Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Experts and Friends

Home from Florida a couple of days now, and reflecting a little on my time away from home.  I do my best thinking either in the shower, or when traveling.  The unfettered access to my own brain without much outside interference doesn't occur often, and when it does I often have threads I follow that help me figure out who I am and where I am going.  I have had so much going on this past several months, so many long term concerns with no clear solutions, that I am not my usual self.  I need to regain a little equilibrium, and that might not be easy, and it will clearly take some time.

While away spending long hours talking with hundreds of homeschooling parents at the Florida homeschooling convention, I realized something...I actually know something about homeschooling now, and I am not fearful when I speak to others, worried that I will appear to be a fraud.  Five years in, and in many ways, I discovered I am a bit of an expert!  Surprised the heck out of me, but I was able to guide people towards curriculum choices in all sorts of subjects and grade levels, and three different parents came back specifically to tell me, "You were right!  That was exactly what I was hoping to find!".  When I read the book, "Outliers", which speaks to the fact that you achieve an expert level with 10,000 hours of engagement in any activity, I saw some real truth in that.  As I looked back over my life, I could see where I had spent a significant amount of time learning something and became a low level expert at it.  This weekend, I saw I had arrived at that place.  When I said something like to my family after arriving home as we were all sprawled on the floor and couch filling each other in on our weekends, they laughed.  I asked, "Why are you laughing at me?  Am I that wrong?  I am not saying it to be arrogant, only to recognize that I actually KNOW something now."  Kenny laughed so hard and said, "Mom, we are laughing because it took you this long to figure that out!  As much research as you have done to help us, you must be at 20,000 hours...not 10,000!  You've been an expert longer than you think."

I must admit, it feels good that the inner terror has eased, expert or not.  We still have a long way to go, so maybe I will eventually hit 20,000 hours for real.

God has blessed me in so many ways, but one way in particular has been encounters with extraordinary people.  For someone who spent her first 25 years or so pretty locked down in the friendship department, I seem to be making up for it in my middle years.  I look around me, and everywhere I turn there are  very special people who have stepped into my life and continued to be a force of love that blows me away.  These are good, good people, in numbers I never would have expected.  I met another in "real life" while I was in Florida, another adoptive mom who extended a hand of friendship via the internet over 8 years ago, and it took us this long to actually meet in person.

Have you ever met someone and had an instant "knowing"?  A connection that felt as if you were not meeting for the very first time?  Christina and I spent a very special evening together, a surprise visit for dinner at Epcot Center, where we talked and talked...and talked some more.  After watching our families come together and grow on Facebook and blog posts, it was a delight to talk more openly about our shared experiences.  It is a rare gift for me, as our experiences in parenting are so far outside the norm that it is seldom I have the chance to really share what is in my heart with someone I can trust and who has seen or felt the same thing.  I am far more isolated than I ever wished to be. Homeschooling has been so beneficial to us on so many levels, and I would never regret it.  But I have suffered in silence more than I care to admit.  I don't get to have the sorts of casual conversations that others are privileged to have over PTA meetings or at football games.  There are few parents who are dealing with the multiple special needs we have among our kids, who are battling pasts that haunt us still, and who try to repair so much that has been bent or broken.  We have to parent differently, and seldom to people recognize or understand that.  To simply be able to be the mom I am to the kids I have with someone who nods understandingly reminded me how seldom I get to do that.

As we sat there on a wall near the entrance to Epcot, the evening growing much longer than either of us anticipated, we quietly giggled like school girls at adults passing by in costume.  We spoke quietly as the cool evening breeze finally brushed against us, side by side, each realizing we had met someone we dearly wished lived closer, for our similarities were astounding...and comforting.  That happens seldom in this world, and when it remains somewhat out of reach, there is a momentary grief at the feelings of loss of something that can never really be.  Distance will cause us each to miss out on something we both felt strongly would be unique were we to live closer to one another.  That such encounters ever occur is a reflection of God's mercy and benevolence, for we all need to be reminded from time to time that we are not alone. Proximity may keep us separated, but in our very humanity, we are not alone.

Florida was a place of very warm, hospitable people everywhere I went.  I had expected the "cool" California attitude and was pleasantly surprised to find it quite the opposite.  Florida was a place of reassurance, of a warm embrace and a couple shared Diet Cokes.  Florida was a great place to visit, and a great place to think about what my life is right this moment. It is hard, it is a little scary, and it blessed with relationships that are healthy and whole.  I made a new friend, I realized I no longer need to feel like a rookie at my current chosen "career", and I shared a lot of myself in many directions.  I wish every day could be like that.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Different Kind of Pride

Settled in my hotel room in Orlando, Florida, where I am staying to work for Nancy Larson Science at a homeschool convention, I finally have a little quiet time to catch up on blogging.

I have been debating how to present this post for the past few days, wondering how best to share what we did all the while knowing there are many you read who will find this A) Offensive, B) Surprising (Though if you have read long enough, you shouldn't be surprised), C) Controversial, D) And you will worry about our children's souls.  I am going to politely ask that you keep your comments to yourself if you feel a need to argue, prove a point, or batter me with a Bible.  It won't make a difference, everyone has already heard all the arguments over and over again, ad infinitum, and we will just have to agree to disagree...and even if I feel the need to not post a comment because of its tone (something I don't normally do),  I still love you! :-)

I was reading a Kindle book on my flight out here today, and as usual, God always nudges us in the specific directions we are to go.  The book was by a famous mom blogger who blogs over at . Glennon Doyle Melton's book, "Carry On, Warrior" was a great read with brief, powerful essays about the life of a woman who isn't perfect, is and has been broken, and finds God in the in-between spaces.  I never follow blogs much, as I don't have time, but had read a post or two of hers before and enjoyed them, so I thought the book would make good plane time reading.  While reading, I found myself nodding my head vigorously, and highlighting quotes I liked.  Some of them were perfectly suited to this blog post, and I will share.

So, to get back to why you might consider what I am about to share so controversial, and soul damaging...

This weekend, the kids and I (the ones who were NOT having a wonderful time rafting!) decided we wanted to participate in something important to us.  We live in a very rural area, one in which many people are targeted for being different in any way.  You all have heard me describe what happens to us on an almost daily basis...the stares, the comments, the disbelief that we actually belong together, and I am not traipsing around town with my foreign exchange group.  (Happened again this week at Walmart, when the clerk asked who all was visiting for summer vacation...::Sigh:::).

Imagine being gay in our community.  Imagine being transgendered in our community.  Imagine that you can never be who you are, and not feel threatened...for real.  That is the life of the LGBTQ folks in our neck of the woods.

When the opportunity arose for our church to walk in the Gay Pride parade in neighboring Grand Junction, many of us decided it was important for our LGBTQ neighbors to know that they too, are beloved children of God, just as we all are.  That they too, are precious.

As the conversation at church first started about this, I came home and spoke directly with the kids.  I wanted them to know that just because mom is passionate about an issue, that is ME...and they were absolutely free to feel differently, and to decline to participate.  In our family, there is never any pressure to conform, and in fact, there is always encouragement to voice your own opinion.  Anyone who knows us in real life could vouch for the fact that our kids are absolutely NOT little "mini me's", nor are they ever pressured to believe in a particular way.  They live with parents who often differ in their political and theological perspectives, and thus are exposed on a daily basis to diversity of opinion.  We want them to own their faith, to own their political beliefs, and to act on them...whatever they may be.  Dominick and I both feel that they can only truly own it, if they work with it, struggle with it, ponder it, and then claim it as their own after doing so.  Mimicking mom and dad's belief systems often leads to having to eventually revisit everything you believe to weigh it and see what is yours, and what really isn't.  We'd prefer it if they do that work now, rather than having to do it at 18, or 25, or 40.  They will surely revise it over time, we know this, but that is not the same as having to throw out everything you thought you knew when you discover that all you have held true is really someone else's idea of truth.

I guess, we just trust God and our kids to work it out themselves, and we respect that process.

Sitting around the table, I explained that some of the adults from our church felt a little uncomfortable with a public demonstration, and would not be participating, and that there might be relatively few of us marching in the parade.  I told them that they might be subject to ridicule, to nastiness, to people "booing", and to the judgment of others.

"This may be something you don't want to do at all, or maybe want to do when you are older.  However, you are all old enough to make this call yourself, and it is not mine or dad's to make.  I'll answer any questions you have, and you know we will always respect your opinions.  Dad is not comfortable doing this, I feel passionately about it and always have, so I am going to march.  I don't want you left out and treated like little kids, but I also don't want to have you feeling any pressure at all about this."  I then sat and waited.

That wait was a total of about .25 seconds.

"I absolutely want to go, Mom.  I don't care if we are the only ones.  How gay people are treated is wrong, and we need to help change that."  Angela, our budding activist said with her usual righteous indignation felt at any slight of others.

Kenny chimed in quickly, "We have too many gay friends who need someone to speak for them.  Like what happened with Martin Luther King, things only changed when people who weren't black decided it wasn't right anymore and started helping the fight.  I'm totally going."

Matthew and Olesya, the quiet ones, nodded in assent.  I asked them how they really felt, that they needed to talk about it openly.

 Olesya said, "Oh, I'm going.  I wish everyone would go.  I'll make some signs!  Gay people need to know they are loved, too."

Matthew reminded me, "Mom, we already have practice being boo'd at.  Remember the parade for the Democrat candidate we were working for?  Lots of people yelled bad things at us because everyone here is so conservative and doesn't like Democrats.  Maybe God was just letting us try it on for size, to do something harder.  We already practiced it, and it wasn't a big deal.  Some people just haven't practiced being different, standing out or being unpopular.  We know it isn't that big of a deal, so we totally need to do it."

But Joshua...oh man, is that little guy no longer a little guy.  He has known who he is and what he believes in since he was tiny, and his vehemence was a surprise to all of us around the table that afternoon.  Our usually soft spoken, mild mannered child became someone very different as he spoke last, and he was startlingly direct about it. "What is wrong with people?", he asked indignantly.  "Why does anyone think it is OK to hate someone? What does it matter who they sleep with?  Just because someone else thinks it is wrong, doesn't necessarily make it wrong.  It's just their opinion.  But it is NEVER wrong to hate someone else, especially when it has nothing to do with you in the first place.  People need to just get over it." (Hard not to smile at my Little Libertarian, who declared himself that long ago and continues to prove he really IS Libertarian leaning.  How can a then-9 year old kid know that about himself?).  "I'll be there, for sure, and forget who gets mad at us or hates us.  It's worth it...our friends are worth it."

And I have never, ever been as proud of our children, who are willing to take a stand even if it means being ridiculed.  Even Dominick, who was uncomfortable about it for himself, was proud of the kids.

And you may be uncomfortable with it, my readers.  Sorry, it is too important to brush under the rug.  I will not get into a theological/Scriptural debate about it, that's a "no win" situation and I refuse to engage in that kind of commentary...I care too much about all of you to do that, those who might agree as well as those who would emphatically disagree with me.  I know this is an issue that is dividing our country, and is hotly argued about in Christian circles, with those who feel as I do being called "not a real Christian".  I don't feel a need to defend my outward actions or my inner beliefs.  All I will say, is that God calls each of us to do different things in the world, and creates a burning in our hearts over a wide variety of circumstances and issues.  Each is called to do something different.  Most importantly, God also loves all, and if you are a Christian, you can't deny that statement.

I can not sit by and watch more young people...12, 13, and 14 year old kids... killing themselves because they have been bullied, and feel hated and unaccepted.  I can not see dear friends of mine at risk, as one's life recently was, simply because of who they love.  I can not see kids thrown on the street and being disowned because they don't fit the mold and their parents reject them...assuring most of the time a life of poverty and homelessness for them unless someone steps in and assists them.

Mostly though, I can NOT sit back and witness anyone walking through this world alone and unloved, be they gay or makes no difference...without making an attempt to try and put my arm around them and join them in their pain.  I may not always understand it, but if someone is alone in my presence...Shame.On.Me.

I have personally had too many encounters with the suffering that comes with those who are cast aside as "unworthy", and they ARE worthy.

There was Susie and Linda, the lesbian couple who bowled in the league my mom and I were in when I was in my twenties. Of course they were not "out" then, but everyone suspected and NO ONE would be on their team.  My mom and I looked at one another, and immediately offered to be their teammates.  Loved my mom for that act of courage and inspiration which still leads me today.  We had 4 or 5 wonderful seasons with these women, who were not "that lesbian couple" to us, but were simply our friends.  Ridiculous, as if "Gay" was some sort of viral infection you could catch from touching a bowling ball.  The behavior of others was appalling, and cruel.

When I was 16, there was Mike, who I worked with in the early 80's on my first job, who was terrified the moment I walked in the back storeroom to stumble upon him in the act of a quick goodbye peck on the cheek with his boyfriend.  The kindest, most gentlemanly young man anyone would want to meet stood there in shock and terror...because of a kiss.  I smiled and told his boyfriend, "See ya later!" and whispered to Mike as I passed by, "It's no big deal to me, you don't have to worry."  I later learned his boyfriend died of AIDS, devastating Mike.  No, his boyfriend didn't deserve AIDS, and it was NOT a punishment from God...

There was the friend of Matt's when he was young, whose parents suspected even at 3 years old that he might be gay, and the mother who trembled as she gathered the courage one afternoon and tested the waters with actually saying it out loud for the first time to me.  She was petrified that her family would one day be torn apart, if it were true, because her husband would most assuredly disown his only child.  I know she still lives in fear of that possibility, 11 years later.

There is someone special in our life who recently came out, and it took an enormous amount of courage to do so, as in this case it would surprise many.  This person could only do so because it was safe, and they knew that, from those closest, there would be no rebuff, no scorn...only acceptance and gladness that this person could finally now live authentically being who they are.

And there are so many more, walking through a darkness many of us can not imagine, feeling perpetual shame for how God created them, willing themselves to be different yet knowing ultimately it will be impossible.  If we, as Christians, can not shine God's light in the darkest corners of these precious hearts, walking with them and escorting them into the light that is God's love...then how can we proclaim the Gospel as ours?

More importantly, religion aside, how can we as decent human beings treat anyone, for any reason, as "less than"?  Privilege that comes from being part of the majority, that is how.  As Josh told me in further conversation, "If anyone knows what it is like to be in the minority mom, we do!  We homeschool, we are a family made up of people from different places, we are a bigger family, we are weird in our own way...we are TOTALLY a minority, so we know what it feels like sometimes."

Reading on the plane this afternoon, I loved the quote from Glennon's book:

"The only difference is that children bully in the hallways and the cafeteria while we bully from behind pulpits and legislative branches and sitcom one-liners."  She goes on to add, "So how is any of this surprising?  It's quite predictable, actually. It's trickle-down cruelty."

It is important to Dominick and I that we don't teach the kids "tolerance".  That is such a non-Jesus-y word to me. "Tolerance" is not how I understand Jesus' commandment to "Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this, everyone will know you are my disciples..."  That sounds a lot stronger than mere tolerance to me.

I think the quote attributed to Mother Theresa best explains my perspective, "When we judge people, we have no time to love them."

I guess that is what we are trying to teach our children, in a community where tolerance is zero, where we actually had a hate crime a few years back where a young gay man was murdered.  Love means LOVE, not tolerance...there is a wide gulf between the two.

So, after all that, here are some photos of the kids, doing what they feel led by God to do...and doing it enthusiastically, I might add, even if Joshie-and-Olesya-less because at the last minute they had a rafting trip date changed.  I was there, too, walking in the parade but also behind the lens.  Kudos to Dominick for also being there on the sidelines to assist and support his family even in our differing perspectives!:

Our Pastor, Karen Winkel, who is a light to many...including us!

Excitedly preparing to march!  

Our denomination's tagline, "God is still speaking...", is one thing that drew me into a United Church of Christ sanctuary.  I don't believe God has ever stopped speaking!

The boys with Pastor Brenda Brown, who was their camp counselor a few years back.

I couldn't help but think that it is these hands...these very hands that already are 
changing the world for others.  
Hands that haul boxes, and stock food at the Food Pantry.  
Hands that serve the homeless at our local shelter every other month.
 Hands that clean up highways.
 Hands that are offered in service to those they know and love.  
Hands that will continue to grow in size and tenderness.

Proudly standing on the side of love!

And the youngest shall lead them...the boys leading our church group, 
moving forward confidently, reflecting their understanding that Love Wins...
but only if they are willing to take a risk.

While we were being all "social justice-y", Joshua and Olesya were on an awesome overnight rafting trip with a family friend.  Todd took Matthew and Angela last year, and this year he wanted to get in a trip for everyone else.  Kenny lost the coin toss, and will have to wait :-)  We are so grateful to Todd for taking the kids on an adventure we could never provide them.  It gives them a chance to challenge themselves, as well as enjoy something very traditionally "Colorado" with someone whose concerns about safety are top notch, so we can feel comfortable with it.  Here are a few photos from their Raft-O-Rama:

Luxury River Rafting...with better food than mom cooks!

The boys...little Lewis and Clarks!
Yes...we do live in the most beautiful area of the United States!!!

Aaaannnddd...Olesya doesn't have her glasses on because she lost them on the trip 
when she fell out of the boat!  All mom's fault because I was supposed to get her one of those bands to hold them on, couldn't find one, and said, "Don't worry, what are the odds?"

I ought to know better, it is 2014, The Year of Living Dangerously for the LaJoys!

Olesya and Joshua paddling in the kayak.  
They all took turns and Josh told me that he and Luca did 11 miles by themselves!

And here are some shots from Angela and Matthew's trip last year, that I forgot to post, but are too cool not to post now that I found them!

Love the red rock!

Isn't this shot awesome??  See why I had to share it, even if it was old?

Such interesting formations.

Time to say goodnight, I have a big weekend ahead!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Being Nurtured

The past few months have been a little rough around here, and Mama LaJoy has been tugged in many different directions.  This week, it just seemed more overwhelming than usual, like my brain is being tugged this way and that as I try to meet the needs of everyone, and never quite do a good job of it.  Dominick and I were talking about it, and we have always had a lot on our plate, but it has usually been one Big Thing and lots of small things.  Part of the reason it all feels so hard right now is because it is lots of Big Things, and then lots of little things on top of it.  As I shared with a friend tonight on the phone, all is good in many, many ways...and we are trusting everything will work out in ways that are good for all of us.

When Mom is the one who takes care of everything, we are usually not the one who gets taken care of.  Well, that is true unless you have Angela for a daughter.  The past couple of days she quietly offered me care in ways that were so thoughtful, and really allowed me time to sit and relax a bit after a lot of running around and tasks on my "to do" list.  Yesterday, after I had to cancel dinner having a friend come over because there was just too much going on, Angela took over making dinner herself.  She shoo'd me out of the kitchen, telling me she had everything under control, and to go lay down or watch TV.  An hour or so later, dinner was served...salad, pasta, garlic bread, the works.  Olesya had made a contribution as well as she made a Key Lime Pie for everyone.  I couldn't believe how nice it was to just let it all go for a while and let someone else manage it.

I had another surprise in store, when I came home this afternoon after helping shuttle Olesya and Josh to a rafting trip.  Angela had already worked all morning at a friends farm planting trees with Matt and Kenny.  When I returned home, the house had been totally cleaned, all the little messes picked up, and there was nothing for me to do but relax.  To top it off, Kenny and Matt were up on the roof getting the swamp cooler working for the summer, being directed by Dominick who was up there guiding them.  I ended up making a parts run, but I had more time to relax this weekend than I've had in months...all because Angela (along with a little help from others) cared so much about allowing me time to myself.

Being nurtured instead of being the one always being the nurturer is a different role for me.  There is a little guilt that accompanies it, I think, and also a lot of gratitude.  Angela told me, "I know you have a big week coming up, and I wanted to make it a little easier for you."  I will be traveling to Florida to work at a homeschool show from Wednesday through Sunday, so there is a lot I need to do to get ready, in addition to a lot of other craziness going on around here.  Having such thoughtful daughters (and, of course, thoughtful sons!) is just nothing I ever pictured in all the years we waited for them.

In other news, Matthew finished his computer!  It took him a mere 4 hours to put the entire thing together.  He asked if he could stay up late, having started on it at 9:00 PM with great excitement after coming home from Civil Air Patrol, and he told me he went to bed at 1:00 AM.  When I awoke at 7:00 AM, it was up and running, completely put together, and Windows installed.

I couldn't believe it...he did it all by himself, Dominick went to bed around 9:30.  Kenny assisted, but he conked out around 11:30 PM.  It runs perfectly, and I have to admit...I have never seen a faster computer operating, nor one with graphics this good.  It will serve his purposes well,but more importantly, he learned that he can teach himself to do something BIG.  Here he is with the finished product:

Joshie and Olesya are on an overnight rafting trip with friends, and they were SO excited!  It is wonderful of Mr. Todd to take them out and let them have an adventure we'd never be able to provide them with.  It is a very "Colorado" thing to do, and they will return tomorrow night red cheeked and exhausted, with plenty of tales to regale us with.

And now, off to bed, where I can avoid the sound of the movie "Poltergeist" which Dominick and Kenny are watching, which the rest of us refused to watch.  Angie, Matt and I really dislike those kinds of films, so we are letting them have control of the remote tonight.  Haha!

Friday, May 16, 2014


We have had a minor dilemma around Casa LaJoy.  Matthew has been in need of a much more powerful computer in order to continue his AutoCAD studies.  His little laptop, though perfectly good, was proving unable to smoothly run the AutoCAD software because it just wasn't designed for that kind of usage...not enough memory, graphics card overload, and a few others issues which I am completely unprepared nor knowledgeable enough to pretend to explain.

Because he is quite serious about technology and seeing Computer Aided Drafting as a very probably future for him, we want to do all we can to support his learning.  He needs the right tools, and after he showed me exactly how badly his laptop was functioning while running the AutoCAD program, we realized we needed to do something.  He couldn't even complete his beginning course if we didn't upgrade somehow, and there was no way he could move on to what he really wants to explore...3D drafting...if we didn't upgrade.

We have been talking about it for several weeks, and trying to find the least expensive way to do this.  Olesya offered to purchase Matt's laptop, so that contributed a significant amount to the project.  Matthew kicked in almost all his savings for the past couple of years, which represented many long hours of hard work, weed pulling and washing dishes at the restaurant, and we were going to kick in the rest.  Matt spent hours and hours researching what would be the best computer for future expansion and future higher tech needs.  We spoke with a couple of different professional drafters and received their advice as well.  One of them laughed when they heard Matt has been trying to run the software on such a low powered computer.

Matt price checked, looking at several models, then came to us with an idea to save money.

"Mom, I think I can build what I need for a lot less money, if Dad can help me.  It really doesn't look that hard, and I already have a list of all the parts I would need.  It would save a fortune, and I can have a really powerful desktop computer that would last me for years because it would be upgradeable.  What do you think?", he then proceeded to show me his comparison sheet, price list, etc.  The boy had done his homework, and I was proud of him for being so careful and frugal.

Dominick and I talked about it, and I was concerned because they have never done anything like this and it will be impossible to come up with the money should they blow something up and have to repurchase it.  Dominick thought it was a fabulous idea, said he thought it would actually be quite easy, and a great learning project for Matt...let alone a huge money saver.  I relented, and more online price checking was done before a final order was placed.

Today, all the parts arrived, and Matthew was SO excited!!  Watching him caress the case as he opened it out of the box cracked me up.  This thing is ENORMOUS.  I have never seen a desktop this big.  Seriously, it is the Granddaddy of Desktops.

He went for a white outside case for the computer, because it looks "classier" and "more original" than black.
Was I kidding? This tower is the biggest ever.

This is the much debated mother board.

Trusted Sidekick...Kenny LaJoy

With Dominick offering encouragement and a little guidance, the boys set about installing each of the components.  As of 11:45 tonight, which is when I am writing this post, they are still diligently working on it.  Me?  I am saying a little prayer that when it is completed, and the magic moment comes to turn it on, there are no glitches.

Tomorrow we might have "lift off" and if all goes well, he will be able to use the computer.  

In other news, I received my Mother's Day necklace in the mail today:

What a sweet gift!  Everyone pitched in to buy it for me, and it has the birthstones of everyone in the family on it.  Yes, there are 8 stones there, you are counting correctly. The kids thought it only fair to put Sunny's birthstone on it, too! HAHAHA!  I thought that was so cute!  I love it, and was so touched by their thoughtfulness.

We are having up and down days with Mom, as she struggles to settle in back at home.  Medication seems to be totally off, and there may be something else wrong as she is feeling ill with no specific reason why.  Trying to coordinate care from this far away is incredibly difficult, and we are hoping that we can get everything settled down for her and that she can remain independent as long as she wants to be.  It is very hard to know what to do, or how to effectively provide her with the help she needs.  We are taking it day by day, but each day feels as if it is very precarious right now.

Day by day...moment by moment...breath by breath...for this night, all is well and safe.  Tomorrow, who knows?  We might have a blown up brand new computer, mom might be in worse condition, and a roof leak could develop.  I am not going to waste a moment anticipating it, and will just rest in the fact that tonight, all is well.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Banishing Darkness

I look around me, and I am surrounded with such every day, ordinary beauty.  A bright and cheery yellow house greets me when I pull into the driveway, a fluffball of eager, happily peeing fur awaiting my arrival as if I am a rock star.  A husband who treasures his wife and is willing to do just about anything in the entire world to provide for his family, who also has just a wee bit of "Girlfriend" in him which is what drew me to him in the first place...he can yack for hours about all sorts of things, and could care less about sports.  He has walked me through some awful stuff, the hard things an authentic life is made of.

There are the stairstep souls who sit before me each morning, so filled to the brim with hopeful anticipation about life in general, so genuinely kind to all they meet. Laughing, they start their day reading the news, sharing stories big and small.  They drape their arms around my shoulders in casual acceptance not often seen between mother and teen children, and I soak up every single moment of it.  We challenge one challenging them to think more deeply, them challenging me to think differently about each one of them.  They are as individual as the stars in the constellations, not a one really alike in any way, other than in their courage and warmth.  They have strong wills, minds of their own, and they make my heart sing every single day, without fail.  My days are never boring, though many would find them to be.  That alone was an answer to a long ago uttered prayer, "Please God, let my life be interesting...whether it is to others or not, please let me experience things that are rich and full, help me to see the beauty in the ordinary."

Prayer answered.

An email from a friend traveling overseas, sharing her experience on the Great Wall and a private little note later. Role models surround me at every turn, encouraging me, hearing me, validating me, accepting me with all my very obvious flaws.  A Facebook message from a virtual friend with a suggestion for one of the kids, a Mother's Day card from a "sister" who is childless herself and older than I yet who comes alongside often.  A much needed session filled with laughter and  chatter about nothing much, and yet somehow about everything.  A special softness offered by another, reaching out through shared magazines and clippings from newspapers which touches my very depths...I was thought of when not around, I was cared for enough to make the effort.   Another elevates me every.single.time, making me feel worthy, equal, and smart and all sorts of other not-so-earned emotions.

I have yet to figure out why so many people of such kindness and quality have elected to love me.  It is not the sort of thing often spoken of, and it will be my life's greatest mystery.  I am nothing...a true nobody, and yet there they are, holding my hand, in it for the long haul.  I may never understand why they have made the choice to reach into my life so gently and firmly, but I will forever be grateful.

There was a time in my life when I was so desperately alone, so lacking in true human companionship.  Oh, there were acquaintances and casual friendly relationships, but there was always something depth, no "call me anytime day or night" person.  The surface may have been explored ad infinitum, but the dark and murky depths were left undisturbed, for it was too hard to grab a hand and invite to visit the real me in the would take too much explanation, and what was there was something that might suck you in and devour you in its ugliness and lack of trust.

Somewhere along the way, God reached out to me in the form of many caring, loving people.  It allowed me to don the scuba gear and plunge into the darkness with many someone else's, each of whom helped illuminate the pitch black corners of my soul. They lifted me up, sometimes sharing life giving oxygen, until I made it to the surface and found the goodness that is life, and was able to drink it all in.

Tonight, as I sat with our small a capella women's choir at church, we sang one of the pieces of music that never, ever fails to bring tears to my eyes, for it reminds me of where I came from, and where I don't ever have to live anymore.  Last night's post was filled with the things that are heavy on my heart, and there are several, including a couple I prefer not to mention. The difference in my life today versus what it would be like 20 years ago is that, though it might be a very heavy load God has asked me to carry sometimes, I no longer have to do it all by myself.  As evidenced recently with the crisis with my mom, all I needed to do was reach out...and there were so many compassionate and loving people by my side.  I had never learned how to reach out, how to trust that others might be able to be God to me, in the flesh, and help me carry the load.  It takes being willing to be seen as vulnerable, and surely weak, by others.  But I have experienced the most when at my weakest, for God always, always joins me there somehow.  I have also been overwhelmingly blessed to be God to others during their difficult times, something that humbles me every time someone reaches out for me.

Everyone has a different image and understanding of God in their mind.  Sometimes God becomes the good in the world we have experienced, other times God becomes all that we ever hoped for but never quite stumbled upon. Whichever it is, the Spirit visits us in ways we can understand and recognize, and it changes us...permanently.  I could never, ever again walk through the world as I used to.  Jesus saved me, and continues to save me over and over again, every single day.  What I have learned as a follower of Jesus, is that light exists, and it is there for the taking if only I will let go of my fear of leaving the darkness.  My friends have all taught me that, as they put into practice what they too have learned through the years.

Life might be hard right now, it might be scary, feel insecure, and leave me with more questions than answers.  But there is such goodness all around me, blanketing me so that any blows are somewhat cushioned.  We are never alone...we are never alone...unless we want to push aside that which is just waiting for us to grab hold of.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

On My Heart

I have tried for three days to blog, and just can't get myself to sit at the keyboard and have words flow.  This year there is so much on my mind and heart, so many concerns, so much to try to deal is as if I simply don't have the brain space to write anything coherent.

On my heart this night:

1)  Mom is home, but is struggling with medication issues, and is really not very stable in her home.  I am always worried about her, and it is hard to push it aside.  Trying to manage care from far away, deal with MD's who don't have the time of day for you, and multiple visiting staff personnel makes it all so hard.

2)  As we left for our little mini-escape, we were SO fortunate that Dominick happened to step back into the kitchen before we closed the door behind us for two days.  Kenny left the stove on with one of the burners blazing.  Daily we try to remain optimistic about his future, despite the common occurrences that are happening with more frequency like this, perhaps due to Teen Brain.  People wonder why we don't go off and leave 14-16 year old kids alone at home all that often or for very long, as they are certainly mature enough.  It is because of this very thing.  We don't want the other kids put in the position of being Kenny's caretakers, it is not fair, but it leaves Dominick and I in the awkward place of sometimes feeling we need a "baby sitter" for kids this old.  Kenny's needs are not obvious to some until they spend some time with him.  How do you let a 15 year old mature in ways he can, but keep everyone else safe when he simply can't remember important things?  An ongoing dilemma that grows harder with each passing month.  

3)  An ongoing conversation with a dear friend I love very much who is struggling with a mighty mountain.  My heart literally hurts for her.

4)  Dominick and his/our future.  Looming and heavy, we try to remind ourselves of God's steady presence and provision.  We are calm, we are pragmatic, we are seeking and discerning.  Keeping on an even keel takes being intentionally in tune, and takes a lot of internal work.  We are fine, but brain space is limited largely because of this.

5)  Two families who adopted older children, who have experienced things we have not.  They have tried/are trying hard, one has made the heart wrenching decision to disrupt the adoption, another is hanging in there but truly suffering.  Daily I am reminded that we are a blessed family, no matter what happens.  

6)  Matthew's the amusement park this weekend, after just two rides Matthew was in pain, something none of us gave a whole lot of thought to because his back has been very stable.  When put to the test, it failed on a grand scale, and our appointment in August at Shriner's might be a difficult one.  We were already warned that the word "surgery" might be discussed.  We really don't want to see him have to undergo extensive back surgery with a serious and long recovery.  For some reason, this feels different than Kenny's prior surgeries, maybe because of "Back Surgery Horror Stories" everyone has heard.  Watching Matt this weekend though, it is obvious that the sleeping giant is rearing its ugly head, and now we are aware we might not get off too easy with this one.  

7)  Angela's teeth are another concern.  We have to make a decision about some work she needs done that is "iffy" in terms of results, and costly...let alone painful.  That poor girl has such bad teeth, and never complains.  Sometimes, it feels like we are always being put in the position of trying to ascertain the lesser of two or more evils, with little certainty about outcomes.

Though short, we had a really nice weekend getaway, and it was much needed.  We spent time with an old friend and her son catching up, and we just relaxed together with no real need to be anywhere or do anything. The gratitude from the kids for the day at the park was so sweet, and we all had a tender moment at the end of the day, when Josh asked if he could get a stuffed animal, choosing a penguin.  He hugged that thing all the way home, saying he wanted something to remind him of  his very special day with his family.  He is so mature and a 30 Year Old Man inside an 11 Year Old body sometimes, then other times he is all little boy still.

Kenny was Mr. Brave, riding all the scary rides with Angela, our other daredevil, that most of us wouldn't ride and looking very little like the timid little guy of a few years ago.  Olesya and I held jackets and watched others, as we decided that we were not going to feel obligated to ride roller coasters that have no appeal to either of us.  Her great delight for the weekend was hitting the Russian Market for a few familiar treats.  

Mother's Day we attended church, where I was very touched when our pastor shared a story about our kids and an experience she had with them a year or so ago.  Hearing of the generous spirits of our kids as observed by someone else and not even known to me, my heart was lifted as I was once again reminded that "success" as a mother can be measured in many different ways.  It came at a time when I needed it.  The kids and Dominick gave me my favorite bouquet of carnations, and they ordered me a beautiful heart necklace with the birthstones of each of them...and cracked me up when they informed me that they also included Sunny's birthstone, too, because I am her mom, too.  So my necklace, when it arrives, will represent ALL my children, furry and not-so-furry.

There are other posts that want to be written, posts that are less documenting our life and more thought provoking, but they will have to wait.  They must be simmering and not quite "done" yet.  For now, I feel as if I am managing to tread water, which is certainly better than the alternative! 

Thursday, May 08, 2014

End of School Year Surprise!

Today we are celebrating the end of another successful school year, as well as the gift of help our kids offered on our rental house project.  As a surprise, we purchased super discounted tickets to an amusement park in Denver, Elitch Gardens, as they had a special Homeschool Day offer.  The kids worked throughout Spring Break to repair the damage done by our renters, as we washed all the walls and ceilings to get rid of the cigarette smell (All of us), repainted (Mainly Matt and Olesya and I), cleaned bathrooms that looked as if they hadn't been cleaned in two years (Olesya and I), scrubbed floors (Kenny!), used two cans of oven cleaner to clean the disgusting oven (Angela), pulled weeds and loaded a huge trailer full of garbage to be hauled away (Josh), and replaced floor tiles, fixed electrical outlets, cleaned all carpets, and repaired other assorted damaged things (Dominick).  One week stretched to two, and we even had the help of a friend who repaired damaged drywall and doors.

All the work paid off though, as we had an offer in 24 hours after putting it on the market! It was so sweet and unexpected, as there were evidently three showings scheduled for the first day, much to our surprise, and the very next morning we had an offer accompanied by a letter from a young Hispanic family who had been looking in the neighborhood for four months trying to put an offer in on a house there that they could afford, only to get beat out every single time they tried.  Their handwritten note was accompanied by a photo of them and their very young son, and when we counter offered very close to their offer, we said a little prayer that they would be able to accept it.  We all cheered when they immediately did, as this is going to be the first home they ever own, and they said they just knew it would be "perfect" for them.  As we were so discouraged cleaning it up, we all talked about who might end up living there, and whether they would appreciate the home.  We have no doubt that will be true, and we all feel this was a Divine Intervention that is allowing us to do a couple of things we want to do (like a roof on our own home!), as well as help this sweet little family get a start in the world.  As we all gathered round the kitchen table to read their note the morning the offer came in, we felt our hard work was well worth it...and it really had nothing to do with our much needed new roof we can now afford.

Matthew cracked us all up, as he was the last one to be working on his Math for the year, and he decided he really wanted to be done before our "May Surprise".  We held off telling the kids about our surprise plans for Elitch's until this weekend, and he had 22 lessons left and 4 tests.  Everyone else had completed their curriculum for the year, including Kenny who did 17 lessons over the six days the girls and I were in California helping mom get resettled, but Matt is doing Algebra 2 and the lessons are much longer and harder, so he hasn't been able to do as many quite as quickly as the rest of the crew has.  He issued himself a challenge, and asked Dominick and I if he could have a little reward of root beer floats if he actually met the challenge of completing all 22 lessons and 4 tests before we leave today.  We said, "Sure!" so off he went to work, getting up at 5:00 AM a couple of mornings with no one else awake to work on it.  We were all pulling for him and cheering him on as dawn to dusk he was at it, and managed to complete the entire thing by yesterday morning...with no less than an 85 score on every lesson/test!  Hurray!  Root Beer Floats for everyone!!

In other news, we have decided to pursue getting a neurological work up for Kenny, with an eye toward perhaps getting services for him as an adult or social security disability, if he qualifies.  Kenny is a true "falls through the crack" sort of kid, and as he matures it is clearer he may just straddle the line between making it on his own, and being unable to.  In the right setting, where someone can guide him all the time and help him think things through, he would do fabulously well.  In a standard employment setting, we fear he will never make it as the expectation for independent logical thinking and remembering instructions will prove too difficult.  He is far too bright for a sheltered workshop, and yet his Executive Functioning/Memory/Planning deficits are huge and will truly hinder him.  He is still hopeful he can own his own business, which might eventually be possible were he to have a secretary to keep him on track and focused, but on his own he would be unable at this time to organize himself well enough.  He is an incredibly hard worker, and he is also very, very bright...a weird combination to add to a kid who still can't correctly manage to recall the months of the year.  Basically, the description of him as a recovering stroke victim is pretty darned accurate in the way he presents, and so we are hoping we can get some brain scans and explanations to fight for more services for him as he matures...maybe a job coach, subsidized work experience, who knows?

We have just hit some more road blocks and aren't sure we can jump higher hurdles.  Kenny is reading about a 7th grade level, but is pretty much holding steady there and I am not sure we can get him much further as he regresses and forgets to apply the rules taught him that help overcome his difficulties with reading.  We re-teach and re-teach things, and there are gains, but also constant regression, which is hard sometimes not to allow to discourage us all.  He has a strong set of gifts as well, so creativity is in order as we look at his future and try to continue to move forward.  I see my job as being specifically to continue to press and push him, and to not let the setbacks get to me :-)  However, ask that kid about history, and he will stun you with what he knows...and how he can analyze that knowledge and apply it to current day news events.  His brain is so interesting sometimes in what it can do versus what it can't!

Olesya is working hard at math, but that girl has some very serious issues as well.  We are trying a couple of approaches, but at 14 we are STILL working on cementing foundational things like place value, and odd/even numbers.  We are using an adult adaptive curriculum, another popular homeschooling curriculum, and just working one on one whenever we can with her.  Clearly, Algebra is not in her future...much to her relief AND mine! Hahaha!  Thankfully, she is a wonderful student and excels in every other area, once again, providing me with another unique brain to try and figure out.  She has taken an interest in Japan and is reading a lot about the country and culture.  She also is going to work on a Boy Scout merit badge on cinematography to explore that as well.  Another interest arising is forensics, and she is the most excited about our Fall forensics science course, and she is watching police shows on Netflix that explain forensics a lot.  As she grows older, she is branching out a little more, and it is interesting to see her move in directions never anticipated.

Angela has finished the year with a strong interest in anything graphic arts related, and so we are going to pursue a serious course in photography and Photoshop next year, then lead into Adobe Illustrator.  While her outside class was a decent exposure to what graphic arts is, toward the end it fizzled out as she discovered that a person who knows something really well is not always someone who can teach it all that well.  We don't consider it a loss though, as it sparked a real interest in Angie, and we are going to go the "self teach" direction this next several months using as our main "go to" resource, and see what develops.  We are finding, over time, that locally taught outside courses are a big disappointment and not worth the large sums of money charged.  I am sure that there are a few good teachers around for homeschoolers, we just haven't encountered many as good as the kids' art teacher was a few years back.

Joshie is just motoring along, already about 30 lessons into next years Pre-Algebra course.  I sometimes forget I have an 11 year old learning with us, because he is such a mature student with great habits.  That kid NEVER puts anything off, ALWAYS has his work turned in immediately, and like with all the other kids,  I consider myself blessed that I have never been put in the position of "Chief Nag", something I read online is a often a huge problem for many homeschoolers.  I assign it, and it gets done.  Period.  How did that ever happen so easily?  I have no idea but I am so grateful for it!  Josh is such a different, independent thinker these days, and it is a blast when he speaks up with a fresh perspective no one else had thought of.  He is confident in his school work, and is doing everything right along with the older kids.  We jumped him up a couple of levels in reading, as Miss Mary saw no reason any longer to keep he and Olesya at a lower level than Angie and Kenny, and I thought the same thing, so next year he will be doing 8th grade literature along with everyone else as a 6th grader.  We are definitely going to give him high school credit for history this year, and once I grade their finals he may also get it for Biology, too.  He'll move into Algebra 1 mid year next year, and will get high school credit for that as well.

Matthew loves AutoCAD.  LOVES IT!  Though he hasn't quite finished the year's course due to computer problems, he has most definitely found his future.  In order for him to finish, we need to get a new upgraded computer, and we are going to work on that this next week...maybe buying parts so it can be built be he and Dominick much more inexpensively than buying what he needs, as it is higher end that is required.  His teacher is excellent and enthusiastic...and lives elsewhere...hahaha! He is excited to finish this years course and move into what he thinks he might really love, 3D modeling.  I wish we had the money for one of those new 3D printers, as I think he could really explore with that.  Matt completed 11th grade Literature this year as a 9th grader, and this next year we are moving off of the traditional textbook route and going to do a wider variety of more modern material.  Yes, basically, I am going to make it up as we go along...much more fun for both of us!  Matt is also working on something in the garage that I don't quite "get", but he and Dominick do.  It is some sort of independent science project where he separates water into oxygen into hydrogen, as he is interested in water engines.  Please don't ask me, I just say, "Yes, I'll buy the parts." and turn him loose.

So as our school year winds down, we are looking forward to summer and some fun.  We'll keep school up, of course, and I have a lot of end of year bookkeeping to do as I develop the first part of a high school transcript for Matthew and record courses for everyone else.  Our weekend is a celebration of LOTS of hard work, a lot of successes, and perhaps a little acknowledgement that we are NOT going to let our challenges get the better of us!!  

Thursday, May 01, 2014

A Week of Observations

Home now for a full 24 hours, I feel a little rested and caught up on urgent tasks, and now have time to blog...something that, sadly, has taken a back seat the past few months but which I refuse to give up on!

Our trip to California to help settle my mom back into her home after a 6 week stay at a nursing home for rehabilitation turned into a  bit of a Girl's Road Trip, and was a wonderful opportunity for me to spend some time alone with Olesya and Angela., something that rarely happens in a family of seven.  The drive out, our time there, and the drive back was filled with conversation and multiple observations which were both enlightening, and very heartening as well.

We left early, early Thursday morning long before sunrise.  With just three of us in the minivan, it felt quite empty! Haha!  I was not very well prepared for the trip, as  found out at a relatively late date that mom was being discharged, and I had a packed schedule leading up to the day we left.  In fact, the night before, our dear Mr. Miller had hired the kids to "cater" a birthday dinner at his house for he and three of his friends, so just a few hours before needing to get on the road, the kids were in his kitchen wearing aprons, serving a beautiful birthday cake Olesya and Angela had made, washing his good china, and performing waiter and waitress duties.  Needless to say, I hadn't thought about "road snacks" or much of anything else before getting in the car, but I had a secret weapon...Olesya...who had so thoughtfully gathered a cooler filled with Diet Cokes and a bag of items to nibble on to offer sustenance along the way.  While it was still dark, and we had been on the road awhile, I heard the glorious "pop" of the Diet Coke being opened, and a chilled one being placed in my hand as she quietly whispered, "Here mom, I knew you'd need this to stay awake today."  Being cared for in small, subtle ways would be a hallmark of this trip, and make it extremely special for me.

For anyone who has not taken the drive across Utah and Nevada into California, let me describe it to you.  Hours and hours of NOTHING!!  Desert landscape stretches out before you for as far as your eye can see, though there are definitely stretches of red rock beauty that are particularly captivating if driven through at the right time of day, preferably sunset.  Otherwise, there is no cell service through a fair portion of the drive, there are almost no radio stations available other than the faint, static filled occasional blip of talk radio.  The wind can beat your car up pretty good as you drive at legal speeds in some places of 80 mph, and the roads are dotted from time to time with enormous black birds that are munching on road kill and don't decide to fly upward to safety until the very last moment, leaving you on high alert through much of the drive. You pass through a larger city once in awhile, with St. George and Cedar City being "landmarks", but otherwise, for much of the 15 hours it is incredibly desolate, and you find your mind filled with images of old grainy black and white cowboy flicks from your childhood.

The unremarkable landscape before you leads you to pay more attention to the "entertainment" you can provide yourself, and in our case, it was conversation.  Well, let me rephrase that, Angela and I talked up a blue streak while Olesya softly snored in the back seat! Haha!  If I hadn't been driving, I probably would have enjoyed the same luxury!  We talked of things that often don't have time to come to light on short jaunts at home, there was time to think carefully about responses, to feel unrushed as we drifted from one topic t another.  Angela is much like me in many ways, very observant about people and their interactions with others and the world.  She has great insights, and is very willing to reveal herself...both the good and the others as she prefers authenticity over a facade.  She greatly values relationship, and eagerly dives in with others, but she trusts less willingly than some...and usually for good reason, as her keen sense of understanding of motivation helps her quickly discern what a person's heart is really like.  She is almost always 100% accurate, and I find this fascinating and it makes for rich chats.

Both the girls truly adore their brothers, no matter how annoying they might be at moments, and throughout the trip it was so touching to me to hear them defend them, or include them in things even though they were not there.  If they were told "thank you for helping so much" by either grandma, both were quick to say, "Oh, if the boys were here, they would be doing this, too!".  Angela spent a lot of time on the drive sharing how she feels so blessed to be adopted into a family with such nice, kind boys.  She had been scared about "American boys" and how mean they can be, as she and Olesya had some very nice boys as friends in their family group at the orphanage...really decent kids.  I hadn't realized quiet to the degree it had been a fear for her, that the three boys would be tough guys and unwilling to be close with the girls.  Luckily, her fears were for naught and they all five have extraordinary relationships with one another.

We somehow found ourselves talking about birth stories, and she wanted to know the details about each of the boys and their circumstances upon entering the orphanage. Though that has been talked about in snippets the past four years, she had never heard each of their stories in full, so I explained all we knew about each one, and what their orphanages had been like, what their cities had been like, and as many details as I knew.  It was quite interesting that she expressed so much care for Josh and Kenny, who had both been abandoned in the street, almost as if their situation was far worse then hers and Olesya's.  She asked why I thought each had been abandoned, what my thoughts were about it, and what I would say to birth moms if I had the chance.  What an interesting question to be asked by your own daughter!  She really had me thinking.

When we talked about her birth mom and dad, she revealed some interesting things.  Four years later, she said she feels much less angry at them, and has come to accept that they were not evil or bad, but were "just messed up".  She thanked me for helping her get to a better place in her thinking about them, and told me she had a lot of respect for me because I never tried to make myself seem perfect next to her birth mom. (I am SO not perfect,and over time, she'll come to recognize that more and more.) Another surprising thing she said was that she appreciated that Dominick nor I cared at all what names she and Olesya called their birth parents.  Often she'll say just her "mom"  or "dad" in conversation, and we know exactly what she means and feel no need to correct her.  Evidently, somewhere along the line, she has heard someone corrected harshly or someone has talked about how their adoptive parents get mad about it, because she was quite firm about saying how grateful she was that we weren't offended by that.  She then added,"You know, I don't even think about them as my parents anymore, so it doesn't matter what I call them.  I have only one mom and dad, and that is you guys, because you are real parents who give up everything for your kids and love them no matter what.  That is what it takes to be a real mom or dad, and mine never could do that.  But I like it that I don't have to always be careful about what I say or how I say it, because I never called them 'birth parents' before and won't always remember.  But you and I know you are mom, and I think you are very grown up acting all the time about our other moms and dads, and aren't jealous acting or anything.  I think it is a little babyish for adopted parents to get mad about what the first parents are called."  Frankly, I have to agree with that, and I think that when an adoptive parent forces that sort of language issue, the problem rests more in the insecurities of the adoptive parent than in the child.

She asked another interesting question, about whether we had ever tried to find biological parents for the boys.  I told her I knew a few parents had tried, but it was quite expensive and we never had the money, plus we really only had what might be true starting information for Matthew, making it pretty impossible to find the parents of Kenny and Josh.  I added the only one we had a high likelihood of success of finding would be her parents.  She sat there quietly for a couple of miles, then said, "I don't think it would be worth the money to spend.  I know Olesya doesn't care to ever see them or know anything more, and I don't think I have anything to say to them these days.  It's all done, they are probably still very messed up, and they really don't care much anyway."  I then took the time to correct her, for I truly believe that even parents who have drug and alcohol problems go through moments of clarity with deep regret and remorse, even if they are incapable of changing their behavior.  Olesya had awakened and chimed in at this point, saying, "I hope all our parents think about us sometimes, because it would be nice to know we aren't forgotten, but I wouldn't even recognize my mom or dad if I saw them, I can't remember them at all so I don't care if I see them again."  Then, much to my surprise, she threw out, "But I am very curious about the boys' parents' sometimes and wish we all knew what their families look like.  Maybe because Angela and I have each other and everyone thinks we look so much alike, I am not as curious, but I wonder if Kenny's parents were as skinny as he is, or what Matthew's parents are like.  And sometimes, I'd like to chew out Joshua's parents for doing what they did to him and tell them they had no idea how bad they hurt him!"

Then, Angela dropped a bit of a bomb when she said, "At the orphanage, the tall blonde woman said something one time about us having a little brother.  I don't know if that is true or if I got it all confused, but I remember being surprised about that and wondering if it was true."

REALLY??  And I am just hearing about this NOW, four years later???

I haven't even had time to share that little nugget with Dominick yet, but will tonight.  I wonder if there is any truth to it, as so much is like playing a game of telephone over there, and information can get convoluted without intent very easily as it is passed from one person to another.

We had a lot to do in a very short period of time once we arrived in California, and I had one business day to accomplish several tasks.  Exhausted, we took off running early Friday morning and didn't stop.  Several items needed to be located and purchased to keep mom safe, such as a transfer shower bench, and an adaptive seat for her toilet.  We also ended up, at the last minute, buying a lift recliner chair as she really struggles to get upright from lower chairs.  We found the perfect chair.  Decisively and with little fan fare or price checking we bought it.  With little time to waste, decisions are easier.  We grocery shopped and went through old items in the pantry, cleaned up a bit around the house, and made 20 or so home made meals to be frozen.

Watching the girls who so capably got started in the kitchen making simple but decent meals for their grandma, I was so moved.  Mom and I went outside on her patio to have some important conversation about her care and management of her finances while the girls went to work. They occasionally popped their head out to ask a question, but before we knew it, they had meals cooling in containers on the counter top, the kitchen all cleaned up to start meal #2. They worked hard, side by side there in that tiny little kitchen, chopping, stirring, and cleaning.  I joined them from time to time, but three working in there was almost impossible, and I made more meals later by myself.  There they were, listening to a mix of Russian and Bollywood music, laughing and being so is hard these days to not think of them as more "woman" than "child". I chuckled to myself as I observed them, and remembered that the confidence they were showing in the kitchen these days has been hard earned, starting from four years ago when they couldn't identify different kinds of meat, and had no idea what food belonged stored where.  No longer do we put frozen meat in the pantry! Haha!

I have some wonderful women growing up quickly, right before my eyes.

We had another special treat when the gang back home used FaceTime to visit with all us girls in California (and no, those of us from California NEVER EVER say "Cali"...that is SO lame and marks you totally as a non-native!).  Mom and I both talked about how it almost brought us to tears to watch the boys and Dominick talk with the girls and see the sheer delight on the faces of all of them. Dominick was a total goofball, and the girls get such a kick out of his antics.  Matthew and Kenny spent quite a bit of time talking with the girls, most of it silly nonsense and teasing, but it would be impossible to miss the joy they all get from one another, and the excitement in voices on both sides of the screen as they joked and teased.  The genuine affection they all have for one another, and appreciation they have for the good qualities in each, is so, so rare.

Seeing that mom had all her needs met, and having the chance to visit for several hours, it was time to get back on the road again Monday morning.  I need our family to get back into a routine, which has been missing for about 8 weeks or so.  There is a lot going on right now for us, and a lot of details to attend to as well as we try to come up with a solution for shop space for Dominick's detailing business, handle the sale of our rental which happened in 24 hours (a story I'll share later this week), and continue to think about other future options for work for Dominick. Oh yea, then there is actually teaching the kids and moving forward with their school work.  Keeping up with the schedule as a One Man Show back home is hard for Dominick, too, so I wanted to get back home as soon as I could.  We ended up breaking the trip into two days on the way back, stopping in Vegas overnight.  My hip and back were pretty achy, and I didn't want to push it the entire 15 hours again without a second driver.  We did nothing but lay around the hotel room and recuperate a bit, watched a really dumb movie while laughing through it all and asking ourselves out loud WHY we were still watching this dumb was hilarious.

Up bright and reasonably early the next morning, we were on the road by 9:00 am.  We sang, we slept, we talked, we snacked.  Early evening, we were driving through a part of Utah with stunning red rock formations and the "Golden Hour" light cast shadows that were truly remarkable.  We kept pointing out new vistas to one another, saying "Hey, look over there!" and then there would be a collective, half joking, "Ooooohhh....ahhhhhh" until we saw the next one that drew our attention away.  We all three decided we want to take a self-taught photography class together and we might want to return there to take photos.  Olesya giggled about how much Angela and I talked through the drive, and we giggled over how much she slept.  We had no usual LaJoy Trip Misadventures, but did have a low tire problem once we hit Grand Junction, so we came close.

What we did have was time together.  I am always astounded at how much gratitude the kids show, and I was thanked at least 10 times for this little road trip.  Both girls talked about how much fun they had, even though we did nothing but drive, work, and drive back.  There as cheap food, long tedious hours of seat time, and nothing special done in California once we were there other than shop, work, and clean.  Still, they remarked about having an awesome time.  Olesya said, "It doesn't matter what we do, we always have a good time with you and Dad...even if it is just painting a fence or working around the house."  Angela added, "So many parents don't spend time with their kids, especially when they are our age, and you and Dad always do.  Some moms wouldn't have taken their kids on a trip like this, so I am glad you want to be with us and you are a fun mom to be with!"  What they don't realize is that, in fact, most kids their ages wouldn't care to spend that much time with their parents...but shhhhhhh...don't tell them that, and maybe they'll never figure it out!

A week filled with observations, it humbled me as I learned more about our daughters, and as I learned more about aging as I watch my mom try and maneuver as best she can through the trials and insults of declining physical abilities and keep fighting.  There were all the trappings of a great story...beautiful sunsets, a beach (15 minutes away which we never saw! Haha!), an old life being looked at (both theirs and mine as I drove through the streets of my childhood), and quiet and not-so-quiet conversation.  There was healing observed all over the place, and struggles as well.

We have missed so much of the lives of three of our children, yet sometimes I think God has given us an extra measure of wonderfulness to make up for it.  As I traveled with the girls this week and listened to their own observations about family life, parenting, and so much more, I realized that even though we have most definitely missed a lot, there is an awful lot that has imprinted itself already.

I also was reminded of something I already knew.  I am the single luckiest mom in the whole world, and even as Dominick and I both work hard to care for our brood, they too are taking very good care of us.  Arriving home late at night, the boys stood ready to unload the car for us, and we all flopped on the couch and talked for a couple of hours, big ol' bodies sprawled everywhere and bean bag chairs strewn across the floor with more bodies.  The next morning, realizing that we had all forgotten to do so, Joshie woke up and remembered it was trash day, so all alone he threw clothes on quickly and ran out taking all of the cans to the street...which with full cans and a very, very long gravel driveway is no easy feat.  When I woke up before everyone else, I found him up, eating cereal, reading the news online.  When he told me not to worry about the trash, I asked him why he didn't get help, and he said, "I tried to be really quiet.  Everyone is so tired, and I knew they needed more sleep."  We've always joked about how Josh is our 30 year old man inside a little body, and it surely felt like it yesterday morning.  He then offered to go to Walmart with me to help with grocery shopping because he didn't want me doing all the work of hauling and loading by myself.  He further cracked me up when we were standing at the register and a little infant was in a cart a few feet away.  The cashier even laughed loudly when she heard Josh remark, "That little baby is so cute!  Look at him, Mom!" then he added, "They are so cute until they grow up and get a mind of their own." and he sounded 50 years old, not 11.

At every turn, I find more and more that our children are showing us that they know how to care for others, and we are sometimes the beneficiaries of that care.  I know many moms who dread this stage, but I am finding it utterly special, and the teen years are not at all what I had been expecting.

Here's hoping mom settles back into her routine safely and comfortable, and that we somehow get back into ours!  Spring is upon us, new life...and no doubt, new observations...await.