Thursday, February 16, 2012

Can It Be? Real Progress?

This past week has been a mixed bag.  We've had a head cold making the rounds until every single one of us has had it, and not much has gotten accomplished around here.

However, despite the case of the "Blahs", we have had some really wonderful things happening as well.  It started Sunday with the rental of our little rehab house!  We met our tenants that afternoon and got documents signed and handed over keys.  I can't tell you how gratifying it was for all of us to stand outside with the young wife and see the huge smile on her face as she said "This is the nicest place I will have ever lived in!  It's like getting a brand new house.  We feel so lucky."  We hope that all our hard work will benefit these folks as they make their home there and raise their young son.

Another positive thing that happened while I was in the middle of typing this is that Matthew completed his drill test for his 3rd rank advancement in Civil Air Patrol!  He had already passed the academic component, so now he has advanced 3 times since September.  In addition, he will now be training to be part of the honor guard.  What a gift this program has been for him!  He is very invested in it, is working hard, and is learning a lot about himself.  I wish we could find something for each of the kids that they were so interested in.  We are waiting to hear about a scholarship for him for the Air Force Academy camp this summer.  He has also earned money to contribute toward the cost of his camp and the travel involved, thanks to a few special people who have hired him to do a few odd jobs, and he is working this weekend for Dominick as well.

Better yet is that we may really be on to something for Kenny.  After giving up completely on the school district to be able to offer much help, and before trying more expensive routes, I called a retired special education consultant who a friend of ours recommended.  After a fairly long phone conversation and sending her every possible document I had regarding Kenny's history, she called me back and was excited about having the chance to help us "solve the puzzle".  She spoke quite reasonably about what might be realistic to expect in terms of remediation, and really understood that we are not looking for miracles, but for guidance in educating Kenny in the most effective ways and what coping strategies might be the most effective.

Miss Zoe came yesterday for the first day of an anticipated 4-5 more days of evaluation once per week.  After she was done for the morning, Kenny and I had a long conversation about how he felt it had gone and what were his initial impressions.  It was the first time I have seen him actually excited!  He told me he could see right away that the things she was having him do meant that she understood what he was struggling with.  He felt she was very honest when right away she said up front "Everyones brain works differently, and some brains don't work in the same way as everyone elses does.  We can't always fix what is wrong, but we can learn different ways of remembering things or working with the brains we have."  He said it made him feel better because she was straightforward about it, and treated him like he wanted to be treated.  She was respectful of the fact that he knew something was wrong, wasn't making promises, but held out hope for improvement.  He was quite angry when the special ed teacher with the district kept asking him to leave the room when he wanted to speak with me about Kenny.  He rightfully said "Mommy, it's MY brain and it's not like I am stupid and don't know something's wrong.  You never keep secrets from me and it's like he is treating me like a baby."  I explained that some parents don't want their kids to know certain information, but that we don't operate that way, and that might be unusual for folks from the school.

What I loved though was that Miss Zoe immediately saw what has perplexed us all along, that he is not the student he appears to be on paper, and she said flat out "Kenny is a really bright kid, that is easy to see, he just needs to learn differently." and guess what?  She already had taught him a trick to help him remember his phone number!  A day later, he repeated it this morning.  We'll see how long it lasts, but for him to remember my cell phone even 24 hours is a surprise!

Another big boost came from Miss Zoe telling me that we were already doing an awful lot right with Kenny, as she said he was explaining to her many of the ways we learn at home, he showed her the notebook from the house project, he told her that I have explained to him that we need to use both sides of his brain to help him learn things more easily and that he has to say it, discuss it, write it and draw it in many different subjects.  She told me that somehow I had already taken a lot of steps in the right direction just by watching him and trying to teach him in multiple ways.  While she said that, of course, she is not nearly done with testing, she could already tell me that all the way through his academic career he needed to learn things as hands on as possible, which is much harder the older a child gets so it will require some real brainstorming on my part, I guess.  We will never be able to fully rely on traditional textbooks and lectures, but then, I had already assumed that much.

We are also really seeing dramatic results from the Concerta for Kenny.  We went for a follow up to the MD, and showed him a document we used to track Kenny's math scores on all his assignments and tests.  He took one look at it and said "Well, that is quite a difference!  I guess we can clearly say Kenny is ADD and that this is effective!" Within 5 days Kenny went from mid-70's in all his assignments prior to taking the Concerta, including a 65% on a test the week before, to a huge jump up to high 80's and a 95% on this next test.  He is just able to slow down and catch more of what he is reading and studying.

So maybe...maybe we are finally finding some answers.  Maybe we will be better able to meet Kenny's needs as we continue to not settle for the status quo and keep pursuing answers.  It is heartening, it creates  some true hope for the first time, and it is a good feeling.  Our big problem is covering the cost of the Concerta.  Even the generic is $155 per month.  I have spent hours searching the internet to see if there is some way we can find it cheaper, but no luck thus far.  Like Dominick said "Somehow we will do it.  How can we not?  Look at the difference!", so if anyone has any brilliant ideas that I have not thought of (Yea, Canada and Mexico already thought of, coupons, etc.) I'd sure be open to hearing from you.

I know that many of you must find these sorts of posts dry and boring, but there are families out there with kids like ours who are struggling with similar issues and have nowhere to turn.  Like us, they run out of ideas, and it is my hope that posting about our day to day trials and successes might help someone stumble on a nugget or two that they can try with their own kids.

All in all, progress is being made.  What makes it all worthwhile?  After Miss Zoe left the other day, and Kenny was on his little "high" of feeling understood and validated for what he experiences every day, he came up and grabbed me in a big bear hug saying "Thanks for not ever giving up on me Mommy.  I know some moms would take the school's reports and believe them, and give up on their kids. I don't blame them, because the people at school are supposed to know what's wrong.  You've always told me that you knew I was smart even when I did things that didn't make any sense and I am so glad I have YOU for a mom!"

Who needs a paycheck? :-)

Here are a few pictures of our latest project, a timeline binder that the kids will use throughout their school years...we hope...if I am not a total loser and stop remembering to print things out for them to use in it:

Josh wasn't home the day we started it as he was working with Dominick.  I was surprised at how all the kids enjoyed this and loved the idea of it!  We are gradually going to add in events and people as we study them, and each of them can add in whatever is of interest to them that is outside our curriculum.  For example, Angela can add in Amelia Aerhart, or Matt can add in things about flight.  Kenny will likely add in more about theological dates that are important.  This is available from Homeschool in the Woods and is on CD with over 1500 images to use.  If what you want is not there, you can simply find an image on Google of whatever you want to include and add it in yourself.  We already had many to start as we are doing Leaders Great and Terrible.  You can color them or keep them in black and white.

What totally surprised me was that Angela and Kenny both had a terrible time using the timeline, but in conversation they are the first ones to come up with the year when I ask them to calculate what year something occurred in.  Olesya struggled, but I expected that and she actually had fewer mistakes than Kenny and Angela.  Matt took a little bit to get how the timeline worked, made a mistake or tow but it was prior to gluing in so he was good and then quickly caught on and helped explain it over and over the to the other kids.

Not a surprise at all was Joshie, who started his the next day, and within less than 2 minutes...seriously...had it wired and totally understood that some pages had notches in 20 years, some in 50 year increments, some in 100 year increments, and that he had to look before and after to see what it was on any given page.  Not a single mistake, and really no instruction.  It is things like this that always catch me off guard with him because it is sort of like he gets it by osmosis or something.  I go to teach him something with math, and usually he looks at me and says within a minute or two "Oh yea, I've got it." then proceeds to do it without any help.  This was the same way, all I did was start to warn him that throughout the book the increments changed, and not only did he "get it", but he immediately explained to me as if I might not "get it" myself "Well yea, Mom, they'd have to do that or the book would be ten feet thick.  Nothing much happened that was important in the earlier years of history, so they didn't need to have as much space for things to be put on the timeline, but when we get to modern times there is a lot that happened and they need more space."  It's interesting teaching a kid like that.  His best buddy is totally like that with reading, not at all really learning just happened.  It is so much fun watching him read, I get a kick out of it...but then he is sort of one of mine too :-)  Put those two together and man, we have quite a pair and cover just about every subject!

Time for me to turn off my brain, and get ready to sleep.  Well, at least try and get ready to sleep, the brain doesn't always turn off when I want it to!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's Day the Low Key Way

It was a low key Valentine's Day here at Casa LaJoy, as several team members were down for the count with a head cold.  Angela, Josh and I escaped for a few hours to run errands and returned to find our sickies all still laying around in PJ's watching movies.  Dominick, poor guy, ended up at the MD's this afternoon and is now on meds for a sinus infection.  He is so tired this time of year working such long hours that he has a harder time fighting things off.

I was finally feeling better today, but because of being under the weather myself up until today I didn't plan anything to celebrate.  I woke up this morning to a little surprise though, as an elf named Olesya must have snuck out in the middle of the night to get ready for a morning treat:

Table is all set with little hand made name tags...

We all had candy canes or lollipops waiting for us!

A sweet note for the family!
Olesya had the counter stacked with items to make a special breakfast, but then she was feeling so lousy that she didn't get up in time to do it.  It didn't matter, the love was there :-)  She spent the day resting, and then in a bean bag chair next to me on the floor tonight as we played footsie under the blanket.

I also received a special card from each of the girls, but Angela's was quite touching as she wrote how much she loves her family and "You are the best mom I have ever had, I love you so much!".  It was obvious their anniversary meant a lot to them today.  Angela and I had quite a conversation in the car today, as she and Josh talked about going back to Kazakhstan.  It was interesting having the two of them alone, and I think God may have been instrumental in arranging that, for they are the two who have strong feelings about birth moms and visiting Kazakhstan some day. Angela has said recently that she would like to one day track her mom down to ask her why she did the things she did and why she hadn't taken care of the girls.  Josh even as recently as last week wrote about wanting to meet his birth mom someday to ask similar questions.  I can see that for these two of our children, there is no "closure", and there will long be unanswered questions and emotions surrounding their adoptions that do not affect any of the other kids.  You could almost feel the connection in the car between Josh and Angela as they spoke, and it was something that they too noticed.

Angela has gone out of her way to compliment me lately, and seems to have moved forward into a new place in our relationship...a more settled place.  I have been told I am beautiful, that I am the smartest person she knows, that I am better teacher than she has ever had (don't worry, my head hasn't swelled a tiny bit yet, I am very realistic about myself!)...and the one that made me laugh out loud she has said two or three times over the past couple of weeks...that I should record songs and sing on the radio because "I love your voice, Mama, it's so pretty!  You could be like Elvis!!".  This cracked me up, as I was suddenly reminded of something from years and years ago, which admitting will make me sound like the total dork I really am, but when I was about Angela's age, I think, I used to walk around singing "Heartbreak Hotel" ALL the time...and I had TOTALLY forgotten about that!  Of all the people for Angela to get hung up on right now, Elvis is a really odd choice...sorta like I am being reminded that these girls really WERE meant to be ours!  Hahaha!  It also reminded me of one thing that I haven't done in awhile, and that is sing around the house more.  I used to sing all the time to Matt and Josh when they were little, making up songs or just singing any old thing.  Somehow, as they have all grown older, I have moved away from that.  Angela's comments reminded me of how lovely my own mom's voice is, and how I wished I had heard her sing more when I was a maybe I need to crank up the radio a little more often around here!

How did we spend our evening?  Well...nothing dinner at a high end restaurant.  The boys all drug their mattresses down to the TV room, complete with stuffed animals for Josh.  The girls hauled several blankets and bean bags down, and we all ate Papa Murphy's heart shaped pizza in the dark with the fire in the wood stove lending a golden warmth.  We watched a Disney movie which was surprisingly good about a Mormon missionary in Tonga during the 50's.  All in all, it was a wonderful evening, ending with our family standing together, arm in arm as we circled (or kidney bean shaped, as Matt actually said) and each took turns adding to a prayer.  We are so lucky to have found one another in this big ol' world, and we know it and are thankful for it.  No matter what else might go wrong in our lives, where we might fail, where we might find hardship...we have one another.  That's worth more than any fancy schmancy meal out at a high falutin' dining establishment!  Somehow, love makes pizza not only tolerable, but taste much better too :-)

I hope all of you had a love filled day, with reminders of how special you are.  I kind of consider all our readers our personal Valentines, and I wish it were possible to send a little card to each and every one of you!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Two Years

Two years ago, we were mid-flight, winging our way across continents.

Two years ago, we were ending a decade filled with paperwork, FBI fingerprints, background checks, and first  meetings.

Two years ago, we were stepping tentatively into the world of tweens and teens, of girlie giggles and hair raising hormones.

Two years ago, all that was certain was commitment and discomfort.

Two years ago seems like a century, and like yesterday.

Our anniversary is tomorrow, the day we stepped off the plane so weary, friends having quickly assembled a caravan to bring us home from a redirected flight an hour away.

60+ hours en  route with 5 kids in tow...everyone was beyond tired!

It was an inauspicious beginning to a new life, as anxiety and exhaustion took it's toll from the surprise extension of a trip initially to be 2 weeks stretched to an unbelievable 2 1/2 month ordeal.

Would we ever bond as a family?

Would we ever fully recover from the emotional nightmare we had just been through?

Would we ever be the same?

No, we would not be the same, ever.  Yes, we indeed would bond, yes we would all recover and become something unique, incredible and quite remarkable.  We became a family in every sense of the word.  To outsiders just catching a quick glimpse it appears simple enough, as if some Family Fairy had sprinkled sparkly dust over the top of us all and magically it all just fell into place and strangers instantly were emotionally connected.

Time creates a hazy cloud over it all, two years has shown that time, indeed, has healing powers unlike any other potion.  Let no one fool you though, it has been work...and at the same time it has been easy.  Maybe because it is the work of our heart, the work that we were called to.

Images of this weekend fill me up, my almost-unheard-of mid-afternoon nap on the couch as I hear the girls moving about the kitchen concocting treats, playing with blueberries, cookies and cream ice cream and a blender.  Bread is baking, and as I drift in that place between fully alert and blessedly dreamy I smell the aroma and feel full in ways no meal could ever fill me up.  A blanket is draped over me quietly by my tallest son, then gently tucked in around me. I look up, he grins and leans down to give me a peck on the cheek.  I know how many moms of twelve-going-on-thirty-year-olds are not this fortunate, and I say a little prayer of gratitude for the gentle natures of all our sons.  The house is quiet as whispers go round " is sleeping!", and the muffled sound of thousands of Legos being sorted is my background music.  I eventually rise and leave, bound for a meeting and I return to a darkened house to find Olesya's darling note on our white board "Night Mama...we love you SO MUCH!". She couldn't have known it was just what I needed.

It can't ever get better than it is right now.  We stand already on shifting sands, as children mature and begin the steady process of moving forth into the world.  There are moments when already I feel the sting of loss, of separation, and I know it is premature.  But to those who have lost most of a childhood together, the time left to us is compressed and ever more precious.  Every moment is savored, every hug a gift.

Our family was completed two years ago, but not finished by a long shot.  Everyone was home, finally, and that in itself was a relief like no other.  after ten years there was no more yearning, no more sensing that someone was missing (OK, there is this odd thing happening lately, but I am choosing to ignore it), no more pictures taped to a fridge to greet me in the morning as first meetings were months...or the future.  That fridge is gone, in fact, and a new one in its place, just as a new version of our family is now in front of us.

12 years ago, as we started the building of our family, we never imagined five children.  I never imagined daughters.  I never imagined returning to Central Asia over and over again.  I never imagined 3 dishwasher loads a day...15 loads of laundry a week...a dog, a hamster and a blind  mouse or two.  I never imagined 12 years ago our dining room table forever with 3 leaves in it, or a beat up old 15 passenger van, or a teaching cart as a piece of new living room furniture.

I never imagined just how darned fun it would all be!

Me, who was terrified of daughters and loved boys to death, now has two that are the perfect fit for this less-than-girlie Mom.  I have someone who will watch chick flicks with me, who will roll their eyes at the antics of all the men of the house including Daddy, and who will stand side by side at the kitchen counter slicing tomatoes.  I have daughters who will stand rocking in my arms as we hug goodnight, who will rest their heads on my shoulders, one in each arm, as we stand there relishing the moment...wishing it would last even longer.  The husky "Good Night Mom", the higher pitched hint of a giggle "Night Mama" as they make their way down the hall and into their bed, Sunny at their heels ready to go to sleep with them.

They are each more thoughtful than I would have ever dreamed of.  They are each so different, and yet so twin-like.  They are each so strong, so warm, so amazingly resilient.  They are each oddly so much like their Mom...adopted or not.  One will leave little notes and offer to clean the car out.  The other says she doesn't need shoes despite the gaping hole in the ones on her feet, as she tries to keep us from spending money on her and I literally have to force her to try on a new pair.

Each has the most beautiful heart, beautiful soul, beautiful mind...and I am still wondering how in the world it all worked out.  The odds were stacked against us over and over again, years of waiting, weeks of painful processing of emotions, months of building relationship. It took a willingness to be vulnerable on everyone's part, it took a level of patience not usually seen in children this age, and an inordinate amount of trust in complete strangers and God's plan.

Somehow, it worked.  Two years later, I am still unable to really take it in.

Yes, the day we stepped off that plane two years ago was the end of an era, in many ways it was the beginning of the end of our younger family and the bridge was before us to the next era with older children learning who they are and thinking about who they will become.

We were never the same, and I am so glad.

Happy Valentine's Day, my dear, sweet daughters!

 Happy Valentine's Day, my handsome, helpful sons!

 Happy Valentine's Day, my rock of a husband whom I adore.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Facebook Parenting: Really???

Many of you may have already viewed this video on Facebook or You Tube, as it has gone viral over the past 24 hours.  For those not "in the know", this Dad is using a Facebook post with video to retaliate against his 15 year old daughter, who posted some very uncomplimentary things about her parents.  Go ahead and watch it, so that you can see what I am talking about...

OK, now that you may have viewed it, I have a few thoughts about this which may be way off the mark in some people's opinion, and that's OK.

My first reaction, I'll admit, was from an immature place and I found it humorous for a bit.   I mean, what parent of an obnoxious teenager hasn't wanted to do exactly what he does...give a kid a taste of their own medicine!  It didn't take long though for me to find it less amusing, and to really begin to think about this dad's reaction, and his daughter's comments.

How broken can they be, that taking to Facebook to air their anger is the best that either daughter or parent can do?

A child learns respect from their parents.  I know there are times when we have had people look at us oddly for respecting the personhood of our children, for saying "please" and "thank you" and for telling them we are grateful for their terrific attitudes when doing chores around the house...yes...even though they don't have a choice...we still thank them for the way in which they go about doing their work with uncomplaining hearts and mouths.  I recall a parent long ago who looked at me and said "You don't say please or thank you, they do what you say no matter what! You are the boss!".  While I agree to some extend with that way of thinking, that children ultimately must be taught to defer to authority in their lives so they become decent employees, are respectful of law enforcement, etc. I do NOT agree with the fact that we don't show respect to our children, as we want them to show respect to us.

This father exhibits a complete lack of understanding of relationships as well as not an iota of true love for his daughter, and I wonder what he must be like in the adult relationships in his life.  I KNOW he may truly love his daughter, but if this is the side he shows the world, then what is he showing her?  You don't retaliate, you teach.  You don't hide behind anger, you sit down and reveal your heart and try to crack through the veneer.

And you don't start at 15 years old, it starts at birth.

Dumb?  Yea, I know, most people think so.  I also know that many might be shaking their heads saying "You've never parented a 15 year old yet!", and they would be right.  But I can't help but think that a far more effective way to handle this situation would be for Tough Guy Dad to sit down with his daughter, tears in his eyes and say with brutal honesty "What you did hurt me to the core.  I love you so much, and I want our relationship to be all that it can be. What did you gain by doing this? How can we work together to heal our relationship so that neither of us feels the need to publicly attack one another?"

I also think that the very nature of this problem as he states it reveals a child who has been encouraged by her parents' behavior to think that the world revolves around her, she has a sense of entitlement that no one...parent or child...should have.  Unfortunately, as generation after generation has sought to provide their children with a life that is better than the one they had, they forgot one important thing...the life they had that they so wish were different for their children was filled with experiences that forged them into the adults they became.  Somehow, in many families, childhood has become a time in life that  A) Is extended well into our late 20's B) Is supposed to be filled with only entertaining, enriching experiences for our children C) Encourages our children to feel the world owes them everything they ever desire, because they get everything they ask for and more  and C)  Is devoid of "work", which is somehow equated with other less acceptable four letter words.

Then we wonder why our youth don't have a decent work ethic when they begin to enter the real world.  It's pretty easy to see why...they've never been required to contribute, never seen their work as valuable to their family or their community, and never had the privilege of looking back over their own labor with great satisfaction to realize they just completed a job well done.  We have, sadly, taken away the joy of accomplishment from our kids when we see ourselves as merely their Entertainment Committee for 18 years.

Then, as is shown in the video above, we take away their toys and shoot them with a pistol, then share it for all the world to see what a mature way in which we handled this dilemma.  Thankfully, not every family operates in the way the one in the video depicts, but far too many do and we all sit back and laugh, when really we ought to be deeply moved by the obvious lack of true, loving connection.

Yes, WE contribute to the very problem we see here when we willingly, eagerly become voyeurs into the lives of others and find humor and entertainment in their brokenness.  We laugh over reality shows and the actions on screen which make us feel better about our own lives.  New Jersey Housewives, The Bachelor, and even Hoarders all allow us to sit back and say "Man, they are NUTS!" and now we don't need a major network to film us as YouTube and Facebook allow the average Joe to share the same thing for the world, to become instant celebrities as they show off for their propped up video cameras and mug for the audience.

Reflecting on this the day after, I was ashamed...of myself, ashamed of my initial reaction, ashamed at my own voyeurism that does nothing more than encourage more folks to mug for the cameras and hurt one another ever more.

Maybe I am the one who needs to grow up, just as much as Macho Dad with a Gun does.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Hard Work of Adoptive Love

He plopped himself on my lap, sprawled across it with his now somewhat gargantuan body draped across me. The slightest sign of peach fuzz has appeared on his upper lip, his voice solidly in a much lower register that even had his dad puzzled last week asking "Who's that?".  I can't truly call him my "first born", and not just because he was not carried in my womb but because our family is now and forever an enigma which is hard to explain because of our out of sequence formation.  However he is my "first home" and the first I ever held in my arms knowing that this child was mine to keep forever...or at least until the day comes when he completely belongs to himself and I can claim him no more, a day that creeps slowly closer.

He is as tall as I these days, solidly built, and living into the image that was so easy to conjure even when he was a preschooler whose firm grip on my hand was always strangely reassuring.  He hops up, and the other end of the LaJoy family scale jumps on, the littlest LaJoy who is not so little anymore, he and his older brother the bookends of the family, both brought into our lives as tiny ones, eventually bracketing others who entered needing acceptance, love, patience and time...time to figure out who they were and what their roles are...a process that continues to this day.

The physical part of parenting adopted children is something that is almost never discussed, and yet is probably one of the single most important facets of bonding.  Oh, we share about the practical aspects of taking in a child whose life began before we appeared.  We know the facts, we understand the risks, we watch for signs of the alphabet soup diagnosis that signal the need for interventions.

But who tells us how to go about shrinking that invisible yet all important personal space bubble?  Who has hints for us about when to prod and push, how to gently encourage the more intimate kinds of relationships that both parent and child deeply yearn for and yet have no idea how to initiate with a stranger, a stranger whose very role might bring up terrible flashbacks to earlier parents whose presence was less than loving.

Whether adopted in infancy or as older children, the issue of touch and the development of intimacy is imperative and yet somehow a bit taboo.  Perhaps it is our own fear of rejection or our need to present a picture to the world that all is wonderful.  Maybe it is that we don't have the words for what is not yet happening and how we aren't even sure that we should try to make it happen.  Sometimes, we settle for much less than what it can be, all because we are scared to try.

It's easier with infants and toddlers, or so we think.  Sometimes it isn't.  Even the youngest child can reject us physically, using their body to tell you what they do not have the words yet to proclaim..."Don't touch me!  I can't trust you!  Everyone goes away and so will you, so I am NOT giving it up to any big person again...I'm tired of being hurt and left."  They wiggle and squirm, they wrestle and cry out in agonizing screams that are unlike anything ever heard by most parents.  They throw things, the pinch, they bite.  Parents hold back tears of their own as they begin the laborious process of acting lovingly even when they don't feel it...when they can't feel it...and they hope and pray their child doesn't sense it.  Moms and Dads hang in there, rocking tiny, angry children whose gaze never meets theirs, whose bodies are stiff as they endure being held.  Sometimes, surprisingly, as language comes, they even declare that a hug "hurts", for it is so uncomfortable and their vocabulary so limited that is the only way they can describe that what should feel comforting and reassuring actually causes them to feel imprisoned and trapped.

It gets easier, if one hangs on.  Little by little, the child begins to wriggle less and less.  They may not tolerate being chest to chest, but you can have them sit with their back to your chest, their faces directed outward to avoid the intimacy of eye contact...and one day you notice they are relaxing into you, maybe turning their head around for a response.  They begin to let you touch them more, although they may not be able to return affection yet, at least not in obvious or usual ways. Smiles creep in occasionally, and the screaming lessens.  You realize that you can now rest your hand on their back without them bucking away from you, and your heart sings at such a tiny breakthrough.  In time, as you begin to remind them repeatedly, they break the habit of looking away and can even hold your gaze for a few moments.  More time passes, and they absently reach for your hand when walking the aisles at Walmart, and tears spring to your eyes as it is the first time your child has willingly and of their own volition held your hand.  It may be two years post-adoption, but you've made it.  The physical expressions of love that everyone else takes for granted continue to appear, and you breath easier knowing that the worst is past.

With older children, it is far more complicated, far more sensitive, and requires much more awareness and sensitivity.  Tweens and teens are so conflicted as they are entering new relationships which require deep intimacy in order to be successful, and it comes at a time when naturally their development requires them to begin distancing themselves.  What a pickle to be in!!  Then there is the practical side to it all...what is appropriate and natural in infancy and toddlerhood can be taboo at this age.  Bathing with your infant promotes closeness, co-sleeping, blowing on bare tummies and tickling toes...these acts all draw us into relationship with little ones,  but are not possible with older children.

And yet, how they so long for all they never had!  They long to cuddle too, they want to feel precious to someone, they NEED emotional intimacy and to be taught how to achieve it without ever having witnessed it or experienced it.  What is a parent to do?  Where do you even begin?  What won't feel completely awkward with a larger body on the edge of adolescence?  You HAVE to make the efforts, you HAVE to find ways to create space and opportunity for life giving touch.  Every human needs it to be healthy.  Those who have had too little of it die inside, they grow hard and cold.  You have to awaken that part of your older child, so that one day when they have their own child in their arms they can relish the feel of their child's skin on their own, they can offer their own child what was once denied them.

You start slowly, you allow space, you have patience.  A hand gently placed on an arm when making a point. An arm draped over a shoulder when laughing over something.  You read the signals and remove it if you sense a single moment of disturbance.  You never, ever make it about your need to be hugged or feel loved by your child.  You let them gradually get used to physical even have a hand placed on a shoulder can feel incredibly foreign and uncomfortable if you have never had that sort of experience before.  It is not a rejection of you, it is a discomfort with the unfamiliarity of it all.  It is also about trust, and you have to earn it, sometimes working hard to overcome what has been unfairly laid at your feet due to the actions of others.  It doesn't matter why, it just is, and you have to work with it.

You tousle hair as you walk by, you offer to brush hair, you play games by comparing hand and ring sizes, you try on colognes at the perfume counter and compare as you giggle which smells ghastly and which you would actually wear...but the act of sniffing a perfumed wrist is surprisingly intimate in a non-intrusive way.  You play basketball or football with them, using it as an opportunity to encourage closeness as you show them how to throw the ball with your hand over theirs, or grip a bat as you guide their body pressure ways to increase comfort level with contact.  You allow them to "make you up" giving them a tray full of blush, eye shadow and lipstick and let them go to town on you, yes, even if you are clownlike in appearance afterward and you all laugh like crazy over it as your hair is sticking up in odd directions looking very much like a disturbed version of Pippi Longstocking.

You laugh, you burp, you fart, you do all those things that are not allowed in public but are your secrets...and you don't scold until your relationship is tight, instead you join them and see who can be the smelliest or the loudest.  Crude? Yup.  Effective?  You bet.  You go clothes shopping, you tug at clothes here or there, you evaluate, you ask what they think.  You walk and tell secrets, your arm over their shoulder pulling them close so no one else hears...then you release and give them space.  You have camp outs on your bedroom floor, you whisper in the dark, you hear one another breathing quietly in the night.  You read together, snuggled on a couch, and a head eventually falls to your shoulder.

Then, you do what many would never have the guts to do but which is imperative that it is name it, you call them on it, you explain it.  You say outright "I'll bet it is SO uncomfortable to have a total stranger giving you hugs, that must feel so weird, especially at first!"  or you share your own discomfort honestly and laugh or grieve about it together "I wish I had been able to hold you in my arms when you were a baby, I wish I could have protected you.  Sometimes I feel totally ripped off, and then I realize we are so fortunate to have what we have now." or you can say "When we first met, I was afraid to hug you because I was scared you would push me away."  It is important that you join your child in this unfamiliar journey, that they have the opportunity to see that they were not the only ones trying to figure this all out.  Trust me, it will not make you appear weak, it creates an opening for your child to see you as sharing the same fears and doubts as they have.

Eventually, one day when you are out walking, a much larger hand is timidly placed in yours.  Eventually, the good night hugs become something more than perfunctory, and they last longer and longer as your child melts into you as if they can never get enough of what they missed so long ago.  Eventually, they sneak up behind you and kiss you on the act which requires such incredible courage because of the risk they take in doing it and the unfamiliarity of such an act.  It is utterly precious.  Gradually, without you even noticing it, your patience pays off.  They lean into you when your sitting side by side on the couch, they reserve your place next to them at the table, when laying on the floor next to your side of the bed on camp out night, they reach out to you in the dark and grab hold of your hand wanting to let you know that they are glad you are parent and child and lacking the words or courage to say it.

The process is different when adopting, love takes time to develop and grow.  It is amazing to watch, and even more amazing to be a participant.  A child's heart is gently pried open, as long as a parent is not needy themselves and can remain patient and accepting of where the child is on their personal journey.

Our "middles", two of whom are actually our eldest, all respond in different ways.  Kenny's love is so open, so simple and gently offered. His had to move from random to specific, from "Gee...they feed me and don't beat me, isn't that great?" to "Wow...they really LOVE me for who I am, they'd do anything for me, I've never had that before!"  His ease with physical affection made it less tense at first, but underlying it all was the knowledge that there was no depth, and that had to be developed.  His arms flung open wide for anyone who had a smile and treated him decently.  It took a long time for him to internalize that there was a difference between kindness and committed, dedicated love.

Olesya so desperately wanted to be loved and accepted for who she was, and needed someone to help her see she was far more than she thought she was.  She was a snuggle bunny from day one, but it was and sometimes still is not yet fully unreserved.  From the outside, it looks like it, for she is easy with her affection, but from the insider's view it is clear to see that much of it is in an effort to earn love, for she has yet to really understand it is offered freely.  We have moments, and they are coming more and more frequently, when the hugs are rich and nothing is held back.  That is something you can't really describe, but can sense and feel.  Then there are others when there is a hint of desperation for acceptance, a lack of confidence that she is loved completely and that breaks my heart.  I know that for her, it is at a subconscious level, much as the lack of eye contact was for Josh.  There is a total lack of awareness of this fear of fully letting go, but I think in time it will be resolved and one day she'll realize her own worth, and that will change every relationship she has.

In the meantime, we continue to encourage and actually even point out things to think about in terms of affection and how it is practiced.  With older adoptees, we wrongly take for granted what is understood to be true.  We need to provide love language, vocabulary for emotions for it has never been taught.  We as their parents need to teach about relationships like we do with toddlers and preschoolers, but for some reason we assume someone else has already done that work simply because they come to us in larger bodies.  We forget there was no one by their side educating them in the ways of the world, in the ways of love, in the ways of forgiveness and courage and acceptance of the imperfections of others.

And there is no one there to teach them how to hug, how to accept love.

Angela was prickly, reserved, cautious and guarded.  She had good reason to be.  Her love had to be earned, and could only be done through strength that matched her own...and bested it.  She needed to learn, and still is in the process of it, that love can be firm and soft at the same time, that showing affection and love is not a weakness but can sometimes be the hardest thing of all to do.  She needs to discover the strength it takes to let go of yourself so that someone else can enter your heart, and I see her finally really understanding that gentle, warm affection can be the sweetest thing in all the world, and these days she clamors for it.  Today with her new found insights, she smiles when seeing an older couple at church hold on to one another as the slowly make their way to their pew, and she comments on how kind someone is when she witnesses gentle expressions of love.  No longer is it seen as a weakness to wear your heart on a sleeve. During a conversation recently while in Denver with her and warning her that we were in a big city and she needed to keep a watchful eye when we entered a restaurant she asked me "Mama, if someone try to hurt you, I bet you hurt them a lot back...I think you could be very tough if you need to, especially to protect us."  but then she added, much to my delight "But what I like best is that you don't have to be tough all the time, we know you are but with us you are sweet and give good hugs.  I like a mom who is like that, my first mom could only be mean.  That's not really tough in a good way, not the way you are tough, and she was maybe too scared to be sweet and give hugs.  Maybe she didn't even know how."  Later,  she threw her arm over my shoulder as we walked out the door of the restaurant, protecting me in her own way, silently showing me her love.

It took two years to get to that point.  Patience...patience...hanging in there...hugging when it wasn't meaningfully returned...remembering that it wasn't about me and her meeting my needs, working our way from a light touch on the shoulder which was often rebuffed to a hand run gently through her hair to playing footsie under the table, to now cradling her in my arms at night.

These are the parts of adoption no one speaks of, they are the most necessary yet the least likely to be addressed.  Yes, you can achieve the same kind of warmth and easy going affection you have with biologically related children, and frankly, compared to some families you can have even better relationships and stronger bonds.  There are times when I am completely bowled over and humbled by the warmth and true depth of relationship we currently enjoy with our kids.  I also have incredible respect for what we have all been through as a family, recognizing that what would have broken others somehow strengthened us.  That doesn't just happen by accident, and we also are not the wisest and most loving parents on earth either...ask anyone who knows us in "real life" and they'll surely be able to attest to our many failings! Hahaha!   For us, we know a huge factor was the inclusion of God in all we do, for our relationship with God and what we have learned along the way about the nature of God has informed us about how we need to be with our children.

But it isn't simple, and it requires a lot of inner strength, awareness and sensitivity on the part of the adoptive parents.  It takes a desire to want a relationship that is rich with meaning and depth, and then the courage to keep reaching for it even in light of what can be long periods of rejection.  It takes trusting the process, providing space when it is needed without being anxious about it, and being willing to also let your child see your vulnerability as well, for it makes you human and creates opportunity for compassion to form.

In time, healing occurs, hearts open, and love is practiced with great zeal.  Eventually, you have big kids sitting on your lap, you have arms draped over your shoulders, you have real love.  It is worth every single moment of effort you put into it

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A Reminder...

MOUSE UPDATE:  After a long, difficult night listening to two male mice fighting, the boys decided to try and return the mice to exchange for females.  After researching on the internet and discovering that male mice should not be kept together, it was off to the pet shop they went, cage in hand to return it as well.

Dominick stood back and let the Josh and Kenny explain to the manager that the clerk the day before had given them incorrect information about the cage accommodating mice.  Evidently, the manager tried to intimidate the kids a bit and Dominick had to step in.  He said it was not the boys' fault that their clerk was new and didn't know better, as the boys had asked and bought the cage based upon her answer.  After making it clear that he was not backing down, the manager agreed begrudgingly to refund the price of the cage.  They also agreed to exchange the mice, because that too had been asked about and incorrect information had been provided.  I am glad Dominick went and I did not, so that I didn't have to put on my Mean Mom face :-)

So, we know have two cute little female mice, living happily together in their new home.  One is missing an eye, and Josh said he felt like it needed to be loved too.  Now, if God is smiling on us, we will NOT have mouseletts running around anytime soon.  I was thinking it would be cool if I could find some mouse experiments somewhere for us to do, no...not dissecting (as Josh looked at me in horror as I suggested this), but mazes or testing against hamsters or something.

As long as they are living harmoniously together, we are all good!

As of today we are done with the special ed evaluation with Kenny, much to my frustration.  I need to regroup, as I was told I am worrying too much, that Kenny is extremely intelligent and we have nothing at all to worry about.  This is after yesterday Kenny once again forgot his phone number completely...not even after me nudging him could he recall it, so we have to reteach that again.  Just like so many things we need to reteach even after they at first appear solidly cemented.

In speaking with the special ed teacher, I said that I knew Kenny was very bright and was not at all surprised that he also saw this, as that is what I have been saying for years.  Then I asked him why, if everything was indeed "OK", did Kenny's cognitive and IQ tests reflect such low functioning.  His answer?  "Well, that puzzles me too, as it totally doesn't jive with the kid I am seeing here.  He does not belong in traditional special ed as he is way above the other kids I am working with...not at all on the same level and I could never have the sorts of conversations with them that I have with him."  When I asked what we might look at for his memory issues he said, get this, "That's what wallets are for, he can always write his phone number and put it in his wallet." Even Kenny couldn't contain a chuckle in response to that one, as he knows the only thing that means is he will lose his wallet and not remember where it is!!

I shared with Lael today, who so kindly watched the other kids again, that I need to find that one person who can crack the code, someone who will look at the whole kid, who has a depth and breadth of experience that others don't have.  The problem is there are too many things going on with him that cross over one another, and I don't know where to go from here.  There is no way Kenny is "normal" in the way his brain functions, anyone who knows him can tell you that.  Note that I do not mean Kenny is dumb, stupid, incapable or any such thing.  His brain just processes information wrong.

And I have to laugh out loud at the thought of his brain functioning "normally" and us having no reason to worry as was suggested, as I again picture him standing in front of us holding the ceramic top to the toilet, thinking he was bringing me the seat cover I wanted to wash.

Naaahhh...we have no reason to worry at all.

Sooooooooo, back to the drawing board.  It's hard not to want to give our all to him.  A couple of days ago, when it was just he and I coming home from his orthodontist appointment, he started crying as we hashed some of this.  He felt badly that so much of our time, effort and energy goes into getting him the help that he needs, and it takes it away from the other kids.  I reassured him that there would be times that came along when it would be one of the others that needed more of us, that in a family it always seems to rotate.  I told him "You weren't around when Josh came home and it took three long years of intense work with him to help him get where he is today.  So he already had his turn!!" and that got him laughing a little.

We talked about how families lean on one another and stick by you, never giving up, and that one day it would be our turn when Dominick and I grow old.  He digested that a little, then said "You know Mommy, there is no way any of us could ever repay you for all you do for us.  Some of us might not even be alive if it weren't for you and Daddy."  That sat there for a moment, hovering in the car a bit, then I replied "Well, maybe you're right, you know enough that I can't lie to you and say that for a couple of you that might not be true.  But it's never, ever about paying anyone back.  Love doesn't work that way, there's never a tally sheet."  He then said "That's what I like best about you and Daddy, you love everyone equal, you don't have any favorites.  You know, before I came home with you guys, I never knew what love really was.  It took me a long time to think of you both as real parents, and to get what that meant.  You were just people like at the orphanage who fed me and stuff.  Now that I am older and have been part of this family for so long, I don't know why I didn't understand what love really was or how to do it."  I said "I do, you have to experience it to be able to return it."  Kenny then looked up at me and said "Well, I know how to love now!"   His face brightened, and we hugged, and set off to go inside the store.

And so we keep on going, never giving up, trying everything we can think of to help maximize what we can.  There is so much potential there, hidden between quirky brain function.  There is so much potential in all of them, and I pray every single day that we are doing all that is possible to help them lead lives of meaning, lives filled with joy, lives that value the things worth valuing.  It's not about IQ or test scores, it's not about peak performance.  It's about what Kenny spoke of, learning to love.  Everything else is just lower on the list.

Maybe I needed that reminder this week...

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Uh Oh, Another Adoption

Got you with that title, didn't I! HAHAHA!  Today we had an unexpected joyful adventure!  Dominick was off so we took the day off from school, and we went to the park with scooters and dog in tow, spent a couple hours there walking and playing...yes, even the big kids still love playing on the equipment and they all play Marco Polo together.  Then it was off to the shoe store for Dominick, who desperately needed a new pair of work shoes.  While he was in the shoe store, the kids and I went next door to Petco just to look around.  The next thing I knew, Josh quite uncharacteristically was engrossed in something he had never expressed an interest in before...owning a mouse.

Quickly, Kenny jumped on the bandwagon as well, and the girls and I giggled with each other as the boys gained momentum over the idea of owning a mouse.  They were SO CUTE, getting all excited over cages and water bottles, calculating how much they would each need to contribute to be able to cover the costs, comparing and analyzing what would be the best purchase and getting into deep discussion with the extremely kind and patient sales clerk who couldn't hide her own grin as the boys sat on the floor plotting and planning.  Dominick came in, and the boys asked him if it would be OK, promising to clean the cage regularly and to pay for everything themselves.  As Josh explained to me before Dominick arrived on the scene "Mommy, I have saved over $200 in the bank, and there has been nothing I wanted to spend my money on until now...I think this would be something worth spending it on because we will split the cost, so it will cost each of us less, and we will be really responsible with it."  Yes Josh, I think that to save over $200 at 9 years old, having earned every single penny of it yourself through your own hard work shows you already are super responsible!  How could we say no? Much to their delight, we came home with two little mice, and a cage.

This is Flash...there is no name for the other mouse yet!

An hour after the cage was set up, Josh went in to check on them, and found that Flash indeed lived up to his name, and had escaped his cage!  Despite our double checking with the clerk and being reassured that the cage they bought was indeed good for mice, just as we suspected the bars were too far apart and made for an easy point of exit.  The former exterminator in both of us screamed out before the purchase that this wasn't going to hold them, but both the box and the clerk insisted it would.  Always go with the gut, but we ignored our own advice this time.  So, we took a look at Olesya's abandoned hamster aquarium that she was given along with another cage when we got her hamster, and realized we could use it for the mice (we had thought the top was broken, but it was OK after all), so the boys are going to return the cage tomorrow and insist on a refund.  That'll be good for them too, to learn how to handle a customer complaint appropriately.  We found mouse care instructions online and it specifically said that a wire cage shouldn't be used, so Josh jumped  to get a highlighter and said he would take it to argue his case that their clerk should have known better.

I am not sure who had the most interest in the mice...Joshua, who kept checking on them every 10 minutes, or Sunny, who thought she had some new pals to play with!

Isn't she funny the way she sits up like that?  She can do that and hold the position for quite awhile. 

Although we took today off, we have been working hard at school, and wanted to show you a little of what we have been doing:

I got these terrific magnet sets a couple of weeks ago in the hopes of helping Olesya grasp place value, which Josh worked with her on as well.  There was also a set that all the kids will use which includes magnet labels for all parts of speech, which you can use on the white board to label a sentence you write up there.  Olesya struggles in math are beginning to be akin to Kenny's in language, and although she is making progress, it is very slow going.  She doesn't get "stuck" as long as Kenny does, but we already know that we will be very, very lucky if we can get her through even Algebra 1..and she will gladly move towards consumer math :-)  Her gift is with writing and language arts, but at least she is not crying over math every day anymore!  Josh was a big help in working with her, and we are lucky that no one in our family gets upset about being ahead or behind anyone else.  Josh excels in math and is currently working on beginning fractions along with beginning division, which is coming pretty easily to him.  As much as he loves numbers and likes to analyze them, I was joking recently that he ought to be an actuarial when he grows up!  We spent almost an hour last night looking at this link:

This is a cool one to check out as it is a great tool for explaining census data while integrating  a map.  It also has data broken out by race, and interestingly it shares information about vacant housing in each county.  Josh totally ate this up, as I suspected he would, and we talked about what it means for something to be statistically insignificant, because our county now has 1% Asians, but 0% African Americans so I was explaining that didn't mean there were zero African Americans, just too few to count as a percent.  So we had to do the math with that and what that meant.  It was really a terrific tool for using math in a different way.

Then we were working with our science program from Nancy Larson, and the kids were studying the same thing Matthew is...chemistry.  Of course, for them it was just a very brief introduction to the Periodic Table of Elements and what molecules and atoms are, but there was a little experiment where we made carbon out of a marshmallow.  They all loved doing that:

Burn, Baby, Burn!

Angela has said several times after our last unit on planets that she really enjoyed astronomy and wants to study that more when she gets to high school.  That was a surprise to me as I thought that would be less engaging for the kids, but they all really liked it!  We had the added advantage of having a friend from church  donate a telescope to us, which we used to watch the full moon.  After doing chemistry though, Angela also said she really liked that too, so who knows what will be her favorite science subject!  Olesya isn't much of a science student, she doesn't dislike it but it isn't her favorite either.  She much prefers grammar and writing, and though history is not really her favorite either she is proving to be very good at thinking about things more deeply, and we are seeing  a  little more of it from time to time.  It may be helping that the other kids are applauding her when she comes up with a good insight, as that seems to encourage her to be more involved, and I am grateful to the other kids for helping her shine at times.  Like Kenny, she too is slowly stepping away from ways of seeing herself which include words like "stupid" or "dumb" and is instead seeing that she may struggle in one area, but she is quite good in many others.  Sometimes getting rid of that internal recording we all have can be long, arduous work...but with both of our more vulnerable learners we are making progress!!

While we were all doing science, Mr. Matt was doing this:

I know it looks like he is snuggled in his bean bag chair, playing video games.  And to some degree you would be correct :-)  He IS snuggled in his bean bag chair, but he is NOT playing video games, he is working on learning German through Rosetta Stone, which he is enjoying.  We are not putting in a full years worth of hours on it for him, as he can't get foreign language credit for it because he is only in 7th grade.  But next year in 8th grade it appears Matthew will be working towards two high school credits, one in German and one in math as he will be taking Algebra 1 next year.  We are not pushing this, as we are not one of those families who feels their kids have to graduate at 15...good thing with our group that we don't have that mentality! Hahah!  But Matt is just working at a normal pace and that is where he will be in math, and he has wanted to take German since 5th grade, so why not get high school credit for it if he is going to do it anyway?  We'll see how it works out next year.

And this....this is for me:

That stack of workbooks on the left is one morning worth of correcting I need to do.  I am SO LUCKY that Dominick has committed himself to handling math 100%, as I would never have any breathing space if I had to correct all of it too.  Homeschool dads really keep us homeschool moms going.  Without Dominick, my IT Guy, I would be a frustrated, angry Mama!  He keeps our printer up, our computers working well, the math graded, and any other little things done that are somehow out of reach for me.  In between grading these workbooks, I'll throw a load of laundry in, get lunch ready, plan in the back of my head our next project.

We are going to create our own personal time lines in binders which, if my plan works well, will be added to throughout their school careers with events and people we study as well as anything that they individually want to add...the first airplane flight, William and Kate's Wedding, whatever interests each of them.  I got a set of timeline figures we will use, and they can use Google to get artwork to represent whatever else they want to add.  We will also create a large sized classroom timeline to help everyone visualize exactly when things happened, when the Middle Ages was, etc.  I tried it with just Matt when we first started homeschooling, but I didn't have a good plan in my head and we abandoned it.  However, I am seeing the need, particularly for Olesya, to be able to see it in a tangible way, as she struggles mightily with understanding AD/BC and needs to see it drawn out every time.  Having a full size one that she has added things to might make it more tangible.

it's time for me to hang it up for the day, and hope I don't awaken to the sounds of squeals because Flash escaped again or ate mousie number two!  Tomorrow is back at the books!