Thursday, September 30, 2010

And Still God Weeps...

I am afraid this post may prove to be an unpopular one with some, and I am not going to apologize for it.  This is something I feel passionately about, am sickened by, and can no longer keep toned down about it.

Most of you by now have read about the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student.  Tyler's privacy was horribly invaded when his roommate and another student in his dorm thought it would be amusing to use a webcam to video him in his room during a sexual encounter with another male student, then they upped the humiliation ante by broadcasting the "action" via the internet .  Tyler was outed as being gay in this way, and found the experience so embarrassing that he felt his own life was no longer worth living, so he jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

This news comes along with the equally disturbing story of another suicide, this time it was 13 year old Seth Walsh from California who endured the taunts of others about his sexuality as long as he could, then choose to escape those taunts once and for all by hanging himself from a tree which left him lingering between life and death for 9 days before ultimately succumbing.

Back in April I blogged about 2 other suicides of young children whose lives had been made miserable for the same reasons:

Whether one believes homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice" or not, how can anyone hear of this and not feel like they got kicked in the gut?  Let's not get into whether any tween or teen would ever make a "lifestyle choice" that would subject them to the unending ridicule and harassment of their peers, let's look for a moment at an extremely unpopular stand that must be taken...and it must be taken by any Christian who truly claims the love of Christ resides in their heart.

We are on the sidelines watching as our young people are literally taunted to death, and we say nothing.  The conflict that exists in the Christian community surrounding homosexuality and sin is keeping us from reaching out to those who are hurting...those whom society has cast aside...those who are often viewed as "the least of these".  We throw around trite sayings like "hate the sin, love the sinner",  and yet we do nothing to show that love to those who are obviously in deep pain.  Unlike God, we view sin on a hierarchical scale, and  the precious heart of a 13 year old boy...or an 18 year old viewed as somehow less worth reaching out to because their perceived "sin" is higher on that scale than others.

As a society we can forgive those who are in power who have betrayed their wives with regularity, absconded with taxpayer funds, or committed numerous other immoral acts, and yet we can not find it in our hearts to take that hurting teen aged child into our arms and protect them from those who would destroy their very souls. 

I am not talking here about "re-educating" them,  I am not talking about attempting to "fix" them and if they don't comply then walking away.

I am talking about loving them...simply loving them through their pain, so that perhaps they will not feel so isolated and alone in this world that their only solution to ending the anguish they feel daily is to take their own life.  That so many are resorting to this at such a young age means that the adults in their lives are not doing their job, they are not being protected nor accepted.  This protection and love needs to come from all sides, not just the parents.  Parents are helpless once a child is in the school environment, they entrust their children to a system that is not always pro-active enough or perceptive enough to see this sort of hazing as the powerful source of pain that it is.  Schools also can only do so much in the effort to protect children, and we all must do what we should to make homophobic comments seem as antiquated and archaic as they are, for it is only when enough pressure is exerted from the majority that there is zero tolerance for such language that we will begin to see the bigoted comments begin to dwindle.

We, as Christians, should be leading the way.  We should be the first to stand up and say "Stop it...stop the inhumanity...stop the humiliation and derisive comments...STOP IT."  This has nothing at all to do with acceptance or lack of acceptance of homosexual activity.  This has to do with the acceptance of cruelty.  Somehow, we in the Christian community find ourselves confused over what the real issue is...and often it is our own offspring who are the very participants in such hounding and ridicule, seeing it as somehow acceptable to be judge, jury and executioner. 

God calls us to love everyone.  Yes, everyone...for we are commanded to follow Jesus and Jesus never said anything even close to "Love only those who go to your church.  It is OK to hate the gay guy, the lesbian woman, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the adulterer, the Native American, the African-American, the Democrat/Republican...go ahead and hate those guys for their sins are SO MUCH WORSE than your own."  No, indeed not, we are always reminded that we are to love all, including the most unlovable, for there before us in the guise of a sinner, you and I.

Ahhh...but our sins are somehow more acceptable, right?

God weeps over this, the tears are streaming over the loss of precious children.  I wonder if there are moments when God asks "Why aren't those who claim me doing something about this? How can they accept my love and forgiveness and not reach out to those who need it so desperately?  Can't they see that Love Wins, and they are the instruments of that love?  Oh, my precious children, don't let hate win...for it is up to YOU to bring me front and center."

It matters not what your stand is on homosexuality, gay marriage, gay adoption or any other related issue.  You can quote chapter and verse all you want condemning it...those few Scriptures can not come close to outweighing the hundreds that tell us to love all, to forgive all, to be God's light in a dark world.  How dark it must have been indeed, in those last moments before Tyler plunged to his death.  Where was the light as he lifted his legs over the guard rail, feeling as if he was unworthy of love.  Or 13 year old Seth, where were the arms to enfold him as he endured the unending ridicule of his classmates?  Where were WE, each and every one of us, when we encountered someone like Seth or Tyler?  Where was God's light, and who did we hand the victory over to without even putting up a fight?

I can only hope that in death, Seth and Tyler have found the love and acceptance that eluded them in life, that the darkness is no more, that God is doing for them what we failed to do here on Earth.

After posting this yesterday, I learned of another young man whose life ended tragically early...this makes FIVE suicides of gay youth in a week.  See:

This MUST stop.  You and I are the solution.  Don't keep your mouth shut any longer, I beg you...if you hear someone uttering a racial slur you would likely not hesitate to step up and say something, do the same with a slur about homosexuality.  Hate is hate, my friends, and this sort of unnecessary loss of life signals that there are many more who have considered suicide but not gone through with it.  The lives of our gay and lesbian children are filled daily with torment at a level that most of us are incapable of fathoming.  And yes, I say "our" children, for we are our brother's keeper and should never forget it.


I realize this post will likely bring about anger in some whose beliefs differ from mine.  I honor and respect that.  I ask only that any comments refrain from vulgar language or attacks.  I will remove any that I deem to be lacking in civility.  We can respectfully disagree, and I will leave any comments that are posted with that tone, regardless of whether they agree or not.

Random Catching Up

I find myself with full days but little time to post...and often nothing much significant to share.  When your days revolve around grammar and adding with decimals, let's face it...there ain't much all that exciting going on!

But for all the blessed lack of drama, life is good...darned good.  I was thinking yesterday that my life couldn't be any better, period.  There is no amount of money that could add to my pleasure, no "trip of a lifetime" to look forward to that would make me any happier, no new car or home that would please me...nothing.  I am loved and have many opportunities to show love every single day. I have enough, enough of everything I need.  I am at peace in almost every area of my life.

And I so enjoy being with our children in the way we are together these days.  They are maturing so quickly, and are turning into young people I respect and admire.  I know that being with 5 kids all day long would not be everyone's cup of tea, but honestly, I have been on jobs before where my co-workers were far more frustrating as adults to be with than the 5 people I get to share my days with right now.  There is respect, a strong work ethic, a desire to learn, enthusiasm for what we do each day...yes, even for math, kindness exhibited always, and we have a "No Whine Zone" activity which none of them engage in.  It makes for such pleasant days, even when really busy.

There is something quite satisfying with sitting back and seeing just how far the girls have come in a relatively short period of time, and to see the growth that Kenny is exhibiting.  The girls have been home 7 months and are doing so much in school that I never would have thought possible this early in the game.  We have kept expectations at a minimum, and maybe that is what has caused us to be so surprised, but they are coming along in every area at lightning speed working at levels I never would have imagined during those terror filled nights on the frozen tundra when all I could think of was "I can't possibly do this God, why are you telling me I have to?  I am not trained and don't even know where to begin!  PLEASE tell me I don't have to homeschool them all!", and I laugh now as I can't imagine NOT doing it...or better yet am terror filled at where we would be if we hadn't.  So glad I didn't chicken out on this, it has been a real gift to our family in a million ways, and all the kids are blossoming. 

Matthew showed it in surprising ways at our church's "Talent- No Talent" show this weekend when he not only acted in a skit but played a couple pieces on the piano.  It had nothing to do with skill that impressed me, it had to do with him coming out of his shell and doing things in front of others I never would have imagined him doing a year ago...and doing so with poise and confidence.  He is not necessarily a gifted pianist nor actor, but he willingly and enthusiastically engaged in activities he would have vehemently declined to do before.

Kenny's reading is showing marked improvement, as is his attitude toward school,  He is starting to see himself as the smart young man he is!  I am enormously pleased with the progress he is making despite some struggles, and am able to show him specific areas of rapid growth that have helped him see himself differently.  His reading speed is gradually improving, and his gifts in math are coming to the forefront.  He went for special ed testing yesterday through our homeschooling program, and finishes today.  The teacher there was able to quickly see the very things I have found in working with him at home which are quite intriguing...he can't identify syllables to save his life nor middle sounds in words, he inserts sounds that do not exist, and she also pointed out that one thing that is slowing down his reading fluency is his speech and articulation.  Kenny can not yet read without vocalizing, so his speech makes a significant contribution to slowing him down...something I had not thought about.  She thinks his reading speed will improve when he finally bridges that developmental gap and starts being able to fully read silently to himself, and I think we are getting closer to that happening soon.  He has started to really dive into reading with a passion lately, and I think giving him hours and hours of time to read much lower level books has allowed him to naturally progress and he is now working on harder books. 

While he remains well below grade level, I wouldn't be surprised if the combination of holding him back in 4th grade this year and working diligently with strongly focused one on one reading time sees him reading at 4th grade level by the end of this year.  At least that is our goal.  We have started him back at the beginning with everything...phonics, spelling, etc and he is doing everything again right alongside the girls and Joshua.  Reinforcing things seems to be helping him gain confidence and is filling in the little gaps he had here and there that went undiscovered, and I don't see it as a waste of time at all to go back to the beginning, and neither does he as we find little things he never quite fully understood.

Joshie is stepping up in ways that are surprising as well.  We just finished creating large maps of Africa, and he did a great job for a 2nd grader!  In fact, in our little class he proved himself to be a leader as he was the only one who thought to color it based upon desert and forested areas, and the others quickly followed his lead.  He is proving to be quite a self-motivated learner and you would never know from the focus he shows that he is 4-5 years younger than his times he is the one setting the example for paying attention!

I am looking forward to winding down my own classes for ministry, as November fast approaches and I will be able to say with glee "I did it!".  It will be a little less than dramatic as you attend your last class and there is no graduation ceremony or diploma handed out, no real celebratory event marking the completion of something that is pretty significant for me, but simply knowing I somehow managed to pull this off while in the midst of such huge life changes for our family will be reward enough.  Then it is on to seeing just how God will decide to put me to work, the only real area where there is any lack of peace right now in my life.  I am preaching a couple of weekends in October, both at our church and another one in a little mountain community nearby, and that is something I have not done much of and am always very nervous about doing, but that is it.  I STILL have no idea why I felt called to lay ministry, and am hoping God makes it clear pretty soon.

Dominick is, thankfully, busy at work.  It has been a real up and down year as the economy has taken its toll.  Pillow talk this morning before he left at 4:30 AM had us sharing how we are glad we decided to just turn our finances over to God and quit stewing and fretting over it.  We have long rested on God's promise that if we brought the girls home, somehow we would be able to provide for them.  Once you get to a place where you accept that the worst case scenario would have you sitting in the dark with no electricity and eating top ramen every night...and you know you would still be happy anyway with your family around you...somehow you find yourself relaxing. 

Funny, and I know others might not understand this, but Dominick and I don't feel alone in this.  We have a strong team behind us in our family, and somehow we will all make it.  We have been watching a PBS series on DVD called "Frontier House" where they took 3 modern day families and placed them for 5 months in 1883.  They had to build their own cabins, raise and grow their own food, wear period clothing, and live just as the pioneers did.  The kids have loved this but what has shone through is their comments as they have watched it.  The families on the show were pretty typical, and sadly that means they also cracked a lot under the stress showing how disconnected they were in "real life" and how difficult life was to do without the modern day "essentials".  We have loved hearing our kids' comments as they have said things like "We would be able to make it, because we would work together!" or "It's sad how those families don't know how to have fun together, we would have a lot of fun even if it was hard work.".  Angela, who was the most fascinated,  was a bit disgusted watching the teenaged daughters as they complained and didn't help their mom much.  Kenny piped up "Those kids are all such whiners!  So what if you have to carry water for your family, that's not a big take turns."  It is an interesting experiment to watch unfold, but even more interesting to see the kids' reaction to it. 

Kenny has healed beautifully, you would never know he had surgery less than two weeks ago.  This time was much easier on him than last, and we were relieved he had so little pain.  He is still on a soft food diet for another couple of weeks, but it isn't slowing him down in the Eating Department.  Man, that kid can shovel the food down which is made all the more surprising by his small stature!

We have taken our paper chain and decided to go another route with it.  It was becoming too long and unwieldy, so we went to a new method of tracking reading books.  We got a jumbo pickle jar and pinto beans, and are going to fill up the jar with beans.  We added in 652 beans to start, which was for the books we read this summer.  When we fill the jar up, we get a reward trip to Six Flags Amusement Park in Denver.  This kids were a bit surprised to see that 652 books barely came up less than an inch from the bottom of the jar, and Dominick laughed saying "We will be taking that trip to Six Flags when they are all 18!" but everyone is motivated and we will keep at it until it is full.

We also started a new "Student of the Week" chart.  Each week I will select one of the kids to be Student of the Week.  This is NOT based upon being the smartest, but on improving in an area that is challenging, kindness and character being exhibited, and working hard.  Kenny won our first week and got to put a sticker on the chart.  At the end of each semester, the child who has the most stickers gets a night out alone with Mom and Dad while the others remain home with a sitter.  Surprising how excited the kids got over that prospect, I wasn't sure if that would be a good motivator or not but they all loved the idea of dressing up a bit and going out on the town alone with their parents.

So we are settling into fall which is my personal favorite season, and getting into our routine.  We have a lot of firsts ahead of us to look forward to with the first Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas to experience at home with the girls.  Pumpkin carving and tree decorating will be upon us soon enough, as will the shorter days of winter which brings with it sledding and fires in the wood stove to curl up around.  Yes, life is surely sweet right now.  Love somehow makes it that way...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Layers and Layers

There are layers of hidden meaning in many seemingly normal events for most older adoptees, and it can take an enormous amount of intuition to correctly deduce what is the real cause of the emotion a parent is seeing.  Often the reaction is out of kilter with what would be the norm, and the parent is left only with clues from the past as they gently work their way toward the truth of what has precipitated such an outburst of feeling.  It is our job, as parents and interpreters, to help our children find the words to express emotions that are uncomfortable and inexplicable.  We work to create a safe haven in which the discovery of new or previously unexplored feelings can be explored and examined, and we help our children develop a new vocabulary and willingness to be open to accepting the comfort of others, where in their former lives no one could be trusted with their innermost secrets and private fears.

This morning, Angela crossed the threshold to adulthood that every woman is familiar with.  It brought with it such anguish that I knew there was more to it than the usual rush of hormones.  The basic  facts were known, as that had been ascertained awhile back.  This was something deeper, more primal.  The trembling girl I held in my arms was battling more than monthly melancholy or fear of the unknown.

Once the house had been cleared and all had left for church, I held her close, gently prodding with a somewhat limited set of well defined words to get to the core of the problem.  I had my gut instinct, and not much else to go on.  We stood there for the longest time, embracing one another as in hushed tones I searched for the trigger, eventually finding it when I pulled her away and looked into her eyes saying "Angela, are you scared of what has just happened, or are you scared of growing up?".  My heart was rent open at the  passion heard in her voice as she agonizingly said from the depths of her soul "Mama, me no wanna be grown up, me wanna be little girl!"...and the sobs wrenched from her body with a strength that was exhausting.

My little girl, almost as tall as I, was being forced by an uncooperative body headlong, at breakneck speed, down the path to adulthood.  Barely had she been able to begin to experience the kind of carefree childhood she had thus far been denied, and now it suddenly seemed as if the pleasures and joys of being a child were going to be ripped from her after having a tantalizing taste of it.  I rocked her as she continued to burrow her head in my chest, body shaking with the tears that held the anger and frustration of years of missed opportunities.  These tears were not unlike my own that had been shed for years as we all waited to be united as a family, and I recognized in her my own frustration that we were losing precious time to help create a tiny semblance of childhood for children whose years were rapidly waning.  The window is narrow, and it is as if we all jumped through just barely before the doors of childhood slammed shut permanently with a loud thud.

But what a precious moment this became, as the tears slowed and the conversation that ensued was rich with previously unspoken sentiments shared by us both.  We each talked of being angry at having missed so much and it not being either of our fault., and we comforted one another, my own fresh tears blended with hers as they came unbidden as recollection caused frustration to wash over me anew.  I shared about my own moment of maturity and the feelings I had that were very different from hers in some respects...and very similar as well.

We talked honestly about how hard this has been emotionally for each of us, to move from being strangers to loving family.  I thanked her for making it much easier than it could have been, she once again offered unnecessary apologies for the past, and I hushed her on that one, reminding her that it was just part of our wonderful story.  I offered my deepest thanks to her for being there for Olesya all those years, for being her surrogate mommy when their own failed in so many ways, and told her she had done an outstanding job.  I also expressed my gratitude for her maturity in allowing me to parent Olesya and her graciousness in letting me parent her as well.  She responded with a loving smile "Mama, you good, strong mama...I know you be good Mama for me and Olesya.  We love you so so much.  You and Papa too.  Thank you for come get us."

I cradled her as I reassured her that her body might not be willing to be halted in its quest towards adulthood, but that here in our home she was forever safe to be a little girl and play as she needed to...and we giggled together as I reminded her of the baby bottles, one of which I saw peeking out of Olesya's special blankie at that very moment.  There was no need to move forward until she felt good and ready, I explained, and that might be years and was one of the reasons we felt homeschooling was wisest, so she didn't have to fear the taunts of others as she grabbed on to childhood with all her might and clung to it for awhile.  I got the most heartfelt thank you for that, as she clearly understood exactly what I was saying, and I realized for the first time the enormity of our decision and its impact on our new daughters.  I welcomed her to womanhood with a smile, and told her how blessed we were that God allowed us to share this moment together and not still be separated for it.  That drew a huge smile and she said "You right Mom!".

Later in the evening I presented her with a special necklace purchased to commemorate her special day.  It was a small, gold butterfly, and I explained to her that as a butterfly changes from a caterpillar into a cocoon into a beautiful butterfly, she too had undergone this transformation...and that the cocoon was our home and family where she was safe.  I told Olesya that she too would receive one on her special day.  She gingerly touched it and wrapped her arms around me in gratitude.  Knowing she is not much of a jewelry wearer, just like her mom, we might not see it on her often but it was obvious that simply having it meant a great deal to her.

So another bridge crossed, tumultuous water beneath, and we made it safely to the other side.  God guided our every word today, we rested in the arms of each other but were enveloped in the spaciousness and grace that only God could have brought to this challenging relationship.  We are both reaping the harvest of the past season of growth, and we stand strong as we lean on one another, as sheaves of wheat in the middle of an autumn field.

And I am the mother of two extraordinary daughters, fully and completely their mother in all of our minds.  Somehow, we made it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

800th Post - The Value of My Real Job

Wow.  800 posts.  Whodathunk it??  When I began this blog 4 years ago it was for Kenny's adoption journey.  Little did I realize it would document the adoption of Angela and Olesya as well, and so much else in our life which has been a surprise.  I never imagined pursuing lay ministry at that time, I never imagined homeschooling at that time, I never imagined laundry for 7 or surgeries or being a stay-at-home Mom.

Today though I realized what it was all about, and as usual God used the kids to minister to me in a moment of doubt.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what I am doing with my life, at moments feeling like I am "less than" because I tend to spend too much time comparing myself to others.  I saw an old friend in the store the other day and on the outside she appears to have it all...a great job, domestic skills that are worthy of Martha Stewart comparisons, she knows how to dress well and carries it off beautifully, she is well educated and has done things like design her own house and run large groups very well.  I have another friend pursuing her degree who is getting straight A's.

And I sit here with the dishes not yet done, scads of schoolbooks stacked around me in semi-organized chaos, got up late because I am feeling lousy as a cold has launched itself into my head, and spent part of last night sleepless wondering about what I am not covering properly in terms of teaching literation styles with Matthew.  Unpolished? could say that.  Unprofessional?  Oh yea Baby, totally.  Uneducated?  Not a lick of formal education beyond a couple of classes in junior college.  What am I thinking here?

The fact is, I am not really "good" at anything...I have no great talent or gifts, I would never get straight A's in college, I would never pull in a stylin' job.  I am passable at a lot of things, but not truly talented at anything.

Except for one thing, and I had my kids show me that this morning on a morning when it was needed most.

I am good at love.

I awoke with gummy eyes and a stuffy nose, sneezing like crazy.

I also awoke to two young men asking through my closed bedroom door if it would be OK if they did something in the kitchen for me (they have to ask permission before turning on stoves and such).  I was then told to just go take a long shower and come out when ready.

I appeared in the kitchen a half an hour later to find Kenny and Matthew had set the table with place mats, and had made the family breakfast of french toast, yogurt and fruit.  But to make it even more special, they each turned to me and Matthew with a hug  first said "Hi Mommy!  We wanted to make you breakfast to show you that we think you are special and we love you a lot!" and Kenny added "We know homeschooling all 5 of us is a LOT of work, and we are so happy to be home.  Thanks for doing all of this for us, now we wanted to do something for you."

Yes, I shed a tear or two.

Josh, Angela and Olesya joined us soon afterward and we sat there in the morning sunshine as it cast it's warmth across the table, and I realized that even if this is ALL I am ever good at, it is good enough.  The girls then proceeded to clean up and do the dishes, and we sat down to have a calm, easy start to our hectic day which included an IEP meeting in Delta for Kenny about speech issues, a trip to the library and art class.  But we curled up on the couch reading books, we all laughed together as we talked about common and proper nouns, and we looked at one another with hearts filled with appreciation for simply being together, for being a family who is actually in love with one another and will always be there for each other.

That is my real job, creating this feeling.  Why do I need to be reminded of that so often?  Why do I let the world's idea of "success" color my own self-worth dark and black?  I know this is valuable and precious...this time we have together right now, and I know that frankly, I was never created by God to be one of those women who at times I so wish I was like.  I don't have it in me to be that professional or polished.  But I have it in my soul to offer unconditional love and commitment to those I care about, including my polished and professional friends.

Hearing "Thanks for all you do, Mommy" is paycheck enough, and sadly I know there are plenty of moms out there who will never be fortunate enough to hear such words themselves...whose children are not aware of the sacrifices their mothers make for them and how deeply their moms love them.  What a gift it is to have our children recognize my love for them and be unashamed to return it tenfold.

What a gift it is from God to throw that load of clothes in the washer today, to clean up yet another mess from the puppy today, and to play taxi driver again today.

My job IS valuable, even if only to the inhabitants of this home.

Thanks boys for loving so well.  You are the best sons a mother could ever, ever ask for...daily I am proud of your character and your special gifts.  And your hugs which grow stronger with each passing year are dear to me.

800 posts...representative of thousands of hugs and kisses...and gallons of tears shed over the last 4 years yearning for children who were not yet home.  I wonder what the next 800 posts will represent...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Buccaneer Scholar

**Update on Kenny in the previous post. Please forgive me, this is a super long and likely boring post for 90% of you, but maybe it will resonate with someone. What the heck, I am here with tons of time to kill and find myself rattling on in this post and in a class retreat paper that I had to write as well. So close the window if you are already rolling your eyes...after all, I can't even be offended as I don't know you are doing it! Hahaha!**

I have read a couple of fantastic books on this trip, and I am not about to turn this into a Book Blog, but I am reading one as I even work on this post that is smashing my own previously held notions about education. It is helping me firm up the direction I have been headed in this past year as we have embraced homeschooling as a new way of educating our children and as a lifestyle.

In all seriousness, any parent ought to read this, homeschooler or not, as it will provide you with a surprising new definition for “education”…one that has slowly, ever so gradually, disappeared from the American conscience. Please do not take this as a “knock” on institutional education, as it is not. It is more an eye opener about the fact that education can (and used to) look much different than it does today, and sadly we are limiting our entire society by being diploma worshippers.

“Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar” is written by the man who coined the phrase, James Marcus Bach…and yes, his father is bestselling author Richard Bach of “Johnathan Livingston Seagull” fame. James was a high school dropout who went on to find success in the computer programming and software testing field, first at Apple Computer then as an independent consultant. He accomplished this without a high school or college diploma, something most told him would be impossible. Is he advocating being a high school drop out? Certainly not, instead he is saying that the standard idea of education today is merely one way in which one can become an educated person.

He is 100% right, and this book outlines my own currently developing philosophy with far more eloquence and logic than I could ever provide.

Our decision to try homeschooling last year was NOT merely to help Kenny and the girls catch up, nor was it to sequester them from the world and the “sinful” things they might be subjected to. For all the kids we had a desire to help them gain an education in a way that we were not seeing available to them in the public school system. Matthew was the first one for whom it was becoming evident that school was hindering him rather than helping him in his educational pursuits.

As I come off a surprising couple of weeks with Kenny, it is more than obvious that for he too needs to be allowed to direct his time and attention towards his passions and areas of giftedness, for make no bones about it, despite Kenny’s struggles he is an incredibly bright young man. Quite frankly, it would surprise no one who knows him in person if does not turn out to be our most successful child in terms of the world’s typical understanding of success. I also have had affirmed for me this summer that we made the right decision, and his reading skills are improving automatically when provided hours of time to practice that skill, which in school he was not allowed due to the typical classroom schedule.

“School is temporary. Education is not.”

We are missing out on the bigger picture with our way of educating our young people. We have become so test oriented and skills based that we have forgotten to lead them gently toward the awe and wonder, the magic that exists in learning something new. Our poor teachers today basically are forced to teach by script, their own imaginations and creativity are stifled to a degree no one would have ever conceived of 25 years ago. Text books quite literally have scripted questions and responses to illicit from their students, scope and sequence are so tightly controlled that teachable moments are verboten because they can not adequately be followed up on in class, and honestly, the behavior of children in the classroom is so challenging that often teachers find themselves in the role of therapist, social worker and surrogate mother/father…all in the first 20 minutes of the day. My respect for those who continue to toil away in the hardscrabble fields of our public schools is immense, and those who try to point fingers in the direction of our public educator with claims of “tenure-itis” or “liberalism” have not spent much time in the company of the kinds of teachers I have interacted with for years and whom I count upon some of my nearest and dearest friends. Most often, they are as demoralized and frustrated as the parents are, yet they are in the unenviable position of having to walk a thin line between “company line” and child education advocate.

Sadly, many of us think it is up to the teachers to change policy, but instead fail to point the finger of blame directly where it should be pointed, back at us as citizens who have watched the decline of public education for decades and have done nothing but vote in more politicians whose ideas of education “reform” is to force entire semesters of work to be focused solely on state assessment tests. That is NOT reform, my friends, that is the Road to Mediocrity that we all have walked for a very long time and now are complaining that OTHERS are not fixing. It is OUR FAULT.

But I seem to have digressed here, sitting quietly in a hospital room with hours to contemplate and write can do that to you.

“Education is not a heap of facts. It’s not the hours we spend in the classrooms, or the way we answer test questions. It’s not indoctrination, nor worshipping the ancients, nor obedience to authority, not taking anyone’s word for what is true, false, vital, banal.

Education is the ‘you’ that emerges from the learning you do.”

The above is the truth as I see it, and as Mr. Bach has so wonderfully stated it. I particularly loved the “nor worshipping the ancients” part, as even within the homeschooling arena there tends to be an overemphasis on material covered and memorized rather than teaching our kids to love learning with a passion, evaluate anything critically, and develop the kind of intellectual curiosity that will lead them to new heights of discovery. Sounds too highbrow? Too bad, that saddens me deeply for that is really what ought to be the end result of the first 13 years of school.

Don’t get me wrong…sound, solid core skills need to be in place as well, but we often replace facts with understanding. For example, we often put great emphasis on learning grammar, but we forget what learning grammar is really for…to help develop good writers. The end result is not to have master grammarians who can diagram sentences with ease and can quickly point out the object of a prepositional phrase. We forget that our reason for teaching grammar is to create writers who engage and enlighten us, whose prose is pleasing to the ear and whose ideas are expressed with thoughtful language that is used well. In essence, the learning of grammar is to create solid writers. Focusing too much time on the inane keeps us from moving forward toward the true desired result, which so often gets lost in the process.

Mr. Bach’s entire 193 pages is an easy read, and it outlines the various ways in which we can educate ourselves once we have broken free of the confines of “the box” of 21st century education. He teaches us how to become buccaneers, attacking our self-education with a variety of methods and strategies. He provides a list of traits that are common to so-called “buccaneers”:

1) A buccaneer’s education is not limited by boundaries of traditional disciplines.
2) They rethink labels, forms, and rituals of life, them remix them and make them our own.
3) Buccaneers develop an original point of view that shows us unique solutions to difficult problems, and that often puts us at odds with more conventional minded friends.
4) Buccaneers feel at home in their own minds. (WOW!!! Love this one!)
5) Buccaneers excel at rapid research, especially in our “hyper-linked, media saturated world”.
6) Others trust buccaneers more as they are not the ones who parrot what “authorities” tell us to be true…they are thinking mavericks.
7) Buccaneers choose to place more reliance on first-hand knowledge, and are self-directed learners…buccaneers are NOT dogmatic.
8) They “construct” themselves and don’t take to indoctrination.
9) They earn their reputation, and don’t rely on a string of certificates and documents to speak for their education (although these may at times come in handy).

Can you tell I have a great deal of enthusiasm for this perspective? It aligns perfectly with my own currently maturing ideas on education. Our decision to homeschool required many things of me as a mother. It dictated that I become an educator in a more structured sense. I felt, and continue to feel, that it is imperative that I develop a strong sense of what education means for our family, what I want our children to experience and learn, how I hope to help them learn, and to create a philosophy regarding education that can be a guiding force over the coming years and help me evaluate any steps we take.

Does this sound a little “I” centered and leaves poor Dominick out in the cold? Well, the truth is, it IS the mom’s who do most of the educating, both of the children and of the fathers as we grow ourselves and share our newly acquired knowledge. Dominick has been a major contributor in a million ways, allowing me the time to research, read and expand my knowledge base as quickly as possible. He has shown incredible trust in me, valuing my gifts and talents and encouraging me every step of the way. He sees this as my new profession for the next several years, and he voices often how he knows I can succeed at it, and he rarely questions anything I do. That trust helps enormously, I am not justifying anything to him or anyone else as I experiment, fail, back up, and try again. Slowly I am creating a new model of education in my own mind, and though far from complete yet I am much further down the road than I was a year ago.

Books like Bach’s help enormously. Our unique little family bucks the conventional norm on so many levels it is almost laughable. ANY traditional model, be it public schooling or home schooling does not fit us well, so like the good Buccaneer I am, I am making it up as I go along. Will our ship sink? Oh boy, I sure hope not. Will we encounter rough seas along the way? We already have! Hahaha! Will we end up in a safe harbor at the end of our voyage? I pray we do, and will work hard to see to it that it happens, relying not on others to do the job for us but by trying my best to navigate using all the tools available to us.

Shoring up my own concepts is a key factor to success, as well as recognition that success for us will likely not look like a diploma from an Ivy League college…or maybe it will! Who knows? But being open to ALL the educational options out there is what is important, and understanding that success means looking at the end result…a career for each of our children that suits them as perfectly as possible and allows them to be self-sufficient. It is NOT about what college they get into or even IF they go to college, for as grammar is about creating good writers, education is ultimately about creating souls who pursue knowledge which will lead to rewarding lives.

A Rocky Day

Today started out great, Kenny was up and feeling good, so we got out of bed and went for his first real walk about mid-morning. He is in very low level pain overall, and we are all surprised by that. However when we went for our walk, he suddenly got quite ill, dizzy and vomited. He complained of sharp pains in his head and got quite sleepy. We returned to his room where he was given medication and checked out thoroughly. Kids being kids, an hour later he was much better and wanted lunch...which at this stage consists of pureed everything :-)

His cheek is terribly swollen, it seriously looks like he swallowed a baseball and there is bruising on the outside beginning to show. But they took care of a fistula between his cheek and gumline so that is why the swelling is significant.

By the end of the day he was doing much better but is pretty tired and resting quietly in the room now. We will be checking out tomorrow and flying home on Sunday.

The rest of the family is all doing well, visiting wiht our friends here and sightseeing a little. Got to see them all this evening for awhile and our friends visited too, so we had a large game of Uno going on.

Other than that, not much else to report...just doing what we can do to entertain ourselves, biding time until we go home. Then we get back into the fall groove and get back to work on school work.

Thanks again to all of you who are following along and caring for Kenny. Night!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Night, Night!

Thanks for praying for me!! For an update, please see the prior post...

Surgery #4 Done!

It is now 2:45 PM here in Chicago, and it is a wet, drizzly afternoon which was surprisingly filled with laughter. Kenny's surgery went well, he is resting in his room right now, and now the healing begins.

Kenny has had 3 prior surgeries, a lip closure and an attempt at a palate closure in Kyrgyzstan, then the bone graft and 2nd attempt at palate closure here at Shriner's last time. this time they did another bone graft, taking bone from his right hip. This was to fill the other side of his cleft. Kenny has a bilateral cleft, which means he had a cleft on two sides, not just one. That is what has necessitated two different procedures. They were able to close one fistula, which is a hole in his palate, but were unable to close the main one. He has molars in the front middle section of his palate that will need to be moved out to their proper position with orthodontic work before they can attempt to close the remaining fistula.

It was great having the whole family here, as the day got off to an awkward start when I set my alarm for the wrong time, forgetting we had changed time zones and my cell phone was still on Colorado time. As they were getting Kenny ready this morning, he started to lose it and get weepy when in stormed the rest of the Team, and suddenly all was OK. He did great all the way into surgery so we avoided him being too upset.

Shriner's staff here is so warm and welcoming, even to siblings. Although the kids couldn't be with Kenny in the pre-op room, and occupied themselves downstairs with air hockey and other games, when Kenny came out of recovery and was wheeled back to his regular room the two nurses accompanying him quickly invited all the kids into the elevator with him, and we all trooped down the hallway together. Kenny was pretty loopy, and the other kids all got a big kick out of that.

The kids have each reacted differently, but all being warm and compassionate. Angela is a real softie on the inside, expressing concern over every single kid she has met here, asking questions, speaking in hushed tones about how sad it is that a child has such challenging issues. Matthew hovered around the bed this morning and sat beside Kenny as they waited for the nurse, and lately I have been ever-so-pleased to see both of them drawing even closer as Matthew will often pick Kenny up in his arms and carry him around like a baby...both of them giggling like crazy. Matt is a Big, Strong kid these days and Kenny is still so little, weighing 40 lbs less as Matthew's "big" brother. Joshie is asking all kinds of questions about equipment and its purpose. Olesya is the closest at times with Kenny, and she is like a little mother, rushing to do what she can. They all just left, ready to go back and settle in for the evening while I remain here with Kenny.

Kenny is only in a little pain at the moment, and the graft site seems to be doing far better than it did last time. He is really wiped out though, and he is STARVING to death! On a normal day he can eat all the kids under the table, and never seems to fill being on liquids today and tomorrow then soft foods will be rough on him. He has had a little broth, and is able to swallow well so I think his mouth will be healing quickly just like last time.

While here we were fortunate enough to catch the Shriner's Hospital Annual Variety Show put on by the staff. Kenny asked to watch part of it and then asked to be taken to his room as he was starting to hurt quite a bit, which Dominick did while I remained with the other kids as we laughed ourselves silly. This was quite a production, and a lot of thought went into the acts. Patients and staff alike enjoyed themselves thoroughly, and it was quite entertaining with everything from a dance review of the past 30 years to a full blown mini-production of Wizard the Oz. Matthew completely surprised me at the end when he went up for audience participation for a dance number, as that was very un-Matthew-like. Afterward he turned to me and said "Well, someone had to fill in for Kenny! He would have gone!".

We hope tonight is a quiet night and that Kenny rests easily. I didn't do so hot last night in the chair-bed, in part because I think I am just way overtired at this point. I was going to say it has been a long 4-5 weeks, but heck, let's face it, it has been one Blow Out of a year and maybe it is catching up to me! Despite the lack of sleep though, I did get two books read yesterday afternoon and evening, and even wrote a bit about one so I will share that later today or tomorrow in another post.

God's abundant blessings blow me away, and I realize at times that I often live in a place of fear and doubt, which shames me to no end. Over and over again I reside in a place of quiet skepticism, and over and over again God's head shakes in dumbfound amazement as no doubt the words come to mind "That woman never quite gets it, does she?"

As I sat at the talent show this afternoon, Angela tucked in under my arm and Olesya grinning back at me 2 seats over, I realized that for our family, the gift of care here meant much more than for some. If Kenny's care hadn't been offered here free of charge, the fact is we NEVER could have afforded to bring the girls home. Despite the incredible gift of their adoption fees being paid, we were looking at $20,000 in insurance deductibles just for the 2 surgeries Shriner's has performed thus far. Knowing we still have a lot of work ahead of us for Kenny...including thousands more that we will have to cover somehow for orthodontia for him...we never would have been able to commit to bringing the girls home for we would not have been able to handle loans for Kenny's medical needs along with 2 more mouths to feed. So Shriner's not only helped us out financially, but their generosity also meant we felt reasonably safe moving forward to adopt the girls as we knew we wouldn't be shouldered with huge medical loans in the future every time Kenny needed another procedure. And then to think Matthew might also be helped by Shriner's as well and be out of pain for the first time in many years.

One child will be able to speak normally and perhaps gain greater self-esteem from cosmetic procedures in the future, another might be able to walk normally and avoid joint replacements in his twenties, and two children gain a time that a Shriner's circus comes around think of the gift it has offered our family and go, spend some money and have a good time knowing we are only ONE story of tens of thousands for whom life is very different through the gifts Shriner's offers so many.

I need to get back to Kenny and there is no internet access in his room, so I am signing off. Thanks to all of you who have thought of us today, prayed for us today, and offered us support in so many ways. Your love is felt, and much appreciated.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shriner's Chicago, Here We Are!

We arrived in Chicago Monday evening after a delay (aren't there ALWAYS delays when flying these days?) and spent the evening visiting with our friends with whom we are staying. It was so good to see them again, and it always feels like coming home...

Yesterday we spent at the Museum of Science and Industry, 5 hours of walking, exploring and playing! All the kids loved the place, it was so interactive and engaging. They have a killer exhibit of mining, taking you down an elevator to a mine shaft where they have real equipment running to explain the process of mining to you. Airplanes, trains, name it, it was displayed there. Funny though that the exhibit every one of the kids enjoyed most was the younger kids exploration place that had balls floating on air and in water, and lots of "touchy feely" stuff. It is always fun watching our kids who came to us at older ages as they explore things in ways they never had the chance to when they were younger. Both Angela and Olesya were like little kids, giggling and grinning as they did a lot of real work too that was disguised as play. I can only imagine all the opportunities they never had to touch, to feel, to discover. I admit it though, we did not admit to their ages as the limit was 10 years old, so we just went with our own version of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Hahaha!

We spent the early evening in Dominick's old neighborhood, Taylor and Loomis Street where is parents owned a small corner market. That is long gone, replaced by a trendy restaurant as the entire neighborhood has been revitalized and has few reminders of days gone by. We ate at a little hole in the wall he remembered from childhood, and were surprised when we learned a couple of the people behind the counter remembered his family and had even talked to extended family recently. I loved that Angela had a real appreciation for this for Dominick, commenting to me a couple of times about how happy it made Papa to come back and see his old life. We had the BEST Italian beef sandwiches ever at "The Patio" and all of us left wishing we had a place like that back home.

This morning Kenny was eager to get to Shriner's here in Chicago. He has long wanted everyone to see "his" hospital, and was proud to show it off. We had to check in at 10:00 AM, and then he gave everyone the grand tour, and they all played outside for a bit before having lunch together. After a family hug, we were all on our own as Dominick took the kids to the Aquarium for the afternoon and Kenny and I settled in here where I will be sleeping in his room with him on a pull out chair/bed. Currently as I type this he is watching a Spy Kids movie as we await dinner time, and I was reading a book after having soundly beat him at air hockey and checkers.

For all his bravado and saying "I am not scared at all this time!" it was easy to see the fear has not totally dissipated, as anyone would have guessed. A nurse came in this afternoon to talk about his shower tonight and how she had to come in this evening and wipe his hips with antibiotic to prepare for the bone graft tomorrow, and Kenny's head whipped around with an urgent look of fear on his head to look at me and see if this was something that was going to hurt. I reassured him it would not, and reminded him that every single thing that was going to happen was something he had already experienced so there would be no surprises. In general he is in great spirits, but he is still very worried about tomorrow and I am seeing it more now this afternoon. Tonight we will play games or something to distract him, and hopefully get a decent night's sleep as we have to get up around 5:00 AM tomorrow to get ready for surgery at 6:30 AM.

Overall he is doing much better than he was last time, and I hope it continues through tomorrow. I brought along 5 books to read and have a paper to write for class, so I have plenty to occupy myself along with keeping his mind occupied on something other than surgery. Then there are the, this kid is so deep sometimes! This morning he was watching a recorded special on CNN that was about Christianity that was recorded a few years back by our friend. He was so interested in it, and we discussed it then as well as later this afternoon. It was titled "Christian Warriors" and was quite an in depth look at Christianity and its political and social influence. I'll tell you this, Kenny gets it. Totally. He has a surprisingly theologically oriented mind, and has the ability to analyze things on a level most kids his age don't. This often gets hidden behind immaturity and academic weaknesses, but academics are not necessarily an indicator of intelligence.

I recall a conversation the morning we left California when we somehow got on the topic of economics. Of course, he does not have the vocabulary to tell you that was what we were discussing, but he was asking questions that caused me to explain the terms "trade deficit" and "embargo" and he fully understood the logical next question to ask as the rest of the kids sat at the table saying "huh?". I love it when Kenny shines like that and it is what helps his siblings to remember he is one sharp cookie, despite being behind in school. All of them would be the first to tell you that Kenny is super smart, even if he struggles in certain areas. And I think it might be time to start thinking about a lower level course in comparative religion and economics 101 for him!!

So, it will be a quiet evening for us, hopefully one in which we both can sleep well and without cause for much worry. Tomorrow is a big day, and I'll update the blog as soon as I can to keep everyone posted. I don't have a camera with me this time around, so will have to paint any pictures with words. Thanks so very much for your prayers and concern, and sorry I haven't gotten to any of your individual emails.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Altar

Alter: An altar is any structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices and votive offerings are made for religious purposes, or some other sacred place where ceremonies take place. Altars are usually found at shrines, and they can be located in temples, churches and other places of worship.

My last post was a bit of a whiner, wasn't it? I confess. I have so little to whine about, and yet there I go again. However, one thing I have come to realize recently is that the changes in my life necessitate a few other changes as well. I am not getting enough adult time, enough time for contemplation, enough time to simply "be". It makes it hard to complain about it when A) I want to do what I am doing and feel absolutely called to this new form of life we are living and B) We have children who really are super easy to be with on a 24/7 basis.

But as Dominick and I have talked about and as others may not realize or understand is that the past 7 months has been one of constant vigilance and interaction. If I am sitting in a room I am asked questions at least every 3 or 4 minutes, not in a desire to interrupt but in an effort to understand a new world. In some ways, bringing home older adoptees is like bringing home toddlers...ours are inquiring about every single thing, asking what things mean, and struggling to find the words to do the inquiring. There is also the need to anticipate the unasked question AND to figure out ways to phrase things so answers will be understood. Even in the confines of my bathroom questions are shot at me through the door!! It is funny most days, exhausting every once in awhile. We will eventually move out of this phase, but at the moment we are firmly in it, times 2 children, and it is something I don't always take into consideration at the end of the day when I have a need to just veg out.

Today though, I was regenerated, despite what others might find to be an overbooked day before an exhausting upcoming week when I will be spending most of it pretending to sleep on a pull out chair/bed in Kenny's hospital room. We had church in the morning, a council meeting afterwards, then a book club meeting in the evening. In between was a little packing, a little cleaning up, a little shopping (I actually did very little as Dominick headed up the crew for laundry and house detail!).

Somehow though, this packed day filled me up. Our church service this morning was one, both during and after, when the sense of community was strongly felt...and I have missed it this past month when we have been away. Our council meeting was lengthy yet productive, and it is wonderful to be part of a group of people who are all "gelling" in a way that doesn't always happen in these environments.

Tonight was my first opportunity to take part in our church book club, which started as we left for Kaz, then went on hiatus for awhile. We were reading "An Altar in the World" by Barbara Brown Taylor. To say this book is thought provoking is an understatement, and right now I would call it one of the top 2 or 3 books on faith I have ever read. Barbara Brown Taylor's writing style is exquisite, there is really no other way to put it, and her book provides one with some insights into a way of truly living a Spirit centered life which are practical and easily applied. Her honesty is refreshingly down to earth, and I have this book marked up, highlighted and dog-eared all over the place.

It set my mind to thinking about the altars we all have in our lives, and what we place upon them as an offering to God. I wonder, what does your altar look like? I am not talking about a table at the chancel of your church...but what is the sacred place on which you place your God offerings? And what ARE those offerings? What form do they take?

I gave this a lot of thought myself and came to a couple of conclusions. My altar is my entire home. It does not look sacred to the outsider, and it certainly is not a beautiful one at that. It is not made of marble or hand carved ebony. I can not even claim to have it thoughtfully decorated, as it is more utilitarian in style than it is anything. No fung shui here, no cottage feel, no Victorian splendor. There are times when I have wistfully wished for a home that had more pizazz, but I have no skill at creating such a home so I have settled for cleaned up (mostly), orderly (occasionally), and functional. When I think about it, that sort of suits me just fine. I have an appreciation for beauty, but much like the Amish I find an appreciation for a simpler, less embellished look. If I had my way, and didn't worry about others who visit my home thinking I was a total freak, I suppose I would have not a single knick knack, and a more sterile look, for I find peace in clean table tops and fairly bare walls.

But it is not really my structure that is the altar, it is any hotel room, any tent, any friend's home in which we might be dwelling.

And what is laid upon my altar? My family, of course, my life...all of it...every single morsel of my life. Do I always succeed in having such a perspective? No, of course not, but I do try very hard. I try to see our children as God's, not ours to hang on to tightly...and occasionally that means having an inner conversation about what our role really is. I see our marriage as God's to use for the betterment of this world in whatever way God wants, and that our partnership allows each of us to be something more than we would otherwise be. I see all our collective skills, talents, and gifts placed on that altar as an offering to be used as God sees fit...and I recognize that there are times when not a single one of us recognizes that we are being used. But perhaps in the simple act of mentally laying our family on the altar, by being somewhat intentional about it, we will find ourselves in the position more often to be God's light, hands and feet here on earth.

I will not call it "sacrifice", for that is not what it ever feels like. It is reciprocation, jubilation, appreciation, and dedication.

We all can carry the Sacred with us wherever we go. We just have to be aware, we have to walk through this world with more than open eyes...we need open hearts and heads as well. The Sacred has no confines, unless we confine it ourselves through our inability to understand and internalize the abundance that God has to offer us all. That is what "new life" really means, getting that on a gut level.

So as I head into a new week, one that will be stress filled and yet Holy in a LaJoy sort of way, I will try to remember what my altar looks like, and what is placed upon it.

Good night everyone. See you on the flip side in Chicago. Prayer for success for Kenny's surgery would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


I seem to be plumb out of blogging "ooomph" this week, despite my best intentions. I am plain old drained, pooped, fried, and basically emotionally on a big fat ZERO. This too will pass, and in fact it needs to before Round 3 (or is that 43??) when we head to Chicago next week for Kenny's next surgery.

Kenny will be getting a bone graft for the other side of his bilateral cleft, replacing bone in his upper jaw that never existed. There will also be yet another attempt made to close his palate which we are praying is successful. Thankfully, he is in great spirits about it all this time around, as fears have dissipated and he realizes that pain will be well controlled. Still, it can be awfully hard to watch his still-little body on that gurney as they wheel him in. This parenting stuff isn't for sissies, is it? And yet I am still so very grateful for the fact that all our kids are healthy, and our hospital visits are not for life threatening conditions.

Speaking of hospitals, we received amazing news. We have an appointment at Shriner's in Salt Lake City for Matthew to be assessed for his orthopedic issues. What a huge surprise that was! What started out as merely asking for a referral in an effort to find a good pediatric orthopedist ended in an unexpected surprise automatic acceptance for treatment. God's blessings are so numerous, so overwhelming, that I am often left stunned and wishing for all I am worth that somehow Dominick and I could pay it forward in some big way. Now we go for the evaluation and hope that there is something non-invasive that can be done to help Matthew so he is not in pain so much. However, we have been told that it might come down to surgically braking his leg or legs and resetting them perhaps with rods. We will see...and face that if we need to. And I remind myself, one breath at a time, one step at a time...

The girls started TaeKwonDo last night with the boys, and came away completely and totally excited about it. They had both had exposure to Judo at the orphanage somewhere along the line, and although at first insisted they didn't want to do it, over time they began to ask about it and decided they wanted to after all. There was a lot of giggling as they worked in the back with the teacher and 2 other new students, but they got the hang of it quickly and can't wait to get uniforms so they look like everyone else. And Dominick and I are thrilled to have only one place to run to each week with all 5 of them, and that all 5 really and truly enjoy it.

We are trying to get back in the swing of things with school, which is hard knowing we are leaving again next week. I am so glad we worked so much over the summer as we already have a tremendous number of hours in, but we also have huge personal goals set for ourselves as well so we will keep plugging away at it. After we return we will settle in and gain some real headway. In the meantime, reading continues and Kenny has found something that completely sucked him was just what I had hoped for! Awhile back a dear friend sent us the entire series of A-Z Mysteries along with a huge supply of Magic Treehouse books. I have tried not to push much of anything with any of the kids, preferring to let them sample a lot of material, gain a love of reading in general, and see how it all played out. Kenny is hooked on this A-Z Mysteries and for the first time is reading as much as he fact at 11:15 PM he is still reading here at the foot of our bed, as Matthew just finished his book on Winston Churchill. This is his 3rd and he intends to read the entire series!!! I was hoping this would happen, as I know if we can get him hooked on material he wants to devour, chances is we will see his reading fluency increase. Saying little prayers this works!

Olesya also is working her way through her first "real" book and seems to enjoy the Magic Treehouse books a lot, so maybe she will also get hooked. I hope so! Now, if we can just get Angela hooked on something, which is proving more difficult. Little House will be there eventually, but we are a tad bit behind that level yet and I need something in the interim that is smaller chapter books. She has shown no interest in the other 2 series, so I will keep investigating and leaving stuff around in the hope that something will light a spark.

We are experiencing some struggles with homeschooling in that Matthew is simply not getting enough one on one time, and I am trying to figure out a way to attend more effectively to his needs. He understands that the other kids are at a stage where they really can't move forward much without individual attention, and he is so far ahead he can easily do it...but it is taking it's toll and we need to fix this ASAP. This has been quite an undertaking and a logistical challenge on many levels as we try to get kids up to speed with reading so that much of this gets easier, but we are a long way away from that and I am afraid I have failed Matthew terribly in some ways, which breaks my heart. We have such an incredibly wide gap to teach here, and a lot of special needs to attend to, and that makes it far more interesting and at times frustrating than it might otherwise be. I'm doing my best, and we are making progress, but man this is hard...and exhausting...and still the best thing we ever did. But pretending it is easy would be a joke, as it sure isn't. I keep holding on to the fact that we are gradually figuring it all out, more and more it feels like we are actually going to make it, but there are times deep in the night when it all weighs so heavy.

Then there is Sunny...the, the puppy...who is not showing any signs of being willing to be house trained...and is spoiled rotten by every single kid in this house. The kids are all fantastic and honestly I never even ask them to clean up her messes, even Joshie just automatically runs to the cupboard and grabs the Resolve and paper towels. It is the only thing that has kept me sane with this, their eager response to meeting the dog's needs. She is growing, and she IS very cute, but still totally a puppy as should be expected and this is probably the last thing I needed right now :-)

On the other hand, why not? Add a little more chaos to the existing mess!!

So now it is time for me to force Kenny to put the book away, for even though we are homeschooling I still want to start at a semi-reasonable time tomorrow! But there is beauty in late night book fests, and homeschooling definitely allows for flexibility...he just finished enough reading time to cover 4 days worth if we wanted!!

Night all!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Portraits of Love...and a Little More!

I blogged a few weeks back about getting our portraits taken at church for the new directory, so I thought I'd share them here. We have never had a family portrait done, as every time we thought about it or had a coupon it seemed we were waiting for someone to come home and we wanted to have the "whole" family in the portrait. Now that our family is truly complete, it seemed like the right time. While I still hate having my own picture taken and much prefer being behind the camera than in front of it, I realize the kids need to have a few pictures every once in awhile with mom in them.

They have a bit of a 70's feel to them, or perhaps it is my own personal preference of less staged photos, but we all did like they way they turned out so we will hang them on the wall next to our black velvet painting of Elvis and they will fit right in! Hahaha! Just kidding about Elvis...sort of... anyway, here they are:

Nice family photo, not half bad, everyone looking at the camera and smiling as if they are not being threatened with death.

Well, remember, we ARE LaJoy's and we always tend to do things a little bit outside the box...I think we had the photographer a bit stumped as to what to do with us! Here is a lovely photo of Mother and Father LaJoy, smiling demurely at the camera as if we will be hanging this in our stately manor:

And below is Ma and Pa LaJoy, the hicks from the country that we truly are! HAHAHAHA!! I loved this one, it really shows us as we are, never taking anything all that seriously!

Our darling children ready to attend the local academy, this was the photo the babe running the sales end of the evening insisted we take. We did, and we do agree it is a nice semi- representation of our children...

But THIS ONE below is really Team LaJoy, wide open grins and barely contained laughter...and my absolute favorite of the entire bunch of pictures taken that evening.

Now the menfolk, handsome bunch aren't they?? And why is it when I look at this I don't see a mismatched set? Am I that used to seeing our international family or is it that Dominick somehow has crept inside each of them and is reflected somehow in their smiles?

Funny after this weeks conversation with the kids about not caring about having kids that look liked us, etc. that this photo clearly shows me what our biological children might have looked like. So similar it is almost eerie...

So there you have it, preserved for posterity's sake, Team LaJoy in all its glory. It IS nice to have decent photos of us all together. Even nicer is that this was not put off yet another year as we waited for another "team member" to finally arrive. How blessed we are! I never, ever would have imagined 10 years ago when we embarked on our family building journey that THIS beautiful family would be the end result. It's not that any of us is overly attractive, it is that the love shines so clearly in the eyes of each one of us, gathered from hither and yon to create something wonderful and nurturing for us all that did not exist before.

Thanks God, for the pictures AND for the much, much greater gift.

In the Presence

We pulled into our driveway this evening at almost 8:00 PM, and I was more exhausted than I have been since Kazakhstan. Wow, what an incredibly long drive home...and what an action packed 3 weeks it has been! We crammed in so much, both physically and emotionally, that I think we are all wrung out. But lots and lots of good stuff happened, we are all bringing a lot away with us from this experience.

Our last few days in California were spent with grandma's, visiting the beach, and getting packed and ready to hit the road once again.
At the last minute I decided firmly on going home a different route, to visit the Grand Canyon which I had never seen nor had the kids. We also decided to visit Hoover Dam as well, so we added to our non-existent itinerary and were off!

We stayed with our adopted family friends in Vegas, gratefully accepting their offer to crash at their house and fit in one last chance to visit before parting and not seeing one another again for several months. How wonderful it is to have friends who accept us as a larger group and don't stop inviting us! We owe so much to so many, and as we look to spending time in Chicago with our friends who so graciously put us up for Kenny's surgeries and visits there, we are reminded over and over again of God's generosity and wish we had ways to repay all of those whose kindness has touched our lives in a million ways, both big and small. It is even nicer to have those kinds of friends with whom you can put your feet up, relax and feel right at home instantly, just as we did in Vegas. After an evening of visiting and a Jackie Chan flick (complete with action moves by the kids) we got up and going the next morning to see Hoover Dam.

What can I say about Hoover Dam? Hmmm...big concrete wall, so expensive we didn't have enough cash to pay to see the VISITOR'S CENTER, for goodness sake! It was $7 for parking, then $8 each just to see the Visitor's Center, not even a tour. That would have been more money. So we opted to pay to park, walk around and view it from the top, then leave. It was hilarious to hear the kids almost shriek out in dismay as they read the fees before I even did...we have trained them well to look for value and the biggest bang for the buck! What really irked me is that they didn't have a single thing that was informative around, blocking all information about the dam if you didn't pay to get into the Visitor's Center. However, we all agreed that it was still worth the stop as it was kind of cool to see it, and the new bridge they have created over the top of it was actually more impressive than the dam itself.

Then it was on to the Main Event, God's Masterpiece...the Grand Canyon.

We were running late and arrived at sunset, which turned out to be an unexpected blessing as it was cooler, and the light...oh wow oh wow oh wow oh wow...that beautiful cast of evening glow made for a spectacular show.

Imagine coming up over a rise where we had walked on a paved pathway, and having this be your first view of the grandest of them all...

It was one of the coolest moments if my life, to have this revealed behind the trees lining the path and hear the collective sucking in of breaths of all 5 kids, then softly uttered "Wow!" by all of them. Matthew adequately described it as magnificent.

And we all, without speaking, recognized we were in the presence of God. More than anything, I love that our children see the spiritual and are occasionally as spellbound by it as we are. We walked along speaking in hushed tones, almost as if we were in a great cathedral...which I guess we really were.

We hiked a couple of miles along the easy trail and I was totally shocked to be surrounded by people from all over the world. Literally we heard more foreign languages than we did English, it was awesome to think of others from outside our country appreciating the beauty we have to offer.

It was kind of funny that twice I was asked if this was my "class" I was taking to see the Grand Canyon by others who were there visiting as well. Even funnier is that I can actually answer "yes" although it is not a "class" in the sense they are thinking it is!

At one of the Visitor's Centers we checked out Josh was enthralled with the maps and samples. He examined everything carefully, exploring it as he found where we were and where we had been. He explained to me how canyons are formed and showed me pathways water and snow would take to meet up with rivers. Olesya was excited to discover that a "point" overlooking the canyon was the same as a "point" on an island, which we had learned about earlier on our trip as we explored the Channel Islands exhibits. Seeing her learn to apply learning to new situations is a huge leap, and signals her development in logic which is a great sign.

Kenny loved using the binoculars to look out over the Canyon. My only regret is that we had such little time to see it, and I hope we can one day return to spend more time there.

We ended the evening with the IMAX movie, which was a favorite of every single one of them. None had ever seen an IMAX film before, so it was quite dramatic for them and allowed us all to catch a glimpse of the Canyon from a totally different and powerful perspective, as well as learn a little more about the history of the exploration of the Canyon. As we were waiting in line we hit the snack shop and there was the nicest young man working there. He overheard the kids all talking amongst themselves about sharing money to get snacks and 2 drinks for the 6 of us to share, and he came over to me and asked if he could give them each a small treat for free, saying it was such a pleasure to see siblings be so kind and generous with one another. The kids' faces all lit up as he handed them each a package of Mike and Ike's and the chorus of thank you's brought a big smile to his face.

It was in the dark, on the road leading back to our hotel from the Canyon where the conversation turned more serious. Kenny, Angela and Olesya were all in the 3 closest seats to me up front, and somehow we got on the subject of whether all moms love all their kids the same. I responded honestly that some moms do seem to have favorites, which was not right but it did happen sometimes. I was then asked if I would have preferred having a baby to adopting, if I ever worried about loving Matthew and Joshua more because I had them as babies, if I ever wondered what a baby made by us would look like, and many, many more questions. Each of them talked openly and shared honestly about their fears that maybe they wouldn't be loved as much when they were first adopted, and about how they now see that they didn't need to worry about that.

We talked about how scary it is for kids AND parents when adopting, how we are all strangers at first and that it takes time for real love to grow. They were all 3 very surprised to learn Dominick and I were scared at all, as they never saw the fear. Matthew laughed from the back seat as he overheard us and said "Mom and Dad were always scared every time...even with me! But they're LaJoy's, they don't let fear stop 'em" and we all chuckled over that one. I was asked what exactly I was scared of before adopting each of them, and I was honest as I talked about issues older children often face and how hard it can be to help them, I shared about my own insecurities prior to bringing each of them home, and we all said how lucky we are that it worked out so beautifully. In his usual declarative spiritual fashion, Kenny said "But God knew what was best, and put us all together with the perfect family for each of us!". Angela sitting next to me quietly added "Thank you Mom for you not be too scared to bring me home. One girl at internat (orphanage) had family come visit and left her and not take her home, she so so sad. I'm so happy you so strong and not too scared."

We then talked about God's Bigness, how God is bigger than all of us, Creator of Canyons, Freelance Artist with families. I once recall saying to a close friend that I would feel I had succeeded as a parent if my children took away just one single thing from their encounters with me as their mom. That would be if they could recognize that there is something in this world far greater than themselves, and it should be acknowledged and appreciated.

That day we saw the "bigness" that man can create in the Hoover Dam. Standing alone it is an impressive work of man's ability to mold concrete and steel to hold back the forces of water and nature.

But compared to God's Bigness as reflected in the beauty and grandeur of the Grand Canyon, anything mankind can create seems puny and relatively insignificant standing side by side.

Each of our children left that night with an understanding that God creates and man imitates.

That was enough of a lesson for one day.

Friday, September 03, 2010


We are on our way home, should arrive on Saturday and I checked my email and realized someone hacked me and sent emails out in my name. Have no idea how this happened but I apologize and hope it hasn't created any problems. Don't have time to blog right now as we are close to leaving but wanted to let everyone know that I know about the probkem.

Will write more later!