Friday, June 29, 2012

Fires Raging, Hearts Amazing

Warning folks, it's a "long one"!

As the fires rage around us, smoke drifting skyward as fuel is consumed by the acre, so too do the fires rage within the hearts of the LaJoy's this past couple of days.  Oh, it may not be as obvious as the epic wildfires of Colorado have been this summer, but make no mistake, there are distinct embers smoldering and occasionally igniting into fill blown flames.

I think that somehow, each of us was just a bit transformed by this past week, and after all, isn't that exactly what summer camp was designed to do?  

First, let me share the more mundane events.  The house was quiet with 3 of the kids gone, and both Angela and Kenny declared that though it was indeed nice to have more attention from Mom and Dad, it was just too darned quiet around here!  We heartily agreed with that.  I have a secret admission to make though, and that is that I was quite surprised just how much easier it was to keep the laundry caught up and the house clean! Haha!  Truth be told, I'd rather have the mess :-)

Kenny spent several hours exploring a broken 10 year old laptop, and he was pleased with his ability to stick with it and then put it back together almost as good as new!  This was a first for him, and it is interesting to watch him hit developmental milestones later than other kids his age:

Olesya has been practicing her new cake decorating skills, and learning a lot as she goes:

This was Olesya's Father's Day gift to Dominick and our other favorite Daddy, Donald Vincent!

Flowers made from gum paste at our last class...all agreed they looked beautiful but taste wretched! Hahaha!

But of all her creations thus far, I think this one, left for us on our fridge before she went to camp, was our all time favorite:

There were so many surprises this weekend, so much richness and depth that made it very, very special.  Now, I know it wouldn't necessarily be all that special in anyone else's eyes, but it contained so many little revelations about who are children are, and who they are becoming.

Matthew's handling of his situation was remarkably mature, as he was moved from place to place without even being told why initially.  He was quite calm under pressure, and was not at all nervous or uncomfortable.  He laughed as he told me after the fact "Mom, with all that our family has done and what has happened to us over the past years, it makes this seem like nothing at all to stress about!  I actually was glad that I wasn't nervous like some of the other cadets were.  I knew that eventually you'd catch up to me, that you were smart enough to track me down and I didn't need to worry about it but just needed to do my job."  

The Big Surprise in our little Emergency Retrieval Situation was Mr. Kenny.  Wow, did this young man shine and show that for all the things he can't remember, when the chips are down he can really come through!  He was really thinking ahead the entire time, warning me to make sure that we didn't let the car gas tank sit on low in case we needed to take long detours.  He cautioned us to keep ourselves fairly well packed once we hit our hotel room, because we might have to be evacuated in the middle of the night and didn't want to be rushing around to pack things up.  There were tons of little things like that which had me seeing him in a new, more capable and mature light, which goes hand in hand with his ever-deepening voice these days.  He might not be able to remember to shut the car door, but in an emergency he has a lot of common sense!

We ended up housing two of our close friends also coming to pick their children up from La Foret, as their hotel had been evacuated and they had no place to go!  Thankfully, we had a larger room and it was as if it was planned!  So we had a big ol' slumber party, and Thursday morning we were off to pick up Olesya and Josh from church camp and to reunite our family.  

Camp is set up so that the younger kids have a closing ceremony that the parents are invited to attend, while the older kids have their own Closing Circle that is special and parents are asked to stand back and let the campers have that time alone together to say their goodbyes.  So we didn't get any photos of Olesya as we were all off to see Joshie's last hurrah.

In an odd way, it was a right of passage for me as well, for this was the last of the LaJoy children to go through the youngest camp, called Pioneer Camp.  It was signalling the end of an era of sorts, an era of younger children in our home as we acknowledge the passing of time and the maturing of little souls into somewhat older ones.  Boy, did that ever hit home later that day as we headed back toward Montrose.  

Josh was at camp with two buddies from church, and they all looked like the Big Kids there!  A terrific compliment was paid us parents when two separate young counselors told us that our little Gang of Three was the best behaved group of the bunch, and in fact word had gotten around after last year and a couple of the counselors were crossing their fingers hoping to get them in their cabin!  

Joshie waving after seeing us for the first time since camp started!

There are some truly dedicated counselors at our church camp.  Miss Teddy has been a counselor there for 27 years, and has had all 3 LaJoy Boys!

Our Gang of Three...tremendous little guys, all of them!

What really touched me though was seeing the love that Joshua clearly felt for those with whom he had spent this past few days...and how easily he showed his affection.  For most kids, this wouldn't be a big deal.  For a child with reactive attachment disorder, this is a miracle, pure and simple:



And More Hugs!

This was Joshie's Cabin Counselor, and it is easy to see the affection was mutual.

THIS is why La Foret is important for our kids, priceless for them.  The experiences they have there, the connections they make, the love that is shared fills them in ways that parents alone can not.

My favorite picture of all was this one though, as the kids were all coming back from getting Josh's gear from his cabin...

That raised eyebrow totally cracks all of us up, and it always reminds me of 
Steve Austin, the Bionic Man! Hahaha!

While I was bummed not to be able to get photos of Olesya, there wasn't much I could do about it.  By the time I got to her, all the kids in her camp had already departed :-(

Our family was mostly all together, with the exception of Dominick who was back home working, but we had yet another reunion ahead of us which long overdue.  Our friends from Wichita with 2 daughters adopted from Matt's orphanage were in Colorado with their family on vacation (And their Daddy had to stay home too!).  This friendship has stood the test of time, beginning even before Matthew was brought home as they guided us through the then very much unknown process of Kazakhstan adoption.  We have visited back and forth for years, they have been extraordinarily kind as we added each of our children to our family, and we have watched our collective broods grow from 2 children to 9!!  The saddest part of being with them is parting, as they are so special and such a wonderful fit for us and our weirdness :-)  We love the Ewing's, as well as their extended family, very much, and this relationship has been one of the side bonuses of our international adoption journeys.  I have no doubt that one day in the not so distant future we will be having 18 year old young men and women standing before us as we gather yet again to celebrate the joy that was brought to all of us through loving those who are not biologically connected...and that includes far more than our children.

While, of course, you know that the LaJoy kids are all adopted, but I am not even going to point out which of the others are, for it really doesn't even matter, does it?  Love is love...

After playing in the pool and sharing mass quantities of pizza together, it was time for us to hit the road and head home...finally...where my hubby was patiently waiting and alone for our anniversary!  I was soon to learn that he wasn't actually alone, thankfully, as our pastor and another family-ish friend were out with him having a late night Coca Cola.  Now that is real friends, making sure you don't spend your anniversary nursing a Coke all by yourself! Haha!

We got in our car to head home, the final 2 1/2 hours ahead of us.  It was early evening, the sky was stunning, and the conversation was contemplative on so many levels. What is it about the twilight hours?  What is it about the coming darkness that allows us to open up?  Olesya started the conversation by sharing heart to heart, really for the very first time, and my soul was dancing as she did so.  

"Mama?  Remember when you told me awhile ago that you knew I wasn't really totally able to love you all yat?  That I was scared of showing you what was really inside?  We talked a lot about that at camp this week, and it was like I suddenly totally got it...what you were saying...and I think you were right.  Why do you think I do that?  I can't figure it out, because I DO love you and Daddy a lot, but it was like a light bulb went on and when we talked at camp about being open to people I saw what maybe you see in me."  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  That is the deepest Olesya has ever been with us on her own accord.  Instead of providing her with an answer to her question, I asked her one of my own.  "Olesya, why do YOU think you can only go so far with love?  Why do you think it is so hard for you?  I totally believe that you love us completely, so don't feel bad about that...Daddy and I both know that.  But we want you to be able to fully participate in relationships with those you care about and I am wondering what you think is holding you back, why you feel the need to protect your heart."

She looked out the window for a moment, and you could almost see her deciding whether she should risk total honesty or not.  "Maybe it feels scary, like people won't really honestly love me back."  There  were no tears, it was more of an intentional willingness to share something that she had been unwilling to share before.  The whole care go quiet, no one dared say a word, for even the kids recognized this was sort of a mountain for Olesya to climb.  I asked her "Do you think I am playing at loving you?  Is it hard to imagine that you are special just for being who you are, and that I find you wonderful in every way and am SO happy you are my daughter?"  She looked up at me in the mirror, a serious expression on her face, "No, I trust you, but maybe it is habit now to think people can't love me." That is when the car started to fill with chatter as every single one of her siblings said "No way, Olesya! We all love you!" and "You are so sweet and smart, smarter than you think!"...and I was so glad to see her brothers and sisters all support and encourage her.

That led to her saying "There's another thing I learned at camp, I am not going to play dumb anymore.  There was this girl there, who did it all the time even though you could see she was smart.  It was SO annoying!!  I really understand now what you have been saying to me, Mom, about being smart but acting stupid.  I don't want anyone thinking of me like that!  I am so glad you care enough about me and want me to be  smart and not act like that.  I even laughed out loud once when that girl did that and I could tell what she was doing, trying to get attention.  You are right, that is not the way I want to get attention.  

All the passengers in the van broke out in great big applause!!

As we continued on, Billy Joel playing in the background as Kenny is "yell singing", Joshie suddenly cries out "Stop Mom, Stop!  Look at that beautiful sky!!!  It looks like heaven!" and he urged me to get out and take a picture before the light changed.  We pulled over several times, and I ended up handing him my Big camera and letting him shoot some photos as well.  He just kept exclaiming in total delight at the beauty he saw, and he asked me "Mommy, have you ever seen the sky look so beautiful?  I never have in my whole life.  God  is so amazing."  Obviously, camp was very much under his skin:

I don't know about you, but I sort of agree with Josh's comment.

Later on, as dark fell completely, we had a very close call as I actually ended up hitting a large elk that was with an entire herd on the road.  Thankfully, I was able to slow down enough and swerve into the other lane where no traffic was coming to barely avoid a full head on strike which surely would have caused serious injury...or even elk is huge.  We stopped, got out to check out the car, Angela was very upset and shaking a little saying "Mom, I am glad you are such a good driver!  That was so close!  I can't stop my heart from beating super fast!"  I don't have a clue how we avoided any damage to the van, because we definitely skimmed the back of the elk as Matthew confirmed...he thought it sounded like a flat tire...but we ended up with not a scratch on the van, a miracle in itself.

That was when the conversation took on an even more spiritual and somber tone, as the subject of the after life arose, and soul talk dominated much of the remainder of the drive home.  I'll tell you, there are moments when the dialogue I find myself in rivals anything found in a college course on theology or philosophy.  It was well beyond the simple "do you think we go to heaven when we die?" sort of questions, as I was asked whether reincarnation made sense at all, if the Mormon concept of families reuniting in the hereafter was one I personally believed in, why some people insist they "know" all there is to know about God when God's very nature is "unknowable" to the mere human.  All five were quite animated as we moved toward the concept of the acceptance of theological diversity.  

I marveled at how truly accepting the kids are about people in general, as they talked about how every family operates differently based upon the personalities involved, and how what works for one family doesn't work for another.  We also talked about how homeschooling is the absolute right thing for us to do, but how it might not work well at all for other families. Laughter ensued as we all agreed that we are a crazier family than most we know, and how there isn't another family we are likely to meet who is like us at all, so we should have no expectation that others will be like us...but that we can find all sorts of ways where our lives do connect.

Despite hours and hours in the car, I found myself regretting that home was suddenly so near.  There was so much more to share!  We all said the same thing "I wish we could just drive for another couple of hours, but only if Dad were with us."  

While Dominick wasn't with us then, on what was the night of our 26th wedding anniversary, all that we have worked so hard for was enveloping me at that very moment.  Love, wisdom, presence, grace...and much more was right there contained in 5 growing bodies squashed into a rather ordinary looking minivan.  What was happening was certainly not ordinary though.  Neither was the sun's glow on the horizon before us, and Josh once again declared "Isn't this the prettiest sky ever?  What a special day!"...and it surely was.

The road ahead is still long, but where it leads is pure magic!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Well, after a long night for all of us, we are settled in our hotel room here in Manitou Springs.  the news reports state that over 15,00 acres have burned here in the Colorado Springs area, but thankfully at this moment there are no deaths.  They are not releasing the count of homes burned at this point, as they are trying to contact the families first before making any public announcements.  We had been unable to book a hotel room by midnight last night, even all the way in Denver which is over an hour away.  We had several offers of assistance from Facebook friends and were grateful for that.  I awoke to news that our sweet friends from Wichita, who are here in Colorado on vacation had somehow managed to reserve us the room they were vacating as they headed further west.  What a huge help that was!

View from our hotel room yesterday, the photo was taken by our friends.

Kenny, Angela and I got up at 6:00 AM and got on the road by 7:30 to head over to pick Matthew up.  We  received word late last night that his encampment was completely cancelled, and that he had been evacuated to Peterson Air Force Base with the other 230 cadets at encampment.  They were urging parents to pick up kids as soon as possible today. We got a late call from Matthew who was borrowing someone's cell phone to let us know he was OK and to provide us with instructions for retrieving him.  He couldn't hear me at all through the chaos in the background, but he sounded calm and confident.  We were thankful for both La Foret and Civil Air Patrol for keeping us informed all evening long, reassuring us that our kids were safe and they were watching things carefully.

We arrived at Peterson AFB only to discover that they had moved the Cadets from one location to another, so it took an hour and a half to eventually find Matthew.  He was being housed in the Youth Center on base, along with the few remaining cadets.  He grinned when he saw me, jumped up and was ready to get out of there!  We checked him out with only the clothes on his back, his luggage, uniforms and everything else was left behind at the Air Force Academy.  Right now we have no idea how we will get his gear, but that is the least of our concerns.  He is safe, that is all that matters.

He is one tired kid, having been awake until 2:00 AM last night as they got the Cadets settled, and he arose at 6:00 AM this morning...this after having 4 straight days of pretty intense activity.  At is 6:00 PM now and I am betting he is asleep in an hour, if he lasts that long.  When we got to our room, after a quick Walmart room to get him sneakers so he didn't look too geeky tomorrow in shorts and combat boots, he and I laid down on the bed and he filled me in on his experience.

He talked about seeing various areas of the Academy and having a chance to hear from the Honor Guard members there.  There was, of course, a boot camp feel to it all but he didn't find that too disturbing.  I asked him what the coolest part was, and he said it was shooting simulated M16 rifles with grenade launchers.  The best part was the flight simulators they got to practice in.  They also went to Fort Carson for time on some other sort of battle simulators.  Sunday morning was spent attending worship service at the beautiful chapel at the Academy.

I asked him if he was disappointed at not being able to complete camp.  He said "Not really, and I will try and come back in a Leadership position.  We did do a lot even in a few days, and this can't be helped."  He was very pleased to be selected to be the guidon for his flight group, which I was informed is the person who carries the flag.  What disappointed him?  That he spent hours memorizing oaths, mission statements, etc. and didn't have the chance to be tested on them! Haha!

Tomorrow it is on to La Foret to collect Joshua and Olesya, who I hope had a terrific time as well.  In the meantime, I am betting we all get to bed early tonight!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

LaJoy Travel Curse Strikes Again!

It has gone generational, the LaJoy Travel Curse now officially has passed on to our kids. We received word this evening that the Air Force Academy has been evacuated and the Civil Air Patrol Cadets moved to Peterson Air Force Base.  I am wondering if Matthew is bummed over the whole thing, or if it is turning into an adventure of a lifetime!

With all the fires in Colorado and three of our beloveds right near the epicenter of a really bad conflagration, we are concerned, but not overly so.  Josh and Olesya are far enough out of the path that they are safe for now, but probably really seeing a lot of smoke.  I worry a little if they hear about the evacuation of the Air Force Academy that they will be concerned about Matt and not have word about him.  Matthew couldn't be in better hands, and maybe is even learning from the experience about organization in emergency. babies are far from home and near danger.  I am not one to freak out, I rarely panic, and we are ready to go on a moment's notice.  But I doubt we will be getting much sleep tonight as we monitor email and news web sites from afar.

For now, we wait for more information, and realize our poor kids can not escape the LaJoy Travel Curse.  I swear, it is totally real. :-)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Because I Want It

Being content is no easy task in this world, where we are bombarded with images and advertising all reminding us that what we have is not good enough, and shouting at us that we will never be happy without more, bigger, better stuff.  Wow, did we almost succumb today!

We have car issues.  Not serious ones, but very high mileage on every car we own means we need to think about what our next vehicular step is.  Further complicating things is that we live in an area where we are far away from any other town or city, meaning we drive a lot more than most people do, and we regularly drive in areas that have no services for miles and miles.  This forces us to think more about the condition our cars are in, because as you all know, very often I am driving alone with the kids in tow waaaay out in the middle of nowhere.

We had an incredibly generous offer cross our plate yesterday, that felt like it might just solve our longer term car issues.  It was one of those "steal of a deal" situations, which thanks to the kindness of friends could have been perfect for us with not just one vehicle, but perhaps even two. we wanted it to work out!  We almost jumped immediately, but then stopped ourselves and gave ourselves time to think it through, promising an answer last night.  We called my mom to run the possible plan by her, just to get her take on it as she is wise in many things when it comes to careful spending, and she said it sounded like it might be a good idea.  Because Kenny and Angela were home, we sat down with them to talk it through, asking their opinion.  We prayed about it, we researched, we counted costs...and then we ultimately decided to decline despite really, really wanting to say yes.  We just couldn't make the numbers add up.

How glad I am we involved the kids!  We have been watching a homemade video series called "Blimey Cow" which was created by a team of two homeschooled brothers who are now in college, and it is our hilarious Monday morning kick off to start our week.  When we first discovered it a efw months back, we watched this video clip which had us all talking afterward and reinforced what we have been trying to teach...and have to work at daily to keep fresh in our own minds as adults.  Here, check it out:

How they are growing in their ability to see the many facets of decision making!  One thing that turned the tide?  Angela weighing it out verbally saying "Well, even if our van needs work and has a lot of miles on it, wouldn't it still be a lot cheaper than borrowing to get a newer one?"  This from a girl who two years ago stood in a store in Kazakhstan trying to purchase items for a going away party for her friends and was absolutely clueless about money, its value, or how to spend it.  She was completely lost about how to spend $30, and today she carefully weighed how to spend thousands...or how NOT to spend thousands.

Man, it happens so quickly!  Desire for something a little better can cloud our judgment, causing us to look at what we have with growing discontent rather than appreciation.  How easy it is to covet what others have, instead of saying "thanks" for what we do have!

It wasn't that it was a silly thing to consider, because it actually wasn't.  Maybe that made it even harder. Sometimes there is a fine line between necessity and desire.  The truth is, we are outgrowing the mini-van, but can't figure out how to replace it with anything we can afford to drive.  It also has 150,000 miles while our other mini-van has 225, it is not at all an outrageous thing to think about replacing a vehicle or even both of them with vehicles with lower mileage.

But that age old question must be answered "Is it a want, or is it a need?", and I guess God made it clear that at least at this stage, it was more of a want than a need.

I want, though.  I really want.   We all do.  As we talked it through and played with numbers though, it wasn't even about what we could do, it was more about what we were willing to do...and do order to fulfill this particular "want".  It was a difficult "no" to come to.

Temptation is one of the hardest things to fight, and sometimes we fail.  Yesterday, we won the fight, but only after battling ourselves all day about it.  It can be very difficult to discern what is wise and unwise when it comes to spending money on larger items.  It was sort of like the question we had about our what point does it cease to be worth it to plow more money into an older or worn out item?  At what stage is it smarter to replace rather than repair?  Are we being honest with ourselves about our needs versus our wants?

Taking the time to really pray about such decisions, seeking wise council, sitting with it awhile, and analyzing it from every possible angle can really help.  Being willing to deny yourself is the biggest help.  After all, will my life really prove to be that much better if I don't have a newer van, as long as mine is still performing well?  No, I will not be any happier.  Will it kill us to wait awhile longer and try to keep our debt to a minimum by saving part or all of what we'll need for another purchase?  I hardly doubt it.  Could we justify making a terrific deal on one or two slightly newer vehicles?  Sure we could, but do I really want to feel I am justifying such a purchase? Nope...and that might just be the key right there...if you have to justify a purchase to yourself, look at it twice because that is a signal that you might want to pay attention to.  You tend to not have to justify a needs based purchase.

The time spent contemplating this today was time well spent.  As I shared with our friend, keeping priorities in order is never time wasted, and I am glad we had the experience we had today because it made us think again about several factors and what we really value.  I'm also glad we are blessed with friends who care enough to think of us when it comes to something like this, and who will not feel "put out" should we examine it and come to the conclusion we did.  that sort of maturity is often rare to find in this world when it comes to friendship.

The internal battle continues to wage, and probably always will.  I could make a list a mile long of my personal "wants" iPad, a harp, a rockin' 12 passenger van with a lifetime supply of gasoline :-)  But what are my needs, and are they being met? And more importantly, if they ARE being met, why do I need anything else?

I don't, and today I needed to remind myself of that.  The day will come when this really moves into the "need" category, but for now it is firmly in the "want" category and shall remain there for the near future (at least we sure hope so! Haha!).  Being pro-active is important, for sure, but being realistic is just as important.

We thanked the kids for helping us talk this out, and apologized for it being so boring.  Angela said "Actually mom, it is not boring at all, this is something we need to learn and it is interesting to think of all the sides to it.  It's fun to talk about grown up things!"  I am glad they are getting practice while it is "fun", because one day it will move from "fun" to "difficult", but by then, if we provide them with such experiences now it'll be far easier and hopefully they will make much wiser decisions as young adults.

Maybe I'll go muck out the van today and smile as I do so, knowing I am lucky to have something that runs so well...even if it often smells inside of stale sneakers and old french fries!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Big Dreams

There are three bodies sprawled across our bedroom floor tonight.  One is not here because he is far away, and one is taking advantage of a very quiet bedroom with his 2 brothers leaving him alone! Haha!  The girls and Josh are here, with Josh and Olesya saying "We only have tonight and will be gone a week, can we please sleep in your room?" and Angela not wanting to be left out.

It was a beautiful day all the way around today, even if it was not all that exciting by many people's standards.  Matthew arrived at the Air Force Academy with plenty of time to spare, after teasing about his "hearty breakfast" at McDonald's! He was so cute, dressed in his BDU's (camo to those uninitiated) and patting the seat next to him saying "Sit next to me Mom!".  We ate, we talked, we joked and I sat there a bit in wonder at the young man next to me.  He is quieter than the other 4 kids, and some would call him shy but he really is just self-contained.

We talked about his future a little and I asked if he would ever be interested in a career in the military, if that were even possible for him with his physical limitations.  He said "Maybe, and I guess this will be a good way to find out.  But I am pretty sure now that I don't want to do engineering.  The higher I go in math, the more I realize I am not great at it and I don't like it all that much.  I might change my mind when I get to geometry because I think that will be one part of math I'll be good at.  But I am thinking more and more about computers, I really like them a lot and kind of get lost in them when I am working with them.  I might be able to do that for the military or a contractor or something and still be connected with it even if I can't be in it."  I asked him if he was nervous about Encampment, and he grinned the cutest grin and said "I think it might be a good thing that I am ignorant about what is ahead this week...I am not nervous at all because I don't know what to be nervous about!"

When we arrived at the Academy, he got his first real taste of military life....hurry up and wait.  We stood in line for a very long time, over an hour, as they processed cadets.  Then they inspected him and told him that his hair was too long and he needed to go to the Academy barber shop to get it trimmed more.  He was not alone, as about 1/3rd of the cadets ended up in there!  The funny thing is that you all know from his pictures that Matt already keeps his hair pretty short, and I cut it before we left yesterday even shorter than he has ever had it...t was using a #2 on the clippers!  But it was deemed a tad too long above his ears, so off we went, laughing over it.  Then back in line, where we stood another 45 minutes or so.  Matthew was, from what I could tell, one of the most senior young cadets there.  Many were quite a bit older and only had two rank advancements.  In fact, I didn't see a single cadet attending (not running the camp) who was as advanced as Matthew was.  He just completed his 5th rank advancement in less than a single year, a huge accomplishment and something that shows how very hard he has worked.  Cadet Staff Sergeant LaJoy is in for a terrific week, I think!

It was interesting to observe how many parents were hanging on to their sons, and how many sons were shrugging them off.  These were mostly 12-16 year old young men, most of whom quickly turned and walked away from their parents when their name was called.  As we drew closer and there were just a cadet or two in front of us, Matthew turned to me and said "Mom, thanks so much for all you and Daddy did to get me here.  I know it cost a lot, and then you had to drive over and then drive back next week.  Thank you for helping me to come."  Then he gave me a big old hug, unabashed in his love.  I am not sure what made me prouder, that he was there living out a dream of his long held since he was 5 years old, or that he was man enough to not care what others thought and showed affection for his mom.  Both took courage...

The drive home was long and introspective for me.  I thought I might get a little teary at saying goodbye to him, for this is a really big deal in his life.  Instead, all I felt was excitement for him, as I recalled our earliest stop at the Academy on our way to his very first year at church camp.  They are two off ramps apart from each other, and both are places he treasures.  Although I am really feeling the passage of time these days as the kids grow older and more independent, it is a fascinating journey, and also sort of gratifying to see them begin to reach for their dreams.  All I though as I pulled away was "Good for you, Matt!  You did it!".  It is so important for us to remember that we are not raising children, we are raising adults and the best way to remain closest with them is to be their greatest ally as they step out into the world.

I pulled into the driveway as 4 other kiddos were rushing out to greet me.  What a nice reward THAT is after a long drive!  There were questions galore about Matthew and his camp.  There was dinner on the stove, and a clean house awaiting me, what more could a road weary mom ask for?  It was a really hot afternoon, and on a whim I decided to get in the pool, something I don't normally do because it is too stinkin' cold for me.  But we bought one of those solar plastic bubble wrap type covers for it, and I checked it out and the water felt a little warmer than last summer's frozen water.  Now, my fat old body doesn't do bathing suits well at all, and while I have once in awhile gone in the public pool with the kids, I am really uncomfortable doing so, for obvious reasons.  And yea, I know I could do something about that and maybe one day I will, but I haven't had time for the continual self-loathing that I had to put aside to be emotionally there for the kids.  Oh, did it feel SO nice this afternoon!  The kids were thrilled as Dominick and I both got in and played with them, tossing them around, giving them piggy back rides and just enjoying being together. We were in there for a couple of hours, and then got out and ate dinner, watched a movie, and got ready for bed.

It was my idea of bliss, and I think it was for the kids as well. What a wonderful thing contentment is!  I realized sitting there in our silly backyard pool, Kenny my personal Cabana Boy bringing me my towel, Olesya with a water pitcher in hand...we are so lucky to have the kids we have, who know contentment, who are so easily amused and happy with anything at all.  We all have big dreams together, and individually.  We may achieve them or we may not, but we will be happy either way...all of us.

The coming week will be odd and interesting, as we have just Angela and Kenny home alone until Thursday afternoon when Josh and Olesya will return.  Those two are unexpectedly two peas in a pod, and it will be a total kick to have them as our "only's" for a few days. They are both delighted over it, even though each has said it will be too quiet as well.  Dominick and I are looking forward to maybe doing something special with them, maybe a real movie at the movie theater, or dinner out since we can more easily afford it as a treat when we are down to just a couple kids.  No doubt we will have some interesting conversations with them!

And yes, the house will definitely be a little too empty.  Funny, but five no longer seems like "a lot" of kids.  And no, don't read anything into that as there is no additional adoption on the horizon at all, we are maxed out.  But I was just thinking how at first the idea of five kids was " can't even fathom that!". and now I could totally see being Carrie and Bob Delille with 11 kids, if only we were in the circumstance to afford them.  Even the kids have said "We could do one or two more kids!", which although we won't be doing makes my heart swell to know they would be willing to make room for more in our family.  But Joshua added "They'd have to be the right kids though, Mom, because you pick 'em good!" Haha!  That one really made me laugh.  But I do love the full house, I know we are so, so blessed to have the children we have, and  I am very glad we didn't stop at one or two, even if the Walmart receipt at times makes me gasp openly.

I have blogged a lot the past few days, not that I have had anything of interest to say!  Time to turn off the light and get ready to say goodbye to Josh and Olesya in the morning.  The true babies of the family are flying the coop!

Friday, June 22, 2012

One Down, Two to Go!

Colorado Springs begins to feel like our home away from home during the summer months.  I am here dropping Matthew off tomorrow morning for Civil Air Patrol Encampment, and then thankfully Sunday our friends are handling getting Josh and Olesya over here for La Foret, for their summer church camp.  

I am SO glad our kids are good packers, and have traveled a bit so I don't have to freak out trying to rush around getting them ready when I arrive tomorrow afternoon.   Olesya is our Super Organizer and I never have to worry much about her forgetting anything, and she always remembers everything for everyone else as well!

Josh is, well, Josh.  He announced to me this morning that he was all packed already, had checked everything off his list, and would pack his blankie last.  His most important item to take?  His Superhero book...hahaha!

Our friends, once again, are stepping up to help us and will pick up the kids on Thursday when they pick up theirs.  This saves us a considerable amount of money and hassle, as we need to be back here 2 days after that, next Saturday, to pick up Matthew!  Sheesh, timing couldn't have been closer together.

We are so hopeful that camp will be something special for Olesya, in particular.  We could have had her attend the older kids' camp, as we are having Kenny and Angela attend with Matt.  But we wanted her to have her own experience, separate from her siblings and particularly separate from Angela.  It is not that Angela dominates or anything, it is that Olesya is just the quiet one, the more inward one, and the one who most needs to figure out who she is and gain a sense of herself.  There is so much I wish for this special little girl, whose tender heart is still blocked off a bit I think.  I have told Dominick that Olesya is the one of our children I am just not sure we will ever really reach, but I will work at it until the day I die!  

Actually, our cake decorating class has brought us closer, and I notice a willingness to be physically a little more relaxed around us at home.  It is hard to explain, in fact it might be impossible, for it is just a sense that there is this wall surrounding her, protecting her.  She appears to be the most cuddly of the kids, and she is to a certain extent, but it is not the sort of "melt into you" closeness that we eventually have come to see with Kenny and Angela.  Funny, because Angela is the one I initially wasn't sure we'd reach, for very clear reasons.  I want Olesya to feel safe to reveal herself, and there is no way we are there yet.  I have a gut feeling that as she sees herself as successful in some areas, she will gain confidence enough to open up more, to let go more, to fully blossom.  The past couple of weeks she has come to me a couple times each night to kiss me and say good night, and just yesterday she held on a little longer as we hugged and it was more full bodied.  That body language says things that can't be put into words, if you are in tune with it.

And she IS seeing more success!  Cake decorating has a long way to go for her, but she is practicing and enjoying it so much..and honestly the chocolate cake she made for Father's Day with strawberries on top and a new recipe for homemade frosting was quite good for a beginner!  She also made a cake for a dear friend who was celebrating 39 years of sobriety, and it was decorated with a beer mug on it with a red circle and a line through it!  Very cute and she did a nice job on that as well.  

Our switch to the new math curriculum has really been super for her, and I am SO glad we changed!  She is reviewing material she needs to review, but she is telling me it is making much more sense now and her grades reflect that too.  In fact, she is enjoying it so much that she is doing 2 lessons a day!  For a child who truly has some sort of learning disability when it comes to math/numbers, that in itself is a victory.  She told me she LOVES math now, so maybe we will see it fall more easily into place for her.  She is also talking about asking a local groomer to come watch and see what they do, so I am going to try and arrange that for her, as that might actually be a good career for her as much as she loves animals.  But she is taking the initiative to think bigger, and that alone is a blessing.

You know, you can't undo a lifetime of damage overnight.  Daily I struggle with the need for more patience, for I want so badly to "fix it".  Working with Kenny on his new reading program has been insightful and a tad bit depressing as well.  Conversely, it has also been a time of deepening respect for him from me.  Wow, even this first week working with 3 letter words like pat, sit, man, etc. has been eye opening.  Sure, he is shooting through most of this with solid skills...until we hit the road blocks.  Yesterday I was having him write what I dictated, and I said the word "rap".  He wrote "ramp".  We spent 5 minutes repeating it over and over, and he got it wrong every time, he could not keep the "m" out of there.  Another example, "m" and "n" are very often misheard by him, making it hard to correctly spell words with them in it.  Same for "f" and "th" which he always mishears...and often says incorrectly.  He zips through most of the words quite easily and confidently, but it is these hiccups that are stalling him in moving forward with multi-syllable words.   It is disheartening, but also we are getting a very firm idea of exactly where his hiccups occur.

The bright side?  That kid has the best attitude ever!!  I would NEVER have the attitude he has, if I were in his shoes.  Here he is, closer to 14 than he is 13, working on beginning phonics yet once again.  I apologized to him, telling him I knew this had to be frustrating but that we just had to give it one more try with this new program before settling for less sill than we both want for him.  Kenny looked at me and said "No mom, it is ME whose sorry!  You have done everything you could for 5 years to help me, and I know YOU must be sick of this.  If you are willing to go through this with me, then I am too.  I can't complain at all!  It must be so boring to sit with someone who can't read well when you read so fast.  We'll just stick together and keep working at it, and I know part of it is easy but we can see I keep having troubles so I must need it."  Those words were what I needed to hear to motivate me to not give up.  I also have REALLY appreciated the blog comments, emails and FB posts that others have sent praising the Wilson Reading System for helping virtually every kid people have ever worked with.  When you are starting at this age and with this sort of glitch in progress, you need all the encouragement you can get!  It is so helpful to hear that, for others, it has really made a bi difference.

Time to turn off and read a little.  I am digging into the Steve Job's biography and finding him equal parts interesting and abhorrent. What a fascinating, intelligent, self-centered, sometimes cruel guy he could be.  I one day want Kenny to be able to read such things...

Those Moments

From time to time someone will meet me in real life and tell me how much they enjoy reading the blog, and that they love the moments of our life captured here.  Sometimes they will say "Your family is so special." or "My kids never do that."

You know what though?  I honestly don't believe them.  First of all, our family is not special.  We may have been formed differently than some, but we are not special.  Our kids are not special, our life is not special, our family dynamics are not special, and I can 100% guarantee you that the parents in this family are absolutely not special.  "Special" does not equal "Different", and while I'd agree that we are definitely different, I think we are as boring and normal as every family that exists.

So why is it that people occasionally have this reaction after reading the blog for awhile?

I think I am finally beginning to understand it after 5+ years of writing.  This blog is the place where for one family, Those Moments are recorded., and then shared with others who care to read about them.  You know Those Moments, we ALL have them...we just don't all record them.  That's the only difference between our family and yours or any other you know.  It has to be, because we get cranky with each other, we have challenges galore, we live paycheck to paycheck like millions of others do, and as was so funnily pointed out yesterday by one of our children, I say bad words all the time...bad words like "crap" and "butt".  So how perfect can we be??  Even the Mom has a potty mouth! (Thankfully, I have somehow managed to hide my REAL potty mouth which comes out on rare occasions!).

But Those Moments, ahhh...that is what might be different.  My decision to not let the blog fall by the wayside after Kenny's adoption was completed has helped all of us in our family to stop and notice our life together, to value our life together, and it has tuned me in to paying attention to the quiet, not-initially-all-that-important moments that generally happen so quickly that we sometimes don't even register them.

It is Those Moments that every single family has, I am convinced.  We are not special as the LaJoy's, we just recognize them as Those Moments and capture them so we can recall them later.  I sit with them until bedtime, when the house is quiet, and that means I have carried them for hours.  It is that lingering with Those Moments that gives them power for our family, I think.  It is reflecting on them, appreciating them so I can recall them right here, that helps Those Moments have an impact in the lives of the LaJoy family.  Why?  Because sitting with those moments in our minds allows us to be intentional about our gratitude for our life together, however imperfect it is.

We all have them, every single family has Those Moments when the mom and dad look over at one another and silently connect over the heads of their children.  Sadly, we all have the tragic occur, the hope that is clung to, the healing that happens.  Oh, it may be different issues than we face, but we all have our share of Those Moments, for Those Moments are what give life meaning, Those Moments are the ones that make a life a Life.  It's why we so appreciate our families, whether they be connected by love or law, for families come in all sizes and configurations.  A family can be traditional, broken and bandaged, or it can even be a family of choice created by nothing more than friends making a commitment to one another to support and nurture each other in the absence of a more traditional family.  But each family, no matter what it is comprised of, has Those Moments.

Daily I grow ever more thankful that we have managed to have me be a stay at home mom, particularly at this stage in our kids' lives.  Typically, this would be when a family would begin to lose the opportunity for Those Moments, as kids begin to have less time home due to more and more activities outside the home.  Having already lost half a childhood with 3 of our 5, it is ever more precious to us to take advantage of the time we do have left before our chicks leave the nest.  Being home with them, homeschooling, helps.  While it can never "make up for" lost years...lost can help us grab hold of every Moment we can possible have together now.

It also helps me not miss Moments like yesterday, when a passing comment and a conversation over sandwiches might never have been had.  We had a friend of Olesya's staying with us overnight and hanging out with us yesterday, and so trying to keep the conversation moving in ways that were not too family-ish I threw out a question over lunch to start a conversation.  Earlier in the morning I had created a little writing assignment based upon something posted on Facebook that the Dalai Lama had said, and asked the kids to write what their thoughts were about it.  It was based on this:

OK, so I realize this probably isn't your normal school fare, but I try to mix it up now and then, don't laugh at me!  It's better than "What I did on my summer vacation" assignments!!  Well, that conversation led to how wise the Dalai Lama often is in his writings, the truths there that every single person can relate to.  Then somehow the conversation moved on to goodness and honesty, and how our experiences hone us into the people we eventually become.

So it was this assignment that prefaced my question over lunch, and I asked "In your life now or your former life, who is the one person whom you felt was deeply good?".  I expected there to be a ton of hemming and hawing as they considered all those that they knew and did a quick mental assessment.  I even had a couple of ideas in my head of who might be mentioned by specific kids.  I was not at all prepared for the response that came.

Matthew, otherwise known as Mr. Quiet, without a moment's hesitation popped out with "Angela".  What???  Every person's head whipped around and stared at him.  What kid ever names their sister as someone who is "deeply good"?  Angela was so startled by this, as we all were I think, and looked down the table at him as we all waited for an explanation.  I asked "Why do you say that?  What do you see in Angela?"

Matthew said in all seriousness, with no smirking, "She is always thinking about other people, and I can tell that when she grows up she is going to do something special to help other people.  She also has the guts to stand up to people if someone does something bad.  Most of us are too chicken, or would go along with everyone so we wouldn't be made fun of ourselves.  I think Angela is the kind of person who would stand up and tell a bully to knock it off, even if it was scary, where most of us would be too afraid."  He then added "I am not as good in my heart as she is, and I don't think most people are.  I don't think any of us are really bad people, that's not what I am saying, it's just that some people like Angela put other people first while the rest of us put ourselves first.  We'll help if we can, but it isn't our first thought.  For Angela, I think it may be her first thought."

Wow.  No one said a word as we mulled that one over.

Finally, Angela spoke up and said with a bit of shame on her face "I'm different here than I was in Kazakhstan.  In Kazakhstan I was very selfish and I didn't care about anyone.  I was really mean to the other kids sometimes.  I was a bully, and I was even rude to the teachers and thought it was funny.  Even now Mom catches me when I do bad things all the time, when I am not caring to others or am rude."  Then she added "But I am really different in America, and I don't know why.  Only sometimes I act like I used to, but most of the time I am not like that anymore."

Again, there was silence for a bit, then suddenly Kenny's eyes snap up and he blurts out "I know why you are different, Angela!  Because like Mom is always saying "Love Wins".  You couldn't feel love because no one loved you!  We have to learn how to love, at least I did.  Maybe we aren't born knowing how to love, and then when bad things happen we don't get it, but then God puts love in front of us, and then we learn what love is and we don't even want to be that mean person anymore because love feels too good."

Angela, who by this time was deeply moved and blushing said "Well, I think I have the best brothers, they aren't mean like some are who push their sisters around or won't play with them, and have taught me so much since I came home!  You are a very good person inside, most brothers wouldn't have let us tape word cards all over them so we could learn English!  They would have been jealous and mad at having new sisters the same age come into their family.  You have always been very kind and helpful to us, and you never made fun of us ever. I think YOU are very good inside your heart!"  We all laughed at that, as we recalled those early days of learning English and how much fun we all had.

And there, at our kitchen table on a sweltering summer afternoon, we had one of Those Moments.  It's the same kind of thing that happens in other families, the only difference is it is recorded here now, and one day we will all look back and remember that indeed, there were special moments mixed in with the schoolwork and the laundry, between the perpetual Walmart runs and the nagging over cleaning rooms.  It is Those Moments that make all the drudgery and chaos worthwhile.  When I am grumbling loudly over not finding the whisk in the utensil drawer because someone put it in the wrong spot, or when I am talking until I am blue in the face trying to get the kids to keep my van from becoming a total disaster area, it is Those Moments that remind me what we are really doing here, and what is really important.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 1

We have pretty much finished our summer break, and are back at school mostly full time.  We like to take time off during the cooler months, when Dominick is also not quite as busy, so for now we are hitting the books in between camps.

I know many of these schooly sorts of posts are not interesting to most of our readers, but I like to chronicle what we are doing for 2 reasons, #1 This is the only place I record anything of our family experience.  I am not a private journal-type person, and I am a failed scrapbooker, so this is it.  It helps me to remember where we started, and how far we have come.  Reason #2 is that I often get emails from folks asking what is working for us, and what we are using.  There are many, many adoptive parents homeschooling their kiddos for the same reasons we are...their children don't fit in a classroom for a variety of reasons including maturity, overstimulation, being too far behind in certain areas, or they have learning disabilities that are hard to define and so they need extra one on one help.  I am always surprised at the number of internationally adopted kids I see at homeschooling conventions, more than I ever have run into in any other circle of my life.  So for both reasons #1 and #2 I try to post now and again about our schooling, knowing you'll be bored but knowing I might need the info later and that someone might be in need of suggestions right this moment.

We started Kenny today with the Wilson Reading System, the one recommended by the special education evaluator we worked with this past spring.  It is expensive, $479 for the entire package...whew!  Thankfully, our school program covered the cost for us after a little discussion about it.  Our program consultants are quite sympathetic to Kenny's situation and the seeming failure or willingness of the District to meet his needs. This reading program is designed specifically for older learners or adult learners, and I have to tell you that it is intense, seriously intense.  I watched a series of DVD's to train myself as best I could, and also spent hours with the manual, highlighting and making notes all over the place.  It really isn't incredibly difficult to work with, it just has multiple steps and it requires attention to detail on the part of both the learner and the educator.

What do I think of it after Day 1?  Well, I have high hopes, as it seems to be targeting exactly the areas Kenny is weak in.  We are starting at the very beginning, although I had a choice of starting a couple of sections in based upon Kenny's current basic skills.  I am glad we decided to start at the beginning, despite the fact that he will go through it quickly, as even today it was obvious to both of us that while he has most of the basic sounds down, he still hesitates and there are sounds he simply can not hear correctly nor is their automaticity to his responses 100% of the time, even with single syllable consonant-vowel-consonant three letter words.  Most of them he is fine with, but he gets hung up on things like hearing "f" as "th", and having his vowel sounds solidly in place without hesitation.  He immediately said  to me "Mom, I am really glad we are not skipping anything,  I didn't even realize that on these baby words I was still not quick at all of them!"

There are 10 steps to each lesson, which run an hour or more.  In so many ways, Kenny is very easy to work with.  Really, all the kids are, but Kenny could develop a real attitude about repeating phonics yet a third time.  He could complain that this is too babyish, that he is bored, that this is "stupid".  Instead, he is so eager to learn, and really wants to make progress so he has a terrific attitude and today told me he is very grateful for all the time it has taken me to find something else that might help him, and he knew how much time it has taken me to figure it out and appreciates it.  Now, how could a Mom not want to do every single thing possible when her son/student has that great of an attitude?

Will this work?  I have no idea, but I do think it might be our last best hope of getting him reading at a higher level.  Right now, his comprehension tests right at grade level for him, which is a huge plus, but he still can not read multi-syllable words worth a hill of beans.  Kenny is truly "stuck" right now, and I am hoping this will help "unstick" him.  It replaces both reading and spelling, and we will try and work with it as much as possible each week.  I heard from another mom locally whose son struggled mightily with reading before using this same program, and she told me he has had great success with it.  Maybe we will find the same thing is true for Kenny.  I sure hope so.  It will likely take us 2-3 years to complete it, but looking at the material toward the end of the program, if we actually get there, it will be certain he will be reading at a very high level.

I shared here that we were changing math curriculum for the all the kids, and we have been working with it now for a couple of weeks. Wow.  That's what I have been saying for the past several days.  Wow.  Not only has it made our lives ten times easier without math hanging over our heads to correct for hours each night, but the kids LOVE LOVE LOVE Teaching Textbooks, and...get this...every one of them has begged to do more math each day.  They never complained before, but I can't say they were different than any other kid and the certainly never begged to do more math! Haha!  Olesya, in particular, has said she really understands the explanations and animations as the program walks them through problems.  Matthew and Joshua cracked me up today.  There are little animated "buddies" on screen to encourage the learner...things like robots, gophers, cats, you name it.  Matthew was teasing as he got a pouty little look on his face and said "JJ gets cooler buddies to choose from than I do.  I want one like his!"  Angela laughed out loud when she got an answer right and her gopher buddy shot off fireworks.  Silly as it seems, it is keeping math "light" for them, and now I have a houseful of Math Junkies!  The program appears to use a lot more real world problems as well, and the creators of it have a terrific sense of humor.  I overheard Josh's today as one of his problems was about catching spies, and Matt had one about a candy factory.  However, even though this is "cool" and keeps the kids engaged, it is serious math and was written by two brothers who are graduates of Harvard.  All that to say that our switch was a wise one, and one I doubt we will regret.

We are well into our Election studies, and have had some great discussions about representative government, the Electoral College (So mom, we don't REALLY vote for the president after all???), and how a candidate markets themselves.  We will all watch the debates and convention speeches as well, and that should bring up some really interesting points to talk about.  Right now we are 50/50 with some of the kids wondering if Romney might help the economy pick up, while others are concerned that he is too "big business" and has no clue what life is like for the average American.  It is such fun to hear them weigh information as they learn more.  Kenny's brain is always surprising to us all when it comes to science and social studies, because sometimes he remembers things no one else today he accurately explained what a caucus was...even though he forgets words all over the place that are ones he uses every day.  Joshua is also surprising us all by really getting into politics and being able to articulate what he has learned surprisingly well for an almost fourth grader.

So for now it is school in the morning and afternoon, swimming in the late afternoon and into the evening, and  a few activities thrown in here and there for good measure.  We have a goal to finish all of our school work for this coming year by the beginning of April.  Not sure if we will make it or not, but we'll give it the old college try :-)

If anyone reading this wants to know more about our experiences with the Wilson Reading System, feel free to email me and I'll be happy to explain how it works and what I am noticing so far.  I won't write much specifically about it here on the blog, but will update generally from time to time as we move through it with Kenny.  I sure hope it helps, as I am out of ideas if it doesn't!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Love Wins, The Next Generation

Love Wins.

Sometimes, that is a really, really hard one to walk with on a day to day basis.  We humans tend to grab at a chance of getting a good dose of revenge, we like harboring our resentments as if that alone will somehow make it all better.  Then, once in awhile, we find the God place inside of us and decide to let it go, to not take our pound of flesh when the opportunity arises, and only then do we get to experience the difference that love actually makes.  It can be very difficult to love those who hurt us or who have been unfair to us, but if we can manage to do so, extraordinary things can occur.

Three years ago, a couple of months before we were to travel to adopt Angela and Olesya, I had an encounter with a neighbor which I shared in this blog post: .  It was extremely unpleasant, and bothered me for days afterward.  Ultimately though, I elected to just set it down and walk away from it.  It was actually one of the very few times in my life when I have been able to do so fully, with absolutely no desire to drag it along and use it fuel my own righteous anger.  It seemed at the time that finally some of that whole Jesus stuff was sinking in, and I was surprised to discover how much better it felt not to allow bitterness to run through me every time I pulled on to our street.

Time passed, the girls came home, and it was only a week or two before that very same neighbor came over with a spare used bicycle, saying "I figured with all these kids you might just need an extra bike from time to time".  It was his peace offering, a very kind way of acknowledging that he had spoken without thinking.  I wonder today what would have happened had we decided to turn that into a war.  Would the kids have missed out on ATV rides, special treats "just because", the welding of a basketball rim that was broken, the very thoughtful Easter baskets and Halloween goodies prepared especially for them?  Would my own desire to "pay back" thoughtlessness with ongoing anger have kept us from the opportunity to serve our neighbor by raking his leaves as a surprise when they were gone?  Or from hanging out and visiting in the front yard as he cut down a tree on the same day as we were studying trees for science?

But there is a little bit more to the story, as Love Wins carried even further...

This evening Dominick was approached by two of our male neighbors, the one with whom I had the uncomfortable encounter and another.  Both are older, both are not very close with their own children being of a generation when men traditionally left child rearing to their wives as they went about earning a living.  Both were deeply touched and surprised to have received a special Father's Day card...from Angela.   We had no clue she had created beautiful cards and hand delivered them Sunday afternoon while we were visiting with friends.  She had disappeared into her bedroom saying she was just drawing, and she was in and out of the house occasionally as all the kids were.  It seems she had a special delivery to make, one that clearly will not soon be forgotten.

Here is the girl whose arrival in our lives so disturbed our neighbor that he simply couldn't keep from voicing his opinion, reaching out to him to let him know how much his presence in our life was appreciated by that very girl he thought shouldn't come home.

Funny how when love starts, it is like Niagara Falls and almost impossible to turn off.

Sometimes, it takes acting out of love even when you don't feel it.  Sometimes it takes overlooking the failures, inadequacies, and outright wrong actions of another.  Sometimes, it may mean shutting your mouth and not carrying something forward when you actually do have a choice to let it go.

I am not perfect, that's for sure.  I have held grudges far too long, I have spoken with great rancor at times.  I have been terribly thoughtless...and I am sure without even realizing it because I was so self-centered I wouldn't be able to discern it.  I can out argue anyone who pushes my buttons, I can go toe to toe with someone who ticks me off.  I have wronged others, and I have failed to apologize.  But over time and with practice, I am beginning to get the hang of this love thing.  I am seeing fruit from acting differently, and maybe it will serve as a muzzle on my mouth if I can quickly recall this situation and how much differently things turned out than they might have if I had responded angrily instead of lovingly.

There are two men, fathers each, who are feeling a little differently about themselves tonight as well.  They are perhaps seeing themselves through the eyes of a young lady who elected to put aside any of the negative and reach out with words of care and gratitude.  These men who were not with their own children on Father's Day were remembered and reminded that they were father figures and grandfather figures to others when they didn't even realize it.

And as I go to sleep tonight, I will do so with a smile in my heart as I think of Angela laying in her bed down the hall...and how fortunate we are to be called Mom and Dad by her.  That heart of hers continues to blossom, the scales have fallen away and have washed down stream.  She has learned the lesson well, and at a far younger age than I was.

Love Wins.

It actually does.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Love of a Father

The past year or so has brought about great changes in our family.  Oh, they are subtle, and taken individually they don't appear to add up to all that much.  When taken collectively, it is clearly visible just how quickly childhood is passing us by, and young adulthood is entering.

Being the mother of my delightful, unusual brood makes parenthood a very different experience.  After all, most folks don't become instant parents to 8, 10 and 11 year old children.  If they do find themselves with tweens suddenly surrounding them, they are not tweens whose hearts need to jump back to pre-school and elementary school age, who desperately want to cling to the childhood they never got to have while also smack dab up against changing bodies which will not be denied the right to mature.

They are middlers in every way right now, but this past week had us seeing mostly young adults, not children.   Our eldest is only 14, and right now Kenny and Matt are twins until Olesya's birthday in August, then we'll have triplet 13 year olds for a couple of months, with Joshie bringing up the rear.  I am waiting...waiting for the other shoe to fall....waiting for all the nasty stuff I know I gave my own parents and that more seasoned parents tell us is just around the corner.  We are not naive enough to think we will get through the next few years unscathed, but at the moment, I have to say that while part of me is definitely a little in mourning for the stages now past, we are so, so blessed to watch the blossoming of 5 young people occur.

The kids and I sat around one morning this week, trying to decide what we could do for Dominick that was special.  Dominick gives up so much for all of us, and he never, ever puts himself first.  As the conversation centered around "What should we do?", we started dreaming a little about what we wished we could do.  Someone, I can't recall who, said "I wish we could get Daddy a computer...his is so old and beat up."...and it is.  He has never had a new computer, instead taking my castoffs as we update for software needs, or because one isn't working well enough to trust with financial or school data which we simply can not lose.  So he has carried around a beat up laptop that literally has the case cracked on it in two places, it is missing keys, the screen has grown ever dimmer, and he couldn't find the right battery to fit it when the original one died so he found one that fit the connection but sticks way out from the back of the laptop and is way oversized.  Basically, he has turned into the Jed Clampett of mobile technology users.

We couldn't get the idea out of our head of giving him a really special gift, and slowly we got excited as one by one each of the kids said "Well, I have  money in the bank and can give some." and I realized I had just received my payment for working at the homeschool show.  Could we do it???  The excitement grew as we realized that if we all pitched in, we just might be able to swing it!  Off we went, first to the bank where each one of the kids withdrew a significant amount of their savings to contribute, then to Office Depot, where we looked and looked at the various models, comparing features and prices.  As a group we all settled on one we thought he would like.  It was a lower end model, but it would be brand new and all missing keys and an intact case with a battery that fit along with a screen  bright enough to see well.  Matthew remembered the coupon we had saved, and there we were at the counter, counting out crumpled up dollar bills, coupons, gift cards, and probably even pocket lint :-)

We rushed home and wrapped it up, with the kids so excited I thought they would blow the surprise.  Because he is going to have to work tomorrow at the airport, we decided to have our Father's Day today.  The boys got up early and Dominick was off with Joshie doing some errands, so Matt and Kenny cleaned up the house really well, while the girls slept.  The big job for the day for Dominick was to put up their swimming pool.  I told the boys that they could help a little by preparing the ground by smoothing it out for him, then I went off to attend to laundry and other things.  Thirty minutes later I look out the kitchen window, and this is what I see:

I was stunned to see the entire pool put together without an ounce of adult help or supervision.  30 minutes, tops, and these two young men (for it is harder and harder to call them boys) had worked together as a team to accomplish this so that Dominick could have a relaxing afternoon.  I know it may seem stupid that I stood there looking out the window with tears in my eyes, but I did.  Sure, I know hard times are likely ahead with the kids, the typical teenage stuff, but these are the moments that are signals that indeed they are growing into responsible, caring, intelligent young people.  Sometimes, it isn't the big things that hit you, it is the little, day to day stuff that finds you with a lump in your throat, seeing your children differently for the first time and realizing you have just said "goodbye" to another stage of their childhood.  How I love welcoming the young adults as they slowly come into view!!  

And you have no idea how often I say prayers of thanks for the blessing of raising the most incredible kids any parent could ever wish for.  And yea, I know most people wouldn't see such acts as "incredible", and that's OK...I know it's not "showy" or really all that "brag-able".  But for Dominick and I it is such acts as we saw this week that help us feel successful.  Our success, sometimes by necessity, has to be measured differently than for others.  Seeing our kids work together, knowing they are helping each other and trying to ease the burden of their dad, well, that is about the best success I could ever hope for.

Dominick came home from his errands, and the kids all excitedly sat him down and gave him his beautiful cards made by the girls and letters from the boys, and a couple of small packages...a little candy, and a wireless mouse we got on sale to trick him.  He smiled broadly with his big ol' Italian grin, thinking that was all.  Then Matthew ran down the hall to bring in the real gift.  Dominick was SO surprised!!  What touched him the most though was that his kids obviously sacrificed a lot for this, giving up much of their savings earned this past winter working at the restaurant.  It wasn't really the price of the gift at all, it was the love behind it and the complete lack of hesitation on their part to offer to help get him a "dream" gift.

They love their Daddy, and he adores them.  A mutual admiration society, for sure.

Angela made this card out of scrapbooking paper and buttons.  She told me "Mom, you can find ANY idea on Google!".

 Olesya's creative love filled card.  There really is something special between fathers and daughters.

The fake out gift, Matthew racing off behind to bring on the REAL gift!

Five proud kids, one very special Dad.  

Family.  Love.  Togetherness.
Nothing else really matters.

Dominick, you are the father every child deserves.  You are extraordinary in so many ways.  You often hide your tender heart behind that brash Italian act, but your family knows better, and we are not fooled.  Rarely has a man ever worked harder to keep his family fed and clothed, rarely has a man gone through so much to bring love to children who were fatherless.  You may not be President, you may not be Bill Gates, but don't for a moment EVER doubt one thing...

You have changed the world.

Thank you for being who you are, for your teasing, your laughter, your strength, your kindness.  Nothing speaks louder to a child than seeing their father feed a homeless man and shake his hand, as you did last week.  Nothing speaks louder to a child than seeing their father get up day after day at 4:00 AM to go off to work so they can have their needs met.  Nothing speaks louder to a child than hearing their father correct their mother when she says "Thanks for my new pants." and even though she doesn't earn a paycheck the father says "Don't thank me, it's your money too!".  And nothing speaks louder to a child than witnessing the forgiveness of that child when they have rejected the love of that father out of fear of being vulnerable, to see that father stand there with arms open wide saying "I still love you.  I always will.  Come with me, trust me."
You are the father I never possibly could have imagined you would be, Dominick.  So often, the mothers get the credit.  Our kids would not be who they are without you.  They would not have the work ethic they already have, they would not have the zany sense of humor they have, and they would not have the stable home that they have.  In a world where so often fathers walk away...or mothers push them away thinking they are are the perfect example of why children need strong fathers.

Happy Father's Day, Dominick.  I love you, Always.