Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hope and Promise!

It's been over a week since I have written a proper post, and I still feel as if I am not really "in the groove" to write anything very well.  But it's time to get back on the horse, so to speak, so here I am!  Funny how this  works, there are times when almost every day I feel the need to sit and type, recording something that feels important for one reason or another.  Then there are other periods, like recently, when it feels as if things need to be ruminated on, experienced, and puzzled over.  There are a lot of things going on in my life right now, all unrelated to one another, all requiring some pondering and evaluation.  I need to be very intentional in my approach with a few key issues, and mindful of listening for God's nudge here or there.  I also seem to be working with some Big Ideas about nothing all that important, but on the edge of new understandings and that always takes time for things to settle inside.  It sort of feels like I am reaching a new level of maturity, or on the brink of it anyway.

One of the biggies has been with Kenny.  I haven't blogged about something going on with him, not because I didn't want to share, but because I just haven't been blogging as I took my mini-sabbatical.  The more research I have done on auditory processing disorder (APD), the more I have seen that there is crossover with ADD-like symptoms.  Kenny is not at all hyperactive, but in listening to the words he used as he describes what is going on in his head sometimes, Dominick and I decided that maybe there is even more going on than we think.  I wrote a two page letter and gave it to our family MD, describing Kenny's challenges, what we are seeing, and asking if he thought it was worth trying medication for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  We had an appointment a couple of weeks ago with him, and he told us that while he agreed based upon what I shared that he felt APD was definitely part of the problem, he also felt it would be worthwhile to give meds a try for ADD.  As he said, there is no harm in giving it a trial period, starting with the lowest dose possible and working our way up, and we'll see if we notice any difference.  He felt there was definitely enough going on to warrant it, and he said he knew we were not at all the kind of parents to jump to this first.

We decided to go for it, as I don't want to look back in 10 years saying "Maybe we should have tried..."  We spoke at length about Kenny, and our MD said something that helped me feel for the first time since Kenny came home that someone understood...and funny, but it was him saying "We know that children from these backgrounds experience a lack of stimulation and life experiences that changes them forever, and I can't sit here and tell you that I can isolate what is going on with Kenny...there is too much we will never really understand.  As his parent, you already know there are probably lots of different things going on, and maybe you'll discover what they all are, and maybe not.  But with a kid like Kenny, all you can do is look at every possible thing that fits, try and address it, and eliminate that which doesn't work.  He may have ADD or he may not, but you won't know until you try.  He's lucky to have such pro-active parents who will keep looking at things."  Sounds so simple, doesn't it?  "Too much we will never understand."...what I loved was that a professional took me seriously, is joining with us to try and figure it out, and isn't passing the buck because he doesn't know.

We walked out of the office with a prescription for the lowest dose of Concerta, and an open mind...not even a hopeful mind or any sense of anticipation of change to come.  Just a plain old "Well, it's not going to hurt...and maybe, if we get lucky, it'll help a little."

Two weeks later, and I think we can now safely say that it is clear it is making a difference, even at the lowest dose.  We weren't sure at first, and then you have doubts because the changes are slight, and you also don't want to be led by the "power of suggestion".  Dominick and I looked at each other after about a week and asked if we thought we were seeing any difference, and we both said we thought we might be, but we'd reserve judgment.  A couple of days ago Kenny forgot to take his Concerta, and while I was in Denver Dominick said there was an obvious difference.  Today, we had it confirmed solidly.  We have seen little things, like after about 4 days Kenny sat down and spent over 2 hours on his math, without a break, and got his first 100% ever.  He was whooping over that one!  It had only been 4 days though, and we know it surely couldn't have made that much of a difference.  Today though, he had a math test, and after turning it in, he decided on his own to take it back to review it one last time saying "I always miss problems because I read it too fast and don't take my time, not because I don't know how to do the math right."  He then corrected two problems that he had misread, and turned it in...and got a 95%.

The real confirmation though came out of the blue, when his TaeKwonDo instructor spoke to him tonight, having no idea at all that Kenny had started on Concerta, and said he had noticed a real difference in Kenny's concentration and effort the past two weeks, telling him he was finally making good progress.  Hmmmm...guess we are not imagining it!  Kenny was never hyperactive, and could sit still, stay on task reasonably well...at least physically...and doesn't present as a typically ADD type kid in many ways.  We have no real behavioral problems, no challenging behaviors other than the things I have shared here which are more "scatterbrained" and not at all defiant.  He does have poor judgment and doesn't read social cues well much of the time, but when engaged he can sit for hours at something, which is why we didn't immediately jump to this as a possible solution.  BUT...his thoughts are often jumbled, he has an inability to organize thoughts and ideas in logical order sometimes, and he does have poor impulse control versus our other kids.  Not terribly bad, just not as good.

We will go back in two weeks and adjust the meds up, keeping on until we get to a dose that appears to be a good fit.  He says he feels nothing different really, just the ability to quiet his brain a little.  We also have to figure out how to cover the cost, as it is not inexpensive, but there is no way we are not going to keep going with it now, after seeing some real positive results.  Now, this is not going to be the total solution, and even today I saw clear evidence of the auditory processing disorder sneaking in as he asked me 4 times to spell a very simple 5 letter  word and still got it written down wrong, or when he "misheard" instructions I gave him for an activity.  However, it is sort of like being a detective, and if we can whittle away at things one at a time, and as I shared with my friend, if we can make even 5% difference for him in 3 or 4 areas, then overall we will make a 20% difference or more, and for a kid like Kenny even improving things a mere 10% could eventually make the difference between independence as an adult or no independence.

For the first time in a very long time, I think we feel encouraged.  I also forced myself to take a little internal assessment of where we were a year and a half ago, before starting homeschooling with Kenny, and where we are now.  Stepping outside of the situation for a more distanced look at it, and I realized that we have come far.  We have climbed the equivalent of Mt. Everest with Kenny.  He is learning, and learning a lot.  He is able to apply his learning,  he is remembering things well when taught in ways that work for him.  He is connecting the dots in numerous ways, often more deeply than others.  He is reading at grade level now, not 4 grades below.  He feels incredibly successful much of the time these days, he participates, he doesn't zone out, he is the hardest working of all 5 of our kids when it comes to school work, and in our family with no complainers and all kids being diligent, that says a lot.  When he first came home for school he was the laziest, he pushed himself the least, he had the lowest expectations of himself.  Somewhere along the line, that flipped for him, but I'll admit I push all the kids very hard without exception.  We play hard, but we work hard as well.

The things we still battle are auditory processing for sure, word retrieval which affects him in daily conversation all the time as he simply can not always pull up the information or the words he wants to use even though he knows them or later will be able to access them.  His memory issues will likely plague him forever.  His spelling will have hiccups for the remainder of his life.  A huge sign which confirms bigger problems is his inability to hear syllables.  In a recent activity he got more than half wrong out of 50, as he simply can not hear the rhythm of language and break it apart.  We still need to work some on taking social cues and being appropriate in conversation.  All that being said though, he is making it, excelling in math, seeing himself attending college and not viewing himself as less than anyone else.  He is beginning to understand he needs to use "his tools", be it a dictionary or thesaurus, taking notes, or counting on his siblings to help him remember something.  Just today we were talking about the boys cleaning their room and how they should attack it when it is at it's worst.  Kenny said "Matthew helps me by reminding me what to do, and what I started but didn't finish.  Without him organizing me, it would take me twice as long." and so he is learning to capitalize on the assistance of others and not resent it or try and control it, which for him is a struggle.

What's next?  Well, we have two more things we want to try, and somehow have to come up with the money for.  One is this:

This is a special education tool, and is an electronic reading pen.  It scans words or paragraphs and can read them out loud, then can also come up with a definition on the little screen.  Kenny reads well enough right now, but his big problem is he gets stuck with certain words even if they are said out loud a hundred times, he can't retrieve them from his brain so it's like stuttering when reading and not being able to go forward.  This would reinforce his speech work, which needs a LOT of help still, would help him be able to have a way to help himself when he gets to one of those words he simply can not remember no matter how hard he tries, and would be a a way to more self-reliance in an area we may never be able to truly "fix".  The bad thing is it is $280, so we are going to save for this one and see if it can work for him.  I think it could be enormously helpful.

The next thing on our list is one much harder to accomplish, simply due to cost.  We need to get him going with FastForward, the online software therapy program for auditory processing which also works for ADD as well.  We have had to give up on Earobics, the far less expensive software program for ADP because Kenny hit a brick wall with it, and simply can not move ahead.  It is one of the reasons we are 100% certain, along with the comments of others who have worked with him, that ADP is part of his mix as well.  The ways in which he got stumped on this program, and how early on in it he was stopped cold, were surprisingly low level, and FastForward has been mentioned as a much better program for kids that try Earobics and fail with it.  However, their web site says the average length of the program is 3-6 months, and we are assuming the 6 months because of the severity of Kenny's issues and the obvious challenge he had with even the lowest level of Earobics.  It's $500 per month, and that is just out of reach unless we borrow it.  It is so frustrating, as the school district SHOULD be paying for it, as they would for any other kid, if they didn't have an "out" based upon his non-native speaker status and his low IQ scores...scores that now even the special ed teacher working with him said completely puzzled him.  But because of those two things, we are thwarted in getting help for Kenny with this, and they will never have to do anything for it so we have to come up with ways to work with it on our own.  Right now we just aren't certain how we will do it, but we will figure it out somehow.  If we don't give it a try, it is another one of those things that I don't want to have regrets over 10 years from now, and we really can't leave any stone unturned in trying to help Kenny work his way toward a happy and productive life.

So there you have it, and I hope that somehow sharing this will provide some insight for all you parents out there who also might be struggling with a child who has challenges that can not easily be nailed down.  Maybe by sharing what we have tried, what we deal with every day, what works and what has not worked, someone out there will be spared a little of the trial and error phase, or be led to something new they had never heard of or tried which might help their child.  There are ongoing costs which can cripple families, costs which are outside the scope of what we expected, and sometimes seem beyond our capacity to keep up with.  Then so many of us with older adoptees have kids who need help, and yet no one seems able to provide that help.  We have to become their biggest advocates, their researchers, their therapists, their detectives.  It isn't easy, it leads to oodles of doubts, lots of trial and error, and a ton of hands on hard work.  Here we are, home 4 1/2 years with Kenny, homeschooling a year and a half, and I think I am barely getting to the root of a lot of things.  I do see how he learns now and am able to find materials that match his style.  I am understanding that much of what I thought was purposeful was not, and I am forgiving myself as he has forgiven me for not understanding that earlier on.  We are correcting bad habits he fell into because he had simply given up on ever being able to keep up or even learn at all, but that too takes time.  Luckily, Kenny is gracious with his parents, and sees how hard it is for us too.

But we have new hope, we have slivers of light sneaking into the tunnel where once there were none.  Promise is lurking in the background, and that keeps us all going.  One day, I will declare this right here, Kenny will surprise us all.  One day, he will graduate high school and attend college.  One day, he will make it in the real world.  One day, we will look back on the 12 year old boy who couldn't even read, and smile and say "See what love can do?  It keeps you from quitting!", and Kenny will give his broadest grin ever and say "Love Wins!".

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What's Up?

The blog has been quieter this week than it has been in a long time!  Sorry, folks, I've been busy and had a lot going on behind the scenes that needed attending to.  Let me catch you up a bit, with a longer post to follow in the next day or two...but my Mom needs to be caught up! Hi Mom! Hahaha!

Asthma - I have been in and out of the MD a couple times over the past two weeks for the worsening asthma problem.  It now feels a little under control for the first time since, well, maybe September.  Still not quite 100%, but continued steroids and Advair have helped considerably, and now I just need to catch up on rest.  Easier said than done, but I'm working on it :-)

Fridge - How do I love thee, let me count the ways!  Oh, how our new fridge has become a beloved member of our family.  It is a dream to not have exploding sodas, frozen produce, and a constant waterfall.  It holds far more than our old one did, which also is a big help.  It; just a glorious piece of fine kitchen appliance, and I am very, very grateful to have it.

Kenny - Oh, that's a longer post that I'll try to get to tomorrow

School - We are moving along nicely, I won't bore you with details as we have no interesting projects on tap at the moment, and I am 100% certain you could care less about what page we are on in our grammar workbooks, or who finished what chapter in math!  While I do NOT live and die by state testing, we have CSAP's (Colorado's state tests) coming up in March, so I thought it might be wise to knuckle down and do a little more of our core subjects to see if we can show some growth on the tests this year.  I have no idea how they will look, and Joshua will be taking them for the first time.  Of course, it is quite laughable to me that results don't come in until next September, but we'll play the game to the best of our ability.  It certainly won't hurt, and it helps the kids get used to taking such tests although none of them have a problem with test taking or anxiety.  I do have a couple of projects up my sleeve to work on once we get past March, but none quite as big as our house project :-)

Work - Dominick is busy, but not busy enough!  The combination of not enough snow, the economy, and some structural changes at the airport have created a perfect storm for a slower ski season in the Sandwich arena.  Hanging on the best we can, knowing all will be OK somehow, but recognizing it is going to continue to be a tough year all the way around.  Isn't it for everyone though?  Somehow, there is food on the table each night, and we still have a roof over our heads.  Now, please just don;t ask me how many of the kids are wearing pants that they have obviously outgrown :-) Hahaha!

Elvis - Has totally not left the building, as Angela's obsession grows.  Oh well, it could be far worse, I could be stuck with Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez.  Oh yea, I forgot...I AM stuck with Selena Gomez with Olesya! :-)

Life - Is good.  It really is.  It may not be exciting, it may have little to report that is of interest, and surely to most folks it is downright dull.  But it is happy, peaceful, and filled to the brim with learning, growing and loving.  Can't get much better than that, no matter what else is going on around us.

That's it!  See?  I said it would be a quick update...nothing interesting, and my head just hasn't been in the right place to record or interpret certain things well.  There are weeks like that, this was one of them, and I think all the meds I am on are messing with me as I feel sort of "fuzzy".  This too shall pass.

Friday, January 20, 2012

My Fascinating Career

At dinner last night with friends I had a conversation in which I spoke about how sometimes, my job is hard.  Oh, not for the reasons all of you are thinking...the cooking, cleaning, teaching...yadda yadda.  Making the decision to step out of the working world after having worked since I was 15 years old is a difficult one, and can be hard on the ego.  Yea, I hate to admit it, as I will totally blow the image I have created for all of you of this ever-so-humble mom, but it can be hard to do a job that goes unrecognized in the traditional ways.  There are no raises, no satisfied customers letting you know how much they appreciate your help, no reviews of job performance, no feedback whatsoever.  We all need to know now and then that what we are doing matters, we all need a little praise and an accolade or two once in awhile, and we all need to know where we are on the continuum...are we succeeding on our chosen path?  What are our strengths and weaknesses?  Where could we make improvements and where do we totally rock?

Let me share something with you, the life of a homeschooling mom isn't filled with a whole lot of that sort of thing.  Surprised?  Nah, you all are smarter than that.

As I approach the 2 1/2 year mark of homeschooling...which has been an unusual stretch of time in my life (Really?  Seriously???)  and not at all a straight shot as we started with one home, then traveled to Kazakhstan for an unexpected emotional roller coaster 2 1/2 month long extravaganza, then added two that didn't speak a lick of English, then finally added two more to the homeschooling mix...one with seemingly insurmountable issues...well, to say it has been simple would be a total crack up.

That being said, and all the lack of recognition aside, it has been the single most fascinating thing I ever have or ever will undertake.  It has forced me to try and be more creative than I really am, or at least steal ideas from others that will help me teach in a more engaging and creative fashion.  It has stretched me to self-educate myself about...well...education!  There is nothing I love more than learning something new, and I have never learned so much in my entire life as I have learned the past 2 years.  Panic will do that to a person  and is an amazing motivator! Hahaha! :-)  I have gained confidence in my skills in one area, and that is that I discovered I am not a half bad teacher, whether certified or not.

I also have gradually come to realize that accolades or not, I highly doubt I could be doing anything nearly as stimulating as I am doing right now, that does allow me to do what I most enjoy every single day, all day long...and that is figuring people out and trying to move them forward.  Sounds silly, but its true.  As I look back over the many jobs I have had, the ones I enjoyed most were the ones where I was training someone or teaching someone something new, whether it was helping someone learn about cameras, explaining the pros and cons of various insurance policies, or teaching folks how to make change on a cash register.  (I know none of those are glamorous jobs!)

Maybe God heard my conversation last night and provided me with some proof positive today of the ways in which my current job fits me to a "T" even without the job evaluations.  Working with the five special young people I am blessed to be around every single day, how could I possibly EVER grow bored with my chosen career?  And yea, I think I am beginning to see it as a career, weird as that may sound to some.

One of the ways in which God spoke to all of this today was quite profound, and would require years of psychology courses and counseling classes to analyze. We are all writing a lot right now, as part of a library program that Lael shared with us.  Angela was slow to warm to the idea, but once she started writing, she took off and wrote for 2 days.  She came to me this evening and asked if she could share the five handwritten pages she had completed.  Curled up together on the couch, the peachy blue sky darkening through the window behind us, she began reading in her husky voice.  It was a fictional story, and yet it truly wasn't...but only someone who knows her as well as we do would ever understand the autobiographical thread running through it.

It was the story of a large family that lived in Los Angeles, and was poor, but very, very happy.  Then Dad got a good job and Mom went to work too, and the entire dynamic of the family changed as money began to become more important than love.  Parents weren't home much, fun times were not spent together anymore, and older siblings moved away.  Dad started to drink, and the younger siblings left at home suffered as they watched their family sink into the mire of the effects of alcoholism and despair.  There were, however, the memories of the good times and loving siblings who still cared very much about one another and supported each other through it all.  One day, Dad and Mom decided to quit their jobs and recommit to their family.  The entire family went to Hawaii together and recaptured what had been lost.  The narrator of the story went on to become a pilot and remained very close to her family and good friends.

Wow...there were connections made throughout, with names used to overlay characters with similar traits from real life, there was a little underlying fear that what has been gained will be lost, there was a harkening back to very dark times, the acknowledgement that having less does not REALLY mean having less of the things that matter.  This was just an incredibly multi-layered piece of work that will take me quite awhile to thoughtfully digest and work with in the ways I can.  What a wonderfully complicated, insightful, open hearted daughter I have to share this sort of thing with! And talk about keeping me on my toes, ALL the kids do that in one form or another.

Then there is sweet, deep Kenny LaJoy.  Thursdays are "our" time as we spend the morning together traveling to the next town over for speech therapy and a temporary special needs class/evaluation.  There are times when Kenny is a typical younger acting kid (as in acting like 9 or 10, not 13) when he makes no sense at all, is as silly as a goose, and you have to work hard to keep from rolling your eyes at the nonsense.  Then there is the Kenny I had today, who was so incredibly articulate, so desirous of meaningful conversation, and such a wonderfully encouraging and dang bright kid.  Oh, the talk we had!!  He wanted to talk about school, about how he felt no one involved in the special needs process and evaluations had a clue what was wrong with his brain, and how glad he was that he had a mom and dad who wouldn't give up on him, saying sometimes he felt we were the only ones in the world who really understood how hard things were for him.

Special needs class has been a total bomb, not due to anyone's fault, but because Kenny's issues are not readily apparent and tend to be somewhat cyclical in nature.  The inconsistency makes it hard to evaluate, and I do understand that.  The gentleman working with him has tried to put Kenny in situations where he might show his memory failings, or his inability to organize and structure himself, but so far no luck.  In fact, Kenny has remarked a couple of times that "I don't want to be mean mom, but I don't think he is smart enough to figure out what is wrong with me.  He doesn't even know when he is asking me things that I can read right off the page because he doesn't hide them!  I just don't think he gets it.  No one does."  Today he said in the car "I wish we could find someone who was as smart as you, but had the training you don't have...I think only someone as smart as you is going to help us."  Quite a compliment, considering I have no idea really what is going on with his brain either.

One thing that tickled me completely was how he spoke about marrying someone eventually.  He furrowed his brow and said "You know, Mom, when I first came home, all I thought about a wife was to find someone to take care of me, someone to do everything for me.  You know, someone to make pies, cook big dinners, wear an apron and do everything I wanted...maybe even go to work while I stayed home.  I was so lazy!"  I laughed out loud over that one, as Kenny was pretty much wanting someone to wait on him hand and foot when he first arrived here.  But then, get this, the kid who used to call himself "stupid" all the time then added "Now I think I would be totally bored with that kind of wife.  It's not that a wife like that would be a bad person, but Mom, I think I need someone really smart.  You always have the best conversations with me, and I LOVE the classes at church on religion because they really make me think.  I like how we do school with history and all of us talk and share ideas and opinions.  If I had a wife like I used to want, she probably wouldn't be very smart because I would have fooled her into doing everything for me. I think I need a wife who I can talk to, who will challenge me, even if she can't bake pies and things.  I'd rather even have a messy house and a wife I can talk about things with!"  And then I really roared, because you ain't gonna catch me ever making a truly homemade pie, crust and all, sad to say.  My house?  Well, it is relatively clean most of the time, considering 7 people live here...but a pie?  Isn't that what Mrs. Smith's is for???

Yes, I know, total loser mom :-)  I know some of you are cringing as you read this, and poor Dee over at Crab Chronicles who sounds like an awesome cook is likely turning to her mom and saying "Oh, those poor kids!!"...and she would be right! Hahaha!

They all had art class today, and as we were getting ready to leave and Joshie was showing me his prayer flag with Peace and Love on it within his hand print, Miss Mary, the teacher said "All your kids are SO different and make such creative things...none of them alike!  It is so much fun to see what they all come up with every week!" She is right, we have five very distinctly different children, whose unique interests and personalities make my Fascinating Career so stimulating for me.

OK, so I think the "genius" part is definitely going too far, but substitute "curiosity and  a love of learning" and its right!

The best part?  Watching them change, pointing out the strengths they don't yet see, trying to present them with opportunities to explore those strengths...and loving them.  That's the best.  And let's face it, on what other job could I have all these roles combined into one:  Teacher, counselor, career guider, nurturer, enlightener, advocate, Director, curriculum researcher and implementer, supply clerk, researcher, writing/math/reading/history/science specialist, life coach, reviewer, logic developer, Chief Hugger, meal planner, laundress, media consultant, etc.  On any given day in MY office at MY executive desk (the kitchen table) I get to work with such diverse topics as: Under the gases of Jupiter is there a solid formation?  What part of speech is the word "not" considered?  How do we create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the worlds great and terrible leaders...and where do they cross over and each show some of the same traits?     Is the bottom of a pyramid also considered a "face"?  What are the similarities between Abraham Lincoln's death and John F. Kennedy's death? (thanks Dominick for that one!), why haven't the world's terrible leaders figured out that fighting a war for revenge never works?  What is "internal conflict" in a story?  And those, my friends, are exactly the topics I worked with over the past 24 hours...let alone all the other things described here that also came up.  How could my career ever be anything but fascinating???  Oh yea, and throw in a dash of theology from the outside :-)

Tonight we were getting dinner ready and everyone was helping in some way...Matt made brownies, Kenny grabbed silverware, Olesya made bread for tomorrow with her secret Amish recipe, Josh got drinks, and I finished the spaghetti while Dominick got off his feet after a 14 hour day.  I thought to myself what a wonderful, wonderful life we have.  Sickening, I know, but there is such peace that surrounds us even in times of stress.  There is no anger filling our home, nothing brewing under the surface.  There are 7 people living together, growing together, learning together and appreciating the love we share and the life we lead.  There are constant hugs and continual laughter.  There are challenges and heartaches too.  Yet in the midst of all of that, there is a blessed peace that I will never. ever. ever take for granted.  Somehow, I doubt any of us ever will.  Reading Angela's story this evening touched my heart so deeply, for she captured in her ever-less-broken English the very essence of what our family strives to be, and mostly lives out.

My career IS fascinating, more than anything else I could ever do in this world, be it brain surgery, leading a Forbes 500 company, or creating a non-profit that changes the world.  I have enough of the world to change, right here.  And I love every minute of it!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Unprofessional Blogging, It's Not About Being Perfect!

You all know that I am not a trained writer, and I don't have the skills that other Mommy Bloggers have.  I find that the blogs I enjoy reading most are funny, smart, irreverent even.  I am not the slightest bit witty, either on screen or in person.  I try to stick with a theme most days, but sometimes I just have nothing thematic to share and want to just write about a little of this and a little of that going on.  I try to capture the highlights for our kids and record them here, and that doesn't always lend itself to interesting reading for anyone other than our family.

I also am fully aware that most people would rather read short little two to three paragraph bursts, rather than the novellas that sometimes erupt here.  The fact is, sometimes I just have to take advantage of the time I do have to sit down and pump out the writing as I can, not concerning myself with method or content and just get it on the blog so it doesn't leave me and never get recorded.  I figure that someday the kids will care less that it was  perfect and more about the fact that I spoke of how tickled I was about some little thing they did or said, or that I managed to get  a picture up of a minor event in their lives that otherwise might never be located someday other than in a disorganized and likely outdated hard drive.  I don't always have time to proof or edit, and spelling errors are sadly more frequent than I'd like.

But the fact is, I have somehow managed through an incredibly challenging and busy time of my life to be faithful in recording our lives here.  I haven't quit, I haven't cast it aside, and I am so glad I have, even if it IS quite imperfect.

Pondering this tonight, I am seeing how so often I have refused to do things, or chickened out because I wouldn't be perfect in someone's eyes, or perhaps more importantly, I wouldn't perform perfectly even in my own eyes.  How have I limited my own life and what have I missed because something wouldn't be "good enough"?  And, conversely, how has my life been enriched because I stepped out of my comfort zone and allowed something to be what it would be...and discovered something precious despite the imperfections?  this impacts me in ministry far more than any other area of my life, for I focus way too much on my inadequacies instead of my gifts.  Maybe I haven't figured those out well enough yet to overpower the weaknesses.  We were laughing over the table just the other day about how crazy our family is, how others must think we are NUTS most of the time, and yet as we all sat there giggling and goofing around as loudly and obnoxiously as only a LaJoy can do, I thought to myself what a lovely, lovely gift it is to live in the midst of this imperfection...and how I wish that others had this sort of imperfection as well and could appreciate it.  I wish I could figure out why I can move forward without fear sometimes, and others my anxiety is ramped up far more than it ever should be.  Maybe with time and maturity I'll "get it" better.

So, on to another non-thematic, scatter brained arranged post!  I was thinking how I tend to go through phases with each of the kids, photographing them.  Sometimes it depends on what they are involved in, if anything, that I drag my camera around for.  Others it is because I just happen to get more of one kid with a decent smile for a change, than I do of another.  Joshie always tends to look so beautiful in certain light to me, Angela is far better in less stilted, unposed situations outdoors, Kenny...well, heck, his smile lights everything up just about all the time no matter where we are!  Olesya is harder to photograph as we all tease her about her "grimace smile" she turns on whenever the camera is near! Hahaha! But when she relaxes and isn't as aware, I finally get beautiful ones of her.  Matthew tends to clown for the camera ALL the time these days, and will cooperate only if he is interrupted after being pre-occupied so doesn't have time to plan giving a sibling the bunny ears or to roll his eyes and make goofy faces.

The past couple of days have allowed opportunity to get a couple good ones of Matthew for a change, so I took advantage of it.  

Ahhh!  No goofy smile...too engaged in building an engine model that Miss Lael dropped off as a pass on from her grandson.  We all cracked up as Matt wasn't even able to take his coat off before opening the box and spreading pieces all over the table.  I finally convinced him to take his winter gloves and coat off so he could settle in and work on it.  He just loves this stuff so much!!  By the end of the evening he had it completed, and he is so intense about it he simply can't stop what he is doing.  He has been like that since he was a little guy, surprising us often with his ability at 6 or 7 years old to spend literally tens of hours on a Lego project until it was complete, and without any help at all.  Remember this one?:

Not much has changed with this kid except for he would look quite odd sitting on our kitchen counter these days at his size!  Not even the tie dye shirts have changed, for such a quiet, often somber, serious kid, he definitely has a little inner hippie :-)

Matt CAN be serious most of the time, but when he gets silly he is a total riot!  Again, this photo tonight reminded me of another when he was so young, as he just hasn't changed all that much as Josh has.  This same grin and those eyes look no different than they did here:

Looking back to find these photos, seeing who he is becoming, and for a brief moment I wished with all my heart I could share these with his birth family.  Funny, that almost never hits me but it sure is right this moment.  How I wish they could see him, know how wonderful he is and how I wish I could reassure them that all is well.

Then there was the Twenty Something Matt that appeared briefly tonight as he was presented with a very, very special hand-me-down...a dress coat from his mentor, Mr. Steve.  Actually, Mr.Steve brought two coats over, but this one in particular was so meaningful because it was given to Steve upon his own high school graduation.  That he would want Matt to have it was of great significance, that did not get missed by Matt. When he came home after Civil Air Patrol tonight, he put it back on and stayed in it for the remainder of the evening, snuggling into it and chatting with me at the kitchen counter.

How fast the years go by, how precious every single moment is, and how I am so blessed to be home with them and witness the little day to day things, have the time to encourage and correct them, and to simply "be" with my children.  It is worth every single moment stressing over money that we will ever have.  With the majority of our children, we have already missed far too much time with them, and I feel that every single day of my life.  Knowing that we are doing all we can to make as much of the time we do have with them is extremely important to both Dominick and I.  

I have spent the past couple of weeks of school days realizing that I have witnessed some pretty amazing transformations over the past couple of years.  What a privilege it is to watch children literally come alive!  To see all of them blossom in ways they never would have under other circumstances, to struggle side by side with the girls as they went from knowing not a word of English to reading and writing fluently, and knowing I was instrumental in that monumental process is by far the single most rewarding thing I ever have or ever will do.  But of course, it is the inner work that we can focus on every moment that is even more important and provides the opportunity for relationship in ways I never imagined we would have.  Growing to understand Kenny's challenges far better and helping him become more confident and capable is also deeply gratifying.

But so too is the ordinary, normal old development of Matthew and Joshua.  Though not nearly as dramatic, it is subtle and awe inspiring in its own way to see them pursue interests and have thoughtful conversations with them as well.  Sometimes it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and we have a few that make a lot of noise around here! Hahaha! However, watching them it is hard not to get excited when you see they have finally grasped a new or difficult concept, or are testing the waters with something more challenging.  

There are the little things I spoke of earlier though, that I want to capture and preserve here.  Our years long love letter to the kids speaks to our faith in them, our absolute commitment to each of them, and hopefully of our deep and abiding love for them.  A life is so often transformed not by the big moments, but by the scaffolding created by the seemingly insignificant ones.  Last night was one of those building moments, particularly for Angela who is developing into a young lady of keen sensitivity and understanding of the human psyche and condition, and is moved more day by day by injustice and a need to right the wrongs she learns about.  Of all of our children, Angela is the biggest surprise in this area, as the child we first met and even brought home was one that had the potential to be the most predatory, the most self-centered, the most closed hearted.  

We sat on the couch last night and snuggled together watching "Soundtrack for a Revolution", Kenny on my other side, Matt in the dark on the floor beneath me tucked in his bean bag chair and wrapped in a blankie.  Angela was so incredibly touched by the stories shared by those involved in the Civil Rights Movement, by the suffering of African Americans who fought so hard for the simple right to vote and be treated equally.  She commented with indignation throughout the documentary, in complete disbelief at the inhumane ways people were treated.  The music interwoven throughout the film was pitch perfect in its ability to also express the emotions of the time.  I sat beside her, answering her questions, explaining that which was not yet easily understood in English.  She turned to me and said "Mom, if I were alive then, I would have marched with them!". This, from the girl who two years ago loudly pointed out the first black person she had ever seen in her entire life as we walked through the Frankfurt Airport.  

Oh, we have a little activist inside this mini-woman!  A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, I had shared with her the now famous video of Democratic Senate challenger from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren.  Angela was transfixed with Elizabeth's message and said "Mom, she is totally right!" then asked if she could write her a letter.  I was surprised at Angela's strong reaction and said I thought it would be a great idea, but that she shouldn't expect anything back but a form letter, as candidates are too busy to respond to every letter they receive because they get too many of them.  I did tell her though that her desire to write was what America was all about, supporting people whose ideas strike a chord in us, and I encouraged her to go ahead and write.  She immediately sat down and wrote a two page letter to Miss Warren, telling a little about herself and sharing how much she liked what Miss Warren had to say.  She also asked her who her favorite president was.  She decorated it with a flourish...a beautiful ivy border she drew herself, then she Googled Elizabeth's campaign address, and sent the letter.

On Christmas Eve, Angela received an early present...a personal letter from Elizabeth Warren herself!!  It was not a form letter, and answered Angela's questions and was sweetly encouraging.  the look on Angela's face when I showed her the envelope was priceless.  She had to share the news...and show the letter...to virtually everyone we know.  Here is her letter, if you'd like to read Elizabeth's response to Angela you can click on the photo and see it full size:

I tell you, this kid has a courage and inner strength to her that we are only beginning to see.  I think that I might find myself side by side with her at a protest of some sort one day, with the child leading the parent to ever increasing boldness.  Her sense of justice is astonishing, and she has a strong desire to find something to do in this world to make a difference.  I have no doubt at all that eventually, she will discover what God is calling her to do...and we will all be amazed.

If you have made it to the bottom of this post, then congratulations!  Again, I know it is not as polished as others who write, nor is the blog as cutesy or "Pro-Mommy-Blogger-ish".  Sometimes though, when I stop and think about how unintentionally this place has served to be an open door to friends known and unknown, and how so many of you have watched our children grow and our family change in so many ways, I can't help but be bowled over sometimes.  Thank you, for putting up with us and for being interested enough to return over and over again, despite the imperfection found and lack of professionalism found here.   Although sometimes I, of course, write to you all rather than just for our family, thanks for recognizing that you are voyeurs, and that ultimately some of the more boring stuff here is really for them, for our own families are never boring to us, are they?  Each of our own family histories will trigger emotions that are richer and fuller than anything else we will ever encounter.  Your continued following of our family journey is actually quite touching, and I fail to say that very often.  Despite the regular inclusion of writings that I know many of you have no interest in, you return again and again, and you cheer us on, offer encouragement and ideas, and simply join us virtually to the point that someday if we ever have the privilege of meeting in person, it is as if old friends have connected.  Our virtual worlds can sometimes be as real as we allow them to be, and the power of that is represented here.

Night All!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Peeing on Humanity

When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
(Proverbs 16:7)

Facebook this week was unsettling, as the photo of members of our military urinating on corpses of alleged Taliban members was posted and reposted.  Reactions were strong as people reacted to the image, many feeling it was justified and symbolically spoke to them.  Others were apalled for a variety of reasons, just one of them being the simple truth that this does nothing but give our enemies fuel for the American hatred fire that blazes in their already heated hearts.

I found myself a little sickened, for many reasons...and I know it is likely I will have a most unpopular opinion in this age of war, patriotism, and flag waving.  It has nothing at all to do with not supporting our troops, valuing the sacrifices they and their families make hourly on behalf of all of us, or not recognizing that our enemy...a nebulous one versus wars of the past...has done far worse to our soldiers and civilians of their own countries.

I received a lot of flack for my Facebook post in response to the celebrations held as we became aware of the death of Osama Bin Laden.  However, my inner voice spoke to me in the same way as when I viewed  this recent photo...that our thirst for vengeance, our desire for the blood of our enemies, and our celebratory dances do nothing, really, but point out how easy it is for us to become just like them.

War dehumanizes us all, on either side of the fence. 

As a person who identifies with a God that loves what God has created...all that God has created...it is impossible to rejoice at the death or humiliation of another of God's created persons.  We begin to see men, women, and children...and yes, the warriors as well, as "expendible targets" or a "justifiable casualty".  Oh, we might find compassion in our hearts for the folks we label as "innocent" in a conflict, the mom at the market whose life is lost as a car bomb goes off nearby, or the child held in the sobbing father's arms as that child's life slowly leaves his earthly body as his mutilated foot dangles from a barely attached leg. 

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Somehow though, we forget that the enemy warrior is human as well, he is someone's husband, father, son. He is God's child too.  That warrior feels as committed to his cause and as justified in his actions as our warriors do in ours.  We cry out in vehement rage when the naked bodies of our fallen soldiers are dragged through the streets of Somalia, being spat upon...and we call those who do such things "unholy savages".  We are offended, we are further filled with a righteous sense of anger and it fuels our mission as nothing else will. 

And yet when we commit similar acts upon the fallen of our enemy, we find it so easy to say "Serves them right!".  The only reason we say that is because at the moment, for that battle, we were the victors.  Reverse the roles and make our soldiers the victims, and we can't fathom why our enemies would desecrate a body in such a way.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  (Matthew 5:44,45)

War changes any participant.  It also changes the bystanders.  We become hardened and calloused, we fail to see the gift of life that is bestowed upon all living things.  Warriors are trained to depersonalize the enemy in battle, for if they are unable to emotionally distance themselves, they can not perform the job they are called upon to do.  Our unwillingness to recognize this, as the people who call our armed services into action, makes it impossible for us to then recognize and offer appropriate help to the returning soldiers who are forever changed by their experiences in war.  A sensitivity toward our fellow man is not something that can be turned on and off like a lightswitch.  Soldiers come home unable to relate to their wives and children, unable to view life in the ways they once did.  They did their jobs admirably, but they are never the same.

Imagine, if you would for just a moment, that those uniforms in that photo were reversed.  Imagine that some wife or mother here in Minneaoplis, or Houston, or Hartford is seeing a member of the Taliban urinating on her son or husband.  Would we be cheering that?  Or would we see it as an atrocity?

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).

As much as we'd love to view ourselves as the World's Super Heroes whose soldiers are incapable of the sorts of heinous acts that we hear our enemy commiting, we too are just as capable of being the ones dragging the bodies through the streets and spitting on them.  We too are unable to escape the inevitable process of dehumanization of our enemy, for it makes the killing into a sport, and makes it palatable to those who initially might have felt it almost impossible to pull a trigger.  We think that our soldiers are somehow immune to the sorts of actions we see reported that our enemy commits.  They are not.  Like it or not, we do not own the moral high ground any more than any of our enemies ever did.  It just makes us feel more justified to imagine us so.

There is only one-way in which one can endure man's inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one's own life, to exemplify man's humanity to man. - Alan Paton

How many innocents did we kill in Nagasaki?  Hiroshima?  What about the Trail of Tears?  Slavery, Mai Lai, and yes...Iraq and Afghanistan....  We, as a people, have overstepped throughout history just as badly as others in foreign lands have.  We too have sometimes gone too far, we have no right to hold ourselves up as the Moralists of War, and we see how every participant is changed and hardened...and sometimes led to do things they might never conceive of under different circumstances.  It is THAT which gives me great heartache, that our young men and woman lose part of their own humanity.  That is what urinating on our enemy represents to me.  It is not that urination on a corpse is the worst we could do...but it is an indicator of the rapid descent into evil that comes from failing to see how our very souls are being lost.  It leads to parading the dead in the streets, or strapping them to the fronts of jeeps to put on display.  Although the following are graphic examples, it is important for us to see just what we are capable of when that aforementioned descent is not halted:




and then check out the photos that go with the above claims/article:


Any google search can bring up hundreds of images of the ways in which dehumanizing our enemy leads from something seemingly as relatively benign as urinating on a corpse leads to committing acts against real, live humans that would truly sicken any of us.  That occurs on both sides of any battle.

I understand that killing occurs in war.  I am not really a total pacifist, and recognize that sometimes we have no choice but to stand and fight.  I do not personally think that our current conflict in Afghanistan or our recently ended one in Iraq were the wisest moves that we as a nation could have made.  It came at an extremely high cost, both monetarily and in terms of lives lost.  And I do mean lives lost on both sides, as there were far more innocent Iraqi and Afghani  lives lost than we could ever justify.  Ever.  That does not mean that I don't have the deepest respect for our soldiers, tens of thousands of whom were called upon to do a job, and performed it admirably and with honor. 

Abel’s blood cries out “vengeance”---Jesus’ blood cries out “mercy”.  -Jacquelyn K. Heasley

I can not respect the acts of disrespect displayed by the soldiers in the photo depicted peeing on humanity.  That is not the picture of a US American soldier that I want to carry in my mind.  The ones I would prefer to see are the photos of our soldiers playing with Iraqi children in the streets, protecting the innocents as they can in situations, working hand in hand with local leaders in an effort to bring peace to the area and end the years long conflict.   No, I don't forget the photos of our own men, bodies broken and torn apart, rifles propped in the ground with helmets of our fallen resting upon them.

But does peeing on our enemy really do much to change that?  Does it reflect the values we as Americans hold, and hope our soldiers carry into battle as well?  Or is it an act of immaturity, disrespect for life, and a sign that several soldiers felt the need to prove their superiority in a way that showed only how weak they really are..that they gave in to their baser urges that afternoon.

I don't wish that it were American soldiers lying out on the ground in that photo, and am grateful that the lives of our men were spared.  I wish that they could have walked away feeling that gratitude rather than reveling in the death of others.

Violence as a way of achieving justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.—Martin Luther King


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Asthmatic Reflection of Years Lost and Much Gained

I am awake quite early this morning, as I have been the past couple of mornings as asthma awakens me once again.  Obviously, it is time to get on some maintenance medications for awhile.  Being a late nighter naturally, that means I have been getting about 4 hours of sleep a night this week, so I am hoping that on this Saturday morning I can eventually drift back into a deep slumber,even m if only for another hour or two.  As much as I treasure and miss sleep, these early morning awakenings allow for quite time of reflection which I don't often get these days, so it is not without some benefit.

Josh is sleeping next to me, as he had another night where he felt the need for closeness as insecurity enveloped him.  This precious, beautiful boy of ours is sometimes such an enigma.  Watching him as he sleeps, which I love doing, he is the most angelic creature God may have ever created.  Seriously.  There is something so tender about him, so open, and it is revealed in his visage as he deeply slumbers.  I find it so interesting that all of his siblings see something just a little different in Josh as well, as they treat him with an almost paternal and maternal care.  As we are at school each day, and Josh will say or do something that is beyond his years...as he often does...inevitably one or all will look at me across the table with a look mirroring parental pride in his accomplishments.  They are all protective of him, nurturing of him, as they sense a vulnerability in Joshua that comes alongside incredible strength in a child his age.  This remarkable combination of traits is inexplicable, and yet do seem to co-exist inside the heart of one young boy whom we are all blessed to call brother and son.

A sharp reminder of how quickly time passes invaded our lives this week, as my thoughts drift from my youngest to my oldest...well...symbolically and group acknowledged as oldest.  With Matthew in 7th grade, high school is not all that far off and academic planning for his eventual path must begin.  Yes, it is early, and we  are vowing not to be like others and live so far in the future that we can not live in the present, but there are a couple of subjects I need to wrap my mind around how we will handle as homeschoolers, and begin to look for textbooks and materials as they arrive in our school's lending library so that we can nab them for future use and save funding for other needs.  By thinking ahead a little I can be on the lookout for curriculum that might work well for advanced science and math, as I try to find ways to present creative and rick learning experiences for all the kids.

I laid the chart out on the table yesterday morning, the one which outlines the credits required for graduation, and contrasts it with the credits required for college.  All five of our children hovered around me in a tight circle as I shared with them the details of this document, then leaned back and said "I know that not all of you may decide to attend college, as there are many different paths to a career, but we will not be shooting for fulfilling graduation requirements.  We'll go for college entrance requirements just in case you elect to eventually enroll in college, that way our bases are covered."  Then I asked as an aside "How many of you think right now you will be going to college?", being realistic that there are a couple that are not as engaged by academics or might find trade or technical school to be more desirable.

Every hand shot up, instantly.

Internally I raised an eyebrow, and was secretly quite pleased.  Olesya was one I figured would have no interest in higher learning, and Kenny I thought might feel it would be beyond reach.  Both looked as confident in this very early census of future plans as the other three were.  There are moments, not often, when I give myself a pat on the back.  This was one of them, as it signaled we have achieved something here at home that I doubt would have happened in any other learning environment.  Two children who previously saw themselves as "losers" and incapable now see themselves in a totally different light, and have somehow internalized that they can achieve anything they want to achieve, even if it will be a little more challenging at times.

Whether all the kids will indeed attend college or not remains to be seen, as they may eventually discover careers which don't require it, or that point them in the direction of on the job training, military, apprenticeship, or trade school.  What we are trying to instill in them is NOT that college is the "end all and be all", but that they must have some sort of training beyond a high school diploma, that having an attitude of lifelong learning will serve them well, and we want them to recognize that they can teach themselves or learn anything at all that they desire to learn.

We are also talking early in order to create an ongoing sense of "Team" in the pursuit of higher education, as we recognize the need to work together...not just as parent and child but as an entire, cohesive family...to help them achieve their individual goals.  We will not have the luxury of merely packing them off and loading them into a dorm room at some distant university.  We already know we will have to be highly creative in finding ways to lower the cost, and will likely be a little nontraditional in our approach as we plan to utilize a combination of studying for CLEP tests to gain credits at low cost, online learning at community colleges, and attendance on campus when we have exhausted every other way to keep costs down.  It was funny how Angela looked at me with her ever-the-adult look and said "Mom, we will  all have to study together and pass as many tests as we can...that makes it almost free for a lot of classes!  If we do it together, we can help each other AND save money!"

All this talk of futures, college, and high school has me a little melancholy.  It hasn't been quite 2 years yet that the girls have been home, and Kenny has not yet been with us even 5 years.  Although I don't often give in to it, the feelings of loss lately have been creeping to the surface.  Watching Joshie sleep next to me, I feel totally ripped off as I think of all the time we missed with our three children adopted at older ages.  I seldom have the privilege of watching over our older children as they sleep.  We never got to stand over their cribs, seeing their tiny little bodies curled up and pinch ourselves as we gazed down in wonder at the single most beautiful thing God ever created.  Watching a tiny little guy at the pool yesterday as he toddled along, I suddenly felt this extreme sense of grief over not having held Kenny, Angela and Olesya when they were little...never having had the chance to rock them to sleep or see a toothless, gummy, drooly grin.  It's not an easy thing as a parent to wrestle with.  Here we are,  looking at celebrating our 2nd anniversary together as a complete family and already we have to look at the future as we plan a middle and high school path!  It's NOT fair, and sometimes acknowledging that very real loss is necessary, and an important part of the adoption process.  Thankfully, it doesn't stay with me long, but there are moments when it is overwhelming, and fills me with deep sadness.

When it is harder is when I catch one of them feeling it, when Olesya was half-joking the other night about not being a baby with me and wishing she could have been, when Kenny quietly told me in the car Thursday on the way to speech that he sometimes was jealous of Matthew and Joshua for having all sorts of memories with us when they were young, and that he wondered why God hadn't put him in our family when he was younger so that he could have maybe avoided some of the struggles with his brain that he now has to face every single day.  It is Angela who sometimes seems to quietly long for an earlier childhood with us the most, as she doesn't speak much directly about it but fiercely claims us as her family and tells me every once in awhile how she wonders why her first mom was such a bad one and probably never loved her at all.  She, of all the kids, clings to family so completely, guarding against growing up too soon and valuing every game and movie night we have together, every tradition we share as if it were completely precious.

We all lost, and we all gained.  It is what it is.  I am OK with it, but that doesn't mean it still doesn't hurt sometimes.  Every parent goes through the "I can't believe how quickly time is passing." stage, for us, it is compressed more than for others.  Thankfully, the here and now is so sweet, so wonderful, that we are squeezing it for all it's worth and consider ourselves incredibly blessed that our blending as a family wasn't a rockier road, allowing us to quickly move into family mode than others are able to do.  We know what a gift that is.

It is back to sleep for me, hopefully, as I take advantage of a houseful of sleeping kiddos and try and catch a few more "zzzzzzz's".  Time for reflection is over, for now.  A little wallowing is enough :-)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Little Sharing

There is a smattering of things I wanted to share here, some of which will be of no interest at all to many of you, some of which might be just for kicks.  I try not to post too much homeschooling stuff, because I know that for many who might read the blog it is completely uninteresting.  However, there are a few folks out there who read and homeschool, and some of them might want to know about a couple of things. 

First, a couple that are for everyone...we found a couple of super interesting very short video clips on YouTube from National Geographic.  One of them illustrates a totally fascinating article we read in a recent issue about Earth's population reaching 7 billion people.  No one I spoke with believed me that NatGeo had shown that all the world's population could fit mathematically in roughly the space of Los Angeles.  I think most of us consider NatGeo a fairly accurate publication, and it helps put our world population in perspective.  Now, of course, where all of us could fit has nothing to do with if the Earth itself could sustain us.  However, it does make you stop and think.  It's quick and well done, as is the second video clip about what the statistics show is the "typical" person in the world...a startling and also very interesting super short clip.  The kids and Dominick all thought this was good, check them out:


And the second video clip:


Sorry I can't get the videos to embed tonight so you can view them right here, but go check them out, they are worth it!

On to item two, which is a curriculum mention.  We have been using a new literature curriculum which we are quite enamored of.  It can be found here at www.mosdospress.com which is a Jewish textbook publisher.

Why do we like this so much?  Tons of reasons!  This anthology series is different from any other I have seen.  It is secular, and yet deeply moral in it's approach.  The stories included are beautifully presented and highly engaging.  All five of the kids using 3 different levels have raved about how much they enjoy each of the selections and can't wait until literature time. Seriously...when does that ever happen?  The accompanying workbook has solid vocabulary work, graphic organizers...but not boring, easy "fill in the blank" ones, these require real thought, and analyzing the selection that was read.  What I love most about this series is that it introduces the kids to some of the very best authors ever, both old and more modern, and even in Matt's at the 7th grade level he will sample Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, John Updike, William Saroyan, Emily Dickinson, Ray Bradbury, James Herriot, O. Henry (I love O. Henry!), Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman and more.  The lower grade levels have equally stellar authors, and there is SUCH a difference between really good writing, and typical writing for kids today.  I am sorry, I know it is entertaining to a degree, but Judy Moody or Diary of a Wimpy Kid isn't all our kids ought to be reading.  And yes, our kids DO read such stuff too sometimes, but I love that in addition to that sort of lighter fare they are really enjoying the  richer content contained in this textbook series.  Also, it is leading them to explore different authors.  The very first story in Matt's was a short story by Rudyard Kipling, and this past library trip he brought home Kipling's "Kim".  Whether he wades through the entire book with its older language or not isn't important, but at least he was opening up to authors he had yet to read. 

The teachers manual is excellent, and walks even the least experienced teacher/homeschool mom through the process of explaining literary tools used by writers, and to ask questions to stimulate thought about passages read.  If anyone is looking for something like this, I can't recommend it highly enough and neither can the kids who all agree they don't want to use anything else for reading now that we have found this.  There are textbooks for 4th - 8th grade.  After that,  I am not sure yet what route we will go.  I'll cross that bridge when we get to it :-)

On another note, we are considering trying a program with Kenny called FastForward, as administered online via www.gemmlearning.com .  It is for auditory processing, and during the past ten years or so I have read of many adoptive families using it with their children with a fairly decent success rate.  The problem?  Man, it is expensive at $500 per month for approximately 4-5 months.  Whew!  That is a chunk of change.  Our homeschool program is trying to see if they can bypass the school district somehow and get testing done or approval for this for us...or something like it...but it isn't looking good.  The system is just too tough to maneuver through, and they have a surefire "out" with it because of our Two Strikes...non-native speaker and low IQ.  So it looks like we are going to be forced to pursue help on our own outside the system.  Recently I saw Kenny's old speech therapist from public school, and when we chatted and I told her what we were thinking could be wrong, and I asked her if in her opinion we were way off base and it was as if a light bulb went on for her and she said "Of course that could be part of it!  That makes so much sense now that I think about it!"  and she assured me that we ought to look seriously at it for him.  As she probably has the most experience working one on one with Kenny other than us, that was a little reassuring for me.  So, now we just have to find a way to pay for it, still working on that.  If anyone reading this has any experiences with FastForward, I'd love to hear from you before we commit to something like this.

Fellow blog reader and dear friend (Aren't I lucky to know her and benefit from her wisdom in real life??) Lael started working with Matthew today on his abysmal writing mechanics.  Matt is usually Mr. Quiet, and it is fun to watch him interact with Lael, as for some reason he becomes silly and very animated with her.  We are really grateful to her for helping him (and me!) in this area, as I have tried everything recommended and nothing has helped.  Lael has some new ideas which might work, and I am hopeful we will see some progress eventually using a new approach.  Along with the kids, who are participating in a writing even through our library, I too have decided to take a two night writing class.  I've never had writing instruction before, and I think it will be interesting to learn and practice right along with the kids.  I have no idea what I'll write about as I am not imaginative enough to write fiction or anything like that, and I am most definitely not a poet.  I guess we'll see if anything comes of it.

That's about all!  See?  I told you this would be a boring post! That's OK, I never know when something I share might help someone else out, as I have been helped a million times over the years by others' posts and blogs.  Here's hoping you have a great weekend...and that the Broncos win! Hahaha!

That's about it for tonight.  See?  I told you it would be boring! 

Grace not Grades

Our pastor delivered a sermon this past Sunday which stuck with me, and I am chewing on it here and there this week.  We had a lovely service during which our congregation was invited to renew our baptism vows. Check out how beautiful our Sanctuary looked:

Our "River Jordan" turned out beautifully!

 I think I needed that, and to reconnect with the idea that we are all ministers as our pastor pointed out.  Her sermon also invited us to a different way of viewing the church.  I liked her description of experiencing church as "school" rather than in the more traditional ways many of us view church...as family, or as a "hospital for sinners".  I think the idea of "school" suits me better, as I have always seen church and my active participation as a member of a faith oriented body of people to be a place where I can learn more about the things often missed in school...the real "life" stuff.  It is where I am constantly challenged to re-envision the world and my relationships with others, it is where I have so many "Ah Ha" moments and suddenly everything makes sense.  It is where I can grow in areas that are often ignored in the halls of academia, and where that growth and what is learned is immediately put to use almost from the moment the worship service has ended.

But the single thread through the sermon which was the most profound and which ties together so much of what I have slowly come to understand over the past couple of years, is the idea of "grace, not grades".  Living life as a Christian means different things to different people.  To me it is growing more and more to mean living counter to our culture.  For me, living Christian has nothing at all to do with being perfect, proclaiming arrogantly that I have all the answers, or earning my spot on some heavenly cloud someday.  For me it is about viewing the world differently, valuing the things that really matter over the things the world tells me should matter.  It is about my eyes being opened to the value of each human being, and to recognize that God's call for each and every one of us is different, but no less relevant or important.

As I look around our church, there are numerous folks who care deeply about the environment and actively do much to make our earth healthier.  Others are called to see to it that the arts are encouraged and flourish in our community, for art is often where many find God.  Another amazing person is called to minister to those whose encounters with cancer are terribly frightening and yet, for her, sadly familiar.  Am I wrong because those calls don't resonate as deeply with me?  Are they wrong because their passion is not the same as ours...children who are long forgotten or somehow falling through the cracks?  No!  In our "school" everyone can major in a different subject, and we all support one another in following our life's path and passion. Better yet, no one feels the need to push others to proclaim a call that is not authentic for them, and that is a real gift, for the world operates differently and often insists we "buy in" to everything others push our way.

The phrase "Grace, not grades" is a profound one for our family, and is a reason I never articulated well for why we elected to homeschool.  Part of it might be that the word "grace" is laden with prior meaning for others, it is too "Christian-ey" and doesn't seem to "fit" when talking about academics or the pursuit of higher education.  For our children though, all of them not just the ones adopted at older ages, "Grace, not grades" is instrumental in them becoming who they are.  We do not issue report cards, we do not measure by grades.  At first, when we brought Matt home, that was exactly what I did...I graded everything, I berated him at moments for not getting a good enough grade, I measured him over and over again that first couple of months.  I can admit now that it was out of fear, fear that I would fail and this homeschooling thing was indeed the hair brained scheme many told me it would be.  Then I saw what I was doing to his spirit, and I quickly realized as well that learning is not at all about grades or measuring ourselves against one another.  In my insecurity, I was making things worse and not allowing him to learn to love learning.

I had to learn to be counter cultural, to not "own" my child's successes as bragging rights or proof that I was somehow this Super Homeschooling Mom.  I too had so much to learn, and my "school" (our church) helped in so many ways with that.  I have children in my kitchen table classroom who soar in some subjects, and I have some that sink :-)  What I discovered was that when left unmeasured...ungraded...and allowed to try and fail without fear...we got much further and the sinking was kept to a minimum.  Now of course we correct work, but that is very different from "grading".  Grading ranks you, it classifies you, it categorizes you, just as state testing does.  Correcting is entirely different, and it is part of the learning process.  Now I realize that a certain amount of Grading and Scoreing is necessary on a large scale in order to see if schools are functioning well, but to measure the worth of a child by their score or grade is abhorrent to me, and so often settles into the soul of a child and they begin to lose hope of becoming anything other than what the world classifies them as being...a C student...a D student...a "Failure".

But first, I had to learn to offer Grace, not Grades.  I had to allow for missteps (and sometimes I fail at that), I had to see all our children as potential not a letter or number score.  That took (and still does take) time to break free from all the ways I know our society works and the ways I myself was measured and categorized through the years.  It is what feels normal! I think our kids are healthier because of it.  Recognizing the value of the unique gifts inherent in each one, not holding one up as the Super Student nor identifying another as the Loser Student helps all five of our kids have respect for each other...and for every other person they encounter.  For when you stop using the same yardstick that the world uses...a report card, an SAT score...then you stop being impressed by the things the world wrongly values. You see a person as the lovely creation of God that each and every one of us is!   What good is a stellar SAT score if a child's soul is cold?  Or if that child then holds themselves above others based upon a number that measures them as being somehow "better than" the rest?

Today we went bowling, and were there alongside a women's league which consisted largely of seniors.  We were all goofing around, as Dominick named us wacky names on screen.  Angela was "Angel Hair Pasta", Kenny was "Kookie Kenny", I was "Hot Mama"...hahaha!  We had a great time, no one cared who was winning, everyone was "high fiving" each other and hugging after strikes or spares.  It was a lot of fun, and interestingly, after game one and a healthy dose of encouragement along with a little instruction, every single one of us significantly increased our scores on game two.  I went looking for a different ball and wandered down to where the league was playing.  A group of women stopped me who had been watching us and I was asked "Is that your family?"...we always get asked that as we don't "match" and then having 4 kids the same age lends itself to folks thinking we are a club or school group sometimes.  I responded that yes, that was our family.  Another woman spoke up and said "We were just saying that we haven't seen a family have so much fun together in years.  You all look like you really enjoy being together, and that is nice to see for a change!"  A third woman chimed in "And it is so nice to see a family hug each other...no one does that these days."  I replied that I was indeed a very, very blessed Mom and wife.

The truth is, we have tried our best to eliminate competition as a component in our family.  We have tried to replace grades with grace, and it has spilled over into the kids, a side effect I never imagined and one we still have to practice regularly for it is easy to backslide.  Our world barrages us with messages about success and what that is supposed to look like, and fighting that is a constant battle.  But I wonder, would Kenny have ever grown to see himself as capable and learned to read if we had not stopped the nonsense of measuring him? More importantly and sadly, I will admit, would I have ever grown to see his capacity if I had clung to the measurements we were given with IQ scores and state test scores?  Would Olesya have begun to see herself as "smart" if she had constantly been held up against her peers in math?  Would we have heard her ever say what she said the other day when out of the blue she exclaimed "I like math!  It's not easy, but  I can do it now!"  We all recognized her gift of careful, organized thought had paid off when on our house project we  had huge columns of numbers to add and every other kid whizzed through it but her, and SHE was the only one who got the right answer! We all celebrated and learned a valuable lesson...speed doesn't lend itself to accuracy.  She learned a valuable lesson too...when not timed and measured, she CAN do math well!  Now she is consistently talking about owning her own business someday...she has moved from "I am nothing" to "I am someone"!

At TaeKwonDo last night, all the kids sparred.  Matthew did a particularly good job against two opponents, but it was Kenny I was watching closely as he  was finally showing a little aggressiveness and it was fun to watch.  We got home and were telling Dominick about the sparring, when Angela chimes in "Dad, you should have seen Matthew tonight...he was REALLY good!"  This from our most naturally competitive child who has somehow internalized over the past two years that its not all about winning or losing, and when one succeeds, we all succeed.  The change in Angela has been the most dramatic, as she entered an environment where she wasn't measured by her test scores or her ability on a basketball court, but discovered she inherently had value simply because she was Angela.  The child who cheated at every single game we played so she could come out on top has disappeared.  The child who had to nudge her way to the front of the line, who had to prove over and over again that she was superior, has ceased to exist.  That child has been replaced with one who is almost always the first one to point out another's success!  She is confident and yet now looks for the goodness in people, not how "good" they are at something.  Grace, not grades, has truly transformed her.

Are our kids looked at oddly by the world because they are not competitive?  Oh yea, for sure, especially the boys.  But I love that Joshie could care less about winning or being first, I love that he sings the praises of his best buddy without concern that it somehow lessens him.  I love that Kenny was the best darned cheerleader on his volleyball team despite not being the most skilled or getting the most playing time.  Compared to a couple of young boys on the team who WERE skilled but were so concerned with being the Super Stars that they were often in tears or looked over at their parents for fear they were not measuring up, Kenny had a far better time the entire season and thoroughly enjoyed himself.

God doesn't want us living in competition with each other.  It's not the way it is supposed to work ( or "upost to" as Josh wrote today! Haha!).  One reason our family needs to be in church regularly is that we hear messages that build a strong scaffold underneath us for living in the world in a way that makes little sense to many, but we have discovered it brings a far more contented way of life.

Church teaches us to extend "Grace, not Grades" to our fellow inhabitants here on earth, and we are reminded of that single thing consistently over and over again.  After hearing that this weekend, and letting it simmer, I have enjoyed seeing how that has taken root in our family without me realizing it.  It is sort of a core idea for how we operate, and the simple fact is that it never would have without our participation in a faith community that took it seriously and tried to make that come to life.  Honestly, I think back to our first days as parents prior to stepping back into a church, and I shudder to think of what our life would look like, and how deeply unhappy I was and would still be.  I would be measuring and feel measured all the days of my life.  I would never have understood that I am indeed a beloved child of God, someone of worth, and I would not have been able to parent from that perspective.  I am certain we would not have the family we have, not in number or in temperament.

 "Church" can be such a turn off to people, and I am particularly sensitive to those immediate gut reactions that many have at the mere mention of religion.  I was the same way once myself.  What it took me a long time to recognize is that "church" is what I made of it, what I elected to take away from it...and that I had yet to find anything that equaled it in helping me gain a healthier way of seeing the world.

Thankfully though, God isn't grading me :-)

We had a special visitor this week, as Nancy Larson came to see us!  What a treat it was to meet her in person, and spend a couple of hours chatting.  The kids were quite excited to have her in our home.  Nancy is sort of a mini-celebrity in the homesdchooling world, as she wrote the K-3 levels of the Saxon Math program, which is used throughout the US in private schools as well as by millions of homeschoolers, literally millions.  She is also the developer of her own science curriculum, which we use and find to be absolutely terrific...particularly for our unique language learning needs with older kids.

Before Nancy arrived, the kids wrote questions they had for her on the white board, and Nancy graciously answered every one of them as she shared how she went about writing a curriculum, what her favorite science topics are, and much more.  It was easy to see what a gifted teacher she must have been when still in the classroom, as she was terrific with the kids and treated them with respect and offered very thoughtful replies.  Matthew had just said the week before we learned of her visit to Colorado "Mom, do you think we will ever meet Nancy Larson someday?", so it was funny when I got the email that Nancy wanted to know if we had time to connect while she was in Colorado. Here are a couple of photos from her visit:

"Now, let's see...what can we ask our Curriculum Super Hero??"

Nancy spending time with the kids as they look at a science book.

I loved this picture!