Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hospitality and Adoption

As I am studying for my lay ministry classes in between writing a long "Mommy" letter to be translated for our girls (Thanks Vegas!), I am finding a convergence of a single theme and I guess that, as usual, I will use the blog to work out my thoughts about it all.  I am sorry folks, that you are sometimes subjected to the odd and sometimes incomprehensible ramblings I post here.  If I tried to encapsulate all that is going on in my head right now it would be impossible.  Too many Big Things I am trying to wrap my mind around, no way to narrow the focus, no matter how hard I try.  Sometimes they seem related, most of the time they don't and I don't have any place to "put" them.  The thoughts continue to bounce around as if the inside of my brain is a pinball machine and bumpers are hard at work causing a cacophony of bells, lights and whistles to be set off, adding to the chaos.
In my reading this week, which really had absolutely no relationship at all to a pinball labeled "hospitality", I found myself working over that concept a bit. The ball bounced back and forth, racking up points but I have yet to hear the bonus bell so it must need to roll around a little more.  So I am rolling it around right here.
I used to think of hospitality in a very different way, and it was not something I felt myself capable of offering.  I pictured Martha Stewart-esque table linens, dimly lit well decorated rooms with floral bouquet accents and candle light creating a gentle warmth that was subtly inviting and comforting.  Included in my image was a well appointed table filled to overflowing with beautiful dishes and delightful platters of foods,  crusty woven breads and the clink of fine china.  I am absolutely, utterly unable to create such an environment and so I never tried. 
As we grew into our childless coupledom and developed friendships we would have others over but it was more like family than entertaining, and that I could handle.  It wasn't until a few years down the road when I began to understand what "hospitality" really meant.
We made new friends with large South African enveloping arms who taught me what hospitality was really all about.  Their home was one you felt welcomed into anytime of the day or night.  If the house weren't really "company ready" they'd shove everything to the side of the table to make room for their guest and immediately set about rummaging through cupboards and fridge for whatever they could find to lay out a spread.  It was not Martha-like at all with the bags of chips, remainders of yesterday's meal, the 2 liter pop bottles spread across the kitchen counter.  Oh, don't get me wrong, they could also throw a beautifully appointed party with creative table decorations and wonderful dishes, but somehow that was never when I felt they were at their finest.  No, their greatest examples of hospitality were the quickly thrown out "Don't go home, come over to our place and hang out...we'll figure out something to eat!" or the knock on the door or last minute phone call from someone whom they also insisted join us all, and the quick shuffling in the kitchen to cut something into even smaller pieces so there would be plenty for everyone to share...even if the quantity hadn't increased one ounce.  Somehow, there always was enough to go around, of both food and laughter.
I guess you could say that I learned that hospitality is an attitude, not a table setting.
We are hospitable in an Anti-Martha sort of way.  When friends come to visit, we break out the Corelle or the Dollar Store huge plastic bowl of chips and crack a jar of salsa.  We offer the soda and you're lucky if we remember to have enough class to offer a glass with ice in it rather than make you drink out of the can.  We point to the fridge and the snack jar and say "Help yourselves...make yourself at home..." because we truly feel our home is their home too.  Then we kick our shoes off, prop our feet up and listen, we yack for hours, we break out photo albums and stories, we wrestle with your kids and change their diapers, we try to ignore the dust on the blinds or the mud the boys track in, we ignore the raucous noise outside on the trampoline as who knows how many kids are out there having a blast and we occasionally interrupt you to tell the kids yet again "this is not Grand Central Station...inside or outside please!"  and in between it all, we want to just be present for our let them know they are a part of our lives as surely as our own children are. We invite them to be part of our "real" life and let them know we don't see them as a stranger, but as someone important in our lives whom we love to be with and will share all we have with.  I can't share what I don't have...even if it is entertaining skills...but I can share our joy, laughter and love.
And when it comes to adoption, particularly an older child or in our case children, how do you exhibit hospitality?  What are some ways you can be inviting and purposeful about your child's first few weeks with you?  How can you offer them a warm reception as they are strangers in a new environment before they begin to meld into family life with you?
This might seem to be easy and a stupid question to even ask.  After all, they are kids!  What do you mean "hospitality" for kids?  Or even "They are ours and we love them, why would we think of them as strangers in our home?"....
I'll tell you why, because they are strangers in your home, and any pretense otherwise leaves you open for a rude awakening.  Forget that you have spent years longing for them, forget that you have perhaps spent bonding time with them, forget that your heart swells when you see their little smiles.  They have never set foot in your home, they have never slept a night in your beds,  they have never eaten your foods...and as much as you'd like to think that they MUST love you because hey, after all, you saved them from orphanage life (she says very tongue in cheek), you are still mere acquaintances on your way to becoming much more. They will feel like strangers, even if you don't view them as such. 
How can you be hospitable to your new child?  How can you make them feel warmly received?  Is a welcome home party just the thing?  Or is it more than that?
It is way more than a party or having a darling room waiting for them, although of course those are little pieces of it.
The single most important thing you can do to be hospitable to your new child is to welcome all of who they are, to invite their entire history into your home with open arms, to not deny that they had a life that came long before they joined you and not every moment of it was miserable. 
Their life did not begin the moment they were joined with you.  You may wish to think it, they may have a painful past you wish you could sweep under the rug and leave covered there, you may experience great grief as you fall more and more in love and realize all the time you have lost.  But no amount of sweeping can brush away the years that came before.  They may also have had some terrific times, moments they recall with great fondness.
Talk about their friends from the orphanage...ask them what they liked best about them and to share their stories of them.  Do them a favor and record them for them, as time will dim those memories.  Ask about their favorite caretakers and do so from a place that doesn't require validation that YOU are now the most important person.  There may have been some very special adults in their lives whom they cared a great deal about, and seeing them as some sort of long distant threat denies you the chance to be grateful that those special people helped form who your amazing child is today.  If they have photos or you took any, print them out right away and have them around the house...put them up on the fridge so your child will know that anyone who is special to them is important to you as well and deserves to be prominent in your home.  Kenny had a photo his caretaker gave him of herself on our fridge off and on for 2 years, along with one of her daughter whom he had fond memories of.  I met this woman for 10 minutes and will never see her again, but Kenny has precious few things to carry forward from his old life and this was important to him.
If your kids have something from their old life...a piece of clothing, a small toy, a tattered drawing...don't push it aside or put it away.  Let them have it near them at all times if that is what they want.
As soon as possible get photos of your new child up in family frames and if you had photos of them when they were younger get them up immediately.  Claim them as part of your family as naturally as if they had always been there.  Seeing their faces amongst yours makes them feel a part of you.
Make a point of having comfort foods present  at all times.  Yes, even if it is hard boiled eggs and you have them for a year on hand.  Don't worry as much about nurturing their bodies as you do nurturing their souls.  Having at least SOMETHING familiar when all else is not is very important.
They may smell bad when you first meet them and visit them, hug them and kiss them anyway.  They may act odd at first, hug them and kiss them anyway.  They may strike out at you or be inappropriate with anger, hug them and kiss them anyway. 
Give them a place to be fearful, to express pain, to share sorrow and grief.  Don't minimize it, don't say "Well all's well that end's well!", don't ignore it. Having a new life does not make the pain of the old life magically disappear.  You may be the best mom or dad in the world and your kid may have hit the jackpot getting you for a family BUT there are frankly going to be times they will not feel that way and will wish they could be back in their old life.  It may not make sense to you, it makes perfect sense to them...the devil that is known is often less scary then the devil which is not known.  Don't make anything ever about you or how they are hurting your feelings by expressing their own pain.  Don't give them reason to have to comfort you.  It is not about you.  Be secure in your role as their parent and let them have their feelings, your job is to help them through it.
Set boundaries but don't sweat the small stuff.  They will test you, absolutely.  But take it one day at a time and attack things that need to be changed in small increments.  Eventually you'll get it all nailed down but if something is minor and can be overlooked while you focus on a more important issue, ignore it and come back to it later.  Don't leave them feeling as if they can do no right and are corrected every single waking moment.  There is time to get to everything, it all doesn't have to be corrected at once.
Touch them in non-threatening ways often.  Let them know you are aware of their presence and are enjoying it.  Hugs and kisses may be too much for some kids at first.  A hand on a shoulder or a tousle of their hair is not.  Walk with your hand on their back, compare hand and foot sizes, play footsie under the table.  Physical affection is not part of every day life in an orphanage and it may feel uncomfortable at first or they may simply not feel close enough to you to allow this, which is absolutely fair.  Give it time, part of being hospitable is knowing where your child is on the continuum and letting them gradually move forward on their time frame and not yours.
Let them in on the family jokes so the very next time it is told they will understand and be able to laugh along.  We have already shared several with the girls such as when Kenny first met the boys and playing "hiney spank" on the Kupie doll or about Matthew swallowing his tooth one time.  Let them in on your family and cue them in on your particular family culture.  And in fact, you may not believe this, but we are already joking a little about our first week together and the long faces.  We are choosing to see that from a different place than others might, we want us all to relax over it and not have it be the elephant in the room but instead just a part of our LaJoy family story.  We are already saying "Remember when we..." to recall things since we have arrived, as it is as important to build on that inclusive family history as it is to let them in on all that came before their entrance.
When you visit others or go some place new, explain it ahead of time.  Don't thrust them unprepared into a new and perhaps uncomfortable situation.  Let them know what is happening for the day, show them a clock on paper and pantomime what you can.  You will find that basic language will come fast enough to help you explain more things than you think.
Kids from orphanage environments typically don't have the opportunity to make decisions on their own.  Don't expect that to come easily and don't get frustrated when you get mixed signals.  Angela is already a star at doing this...flip flopping when asked if she likes or doesn't like something and we quickly realized she doesn't have the decision making skills of others her age.  Take baby steps and don't ask for big decisions to be made.  Act as if they are a toddler in this way and give them a choice of two things and let them pick.  Let them go back on their decisions as they learn what it IS to make decisions.  It is too overwhelming to say "What do you want to do today?" but is not at all overwhelming to say "Would you like to visit the museum with us today?".
Find someone locally who can help you translate when it is too hard to explain something.  Or find a Skype buddy with good language skills.  Offer them  a million dollars to help you :-) or at least your undying gratitude and loyalty.  I still remember the one time we really had to have help as Kenny was SO upset over not getting something across and the relief we all felt when we got a hold of someone who could translate.
Be patient with one another, love IS patient, love IS kind.  Cut your new child some slack and cut yourself some slack.  There will be lousy days and good ones.   Never revert to thinking you wouldn't revert to if walking into a new marriage...there is no such thing as relinquishment and there is no such thing as divorce.  They are yours forever, and you are theirs.  Of course, there are exceptions in the case of truly mentally disturbed children but that is another issue.  Don't let the bad days turn your head back to the days pre-adoption and think how wonderful your life was without the added stress of this new child.  Instead, dig in and think of how far you will have come 6 months from now. 
As soon as is possible, share with your child all the ways in which you thought of them before you ever met them.  Even if you didn't know who they were, share the ornament you bought at Christmas or the books you bought for them 6 months before they came home.  Let them know their life with you began long before you met.
Help those closest to you understand what is going on when something is odd.  Remember, you are the gatekeeper of all that adoption research and it is your job to share it to help others understand so they can be supportive.  If you are in a power struggle, let them know why it is important for your child to learn to trust adults CAN take care of them.  If you have a child wandering around who has to touch every single thing because it is all so new and they never had the chance to explore like that in their toddler years, explain it.  Often you will find true friends are understanding and when explained want to help and will look for opportunities to work with you on these behaviors.  They will not laugh or roll their eyes when your 11 year old son wants to play with their 18 month old's toys :-) 
Finally, remember their "stranger" status for awhile.  Remind yourself when they do something inappropriate or forget where to put the forks up that they ARE a stranger in a strange land.  While you don't want to treat them entirely as a stranger, remembering that they have been with you only a short while can help keep the compassion in place when the frustration sets in.  Take yourself back to the time spent in their country while traveling, if indeed you did that, and how out of place and helpless you felt.  It is a great tool for keeping your expectations realistic.
So now we have come to the end of the pinball game, this particular thought is now put to rest.  The next ball is queued up and the plunger is pulled.  Wonder what else will be bouncing around tomorrow?

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Land of Resilience

Resilience seems to be the word that presents itself to me today.  Do you ever have that happen to you?  Maybe you have to be a "word" person to have that happen.  Sometimes a word that is not used in every day conversation comes up and then I notice it is sort of a "theme" word and reappears over and over for a few days, so I take notice of it and try and figure out what God is trying to get me to pay attention to.  That is one of the ways I feel God speaks to me.  Might seem crazy to you all, but when I say God is "talking" to me, I have never heard this booming James Earl Jones-like voice surrounding is always little quirky things that others might find me nuts for taking as God-talk, or it is intuition, gut instinct, interesting timing...or as one of my blog posts from awhile back talked about "Divine Coincidence". 
Today I ventured out of the apartment for the first time in several days.  The sinus stuff is gradually fading and I am slowly feeling more human.  Not human enough to want to stay out long or go far but I took Matt and Josh to the store to grab some paper towels and a few other sundries. 
Walking along the ice packed road behind our apartment I was struck by how quickly everything had changed.  We have had no snow for a couple of weeks, and what was once a crunchy white blanketed walk has now a slick, filthy path.  Everything is covered by 6-8 inches of ice build up and tire ruts create mini-slippery slopes for your feet to try and find footing on.  The little pock marks covering every walkway made by the fast walking high heels that have traveled over it are filled up and packed down, like the face of an adult who had acne as a teen...smoother and yet always present.  What caught my attention though was that there is a film of exhaust and grime on everything...a coating of gray covers it all.  It actually is more fitting as it blends in with the crumbling cement sided apartment buildings more than the white snow did.  Funny how fresh snow can make even the most desolate of environments feel almost magical with it's accompanying softness and silence.
I walked into Corona with my boys at my side, feeling all the world as if I was walking in the front door of the Montrose Walmart where a familiar faced greeter would be standing there to press a happy face sticker on the front of one of the boys' shirts and direct me to a shopping cart.  We have come to "live" here in a way I didn't expect.  Walking up to Dominick's bread lady, she hopped up off her stool and had a cheery smile for me, rattling away in Russian as if I understood every word but trying to communicate as best she could, with me picking up a bit on the fact she was wanting to know if we had a "machina" or car to come back and forth to the store in.  Casual conversation as the cookie lady across the aisle was smiling and attempting to make small talk as well.  How much we have missed by not speaking the language, and how nice it has been to have encounters with strangers become less strange.  We are foreigners in a foreign land who definitely have a foreign looking family and yet gradually that has slipped away and we have simply become "The Americans" with the Kazakh boys. 
As the countdown continues I realize that I will feel a great sadness when we leave, knowing we will never return again.  Yea, I know I felt that way each time but this time it is for real.  While there are times we have been frustrated or even fed up for brief moments, it is not the place we want to is the home we want to return to...the friends we miss...that draws our thoughts away from being fully present here. 
But I know the lesson I will take away from here and this trip, more than any other trip here, is the lesson of the resilience of the human spirit.  It has been woven throughout this experience in so many ways.  Living among those whose lives were created and will eventually end in this place, experiencing a tiny sliver of what their day to day existence is like, my respect for their tenacity and resilience to survive this environment has grown exponentially.  And it is almost laughable to say we have experienced a slice of true life here, for it is hard to see that as true when we live in a huge apartment with running (albeit crunchy) water, have enough money to buy food each day, don't fret about paying $2 for a taxi to take us where we want to go, have all kinds of mini-luxuries that here are NOT taken for granted like DVD players, nice smelling soap and shampoo, paper towels and 5 liter water bottles that Alexander has asked we save for him.  Daily I am impressed with a people who manage to look so immaculate, be so well educated, and live without running water or more than 3 sets of clothes.  Here there are people who worry about having enough tenge to cover the cost of a loaf of bread, a woman of at least 60 years old who is shoveling snow outside our apartment to feed herself, a curb crew of 20 people or so that works outside in the mind numbing cold using shovels to clear ice and snow from the curbs by hand.  It is almost insulting to say we have experienced life here to any degree considering the wealth we are here with.
And yet they are fruitful and multiply, the inhabit an almost uninhabitable land under soul deadening circumstances.  They continue on, they muscle through, they hold out hope for a future that will be different for their own children. 
There is resilience in myself, for I have done something that 10 years ago I might never have fathomed was in me to do.  I had never been on an airplane until I was 30 years old, my honeymoon was the first vacation I had ever really had...and here I sit at 43 having traveled around the world an equivalent of 3 1/2 times, remained in a foreign country alone for 2 weeks with no language and no other adult as I cared for 3 children, I have powered through acres worth of trees of adoption paperwork, I have reached out to others who were foreign in many ways to me and my way of life, I have mommy'd children whose hurts have broken my own heart and have much more in front of me...and yet I too have discovered a resilience in myself that I never knew existed.
The one that gives me the greatest hope and faith in the human spirit is our daughters.  It is stunning to me to think of all they have endured, all they have been bereft of, and yet they stood emotionally naked in front of us saying without words "Here we are, we will try yet again...will someone finally love us?".  Olesya's reactions yesterday, her delight and anticipation and desire to simply "belong" brought tears to my eyes.  Angela's shy small steps do the same thing.  How can they have the ability to do this yet again?  I would have turned tail and run at the sign of anyone who said "I love you" after having my love mangled and thrown back in my face so often in this world, after really never having ANYONE love can they be certain we won't do the same thing to them?  How can they trust us?  I am under no illusions that they fully trust us yet, that will have to be earned.  But their remarkable resilience allows them to go back in to the ring, head held high, gloves up and a grin saying "Come on, Life...throw me another one...I can take it!".  Please Lord, let this time they be the ones standing with their fists thrust in the air, finally victorious.
 I am learning great lessons here in the Land of is presented to me in many forms...tangible and intangible. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Countdown Begins!

We had a nice visit with the girls today at the apartment, which capped off our "School's Out" day for the week. Tomorrow it is back to the books!  While we are still trying to get in touch with Tim at Federal Travel to confirm things, here is what our schedule looks like for the remainder of our time here:
Monday, 2/1 - We are invited to go see a small presentation at the Boarding School titled "Circle of Joy".  Not sure what it is but we all teased and laughed as we couldn't think of a name more suited to us right now!
Tuesday, 2/2 - We pack up, no school work from here on out until we get back in a real classroom!  Of course, on a trip like this and with all that is going on, you can guarantee there will be a lot of learning going on, even if not the measurable kind.  We are hopeful the girls can go out with us to go shopping for things for a small party for their family group...for 30 or so people!  They were VERY EXCITED when we asked if they wanted to come do the shopping, don't know how often they have ever had the opportunity to do so as they acted as if they were going to Disneyland.  We are going to give them a budget and have them select everything carefully themselves and stay within budget.  The boys have decided they will be their "slaves" and carry everything for them! Hahaha!  Of course I'll get pictures of that one! Haha!
Wednesday, 2/3 - This Is It.  We will visit the orphanage sometime in the late afternoon and have a party with the kids there.  We have been informed that their brothers can be with them in their family room but we have to stay with the Director and other grown ups :-( hahaha!  They have this all planned out, and it is totally cute that they pulled the boys into it all with them with huge grins.  We will all sleep under the same roof for the first time, what a wonderful moment it will be even if it isn't back in Montrose.  It doesn't really matter because "home" is where your family is...and we are certainly family.
Thursday, 2/4 - We're off to Astana!  We have made the decision due to small planes and luggage requirements (and small births on the train) to fly to Astana but are still going to check into the train to Almaty as that was where the real savings is.  The flights to Astana were not much more than the train, by the time we calculated in food for 7 and fears that we might have to pay extra for seats or luggage on the train. It looked like it would be a "wash" so we will take the plane this time around.  Turns out Angela is a little frightened of flying, so Dominick talked to her a bit about it today.  Not terrified, just a little nervous I think.
We remain in Astana and see the sights while waiting for the registration paperwork to be completed and headed for Almaty.  Turns out we will get the apartment the Oborn's are in once they vacate it the day before we get there!  Wish we were going to see one another there, but it is kind of cool to follow in their footsteps there.  We will hopefully capture a ton of photos, see a lot of neat things and museums, and get a taste of New Kazakh Culture!!!
Wednesday, 2/10  - We fly to Almaty to finish the process and hopefully all will have gone well and our documents will all have arrived as well.  Not sure where we are staying yet or even who is meeting us there from our agency!! Hahaha!  Someone will want to get rid of the crazy Americans dragging around 5 kids so we are not too worried :-)
Thursday and Friday, 2/11 ands 2/12 - We will have the girls' medical appointments and the Embassy appointment.
Sunday, 2/14 - Happy Valentines Day!  We leave Almaty for home!!!  We have a 7 hour layover in Frankfurt and will arrive in Montrose on the last flight of the day around 10:00 PM...we hope...if we aren't delayed anywhere...if we have all documents done...I am almost afraid to post this as we have encountered every delay possible from the day we started the adoption so is it really, really possible this last leg will go without a hitch?  Stay tuned to find out! Hahaha!  Anyone want to take bets on it???
Tonight's visit was special in some way I can't put my finger on.  Maybe it is that we are all really ready to become a family.  I think that without realizing it, that has been bothering me more than being here and not being home.  We are cozy, we are safe, it may be harder than home but we have nothing serious to complain about.  But our mission feels half accomplished with a court decree in our hand and no children in our arms.
As long as this stage has seemed, it has been good for all of us and I think is as God intended it to be. There is a relaxed sense of "family" that has snuck in between all of us.  I thought that as I saw Angela and Matthew curled up on the couch sharing Uno cards to try and beat physically comfortable with one another as if they had been brother and sister forever, looking for all the world like Kenny, Josh and Matthew snuggled up reading or playing with each other.  This relationship is such a gift for each of them, Matthew has often been left out of the relationship Kenny and Josh have, not by intent but by maturity.  He joins them often, of course, but how long can a mature 10 year old play "imagine I am a super hero"?  I know Kenny is 11 but he is 7 or 8 in most ways, and we are not going to drag him forward any faster than he needs to is obvious he needs more younger childhood time and he will get it.  After all, he has matured about 4 years worth in 2 1/2!!  But Angela and Matthew are about the same level of maturity, and it will be wonderful for him to have someone older and more at his level to play with. 
But Angela drifts between them all.  Kenny claimed her on his Rummikub team today and she grinned and happily sat next to him, then she left the game for awhile and played with Joshua on the floor for quite awhile.  I see slowly in her the ability to maybe leave behind the teenaged girl she was reaching to be when we first arrived, and the desire to take on the younger child for awhile.  How I had hoped for that, she so needs it!  I should have trusted the Power of the LaJoy Boys and their silly sense of fun to do that for her.  Like our kids, who don't seem to need a whole heck of a lot to be entertained, the girls are the same way and Angela spent 20 minutes playing with Angela on the floor with this little plastic stretchy lizards.  It was so cute to see them with each other.  (At this moment the boys have all rolled up their socks, turned the coffee table on it's side and placed it next to the couch to create a fort and are having "Snow Sock" fights! Hahaha!)
This evening though, it was Olesya whose joy seemed to hardly be able to be contained!  WOW!! This girl is SO ready to go!  We laid out the game plan to them all tonight, explained our schedule and talked about leaving the orphanage.  Angela pretended for a moment to cry with a grin on her face when we talked about them leaving for good next Wednesday.  I  reassured her that we knew it was a happy AND sad day, and she needn't feel uncomfortable at all to cry that day...that we would not be offended and we understood.  She gave me a shy smile that sort of said "thanks for that Mom".
Olesya asked if Wednesday they were sleeping at our apartment and got a HUGE smile on her face when we said yes and that she would never sleep at the boarding school again!!  She counted the number of days on her fingers.  Earlier when we had all been goofing around in the kitchen (I have been wondering lately, do we ever NOT goof around??) with the kids each spanking each others bottom and trying to karate chop each other and she came up behind me and grabbed me in the biggest hug.  I turned around to face her smiling face and she just sad "Mama!!!" and hugged me tight again.
My heart filled, of course.
Later I was teasing the Cheating Team of Matt and Angela leaning over the table looking for the Uno cards they were inevitably hiding and pointing at each one teasingly and fiercely saying "Matthew LaJoy...Angela LaJoy I am going to beat you whether you cheat or not!"...we all laughed and Irina was next to them on the couch and said "What about me? Irina LaJoy?" as we have joked about how  we are old enough to be her parents, literally.  I laughed and said "Yes...Irina LaJoy!  No Cheating!" then from beside me I hear Olesya say something to Irina and Irina turns to me and says "Olesya says 'what about me? What is MY name?" and I turned to her and wagged a finger saying "Olesya LaJoy! No cheating!" and she just smiled and smiled as we hugged again.
After all we have all been through, to arrive at this place where love is sprouting, where we are all beginning to claim our new version of our is a miracle, pure and simple.  2 months ago we were each heartbroken...not only us but two paralyzed and terrified little girls were as well.  What healing comes from God!!! What goodness comes from love without condition!!!  Did any of you seriously think after that first week that we would be in THIS place today??  Countless hugs and giggles and joy.  I had such high hopes when we got on the plane for this, and yet it seemed it was going to be out of reach, that too much damage had been done by others and too much time had passed.
It was your prayers that made the allowed us to be in a place of peace when walking through a storm of emotion.  It was your prayers that hovered around all of us, creating opportunity for God to work on doors that appeared to be nailed shut. It was your prayers that made the LaJoy family the one that stands before you all today.  It wasn't us, for none of us has the ability to do what happened here. 
With each visit, the yearning to be together has grown.  With each visit, the reluctance to part has strengthened.  It has been voiced by both girls "We wish we didn't have to go back.", and maybe this small piece of "absence makes the heart grow fonder" has helped stir up desire and created space to dip their feet in the pool of family love, then pull out and go back to the orphanage to think about it and process it all, then come back and wade in a little deeper. 
Olesya is jubilant, while Angela is more quietly pleased.  The reality of leaving their life behind is more "real" for Angela and I sense, maybe not correctly but my gut says it, that she is dreading the leaving and wanting to get it behind her so she can relax into family life without that facing her.  Although Olesya is more demonstrative, Angela is not at all doing this for Olesya as I at first feared she might.  She is ready for her new life too, and after wiping away the tears that goodbyes always bring I am guessing she will step firmly forward with joy and happiness, as she is sure happy when she is with us and always asking if they can come to our apartment for visits!!
Watching the kids all together, no one would ever, ever guess they hadn't been together since birth.  This is stunning to me, absolutely amazing.  For those of you who know us in real life and will be around the kids right when we get home, you will be blown away and come away shaking your heads as we are doing right now.  I hope that our travels to Astana and Almaty help cement it all firmly.  Even nicer is that the girls and boys all bounce back and forth with each other, seemingly enjoying one just as much as another.  Could we actually be so lucky as to have with the girls what we had when we added Kenny to our family????  Time will tell, that would be almost too much to ask for, like striking gold over and over again.
And so the countdown begins!  We are ready now...the days are dwindling, fears are receding (at least the kids...Moms are a whole different ball game!!  Language, culture, trauma...oh forget about it for awhile!), and bonds are growing. 
The future is dangling like the proverbial carrot, right before our eyes!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nothing in Particular

You all are getting 3 posts today with photos, this is the last one and I have nothing in particular to write about as I have been doing a little too much thinking in other directions the past couple of days as we try to recuperate.  So you get a little of this and a little of that today!  Matthew woke up feeling a lot better, his giggle was back and although a little stuffy he is fine.  I am feeling a little better but loading on the antibiotic and it will take me longer to get MY giggle back! 
I say that but I DID giggle this afternoon over something Joshua said.  I had my ministry class texts stacked up and I had put post it notes on them on which I noted what chapters I was to have read for the next class.  I had another ministry book that was given to me by a friend and I had labeled it with a post it note marked "Fun" so I wouldn't confuse it with my school texts.  Josh was looking at the book which laid upside down marking where I was while working on something else, read the note and asked me why I had written "fun" on it.  I explained what I had done and he said "So did you mark your other books with a B?" and I asked "Why would I mark it with a "B"?".  He said, totally straight faced "For Boring".
My kids crack me up.
We heard from Irina today that all looks like a go for leaving here on the 4th for Astana.  Paperwork is on track, address registrations are being worked on, and we are a week from finally becoming full time parents to Angela and Olesya. 
Wonder what it will feel like???
Will it finally feel "real"?
In the meantime school work has kicked into high gear so the remaining time can be "school free" and enjoyed.  It will be pretty hard to dig in to much while we are on the road so the boys have really had a great attitude and not complained one bit about doing nothing but school work for the past few days.  We have encouraged them telling them we have less than a week of school left before they have a break and we can have a celebration and pack the books up!  I am really proud of them and their terrific work ethic here.  It would have been easy to take advantage of the unique circumstances and be lazy,. but they haven't at all.  It has also been a lot of fun to learn together, to curl up on the bed or couch and listen to the kids as they read or diagram sentences or work on fractions.  I know, I am a sick puppy to actually enjoy that but it IS fun to see the progress the boys make and watch as they master new skills.  And they all love being together so much it has been a treat for all of us!
It has been a huge blessing to have this time together, stepped outside of our usual hectic schedule.  It is sort of like camping out for 2 months, but in warmer and better accommodations!  The boys are sleeping all over the place, on our floor, on the couches pulled out and sometimes not, sometimes sharing beds with each other and sometimes not.  No alarm clocks, no schedules to keep, no work stress or bills to pay (Thanks Debbie!).  And it seems the boys are growing up right before our eyes.  Aside from missing teeth, there has been a lot of inner growth and maturing happening, each one is a little but different.  The one we notice it most in is Joshua.  He is a little old soul at moments anyway, and here he is just so grown up acting at moments...when he is not being babied by his brothers and sisters.  MAN they spoil that kid!!  I thought they were supposed to be complaining to us that he is the favorite youngest I had to remind Matt and Kenny that Josh has to do things on his own to grow up to become the responsible young men they are growing into.  This was after Kenny told Josh not to worry about taking out the trash, that he would do it for him so he didn't have to go out in the cold.  Matthew looked up at me and said "I know you're right mom, but sometimes he is just so cute we can't help ourselves!" as Kenny giggled his unique little Kenny giggle next to me.  I threw my hands up and in mock anger said "I give up!!" and Dominick threw out a comment from the kitchen "Don't complain when he is 14 and doesn't want to take the trash out boys, he won't be so cute then!".  They both looked at each other, dissolved into more giggles and said "Yea...he will be even then!". If Josh really didn't carry his weight we'd of course step in seriously, but he does his chores without complaint and more than many his age...if his brothers or sisters want to nurture him a little, I'm not going to stop them :-)  I am thankful that they all love each other so much!
One more picture for the day, here are the boys at the Kazakh gift shop in town.  This wonderful store owner dressed them up, zipping up their jackets and tying their scarves up for them, then kissed them right before I pulled out the camera.  While we may get tired of being stared a by strangers, we sure have been treated warmly by those who actually interact with our family.  There are some terrific people here in Kazakhstan, we will miss them all and carry them in our hearts for a very long time after we leave.

A Night (or Dimly Lit Day) at the Museum! it was not a night at the museum, but coming up with catchy titles is not my forte, so I fake it a little :-)  We all went to the museum this past weekend, and we were all pleasantly surprised at what a very nice and well put together display of history it was!  Compared to the museum we saw in Aktobe years ago, this was far more professional, had many great exhibits, and we saw many new things we had never seen before.  Dioramas contained stuffed and well displayed local wildlife, many artifacts dating back to the earliest times of history and native peoples.  Military memorabilia, large maps, photos and documents, and even modern post-soviet Kazakhstani history was well represented.  We spent about an hour there and wished we could read Russian as it would have been fascinating and even more educational.  We saw a full size yurt which you see depicted in these photos, a few traditional clothing displays, and much more.  Well worth the 100 Tenge entrance fee for kids, 200 tenge for adults, and 200 tenge for the camera.  We were also instructed that we could only take photos if someone in our group was IN the photos.  Interesting we paid about $7.50 for all of us, including our newest family member Canon Rebel LaJoy...Hahaha! 
Kenny is always drawn to finery in jewelry or clothing.  I am wondering if he might be a fashion designer or jewelry maker someday!  Note To Self:  Great field trip back home...custom jewelry designer!  The kids all seemed to like the yurt display, and Olesya was snapping photos right and left but took the camera with her back to the orphanage to continue documenting their lives.  Hope she gets some good shots.  I like how seriously she takes the responsibility of the camera, very respectful and super careful to make sure the strap is always around her wrist or over her neck.
Here are some pictures of our children's culture!

Kazakhstan Tooth Nabber!!

Now for your Gross Out Pictures of the Day!!!
Didn't you always want to look inside our son's mouths???? HAHAHA!!!
It has been so funny...we have been here a mere 2 months and all three boys have lost teeth here!  First there was Joshie with his second front tooth right before Christmas, then Kenny lost a tooth a few days ago...then Matthew today!  He totally cracked us when he casually said as he looked at the tooth held in the palm of his hand "Well Mr, Tooth, you were born in Kazakhstan, and you died in in peace!"...HAHAHA!!
Matthew has something weird going on, if you look at his picture it appears there is a whole separate tooth coming in on the outside of the jaw in addition to the regular tooth.  It isn't hurting him, but guess who gets to go to the dentist with the girls when we get home??  Sure wish we had dental insurance...not available to us and we have several mouthfuls of teeth that are in obvious need or braces plus Olesya has a pretty badly chipped permanent front tooth we need to deal with.  Why does it have to hurt US so badly when THEY are the ones getting the dental work?
Dominick...I tried to tell you years ago...DENTAL SCHOOL...not CAR WASHING!!! :-) 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Houston, We Definitely Have a Problem

I just finished a long email to Kenny's teachers back home.  The longer we are working with him here, the more apparent it is that he is challenged by more than English as a Second Language issues.  I am going to begin searching quite seriously for answers, as we need to get to the bottom of this so we can begin to come up with solutions.  In an effort to see if anyone reading this blog has experienced these sorts of issues with their children adopted as older post-institutionalized kids I am going to quote a large portion of my email to the teachers involved.  I know there are many processing issues that older kids often face due to the deprivation of their early life but I am in not very knowledgeable about them and am hoping someone out there might be able to steer us in the right direction or see something familiar in Kenny's issues that might ring a bell with you.  Here is some of what I wrote:
What we are seeing is hard to describe, but it is as if he can not internalize information and recall it later.  Sometimes he seems unable to apply learned information to newly presented material...he can't "connect the dots" and take what he has learned in one place and apply it to build on in another. This does NOT happen all the time, and sometimes it is disconcerting to see it happen here and there and see no pattern to it.  But the biggest and most concerning issue is his recall.
Let me give you an example, and this is what I have been saying for a year and a half now.  Last night we were reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Farmer Boy".  It contains a large amount of new vocabulary for both he and the other boys.  Because of this I stop frequently and ask if they know a word I assume is new, then I define it for them and try and use it in another context as well, making sure they all understand the word.  We had two words last night..."preserves" and "stock" (as in livestock) that came up.  I stopped, asked what they meant and Kenny and Josh didn't know what they were so I defined it well.  5 minutes later I am come across one of the words again in a sentence and turn to ask Kenny to explain to me what it means and he is clueless what it if he never heard it.  He can't pull it out of his head. 
Guys, I returned to those same two words 5 times each over the course of an hour...he was listening attentively as you know he always loves being read to...they were used in context, they were each explained very clearly 5 times each AND he could explain it in his own words each kidding and no exaggerating...and the 5th time he still couldn't pull it out of his brain...all in 1 hour.  It wasn't as if there was a break and we returned to it the next day and he forgot...a couple of times I used it within 5 minutes of the last time and he couldn't recall it...a total blank.  This is what we have continued to see for a long time at home...this is not an ELL kid who needs to hear a word many times to retain it when it is used in conversation or reading over the course of a few weeks, this is a child who can not recall 10 minutes later a word that he understood when initially explained and it was well defined for him AND he could explain its definition in his own words.  And 20 minutes later we hit the word again and it is like a totally new word, as if he never heard it.
Another thing in terms of "connecting the dots"...I explained what the word "preserve" means, not just that "preserves" are jams, jellies, vegetables, etc. that are canned but that preserve means to put aside or save something.  We talked about it from all directions, but 10 minutes later he could not connect that preserving...the definition of saving something...had been turned into a noun and "preserves" were canned items saved for eating later.  No connection for him at all, he can't seem to tie learned information together the way other kids can and this hinders him from using learning as building blocks to deeper understanding.
With reading this is slowing him down a lot...he can be told 10 times...literally...what a word is when it appears in a book and the next time he comes across it, it is as if it is a totally new word for him, even if he read it 5 times on the previous 2 pages...he has to stop and sound it out, and even then he stumbles in blending it together even though he has seen the word and been helped to sound it out correctly 5 previous times in the past 10 minutes.  It isn't "clicking".  I have seen him sound out a main character's name every single time he reads it in the book...over and over and over again and by the end of the book STILL can not glance at it and know what the word is.
He can explain what is going on in a story well, despite his inability to understand certain words...this is not a comprehension issue at all really.  It is not even really a vocabulary issue. 
He can not anticipate what a word is when reading...he can not use the context to fill in the blanks as he reads to move forward well. He has a good spoken vocabulary, surprisingly even better than some kids his own age despite his being here only 2 1/2 years.  But when he is reading a sentence and he comes across a word that he doesn't recognize, he doesn't have the ability to deduce what it might be even though he can sound out the beginning of the word or may have even used the word often himself in conversation.
I don't know if anyone reading this blog can relate to the above and maybe has dealt with some of the same issues with their own children, or maybe can throw out ideas about what might be going on.  This is frustrating all of us as Kenny is a really bright kid and doesn't present at first glance as anything other than an engaged and intelligent ESL child...but you are my experts and you all know what institutionalization can do to the brain.  Our school has never worked with a child like Kenny before and it is new for all of us.  If anyone out there finds that what is described above rings a bell, can you comment and let me know what we might be looking for or at?  I need a starting place and look to those of you who are experienced to maybe help us out.
In other news, Matthew and I have come down with a nasty cold.  Kenny had it but it seemed to mostly affect his eyes this past week with a little bit of cold symptoms but he said he felt basically fine.  Within 12 hours I went to feeling quite well to feeling really bad.  Fortunately we have antibiotic with us and I needed it already, as it is obvious I am developing a sinus infection along with it.  This stuff always hits me so fast and SO hard! I had hoped to avoid it while here, but no dice. Now I just hope it doesn't move into my lungs or I will be in real trouble.  Even Irina said you do not want to see a doctor here unless you have no other option, that even people who live here prefer to be treated elsewhere if at all possible as medical care here is sub-par, to say the least. Matthew doesn't have a fever but is the kind of kid who just gets really quite and tired when he is catching something...and he has laid around all day and went back to sleep after waking up this morning complaining of a headache.  Hope we all kick it before we head for Astana!
Now, since I am being Downer Debbie today, I was laying in bed this morning having my first real "I wish I were home" moment since getting here, and compiled a mental list of things I am tired of.  None are significant, none are all that big of a deal, but they are things I have noticed and wanted to share as we approach the 2 month mark of not sleeping in our own beds:
1)  I am tired of not fitted sheets and having the bottom sheet barely able to be tucked in well enough not to be pulled off in every direction through the night.
2) I am tired of each of us falling down while walking on ice.  It hurts and we are lucky we have had no broken bones yet.
3)  I am tired of stiff clothes from line drying.  I love dryer softened clothes and miss them!
4)  I am tired of being stared at every single place we go.  Everywhere.  Every day.  Every Moment.
5)  I am tired of cracks in ceilings and floors, of shoddy workmanship, of doors in our apartment with no latches so they never fully close and of stepping over door sills on the floor wherever there is a door.  I am not graceful, I am klutzy and a trip everywhere we go here.  In our apartment alone which is only about 2 years old and nicer than any apartment we have ever been in here we have plaster ceiling falling on us, pretty wallpaper peeling off walls, linoleum lifted off the floor enough to trip us, a toilet that rocks, almost every electrical outlet has pulled out of the wall by our simply removing a plug, a dresser drawer front fell off in my hand, walls are plastered and not painted so everything we accidentally brush up against leaves a white residue on our clothing, our table has had to be turned over twice and the legs tightened on it, and the cabinet facings are peeling off.  I feel sorry for people here who pay incredibly hard earned money for low quality goods and services.  Very little here is well made, nothing here is  very sturdy or makes me angry for them that even if they had the money to spend they would be hard pressed to find furniture that would last, or clothing that was extremely durable.
6)  I am tired of public toilets with no toilet seats.
7)  I am tired of feeling like life is in limbo, because it is and we are in some form of strange suspended animation here.
8)  I am tired of being tired.  I want to sleep a full night through on a comfortable mattress that I can not fold over on itself when flipping it to try and find a more comfortable way of sleeping.
9)  I am tired of worrying if the boys actually act like children in public, for here children are seen and not heard much and if the boys even giggle or run around when outside we get even more stares.
10) I am tired of web sites being blocked.
11)  I am tired of feeling like I am not being productive, of not having my usual tasks to take care of.
12)  I am tired of not driving for myself.
13)  I am tired of unidentifiable food in grocery stores.
14)  I am tired of a tiny front loader washer that is literally no more than 7" deep and 18" tall.  For a family of 5 (Right now) which includes 3 young boys whose clothes can't usually be worn twice because they are filthy, this means a TON of loads.
15)  I am tired of not seeing any grass or dirt.  Yesterday, for the first time, we were out and saw a patch of dirt and commented on how we had missed it.  Dumb, I know, but everything here has been covered in 4 inch sheets of ice or 3 foot high drifts of snow!  I miss brown!  Even dead grass brown!
And in order to end on a more positive note, here are things I like!!
1) I love having little markets within a 2 minute walk to get milk and eggs or a cold soda instead of being a15 minute drive from Walmart.
2)  I love the practicality of one set of toilets for both male and females.  2 or 3 places here there are bathrooms with fully enclosed stalls and it is for use by both men and women.  Smart, smart, smart...why in the world do we really need separate bathrooms other than for urinals?
3)  I love getting smiles from the people who have come to see us regularly at our little markets, it makes you feel the beginnings of being part of a community
4)  I love having currency, both coins and bills, that makes sense...the larger the amount, the larger the size of the coin or bill.  Makes sense, doesn't it?
5)  I love the metric system.  Tell me why the US hasn't adopted it ever?  Based on units of 10's...makes so much more sense.
6)  I love love love being with my family this much.  I love that we all hang out together all day long doing whatever it is that we are doing.  I am envious of old farm families who worked together and didn't separate all day long.
7)  I love the church bells ringing letting me know it is 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM.  They always make us all stop and listen for a moment.  Beautiful!
8)  I love walking everywhere...or at least would if it were warmer!  The ability to get to several places easily because all is central is very nice and super convenient.
9)  I love realizing we can easily do without a lot of the junk in our lives as we live a more simplified version here.  I can see many things we move around in our house that are unnecessary and take up needless space.  I have joked about 3 pans, but we have done just fine with them and I honestly don't miss much from my own over-filled kitchen at home.  OK...maybe a decent can opener...
10) I love the children's shoes in the stores here, they have the absolute cutest styles of shoes and hats and I wonder why in America our shoes have to be so plain and ugly.
11) I love seeing beautiful women everywhere...well put together, well dressed, even if I could never be one (or truthfully would ever really want to be one).
12) I love cheap taxis. I wish we could get around our town as inexpensively, I might never own a car!  We can get across town(a 20 minute drive in traffic) for 400 Tenge which is $2.70 USD.  Astana will be a lot more expensive but it is nice here while we have it!
13)  I love the curtains and track system here.  Again, smart, smart smart...instead of brackets that's tick out from the side of the wall and can be loosened or bent by pulling a curtain open or closed, there are tracks in the ceiling and the curtains are suspended from there.
14)  I love Constitution Avenue.  There is nothing much there really, just a main walking thoroughfare through the heart of the city with a  few shops and restaurants alongside it.  But something about it is special, and I like it...really enjoyed it during the spring when I was here last time and walking it by myself, people watching while everyone was out enjoying the warmth.
15)  I love that Alexander is a super super good driver, safest one we have ever had and thankful we have HIM while here at this icy time of the year.
16)  I love seeing my children laugh and play together...all 5 of them.  It is my greatest joy.
See?  I came up with one extra "love" than "tired of" just so it wouldn't appear I was being all that cranky. 

And as I end this post the church bells have started ringing and will ring the next 10 minutes.  Nice way to end this one!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Post #7 in One Day - Talking About Adoption

Now that the marathon photo posting session is over, I hope you've all had your fill for a day or two.  it is my hope that as we move out of Phase 1 and move on to Phase 2 I will have more interesting pictures for you of our latest adventures.  One of my favorites ever will no doubt be the first night we are all sleeping together under one roof, even if it IS far from home!
I received a comment from a long time blogger friend of mine and realized it is the one thing in 3+ years of regular blogging that I might not have ever talked about at length. Imagine that...Cindy actually NOT talking about something! Hahaha! Dominick would love that one, as another dear friend of mine and I call ourselves, we are "very verbal"...gee...ya think?!?!?!
Here is the comment I received:
Cindy, I wonder if you would consider sharing how you explained to your children that they were adopted. Especially with Joshua. Hannah knows the word adopted, but none of the meaning behind that in terms of her birth mother and abandonment. How did you approach it, especially with Joshua's RAD. Hannah's had such a stuggle with attachment issues too. I'd really appreciate your advice.
Before I write anything else, I want to make sure that y'all know this is just how Mama LaJoy handles it, that doesn't make it the "right" way, and it doesn't mean anyone else ought to do it this way.  As you have read over the past month, there are people who firmly and totally disagree at times to the approach we take and that is their right and they can move forward in their lives in any way they choose and I have no issue whatsoever with them or anyone else who looks at my life and says "What a LOSER...what an IDIOT...I would NEVER handle that in that way!".  Good for you!  If you can ever take something I share and use it, fine, but you have your own perspective and your own child whose individuality should be taken into account.  They way I handle things is the best way I know how to do it guided by the lessons I have learned from others and what I feel God is saying to me at the moment. we go...
Talking about adoption with our kids has always been the easiest part of our adoptions, and I think of often we parents create more seriousness around the issue than there needs to be.  Notice I do not say that there doesn't need to be respect or care in these discussions, but there should never, ever, EVER be fear on the part of the parents!  If you gave'd eagerly share the stories surrounding the birth, right?  You'd giggle over Daddy's reaction when your water broke, you'd talk with tenderness about the first time you saw your baby and he or she was laid in your arms, you'd laugh over the gag gifts at the shower or the first time you had to change a diaper...and your child would get a huge kick out of it and laugh with you.  So let me share with you the previously unwritten rules that I guess we have always followed that have worked for us, and now they appear to be written down! hahah!
Rule #1 - There is no "right time" to begin talking about adoption.  From the day they get home, no matter how little, it is part of your family story as naturally as if you had given birth.  It was just as miraculous, so why WOULDN'T it be?  From the time they are little babies and are in the tub and you are lathering them up and say "Oh, you are the most beautiful baby in the entire world...your birth mom and dad must have been SO handsome and pretty!", or when you make a baby book showing the orphanage and their crib mates, TALK about it!  It happened, it was true, there is nothing to hide!
Rule #2 - As the parent, be on the lookout for natural and comfortable ways to bring adoption talk into the conversation between you and your child.  If your toddler sees a pregnant woman and talks about it, that is the perfect opportunity to explain that babies come from their mommies tummies but hey, did you know you had TWO mommies and you didn't grow in MY tummy?  Yes...even if they are only 2.  The longer you wait , the more mystery you make surround it all, the bigger deal it unwittingly becomes.  When you see obviously adoptive families, point them out.  When you talk about when they were babies, don't hesitate to say "The day we arrived at the orphanage and I first held you...". 
Their story is as sad...or as you make it!!  "You were abandoned and abused and had no parents" or  "Isn't God amazing to put adoptive families together?" 
With RAD kids though this approach may need to be different, in my opinion.  With Josh we HAD to acknowledge what his soul was telling him but what he didn't have the facts to put together.  At barely two we talked about his other mommy who had left him alone, and explained all his moves from her to materinty hospital to orphanage to us, and that babies need to feel safe with one or two main people taking care of them so that was why at times he struggled.  He couldn't understand why he felt so uncomfortable in his own skin and in our arms, and we had to give him the name for it.
Rule #3 - This may seem strange on the heels of #2 but your child's history is theirs.  You have absolutely NO RIGHT EVER EVER EVER to hide anything from them in an effort to "save them from the pain".  Would YOU like it if something was hidden from you, no matter how loving the motive?  Our job as parents, in my view (and you can feel free to argue all you want it won't change my opinion on this so don't bother yelling at me in the comments, you won't ever change my mind), is not to protect our child from all that they will encounter in is to walk beside them to help them process it and work through it all.  Josh knows he was left behind an apartment building, perhaps to die, perhaps in panic, perhaps in the hopes someone would find him.  We have played through all the scenarios and I have not pretended to know the truth,. for it is unknowable.  All the boys know their beginnings, all have asked questions, all will continue to see it from different vantage points as they grow older.  But it IS their history and revisionism is unfair and damaging.
Now, does this mean you explain rape to a 2 year old?  Of course not as they can not understand "Sex" even.  But when it comes up naturally in conversation, when you begin talking about sex or explaining the facts of is time.  How hard is it really to look your child in the eye and say "You know sweetheart, sometimes men can force women into making babies because they are stronger and want to take advantage of a woman...and the woman is helpless and can't stop a stronger man.  It is a mean thing to do, but your mommy was amazingly strong and loved you so much that even though she didn't want to make a baby with that man she wanted you to be here on earth and loved you enough to have you!  That is REAL love!"
And you may find that "sex" comes up earlier with adopted children as a natural progression of the questions about where babies come from, why they didn't grow in your tummy...and...oh the did the baby get in there in the first place?  We had the full on birds and bees talk with Matthew when I think he was about 6 or so, and then again with Kenny and Josh and Matt awhile after Kenny came home.  Yea, the WHOLE set of facts, nothing left out.  Did they giggle and grin?  Yes.  Did they ask questions?  Yes.  Have they turned into sex fiends?  No, in fact, because we gave them facts and yet protect them somewhat from being immersed in our oversexualized culture they are still far more innocent than most of their friends. 
Remember, if YOU are uncomfortable with it, your children certainly will be as well.  The facts about how life begins are is about the coolest thing God ever created...the way humans and life of any sort is created.  What is so scary about that? 
Rule #3 - Honor the birth parents, but don't help create a fairy tale. They are real, their children are in care of someone else for a reason.  They could be great people or they could be a wreck.  Who knows?  Help your child grab on to a very real mental picture of who their birth parents might us all.  At the very least, they gave them life and deserve to be honored for that alone.  Please note that "honor" does not mean love.
Rule #4 - Here is one where I know there are lots of you out there who will disagree with me, and you very well may be proven right. If the birth parents were awful...don't try and pretend they were good.  Evil exists. Some of our kids have sadly experienced it and are old enough to know evil when they see it.  Sure you can say they had a mental illness, they were an alcoholic and couldn't help themselves, they were abused as kids themselves.  Those might all be facts that can be presented dispassionately and rationally at some point.  But I wouldn't personally dream of not acknowledging the evil that birth parents are capable of is demeaning of the experience the child may have been old enough to remember having gone through. 
What some don't understand about my earlier post about my ANGER at Angela and Olesya's birth parents is that we HAVE to be allowed to feel that anger before we can move through it, and some of this is now more real to me than it ever has been before.  Does that mean I think I or the girls should carry around that anger forever and wallow in it? Of course not, but give me a break here, I have been their mom for only 3 weeks now and am ENTITLED to be angry for a fact if I, as their mother, am not ANGRY about it, what does that say about me???  Burying anger is not a way to heal.  Experiencing it and moving THROUGH it is healthy. 
Often our kids have never had the chance to seriously express their anger at what their birth parents did to them with anyone who cared enough to really listen.  The anger Angela feels is intense, and at some point I know we will have some serious work to do there.  If I looked her in the eyes and said "But honey, they weren't really all that bad...they probably loved you in their own way." it would be a lie she'd read from a mile away and frankly it would be hard for me to choke out.
Sometimes the birth parents did NOT love their children, many times they were a burden they wished they could be rid of, they were someone to beat up on or ignore.  I think we need to acknowledge that truth.  I know...I know...many of you will disagree and say "but they had to love them, we need them to think that.".  We will have to agree to disagree.  Kids know the truth, especially if they lived it.
BUT BUT BUT BUT...God is in it all.  God ALWAYS loved them and that can be pointed out as truth.  Our children can hopefully heal by letting them express their anger, and showing them what real love is all about.  They won't heal by us pretending that evil people were really good people.  I am not saying we should demonize the birth parents, not at all.  But just as with sex, the facts are the facts...don't hide them, don't pretend they were good people when indeed they were not.  Let your kids see that you would have protected them if you could have. 
I have told Josh that I wish I had been there the day his mommy left him so I could have scooped him up and held him close so he was safe.  I have told him that at times, just like HE has felt, I am mad that she did that to him and wished she had made other choices.  He seemed to need to know that he was not alone in his anger, that I was with him on that...but we moved on.  We felt it, we talked about it, we talked about the failure of ALL mankind to be perfect and how everyone makes mistakes sometimes...sometimes really big ones.
Were the girls' parents sick? Oh yes, in so many ways.  Will we one day get to that place of talking about that...a place where compassion can hopefully be felt for them?  I hope so.  Will that day come BEFORE the anger is vented?  No, because compassion has to come after the anger.
And I guess a part of me believes as strongly in Evil as I do Good.  It is not an area of my faith that I have all worked out in my head yet, and it might never be...but, for me, if I believe in Good then I have to believe in Evil.  For Evil to me is an absence of God, and God CAN be rejected...and Evil can enter.  God still surrounds though through the actions of others.  Thankfully someone acted to save the girls.
Whew...didn't mean to get all theological there when I still have no clue about any of it either!
Rule #5 - Don't go overboard.  Don't make your child feel like an "adopted child", make them feel like your child who happened to be adopted.  There is a time and place for everything, and adoption shouldn't enter every single conversation you have with your kids, you don't have to point out every time you see a multi-racial family and assume they have adopted children, you don't have to do an adoption presentation every year for 10 years to their classes, you don't have to jump to the conclusion that every issue is adoption related, etc.  Be natural.  Admittedly, in our family the subject has come up naturally quite often as we have been in "adoption mode" for 11 years now and live in a community that is not ethnically diverse, so our mis-matched family is often approached or pointed out in a friendly way, so it keeps the conversation going more than it otherwise would I think.  Let your kids lead a little as they get older, watch for clues, if you see something going on in their heads, ask and bring up the subject if you feel it is warranted.
A child will most often NOT come up to you and say "Mom...Dad...I need to discuss my issues surrounding attachment and my birth parents.  Can we have a chat?".  But they might show sorrow when watching a film with adoption as a theme.  They might make a stray comment about someone else being pregnant and wishing they were from inside you.  However you don't have to comment every time you see a pregnant person.  You don't have to suggest your kids learn Russian or Chinese or Korean simply because that is where they were from and wouldn't that just be GREAT if they spoke their native language?  What if they want to learn French? 
Rule #6 - Don't get all politically correct on them.  If your child refers to their birth parents as "mom and dad", don't get offended, don't let yourself get sucked into feeling pushed aside.  While words definitely mean things and I would be the first to say that, my kids have all at one time or another referred to their birth parents as "my old mommy and daddy" or just their plain old mom and dad.  Don't be so hung up on asserting your own place in their heart that you let the language get in the way of the message.  Your continual use yourself of more carefully selected terms will eventually rub off.  And I guess I admit that this one is not a big deal to me at all, we call them "first mom and dad" sometimes too...for that is really what they were.  I have personally never really cared for "birth mom and dad" as that sounds too impersonal for someone created and who carried my child for 9 months in their womb, but I use it because the politically correct crowd seems to think that is the "best" terminology.
Rule #7 -  Please, please, please don't forget bio dads.  They were part of the equation too, and often it is confusing (and again, in my opinion, unfair) to exclude the other half of the creating parents.  How do you KNOW birth dad didn't want to keep your child?  How do you KNOW dad wasn't in a lot of emotional pain at the relinquishment of his child?  I HATE that everyone always only talks about the birth mom, as if she was a saint and birth dad didn't even exist.  That is plain old rotten, dismissive and robs our kids of another person in their life who just might have loved them deeply, contrary to popular public opinion today that seems to rate Dads somewhere between unimportant and mere sperm donor.
Rule #8 - RELAX - We parents make a bigger deal out of it than the kids do, as is the case on most issues, attachment problems or otherwise.  We love them, they most often love us or will eventually grow to.  Families share, families talk, don't be afraid or uncomfortable, it is part of who you are together.  If you wouldn't be uncomfortable talking about driving to the hospital and how long your labor was, why would you be uncomfortable talking about adoption?
It's the same thing...and yet it isn't...and some of you will understand me saying that.
That's all I can think of for now.  You probably shouldn't have asked Lindsey, and I know that the vast majority of readers will be offended or angry.  The main thing, guys, is just do it.  Talk about it, don't make it off is only adoption, for goodness sake...
Love your kids, share with your kids, rejoice with your kids in how your family was formed, cry with them over the losses, be open to conversation and embrace every question and every tear that is shed.
You'll all be better for it.

Best Visit Ever

We all talked later today about how this visit felt like we had crossed some sort of bridge, that we are mentally all moving into Phase 2...thinking about traveling and moving on, playing together naturally and sharing our lives more easily.  While we still have a week and a half before we can move on from Petropavlovsk and on to Astana, we are all finally realizing that visiting is almost over and some transitional stage of real life will soon begin.  I think we are all really ready for that.
We spoke with Irina today about our next steps here, about address registrations and unregistrations, about Consular registrations and Embassy appointments.  Our tentative plans as of right now are that we will say good bye to Petropavlovsk on February 4th.  We will had to Astana where we will spend a few days while waiting for paperwork to finish processing.  There we have been thankful to have had the Oborn's connect us with their coordinator in that city who has been emailing us back and forth and will be taking care of us there, finding us an inexpensive apartment, arranging transportation for us each day, and will be spending each afternoon with us translating and taking us to see the various fun and cultural sites in the nation's capital.  We are so glad we are going to have the opportunity to do this, to have our kids see the shining star of their country and leave with that as a lasting impression.  One day, it just might be that all of Kazakhstan has pulled out of their pre-independence days and become the prosperous nation it is poised to become.  We can only hope.
We are making the final decision tomorrow after a little more research but have decided to try and save money and add to the adventure by taking the train both to Astana and then to Almaty, if all goes well!  It will save over $600 for all of us for this travel and we are excited and hope it works out.  Trains here are a fraction of the cost of Amtrak in America...if it were this inexpensive we would be visiting all OVER the US!  The train ticket to Astana from Petro is only $17 per adult and $9 per child!  What an amazing deal!  It travels 12 hours over night, and it will be a blast to have all the kids experience train travel here.  I only wish it was going to be light enough to see a little of the countryside.  We are making sure we can get 2 of our own "cupas" or rooms as otherwise it won't work well because we could be spread all over the train and we don't feel comfortable with that.  The girls, of course, have never been on a train OR a plane, and Josh was very little the only time we were on a train so he doesn't really remember it, so it will be our first step on introducing our daughters to the Big Old World and would be a lot of fun...I hope it works out! 
Here are the pictures of the goofing around that poor Irina had to put up with today!  I am sure at moments she has said to herself "Oh my, it sure is easier to have parents adopting infants and going to the baby house!" but she has been a great sport about everything, participating in making paper dolls, decorating for the holidays, helping with impromptu fashion shows and trying hard not to laugh out loud as the kids all run around and rough house together as their own personal way of bonding begins.

Fashion Show, LaJoy Style!

Sorry for all the different posts but I can only send a few pics at a time! 
We had a lot of fun watching the girls try on their clothes.  I was pleased that we crossed one little hurdle, which with older child adoption is not one most people talk about...the girls felt comfortable with me in their presence while they changed clothing.  I was uncertain how they would feel about that and was glad they didn't appear to be overly shy as they stood comfortably in front of me changing pants, etc.  Those little things could be horribly awkward and you want to be sensitive, but also hope that comfort level will be there so that you can feel a little closer to your children in the ways you missed not having them as infants.  Maybe one day we can graduate to brushing their hair or putting lotion on their arms or legs.  Things we take for granted with children adopted at a younger age or with our own sons could take us forever to be able to do...or maybe even never.  And when you love a child, those are the things you miss and wish were more natural.
But though Angela is not at all yet willing to give longer more intimate hugs, we are slowly getting to a level of closeness and we all noticed that today felt more normal than any day we have had thus far.  We all giggled around the table having a snack, and Angela and I sat across from each other in our socks, and I played with her feet and she giggled and played back...then we sat there, our socked feet hugging each other...
and that was enough for now :-)
We all totally cracked up, girls included, when I explained what "wedgie free" on the the label on the underwear package meant, Irina could hardly contain herself.  Then Kenny and Josh played with the girls underwear saying which one they would like and what could have been an uncomfortable moment was turned into a hilarious one when I beckoned Angela to the other room and handed her a pair of the BOYS underwear to dangle in front of them and tease THEM with!  Turn about is fair play, and in usual LaJoy Style we all did stupid things that were thoroughly entertaining and we ended up on the floor laughing. 
At moments I still sit back and marvel at what a fit we all are.  Every day we are together it is more and more obvious how God pulled people together from across the globe whose sense of humor and respect for each other have helped create a "LaJoy Stew" that is savory and filled with warm goodness.  Loved that comment someone left that used that phrase!
When I look at the photo below of the girls in their soft new jammies and I am there beside them, holding them as I yearned to do for years and years, and I can hardly believe this has happened...that this amazing seemingly impossible dream has come true!  The holidays where they were absent and the ornaments were placed on the tree in remembrance of them, the long drives to work in the winter when I listened over and over to the Taize music one of our blog readers wisely sent me wondering if we would ever make it through it all, the long nights when I was frustrated and upset and feeling very much the lack of their presence in the house.  How in the world can you miss someone who has never been there?  And yet I did...we all did...and even though we are in a small apartment and only visiting 2 hours every other day, we all are feeling more and more connected, seeing more and more how "right" this really is.  The joy, the smiles, the goofiness...the noise :-)  I know we are crazy, I know most people would rather rip their hair out than be in our shoes with 5 busy kids...4 of them less than 2 years apart (can you tell I am still blown away by that one?). 
Why is it then all I can do is grin, praise God and  say over and over again in my mind how blessed we are??? 
And again, as I held the girls today, I wanted someone to be right there next to us, witnessing it all...our Adoption Angels.  You just wouldn't believe this, only God could have pulled this off...only God could have known that these personalities were definitely meant to be together...for it takes a special, crazy, nutty, flexible kind of person to actually ENJOY a family like ours! hahaha!

Olesya's New Clothes sweet little Olesya was SO excited and happy about her new clothes!  She loved every single thing but especially loved the shirt with the monkey on it and I had at first thought it was for Angela and she was visibly disappointed until I realized it was actually in her size and she held it to her chest and hugged it tight!  THIS is our Clothes Horse!  She was so much fun to watch as she examined everything, folded and refolded it.  Although no one would ever call her "dainty" as she is quite a solid little girl, she loves pretty things and maybe she can help me find clothes for Angela! Hahaha!
We told her we were taking pictures to show to the ladies who helped buy them and she let her feelings be known with her happy thumbs up!  One of the pics is the pants which you can't see very well, but she was thrilled with them!