot of fun looking at some of the incredible designs and then seeing the finished structure. There was another book that was kid oriented that was a biography which we checked out and I will have Matthew read it and write a report on Frank Lloyd Wright based upon what he has learned in all 3 books. Then we will maybe get the Lego kit and explore the design of Fallingwater, and I am going to try and track down a PBS special I saw once a long time ago which was very cool and I think that it would make Wright's work come to life. It is kind of fun to think of ways to pull in other core subjects on things that interest him!

Another example is that we are going to put together a display board for our upcoming Family Celebration at church, and Matthew is studying Kazakhstan and then going to create this display to educate others about his birth country. We started on it today by first creating a list of areas to study...culture, geography, history, facts, orphanage life, etc. Then as part of our technology studies I had him use the internet to look up the CIA Factbook online and find data on Kazakhstan, then taught him how to print out a web page. Although the boys have been on the computer it has been limited to a couple of safe kids web sites with games, and offline games that we approve of. So Matthew needs to learn more about the internet, web browsers, email, etc. to allow him to better research things.

We looked at his print out and then created a chart to compare and contrast data from the US to Kazakhstan. We looked at interesting facts such as the ratio of cell phone to land line usage, and we discussed the terribly outdated old Soviet infrastructure and why cell phone usage is so high there due to the timing of the independence of Kazakhstan and the adoption worldwide of cell phone technology. We compared infant mortality rates and life expectancy (and learned what those terms meant...vocabulary!!). He thoughtfully declared he was glad to be living here in the US as his own life expectancy is now far greater. He wanted to understand the finer points that differentiate the word "poverty" from "poor", so we looked each one up in the dictionary and discussed it. We also then talked about how poverty affects life expectancy and in what ways. He first said "They can't afford good health care" but then I pointed out other ways in which poverty affects life span such as malnutrition, fewer regulations such as requirements for seat belts in cars, etc. which raises the death rate, lack of heating in the winter and he mentioned "Yea, and like the old people sleeping without the mattresses that Aigula makes dying because it is too cold!" so it was great to see him tie in our church's project with John Wright in his thought processes. We then learned what "GDP" means and compared the Gross Domestic Product of Kazakhstan to the US and were stunned at the staggering difference. He was also very interested in what "arable land" was and we looked at a map at the vast expanses of unoccupied or scarcely occupied land. This led us to me asking him to guess why the number of TV stations was so low in a country so large, and he immediately put two and two together as we talked about the population density and the need for a decent sized market audience to target with advertising.

All in all, it was the coolest hour of our homeschooling yet, and I gained a tad bit more confidence in what we are doing. We both agreed that these kinds of projects can come to life and be more engaging if we just start them and see where they lead us. It was interesting to see where Matthew's brain took him as we analyzed the data and compared it. I'd point something out and he'd jump on it and take it the next step further. We will spend the next few days learning about the history of Kazakhstan as that is an area where he knows very little and I am sure he will be fascinated by it.

Interestingly, the whole feel inside our home is gently and subtly changing. Joshie has decided suddenly that he wants to be a scientist and is asking me to teach him "science stuff about bugs and maybe other aminals" (and yes the misspelling is his pronunciation.). It is as if this freedom to learn and dig deeper is "catching" and he asked me for a microscope so he could examine crickets and maybe start a collection of them (Dead please, Joshua, dead...I am scared of jumping bugs!). Kenny has asked several times if he can learn more about Rome and "Bible times" as that is very interesting to him. Funny how when the adults in the home change their attitude about where learning occurs, so too do the kids follow. And we have always been a home in which reading actually has been done most nights, where we have encouraged taking things apart, discussing issues and current events at age appropriate levels. But this new feeling in the air in the LaJoy home is very different, and it is obvious our life is changing in a big way. Flood gates are starting to bulge, learning is beginning to be seen as FUN and not only about homework and worksheets and testing. We will see if it continues to blossom. I sure hope so, even if it means I am scrambling to keep up and see if I can meet the challenge myself.

What I seem to be struggling with the most with homeschooling is letting go of the need to feel I have to keep on some sort of public school schedule...that Matthew has to learn certain things at a certain time or I have failed. Holding on to that sort of defeats the whole purpose of homeschooling, and I hope in time I feel freer to spin off, to be more creative, to realize that much of the "scope and sequence" of public education is what I DON'T like, so why am I feeling I have to be a slave to their schedule of when and how I educate my son? Of what I expose him to and when? I will surely be a better homeschooling Mom when I can dump those thoughts and quit worrying about increasing CSAP scores as I sacrifice real learning to teach to a test...the very thing that most public school teachers despise having to do.

Another thing Dominick and I have been discussing between ourselves is allowing ourselves early on to get off the whole "SAT" "ACT" merry go round. Kids today are so worried about college entrance exams and resumes that they give up what is remaining of their childhood in 8th or 9th grade so they can take on every possible extracurricular activity whether they like the activity or not, all so they can look good on paper to an admissions counselor. I would much rather see our kids follow their passions than to spend years fretting over college admission. We also recognize that we will have absolutely no money to put our kids through school, that they can still go to college and we certainly will encourage that 100%, but we will have to be non-traditional about it and look at Junior College first then step up to 4 year university. It also makes far more sense, as the cost savings is enormous, and it removes all stress to spend the remaining years of your childhood pursuing activities merely "for show". If they finish at a 4 year college, they still have a diploma with the University name on it, even if they started why not take advantage of the savings and remove the stress at the same time? Whether we ultimately change our minds on this one or not, I leave open for debate. But I have been saddened to see how much attention is paid to the "prestige" of getting into the right college while everything else in a young adults development is pushed aside. We forget that the end result is what we should all be looking for, that our children come away from advanced education with a career that helps them support themselves and their family...and maybe offers fulfillment because they choose a field that allows them to pursue their passion. It is not about having a diploma from Yale hanging on the wall to point out to anyone who will be patient enough to listen. It is not about bragging rights, it's about self-discovery and transformation. It is about self-sufficiency. Sadly, higher ed has become the end result itself and ultimate reward rather than a stepping stone to a good career. The purpose of college is often lost in the high school years as everyone anxiously awaits acceptance letters and feels they will just die if they don't get accepted by their top choice.

I don't have a clue yet where all of this is ultimately leading us...or maybe I do have a clue and am scared of it. Either way I will readily admit it is very interesting and i am enjoying seeing some of my thoughts flipped upside down as I remain open to changing perspectives and seeing some truth in them.