Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bonding over Broken Roads

Every once in awhile lately, I want to stop and pinch myself, as I realize I am walking amidst a miracle.

From the depths of despair the first week in Kazakhstan to where we are today...well, there couldn't be a greater distance traveled either literally or figuratively.

The girls who wouldn't speak to us or look at us, and were terrified to go with us have certainly become very, very different children. Angela, whom we were warned by many would never be a warm or affectionate child now shows her love freely and eagerly, and I am sure the staff at the orphanage would be stunned to see her today.

You know, you don't go into older child adoption looking for gratitude...or at least you sure shouldn't. It is an arduous road leading to becoming truly heart connected, a much harder road than the one walked to even get to the point of traveling to complete an adoption. There are old, painful experiences working against you, images of mothers and fathers who were perhaps less than ideal or were, at their worst, frighteningly abusive and neglectful. There is a loss of human connection...the years and years of being loved by no one take their toll. Often children struggle mightily to move past this. Some make it, others sadly do not.

While we never went into it looking for it, this week we received our "reward". The years of anguish and waiting were, for me, rewarded in the best way possible...seeing the girls simply feel safe, loved and part of a family. Sounds simple, doesn't it? It's not, and we all know that.

Working on hand drawn cards for a friend, the girls disappeared into their bedroom, giggling together. I was busy as we gathered everything together to go celebrate, but when we arrived home, the above "Valentine" was propped up on my pillow, waiting to tuck me in. "We love you" with my picture smack dab in the heart, and pictures of every other family member surrounding the heart. Not only are they loved, but that love is reciprocated and daily is growing to enormous proportions. It is the most amazing thing to be witness to, and enveloped in.

But the one that really got me, the sucker punch of them all happened on our way home from the dentist. We had a very long ride, and Angela was sitting next to me in the front passenger seat with Olesya behind me and the boys laughing, cutting up and all watching a movie together in the back seat. I had a Rascal Flatts CD playing quietly as we were talking, and the next track begins to play..."The Broken Road"...which was the song I used for the slide show I put together of them for our Family Celebration but performed by the Christian group Selah. Olesya stopped talking and got excited saying "Mama...mama...musica...our musica!" and I turned it up a bit as suddenly everyone in the car started singing it, or at least attempting to sing it:

"Bless The Broken Road"

I set out on a narrow way many years ago
Hoping I would find true love along the broken road
But I got lost a time or two
Wiped my brow and kept pushing through
I couldn't see how every sign pointed straight to you

Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you

I think about the years I spent just passing through
I'd like to have the time I lost and give it back to you
But you just smile and take my hand
You've been there you understand
It's all part of a grander plan that is coming true


Now I'm just rolling home
Into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you

That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you.

A minute or so into it Angela shushed everyone, saying "Tee Ha...Tee Ha...Mama sing"...and so there we were, driving down the road as I sang my song to them, trying so hard not to cry as the words took on even greater meaning than they did during the hours I sat in front of a computer screen filled with anticipation and excitement prior to traveling.

The song ended on a quiet note, and everyone was silent. Olesya said enthusiastically "Me love this song!" Then Angela softly spoke "Thank you Mama...thank you so so much.", and she looked away, and I know she was trying not to cry herself. I reached out for her hand, and as the miles passed by we held on tightly.

I know what her thank you was for. She didn't have the words to express it all, but I knew anyway. Of course I know, for I am her mom, and mothers know these things. It was thank you for the years of waiting and not giving up, thank you for forgiveness and second chances, thank you for God's love coming to her through all of us, thank you for new beginnings...for bed time stories and brownies baked together, for batting practice and simply believing in her and Olesya.

You don't ever do this for "thanks" or accolades. But how incredibly touching it is to get it so unexpectedly.

Day by day, week by week, we all draw closer as a family. It has happened so fast, relatively speaking, and it floors me at moments to even recall how close we all came to not being the family we are today.

And much of it we owe to all of you who supported us and lifted us up through a terrible time. Your encouragement kept us going, kept us steady. Your prayers...well...without them we simply wouldn't be here today to share our story with you, for my own heart would have hardened, I am sure, as that is truly more my nature.. And at that moment I was beyond any prayer more detailed than "This hurts so bad, God!". So our success is your success as well, our joy and love is shared with all of you. I have taped my huge Valentine on our closet door in our bedroom, a daily reminder of how love wins.

And I gotta tell you...realization was far, far better than anticipation. And very often Broken Roads lead us where we need to be, even if at first we don't understand it. God sure blessed the Broken Road we were on, and healed broken hearts. No one else could have done that.

And the love story continues :-)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How Far Kenny Has Come...and How Quickly Someone Can Blow It

We headed out this morning for the 3+ hour drive to Glenwood Springs to visit Kenny's orthodontist. He ate an apple and lost a front bracket on his braces as well as the wire. Wanting to get it taken care of before surgery, we hustled to get an appointment and were on our way.

Upon our arrival, we were ushered in to the orthodontist's office for a quick consult, where he shared with us that he had just gotten off the phone with Shriner's, and it was requested that Kenny have 4 baby teeth pulled today in order to have time for healing for surgery. We knew it was possible he might have to have 2 pulled, but had been told they would do it during surgery, but after receiving copies of his latest xrays they decided 4 had to go in order to allow more tissue to use to try and close the palate again.

Dr. Johnson knows of Kenny's fears of procedures and handled it beautifully, presenting it as if Kenny had options, explaining everything, and explaining why it would be best to do it today so the surgery could go ahead as planned, I talked with Kenny and between us we decided he would go ahead with it, and I was so proud of his courage for what I know was a very intimidating and scary decision for him. He asked two or three times if they would give him the shots to numb it, as that was what he was more concerned about and if that would hurt. Dr. Johnson said they would have to leave that up to the dentist who shares his office space with him, and then he handed us over to the dentist to do his work. I explained to the dentist about Kenny's fears, and how we had to let Kenny lead on this. He was a young guy, kind of cocky and blew me off a little but I trust Dr. Johnson and knew he would pick someone good with kids to partner with him, so didn't worry too much.

Perhaps I should have...

We get into the back office area and they give Kenny nitrous to mellow him out and use the gel to numb his gums.. Kenny asks 3 or 4 times about the shots, and the dentist reassures him he won't need any becausde they are baby teeth and he is at the age they should be ready to come out and probably have very little root anyway. I am reading a People magazine, glancing up here or there as Kenny is so mellow there was no real concern and he was floating quite high :-) The next thing I hear is Kenny saying a quick "ouch" and the dentist saying "I am just wiggling that gel in there Kenny, no problem.". He and the nurse have their backs to me and at my angle I can not really see what is going on.

Then I see a needle being hidden down below Kenny's line of vision and I realize the dentist just lied to him, and continues to do so as he is injecting his gums again to numb them. I was livid, but also realized if I said anything at that moment Kenny would jerk up in a panic and was likely to get hurt so I decided to clamp my lips together and shut up for the moment, praying Kenny didn't catch on.

I was SO MAD!!! We have always promised Kenny we would be 100% honest about any medical procedure, and that when possible we would give him choices. This is a kid who has literally had pliers used on his teeth in the orphanage, and was also often not told about medical procedures until they were about to begin. His anxiety level with medical procedures is understandably high, and we have worked 3 years to gain his trust that Mom and Dad will always tell the truth, even if the truth isn't pretty. We have made great strides in this time, and it is because Kenny knows he can always trust us to give him the straight when we tell him these days that something really won't hurt much at all, he is able to calm himself significantly based upon that trust in us, where before he would flip out over everything because he didn't believe what anyone told him.

Thankfully, Kenny did not figure it out during the procedure, and within a half an hour all 4 teeth were pulled.

I was going to have a little chat with the dentist to express my displeasure, but before I could he starts pounding on me about 2 of Kenny's bottom molars that have the beginnings of cavities in them and need to have fillings. I explained to him that we were not expecting this procedure today which was quite expensive, and were not prepared to deal with the other financially for a bit but would get to it. He continued and pushed and made me feel like a totally rotten and neglectful mother because I was not willing to do the work today or schedule an appointment to do so. I explained to him that we had 5 kids, 2 new to us that also needed significant dental work and that was going to have to come first...and the truth is that Kenny's are not full fledged cavities yet and this is more preventative than it is medically necessary. Sure I'd love to catch it right now at this stage, but we have to prioritize and Angela's crown has to come first, as does Olesya's chipped front tooth that bothers her tremendously. We are working on getting these things taken care of now. I couldn't believe I was actually sitting there justifying to this guy who had just lied to my son why I was not going to get a procedure done right then. I might add that his price was $563 for two minor fillings. We have not had to fill any cavities yet on any of our kids, but is this SERIOUSLY the going rate these days?? It felt more like I was trapped in a used car salesman's office being tortured until I gave in and purchased the extended warranty policy!!

I left the office fuming after refusing to sign a document outlining the costs for the fillings, which looked to me like it was essentially binding me financially to get it done.

Now, I know the reason he didn't want Kenny to know about the needle, and I understand he didn't want to deal with a child's fear if he didn't need to, but he should have consulted me before lying to Kenny. Kenny left with a false illusion that there is a way to do extractions without needles, and that needles hurt way worse than they actually do, as he experienced today. We were halfway home when he was talking to his siblings about it and explaining how they didn't even use a needle when I told him the truth, and why I had not intervened. I apologized profusely, told him that I promised him I would never lie about anything and I honestly hadn't known what was going on until it was too late, and then for his safety I made the decision to let the procedure continue since I knew it would not mean more pain for him. I asked his forgiveness for allowing this to happen, and told him I hoped he understood why I acted the way I did. I wanted him to understand that he HAD experienced the needles so that he could recognize that it really didn't hurt bad. Because he has years of ongoing difficult procedures, I wanted him to be confident knowing that he didn't need to panic in the future if a needle was required because he now knew it was all OK and wasn't that bad at all.

I then asked Kenny what he thought I should have done, what he might have done in my position. He thought about it a lot, and a few minutes later replied "Mommy, I think you did the right thing. I know you wouldn't want me to get hurt, and that had to be a very hard decision for you to make right then, especially when you were so mad. I don't think you lied to me, you were just protecting me from being more hurt. But that dentist is not a good man, he shouldn't have lied to you or me. I will never trust him now ever again." and I told him that neither would I and we would not see him again, that we only wanted to work with medical people whom we could trust.

You know, you work and work to gain a child's trust, to move past their very rational fears from their past, and after years of hard work someone can potentially blow it all up for you with one reckless action. I know many parents probably would have preferred the lie, they might even be happy that the work was done and their child was none the wiser. I also know many might shake their heads at my decision to reveal to Kenny what really happened, but honesty is honesty and I want him understanding how all of these procedures are nothing to be afraid of...and that Mom will always tell you the truth. The next procedure with the next dentist might require a needle and Kenny would still have a fear of it, and also a different expectation of what it all will feel like.

But I feel lousy tonight, I know I failed him and am kicking myself. I am also mad at myself for not standing up to the "medical guilt bullying" that was attempted to get me to agree to more costly procedures. I was embarrassed at the fact that we flat out couldn't afford to drop almost $1000 total at the dentist in one afternoon (Like who CAN without warning??? I know we sure aren't the only ones!) and wanted to "shop around" the fillings to see if we could find a lower fee, Why I was feeling embarrassed, I don't really understand, as part of our health care system problem is that many of us DON'T shop for services. I was upset and angry over the way the extractions were handled, and I slunk out of there feeling about 2 feet tall. Of course I called Dominick on the cell immediately to vent, but it didn't help much.
As usual though, Kenny was wonderfully understanding and insightful when at the and of our conversation he said "It can be really hard being a mom and knowing what decisions to make. I am glad you are the Mom, you always seem to make the right ones." Feels like quite undeserved trust tonight.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Homeschooling....what IS our role???

As a first year homeschooler there are a million and one things to consider, many of which have nothing at all to do with curriculum. Why do we homeschool? What is our role? What are our priorities? What kind of "end product" do we wish to have at graduation?

I received a comment based upon my previous post which, although meant as a bit of "dig" was actually received by me as a huge compliment, for it means that for our family, I am on the right track. The comment was as follows, anonymous as usual:

"The offers of help are very generous but ending up as the general contractor of your childrens' education may not be the best use of home education."

This goes to the very heart of how we view our roles as homeschoolers, something every homeschooling parent has wrestled with, I am sure. It also explains exactly how I view my role, as essentially the general contractor, despite the fact that others find that to be "not the best use of home education.". Not the best use in whose opinion? Are YOU parenting my children?? Daily I am amused and bewildered by just how many people out there feel it is their fact sometimes their judge how others choose to lead their lives and make the incorrect assumption that their beliefs ought to be someone elses too.
I realize there are many, many different approaches to homeschooling, and reasons why people elect to do so. There are so many assumptions we keep running up against about homeschooling by those on both sides of the aisle...homeschoolers as well as public education advocates. Why do we have to pigeon hole people into categories? Why does it have to be assumed that the main reason we pulled our kids from public ed was to remove them from the world or to have them only view the world from the perspective of their parents?

I have no problem with anyone who elects to homeschool for any reason. The fact is, it has nothing to do with me and it is none of my business...whether they want to be a general contractor or not :-)

From the very beginning we had many, many valid reasons for homeschooling. The one reason we never considered for homeschooling was so that I could be their one and only teacher and the one and only perspective they heard from. I don't have the audacity to think I am intelligent enough nor gifted enough to teach every single subject in the best way possible. I also do not want my kids having such a narrow life that they only have contact with me in a teaching capacity. While I know that may work for some families, it is not what we want for our kids and never was.

My role IS yhat of general contractor! I will teach what I can teach well. There will be things I could probably teach myself and handle just fine, but we might know of someone else who can offer a new perspective, real life experience, or add a more interesting twist to it. Or they might flat out be extremely talented and be able to leave me in the dust while teaching something they have a passion for, where for me it would merely be another subject. How sad it would be to deny my children the opportunity to learn from other wonderful, talented people! It takes nothing away from us as a family, nor does it remove me from the role as their primary educator. What it does is provide our children with a broad range of other trusted people to interact with, thereby also blowing out of the water the whole "socialization" question as well. Sometimes it seems you are darned if you do, and darned if you don't, doesn't it?

The fact is, we are an unusual family. I am certain we are viewed as odd by many, or even very, very wrong. That is fine and doesn't bother me a bit. I am actually totally thrilled and humbled that so many people have approached us and offered so generously to work with our kids. It has been unexpected, and surprising to think that there are so many who desire to help us and even want to spend time within the hustle and bustle of a family filled with "tweens" which most people would go out of their way to avoid. I also know our children will be better for it.

I also know the truth, and that is that we can use every bit of help God sends us. Easy for someone else to say we might find a better use for home education when they don't have 4 of their 5 kids reading at a 1st-2nd grade level with 3 of those being 10 1/2 - 12 years old. We have lost years and years with our kids academically, and language acquisition puts us further behind. If someone is willing to come into our lives and spend time listening one on one to our children read and help correct them, all I can say is Hallelujah! Do you realize I was told that Kenny might have to hear things hundreds of times before certain material sticks? If someone else can be another voice and perhaps handle 50 or 60 times, I am sure it would also help Kenny be happier...let alone a worn out mom who happens to have 4 other kids who all need to hear things at least 20 times for it to stick! Hahaha!

One of our main goals with homeschooling was to provide out kids with a broader, more hands on and interactive education than what they might receive in public school. I am sorry, but I am just not all that broad or interactive myself, so I need to utilize the services of others. I am assuming from our commenter's remarks that this means I should eliminate piano lessons since I can not play myself...and that makes me a general contractor in hiring a teacher, or perhaps we ought to "can" art lessons too since that also has to be "subbed out" to a professional so they can learn to draw something a bit more advanced than Mom's ever-so-cool-yet-not-very-artistic stick figures. Or maybe soccer, softball and TaeKwonDo should be pushed aside since I can't really do an adequate job of teaching those things (OK...softball I could rock at!) merely so I don't appear to be shirking my Traditional Homeschool Mom duties and appear to be too "contractor-ish".

But let's see, for all the hours others graciously have put into helping our kids, I wonder what I can mark on MY score card, even if I am "only" a contractor and I could find a "better use" of our home education. Spent over an hour today working with Angela on how to properly use her softball glove and practice pitching, played 45 minutes of a game with Joshua and the girls so they could learn vocabulary. took all the kids to the pool and hung out for 2 1/2 hours for PE time, went to a meeting to learn more about curriculum so I can be a better "contractor" and lay out a good game plan for our kids, spent time encouraging both Kenny and Matthew as they worked on piano lessons, spent an hour reading Silly Billy, Bearenstain Bears, and frog books to the girls tonight while Dominick worked with math with Kenny and Matthew while they played the same Monopoly game for the 2nd day in a row and explained the concept of developing properties and how that increases rental income, explained why the crop duster plane has to fly so far our to make turns to spray the fields, working with our school to set up a group field trip to Denver for the Body World exhibit, and I am sure a ton of other things I am missing.

And this was our "vacation week"...

But I am "only" a contractor and surely have better ways to spend my homeschooling education opportunities. Yea, I am doing nothing...

Nothing that is but teaching English all day, every day, getting our girls in 3 months to reading at a 1st grade level after hopping off a plane with a working English vocabulary of about 20 words. teaching math every day at 3 different levels (soon to be 5), teaching more advanced writing to Matthew and beginning writing to the girls, hitting phonics like a wild woman, explaining what refrigerators are and that mermaids are not real, ongoing work with Kenny whether he was homeschooled or not on enunciation and helping him with homework, helping perform autopsies and inquiry after the fact into what critter's skeletal remains we have on our kitchen table.

Yea...I could probably find a much "better use" of our home education...

That is not at all mentioning the 100 hugs or more doled out today alone, the kisses on the head, the "good job's" and thumbs up as I watched kids jumping off diving boards and swimming 5 feet for the first time. It does not include the whispered "I love you Mama's" and responses back from me as Angela and Olesya lay on either side as I read to them and gently brush their hair aside with my hand. It does not include my reassurances to Josh today for the millionth time that I would never leave him.

Yea...I totally see what you mean, I am "only" a general contractor. Thanks for pointing that out, I'll try and do better...

Better that is at utilizing those around me who have offered over and over again to bless our children's lives with their gifts and talents. Better at finding even more creative ways to engage my children with others and to tap resources available. Better that is at helping my kids by stepping back and seeing the big picture, just like a general contractor does, and yet being involved in the day-to-day to the level that I know all that is going on and can offer input or make changes as needed.

Most importantly, I think I'll try and do better at not listening to others who think they know how best to educate our children.

THANK YOU God, for hearing my specific prayer and showering us with loving, caring friends who give of themselves and from the heart. Remind me over and over again, God, that only YOU truly know what our kids need and that YOU are the one who will meet their needs, using me as the "general contractor" to sense it, oversee it, and show gratitude for all whom you send. Give me clarity and wisdom, and let me hear you speaking always...and help me to shut out the numerous naysayers and "I know better-er's". Help me to always see this is the family YOU created, and to lean on only you as we make decisions regarding the education of our children. You and I both know my limitations, which are many, and my heart, which is overflowing not only with the love of the children you have given us, but for the people who have stepped up and whispered in my ear "Let me help.". That is you, and we both know it. Thank you for giving me reassurance in the form of support that is tangible this next year as I fearfully step forward into the unknown and try to do my best each and every day. You have heard my cry and answered in the most loving and awesome way. Thanks...thank you, thank you!!


Your General Contracting Homeschooling Mommy Disciple

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dropping it Down a Notch

This weekend marked the beginning of summer for us, and the beginning of a new and different life. The changes won't be all that noticeable immediately, and it is my hope that we settle in to a new normal very soon. I am realizing though that I am in dire need of a period of rest...both physical and mental. My soul feels deadened for some reason, Dominick and I talked about this on the way home from church. I have a funny feeling it might take a long while to pull out of this. It is not depression, it is more a sense of disconnection with the world outside my immediate family.

Maybe it is all so intense right now that I can only handle so much. But I miss myself, if that makes sense. I keep waiting to reappear, and I am forcing myself to keep on doing things when at the moment they often feel awkward. I am hopeful that a week or two of no school, no soccer, no running, no stress, no school planning will give me the chance to recenter. I say that as I spent half the afternoon and all evening basically working on creating a schedule and finalizing what we are doing the next several months with school. Just as I think I have it figured it, I realize I am working with a moving target and need to re-organize as the girls are making bgreat strides, as new information helps me see Kenny's needs differently and realize we will step back further than I thought.

I also have had some wonderful, wonderful people approach me and ask if they could work with the kids and help in that way. I don't know how we have been so blessed to have people actually ask to spend time teaching our kids, and it is hard for me to say yes and even harder to figure out ways to incorporate them. I am really not a control freak, I think it is because right now I am still getting my own feet wet and making it up as I go along...sort of like a first year teacher not having a clue how to utilize a volunteering parent effectively in the classroom where a 20 year veteran says "Bring 'em on...I have a million things they can do!". I guess I don't have that level of confidence yet.

I also am recognizing that part of my internal self being unsettled is this feeling of taking, taking, taking and giving absolutely nothing back right now. I think perhaps if I found ways in which I could help out others I might feel better. However, I am going to gratefully accept help with the kids, particularly with reading, as I can't for the life of me figure out how in the world I can teach 4 kids to read who are all at slightly different levels and 2 of whom have some mechanics down and can sound out nicely but don't have a clue what they just read because their vocabulary needs to be built step by step. But these blessings in the form of volunteers have all been educators in former lives, and will instinctively know how to direct the kids. What a gift, if only I can open up my clasped hand to accept...stupid, I know.

Really though, we have only the most amazing and positive things going on around here, and our transition is so much easier at this stage and so much further along than I ever would have imagined it could be. The girls are ours, heart and soul now. And I admit it, I am loving havng daughters around. Especially these daughters. It is also very, very strange at moments to parent children who arrive in your lives at this stage.

Take Angela for example...she is nearly as tall as I am, and this morning at church was drinking coffee which they had at the orphanage sometimes. Two days ago she was hugging and playing with dolls, and today was watching the Little Mermaid with rapt attention. You think this isn't hard to adjust to? It is a major challenge to remind myself almost hourly that inside that outwardly appearing almost teenaged body is a very little girl at who loves mermaids and wants to try on being the little girl she missed out on being for a little while, yet has the experiences and lived the life of a much older child for a very long time and that isn't ever cast aside easily. Olesya for some reason has the demeanor of a younger child, and much of this is very appropriate and feels less obviously out of kilter. At moments I feel like I am like Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory, scrambling to keep up with an ever moving assembly line!!
But life is good, despite anything going on inside of me, life is very, very good. Other than language issues, anyone would be hardpressed to guess that Angela and Olesya joined us a mere 3 months ago. They look more and more like happy LaJoy's every day, they act like us and totally get Dominick's odd sense of humor and match him with it. They deeply love their brothers...and each of them at one time or another has watched one from afar and said to me "Kenny so cute..." or "Matthew so so smart!" with huge grins on their faces. The boys are equally enamored of their sisters, enjoying them to the hilt and declaring them to be the nicest girls they ever met.

Sounds Pollyanna-ish, doesn't it? I know...I know...but I can't pretend that there are big conflicts going on or jealousy when there isn't. I am just as surprised as anyone else is, as I thought surely we would have conflicts over all kinds of things...who gets the front seat, who gets mommy next, who gets the last ice cream. None, nada, zilch, zippo. How much easier they have all made this time of transition with their kindness towards one another. I keep waiting for the honeymoon to end, for the other shoe to drop. Someone said to me recently that maybe we got the hard stuff out of the way over in Kazakhstan, and this is the reward. If so, all I can say is a huge thank you filled with gratitude.
We are planning a little surprise for the kids, and it is converging perfectly with interests in our house right now. Our dear friend and blog commenter, Lael, who is single handedly the most creative person I have ever met, put together a special Paleantology kit for Joshua after learning of his science interests. Whether it was to steer him away from autopsies and spare me the agony of feining courage as I stood by to watch, or if it was to encourage him to further explore the sciences, it was the coolest thing. She found a skeleton of a small critter as yet to be identified (we should figure that out tomorrow) and put it in a container with dirt, and included some small tools, a toothbrush, etc and created an adventure for him to uncover the skeleton and identify it. He has had SUCH fun with it, even getting up at 3:00 AM to work on it!!

Well, it just so happens that our Russian speaking friends who have been so generous with their time in Skyping with the girls, helping us get Matt's passport after numerous calls to Kazakhstan to translate for us, and so many more things are planning a driving trip to a place we had on our "to visit" list for years. About 5 hours from here in Delta, Utah there is a fossil bed where you can dig out fossils! The girls are in a "rock stage" right now too, handing me pockets full to save...or forgetting to hand them to me and washing them in the washer along with their jeans :-) So timing is perfect, and we are going to meet our friends there and dig us out some fossils, then go to a dinosaur museum the next day. Dominick and I decided not to tell the kids until that morning when they get up. They will be SO excited and SO happy to spend some extra time with him. He has been working super long hours since we returned from Kazakhstan, and needs to have a little down time with the kids. I also am happy that the girls will be able to use their Russian while they still have it, as it is fast leaving them. Within a few more months they will have very little left, so this might be a very, very special opportunity for them...aside from the whole "rock thing", that is! Hahaha!

This weekend we had a fund raiser at church that was western themed. Although we live in rural Colorado we are not exactly the Cowboy type and had no duds appropriate for the ocassion other than Josh's cowboy boots. So off to the Salvation Army we went and scored a few shirts that would sort of work. The kids were all excited about it and had a great time running around playing Deputy, and "getting hitched". Our pastor performed shotgun wedding services, and even found herself marrying Joshie! Dominick and I reupped for another 20 years or so, Lord willin', Kenny married our friend, and Joshua was a two timer and married Mommy too. Our hours of playing Blackjack in Kazakhstan paid off for Angela as she and Matthew played and had a lot of fun while the other kids all played Go Fish and Old Maid. I got some cute pics of the kids and they all giggled when seeing them today.

So we are on to our first week of summer, loving every minute of it!

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Comment on a Comment

I was commenting on a comment on my blog post of last night, and saw it was running a bit long so decided to create a post out of it instead. If you want to better understand my comments here, go ahead and read the last post.

An anonymous commenter said:

"Besides, you love us, no one else does even if they like us."

That makes me so sad, to think that he doesn't believe that there are LOTS of people who love him. Family is special, no doubt, but I don't believe for a second that he isn't loved by many of the people who also like him. Same with all of the other kids.

You have taken Matthew's comments out of context...we were talking specifically about teachers at school and he was trying to express in 10 year old language that the love of a mother is far different than a teacher that likes you. We have many friends outside our family who love our children, of this Matthew (and I as well) have no doubt. He is loved by our dearest friends, including one who taught him this semester BECAUSE he loved him, and it was reflected in the pride our friend felt at Matthew's accomplishments. I can count several others whom I know Matthew would acknowledge love him very much, including our dear, dear friends we are visiting tonight whom I think just might rush into a burning building for any of our kids.

While I know for certain that many teachers in public school have been very fond of our children, to call that love is unwise and leads our children to improper expectations of being "loved" by "everyone", which is simply not true. Teaching our children to properly identify true "love" when it comes along in their lives is also part of our job, so that they have a framework to classify relationships with, reasonable expectations of those who cross their paths, and can recognize the real deal when it arrives. We all know folks who think everyone just loves them, or thinks that everyone totally loves their kids. All our children do a terrific job at discriminating between "love" and "like". Love means commitment, love is doesn't require as much of the giver.

Others CAN love our children and do. Teachers in school? Maaaaaayyyybbbbeeee, in the once in a lifetime unusual circumstance, but let's see here...did they spend 5 long years yearning for someone to come home? Did they hold an angry infant in their arms as he screamed and kicked and continued to hold him for 3 years until he finally knew how to accept love? Did they work day and night for years to afford to bring home some of their children? Did a teacher ever console our child as they quietly shared about the wretched things they experienced in their lives before us? Did a teacher ever lose sleep over worry and concern about our son who can't seem to remember things the way everyone else can...and then fret and stew losing even more sleep over trying to discover ways that might help him become all that he can be? While I am sure they have considered it, they certainly have never lost sleep over it.

Please don't get me wrong...we have had amazing influences from very caring adults in our kids lives, both at school and outside of it, and I have always tried to go out of my way to express my gratitude to every single person who has contributed to their growth and development. But to equate that with the love of a parent? Well, I think Matthew showed his own wisdom in that comment, for it truly is not the same.

You say "family is special..." then go on to talk about others who also love and like us, which I agree with. What I see is the problem today though is that we don't, as a society, understand the first part of your thought in the ways we should. Family IS special, it is to be cherished and adored, it is to be valued above all and those relationships should always, always come first. Today, family is NOT treasured as it should be, often because families are so broken they don't work well. We don't teach our children "family above all else" (other than God, of course), then we wonder why our aging parents are dumped in nursing homes never to be visited again, we wonder why our children act out in school making those very teachers' jobs so much harder because those children feel unloved and are crying out by their actions for offer them the love they do not feel at home. Sadly, there are millions of children who wonder why in the world their parents even have kids, because they spend so little time with them or who even when they are present in the same room are so disengaged it is as if the children don't exist other than to order around and shove them off to bed. There are parents who haven't had a full fledged conversation with their children in years. Then they wonder why their kids have no respect for them, or ignore their requests and rules.

Family IS special, terribly special. Yet it is so undervalued...or so broken...that we look outside family and are forced to lift up others to the level of love and commitment that family should offer so we can feel whole. We are living proof of that contrast, in seeing older children come home whose only understanding of love was the concern a caretaker might have shown them now and again, or the love that entered their life from their friends. Sure, the long term relationships with some caretakers may have developed into a special loving bond sometimes...but our daughters in particular are experiencing something very, very different these days, and already they are forming new conclusions in their lives as they see the sacrifices a family will make for them (and not just mothers and fathers, brothers too as Matthew showed quietly when selecting Wii games yesterday and thought only of what his brothers and sisters might enjoy, bypassing the flying games he loves), as they are beginning to understand the level of commitment that has been there for many years for them. Their eyes shine as they realize they were loved long before they joined us, and that THIS love is somehow very, very different. They are already categorizing it differently from the kinds of relationships they had before.

So I firmly stand by Matthew's statement, and I know every single one of their former teachers would understand exactly what he meant...even those who cared deeply about our kids know the difference between mommy love and teacher care. Joshie's former kindergarten teacher just had a daughter of her own, her first. The way she holds that baby, the way she gazes down adoringly at her...she totally knows the difference. And I do think she cared a great deal about Josh, just as his teacher this year did. But she could never "love" Josh the way she loves her daughter, carried 9 months inside her, brought into this world after dreaming so long of a little one of her own. It's different, family love is different, it IS special.

Our children, Matthew included, are growing up in a loving family that works. Note I am not saying a perfect family, for there are none of those in the world, but it IS a family that at least right now works well. They are surrounded by love from many different avenues and at many different levels. They feel loved, and they also can offer love back to others because they are loved by so many. They also do not live with the mistaken idea that "everyone loves me", elevating themselves to a place of entitlement which will lead to dissatisfaction when the truth sinks in that they are indeed NOT all that special to everyone they meet.

But in this family, in our family, they are deeply, deeply loved and they have family friends who love them too. It is appropriate categorization, it is wise discernment, it is understanding of the varying levels of care offered to us by the numerous people whose paths cross our lives.

Family IS special. I wish everyone had one that made them feel that way.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What Kind of Life?

I sit here on the couch with not-so-little-bodies-anymore surrounding me as Scooby Do is playing to a rapt audience. down, 4 more to go. Angela went to bed at 10:30, and is right now snoring along with Dominick as she is bundled up on our bedroom floor, and just as I type this I look over on the couch next to me and Matthew has lost the battle as well :-)

It was an emotional day that ended on an easy and tender note. I have felt melancholy all day, as we end one stage and begin another...trying to fight off the creeping fear that I know will dissipate soon enough. Why is this last day of school triggering so much? Joshie ended his day well, said goodbye to his beloved teacher, but ended up in tears before we made it home. Oh how he will miss Mrs. Weber! What a gift she and his first grade teacher were for him, both gentle, nurturing, tender women which was exactly what he needed. What a sweet little guy he is, so special to us all. He feels things so deeply, and others seem to respond in the same way feeling deeply about him as well.

We arrived home and I sat in the car with him on my lap as the other kids went inside to give us a moment. He heaved great big sobs saying "Mommy, I love Mrs. Weber and I will miss her SO much!". I talked about how God has placed such special people in his life over and over again, and how God will continue to do so in the future as well. I reminded him that he felt the same way about Mrs. Taylor last year, and look how God took care of him with Mrs. Weber this year. He hiccuped and said "I know Mommy, and I am so glad! But it makes me sad for nice people to leave me." . Will he always feel abandoned? Will that ever, ever be part of his life he can put behind him?

And I continue to pray that God will bring others into our lives to contribute in positive ways to our children's development and growth. As doubts assail I remind myself that God knows what we each need, and trust that those needs will be met in remarkable ways. Please God, they need so much more than Dominick or I can ever provide...more input, more encouragement, more insight.

Matthew and I spent a little time alone together as we went to the local video store to rent a long promised Wii game to celebrate the end of school. He asked me if I was OK and I shared with him honestly that I have a big challenge here, and I am worried that I will let them all down somehow but will do my best. I then apologized for even bringing it up. He gently laid his hand on my arm while driving and said "It's OK mommy, that's why we all have each other. Everyone needs to share sometimes." He then added "You are a great teacher, and you know more than anyone else what to do. I have had the best year ever in school. Besides, you love us, no one else does even if they like us. That means you work harder." Ahhh, the wisdom of my son. How I love you, Matthew. You have always been my wise companion in parenting.

I think all of us sort of clung to family tonight, and it was just what we needed. We BBQ'd then I played softball with the kids while Dominick worked on our swamp cooler. The evening was perfect...mellow with a touch of evening glow. None of us wanted the closeness to end, so we built a fire in the little fire pit on our patio and gathered around where we sat bundled in blankets as we giggled and laughed over silly things. We occasionally got serious as we threw out questions like "If our house burned down, what would be the one thing you would want to take with you?". Interesting how many responses including "Mommy and Daddy's mattress!". We then asked about what one or two people other than those in our immediate family do they feel the closest too. We were surprised to hear from the girls that our family friends here were the highest on their list, and both also said they could not name just 1 or 2.

This afternoon our neighbor brought over some toys long abandoned by grandchildren who do not visit often. In it were two life size baby dolls, and she had asked previously if I thought the boys would be upset if she gave them to the girls and had nothing to offer the boys. I reassured her that would not be an issue, and besides I'd bet Kenny and Josh would play with them anyway. She laughed, I was serious. Guess who was holding the dolls around the fire pit tonight? While the girls had them for awhile, the boys also babied them and wrapped them up. Olesya TOTALLY loves dolls, and she carried these around all over the place today, and even Angela played with them quite a bit.

Seeing all of them playing "Mommy and Daddy" with these dolls, it was hard not to recognize that for better or worse, our kids are a little different than their age mates, and we are making the right decision for them as individuals. I know there are many who would criticize us, saying we are "sissifying" our boys or not forcing any of them to grow up. I guess we just see it as 3 of our 5 had to grow up in some ways far too early, and they need this time to revisit what they missed without fear of being made fun of, to relive the stages they never walked through before or were at the very least rushed through.

And as I reflect on this past 12 months, and take it all in, I find myself in awe of our children's resilience and good natured attitudes. They have weathered so much this year of constant change, and for children so young we have had virtually nothing but love and concern for others, honesty and heartfelt expression of emotions, and a willingness to turn the corner to see what challenge awaits them there. They have handled everything far better than I have, in fact they put me to shame! They aren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they are decent, loving, helpful and accepting children. What very, very blessed parents we are to live with and learn from each of them.

They joy the girls exude these days with us is so surprising. While in public Angela in particular is still more reserved, fearful of others speaking to her when she can't respond while Olesya is her usual easy going fearless self. At home and with those she is comfortable with Angela lets go. The past few days have taken us to yet an even deeper level in our gradually maturing relationship with one another. The expressions of gratitude for everything are unnecessary, yet touching. Tonight talking about our house and answering a question I threw out there about what was everyone's favorite part of the house, each said "all of it, everything...we love our house!" and Angela added "I love kitchen, I love refrigerator, I love Mama Papa's bedroom and sleepy there, I love outside, I love machina (van), I love all I love!". I have been told over and over "thank you for being my mama", more than once we have been on the receiving end of apologies for the first torturous couple of weeks in Kazakhstan, despite our efforts to share with them that it is over.

Most telling was this afternoon when somehow one of the kids brought up the subject of "I Love You Forever", the children's story book that has meant so much to us all. Angela and Olesya started talking about it in the car explaining that like in the book, we would take care of them now and when we are old they would hold us and rock us and take care of us...that families love each other forever. To think of how far we have come in such a short time in relationship building utterly blows me away. This is no act, this is truly a sense of belonging and an acceptance of unconditional love, along with offering it up on their own as well. 6 months ago we thought we might never be bringing them home, fast forward and now none of us can imagine them NOT being with us!

The outward affection is easy and comfortable now, so much so that no one would imagine we have been together such a short while. Angela snuggles and cuddles, Olesya stops every time she walks by just to get a hug, trying to fill up what came to us as an empty "love bank". Both of them are completely totally "LaJoy'd out" now, freely and willingly offering warmth and love in the form of bear hugs, kisses, heads on our shoulders, and the surprising step of Angela reaching to hold my hand in public several times lately. We giggled our way through our visit this week with Elinor, our favorite weaving teacher, as she worked with Matthew and Angela and Olesya both tried to teach me how to make a tight braid. Failure was complete, I will add, and I heard several "That's OK, Mama's" as I tried over and over again and ended up with what looked like a half baked braid. I think it is good for them to see us try and fail at things, and see us struggle with things they can succeed at. I am thinking about maybe taking piano lessons myself, just so they can visibly see I can identify with them in learning something difficult. When you have so many kids for whom every day brings with it constant challenge, you want to have them feel joined by someone who understands in a tangible way that learning something new is really hard, but you stick with it and eventually find it gets easier and easier.

We have so very much work ahead of us, so much that when I see it in total I want to shrink in fear and melt away. It is then when I feel the greatest empathy for what each of our children adopted at an older age must feel. Nothing is easy, everything is more complicated that it at first appears. But the support and encouragement offered by one another helps make the load lighter.

Sitting there in the firelight tonight, Matthew and Kenny across from one another with feet propped up on each other's chairs as they tickled each other and laughed themselves silly, some of the fear dissipated. For the next week or so, I am going to tune out, not think about it all, and simply enjoy our family with no weight on my shoulders. We are entering summer, we are together, we are happy, my children are loved and most importantly, they are all finally home. Each one has the character I hardly dared hope we would see. Everything else will fall into place.

Joshua summed it up beautifully on the last line of his biography we received yesterday. After stating so many facts about his family and what his likes and dislikes were, he ended it with a phrase I will repeat to myself over and over in the coming weeks. This child, whom we had been told by professionals would likely never heal...this child who was essentially thrown away and who has spent years working to overcome all that comes with the knowledge of his beginnings...this child said what I needed to hear.

"I have a wonderful life."

And I do too.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bittersweet Last Days

Sorry I haven't written in a couple of days, been on the run this last couple of weeks of school. Lots going on, lots of planning for summer fun and learning, and me feeling like a cartoon character running behind a car that is leaving me in the dust. The warm summer evenings, well at least a couple of them...hahaha it is now wintry again here with 42 degrees yesterday morning, and late evening light have left us all feeling very ready for easy, lazy summer days. We had such a terrible summer last year with all of us so ill the entire time that we are looking forward with great zeal to an enjoyable time this year, made that much more so with the addition of the girls.

But it is also a bittersweet time, as we reflect on our experiences the last 6 years at a wonderful public school, and recall memories of friends, teachers and other faculty who have added so much to our lives. Last Friday we all participated in the 3rd annual Walkathon the school holds, and were so surprised to receive a call a couple of weeks before inviting all the kids to participate and get TShirts. This is such a thoughtful group of people at this school, a real family devoid of much of the politics that often goes on in public educational institutions.

The kids all went and had a blast, with a huge surprise in seeing Kenny walk..or should I say RUN...most of the way. He did a total of about 13 miles I think we calculated, and it was almost shocking to watch a talent pop up right before your eyes. Wow! And THIS was the kid who literally sat down on the soccer field and cried when he first came home because he didn't want to run!! It almost gave me chills to think of his journey in symbolic terms, with his success last Friday being a real visual illustration of the transformative power of a family in the lives of children.

But it was also symbolic of the transformative power of community in their lives as well, a lesson I am internalizing more and more on a daily basis. Our school which we leave behind with the fondest of memories and love for the people who work there has been instrumental in our children's lives. I kid you not, the support our family has received there, the prayers that have followed us (Yes, the prayers from those who work at a governmental institution...remember there are real live people there!) from that place, the encouragement we have received has been nothing short of amazing. We have been blessed in a million ways, and it is not without some trepidation that we embark on this new phase of life, one we are trying to embrace as yet another adventure as we look to homeschool all five of them. I will admit that trepidation grows with each passing day and with every comment from others I know who raise their eyebrows and say "Wow...I could never do that, especially not with your kids and their needs! You are so brave!". No, I am not brave at all...and I am trying hard not to let the sheer terror sink in, as it IS so very, very scary.

The biggest motivator though is that it is scarier NOT to do it, for many reasons, both academic and social.

As always though, the Spirit reaches out and comforts using those around us. So many people ask me how in the world can I know it is really God speaking. I have to ask in return, how can it be so obvious and so ignored by some??? God YELLS at us at moments, but just as I too have done and will do in the future too, I am sure, we often ignore it trying to follow our own desires and placing more emphasis on what seems rational. Rational flew out the window years ago and it disappeared completely on a cold winter afternoon in Kazakhstan when we received a phone call saying "Please come back...".

Through my fears, I have been sent those who reassured me that we are indeed making the right decision for our particular situation. God knew exactly who to send whose voices would be heard more clearly by me. Hearing from those who are in the trenches, who can validate that your concerns are not imagined, who know your children and your family and can say to you "You are definitely doing the right thing, don't ever question that."...well, it helped so much. I was sent two people from our "old life " and one from our "new life" who each approached me saying essentially how wise we were to recognize our kids' needs and that we were perfectly suited to do this, even though it appears so challenging from the outside. Funny how the right words at the right time can provide so much comfort.

And so we say goodbye to the old, and hello to the new. Not without tears, as Kenny waited for me to arrive home and talked well into the night about how he was looking forward to it, but was scared too about the changes coming. Me too, too. As I was walking the field for the walkathon last week, I kept being passed by children I knew and cared deeply about. They'd run to catch up to me, visit for a bit, then move on. It was a visual metaphor for our lives. We cross paths with others, enjoy our time with them, and then part ways. Once in awhile you linger in one place for awhile, the relationships formed last longer, but inevitably a time comes to part.

We are so grateful to the staff at OES. There are some talented, caring, wonderful people there and we will miss them all very, very much. It is my hope that we will not find the need to return, but should we fail at homeschooling, I know that our children would be warmly welcomed back. I will personally miss so much about our years spent there, the hearts that connected with ours, the children whose smiles and hugs have often greeted me.

Thank you to every single teacher who has helped our children thrive. Thank you to the office staff whose smiles and cheerful greetings have made every single day walking in there a little brighter. Thank you for the talent you shared with our kids and the character issues you reinforced for us at home. We have kids who do not fit the norm, which is what the system best serves. You do an outstanding job of serving those kids within the confines of the system with which you work. We will miss you all so much.

And tomorrow dawns a new day, the beginning of yet another phase in our life as we embrace yet ANOTHER change this year. Talk about having to be flexible and able to roll with the punches, if this year hasn't forced us to become more "silly putty-ish" than I don't know what will. Without God hanging out with us, I think I would have totally lost it by now, and this year has proven to me just how much I have changed over the past few years. In the midst of the storms, as the waves lift us to scary heights then drop us sharply down again, we are all still afloat, grinning at one another as we shout "Wow!!! That was a BIG one!". Our life vests are on, we are holding hands tightly, and we are waiting for the waters to eventually calm which might allow us to clearly see the shore ahead and better understand what our destination is. For now though, I am happy to be in the boat with the people I share it with. They are the strongest, kindest, smartest people I know. I am still very scared of what is to come, but I know I have the best crew in the world.

They are my family, and we will weather any storm well together.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Faith of Our Children

It is Sunday and I am playing hookie from church, taking some time for myself as I continue to try and fight off a cold or allergies or whatever it is today that is knocking me for a loop. Oh heck, the truth is I am flat out tired!! That is not helping! In some ways I feel I have yet to recover from our Long Winter, but I am getting there. Heaved a huge sigh of relief yesterday when I worked with our Google calendar schedule and yanked off many activities that we are finally done with, and saw nothing but white space! Hurray!

I received an interesting comment the other day that I have been pondering and decided to try and address. Here is part of it:

"At some point, I would be interested in a post or posts about how your children become acquainted with your faith and how their spiritual belief develops. "

Wow. That is actually a biggie, isn't it? It made me think a lot about this subject all afternoon, and I am not sure I have an adequate response. This of course makes me look like a complete idiot, especially in light of my academic pursuit of lay ministry right now. Well, here goes nuthin'...

Dominick and I are an eclectic mix of conservative and liberal...our personal faith is deep, but it looks very different from one another on the outside. Different, that is, if one likes labels, which many insist upon but we do not.

We are not of the praying at the restaurant table, Scripture memorizing, go to the revival meeting, bible study Wednesday evening, shout out "Amen" and "Hallelujah" ilk (OK, maybe Dominick has shouted a time or two! Hahaha!). That is not to say I don't see value in those things, it is just not who we are.

Our faith is woven in and out of our daily life, it extends well beyond Sunday morning and is as natural as getting up and grabbing the Cheerios every morning. We might forget to say grace before eating dinner once in awhile, but we are as likely to talk to or about God in any given conversation as we are to speak about each other.

It has always been a big concern of mine as we adopted older children that it would be difficult to introduce them to God and explain faith. With Kenny we were spared that, as his exposure to missionaries in his orphanage led him to already have a deep connection with God prior to us ever stepping on the scene. 3 years later we have done nothing more than provide him with an environment in which his faith could flourish.

With the girls I was even more nervous, and prayed often especially while in Kazakhstan that somehow the Spirit would enter in easily, for without it we would be lost, especially with the considerably difficult circumstances we were encountering and their very troubled past. I had no idea how in the world we would bring faith into the mix comfortably. Both had turned their noses up when hearing they would be attending church regularly in America, as their only experience had been with a Russian Orthodox service a couple of times a year. Should have known God had that all under control. It wasn't too long after we were home when Angela and Olesya were talking about death, their grandma, etc. and they indicated their grandma was in heaven and we had a brief pantomimed conversation about that. Next thing I know they have latched on to the Jesus movie a thoughtful and insightful friend and adoptive mom herself had sent us, all in Russian. It is Angela's favorite movie and she talks about what a good, good man Jesus was and they seem to understand the basics.

But how do you nurture faith in your kids? For every family, the answer to that one is totally different. I can only share how we attempt daily to create an authentic, faith filled home that works for us.

Being intentional is the single most important thing you can can't assume it will happen, and you can't think you have done your duty by taking the kids to church on Sunday. That is merely a starting point. Faith has to be breathed in and out, and the Spirit has to be invited into your home in a concrete way.

What do I mean by that? Well, is God part of your daily conversations? Or reserved only for meal and bed times? Do you ever share how you have consulted God in prayer openly with your kids? Talked about how you are wrestling with something and need God's leading? Have you discussed what you feel were answers to your prayers or God's leading and then explained why you felt that way? Do you pray with your children too...not just listen to them say their memorized prayer before supper? We have one we use sometimes "Bless the food before us, the friends beside us, and the love between us." when we have friends over, and we stole that from Joshie's best buddy and all love it because of the significance of the simple words. But otherwise, be it bedtime or dinner time, we have never taught the kids a specific prayer, preferring instead that it be their real thoughts, their hearts shared. So they pray as we gratitude, in petition, whatever. It is a young sounding version, of course, but it is not by rote and we think that has established a more intimate relationship with God right from the get go.

We have never pushed our new children to pray out loud with us or even to believe in God. We do assume they will hold hands with us around the table when we pray, or will sit quietly in the dark with us as we pray before bedtime as a family. Without pressure and giving them time to feel comfortable themselves, eventually Kenny, Olesya and Angela have all decided to one day pray on their own with us, and now almost 3 months home with the girls and they have both said an authentic and original prayer of their own more than once over a meal or at bedtime. Do they have a firm grasp on God, the Bible, who Jesus was, etc.? No, of course not, but it is a start and as time passes, familiarity grows and language develops and questions arise.

We do not wait for those questions though. Often we are the initiators of God talk in our house by asking simple questions such as "What do you think God would think of that behavior?" when seeing something on TV, or making observations such as "We are incredibly blessed, God sure put us all together perfectly!". We purposefully and intentionally invite the Spirit into our daily lives by truly trying to live by God's rules daily and keeping it "real" by pointing out when we have failed.

We seek out opportunities to serve God in gratitude and talk about how we have been given SO much in this world, we have a lot to repay...and how the reward is that tingle of joy knowing you made a difference in some way. We take the kids to highway clean up to help, so we care for God's world. We all help friends and neighbors as we can with chores, as repayment for those who have helped us. We catch our kids being kind to one another, acting in ways we want to reinforce, and we point it out. Just the other morning I said "Matthew, it is so nice to see you walking with your arm around your brother's shoulder. It says to the world "I love my brother!" and in a world where so few siblings often don't even like each other, it makes me smile to see you show so much love.". We ask the kids where they saw God that day. We throw open the curtains on some mornings that are particularly beautiful and declare "Wow...God sure made us a terrific morning! Thanks God!".

Sure, we read Bible stories and go to church faithfully, but frankly I think all of that contributes very little versus the impact of having parents who outwardly express their delight in their faith and the comfort they draw on it. Nothing is as important as expressing your own "God stuff"...and then not assuming your kids are too young to "get it". It might surprise you to learn they have greater insights and wisdom than most of the adults around you do. We also encourage questions, doubt and debate, for that means they are truly engaged in an interactive pursuit of their true faith.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it is not about "doing", it is about "being". The "being" has to be rooted in honest emotion and connection, not mere desire to see your kid go to that will only get you the result you've earned, a charade of faith.

Will our kids continue on as they mature, unlike the vast majority of kids who go to youth groups, graduate high school, and don't darken a Sanctuary door until they have their own children in tow? I have no idea whether they will or not. It is my hope that by keeping it about relationship and connection, they will see the value in belonging to a community of believers who are open and understanding of our own personal faith journeys...and that our kids see their own contributions as important in the lives of others on THEIR journeys.

I know many might blast us for this, but we also feel it is terribly important not to tell our kids what to think or believe. We want them to be free to explore their faith as they are called to do by the Spirit...and yes, I do feel the Spirit calls our children and is as active in their lives as it is in ours. We don't tell our kids "this is what happened", we often phrase it as "this is what I think...what do you think...and you are welcome to think differently...". In the car this week out of the blue Joshie said "Mommy, I think God looks like the moon and the sun." and I asked "Why do you think that? What makes you feel like God looks like that?" and he then went on to elaborate about how he thought that was God looking down on us...for him it was symbolic of God's continual presence in our lives, not that God actually looked like the sun or the moon. This is just as valid as any adult who pictures God as some old dude in a long flowing robe and perhaps white hair with a beard or something. Sort of like Father Time in those animated Christmas specials. I didn't negate Josh's image of God, we ALL have our internal image of God or Jesus in our head...and perhaps of Satan too, if that is where your mind takes you.

My point being this, for us, not allowing our kids to be somewhat in charge of developing their own theology then creates an invalid theology for them personally. "What?" you ask, Well, if they are told what to believe, if their own perceptions and understandings are cast aside quickly as "wrong" then they stop engaging in thinking about God and place all things spiritual in the category of "rules my parents make for me", which can be easily abandoned when they grow to maturity. If they develop their own understanding of God and are allowed to explore it like we allow them to explore everything else in their lives, then they "own" their faith and just might carry it into adulthood with them because it is theirs, and not something they were told to believe that automatically gets rejected along with everything else when adolescence arrives.

Or at least, that is our theory :-)

Most often, because all things spiritual are just a part of our everyday life, our most interesting conversations are usually brought up by the kids themselves. Yesterday Kenny asked me whether I thought Jesus was really God's son and how that was different from all of us being God's children. And you think my greatest learning comes from my lay ministry classes...I am getting a PhD right here at home! When you allow kids the freedom to think for themselves, when you indicate you have trust in them to work things out but are there to encourage them along the way, they begin to have confidence in their own abilities. They see that their wildest imaginings are worthy of consideration and can lead to new discoveries. If you shut them down and say "Why would you think such a thing?" or "You already know the answer to that." what you are really telling them is they are stupid, frankly, and must obey your every command including what they internalize spiritually.

And the truth is, I have always felt that what works for me may not work for them. What gives me hope, what lifts me up, what carries me through may be the exact opposite of what might do the same thing for them. It is something I remind myself constantly, I do not "own" our kids and God didn't provide them so we could make replica "mini-me's". The respect I have for their individual intellect and life experiences goes without saying, and I think they sense that too. I trust them to come to conclusions that will help them create a happy life. I trust the process of spiritual discovery that God will lead them on and recognize my role in it is not to dictate but to expose and nurture.

Again, at least that is my theory. :-)

There are a few things we have done that we consider invaluable to the development of their spiritual lives. One is church camp. Every single year. Whether we can afford it or not, they HAVE to go. It fills them in a way nothing else ever can, it is transformative for them to be with others their age in an environment that nurtures their soul. Perhaps this is more important for us as we belong to a church with only a couple of other families with children. Ther is no large youth group with lots of activities so they can hang with like minded friends. There is also a huge side benefit for us in that there is always a very visible adoptive family presence at our particular camp and kids of other races are present, which again in our small rural community is not always the case. But mostly, God is very palpable at La Foret, our kids' camp, and it carries over into everything they do. Dominick and I have said all along, and more so this year with 4 going that if we have to borrow to make it happen, it will happen every year. Priority number one over sports or anything else. And if you asked our kids, they would agree it is the single most important thing outside our family they do.

Another thing we do is make church a priority and church activities. We don't limit it to kid things, we work at church, we view it is our spiritual home and we are all responsible for caring for it and helping there in ways we can. It is an extension of our home.

On the tail of the above, we make sure our kids recognize that "church", "God", and "faith" are not one in the same, they are not interchangeable. God is with us, always. "Church" may look different depending where we are at any given time. Faith is what gives life hope and meaning. I DO NOT want my kids being "religious". I want them to live faith filled, faithful lives. I want them to carry God with them into the darkest places they ever encounter...I want God to be with them during the deepest disappointments...I want God with them on a terribly gut wrenching winter night in Kazakhstan when dreams felt like they were crashing around us, and I want God to be praised and present during the most joyous of times, which most often are not the ones heralded by society and tend to be those precious, quiet moments with loved ones where a new truth is revealed or another piece of our heart is offered. If God = Church, then we have not given our kids exposure to a faith that is life guiding.

I think the biggest thing we do though to help our kids develop their spiritual lives is the most simple...

We love.

We love them enough to do without and to travel thousands of miles and years to bring them home...and we point them towards God as we do so. We love others around us and forgive them their trespasses, and we point towards God as we do so. We love those we have never even met and show it through helping those near and far who may remain anonymous to us, and we point towards God when we do so.

We love. God is love.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Son, the Coroner

I have tried for 2 days to write a post, but haven't liked the way it has turned out so deleted and moved on. I am working in my head on a post that is an answer to a question posed in the comments about the faith life of our children, and for some reason am having a complete block on it! I'll work on it again this weekend maybe.

We are in the midst of the end of the school year frenzy! It is such fun to go on field trips and make plans for the coming summer months. Unfortunately one I am working on is our travel plans for Kenny's next surgery in mid-June. Dominick will remain home as I go with all the kids to Chicago utilizing one of the two sets of tickets from being bumped on our travels to and from Kazakhstan. It should be interesting to cope with Kenny and all the kids during this excursion, but I am bringing them all along for a few reasons. First of all, we want our dear friends to meet our new daughters. We will again be staying with them, and are so grateful to have such extraordinary generosity while we are there. The kids will stay with them at night while I sleep with Kenny at the hospital, then the kids will all be with me during the day. Another reason is that it has seemed very important to Kenny to have them all see "his" hospital. Shriners is an amazing place, and he wants them to know what it looks like and where he is when he is there in the future and has mentioned this several times. One of the most important reasons is the development of compassion and understanding of what Kenny...and so many other kids...have to go through with hospitalizations, surgery, etc. Not to mention what Mom and Dad have to go through too! It will be good for the kids to witness some of this, to better relate to Kenny's experiences and to be supportive of him. I am sure that through our time there they will also meet some other special kids as well.

We are trying to cram in some decent schoolwork here at home while still doing a lot outside our house this week. I have been invited to be on the Board of Stewards for the Vision Home and Community Program which is the public school umbrella program we work with for homeschooling. Last night was my first "real" meeting after attending 2 others, and it happened to be a marathon session that lasted from 5:30 PM until midnight! However, I enjoyed it and found it very interesting, and look forward to becoming more involved in the program that will hopefully be a large part of the next few years of our lives. Tomorrow Dominick is taking off work to be home with the other kids and be Mr. Homeschool Mom for a day while I go on an all day field trip with Joshua...who is so excited he can hardly stand it! He worked until 8:30 tonight to be able to take the time off, so he is pooped too.

As I type this we have all 5 kids strewn across our bedroom floor. What is it about sleeping in here altogether that is so appealing to them? We read "I Love You Forever" tonight and even though Matthew and Kenny were reading other books off to the side, when I got to singing the little song I made up to go with the words they stopped each time and sang with was a cute little chorus.

I cracked up today, as we are really a gender-bending family these days. We have the girls asking to see a Power Rangers video and Kenny watching a Barbie video. Matthew picked out a Strawberry Shortcake video which Angela had watched one of and hew knew she would like another. What 12 year old girls today would willingly want to watch Strawberry Shortcake? Another reminder that we are parenting kids of mixed maturity, and it is sometimes sweet and always tender.

The most fascinating thing that went on today was one that will surely gross all of you out, but had me gleefully trying hard not to lose my lunch. Somehow, and I wonder what the odds are with this, we came into the possession this week of 2 dead baby birds, both in varying stages of development. The first one was discovered at church and Josh came up to me holding it out and asking if he could keep it. Ugh! Yes, of course you can...get a baggie and wash your hands. That ended up on his desk waiting for him to decide what to do with it. Today we walked out our back door and there was another one on our patio, a dead soldier from the annual nest we have tucked in the crook of our awning.

Joshua, our most tender hearted of all of our children, is totally a scientist in the making. He is utterly enthralled with all things scientific, and he asked if he could "examine" the birds more closely today. How could I say no? Sooooo...what do I do? Hand him an exacto knife and grab the camera. He proceeded to perform an autopsy on the birds...after giving them a bath first...and without any guidance on my part (Heck, I could barely sit and watch it...seriously...had to walk away!) he took care to look at the tongue, beak, tiny little skulls, etc. I then handed him a fresh Composition book from the Dollar Tree and told him he had to document his findings. He wrote an entire page of comparisons and observations....that one had wings and the other didn't have them developed yet, that the beaks were different, what color the...ummm...various liquids were that came out of the bodies. Actually, it was really cool for me to sit back and watch him work, see what he recorded on his own with no guidance, and I realized that all joking aside, we have a passionate scientific learner here and a real natural at that. I gave him the Saxon Math placement test yesterday to see where we should be placing him when he starts homeschooling soon. For the uninitiated, Saxon is a popular, solid math curriculum used by tons of homeschoolers. Well, the test designed for K-3 had him missing only 2, meaning we start him skipping 2nd grade math and move right into 3rd. He just gets it really easily, has that kind of brain I guess. So funny as this is the kid I expected to be pulling teeth with academically before he started school, he had zero interest in anything academic. Here are photos of the autopsy, may they rest in peace:

Aside from the little thrill I got at seeing Josh so engaged in something (and trying hard not to lose my Cheerios!), I loved his spirit later in the evening as we were talking about it. I said something about "those disgusting birds" and he stopped short, looked at me and said "Mama, those were beautiful little birds once, don't forget that.". Shamed, I hung my head and saw once again how much our children have to teach us. His respect for life was a reminder that ALL life is sacred, and those little birds may be the first step in lifelong learning leading to a career in medicine, biology, or who knows what. RIP, my little friends, your bodies were donated to science, and you can rest easy knowing they were treated with the utmost of dignity.

Watching the girls come alive is such an incredible thing to witness. Angela has been the most tentative about expressing interest in anything, and also finds it terribly distressing to have to make decisions of any sort. Olesya embraces opportunities a little more easily and has a few interests such as animals which we are trying to tap into as a bridge for other learning. Today, for the first time, Angela sat down at the piano and started plinking away. She got up a few minutes later only to return two more times throughout the afternoon. I have to walk very gently around everything with her, letting her whet her appetite for something before I say anything, or it is an automatic "No, thank you" as if she is afraid to admit she likes something. I looked up later and saw Matthew and she hunched over the keyboard together as he was showing her a couple of things he has learned. The image will be embedded in mind for a long time to come, for it spoke so clearly of the appreciation they have for one another and the nurturing qualities I love seeing in our kids. It also had me chuckling as I remembered the concerns in court over "mixing races" in our family. Wish they could see this and recognize what limitations racism places in the lives of those who still live within its confines.

Interestingly, there has been a real deepening of the relationship between Matthew and Kenny lately. They have always been closer than some brothers are to each other, but there is something subtle that has shifted and I can't quite put my finger on it. Is it compassion on Matthew's part as he now better understands some of Kenny's struggles? Is Kenny gradually maturing and meeting Matt in the middle? Is homeschooling already having an effect in drawing them closer to one another? Not sure at all but twice this week I saw Matthew walking down the hall at school with his arm around Kenny's shoulders, and even saw them holding hands as they ran across the driveway the other day, giggling and laughing joyfully with one another. This evening I took the girls and Josh to the store and asked Matthew if he wanted to go. He asked "Is Kenny going?" and when I replied "No" he said he would rather stay home then. Interesting and wonderful development and I am happy to see them growing even closer than they were before.

As I sit here writing this, I wonder how strange our family must appear from the outside. Man, we are one WEIRD bunch! Weaving looms, avian autopsies, ministry pursuits, pig-latin-English being used constantly, terribly mismatched ages/grade levels, cohabitational sleeping arrangements most nights with kids big enough to make it impossible to walk safely to the bathroom at night, Barbie Movie watching boys, jock girls...sheesh. Nothing normal about us all right!! And that is just in one wonder people avoid me in the grocery store! Hahaha!

Well, it is late and time for me to close the lid on the old laptop and catch some zzzz's. I need my sleep as I am still fighting off a cold and want to feel better soon. Off for tomorrow's field trip. I have a lot to make up for, as I missed Josh's class event this morning after Dominick kindly let me sleep in and turned off my alarm clock, not realizing I had made last minute plans the day before to attend. Man, I hope Josh doesn't find a couple of dead marmots or something!!! If this keeps up I need to get a cast iron stomach, or at the very least a face mask!!