Monday, November 30, 2009

Few Answers, More Questions

Today has been a day of utter frustration, of feeling powerless, and of trying very, very hard to rise to the occasion and not let the stress get to us. In light of my most recent post, it all seems extremely petty. Nonetheless, when you are living it, it can be difficult to let it all go. We have been blessed, I think, in that Dominick and I haven't "lost it" with each other over the past few days. Well, I take that back, I flung the hair clippers on the counter last night when giving Dominick a haircut and becoming totally aggravated with the stupid things that weren't working right. I don't mind giving him a haircut, but I didn't become a barber for a reason...I have no patience for fussing with hair (as is obvious by my own less than fashionable 'do).

In the past 24 hours, here are the issues we have been dealing with:

1) Dominick and the boys made the 10 hour round trip to Denver for more apostilles. Our agency gave us the option of having them mailed to them, then mailed to Almaty, then mailed to us in Petropavlovsk. That seemed like a few too many "mailed to's" to leave us feeling confident, and since we could squeeze it in we decided to be on the safe side and do it ourselves so we would have it in our hands.
2) Somehow immigration had not properly handled our updated fingerprints, and as we checked to see that they had cleared...something that should have been as smooth as could one seemed to know what had happened. So on his way home from Denver Dominick stopped in at the local CIS office and asked them to check it out. When they gave him a dumb look and shrugged their shoulders in a less-than-helpful way, he simply sat down and told them they better figure out who to call and what had happened, as he was going to camp out in their waiting area until they did their job and provided "service" that the "service center" was created to provide. Over an hour and several phone calls later we had a faxed updated I171H form in our hands.
3) Our bank was supposed to have a mortgage refinance completed for us to sign before we left. Not done, won't be done.
4) The new bills we ordered from the bank are not in.
5) Kenny broke a bracket on his braces and it had to be his specialized orthodontist 2 1/2 hours away. Dominick took him to get that done on the way back from Denver.
6) A couple of uncomfortable personal things are going on for me at the same time as all the rest of this which I will not go into but which are taking up brain space and heart time.

And I have a couple of other friends going through some very difficult times at the moment, things I can not help with in any way other than to offer some moral support.

Oh yea...and the most important of all...we have no visas. No passports in hand. No flight on Wednesday. I was mentally prepared for that, and it really isn't the worst thing to happen. We can reschedule.

+++As I type this blog post just this moment I received an email from the US Consular Section in Kazakhstan saying they have no record of our fingerprint update!! HAHAHA!! All I can do now is laugh, this is almost too much!+++

I am not sleeping, the insomnia has kicked in big time and it is not all due to an excessive amount of Diet Coke. Despite my best efforts, I am letting things start to get to me. Overall, I think we are all doing really well with being flexible, and in fact I think the one thing most people would say about our family in general is that we "go with the flow" better than most.

But personally, this is testing my limits in ways I have never been tested before. The thoughts running around in my head are not pretty at the moment.

And I can not describe this, I can't explain what it feels like. There is a lot of preparation for an experience like this, and the majority of it is internal, not external. For me, at least, there is a lot of self-talk going on...of preparing for possible outcomes, of keeping expectations well grounded, of sort of training myself to key in to clues of distress or discomfort in any one of the 7 of us and to be thinking about proper reactions to those things. There are mental checklists, there is an attempt to ground yourself spiritually so you can feel God's presence and gain the peace that is needed to remain flexible and not make a stressful or uncomfortable situation that much worse by having my worst self come out.

It is a build up to the time you arrive and meet your child, and it is sort of like a professional athlete getting in "the zone". When you have that process interrupted it is jolting and disorienting, and that is where I am at the moment. A little disoriented. And I realize that nothing I am saying is probably making any sense to most of you right now.

Being in "the zone" for me is terribly important. It is what allows me to be wholly connected to my children, who at the time of the greatest change of their lives need to feel complete confidence being exuded from us as their parents. They need to have a sense that we understand what they do not have the language to understand, they need us to orient them to their new life and interpret it for them as well as anticipate the questions that might be going through their minds and offering them answers to those questions without them having to even ask them.

Sounds silly, doesn't it? I know...but it is my approach and I can't change that.

So I sit here tonight, not yet knowing exactly when we are leaving, trying to remain on an even keel so that I don't create greater chaos in the hearts of those trying to work on our behalf, trying to show grace when I want to get angry...even when it is no one's fault in particular. I am trying to think of everything that might have been missed or needs to be checked on.

And I am trying with all my heart to find some light at the end of the tunnel so that I can at least feel that somewhere along the line in all of this, the joy will eventually arrive. We seem to be pretty far from it at the moment.

Except...except when I stare into the faces of our sons. Except when I think of the ones who wait for us. Except when I refuse to allow myself to wallow in fear and worry about as-yet-to-occur events which might not ever occur. Except when I am reminded of those who have daily phoned and emailed and gone out of their way to help us, knowing how difficult this is becoming.

Except when I am reminded that God is walking this with us.

Missing a flight is not a tragedy, neither is a bank mortgage not completing in time. As I have been sadly reminded this week in more ways than one, what we are walking through might be frustrating, but it is nowhere near a tragedy. No one's life has been lost, no one's house has been lost, no one's health has been lost.

A little sleep has been lost, a little patience has been lost.

But the end goal is still in sight.

We learn more tomorrow about Plan B. Stay tuned, we will keep you posted as soon as we learn anything significant. We are likely to be delayed only a few days.

Funny how writing it all down can somehow create peace and bring perspective.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rest In Peace, Baby Matthew

Many of us are reeling this holiday weekend from the devastating news we received today about the passing of the newborn infant, long named Matthew, of John and Lori Ennis. Lori is an online friend whom I have spoken with on the phone in the past, and whose blog can be found on my blogroll on the left. John and Lori became involved with the Kyrgyz adoptive families as they were initially planning to adopt from Kyrgyzstan, but with the halt in adoptions moved on to try IVF, which is how Matthew was conceived. Despite their change in plans, Lori has continued to be active in the Kyrgyz adoption community, providing support and prayer for others long after she had any need to be connected to us all.

As Lori and I teased one another over our "Due Dates", which appeared to coincide with one another, we had fun imagining our family boarding a plane while she was delivering Matthew across the country. We had walked through the last year together, commenting on one another's blogs, and Lori has been a true support to me as we have jumped over hurdles and had our highs and lows.

Matthew was so longed for, so cherished...and Lori's blog has been a testament of her devotion to her then as-yet-unborn first child, her dear son. It was a great joy of mine to read along as she posted about his nursery, wrote her public letters to baby Matthew and shared her heart with all of us.

In our darkest hours such as this, nothing makes sense. It is natural to rail against God, to question and doubt...after begs the age old question of how would a good, kind and just God allow such things to happen. "Where is God in this?" we rightly ask. We want to make sense out of something that is senseless. We want to assign blame. We want for it not to be random, just something that happens as a part of living in this world. For "Randomness" is scary, it is uncontrollable, it leaves us vulnerable.

Lori and John are suffering greatly this night. Dreams are shattered, hearts are crushed, and they will return to their home with empty arms, the vision of a happy homecoming that was so anticipated has vanished.

Where is God in this?

God is in those on Facebook who shared the heartbreak with one another, gathered in this cyber community of love and support that is very, very real. God is circling John and Lori as they cling to one another in their grief...their love is the Spirit surrounding them. God is in the thoughtful way that hopefully others in their "real life" will care for them, reach out for them, and nurture them through this incredibly difficult time.

And God was with little Matthew, reaching out arms to embrace this little one, who for whatever reason, was not meant to live with his earthly mother and father longer than the 9 months he resided within Lori.

Sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes there is only randomness.

But we change that randomness to purposefulness with our own actions. We, being God's people, bring God into the midst of sadness...and yes, randomness. Through our willingness to walk hand in hand with Lori and John during this incredibly painful time, we usher in God's presence. By our embracing our friends who are mindless with grief at this moment, we can lift them up and carry them as in the Footprints poem, when they can not yet lift themselves up.

That, my friends, is where God is in all of this.

Matthew's pain was very short lived during his oh-so-brief time here in this world. John and Lori's will sadly linger for the remainder of their lives. It will never fully leave them, though they will undoubtedly one day be able to put one foot in front of the other and move on. They will never forget Matthew.

Neither will we.

It is in this communal remembering that we create a place for Matthew's life to have meaning. We who followed Lori and John's pregnancy along with them, who rejoiced in reading every word of their love for their is we who find meaning in his birth and death by sharing with one another how touched we were by the journey this entire family has been on.

In Matthew Chapter 18, versus 1-5 we read: At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them,and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Matthew was welcomed long before he physically was delivered. He has now entered the kingdom of Heaven. And those who welcomed him for his brief time here welcomed God as well.

As our hearts ache tonight, let us not forget God's presence and our job in the coming days, weeks and months to ease the burden for John and Lori. Let us speak of Matthew often, for it is when, in our own discomfort, we ignore his existence that we bring more pain. For he will never be forgotten by his loving parents, and they want to know that his life mattered...that their loss is acknowledged and carried by others. Let us not forget Lori in her time of need, as she had never forgotten those of us who continued on our adoption journeys long after she left our path.

God bless you, Matthew Ennis. God bless John and Lori.

May peace be with you tonight, and always.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs...

I have had several emails responding to the comment left on my last blog post. "Miserable and Destroyed" has shared her adoption experience and cautioned us to see many of the mountains we have had to climb as signs from God that we should not be proceeding. She has admittedly had a very rough experience with adopting an older child, perhaps one like we have all seen highlighted in magazines and on news shows with older children suffering with Reactive Attachment Disorder. My heart goes out to her, as it sounds as if she has suffered tremendously, not only with the adoption of her daughter, but has faced many other trials as well. There is a lot of pain there if you read between the lines.

Have we had things stand in our way that have told us to "stop"? Are we not listening to some sort of Divine Message? Are we ignoring signs that we are about to bring about the ruination of our family?

Do you think those thoughts haven't entered our minds with EVERY adoption?

Of course they have. In those quieter moments in the middle of the night, when I come across blogs of folks struggling mightily to conquer the RAD monster, when I speak with moms on the phone who turn to me for support and encouragement when no one else believes how their child acts behind closed doors...of course it makes me scared to think of what we might be bringing home.

In her comment she writes "And, now, now after the fact, I have become aware of so many other "forever families" in our adoption agency group who adopted older girls (seems to almost always be girls) whose lives are similar. They just covered up the realities out of shame or embarrassment. But, most of the "Mother figures" now say they want their lives back, they are tired of being cursed at daily, their daughters are the poster children of defiance. And, we are all so angry that we were misled, deceived, when we tried to do a good thing."

Those words are hard to read. They sadden me deeply. I do not distance myself from that could I after Josh? But there were a few things that stood out for me, and because I am receiving so many private emails about this I thought I should talk about my thoughts openly here. "they just covered up the realities of shame or embarrassment". Sadly, that is true. It takes a strong and straight thinking parent to see RAD for what it is...not a reflection on your parenting but a VERY VERY UNDERSTANDABLE reaction to life experiences.

We see attachment disorder as "wrong" and as "damaged" instead least in my mind...seeing it for what it is, a perfectly reasonable reaction to pain inflicted on someone in childhood who does not have a large bank of positive attachment experiences to turn to and create some sense of balance when hurt by someone. Reactive Attachment Disorder is how living it animal or human...respond to being harmed, ignored and rejected by others.Think about it for a moment. When you were dating in high school or college, and loved someone deeply only to find they betrayed you or hurt you in some way, weren't you a little more cautious as you entered your next relationship? Imagine that kind of deep pain coming at an early stage of your life when you had no good experiences to look back on and help place the bad one in context. If the ONLY experiences you have had have included relationships where your needs were not met, where you could not trust someone (adults) to take care of you, and you had never had an adult who truly had YOUR best interest in mind and you could count on, what would adults be for you? When you think about it, RAD is not at all irrational, it makes perfect sense to me.

The problem lies in the very true statement our commenter makes, that adoptive parents cover up the realities out of needless shame or embarrassment. I was told this very thing by a therapist in Colorado Springs, that infant attachment disorder is far less known because adoptive parents think it reflects poorly on them, that they personalize it and are embarrassed to admit their child doesn't love them...and yes, that they don't love their child who is acting so unlovable. Hard stuff to admit, especially about an infant. It is wrong thinking in personalizing it as if the adoptive parent caused it instead of seeing it as a condition their child came to them with a condition they will help them through. It is this denial and fear of being “discovered” that keeps families from getting the help they need as soon as possible. Think about it, how awful would it be to admit that this longed for child is a wreck and hates you but cuddles up to others? Of course they do, there is no risk in warming up to strangers! With you...oh, the harm you could inflict on them if they should let go and love you! How terrifying it must be to try one more time to trust someone when your entire life you have been let down. What courage it takes for ANY adopted child to trust a new family. And that is not going to happen over night, nor is it always going to be possible.

I remember 10 years ago speaking with our Social Worker and discussing RAD, and how we felt we could handle physical disabilities but RAD was the single thing I thought I would not be able to handle. I was scared after all the horror stories used to prepare us for what might lay ahead, for you sure don't hear much about the tens of thousands of adoptions that go smoothly and the children bond quickly with their parents. I am so glad I didn't let those "newbie" fears stop us. We sure might have...

But look at what we gained...

Some kids are damaged beyond repair. But not many. The fact is that most can be helped tremendously, if parents admit there is a problem in the first place and place their child's needs ahead of their own fear of being seen as lacking. And yes, those fears are true...we have been judged countless times for the way we parent, for the screaming toddler we hauled around who was so very, angry and awful at moments. We have been judged right here on the blog for so many, many things we have done or not done in our life. We have had
people roll their eyes at us when they learn our children sleep on our floor once or twice a week, or that Josh was in bed with us until he was almost 5. We lost friendships with those who didn't
want to be involved as we struggled, we lost our son's early childhood to anger, we lost money for
treatments of all sorts.

But look what we gained.

And yes, I do know it could have gone the other way. Oh believe me, how I know it. As we adopted Kenn
y, it was never far from my mind...what in the world are we doing here? Are we STUPID or what? Why rock the boat after finally hitting smooth seas? Why adopt an older boy with special needs when we already have 2 boys and we are happy? Don't I realize how badly this could turnout?

But look what we gained.

Parenting is not easy. Adoptive parenting is not easy. Biological parenting is not easy.

Another thing that stood out to me in our commenter’s words was this statement:
“And, we are all so angry that we were misled, deceived, when we tried to do a good thing." And in an earlier statement she said “We went in to the adoption process wanting to "make a difference in the world" and have a legacy behind us when we were gone - but that is certainly not happening. “.

I know many wonderful people decide to adopt to “do a good thing” or to “make a difference in the world”. I also have found over the past 10 years that those who adopt for those reasons alone are often not prepared for the reality of what adoption brings. Sure, we all love that adoption makes a difference in a child’s life, but when that is the main motivator…when we want to merely “do good” and are not in it 100% because we want to parent, it is too easy to emotionally jump ship when our “project” bombs or when the fairy tale turns into a nightmare.

Dominick and I both know this is no fairy tale. As I said to one person this week already, I know that standing on the outside looking in it appears to be magical, this family story of ours. But it is not. They are real children with real histories that are not always what one would voluntarily want to invite into your home.

I can’t even really explain all the reasons we want to, for some are more elusive “gut feelings” than concrete reasons. But the one reason that has never changed in all these years of building our family is…we want to be a mom and dad. What we are doing is not altruistic in any way. Sounds selfish, doesn’t it? But the fact remains, our kids are not some sort of “do good’ers pet project” we are tackling so we can have people stand back and say “You are such saints!”. Heck, I could find much easier, less time consuming and frustrating things to do if that were all we wanted. No, we are adopting our girls for the same reason we adopted all three of our sons, because nothing in life has brought us more joy or more satisfaction. And nothing…and I do mean NOTHING in this world has ever made us feel more like we are doing what we was put on earth here to do. Everything else takes a back seat to simply being a family, to creating love, to nurturing others. For Dominick as well as myself, jobs are a means to an end, they are not who we are. They are a way of supporting what goes on at home.

I want to be a mom more than I have ever wanted to be anything in the whole world. I may have talents and skills in other areas that could have brought us decent financial rewards had I chosen to pursue them. Dominick could have made his career a priority and looked for satisfaction away from home rather than in the home.

But I think that it is wanting this parenting thing more than anything else that helps you hang on when the going is rough, that pushes you to advocate for your children when others have given up, to act lovingly even when love may not yet have developed…and, if need be, to relinquish your children on the rare occasion that you discover they are indeed so disturbed that you will never be able to help them and your own life is in danger. But many relinquish with love, even if you might not believe that is possible…I have spoken to a few who have done so and whose voices still carry the sound of regret that they were unable to help their son or daughter…who don’t call them “that kid” but will forever see them as their child.

When it comes to Dominick and I, neither of us could care less if we, in the words of anonymous, “have a legacy behind us when we are gone.”. That again seems to be more worrying about what others think than about wanting to be a mom or a dad. And my children are not my “legacy”. Who we are, the swath of love we leave behind us is the only legacy that really counts in my book. We could care less if the kids carry our name out into the world, in fact they could each revert back to their birth names for all we care!! But if they carry forth the love and respect for others they learned on our laps, well, that’s all the legacy we’ll ever need to leave behind.

Because this particular road to our adoption has been extremely long and arduous, does that mean that we are ignoring signs from God that we should stop…that our daughters should not come home? What signs should we be heeding? Do we live our lives from a place of fear? Do we let “could happen” dictate our actions? Or do we let dreams filled with joy and hope guide us? Do we do our research and march on in as prepared as we can possibly be?

I can not live as anonymous suggests, although I know many in this world do. I choose to see God as walking with us on whichever path we choose, present and waiting to reach out when called. Are we making a mistake? Anonymous is certainly not the only one to think so, and many have voiced their disapproval and disbelief in ways that are far less kind than the way our hurting friend here did. We have signs we have seen to, despite how arduous this journey has been…and still could be. Our signs aren’t big red “Stop” signs, they are different and more subtle…they are in the healing of our own son from the hurts of the past. They are in the crooked and scarred grin of an 8 year old boy who took our hand and walked away from his old life and bounded into a new one. Our signs are in the stocky build of a young man achieving his blue belt rank who at moments we were in fear he literally wouldn’t live to make it home, he was so malnourished and ill.

God does give us signs, we are provided road maps for our lives. Sometimes we follow, sometimes we veer down other paths. But God is always there. We are never abandoned unless we turn our back, and even then God waits patiently beside us until we turn back around. I guess in the LaJoy family we see different signs, ours are filled with the good things in life, and those are the ones we elect to follow.

One of my favorite sayings is “Success comes in overalls and looks like work.”. One could sometimes replace the word “success” with the word “miracles” and that also would be accurate, for what one person looks at from the outside and sees as a miracle in the form of 3 little boys walking between their parents, is actually part “miracle” and a lot of overall wearing!!

My anonymous friend, thank you for your warning. I am so very sorry that your daughter has not turned out to be all you had dreamed of, that your life has fallen apart. I, in no way, am making fun of your experience or denying the reality of what I know must be an awful day to day existence. I DO take your words to heart, and have given all of this more thought than could be counted. And yet we will press on, despite our fears that you are living out.

Because we know what we might gain...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Do You Believe in Miracles?


So here we are...

At the final hour, or close to it...

And this is an excerpt from the email I received last night from our courier service:

"I honestly don't see how you are going to make the Wednesday flight. It would take a miracle to get the Embassy to bend and process them on Monday. May I suggest you get every prayer warrior you can think of on this? The only person who can get you on that Wednesday flight is the Lord Jesus, Himself. We'll try our best, but only God can make this happen in your time line. We add our prayers to yours."

Would it be a big deal if we didn't make the flight and had to leave a few days later? No, of course not. It is not life and death, it is not going to trigger famine or a war. It is merely a little family in Colorado trying to get to their daughters in Kazakhstan. Not even headline news, is it?

But wouldn't it be sort of fun to see God work something out here? When others say it is impossible to see that with God all things are possible? Not as a parlor trick or anything, but as another little way of showing with this adoption just how Mighty our God really is? After all, this was the adoption that was never supposed to happen...that we had been told years ago "You need to give up and move on, it is impossible.".

Welcome to Impossible!!!

We will not be throwing a fit if we are not on the plane Wednesday, for it is but a bump in the road after everything else all these years. We WILL be in Petropavlovsk soon enough.

But impossible? Never. I prefer improbable.

A Miracle?

As far as I am concerned, our entire family is one big walking miracle and we have no right to ask for more.

But I am intrigued by what Laura at Assistant Stork wrote above. "Only God can make this happen on your time line.".

It has never really been our time line all along. If that had been true, those girls would have been home years ago. So whatever happens IS God's time line, not ours.

So right along with you, we sit on the sidelines at the moment with bated breath, wondering what God's timeline really is.

And while I won't expect it, I also wouldn't at all be surprised if a miracle was in the making.

At this point, NOTHING would surprise me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Life Can Be Messy

It seems that this entire adoption, from start to finish, is destined to be one that will forever be remembered for it's messiness. Nothing about it has been simple or easy, and here we are at the end stages and we again find ourselves hitting a brick wall.

We are using the Assistant Stork to courier our passports through for visas at the Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington, DC (and they are really good at what they do, we've used them before) and we are very tight on time to get our visas processed and our passports back in our hands before we leave next Wednesday. "But you have a week!" you exclaim...yes, but the Embassy is closed on Wednesdays, Thursday is the holiday, we don't know if they are open on Friday, and it usually takes 3-4 days to process the visa, not counting travel time.

And today when our application was presented, it was declined.

Yes, you read that right. It seems they have no record of the LaJoy family and our approval. Please don't laugh too hard. You'd think after all the documents of ours they have seen over the years we would be on a first name basis with them. But it appears not. Basically, what has happened is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kazakhstan has not yet cabled the Embassy to give their approval, even though we have the Letter of Invitation in our hands and with the application.

So, what do we do know?

We wait for our agency to hear back from their coordinator in Kazakhstan and hope that the news is good and we can pull this off in time. It is possible, but not looking good, for us to be on the plane Wednesday.

Basically, it will take a miracle.

Hmmm...but aren't we sort of sitting in the midst of one with all of this anyway? Hasn't this entire adoption been a miracle in and of itself? We may be down, but we are getting up before the count and will continue to wait on another miracle. There is no way I am saying it definitely won't happen, I have learned not to say that to God!

So, the drama continues, regardless of how unwanted it is. Seems we can't escape it, so we might as well have a good attitude about it and see how it all turns out right along with the rest of you! For those of you who have been following us since Kenny's adoption, remember we got our passports one day before the flight? That wasn't good enough, was it? We are going to make this even MORE interesting for you! Hahahaha!

If I don't laugh, I just might cry, so just ignore the gallows humor here.

Sometimes I think if my life weren't lived on the edge of chaos, even though it has been uninvited, I am not sure if it would feel normal. We have asked repeatedly over the years for prayer for our family through it's various escapades. I am not going to ask this time, it seems to be a little over-asked. BUT...should you be so inclined or just have nothing else to pray about or simply are bored, you could send one out for us.

Life sure can be messy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Team LaJoy Rocks the House at TaeKwonDo!!

Tonight we had 3 nervous little boys on our hands. It was time for their belt rank test, and each of them was working towards a new rank, not just a "stripe" on their belt. Josh and Kenny were both going for their green belt, and Matthew was testing for his blue belt. They all practiced last night, and this morning on the way to school everyone talked about how worried they were about it. So energy ran high in the car as we headed over to class tonight.

Each of them went through their patterns, sparred, and ultimately we came home with 3 new ranks in the car! Sadly, although Matthew did a terrific job, he walked out feeling a little defeated and when he came home headed to his room where he curled up and cried a bit. I knew he was upset when we left even though he hadn't really said anything. Tonight was his first time trying to break a board, and it was a surprise to all of us when he was asked to do so because we had thought we had heard that you had to be 11 years old to be able to attempt it. Well, maybe it is because he started a little younger and is a higher rank before being 11 but he was asked and he gave it a good try, but was unable to do so after 4 or 5 attempts. With a room full of parents and students watching, it was a little demoralizing I think, even though he was 5 years younger than the next youngest person who did it. To make matters worse, although he passed his rank test and was complimented on doing a very good job, they ran out of blue belts and because we won't be back at class for awhile it was logical to give the belt to the other student and order one for Matthew. But I think seeing everyone else get a belt and having him stand there empty handed was what pushed him over the edge. While he was gracious about it there, it was at home that the disappointment spilled out.

And he has NOTHING to be disappointed about! He did a fantastic job, as did Kenny and Joshua. Josh is the second youngest student in the class, and if he stays with it, there is the possibility he could achieve black belt rank at 10 or 11 years old. They all love the sport, and the discipline that is demanded of them there is instrumental in helping them grow and mature. The class had changed this year with a lower age limit of 9 years old, but because Joshua had proven himself to be well behaved and attentive, he was allowed to continue.

Since grandma's have never had the chance to see the boys in action, we had to post pictures!

Matthew Sparring with Instructor

When Did He Get So Grown Up Looking?

Flying Joshua!

Kenny's Turn To Kick High!

It's No Different Than Playing Superheroes!

Go Matthew!

I'm Ready Mom!!

"Are you watching me??"

Yea...NOTHING to be ashamed of after just a little over 2 years of participating. Poor kid, I wish he had broken the board, then them being out of blue belts wouldn't have mattered at all!

There's always next time...

And now we have one more thing "under our belt" before we depart!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Family that Blogs Together Stays Together!!

As you look to the left of the blog you will see that I have deleted the Flight Date Contest, as sadly we did not have a winner. The closest date was December 1st and then after that no one selected any dates until February 5th. Sorry guys, I would have loved for one of you to win but I am glad that at least our date was sooner than February!!

Again looking to the left you will see something new added. Yes, the boys will be blogging while we are traveling! In preparation for our trip I created a blog for Matthew awhile back and he tested it out by writing one blog post. I will be having him blog as part of his homeschool work while we are overseas. It is great writing and keyboarding practice for him. I also thought it might prove interesting for others to get to know him a bit better, and to view this experience through a child's eyes.

Well Friday in the car the other boys were asking about what work they would have to do while gone, we all talked about Matthew's blog and his homework, and Kenny and Josh both wanted to write one too! "Fantastic!" I said "I'll create one for each of you and you can write too!". Who am I to stand in the way of the development of literary talent??? HAHAHA!

So, we decided the best way to do it was have them each write in their journals, then I will type it onto their blogs for them as neither one has any real keyboarding skills at all. I can also clean it up in terms of figuring out what the mystery words are, capitalizing it and punctuating it correctly so you all can actually decipher what they are saying. But the rule is I will type only what they write, I will not change words unless I discuss it with them because it makes no sense (i.e. run on sentences, etc.) and then they have to correct it somehow themselves. So what you will be getting will be 100% authentic Matthew, Kenny and Joshua. Your guess is as good as mine as to what might appear could be superhero stories, complaints about the food, and maybe we will find tucked in between the silliness and boy-ness a little piece of their hearts. At least I am hoping so, and if not it will still be good practice.

At the moment there is only one post written on Matthew's blog and the other two have not yet seen theirs and will be surprised when I show it to them. Their last day of school will be Tuesday, so I will have them work on some items in the coming week or so and let you know when something is up so you can check it out if you'd like.

I was asked a few times recently what we are going to do for school for the boys, being gone so long. For Matthew we are taking along his math and grammar work books, and that is it for the hardcore stuff. Matthew is taking 12 novels to read, in addition to the 4 "Diary of a Whimpy Kid" series that I bought all of them as a special treat for the trip. He will likely read them alone and then I will sit with Josh and Kenny as they read it and help them. The other 12 are largely historical biographies including one on Genghis Khan, Ben Franklin, a history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, William the Conqueror, etc. I thought it was so sweet when we were making our piles of books and he rushed back into the bedroom and brought out "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and said "Mommy, we can't go without this one, it is tradition!" so it too got added to the pile.

We are going to have them do a lapbook study (sort of a notebook with cut out folding things that are used to write facts on) on The Symbols of Christmas and that will require me to get busy myself and copy and cut out all the necessary pieces and parts and create the blank books for them but I thought it would make it feel more Christmasy to have that kind of fun learning project to do.

Of course now they will all be writing. Kenny and Joshie will have a lot of homework from their teachers who are kindly pulling it together for them, which I know is a big hassle. It might be a tad less since they will be gone over the Christmas holiday, so that should least with the true school work. I am sure Dominick and I can come up with some things for them to do and sneak in some learning.

In addition this trip will be educational in ways others might not imagine, as long as we put a little effort into it. We are already discussing latitude and longitude and how time zones work. We have always had a globe around so they all 3 can easily point out their countries on a map, as well as Germany and where we are, but we will be talking more about where we are flying over. They all can already sort of read the arrival and departure signs but we will go into that in depth with all these flights. Then there is the currency we will be using and the exchange rates which they all will be working with (and that reminds me that a couple of little calculators might be good to bring along as Tenge can get into quite large numbers versus US dollars!). We also will go to the museum in Petropavlovsk and learn more about the history of the area. They all have been to the National Museum in Almaty already. And simply being immersed in the Russian language for a month or more will be a great experience too.

But the most important lessons might not be able to be measured as they explore their new relationship with their sisters, learn what girls are all about, discover what life in an older children's orphanage is really like and how it contrasts with their own lives now. What will this bring up for Kenny? Will this trigger anything for Joshua? Will we find ourselves knee deep in attachment emotions once again? How will Matthew process all of this as once again he is relegated to younger status in our family? What will the interactions between everyone be like? Much to think about, much to be aware of as parents, many opportunities for discussion.

Every once in awhile, I step back and can more clearly see why so many people think we are nuts. As I think about all of this to write here, I too am asking myself the question!! Hahaha! But somehow, it all manages to work out and trusting that God is in the midst of it all, even when it is painful, uncomfortable or down right sad helps keep it in perspective.

I realized something today which had been bothering me a bit. Up until today I have been pretty matter of fact about it all. After getting the call, just as I had once thought, we simply got to work. No tears, no real elation, just the knowledge of how much still lies ahead of us and that we have a lot to accomplish before boarding the plane. But what WAS it I was feeling? And I realized suddenly what it was...relief, pure and simple. Relief that we have actually moved on to the next stage and won't be getting anymore phone calls saying "We need to redo more paperwork." or experiencing unavoidable delays that add months to the process. It is actually going to happen after all, and though it doesn't quite feel real yet, I do believe it finally and the relief is overwhelming itself. Almost as if there is no room for other emotions until I let that one sink in. The joy and excitement can and will come later. But I'll tell you, I'll take "relief" any day over doubt.

I think that until this week I had still been holding my breath (and actually still am a little), wondering if that cute pink and yellow room was going to have to be painted over. stays.

So we will move through this final week and a half, our living room floor will eventually reappear as bags are packed and set aside, and our hearts continue to stretch and prepare for the adventure that lies ahead. We will all go through so much this holiday season!! And instead of holding an ornament with precious and treasured names on it, we will be holding the real thing in our arms.

Wait...hold on a minute...did a teensy weensy bit of excitement suddenly pop up??? Can you all even begin to imagine the first picture together??? The first moments when every single person in the room realizes this is forever? Can you hear the giggles and laughter as brothers and sisters are united for the first time...after the awkward first moments have passed and kid language begins which requires no common alphabet?

Can you imagine for just a moment 2 little girls who for the first time in their lives learn that when adult says "I promise", they mean it...and they will never give up on them?

Please pray for us guys, pray for all the changes and mystery and wonder we are about to be witness to, pray for our safety, for our transitions, for Dominick and I as parents to have an enormous amount of wisdom, insight and sensitivity as we enfold 2 more into Team LaJoy. You've gotten us this far, but the hardest part is about to begin. And yes, the most joyous part as well. But we never allow ourselves to forget that this is not a fairy tale, no matter how it might seem to be on the outside looking in. These are real children with histories that are terribly tragic and they have to be prepared to have their lives changed forever...nothing will ever be the same...not the food, the sounds, the smells, the language, the faces. The courage it takes is beyond our understanding. Have you ever walked away with a stranger for the rest of your life, knowing you will be powerless to reverse the decision if it doesn't work out?

Whatever happens, I vow to be honest with you here. If it is hard, I won't sugar coat it. If it is great, we will all celebrate. Likely it will have lots of highs and lows, and we will all go through them together. After all, I'll need your suggestions and support as we take this new've been there through a lot already and helped us make it through.

So I sign off tonight and hope to get some sleep, which has not been easy to come by. The next couple of days are our personal deadline to have most everything done so we can enjoy our remaining time and cram in a little American Christmas Spirit before we leave. I'll keep you all posted!

And thanks for taking this journey with us, we may not know most of you but we love that you are here!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sunday Funnies

Today we were at Target, and it seemed as if every single family in the store had a screaming kid for one reason or another. I am not talking about one child who was tired and having a bad moment, but passels of kids who were terrorizing the place. Kenny was trying on some shoes and Joshie was with Dominick when they heard one particularly raucous child on the next aisle stomping their feet and yelling at the top of their lungs at their father. Josh peeked around the corner and was watching when they came out into the center aisle where all could have a good look. This went on for several minutes before they moved on to another Department. That's when Josh turned away and said "I guess that's the end of that movie!".

We pass a dairy on the way up to our house, one that has about 3000 head of cattle. One corral as next to the road and as we drove past this afternoon, Matthew's head swung around and with a raised voice he said "Hey Mom...look at that, those cows are FIGHTING!!! I've never seen them do that before!" as he craned his neck to get a closer look. Poor kid blushed bright red and then he and his brothers all cracked up when I said " honey, that's not fighting...that's making babies!". He looked at me with eyes as wide as saucers as my words sunk in and he sputtered " don't look like they like it very much1!" as the giggling continued in the back seat.

They are all so much like their Dad.

A Kazakh Christmas

The day is winding down, and we are snug in bed. Yes, I use the laptop in bed as I am tucked in under my electric blanket! I usually lose the thermostat wars and have given up fighting, so I have found a way to make Dominick suffer in another way, by pounding away on a keyboard while he is laying next to me trying to go to sleep. That way I can say "Yes Dear, I can stop, but it is just so cold in the house that this is the only way I can stay warm without turning up the heater."!

We are pooped, plain and simple. We have been on the run the past couple of days as we have gathered last minute documents, sent off for visas, pulled everything out and spread it across the living room floor to begin stacking and packing. It is no easy feat to take 5 of us halfway around the world during the school year for several weeks! I am not kidding when I say the stack of books Matthew is taking is a foot high, at least, and that is just reading material not really any other school work. I have no idea what all we will end up with for Kenny and Josh, but I am sure we will have quite a pile to haul. We are hoping to be basically packed and have everything done by Thanksgiving Day, so we can enjoy the remainder of our time home and relax (and maybe even sleep a little!).

As it stands right now, we will be departing Montrose on Wednesday, December 2nd. The route I outlined earlier is the one we will be taking. Despite the great suggestions to fly direct to Astana rather than Almaty and then back to Astana, our agency and in-country coordinator want us to go through Astana, so that's what we'll be doing. We should arrive in Almaty on Saturday, December 5th, and then on to Astana/Petropavlovsk either that day or the next. We aren't certain what the plan is and will know more later.

Anticipation is in the air as everyone readies themselves for the trip. We were in the car today and I asked the boys how they were feeling about everything, as it is suddenly all happening very fast. The consensus was that everyone couldn't wait and was very excited. I then asked what they thought it would be like the first few minutes they met their sisters and Joshua replied "I know it will be just like with Kenny, it will be like we have always been together.". Matthew agreed saying "It might be weird for 5 minutes or so, but then I think it will be easy." I am heartened to know they are all so open to this and ready to accept new siblings so easily and warmly.

As for Dominick, I think it will be so much fun to watch him be a Daddy to girls. For years he has tried to act as if he is a full-on boy dad with no desire to have girlie things added to his life, but those of us who know him well aren't fooled. He has two little girlfriends at church whom he adores, and one who is 3 was perched on a table the other day while he was deep in conversation with her asking how to do girl's hair, and saying he needed her help because he couldn't practice on his he pointed at his bald head. I think he will be incredibly warm and loving, and provide a male role model that until now has been sorely lacking.

And me? Well, I haven't had a moment for it all to really sink in yet. After all this time, where your heart has been protected like an avocado green 1960's couch encased in skin-sticking plastic, it is hard to really internalize that it is finally happening. I see the evidence all around me, I am shuffling documents like crazy, and yet it feels sort of like our wedding day. We had been dating 4 years and knew from Day 1 we were going to be together the rest of our lives, but had to wait because I was only 15 years old. When the Big Day finally arrived, it was not some sort of breathless moment where I sobbed or totally lost it. Instead it was more of a sense of relief that the waiting was over and we could finally get on with our lives together. At the moment, I think that is more where I am emotionally with it all.

Of course, the moment we walk through the doors of that orphanage all of that might change, and all bets are off. :-)

What will it be like, those first moments when we all are together? Will there be shyness? Will there be an inexplicable comfort and familiarity? Will it be awkward? How will all the kids react? Will there be doubts or certainty? Will they feel like "mine" when they are in my arms? So many questions that will soon be answered. Reminding myself that this is not a fairy tale always helps. Keeping expectations realistic is so helpful to me. This is an "arranged marriage" of sorts, and understanding that love takes time to grow helps a lot to tamp down any image of an "ideal first encounter". It is unnatural, you are being observed by others from another culture who do not speak your language and who due to cultural differences often view how we act or carry ourselves as very odd. You know you are being judged and this first sensitive meeting will often be reported on in court.

I have been blessed thus far though to find that reality far surpassed any ideal I may have carried around in my head for many months. It may have taken awhile to get there, but eventually the relationship with each of the boys grew to proportions never before imaginable.

We still have a lot to do before stepping on that plane, and we intend to enjoy our remaining time here at home for all it is worth. This will be an extraordinarily special Thanksgiving for all of us, and we will be with friends and then fitting in some pre-travel, pre-Christmas fun before we go. We will still participate in a couple of holiday traditions since we will be missing Christmas in Montrose. Black Friday specials might help with the gift buying for officials over in Kazakhstan!! We will attend the Friday evening tree lighting in town and sing carols. If we can find a Santa somewhere we will sneak in a quick visit and share with him that he needs to leave gifts here at home but can fill stockings in Kazakhstan :-) . We also have a special craft day at Matthew's art school for all the boys to enjoy. So there is still a lot to cram in the next week or so, in addition to packing, finalizing everything here, and tying up lose ends.

We have had so many kind offers of help, including a friend who is a notary coming to visit today to help us get some last minute documents done, to another bringing a pizza for dinner and a visit, knowing our fridge is dwindling on purpose. Another has offered to keep an eye on our house and help in any way, and still others have offered to help with the boys for any last minute things we might need to stocking shopping.

There are, of course, a few things we will not be getting done. There will be no Christmas cards this year (I am not that obsessive!), no tree to put up, no holiday baking. But I have an inkling that much of that won't be missed all that much this year as we have the very special opportunity for our kids to experience Christmas in their birth country. What a neat thing for all of us!! And then there is the gift from God of not having to buy one more ornament for our tree this year for children who are not yet with us, for although we might not be home, we will be together...and home is wherever your family is.

I'll keep you all posted as the week goes on, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love and concern for us as we travel. And we invite you to join us this coming month for a very special "Kazakh Christmas"!!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Call

For the first time in months and months, I think I just might sleep tonight. How many late nights have there been, when sleep eluded me, when faces danced in my dreams? Tonight as the house is finally quiet, my heart feels at peace. I can rest well, knowing the finish line is almost in sight.

When we got the call this morning, I couldn't believe it and dared not let my heart lift as I heard the lilt in Leonette's voice. I didn't really even squeal all that much, and as I hung up the phone I was pretty matter of fact as I was just notified that a years long dream was coming true. I think I was more dumbfounded than anything, as I picked up the phone to call Dominick who said "Are you kidding me?" more than once. I didn't really experience the high I had expected, more a sense of utter relief that all of this might be coming to an end soon. But then again, I am a pretty practical Virgo sort of person, who feels secure when all my ducks are in a row...and at the moment we have a lot of little ducks to get in line!! I think it will be like the boys' adoptions, when I didn't really feel it until we arrived at the orphanage and were brought to meet them. Not even getting on the plane felt like it was all "real". There were no tears, but they too didn't fall at this stage in the past with the boys, but instead chose to arrive later, after we were home and settled and the stress of it all was behind us. For make no mistake of it, we still have a long journey to make and are by no means "done". When everyone else assumes the journey has ended, we know the truth of it is that the real journey won't even begin until they are home.

However I will admit to almost letting go with one person on the phone today when I said that what was so important to me was that we wouldn't be missing yet one more Christmas together, and I found those words sticking in my throat.

Thank you to all who called, emailed, Facebooked (is that a verb these days?), and let us know how happy you were for us. I had one incredibly special call with a waiting Kyrgyz mom today which left me more humbled than I have ever been in my life, and grateful that someone was willing to share their heart. I know I sounded like a complete idiot on the phone with our Pastor as she called immediately upon learning of our excitement. That's OK though, as knowing her she will forgive my idiocy easily :-) I also was so touched by all the offers of help from so if we already hadn't received more than our fare share of care from everyone. Everything from taking care of Matthew to give me some time to simply "be" (can't tell you how much that one got to me, that someone would understand), to help around the house or shopping or whatever we needed. Right now I am not sure at all what we really need, if anything, but just knowing that we have this great Fan Club standing in the wings to take over should we falter is enough to make me cry. Thank you!

Oh how grateful we are!! Words truly can't describe it, this is so amazing to think about. The timing is perfect in many ways, despite how much we of course wish we had been going sooner. I finished my ministry classes for the semester this past Saturday (I am now officially half way done!), the boys have their last TaeKwonDo class and rank test on Monday night, we had been waiting for Matthew's Netbook to arrive that his school ordered so we could have it for the trip and we picked it up yesterday and he is now ready to rock with homeschool while we are gone, and Kenny and Josh will actually miss less school with the Christmas holiday in the middle of the trip. The bad part is the burden being placed on our amazing staff at the cafe this time of year, people we love who will hold down the fort while we are gone during a very stressful time, and our gratitude knows no bounds for their talents and hard work.

So at the moment we have clothing and travel games and backpacks strewn across the living room floor. There is hope found there among the piles, there is excitement and courage and adventure thrown in the mix.

And staring back at me from our fridge are faces, smiles, twinkling eyes as someone put it today. There is a future which is unknown to all of us, and yet 7 hearts will soon be joined forever as we make pledges to one another to become a family where a little estrogen gets thrown in for good measure. The time for fears and trepidation, all of which are very real and not exaggerated in the least, has passed. I have always said with each of our adoptions (and somehow I am still amazed that I can actually say "each"...that there wasn't just one!) that I never wanted to step on that plane with a heavy heart, uncertain if we were making the right decision or were ruining our family forever. This time is no different, and the bubbling up in my heart began today when finally it felt safe to say "It's really going to happen!". And whatever day we do step on that plane I can tell you without reservation that there will be no doubts, there will be no holding back, there will be no cause for concern. We all will run straight into this experience with our arms flung wide, waiting to embrace our daughters and sisters. For even if it turns out to be challenging, it will still be what God wants for our lives for that has been made crystal clear. And who knows? Maybe...just won't be all that hard after all. Prepare for the worst, pray for the best.

Please continue to follow along with us, we need you now more than ever. We need your prayers for our safety as we travel so far from home, we need your prayers for the adjustment of all of us as we begin the process of adding two more to Team LaJoy, we need your prayers of gratitude to be shouted up to heaven so God can hear clearly how glorious and amazing this is!

I'll try to post as I can over the coming days, don't worry, I won't leave you in the dark! How could I? You all have been with us every step of the gotta complete the trip with us!

So good night all, the marathon begins!! And it is awesome to know we are not running it alone...

Pray on THIS One

How cool would it be for us to leave Thanksgiving Day (yes, in ONE week) and go to court on CHRISTMAS DAY!!! It is being suggested by our agency, but as you all know it means so much has to fall in place perfectly....but what a fitting ending to this incredible journey we have been on.

More is ringing again :-)


I am FINALLY giddy!!



Thank You God...thank you so much to be thankful much love...

I'll write more later, but as you all can tell,


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

ABC's "Find my Family"

I wrote this a couple of nights ago when I couldn't sleep, before the call came. I figured I might as well post it now or we might have so much else going on it will never get posted!

I just received an email from an adoption group I belong to online which brought to my attention a new show that will be airing on ABC on Monday. It is called "Find my Family" and will feature adoption reunions. The person who brought this to the list was offended by the concept, as will be many other adoptive families I am sure. What bothered them was that birth families would be called "family".

I went to the web site which features a promo that you can view here:

After viewing the quick promo I had to step away and think about this. How do I feel about such a show? Does it somehow devalue us as an adoptive family by using the word "family" when speaking of birth parents? How would I feel, as an adoptive mom, if one or all of our children came to me asking to seek out their birth parents or wanting to arrange a meeting after having found them?

I realize this is such a sensitive area for all involved in the adoption triad. All are coming from unique and very different perspectives, emotions run quite deep as we all know. And somehow, I always seem to fall in the camp that is least popular when it comes to such things, and then ocassionally find myself attacked for not knowing what something feels like or "thinking" I would react one way when others insist I would act another.

The fact is, I am not offended at all by calling biologically connected people "family". There, as unpopular as that may seem, I said it. I have never cared one whit if someone refers to the boys' birth mom's as their "real mom", I have no need to rip away the image of another mom from my kids. We did not adopt overseas in order to wipe out all possibility that our kids would ever meet their birth families. In fact, at moments I would give everything we own to be able to provide Matthew, Kenny and Joshua with some tangible proof of their life before orphanages and America. A photo as a keepsake and touchstone, to know who they look like. A memory, hopefully loving, of a mother's sacrifice and love for her child whom she wished she did not have to relinquish. A family anecdote, so that they might know whose traits they carry. Anything would be precious.

We have nothing. And for those of you adopting infants, it matters.

We are far enough down the road now to have thoughts expressed and questions asked. We have had children look up at us and ask "You told me real mommies never leave their babies, why did she leave me?" or "Do you think I have any brothers or sisters that look like me?" or even "Do you think my first mom and dad have enough food to eat?". We have lived through nights filled with angry rages, with sorrowful cuddles as one analyzed that he was too ugly for his mom to want to keep him. We have had thoughtful comments from the back seat when watching extended families walk into Walmart as one said "Mommy, I have grandmas and grandpas back in Kazakhstan, don't I?" as it finally clicked that there was more lost than just a bio mom.

Whether you want to believe it or not, whether it is politically correct or not, whether it hurts your feelings or not, when you adopt, your children do come with strings attached. And yes, you do gain additional family, even if that is not what you bargained for nor what you want to call them. For regardless of how it might rankle you, for your child, there was another mom and dad...there was and always will be another family out there. You can depersonalize it all you want by insisting haughtily in front of others that they never refer to your child's biological mom as their "real mom", you can regale them with all the facts about how many diapers you changed and how many late night feedings you handled which give you the right to proclaim "real mom" status. And your child will hear this and may not argue in front of you, but you can never deny the difference in genetics, and you can NEVER fill the gaping hole that adoption often leaves in some children's hearts.

Real mom or not, you did not abandon them, and that question will forever remain caught in their throat.

How silly and selfish of us to make this more about us and our feelings than about our children and theirs! If you really ARE the "real mom", then you need to put yourself aside and recognize the yearning in your child's heart to know who they really are and where they came from. Because from the very beginning, it is no,t nor should it ever be, more about us than it is about them. Sometimes, that is easy to forget.

And if you are the "real mom", nothing can ever change that or take that away. Not titles, not others' words, not the lack of genetics. Real moms are there through thick and thin, that doesn't get washed away by reunions. Sure, there might be a fairytale like quality for awhile, but isn't there when any meaningful relationship enters our children's lives? Isn't it our job to help them celebrate and sort it all out...not jealously guard our own place in our children's lives?

So while I may not think this is the best idea for a TV show because I think certain things should be held sacred and not for public consumption, I am not at all disturbed by the premise nor the title of the show. In my mind, that would be dishonoring my family...not the ones you are thinking of, but the ones I too have never met...the mothers and fathers of my children.

Thank God for the sacrifice of those family members.

What's New?

Sorry I have been silent on the blog the past few days. Not really sure why. We have been busy, yes, and battling colds, but I think more of it is emotional than anything. As the month draws on with no word about a travel date, it grows harder and harder for me not to pull inward and isolate myself. Dominick mentioned he noticed it and I hadn't realized it until he said it, or at least not to the same degree. It is a sense that I want to hunker down and cover my head with a blanket, or maybe hibernate until our family can finally become whole...for it feels very much incomplete at the moment and as the holidays approach it makes it even more difficult to put on a happy face and pretend my heart isn't hurting.

But I do realize it is not the end of the world, that our life is very, very good and I really have nothing to complain about. Truly, could I ask for more in this world, and should I dare insinuate that what we have is not enough????

And yet...the loneliness that I know exists halfway around the world reaches into the very core of my soul and will not leave me alone. I can not run away from it no matter how I try to dress it up.

I am also trying to battle a minor cold that both Kenny and Josh had earlier this week but seemed to fight off. It's not looking like I will be so lucky.

We have had some great fun here though, as we celebrated Kenny's birthday this past Sunday. Although he turned 11, it was only his 3rd ever celebrated and he still very much anticipates it with the excitement of a much younger child. He bounded into our room Sunday morning declaring loudly in a sing song voice "It's my birthday, it's my birthday!". Although we tend to keep it low key, we did have a couple of his friends over and he had his special treat of cheesecake rather than a traditional birthday cake. He also got a special traditional gift of a watermelon from Miss Jill, who has taken it upon herself to provide that every year after doing so once and having Kenny remind us over and over that he got a watermelon for his birthday. He LOVES it and could eat an entire one all by himself if we let him!

Now I don't want any of you laughing at us here, but I want to share with you what our gift to Kenny was. You ready for this? A doll house. Yes, you read that right. That is all he has talked about for the past couple of months, and recently he was playing with one at a friend's house and I realized he really needs one. He loves playing pretend and this allows him to play pretend with a family. Now, if any of you have priced doll houses lately, you will know those little suckers aren't cheap. So on a whim I went to Hobby Lobby and found a small kit which was within our price range and so it was double the fun...he can have the challenge of putting it together (and forcing him to read diagrams and instructions isn't so bad either!) and then have a finished product he can be proud of AND play with! When we saw his face as he opened it up we knew we made the right choice, and already he has spent 3 evenings working on it diligently. Here are a couple of pictures below:

It was a couple of weeks of surprises as Matthew also got a thoughtful and touching surprise. We received a package that was addressed to him, but had had no clue what was in it and neither did I. Can you imagine how excited he was to open it up and find an updated version of his favorite blankie!! Yes, the one that had long ago been lost, that was threadbare and tattered from being so loved, was lovingly replaced by our "Blankie Grandma"!! I think what I love the most is that at 10 years old, his heart is still such that a gift like this would have him jumping up and down with excitement. I know they will eventually grow up, and to most who meet him he often presents as more mature than his age mates. But what some people don't understand is that maturity does not necessarily mean a loss of innocence or delight. How thankful I am that Matthew still exhibits those qualities!!! Here is his face as he relishes his new gift:
Now, I know what some of you out there might be thinking. These are 10 and 11 year old boys...aren't they a little old for this stuff? To that I would ask "Since when?". It is so sad to me that in today's society, we pressure our children to grow up so fast. They are exposed to all sorts of material from so many different directions that over-sexualize them, that shove violence in their faces 24/7, that encourage insolence towards their parents as a way of being humorous. Why? Why can't our kids preserve their innocence a tad bit longer? Why can't their childhoods last as long as our parents' did? That doesn't mean withholding information from them about "real life". But it does mean not subjecting them to the attitudes that convey to them that they must act as if they are bored 17 year olds when they are 10 or 11. And in Kenny's case, we feel it is imperative that he have the chance to relive the childhood he never really got to have...or we are afraid he will continue to search to live that out in inappropriate ways when he is older. Maybe we are wrong, I don't know, but while we don't want children who are naive, I also don't want to have them thinking that the MTV lifestyle is what life is all about.

Mom had a surprise too, as one of my longtime internet buddies surprised us with a "Family Shower in a Box", which was a total hoot. What this woman didn't think of! Everything from grass skirts and wigs for the boys with fake wax lip mustache's to party games to food the boys could fix to surprise me. We had so much fun and laughed like crazy the entire time!
And here is Dominick looking striking in HIS wig :-)

Homeschooling continues to be a learning adventure for both Matthew and I, both of us morphing into new beings as we internalize what homeschooling really means for us. It really requires a new way of thinking, of "deschooling" as long time homeschoolers call it. We are gradually getting there, as I do more and more research and as Matt relaxes and gets back to having learning be more meaningful and less test oriented.

Unfortunately, I am not the kind who can just casually take on something new. For me to feel confident and secure, I have to do an extreme amount of investigation and analyze it all 15 different ways. It can be annoying to poor Dominick as I hash and rehash everything, but by now he has learned to live with it. But it does allow me to wrap my mind around new information and take from it what is applicable to our life and discard the rest.

Being a home educator is requiring us to look at what long term goals we have for all the kids, what we feel is important for them to know by the time they head out on their own someday. Often it is very different than what the State thinks our kids should know or will focus on teaching them. For example, for us it is important that the boys are exposed to the arts in various forms. And by that we mean far more than half an hour once a week in school. Why? Does that lead to a good career or get them into a good college? Well...barring scholarships for some as-yet-to-be-revealed talent, no. But it does lead to a lifetime of pleasure and appreciation of music and art, it might lead to a hobby which will be with them until the day they die. It might provide them with a way of expressing themselves or appreciating that their own emotions are expressed through the music or art of others.

It is also important that they understand how the adult world in which they will live functions. I can't to begin to tell you how surprised I have been over the past several years to be in conversations with young adults who are already out in the working world and have no idea how corporations make many or function, how loans work, what insurance is for other than meeting a state requirement, how the stock market works and why it exists, how an idea becomes a law, what those in our major roles in government do, and so many other things. They may be "educated" and know a lot of facts about botany, they may have obscure dates memorized of events in history (and I do mean obscure, not dates like Sept. 11th or the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor)...but they can't tell you within 200 years when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth or where Asia is. All anyone has to do is watch Jay Leno for his street walking questions to see that is not at all an exaggeration. What good is it to be able to tell me you memorized the periodic table of elements if you can't negotiate a fair and reasonable deal on a car loan? Unless you are going to be a scientist, which skill is more valuable? I am not suggesting that you give up one for the other but I think in our zest for working towards college entrance exams we have neglected to teach our kids the practical things that we took for granted they would learn somewhere along the line in school. Like how interest works on savings accounts and loans.

But I digress (see, it has been a few days and now I am running off at the mouth...or is that the keyboard?), Even with Matthew home now, there must be something permeating the air around here in terms of an excitement about learning. Here is what we are seeing often these days:

I love this shot and hope that somehow we can keep the excitement and enthusiasm going...not in any sort of attempt to create geniuses (Lord knows that ain't happenin' around here!) but to have the boys love learning and know HOW to learn. If we can accomplish that alone, we will have succeeded in my book.

To see Matthew finally back to being as engaged in learning as he was couple of years ago, has been awesome. A couple of weeks ago he discovered this old series of books called "Landmark" which were published from the 1950's through the 1970's. They are books of about 200 pages each which are biographies or true stories of events and people from our past. He started with "The Winter at Valley Forge", and loved it so much he went on to read "Custer's Last Stand" in 2 days! I knew we had "made it" when the other day he was reading in the car and we arrived at Walmart, and he slowly backed out of the car door, book in hand, trying to read just one more sentence before he had to put it down. He had to take "The Sinking of the Bismark" to TaeKwonDo tonight so that he could read it on the way home when Dominick picked them all up. It is that hunger for reading and learning which I had seen drifting away, it was that which prompted me to recognize we had a serious problem and had to make a change, drastic though it may have appeared to some. I don't know how many times in the past couple of weeks I have told Dominick how grateful I am that we made this choice for Matthew, because it has been such a gift to me to see him delighted with learning again. The side effect on Josh and Kenny is no small thing either.

And finally, you will have to tolerate this space looking a little like the front of a typical suburban housewife's fridge. In the spirit of recording more for the boys so I don't have to keep every art project forever and ever around the house, I have to post artwork from both Kenny and Matthew so that I may eventually be allowed to toss some items and not have to buy a $20,000 storage shed to hold it all! But with artwork like this, it isn't such an eyesore to look at, and I actually enjoy it! Not like my poor mom who suffered with this outright ugly tree I did in 1st or 2nd grade that had tissue paper glued to it for leaves and stayed affixed to our metal pantry door for about 20 years. No kidding, it was still there when I got married! Now THAT'S devotion! I had a much better mom than I'll ever be :-)
Here are Kenny's palm trees, which I loved because they were so unique! The geometric patterns on the trunk were totally cool. Below is Matthew's latest work from art class which he did today and was quite proud of. I can always tell if he likes what he has done, as he won't show it to me until we get out to the car.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Mennonite Perspective - "I Am a Teacher"

You all are in for a special treat, we have a guest blogger here today! Many years ago I became acquainted with a young Mennonite woman who worked at Matthew's day care for a short while. Despite the apparent differences, we soon discovered that we actually had a lot in common, and through the years we have both enjoyed getting to know one another better and I now consider Alethea a dear friend. She is a gifted writer (something that all those years ago neither of us knew about the other...that we both enjoyed writing!), an articulate and intelligent woman, and someone whose opinions I highly value.

Over the years I have grown to deeply respect Alethea, and have learned a great deal from her. I hope youwill as well! If you read this and have questions or are curious, please feel free to post them and I will forward them on to her for an answer. Now, on to the "Main Event"!:

I Am a Teacher

I am a teacher. My classroom is in a small Mennonite school somewhere in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Although I am not Southern by birth, I have lived in the South just long enough that a hint of Southern slang occasionally creeps into my speech, amusing—or confusing—my Canadian co-teacher. My home (the one where my family lives) lies far to the west, where the Colorado Rockies faces the sunset. You may well wonder how I landed in Mississippi if I am from Colorado…Perhaps I should explain the school system in which I teach.

The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, is a group that holds very closely to Biblical doctrines. Among these doctrines would be the new birth and baptism of believers, nonresistance, separation of church and state, and simplicity, modesty, and economy in all things. (Some of you may be acquainted with us—we are the ladies you see wearing dresses and black cap-type headcoverings.)

About forty years ago, the church became concerned about some of the things that the public schools were beginning to teach (such as sex education and evolution). Beginning about 1969, we began to develop our own school system. Today somewhere around 175 schools are in operation across the United States and Canada. Along with the schools comes the need for teachers. Approximately 600 teachers provide an education for some 5,000 children. Many of the schools are small, with only two or three teachers handling all eight grades.

We only go to eighth grade, feeling that sufficient education to make a living. Of course, if a person’s chosen career would be nursing or something else that would require further training, that is open. In those eight grades we teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as spelling, science, social studies, English grammar, and, in the upper grades, typing.

Our teachers come from among our own people. As a church group, we are closely interconnected all across the continent, and some of this is due to our schools. We teachers move around more than most people do, and many teachers end up marrying in the congregation they teach at. It is not unusual for the three or four teachers at one school to come from three or four different states and/or provinces. A well-used grapevine sprawls throughout the school system, linked by teachers who know each other. Thus, if I run into a problem I don’t know how to solve, I can call a teacher friend elsewhere—as far away as Ohio or Saskatchewan or Kansas or as close as the other side of Mississippi—and get some ideas. This grapevine also helps spread the word when a teacher decides it is time to move on to a different school.

As a bit of a personal profile, my name is Alethea Koehn. The youngest of six children, I grew up on a western Kansas grain farm, trailing my two older brothers. My parents moved to Olathe, Colorado, in 1999; I joined them there early in 2001. Soon after moving there, I met Dominick and Cindy while working at the day care where Matthew spent many of his days. Matthew was a very special little boy who would often choose to play by my feet instead of with the other children.

I began teaching in September of that same year. For three years I taught in my home school in Colorado, watching from my classroom windows as the seasons changed across Grand Mesa. From there I moved on to the rolling farmland and tree-lined river bottoms of western Missouri. During my second and third years there, my co-teacher was a girl from Mississippi. Her father was on the school board in her home congregation, and when he learned that I had not accepted a contract to return to Missouri, he asked me if I would consider coming to Mississippi. I eventually accepted the offer.

This is my ninth year of teaching, and my third year in the South. I teach grades 6, 7, and 8, comprising nearly a third of the school. This year our total school enrollment is 19. Our classrooms are arranged as follows:

Lower grades

1st – 3

2nd – 2

Middle grades

3rd – 1

4th – 2

5th – 4

Special Ed

1 student–a little girl with Downs Syndrome

Upper grades

6th – 1

7th – 3

8th – 2

As you can see, our school is very small. Although I teach the upper grades, during the course of an average day, I cross paths with everyone else. I am the senior teacher, on my ninth year; the special ed teacher and I were both here last year, but the other two are new both to teaching and to this school this year

A typical day may be as follows:

The day starts at 8:30 with prayer and thirty minutes of opening exercises. Several mornings a week, I and the special ed teacher sing with my class, which they love and do well. One morning a week we study a church history course, which frequently morphs into a deep discussion. One very popular topic lately has been heaven and hell. Other times we may discuss events that have taken place around us that they have questions about.

The first subject of the day is math. We usually start with a few minutes of flashcard drill, followed by written speed drills and any quizzes scheduled for that day. Then two grades begin on their lessons while I have class with the other one. A typical day may find me teaching fractions to my sixth grader, then moving on to decimals and percents with the seventh graders, and ending with weights and measures with eighth grade. Having only an hour to conduct three math classes means that each grade gets twenty minutes or less. While this may seem too short, bear in mind that this is all these children have ever known—the crowded schedule of a multi-grade classroom.

Recess comes at 10:15. The middle graders often join us for volleyball, dodge ball, or 300 up (a softball skills practice game).

English is after recess. Sixth and seventh grades are currently studying verbs, while the eighth grade has just begun a chapter on nouns. Because my sixth grader has dyslexia, he is studying the fourth grade English book; this is a welcome break for me, as it is much simpler than the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade books I am accustomed to.

Lunchtime comes none too soon. Did you ever realize how hungry thinking makes you? By the time the bell rings, I’ve often had to tell at least one boy that he won’t starve in the last fifteen minutes before lunch! My class and the special ed class all fit around one table, so we sit and visit while we eat.

I thoroughly enjoy noon recess. The games vary according to the weather and the person whose turn it is to choose. Bear-around-the-corner and softball are the main outside games, while 22 Loose and 23 Eskadoodle are generally the choices for indoors. We play together as the entire school at noon recess; this means that the three little first graders are out on the ballfield along with my two big eighth grade boys! While we do give the first graders some advantages, the rest of them get no slack! After all, when the second grade twins can whack the softball out beyond second base and field well enough to catch a teacher’s pop fly, why shouldn’t they be required to play by the big kids’ rules?

After recess we have a short story period. Even though my students are plenty old enough to read to themselves, and they do, they love listening to the books I read. I read many books of historical fiction, animal stories, or Indian stories.

Social Studies is our first afternoon subject. This year the entire class is in the same book, Western Hemisphere. We’ve learned the states and capitals and are now working on the provinces and capitals of Canada. The next quarter we’ll learn the countries of the entire Western Hemisphere.

Typing class follows the afternoon recess. The eighth graders are on their second year of typing. The seventh graders are still learning the letters of the keyboard. Both grades are doing very well, steadily bringing their speed and accuracy up. We do not teach computer; instead, we simply teach the students to type on typewriters. Most of them will be able to teach themselves anything computer skills they need.

This brings us to the end of the day. Of course, this is only a brief overview. It doesn’t give you any idea of the discussions that arise at any moment or the odd, almost childish questions that even a thirteen-year-old will ask. Sometimes their questions catch me completely off guard, and I simply have no answer for them. Other times I can come up with an answer from my own life experiences.

In a small school perhaps more than in a larger one where there is more support staff, a teacher plays many roles. Some of these are fun, others routine, some not so pleasant. I’ve had to repair typewriters, comb hair, pull teeth, coach baseball games, unplug toilets, get rid of transients asking for money, bandage skinned knees, dry tears, remove tree frogs, deal with rotten attitudes, adjust desks, conduct fire drills, hand out pain relievers, and mend torn dresses.

Into my hands from the hands of a child have come many things: notes of appreciation and cookies; spring flowers and autumn leaves; fuzzy caterpillars, praying mantises, and hideously ugly spiders; pretty rocks, peacock feathers, and—my favorite one of all—the tiny calico kitten that soon became Miss Koehn’s beloved Molly and the treasured pet of the upper grade classroom!

I’ve seen one of my children cry because of his troubled home situation, and I’ve watched a young boy grieve his father’s death. Stormy days have come, when it seemed that the clouds outside were no darker than the ones that shadowed a child’s face. But following the storm I’ve seen the sunshine return, when smiles and song replaced the sullen scowl.

I remember looking into the faces of my students when each was only a face with a name that I could barely recall. As I studied each one, I wondered what lay within each young heart and mind. Today those faces turned toward me are familiar and dearly loved.

I have sung with my children, prayed for them, played with them; I’ve heard their stories and laughter; I’ve seen their smiles and felt their love. I’ve learned that the title “Miss Koehn” carries nearly the same honor as “Mom”; I’ve felt the solid sturdiness of a boy’s shoulder beneath my hand and the warmth of a girl’s arms around me. I’ve watched the marks on the growth chart creep ever upward, and as I’ve watched my boys grow physically, I’ve seen them mature emotionally, until the men they will be are almost easier to imagine than the boys they once were…And often the words of a song have come to my mind:

“I’d like to watch my children grow,

To see what they become.

Lord, please don’t let the cold winds blow

‘Til I’m too old to die young.”

I am a teacher. And because I am a teacher, I believe in tomorrow, for tomorrow stands always before me. I see it in the faces of my children, I hear it in their voices. They look always toward tomorrow. And so I teach, not for today only, but for tomorrow.