Friday, April 30, 2010

"Innocence Retained" or "Mermaids and Pirates"

You want to know why we feel it is imperative that Angela and Olesya are not enrolled in public school at this time? Do you want to see how different it is being 12 and 10 versus Kenny's 8 years old? Let me share some of our conversations yesterday, and perhaps it will be as obvious to you as it is to me...

Coming from Angela on the drive home from school yesterday afternoon:

" machina Kazakhstan?" and much to her surprise she learned that we could only fly there, and it was impossible to drive to Kazakhstan. Hmmm....something that by 12 years old most kids know, but maybe not for a few...we continue on...

While reading together last night a book with pirates in it, from Olesya:

"Mama, pirates America?". Well, no Olesya, pirates with peg legs and eye patches don't really exist today (I of course didn't go into the whole Somalia thing). I was then questioned for several minutes about when pirates lived, and with astonishment she finally believed me that there were no pirates like that today.

Later in that conversation, Angela asks:

"Mama...America...woman fish tail? Can we see aquarium?". While I was very happy to see she remembered the word "aquarium" from our visit to one in Astana, I was blown away to be asked in all sincerity if we could go see a real mermaid. At 12 years old, she doesn't understand that mermaids are a myth.

My children appear so wonderfully average, so normal on the outside...and they ARE...and yet their life experiences are decidedly NOT normal. Can you imagine that kind of innocence and naivete in a modern day public middle school? Can you imagine the utter confusion of modern life thrust at them with iPods, gangsta rap, making out and the one-upmanship in attire? My daughters still need to learn to discern between reality and fantasy, how could we possibly thrust them in that environment and expect them to discern whether pot is safe or not, or if a guy's advances are sincere or not? So sad to me that I would even have to say "guys advances" about CHILDREN who are 12 or 13 years old, but that is the way today's world works.

Maybe now our decision to homeschool them makes a little more sense to some. Not that we have to justify it, but there might be someone reading this blog considering adopting an older child from overseas who would have no idea what to expect with their soon-to-be child. Maybe all of these blog posts about our life post-adoption will help pre-adoptive parents understand a little bit better just all the deficits that their children come with.

And hopefully, I have done an equally good job highlighting their amazing resilience and internal resources.

However, to deny that our older adopted children come to us with a very different background than the children they will be interacting with does them a disservice. I have met many adoptive parents over the years who want to wipe the slate clean and pretend their lives started with them, that there was no history prior. Sorry, try as hard as you might, that is impossible. You are getting the whole child, not just the parts you prefer. Frankly, I prefer ALL our kids' parts...the trauma, the neglect, the sorrow, the grief...all of it, for it is how they were formed into the fantastic, triumphant kiddos I now parent. But it does bring challenges with it.

Like how to explain a mermaid is not real :-)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When You're Weary....Feeling Small...When Tears are in Your Eyes...

God will dry them all.

What an emotional day it has been on so many levels.

How exhausted I am in ways I can't easily explain.

It is not the madcap schedule we have right now, running hither and yon, that is doing me in. It is the attentiveness and being on high alert that keeps me from restful slumber, it is the awareness and anticipation of my next moves that is wearing me out. There are times when I wish I could move through this parenting business with a more relaxed, laid back approach, times when I envy others for their ability to seemingly have it all together when I just can't get there. I have messed up 3 or 4 scheduling issues this past couple of weeks, making me feel like a total idiot and heel. More importantly, it makes me wonder what is even more important that is subtly going on around me that I am not catching.

One of my biggest concerns right now is Olesya, who is exhibiting EXACTLY the same issues as Kenny does, so much so that she is almost the female version of him. There is growing evidence that for each of them, their institutionalization has done something to their brains that is going to cause them to struggle more than the average kid, especially if I can't figure out what it is and how best to work with it.

As we sat on the couch today reading to one another, I quickly saw that suddenly, for some reason, Olesya was struggling with super simple words that she has been able to read in English since before she came home. Words like "and", "into", etc. were causing her to draw total blanks, and without notice she suddenly burst into tears of frustration at her inability to recall these easy words that had previously come without thought.

She quickly left my side to go get some tissue, and Angela shared with me that at the orphanage Olesya often cried as this sort of thing happened. She looked up at me and said " help Olesya read good? You make her not sad and no cry?". I promised her I would work very hard with her and that one day she would read very well.

The frustration I am feeling tonight is coupled with an admittedly unfair anger at what institutionalization has done to my children. Kenny and Olesya are BRIGHT kids!! Anyone who meets them would see within 5 minutes that they are articulate and intelligent, and perhaps that makes their struggles even more aggravating. What part of their brain has a disconnect? What did institutionalization do that caused one tiny little circuit not to be wired correctly? And how in the heck am I going to figure out the key to unlocking their potential? How will I keep them feeling good about themselves while they fight this unfathomable enemy which did so much damage without being obvious?

She returned to me after wiping her tears away, and I held her close telling her "Olesya, learning to read in English is very, very hard. You didn't even know how to read in Russian well yet, you are doing GREAT so please don't be sad! You WILL read good, I promise! And no one thinks you are not smart." She smiled timidly up at me and whispered "OK Mama" and went on.

Interestingly, I can see the concern on Angela's face often when Olesya is challenged by things we both know she has zipped through somewhere in the past. She too can see that this doesn't add up, and although we do not have the ability to discuss it in depth we look at one another and I know she sees it, and she knows I do too.

Oh God, how am I ever going to teach all these kids? How will I meet their needs and fill in the holes in their brains? I had a moment of sheer terror last week, a mini meltdown of my own when I allowed fear to overtake me. Luckily, a couple of friends were used that day to lift me up, but underneath it all the low level anxiety remains. How I love my children!!! How I want them to be all they are capable of being!! And how scared I am for them, and for me. There is something wrong here that no one else seems to understand or see, and I don't know how to fix it. I keep thinking there has to be some form of remediation available, some brain retraining or something that I don't know about. I need to do some serious research, but I don't really know where to begin nor do we have the money to pump into visiting various specialists who may or may not just blow me off when something like this isn't apparent during an office visit of one hour.

But my beloved children are suffering, truly suffering at moments, over something that is out of the control of any of us. The longer Olesya is home, the more fluent she becomes in English, the more I see parallels to Kenny. We can share with her 15 times what we are doing later in the day, and get asked the same question over and over as if we never explained it. It is like with certain information their brains are sieves, with information being poured in only to leak out the bottom. It is not inattentiveness, it is lack of retention. Just like with Kenny who can be presented new material and forget it within 2 minutes, Olesya does the same thing. We can review and review something, and it is like we never touched it. However, it does not happen 100% of the time, as it seems it is only at odd moments something doesn't click, or something already well learned is seemingly suddenly lost. It is absolutely not an English Language Learning (ELL) problem as there is a stark difference between Angela versus Kenny and Olesya, whose learning issues are startlingly so similar one would think THEY are the biological siblings. The common thread is institutionalization at a young age and for a longer period of time.
So, my late night fears grow as does my love. I pray for understanding while working with them, for some sort of magical insight that will give me the keys to unlocking things for them, and for compassion and understanding when I have the tendency to get frustrated or exasperated. I also pray for courage to teach them, for at the moment that is sorely lacking.

Later tonight, as bedtime approached, the girls were on the couch as we read Curious George who is their new found favorite and I was BEGGED to read more than just one story (Thanks Lael for the PERFECT birthday gift!), and as even the boys said along with us in LaJoy tradition "...and he was veeeerrrryyy curious!", things came out of Angela, emotions and explanations. We finished George (I admit I love that little monkey too!) and she lay there with her head in my lap as Olesya went to grab pillows and blankets to tuck us in with, and she talked. Oh how it poured out!! She explained more about her fears when we came, about what others told her at the orphanage that terrified her about going to America. She was almost in tears when she said "I am sorry Mama...I didn't know...I am very, very sorry when you come I scared. I bad girl when you come, you love me but I bad but I very scared.". Hearing all that she was told coming from her own lips, I was heartbroken as well as proud of her courage.

I stopped her and cradled her head in my arms. I said to her "Angela, don't ever say I am sorry again for that. Papa and I ALWAYS loved you, even when things were bad, and we have already forgotten it all...'me zabeela' (which is what she says when she forgets something) is all over with and you never have to think of it again. We love you, don't ever say you are sorry for that are a little girl and it was not your fault.". She quietly looked up at me as she tried so hard not to cry and said "Thank you Mama...I know you love me, you always love me BIG love.". Olesya sat quietly next to us, taking it all in, and kept laying her head on my shoulder and nuzzling me saying softly "I love you Mama.", as if to also tell me that what happened back in Kazakhstan a few months ago was something she was ashamed of. The shame does not belong to them. They are mere children, and amazingly courageous ones at that. I grow ever more deeply in love with our new daughters with each passing day, and my respect for them increases exponentially.

I then started to tell them a little story, the boys had left the room to make camp on our bedroom floor, and we were alone in our living room. It began something like "Once upon a time there was a Mama and Papa in America and two girls named Angela and Olesya in Kazakhstan..." and it went on to outline the ridiculous paperwork struggles to bring them home, in a humorous way, but then touched on "and Angela and Olesya began to think their Mama and Papa had forgotten them and would never come.". Angela jerked her head around and said "Ya Mama, me think you never come! Me worry, me think you forget she and me (olesya and her)". My story then went on to talk about how Mama cried and cried often, how brothers asked over and over when their sisters would come home, and then included our joy when we got the phone call and was a dramatic replay of the call. Throughout the telling they burrowed deeper and deeper under the covers and into me, almost as if they were trying to crawl inside my womb where it would be safe. That may sound strange, but that is what it felt like. They interrupted when I told of their brothers waiting and waiting, and of the Christmas ornament we bought for them 2 Christmas's ago which they saw a picture of the other night. They both said "Brothers good, good brothers...we love our brothers!! Matthew, Kenny, Joshua nice boys funny, funny boys." and then we went on to talk about how they would always protect their sisters and Angela revealed that often she had protected Olesya from mean kids.

We all looked at the clock and it was time for bed, and as has happened almost every other night lately we piled into our bedroom where boys were already camped out on the floor, and made new beds for the girls there. There are seldom moments when I wish we had a different house, but our nighttime ritual has now made it harder for me to slip into the bathroom without stepping on someones noggin, as we really have very little floor space in our bedroom as it is relatively small.

However, I learned this week that our home is perfect, despite my having ungraciously complained about being too small at Angela's birthday party as we all crammed in around the dining room table and spilled out into the living room. When we were headed out to our weaving mentor's home, we drove around a bit as this is a new area for the girls to see, and there are some truly stunning homes there. Large mansion type homes with acres and acres of manicured lawns and personal ponds, and we all talked about this one and that one, how cool they all were, etc. After a bit I asked "Which one would you like to live in if we had a lot of money?" and Matthew selected one he liked as did Olesya. Angela declared "Me no like big house, me LOVE family LaJoy house! It perfect!" with her classic "fa-mi-ly" broken out and her "perfect" sounding more like "prefect".

As we settled into our room for the night, there were giggles and about 20 minutes of goofing around as first one, then all 5 of the kids piled on the bed with Dominick and I, laying on top of one another. Finally we called an end to all the nonsense and said it was time to get to their own little beds on the floor. Angela then crawled right on top of me, laying full length saying "Mama best bed, me sleep here!", as I stroked her hair and held her tight. Eventually she moved to the floor at the foot of our bed, and I am sure there were smiles on both our faces as we drifted off to sleep.

If I only could have remained asleep.

So much going on in my head that I can't turn off, nor should I, for I think God is helping me process it all in our unique way together, so here I sit at 3:00 AM having been up an hour and a half, trying to package it all up for another day.

I have always had a strong desire to be intellectually challenged, to never be "bored". It is probably my worst nightmare, odd as that may sound. Don't get me wrong, I am not one who has ever had the intellectual ability to grasp quantum physics, or to tackle complex mathematical equations. I will never write The Great Novel nor will I be a famous poet. I don't have a great strategical mind, and I am not what anyone would classify as a genius. But I have never wanted my life and my mind to grow stale, I have always desperately wanted to be engaged and feel alive in the ways that constantly learning and growing help us be.

This life of mine seems mundane on the outside. It is a mom playing taxi driver to 5 kids, hounding them gently about school work, getting dinner on the table on a budget. Nothing earth shattering or even seemingly all that challenging about it. On the inside though it is an intricate balance of so many things. It is far, far more than cooking and cleaning and sorting laundry. I know eventually we might get to that place, where so many conversations are not held with me on high alert, where hearts are not having to be healed and heard so deeply. I am sure that at one point homeschooling will seem routine and I'll be more concerned with who they are dating than I am with what they are studying. But for this moment, I am using every ounce of inner strength and resources I have just to make it through each day. All the skills God has given me, all the life experiences that I have had are coming into play in one way or another. This mommying thing challenges me in ways nothing else could, and I wonder what I might be doing wrong to feel so wrung out at the end of each day.

Thankfully...blessedly...there is rest in one place, there is nourishment and refreshment in my God space which keeps me going, and I am continually restored by others who are sent at precisely the right moment to renew me. I am ever so thankful for that. I know I am not running GM or am Leader of the Free World. But this job I have is very, very hard, and I need all the help I can get. Like a bridge over troubled waters, my mind is eased by the One who really is beside us all and can be counted on. And that helps me be the bridge that my children can walk on to cross their own troubled waters. Thank you to all whom God has sent, who reach out in a million little ways to be MY bridge.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Weave, Weave, Weave Us Together

As much as I regret at moments having to pull our kids from a public school filled with wonderful and caring teachers, there are some advantages that just can't be beat. Today was a perfect example and a strong reminder of one of the reasons we have elected to homeschool, among many.

When Dominick and I seriously got down to business about discussing homeschooling, one strong theme kept rising to the top...we wanted more experiential, real life learning for our kids. We wanted them to have the opportunity to do many different things that a traditional school schedule does not allow for. We wanted learning to be more hands on in addition to the more hard core "book learnin'". With the girls, we could hit burn out really fast with them if we only hit the books, as it is so hard right now for them to remain focused on language for an entire school day. Also there are at least a million and one things they have yet to see or do because of their very narrowed orphanage upbringing.

Today we started out with their English tutoring class, then it was on to horsemanship and a hands on science class for all 3 of them. While the girls were with their tutor, Matthew was working "in the cloud", typing up in Google Docs his final essay outlining what he learned about the Cold War. Then we had a picnic lunch in the car as we ran across the local farmland to have our introduction to weaving course and learn about looms. Then it was on to soccer practice while Joshua read to me about bugs and we discovered the differences between butterflies and moths (antenna different, wings at rest are held differently), then on to bed. So let's see, that was 1 trip to Delta, 5 trips to Olathe, one trip to the other side of Montrose...all in one day. Whew! No wonder I sit here very tired!

Did we do any traditional workbook learning today? No, but homeschooling provides a flexibility and efficiency I am learning to love. Not sure how long it will take us to get back to efficiency once the boys come home and there are 5, but we will eventually hit our stride, I am sure. Angela is doing 2 math assignments each day we work on math, Matt is reading all the the car, in his bed, to his brothers and sisters...and just picked up "PT109" to read this week. I have noticed a marked improvement in his spelling and punctuation skills since reading so much more these days. Olesya is gobbling up vocabulary like it was goldfish crackers, and they are both making incredible advances in their language development, so much so that at this stage many people are pretty surprised to discover they have only been here since mid-February.

But it is days like today when we can see the huge advantages of homeschooling, and the gift it is to our kids. The horsemanship class is a laid back introduction to horses. Nothing all that intense, but enough to get them up on a horse, learning a few basics, and gaining an understanding of an animal up close and personal that we will never have. They all really enjoy it and now can mount easily and are learning how to control with the reins. It has been a great low key activity for the girls to give their brains a break from too much language and yet still be engaged in learning something new and watching for non-verbal cues from the horse. For Matthew it is a way of him feeling he is connecting more to his Kazakh self, as he knows that his countrymen were some of the greatest horsemen ever.:

But the highlight of the day, without a doubt, was meeting our new friend Elinor for lessons on how to weave. What a lovely woman she is, and SO gifted at working with kids. Volunteering her time to share her passion with 3 kids is not something everyone would do, and we were all pretty excited to see what this was all about. She and others in her weaving guild had arranged for us to borrow a loom, and even supplied us with enough weaving yarn to make Matt's rug! When we arrived, she had 2 looms set up, rightfully anticipating that the girls might want to try it out too. She had everything all ready to go, and had prepared a vocabulary sheet with a diagram of the loom, had samples of various yarns available to explain to us the difference, had the portable loom all set up with a starter practice piece, and then proceeded to very patiently explain every step of the process and showed us all about the loom.

Matthew was so interested, not only in the mechanics of how the loom works but in the weaving process itself. It is so sad to me that he was uncomfortable admitting to a couple of his school friends what he was doing for fear of being teased. Dominick and I shared with him the story of Rosie Greer, the football player who loved to do needlework and was not at all embarrassed or ashamed of it. That seemed to help a little. It is a shame that gender stereotypes are such that our young people are afraid of even trying something that is deemed "too girlie" or "too boyish". It makes you wonder how many people have missed out on activities that would have brought them great pleasure simply so they would not feel out of the norm. I am so glad Matthew put that aside, as it was clear today how much he was getting a kick out of this. Hopefully we can help all the kids do and be whatever they want to do or be, regardless of what others think. If the girls want to learn mechanics, go for it! If the boys want to learn needlework or cooking, right on!

Both the girls got the hang of it quickly, and I am betting they want to make something once Matthew is done.

It was fun watching all of them learning something new, something they might never have had the chance to without homeschooling and taking advantage of the freedom that comes with it. I realized today I need to get my brain turning more, and look for many more such situations so the kids can all explore and discover new interests. We have a friend who has offered to teach them real pottery in the fall, with a pottery wheel and everything. I am thinking of some great field trips for our science study of the human body next year and am going to see if we can see the backside of a dentist office, visit a denture manufacturer, see if we would be allowed to watch a prosthetic crafter, and we have another friend who is an optometrist who has offered to give them a mini-one day course. For geography we will visit our local Bureau of Land Management office to talk about local maps, etc., and I have a cool book of hands on activities as well to teach about land forms, etc.

It is this sort of learning you can't replicate in a classroom, it is just impossible. With English language learners, this kind of learning is even more effective as they can use the hands on experiences to fill in the gaps that spoken or written language might not be able to fill for a long time. Plus, I guess I just don't find learning to be boring, and want our kids to be sparked up as well. I don't care if they cram tons of facts into their heads, or if they memorize speeches or poems. I am not saying there might not be a place for that, but in the grand scheme of things, if they walk away from homeschooling having been ignited to continue learning about whatever interests them over the course of their lifetime, and if they learn how to learn and have confidence that they can teach themselves anything they need to know, then Dominick and I will have been successful. Kenny keeps walking around repeating to me "Remember Mom, you promised me that by the time I graduate high school I will be reading and writing well." I sure did, Kenny, that and a whole lot more.

I personally love seeing these pictures. I love that Matthew's interests are so diverse, that he digs in and learns whatever he is interested in. The girls are starting to stretch a little as well, and hopefully over the next year or two they will begin to express interests and passions in things. Baby steps are happening as they are finally asking for particular books at the library...books on animals, books on drawing. It took us 9 weeks to get to this stage, where the "dullness" is gradually lifting and the light is beginning to glow. Wait until it is like a bonfire...I wonder what it will be that they want to learn more about!!

Rock on, Matthew...our own little Renaissance Man!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Birthday Letter

Angela's birthday 2006

Angela's birthday 2009 - Last year without a family

Angela's birthday 2010...finally home!!!

My Dearest Angela,

Yesterday was your 12th birthday...and your first one home with your forever family. How overjoyed I am that this is not another post with you half a world away, struggling to remain hopeful and confident that you and Olesya indeed would one day be with us. There were no tears shed this time, no worries over packages sent months in advance that had not yet arrived, no wishing I was there to give you a hug. This time there were smiles and gleeful laughter, hugs and excitement...there was family.

The night of your real birthday, Thursday evening, we curled up on our bed with laptop in hand and looked at over 600 photos of our lives before becoming family. I say that a bit tongue in cheek as you and I both felt like family all along, but it wasn't official in the eyes of anyone else. But we knew, didn't we?

We sat there, your head on my shoulder and leg draped over mine, Olesya on the other side and Josh eagerly leaning in and we talked, we laughed, we grew quiet as you shared that "My happy birthday at Internat very, very happy mama sad all party." I showed you photos I had received of you getting previous birthday gifts from us and we both laughed at how slow the mail is in Kazakhstan. You told me how much you loved the soccer ball we sent last year, and you thanked me for always sending things to share with your friends so they wouldn't feel left out. Knowing you now, I better understand how important that was for you, and again I promised you we would not forget your friends left behind.

We stayed awake until midnight, all of us walking down memory lane, you learning more about your family and me learning more about your "family" at the orphanage. Your biological mom and dad never came up, but you recalled many antics with your friends, you expressed worry over a couple of the older girls with whom you were close who are aging out soon, and we giggled over goofy brother pictures. Despite the late hour...or who knows, perhaps because of it, we were comfortable and easy with one another, and I marveled privately at coming so far so fast. Daddy could sense what was going on and remained out of the room, recognizing intuitively that it might break the spell we were all under, so we took advantage of the closeness of the moment and ignored the clock, realizing that it is exactly moments like this that build the bonds of family.

Your anticipation leading up to your birthday was so much fun to see! You wanted party hats that most kids your age would have turned their noses up at, and Matthew made your cake for you as we explained about the Roehrman-LaJoy tradition of toothpicks in the middle, which you thought was so funny. We all cleaned and decorated and everyone teased you as we left you alone while we all wrapped presents for you and signed cards. I don't think the grin left your face all day.

As your new friends and our old ones arrived, you were so happy! You were surrounded by love, and for the first time it was your very special day. I did fine with it all except for one brief moment when explaining to a couple of friends standing next to me that this was your very first celebrated birthday, and as I stood there watching you open your gifts as your brothers and sister looked over your shoulder, I said "We have missed so much..." and tried hard not to cry. I don't usually dwell on the time lost pre-adoption, preferring instead to focus on what we have before us, but this one caught me off guard. We HAVE missed so much and I wonder if I felt that more pointedly because we tried so hard for so long to get you and Olesya home and we missed so much in that process that potentially didn't have to be missed.

But as happens, the moment passed and we moved on. You were so filled with gratitude for every single thing you received, and you were very polite and remembered to thank everyone. You have some talented new friends who made you a pillow, created beautiful artwork for you, and generally spoiled you rotten as you so deserved. You will take one step towards young womanhood that at least we won't have missed when, thanks to Grandma Alice, you will get your ears pierced, and you can wear the beautiful earrings she sent. Our gift to you was a softball glove and bat, along with your trip to the zoo, of course. Perhaps the biggest laughs came with the enormous bottle of ketchup that I am sure will be devoured in less than a week! Haha!

As friends trickled away and the night died down, we all piled into our bedroom with blankets and pillows to have a slumber party, as none of us was really ready for the evening to be over with despite how tired we all were. You insisted in sleeping on the coveted spot next to my side of the bed, saying it was your birthday and you should get to sleep there, which everyone agreed to. And there you were, your long legs propped up over the side of the bed as I gently rubbed your feet and you talked about what a wonderful day you had. "Thank you mama, thank you papa, this happy happy birthday good good birthday!! Thank you for family LaJoy!".

We love you so much Angela, all of us. I can't promise you that life won't again be hard, that you might not one day be scared or have challenges that are hard to overcome. I can promise you that you won't be alone ever again, that family LaJoy will always be there for you to count on.

And I want to thank you so much for bringing such joy into our lives. Thanks for taking a chance on love when you had no reason to trust that it would not betray you again. Thank you for your patience and effort as we all transition as a family and learn from one another. Thank you for your honesty, your helpful spirit, your kindness. I have given you all I have had to give for years, and I can see you too are giving us all you have as well. I am so grateful for you and Olesya, so very happy that this year you are home, safe and loved. I give thanks to God that we are all together finally, and pray we have many, many more happy birthdays together.

Watching you grow up will be one of the 5 most amazing things I have ever had the pleasure of doing.

Thank you for letting me be your Mom, not just in name, but in every way. I know it was hard. It has been hard for me to get to this stage too. It was all worth it, wasn't it?

Love you always and forever,


We played a game at the party and Kenny along with one of our guests was a great sport. His head was slathered in whipped cream, and then everyone threw Cheetos at them, The team with the most Cheetos that stuck to their target's head won! You can see the end result below:

It was hard not to laugh at all the shenanigans...thanks Lenore for the extra photos!

Happy 12th Birthday Angela LaJoy!!!
You are loved.

Rockin' Birthday Bash's

Yesterday was a happy, happy...busy day! I have plenty more to post but this will have to do for starters. Joshua's class had a belated celebration for his birthday, which was in December and far colder than yesterday's...hahaha! Olesya made brownies to take to his classroom, and this was sort of our "birthday appetizer" for Angela's Big Bash later in the evening. Joshua is 7 and sort of 1/2 now :-) It was fun to go spend a little time in his class, and I realized that due to homeschooling Joshie has gotten sort of ripped off in terms of having mommy present in the classroom, which brings a little guilt with it. Kenny too, but hopefully I can make up for it in other ways this next year.

What a blessing Mrs. Weber has been, as was his teacher last year. All of our kids have just had super teachers during their tenure in public school, and there are others that are equally outstanding that they have not been fortunate enough to have. The single regret Dominick and I have about homeschooling is that our children will miss out on the influence of some pretty amazing teachers. However, we trust that God will bring others into their lives who will nurture them and support them. Praying for that often since Matthew was first brought into our lives has reaped surprising rewards, for we feel our kids need far more than us in their lives to become the individuals God intends them to be...they need community and connection just as much as we do!! Hopefully our continuing prayers for this will find them surrounded with special people who can fill in the gaps we leave empty.

Matthew helped Joshua serve his friends. This image just says "love" to me, not sure why but something about the care our children show one another always, always touches me. So thankful for so much...but the relationships God has placed within the confines of our family are very, very special and I never want to forget that for a single moment.

The Main Event happened later in the evening as Angela celebrated her very first birthday ever at 12 years old. The smiles never left her face and it was a night to remember. I am on my way out the door soon to attend my ministry class and sadly have run out of time, so will do my best to post pics and a long post tonight.

And I must add that during my hour drive this morning I will be giving thanks and praise for the fact that once again I am not writing a birthday post marking yet another birthday spent apart.

Nothing can ever take the place of that, and no words can describe the relief and joy our hearts all feel.

More later, on to Phase 2 of the day!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Perfect Fit

I've wanted to blog for a couple of days, but sometimes the words don't come. 98% of the time, I open up the laptop, blather on for 20 or 30 minutes, rarely taking time to proof it or reread it as I simply don't have the time necessary to do so (or I would never get a post up at all!), and call it done. Sometimes a post will take on a life of it's own and I have no idea where the words are generated from, once in awhile it will be something I have mulled over or chewed on myself for awhile, and occasionally it will be a thought that popped into my head in the shower. Rarely though am I at a loss for words. I say that with a broad grin as my mom always used to tell me I never stopped talking as a kid and that I always had to have the last word. Maybe I missed my calling and should have been an attorney. Although, thinking about it, the skills needed to be a mom are much the same as those needed to be a good attorney. Negotiating, thinking one step ahead at all times, understanding human nature and nuances...all things needed in both professions.

I shared pictures of our trip to the zoo, but didn't write because words aren't coming easily right now. I don't know if it is a case of brain overload or what, but I find even in one on one conversation I am dulled, unable to connect heart to heart the way I usually can. Perhaps right now that part of me is all used up.

We had a wonderfully relaxing weekend. The kids all loved the zoo, and I was surprised how many animals were there that I had never seen before. It was a particularly special delight to be there with somewhat older kids who were not at all so jaded or world weary that they were bored to death doing something as "childish" as going to the zoo. Much to the contrary, Dominick and I were grinning at each other as Angela and Olesya both started literally jumping up and down in their seats as we approached the entrance to the zoo. The boys weren't far behind them on the excitement scale, and the happiness continued throughout the day. There wasn't a dull moment as we visited everything on the "must see" list. Angela had to see bears, and got her fill. Olesya wanted to see giraffes and elephants, so we made sure to see them. We even got to touch a giraffe pelt shown by a zoo employee. Matthew wanted gorillas, so we checked them out. Kenny and Josh had no strong desire for any particular animal, just enjoying all of them.

Adding to the animal extravaganza, on our drive over and back we saw a terrific variety of Colorado wildlife, more than we have ever seen on any one trip. It was like our lovely state was showing off just for its newest residents. Within a few car lengths we saw huge elk, buffalo, a herd of antelope, a few marmots, several deer, and taking an unusual route home Angela counted no less than 11 waterfalls of varying sizes. We stopped at one to get out and stand nearby, just to hear the loud roar of the rushing water and feel the cool mist drifting upwards. "WOW!" was heard over and over again this weekend by boys and girls alike.

Before we left, I was cracking up as we were far more prepared than an entire Boy Scout troop. First Matthew packed up a medicine pouch that he could carry "just in case" with band aids, etc. Not 5 minutes later Joshie comes to me and asks if I can help him fill a small box with first aid supplies. We go digging for a few things when I realize it would be easier to just give him the small first aid box to carry, so off he goes to stuff it into his backpack. Then Olesya comes to me with a metal latching box and wants to take along a first aid kit back we trudge to the bathroom to stockpile what will now be enough band aids for an entire platoon. Olesya was the one to actually be the most prepared when we hit the zoo, and our little friend fell and before she could be picked up and dusted off, there stood Olesya having quickly whipped out a couple of band aids to be used, just like a pro. She is SUCH a wonderful little caretaker. This isn't typical orphanage care taking of a younger sibling, for she was that younger sibling herself being cared for. This is a naturally nurturing little lady who is just a born mommy in a million ways.

While over in Denver, we decided to take in the Museum of Science and Nature before leaving. We don't get over there that often, as it is quite a trek and not an inexpensive one, so we decided at the last minute to take advantage of our time there. Along with our friends we spent the morning there Monday and thoroughly enjoyed all the exhibits we managed to take in. We could have easily spent another 2 or 3 hours there, but it was growing late and we had a long drive ahead of us so we left without seeing the entire museum. It leaves us more to check out next time we visit.

There are moments when we are reminded that we are very blessed to parent the children we parent. We had several this weekend. I loved watching all our kids gently help with our friend's young 2 year old daughter, taking turns pushing her around the zoo, keeping an eye out for her, carrying her and serving her in the ways they could. We had other older children who did the same for ours when they were younger, and it is nice to see it paid forward in a small way.

We made this trip on a tight budget, but wanted to do a little something special for Angela's first birthday home so decided it was worth the cost. We were a bit like the Clampetts walking into the hotel room with a cooler filled with leftovers packaged up, as we spread our our smorgasbord of lasagna, Mexican seasoned chicken, beef rice, chips and salsa. We cracked up when we made sandwiches for the entire crew to cut down on cost a the zoo, and realized we had forgotten any small baggies to pack them in. We used the bag the loaf of bread came in, repacking it with with sandwiches, and realized we have entered an entirely new realm when the whole loaf was used for lunch!! Heavens, that is a LOT of sandwiches!

As we were readying ourselves to leave the zoo, we wanted to get Angela a little gift to remember her special day with. I was touched as I pulled each child aside and asked quietly if they would mind if we got Angela something, but explained we could not afford something for everyone else. Not a single complaint or even the expectation that they would get something, and all "ooohed and aaahhed" over the peacock sun catcher Angela selected as her gift. Without knowing what Angela had gotten, our friend later returned to the hotel with a small gift for each of the kids...a peacock feather! How fitting was that? Somehow that little coincidence spoke to me of connection and beauty. We actually were surprised to turn a corner and find a peacock standing there with tail feathers displayed royally, as it quietly stood in the shade showing off for a small crowd. It was the first time I have ever seen that, and it was spectacular. The one thought that returned over and over again throughout our zoo visit was that only God could create the depth of color seen so vividly in nature. We humans try to replicate it, but we can never really come close. The peacock proved my point brilliantly.

It was on our way home when Angela's joy over everything became obvious. That girl didn't stop talking and singing to herself the entire trip home! Everyone in the car was laughing happily with her, as she has always been the quiet one while Olesya is our gabby girl. This time Olesya was easily outdone as Angela said in a sing songy voice "Me so so happy! Denver Bolshoi Funny!" (Translation...Denver was BIG fun!" and jabbered about everything and anything in both English and Russian. When asked what everyone liked best Angela replied "Me love all of it..ALL OF IT!".

During the drive we were going over a couple of mountains where we were reasonably close to the side and it was then that Angela brought up memories from her past. Vodka plays such a leading role for her, one that thankfully doesn't effect Olesya to the same extreme but is front and center for Angela as she was old enough to recall many things a child should never have buried in the back of their mind. She talked about people drinking too much vodka and how they would drive off the cliff. She has shared that more than one person she knew died due to drinking and driving, and she remains very scared of alcohol entering her life again. Almost daily right now the subject of alcohol abuse and her past come up in some form or another.

Dummy me, the other day I was marinating steaks in beer and teriyaki, and had the bottle out on the counter thinking nothing of it. Behind me comes both Angela and Olesya, bottle in one hand, the other hand firmly planted on a hip asking me "Mama, no drink vodka...NO VODKA...why this here?". I quickly explained that I was only cooking with it and that the alcohol cooked out of the meat. I showed them about marinade as they looked at me skeptically. They eased up a little and really loved the taste of the meat afterward, but I can not believe I was so unthinking about it. We don't drink at all, not an iota, and for us that beer was no different than any other marinade and had been sitting in our fridge since long before we left for Kazakhstan. It never entered my mind that it might be concerning to the girls. When talking about what a nice time we had with our friends this weekend Angela said "Mama Papa good friends, no vodka...Kazakhstan mama papa bad friends, bolshoi vodka".

I know we have a lot of emotional work ahead of us in this area, and we will have to take it one day at a time. Today we went for a long walk at a beautiful nearby park and as Olesya and Matthew were goofing around walking ahead of us I quietly told Angela "Sweetheart, I know you are scared that Mama and Papa will drink alcohol or vodka and your life will be bad again. I promise you forever, we will never drink it...ever. You don't need to be scared about that. You can ask our friends, we have never drank alcohol and never will. You and Olesya are safe.". She literally stopped in her tracks, put her arm around my waist and looked at me saying "Oh mama...thank you...thank scared sometimes."

For all the teasing we have taken over the years about being Diet Coke totallers (not fond of tea, sorry!) and not grabbing a beer, I am glad I can look our daughters in the eye and promise them something as well as show a track record from the past that can give them peace. I never imagined how important it might one day be to declare "I don't drink...not ever."

I also believe it was "Divine Coincidence" that these particular girls ended up with this particular family. The "fit" in so many areas could not have been custom ordered to be any better. I have wondered recently how the girls would have felt being adopting by a different sort of family, or having a different sort of mom. What if they had been adopted by a dress wearing, makeup plastering, Southern Belle who hated sports and wanted them turned into debutantes? Or what if they were adopted by a family of casual drinkers who occasionally had one too many even if they were basically a sober bunch? What if they had been adopted by a family without other siblings to ease the way...or who had other daughters who were very different from them? Or what if my very modest little girls ended up with parents who bought them bikinis and skin tight curve hugging shirts instead of the boys T-Shirts they both are letting me know they prefer because they don't like to show off budding curves or have low necked items?

I am very thankful that Olesya and Angela ended up with a family who isn't trying to change who they are, and instead appreciates all the things about them that others might not feel was a good fit for them.

I am even happier that family is us.

Snuggling on the couch reading today, Olesya on one side with her arm looped through mine and Angela on the other as her head lay on my shoulder, I was struck by the familiarity and comfort level we have achieved in such a relatively short period of time. I also realized that my fears pre-adoption about not being the mom they needed were wrong, and showed very little trust in the Spirit who was hard at work in our lives.

They needed me, they needed us. They ended up with the mom the Spirit knew they needed all along...the jeans wearing, sneaker shuffling, book reading, softball throwing, burping and laughing, makeup free, less-than-polished, talkative mom that God provided for them. She isn't a perfect mom, but she is a perfect fit for them. The girls were laughing about a young female friend of ours who is very quiet and a bit shy. They said "LaJoy family no quiet, me no quiet...LaJoy family bolshoi talk!" and they both giggled about their talkative family and about how they too are not quiet.

As hugs grow warmer, closer and longer, as laughs grow more genuine and open, as hearts' doors are flung open ever wider, it becomes ever more obvious why I felt the strong pull towards these particular two children. The painful beginning has been shed, reality has settled in all around us like Joshie's comfy torn and threadbare beloved blankie. I used to question God when it was so hard to wait, what in the world was it about these two kids that had grabbed hold of me? Why couldn't I shake them off and move on? What was it that haunted me and wouldn't allow me to let go?

How many times did I want to give up because it was so hard? How many times did I doubt what I felt, because at some point it started feeling a little insane? How often did I wonder if I was a little loopy, placing so much hope on what I felt was God's promise that these were indeed our daughters?

How glad I am now that the Spirit kept reminding me, kept lifting me up when it seemed impossible, kept reassuring me gently yet firmly.

OK proved your point. You are always right.

You'd think by now I'd have learned better. Shame on me.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy Zoo Day!

A happy day, shared in photos...

A Pre-Birthday Celebration!

This is the gang as we head off to Denver for a pre-birthday trip to the zoo for Angela's 12th birthday! We decided with not much planning that Angela's love of bears had to be experienced "live", so after all the soccer games today we headed off with a packed minivan full of food, pillows and sweaty kids and are now ensconced in our hotel room with our friends who were also going to be here for other reasons and will join us as we see lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

The surprised gasps of pleasure as we traveled over Monarch Pass high up into the mountains were a total kick. We even had a treat of seeing wild antelope and 2 HUGE elk along the way to prep us for the zoo. We stopped near the top of Monarch and got out to explore a little and stretch our legs. The kids hiked up a rocky section of the mountainside. Here is Matthew playing "Protector" as they make their way up.

There was a large rock outcropping that we could walk on that overlooked the canyon below, and without getting too close to the edge we were able to see the rocky mountainside and the pine forest stretched out before us. We also were surprised to discover this...and Matthew is taking a closer look at it...

It was quite odd to find this highway marker way out on the huge rocky area, far from the road itself. We are going to look it up on the internet when we get home and see if we can figure out exactly what it is.

Olesya, our budding photographer is busy snapping shots of the snow covered peaks before us.

Joshie wisely remained back a bit, deciding that not venturing out too far was an intelligent decision! Hahaha!

Mr. Smiley Kenny loved climbing up, and of course we HAD to have a few rocks to bring home to remember our trip by.

You have no idea how difficult it is to get 5 kids all smiling decently at the same time while looking at the camera. This was after about 7 attempts and you can see they are pretty much done with Mom and the camera.

The first birthday at home with your family is a big deal, as it marks your new life in some tangible way...days that were either not celebrated or not noticed by anyone suddenly become much anticipated events where...often for the first are special for an entire day.

It also can bring about thoughts for parents and children alike of how much has been missed with older child adoption. Years have come and gone, half a childhood has passed before a family has arrived to treasure a child. In our case, it has been a couple of conversations that have reminded me of this. Twice over the past couple of days we have talked about Angela's birthday and it has come up what a big girl she will be, after all 12 is just one year away from the teenage years all we parents dread, and the kids anticipate, right?

In our case, not so much it seems.

As I was saying what a big girl she was going to be, she vehemently has insisted "Nyet balshoi girl, me malinky, malinky girl!!!" and repeated that 2 or 3 times. Not a big girl, I am a small, small girl.

I quickly understood and followed up with "You will always be my little girl...even when you are 50!". It seems she has the need to be our little girl, to not rush past this new found childhood she is finally getting. That one sentence reached into my heart and squeezed it tight, as it reaffirmed for me just how strongly our kids need to cling to some form of childhood as long as they can in order to move in a healthy direction towards adulthood. Just as Kenny has more obviously needed to be an 8 year old right now rather than the 11 year old he is, and has willingly abdicated his role as eldest and then second eldest in our family, Angela too needs to be someones baby for awhile. After all, she never really was a cherished child of anyone before, and we have a lot of lost time to make up for.

This came on the heels of our conversation last week at their school to place them in 3rd and 4th grade next year, the lowest possible grade we can legally place them in right now. We also are retaining Kenny as a 4th grader next year, giving him another year to mature and catch up on academics. Stepping outside the box of pre-set grade levels and age expectations will help enormously, as it will allow them to be exactly who they are. It won't matter at all to anyone if we have 12 year old 4th graders...some working on 1st grade reading work while doing 4th grade math, others working on 5th grade math while working on 2nd or 3rd grade reading. We can meet them where they are at rather than trying to make them conform to a system that is not designed to handle such wide gaps in maturity, academic swings, and plain old desire to be a kid after having had to be an adult far too early.

I think we will try and have a talk this week with Angela and Olesya both, and reassure them they have a home with us forever, that they need not worry about growing up too fast or having to leave their home sooner than they are ready. Basically, we need to tell them we see them as our "malinky girls", not our "balshhoi girls", and they can remain malinky as long as their hearts need to.

Watching Angela play with bubbles the other day giggling like a toddler as she dashed down the street waving a wand above her head, snuggling on the couch to read Curious George to them both the other day as we all started saying together "...and he was veeeerrryyy curious!" just as I had with Matthew and Joshie when they were "malinky", it is obvious just how much this tall, slender, strong young lady needs this time.

You'll get it, Angela. We promise. Finally, there is a place you are safe to be a child. Enjoy it, my dear one!!

Now...on to the zoo!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Our Personal Revenge

Two posts in one day, sorry, I never seem to shut up. But this has been on my mind and I can't let it go without comment.

I am sickened...utterly read of the deaths of our youth by their own hand due to the out of control hazing and bullying that now runs rampant on school campuses. Technology has only increased the availability of victims, as they are now almost never out of reach of their tormentors. The case of Phoebe Prince has been captivating to the world, but it is another case I read about yesterday that really left me with a leaden feeling in the pit of my stomach.

A year ago this month, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover took his own life after enduring the cruel taunts of classmates who repeatedly flung foul language his direction and derided him as they used anti-gay slurs and tried to pigeon hole an 11 year old child as being homosexual. This lovely, bright African American young man who had everything going for him was overwhelmed with helplessness after reporting it to school authorities only to be told that it is normal for kids to tease one another and it would "work itself out". You can see the entire article at .
After writing this post I did a google search and found ANOTHER story so similar my heart is breaking right now. In the same month as Carls' death, another little boy took his life for the same about about another 5th grader taunted about being gay, Raheem Hererra:
Gay or straight, black or white...or asian...this MUST stop. It is common knowledge that the suicide rate for our gay young people is quite high. Whether 11 year olds identify is gay or are just targeted for being gay because they have interests that make them non-jocks, they are being isolated and hounded literally to death.
Shame on us adults.

Today, our 11 year old son came home from school, head hung low as he revealed that kids in PE taunted him about his "ugly face". A week ago our youngest son was crying before school because of the racial slurs being directed at him from other FIRST GRADERS. Can you believe it? First grade and already hearts have been hardened and have learned to hate simply because of the shape of someones eyes or the color of their skin.
Thankfully, our children do not attend a school where the administration blows this off and tells us "it will work itself out", instead they took it seriously and two teachers became involved making it known in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable behavior and would not be tolerated.

How sad that beautiful little Carl's school staff didn't do the same for him. I can not believe that an 11 year old would be left to feel so despondent by the adults surrounding him at school that he felt the only way out was death. The word "tragic" doesn't even come close to expressing what we all should feel when hearing something like this.

As Kenny and I talked this afternoon in the car on the way home, I asked him why he didn't approach his teachers right then about it. He said he didn't want to make a big deal over it, as it has happened before and he knows it will happen again, and he thinks he needs to get used to it. Get used to being called ugly???? Get used to feeling "less than"???? I explained to him that he needed to take action immediately when such things happen, that his inaction almost gave "permission" to the kids saying mean things to continue. I asked if he was afraid of them being mean if he told on them, and he said no, that he just didn't want to call attention to it.
So he too would suffer in silence.

We talked about children who say such things, about what they must be learning at home and what they must be surrounded by. Angela piped up, understanding that someone had said something hurtful to Kenny, saying " bad boys..." and she meant it. We don't have the language to explain what will one day be explained, but I was able to articulate it to Kenny.

It is a line from a Jackson Browne song I used as an example:

My personal revenge will be to give you
These hands that once you so mistreated
But have failed to take away their tenderness.

We don't need to strike out in anger, our personal revenge is to offer love in return, because Love Wins. Anger against anger never reveals any winners, it only begets losers on both sides.
However, we also should not ignore this sort of behavior, and we should teach our children not to either. We do not need to strike out at those who mistreat us, but the time has come for adults to quit saying "all kids tease" and start taking this seriously. When our children are haunted, chased, ridiculed and harassed to the point that death seems to be the only option that offers relief, we are failing them, and failing them miserably.

Sadly, our culture has changed. Teasing is far removed from what it was 30 or 40 years ago. It is relentless, it is vicious, it is 24/7 following a child from school room to chat room to text messages, there is no place to hide, no haven from the evil taunts.

And THIS is what my children will miss out on by not being in public school? THIS is the socialization that our society sees as "normal"? They are worried about our kids not having enough interaction with kids their own age? Can you tell me why I would want our children's lives at risk, souls at risk, hearts at risk for being able to say they are appropriately "socialized"? I am sorry, this is the least appropriate form of socialization I can think of and what was described in these new stories could just as easily be speaking of a prison yard as a school yard. It is one thing to say "Hey four eyes!", it is another to have your sexuality called into question at 11 years old or to be called a whore repeatedly at 15 years old.

Look at the news article about little Carl. See that innocent face staring back at you, filled with childhood openness and dreams unfulfilled. Imagine finding him hanging lifeless from an extension cord, his final escape from the hatred and vitriol of other students he was trying desperately to escape.

Now imagine Carl is your own son. Look into the eyes of your own 11 year old son which can barely meet yours as he reveals the taunts endured about his "ugly face", and then tell me you don't feel a tremor of fear run down your spine.

Adults, do your job, be the adults. Zero tolerance. No bullying. Ever. Don't let another kid end up dangling from an extension cord because you want to take the easy way out and say "it happens all the time, it's part of childhood.". Recognize your own responsibility to step up to the plate and let it be known that this is unacceptable, that it often doesn't just "work itself out".

And thank you Mrs. Weber and Mr. Schneider, for being real adults in our kids' lives.


I have been asked by a few people how it feels to parent girls...especially instant "tweens"...versus boys. After 1o years and 3 boys, one would think it would be totally different, and I guess in some ways it is. Here are a few of the things that are different around here these days:

1) Girls innately notice things and pick them up. Dirty dishes on the table or socks on the floor, they get picked up where the boys could walk by them for years and never notice their presence. Don't get me wrong, if I ask them to pick them up they do so without complaint and quickly, but they don't SEE stuff the way girls do! That has been a nice surprise.

2) I was going to say their room is much neater, but as the newness has worn off it is gradually becoming more comfortably messy and in fact they were giggling about it today. It doesn't bother me, in fact I kind of like signals they are truly home in their own hearts.

3) They are more aware of emotional cues, nuances and subtle body language. You don't have to hit them over the head with a brick or explain why someone did something or acted a certain way.

4) Their socks are just as dirty.

5) Peeling potatoes with someone who walks up and grabs a peeler to stand next to you is awfully nice.

6) Olesya is another mom in the house, someone "has my back" and makes sure everyone has water bottles, jackets, etc. It is cute and not at all in a way that usurps my role, just very natural for her as she is a born mommy.

7) Thank you God that they are not too girlie! Just enough to feel I have daughters, not enough to intimidate me.

8) Their hair is so soft after a shower...

9) They are each very different kinds of girls, both in personality and body shape. I get the best of both worlds.

10) It is nice to say the words "These are my daughters." and have it be real, not just on paper or in dreams.

Interestingly, I guess though I am definitely noticing some things are different, I must be different myself. I don't see huge differences between the kids or maybe it is that my focus isn't on seeing differences.

To me, they are human beings, unique and interesting. I am looking more for gifts to capitalize on, areas needing support and encouragement, intellectual and emotional areas to nurture and explore. Male or female, we all need love, we all need to be noticed and made to feel special, we all want desperately to belong. That is not gender specific. I guess what I am trying to say is that I don't see standing before me a "girl" or a "boy", but instead a beloved child of mine. Period. And each and every one of them from oldest to youngest intrigues me, and is one of my top favorite people in the world.

I was thinking today as we walked into the school to pick up Josh and Kenny that I am so fortunate at this stage in my life to spend my entire day with people who are so interesting to me, and whom I truly like so much (let alone love!). They are kind and polite, intelligent and focused, curious and deep. I don't know at all why we were selected out of every possible adoptive parent out there to parent these specific 5 children, but I am eternally grateful to feel as if we won the lottery 5 times over! I know they may not be special to anyone else, or that others do not view them through the semi-rose colored glasses I wear all the time, but they really are so easy to be with and such a pleasure to Dominick and I each and every moment of the day we get to be with them. I guess every mom feels that way about their kids and that is nothing unusual :-)

One thing I personally am making a point of is complimenting as often as I can. I quickly realized by their reactions (and it wasn't a surprise either) that neither Angela nor Olesya has ever been complimented much. The look on Angela's face the other day when we were in the car and I turned to her and told her she was a beautiful girl was one of complete and unfeigned surprise. I heard a "Oh no Mama, me no beautiful."...ah...if she only knew. Maybe we will keep it a secret for awhile :-) Olesya just turned bright red, grinned from ear to ear and said "Thank you Mama!". What a shame that for over 10 years no one made them feel special.

No one, that is, but us. Oh how it is coming out how they LOVED our insignificant gifts and letters! Not a day goes by where I am not reminded of some little piece of candy I sent them, today it was a package of lip gloss that both turned to me in line at Walmart and said "" and then went on to tell how they had shared it with Shoura and Tanya, their friends. If people only realized what a difference a small sponsorship or letter can make in the life of an unloved child, more people would do it. Regardless of the possibility of adoption, knowing someone in the world thought about you long enough to send you a card or encourage you in school really does transform lives and is never, ever forgotten.

So while Girlville is a lot of fun, I am not seeing a ton of difference from Boyville. They each are kids who have grabbed our hearts, they all are deep little souls who are so much fun to travel through life with.

I guess the truth is, we don't live in Boyville or Girlville. We live in LaJoyville and that is a land altogether different and wonderful.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blessings and Abundance

Sorry for being so quiet for the past few days, I really am trying to blog more as there seems to be so much I want to record for the kids forever but it just gets pushed aside with daily life being topsy turvy at the moment. In time I know we will settle into our new normal, but for now it is difficult to pull it all together. I do feel I am making a little progress, but still not where I want to be. So it may be that you get fewer posts but longer and more boring ones as I can only write when I catch some down time and will include as much as I can...hence the boring part :-)

Last week it felt like Christmas around Casa LaJoy!! First of all, much of the homeschooling materials I ordered for this next semester arrived, and when multiplied by 5 kids that is a LOT of stuff! For 3 days we had the kitchen counter piled high with interesting workbooks, puzzles, games and other misc. curriculum as I created new files and storage for all 5 kids. When I am not filled with fear I have to admit this is pretty darned exciting and FUN! Having a bit of a game plan in mind now has helped calm my nerves...of course we have no idea if that game plan will work or not...hahaha!

The kids were all so excited to see it all, and can't wait to get going on it. Aside from the the R's we are studying the human body next year and I ordered 5 small scale models/puzzles of a skeleton, brain, hand, etc. which are the coolest things ever and will make it come alive. I also found a book with patterns of various parts of the human body and we can make a full scale human out of card stock and brads, including internal organs and layers that move...totally awesome, huh? We have a friend who is an optometrist who has offered to have us come learn about the eye in a real setting and I'd love to find a dentist to explain more and shadow for an hour or two as well. Joshie in particular is going to totally love this, he is our scientist in the making and I love how even within our family we all turn to our resident "experts" on things...Matthew with history and construction, Olesya with crafts, Kenny with drama and business, Josh with science and scheduling (Hey...I need HIS help!) and Angela with sports. Age and experience doesn't matter, we all help one another learn and grow and know just who to go to within our tribe for help.

We are also going to study geography and I have some neat materials for that. We will cruise the continents...hmmm...maybe THAT will be the title of our course "Cruisin' the Continents"..haha! I plan on us making a full sheet of plywood sized world map of salt dough, complete with flags and labels for continents, oceans, major cities and landmarks. Big undertaking and I hope I can pull it off as it will be truly memorable if we can...of course I reserve the right to give up at any time :-) We are going to make notebooks for our study, each child creating their own. We bought cool colors the other night and they are very wide allowing for us to put in all kinds of materials. We will be learning about the basics of maps and mapping along with facts about various countries and creating paper outline maps too. I found a terrific book with hands on activities for learning about geography and need to find time to pull all these ideas into one big study. It should be a LOT of fun. We have pulled our globe out for years regularly as we talk about things or see things on TV and always enjoyed it, and I already have the girls starting to bring me the globe to show them something so we are halfway there to studying it. I thought that for this first year when language is more challenging it would be a good "field leveler" as all the kids have new names and terms to learn, and it is very visual so can be more easily taught to all of them. Now if I could just find a cheap humongous set of National Geographics to cut up we would be set! We also have geography bingo, a huge floor puzzle of the world with each country getting it's own piece and a US map puzzle too. I almost can't wait myself...I LOVE learning and am so happy that our kids will be able to have even more engaging opportunities if I can pull it off well and not dissolve into disorganized chaos with it.

So aside from the boxes of ordered school things we had some terrific surprises from our personal Santa's. From Dee over at Crab Chronicles we received a box of goodies from her kids which included clothes and movies. I love how these two children from the same orphanage touched by parents who abused and neglected them have found love and safety...and have reconnected themselves in their new land. It is quite poignant when one thinks about how far they have all come.

Then we had an unexpected gift arrive from a blog reader. I am sorry Theresa that I can not find your address to send a thank you card, as the kids threw away the box...but we received the most amazing (and much needed) set of math games that will truly make math come alive. She had no idea I had been searching online for various games to play with the kids to cement learning in a fun way and practice skills. This is called RightStart Mathematics and it looks incredible! Thank you SO MUCH for this will get oodles of use and it was beyond thoughtful of you to go out of your way to send this special gift.

Christmas continued when we received a box full of "repurposed" Magic Tree House books as well as A-Z Mysteries. This was such an incredible library for us and exactly the level we will be at for the next couple of years. I had been considering trying to find a few on Ebay to get us started so this was a huge Godsend to us and is so appreciated.

We had another long time adoption buddy send us a ton of videos her children had outgrown, and the kids all oohed and ahhed as each one came out of the box/

Then to top off our week filled with blessings our real life and blog commenter friend Lael went out of her way to help arrange a mentor for Matthew for weaving...and this mentor is the nicest woman who has also borrowed a loom for us and coordinated materials, etc. and will be teaching Matthew how to weave his rug for 4H. Lael and I joked about how we had wished that Matthew would have selected one of the easier styles to make...maybe a hooked rug or something reasonably simple. NO...of course not. He had to pick the hardest one because we had been in Silverton last summer, a little mountain town, and had seen a large loom and saw a demonstration of it that he thought was cool. So, while I have not a single crafty bone in my body and wish for an easier project, who am I to discourage any of the kids from trying something super challenging? After all, we often are surprised at what can be accomplished if we just try, so more power to him and God Bless those who are helping in an area I am hopeless in!

The support and encouragement our family has received has been extraordinary. This new path we are beginning to walk with homeschooling is a scary one filled with unknowns and, let's face it, an enthusiastic but unskilled teacher. I know it seems nuts with all the special needs we have in front of us with each child and no training, and yet it feels like the best solution at the moment. I have hesitated to reveal our decision to others as I have already had several look at me skeptically and with poorly disguised doubt in their voice say "Really? And how do you think you can handle that? Don't you think you are taking on quite a bit?" if I hadn't already thought about that a hundred times over.

But with time I am growing ever more certain our decision is the right one for us at this time. There is not a single other person on this planet who will bring the one thing to the education equation that we will, as their parents. Love. Now I am the first one to say that love can't fix everything, but it does mean that we will approach this with a passion unlike anyone else who will ever work with our children. I may be only a high school graduate, but I mastered 13 years of school with good grades and have managed to teach myself a million other skills that I never would have thought I could learn. I know HOW to learn, I LOVE to learn, I am EXCITED about learning...and I think I can pass that on to our children. Facts can be memorized, passion can not.

And I was reminded of that today when we were working on a writing assignment with our young friend who I am working with along with Matthew on physics (Newton's Laws). They were completing an assignment on creating more interesting and descriptive sentences starting from a "core sentence" they created themselves. Matthew's core sentence was "Matthew flies" and it grew to something close to this: "During a long 10 hour flight, Matthew flew the President and several Congressmen to Germany to discuss the SALT III" 10 year old son included in his sentence the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. Was he supposed to study the Fall of the Soviet Union and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 5th grade? No...I suppose we wouldn't find that on the standard Scope and Sequence charts for Colorado 5th graders. Did we capitalize on a teachable moment in time for him? Did we help him follow his passion? Did we have the single most amazing teacher for him (certainly not mom!) to work with who loves and cares about him too? Somehow, I doubt he will be worse for the wear for not studying Colonial America this year as was slated in some Colorado public schools for 5th grade. Besides, he has already read more books about Colonial America than I can shake a stick at and could probably teach ME a thing or two!! We'll get back to it in time, maybe after we "Cruise the Continents"! Hahaha!

As I spoke with a dear friend this afternoon who has tutored the girls for an hour a week on her own time, God whispered in my ear again what a lucky, lucky woman I am. The goodness of others has touched our family in such profound ways. A community has gathered to help us raise these who have had such deprivation in their backgrounds...who were sometimes starving both literally and emotionally. The healing power of God's goodness has transformed each and every one of our children. We are just the conduit for it all, it is so many others who are the very concrete picture of God's abundance. We have given it our all, Dominick and I, to find the way to get them home, to love them with all our heart, to give up whatever we can to be the parents we feel they need us to be...not necessarily to provide them with every "goodie" we can give them but to give them our very souls to grab on to when their first parents for whatever reason could not. How we love these old souls in little bodies we live with!

But it is deeply moving to think of others who have offered so much who had no reason to other than kindness. I am not really speaking of "things" although books and games are wonderful. I have pointed out each and every time that someone was thinking about them and cared enough to make the effort to do something kind for them. We have been blessed with the offer of the gift of time over and over again, and our children have had input, direction and love from others that has helped fill the gap when extended family is simply too far away to be directly involved in the ways they might wish to.

We do what we can to teach our children that value as well and to see themselves as having much to offer even if in the eyes of other adults it isn't much yet. We spent Sunday afternoon with 4 of the 5 kids doing highway clean up and not a whine was uttered and nothing but joy in the doing was had. Matthew and the girls will be spending next Thursday helping our church Women's group ready itself for the huge rummage sale they hold each year which has benefited our family over and over again with camp scholarships, etc. They participate with us in driving friends an hour to the airport or babysitting or feeding cats or many other things where they do not directly benefit, and never have we had a moment's grumbling. We want service to be seen as a joy and our offering to God, not as a "have to" or a chore. If our kids leave our home someday with nothing more than the basics, but have an "attitude of gratitude" with which to live each day, they will live happier lives than most ever will. It is not hard when you live in a family for which there is more than the average to be grateful for.

Sitting watching the girls play in the park this evening while visiting with a friend during Joshie's soccer practice, that gratitude hit me and I feel it more strongly every single day. 5 years of waiting, of agonizing, of praying and hoping and carrying them in our hearts. They walked in our home that first night and found their photos pinned to the bulletin board where they have remained since the day we first received them...waiting...always waiting. They are home, they are ours forever and we are theirs forever! THEY BELONG!!!! Oh how you can see that is so important and evident to them!

Yesterday we worked on a project I wasn't so sure about yet, but we needed to tackle it so why not now. It was a family tree. Yes, the much maligned project most adoptive parents hate when assigned. In our case, it was necessary as the girls have no idea about family relationships or titles of people we are connected with. They understand Babushka and Dadushka (Grandma and Grandpa), but had no concept of aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews. So we broke out the poster board, copied photos of everyone, and found a format that worked.

We started with each girl in the center of their board, then to the right was our family...Grandmas Alice and Toni, Uncle Peter and Auntie Beth and their kids, Auntie Liz and her kids...smiling faces staring back at us in tiny photos. A family tree branching out filled with love and warmth. Perfect? Not on your life. Family? Very much so.

Then we broke out the adoption documents and searched for full names. The left side was the Russian side, and it was interesting to me the signal that this was not an easy area when it was left for last by both Angela and Olesya. An empty space to be filled awaited them, a discernable consternation at the information we had to put there. "What was your mother's name?" I asked. I was met with silence then some mumbled words. "Let's look it up in the court records, and we can find her birthday too.". On to Daddy's information, and it was the first time that Angela indicated all wasn't roses with Daddy as had previously been expressed. Olesya said "Kazakhstan Papa good Papa." and Angela's eyes darted upwards towards Olesya and some things were said in Russian which I picked up on that Angela said about her Dad being mentally unstable. She turned to me and said "Kazakhstan Papa not good Papa like Dominick Papa...Kazakhstan Papa very very lot of vodka...balshoi friends drink vodka...Papa Koo Koo, not good Papa."

I stopped, put my arm around her and she leaned in to me. I said "Kazakhstan Papa sick in his brain, Kazakhstan Papa not bad." We then went on to talk at length about how lots of American Mama's and Papa's drink too much or are bad parents as well, that it isn't just Kazakhstan parents. Olesya said "Me baby, me forget papa mama." I said "'s OK to forget...sad mama and papa.." I then, for the first time, really got to express my sadness at what they had been through. I looked them both in the eyes where I saw such expectancy, saw the words "why" hanging between us all as the poster board stared back at us with such emptiness on that left side of the tree. "I am so sorry your first parents were not good to you. I wish I had been your Mama when you were little. I would have kept you safe, so would Daddy. I wish you didn't have boo boos on your legs from them, or boo boos on your heart from them. It makes me want to cry for you both and Daddy and I love you SO MUCH. But you are good kids, you are not like your Kazakhstan Mama and will not drink, you will take good care of your kids, you are nice, nice girls. I feel bad for your Kazakhstan Mama and Papa because we get to be your parents now and you are the best daughters in the world."

They sat there quietly, staring back at me steadily, piercingly, trying to take in the love and lack of anger at their parents, and yet the acknowledgment of their wrong doings. Olesya unsmilingly gave me a long slow hug, Angela looked at me unblinkingly and said softly "Thank you, balshoi good Mama.". The three of us sat there a moment, staring at the white empty space waiting to be filled with the names of two people who created them and yet harmed them on so many levels. Angela picked up a pencil and drew the boxes for each of their names and said "Mama...papers...Kazakhstan Mama and Papa names?"...and we matter of factly filled in the blanks of a life left behind, but a life never really shaken. Nor should it be, for it has changed them forever into the women they will become. It has also created them to be the daughters we parent, daughters we are infinitely proud to call LaJoy's, daughters whose strength and courage surpass most adults we know.

The healing has begun, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases....God's mercies never come to an end...we are new every morning, new every morning, great is thy faithfulness oh Lord, great is thy faithfulness. That hymn speaks more to me day by day, it has come to life in our family...faithfulness in so many ways and from so many directions. Steadfast love, it's what its all about.

Sometimes that steadfast love needs to be offered to those who have caused us to suffer, for God IS merciful. I have had moments of anger at the damage birthparents have inflicted upon my beloved children, but that anger never remains long before compassion replaces it. Maybe not compassion for the wrongs done, but certainly for all they are missing out on that we are able to have in our lives. Matthew...Joshua....Kenny...Angela...Olesya...4 sets of parents who didn't receive the giggles and snuggly bedtime hugs tonight. 4 sets of parents whose lives will forever be a little emptier for the loss of the children they could not parent. 4 sets of parents who will spend a lifetime asking themselves "What if?". 4 sets of parents who just might be living with terrible regrets in those quiet more introspective and honest moments. 4 sets of parents who don't see the light of the smile, the quickness of wit, the depth of love offered to those strong enough to accept it along with the baggage that accompanies it. Thankfully, Dominick and I have a huge luggage rack between the two of us, and can tag team it as we throw that baggage in it's rightful place, up on the roof rack where it belongs...never totally forgotten but no longer truly a burden.

Thanks to everyone else in our lives who have helped us construct that strong luggage rack and continues to strengthen it daily.

This job I am doing right now, 24/7, is so intense and yet so rewarding. It is also very obviously one of the things God created me to specifically do. I have never been taxed so much, never had to be so aware of every nuance, never had to anticipate so many different possible outcomes to conversations or events. At times it feels like graduate school in parenting without the accompanying diploma at the end of the road. There is really no way to describe what this is like, despite how hard I try. From the outside, it looks like a happy family and that it happens automatically. From the inside it is tremendous intentional work, it is deeply emotional, it is hard, hard work in an intangible sort of way. I have nothing to point to at the end of the day to say "Hey, look what I did!". But I have warm hugs where even 2 weeks ago they were absent. I have connection where once there were walls. I have honest and heartfelt affection that once was closed off and unable to be expressed.

Those are tangibles of a different sort, I guess.