Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Camp, Phase 2

Funny, when our kids go to camp, then return home, it always seems as if I have to go into Overdrive.  Emotions are brought to the surface as events of the week are processed, an it leaves me wondering if every parent of kids who go to church camp experience this.  Dominick and I are deeply moved by the ways in which our kids's lives are transformed by their time at camp, and it is worth everything in the world to us to get them there.  However, I always end up feeling as if I need a week vacation after tending to their emotional needs.

This year has, by far, been the year of biggest emotions ever.  Lots of things have arisen, some of which I am not at liberty to share at this time.  Things that will take us years to work with, I fear.  It's also very, very good that such things have surfaced.  

Angela and Matt came home anxious to talk about the topics of conversation at camp.  A missionary with the YMCA working in India was a speaker, and Angela was enthralled by him, as she is with all things from India.  She participated in groups about social justice issues, and it is so easy to see a future for her doing something to advocate for others, whether it be a vocation or an avocation.  Matthew spoke for the very first time openly and clearly about his developing faith and his perceptions.  While hearing about many kids' claiming deism but not necessarily Christianity, Matt said that for the first time, he really was able to understand how much he had learned from Jesus' teachings, and though he could never be a literalist when it comes to Scripture, he now firmly sees that he claims Christianity for himself because he believes that the things Jesus taught were the best path for a fulfilling life...and the path he genuinely wants to walk.  

The struggle with the "tough girl" image for Angela was something that came up for her, and we had long, tear filled conversations about how much she...and I...lost by not belonging to one another when she was younger.  We spoke of missed cuddle time, of nurturing that is awkward to offer in ways more acceptable with younger children, and of her desire to somehow get in touch with her softer self and help bring that forward more in her life.  Kids who have to protect themselves and younger siblings at very young ages find "Tough Kid" as default mode.  We made a list of ideas for things she could do to help bring that side to the forefront, and we both agreed that after the new year we are going to work hard on finding her a volunteer position working with the elderly, as that is when we both see her very tender side come forth. 

Attending the high school camp now, our kids are around larger groups of kids their own age than they usually get to mingle with, and for the most part these are "big city" kids, not "country bumpkins".  It was eye opening for both to listen to the revelations shared by others about drugs, alcohol and sexual exploits of kids their own ages, or younger, as others found a safe place to talk about their concerns for their lives.  This was not bragging, this was sharing about using other things to fill up the empty places that so many young people walk around with.  I asked them both if they felt odd when such conversations came up, thinking Matt in particular might feel awkward or nerdy being such an "inexperienced" square.  He sat thoughtfully for a moment, then responded, "No, Mom, I felt lucky that I didn't need all of that to feel mature, and that I don't have to go looking for things to help me feel whole.  It didn't bother me at all to talk about not doing that kind of stuff.  That's not what makes someone a man, or an adult, and I have too much I want to do with my life to screw it up with that."  We were so happy that he seemed confident and self-assured about who he is in the world.  

Both of them seem just a bit further down the road to adulthood after this camp, in all the right ways.

Summer is fading fast, and we are gearing up for a new school year.  The printer has been running, wildly spewing out page after page of curriculum as I prepare writing notebooks, and other items.  Volleyball begins in 3 weeks or so, and we have a trip to Shriner's for Matthew next week, and I have a trip to California to visit mom and see how she is doing later in August.  I'm trying to find more time to write blog posts, and I am hoping that life will get back into a bit of a routine so I can create space for that.  I miss it when I don't blog, even though I know it is pretty "half baked" most of the time.  It is my "working it out" place, and right now, there is a lot to work out in our lives.

Off to sleep now...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Church Camp Week #1

It has been a highly emotional few days, as Olesya, Kenny and Joshua returned from church camp. I have no idea how other people's kids react when they return from a week away at camp, but it never, ever fails to have an enormous impact on our children...and this year more than ever.  All three kids were moved to the point of tears upon their return, and all expressed a wish that camp never had to end.

Joshua has spent the past 3 days crying off and on, because the experience was deep and rich for him.  He wishes desperately that camp were longer, and came away for the very first time having a far better understanding of what/who God is, and encountered the Spirit perhaps for the very first time in a recognizable way.  He also internalized that he loves who he is, and though he struggles with emotions he told me he realized he doesn't want to change a thing about himself.  Camp also seems to have helped him be able to talk more about his feelings of insecurity, and how he still has feelings of complete terror that arise in minor situations.  As he cried, we talked about ways for him to handle those emotions, and how they may never fully disappear but that his awareness can lead to healthier ways of dealing with them.  Watching his eyes well with tears over and over again as he spoke, I was struck by how this child has the strength of 10 men, and has come further than we ever would have imagined when he was young and full on RAD.  Yet there is still so much work to be done...

For Olesya, there was an awakening to her own wonderfulness, as she excitedly told me she figured something out. She had a  rough couple of weeks prior to camp that came out the day before when she had a very emotional meltdown as she talked about feeling bad about who she was, about not being super skinny, about not being attractive in her own mind.  Speaking with a firm resolve I have never heard from her before, she told me about how being at camp somehow helped her see herself as perfectly normal, and she saw how she needed to start speaking up for herself more rather than just give in to everyone around her.  Of all our children, Olesya's self-esteem is by far the lowest, and we constantly work to try and build her up.  Sometimes it feels almost impossible to undo what was done to our kids...or in Olesya's case to help her stop wanting to make herself invisible to the world.  Something clicked for her at camp which I hope carries over long afterward, and she began to see herself as somehow worthy of more than being relegated to the back seat of life.

For three solid days, Kenny has been doing nothing but writing.  He decided at camp, with the encouragement of his wonderful counselor, that he was going to write a book about his understanding of God.  He is titling it "The Human God", and he has literally written for hours and hours without stopping.  Kenny always cries at the end of camp, because he loves it so much and it allows him to spend an entire week immersed in all things theological.  For him, that is a little slice of heaven, and it hurts when he has to part ways.

Kenny shared one final thought before going to bed the night after camp. He told me that he realized something very important at camp in a way he never had before.  "Mom, I think I came away even more grateful for my amazing family than I ever have been.  I always know I am lucky to have all of you, but for some reason, this year I heard more stories that were hard to hear, and for most of the kids their families were a big part of why they were unhappy.  When it was my turn to share, I could only think of how my family is the greatest thing to ever happen to me, and how we are all kind and respectful with each other.  I guess I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have.  We are boring because we don't have any drama, but I think I really like boring!"

This year was incredible for these three, and as I explained in a thank you message to their counselors, for our kids La Foret is not just a chance to have a great time and learn more about God...it is like a year's worth of therapy work crammed into a single week.  They come away with pieces of their hearts put back together, having healed a little bit more with each passing summer.  I usually spend the week post-camp dealing with the emotions that have arisen, having quiet conversations and helping them work it all.  It is an honor that they are willingly sharing such things with me, particularly at this age when many shut down completely and hide behind a mask of disdain for all things parental.

Three down, two to go...I hope Matt and Angela are having the time of their lives and learning more about themselves.  I hope we have lots to talk about after they arrive home and we debrief.  Those two are both very deep rivers, and it will be interesting to hear what they have to say if they feel called to share.

Camp weeks are awesome.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Three Less

Wow...it has been over a week since I last blogged.  Every once in awhile life gets busy, and I prefer to live it rather than write it :-)

We had guests for a week, and had a lot of fun traveling around the area, visiting the beautiful sights, staying up late and chatting.  We don't often get overnight visitors, so when we do it is a special treat.  With five kids and a dog, and being quite far off the beaten path, I don't know WHY on earth anyone wouldn't want to come stay at Casa LaJoy...hahaha!

The house is extremely quiet this week, as Olesya, Kenny and Joshua are off at church camp...their beloved LaForet in Colorado Springs. We are three less around here, and it feels weird!  Thankfully, not a single forest fire has been reported yet, which sadly has almost become a tradition for camp months.  Angie and Matt are home, and we are realizing we really live with several adults these days, not a houseful of kids.  Dominick and I ran into town yesterday to take Sunny to the groomer for her annual shave down (I hate the way she looks like this...sort of a combo of a lamb and a greyhound dog!!  Ugh!), and came home to a mowed yard and the trash cans hauled to the curb without us saying a word about it.  When we went in the house, we thanked the kids for being so responsible with being reminded, and they both acted as if it was no big deal at all.

It is nice to get the kids in different groupings, as the dynamics are very different and it often reveals nuances that are missed in the larger group setting.  Angela and I have been watching inspirational mini-films that she has found and shown me, and we both really love the same sorts of things in that regard.  Tonight, though I am getting a night out with friends at the movies, Angie and I plan to stay up really late and watch TV together...chick flicks or shows that we usually put aside for everyone else.  She is looking for a Bollywood film to share with me, her total passion...and we have spent time looking at all the handsome Bollywood actors on Google.  So cute, so sweet...so Angie.  She says she would like to marry a man from India or an African American man, because she finds them to be quite handsome.  I have to admit, she has very, very good taste :-)  We often tease one another because our taste in other things runs quite counter to one another.  She is a big sunglasses, leopard print, large dangly earring kind of gal...and I am more along the lines of small stud earrings, animal print hating, practical glasses kind of mom.  Somehow though, it works, and we do have a crossover of "likes" that appears fairly often.  We joke that all we have to do to select a gift for one another is pick out what we hate, and we know the other will adore it!  Hahaha!

And that is sort of how our family rolls, we don't have any expectations that anyone has to like the same things, believe the same things, etc. to be "right"...unless it is core morals or values.  Other than that, everyone is quite free to be exactly how they want to be, though Angela's more Russian style and taste has had to be tamed a bit as she recognized early on that in American, some of what is an acceptable "look" in Kazakhstan is viewed here as leaning more toward a "hooker look", so she recognizes the need to drop it down a notch!  We just laugh over the differences, finding them amusing without judgment.

Matt is working on an enormous project for me, and has spent at least 15 hours on it already with probably 100 more to go.  I am so grateful for his help, it is tedious and time consuming, and I really couldn't do this project without help from he and others.  I will soon be talking more about it here, but it is also what has kept me from blogging as much as I have been very busy with research and working on it, which has required a lot of computer time.  I am gradually growing excited about it, as is the whole family as everyone will be involved at some level.  I have no idea if we will be successful or not, but we're going to give something a try.

Dominick and I looked at one another yesterday and said, "So this is what it would have felt like if we had stayed with two kids."

The pros:

1)  Far fewer dishes.  I had NO idea really, just how often we ran the darned dishwasher around here!
2)  Quieter
3)  Less "stuff" laying around that has to be picked up
4)  Leaving the house is far easier with two than five...you just get ready and go, and we aren't really waiting for anyone
5)  Food...we have it...I have not yet hit Walmart and don't need to.  I live in a perpetual state of dreading the Walmart run, or being on a Walmart run.
6)  The dog spends time with me, normally she hovers around the kids all the time, and most often Olesya.  Suddenly, I am an attractive companion.

The cons:

1)  Quiet is definitely over-rated.
2)  Less laughter.  More people = more silly things happening to laugh about
3)  No Kenny
4)  No Olesya
5)  No Joshua

#'s 3, 4, and 5 are enough alone to negate the Pros of #'s 1-6.

As for Dominick and I, he is just staying quite busy working in this awful heat, getting up very, very early almost every morning and coming home quite tuckered out.  I am trying to adjust to my new bifocals.  It is not going well and to say I hate them is an understatement.  However, in order to move my attitude to gratitude this afternoon, I took my glasses off and looked around, trying to do ANYTHING for 10 minutes without seeing.

It worked.

Popped those bifocals on and was immediately so grateful that I can see with some semblance of normalcy versus what my naked eyes see like.  Funny how we really can do little things to change our outlook tremendously.  Don't get me wrong, I'll still complain about them now and then, I am sure, but at least I will come back to center quickly with that simple reminder of naked eyes that literally can not function at all and would mean the very end of life as I know it if it weren't for me half inch thick coke bottle bifocal lenses.

Another week of camp next week after a trip to Colorado Springs to drop off and pick up, and we will get life back to normal, whatever that is around here :-)

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Happy Pictureless Fourth!

Well...I did it again...totally forgot my camera when I wanted to have it with me.  Guess I'll have to paint a picture with words, something that is always a struggle for me.  First though, I have to catch up because I was a bad girl and didn't post much this week as other things occupied my time and heart.

I didn't write here about our special anniversary last week, though I posted on Facebook about it.  28 years married, 32 together, and we rarely do anything special for our anniversary. Usually, we can't afford it, don't want the hassle of finding someone to watch five kids, or have been in a place where we didn't feel comfortable leaving the kids.  This year though, the kids gave us an anniversary that was beyond a cruise or high end night out on the town.

We were debating whether we should go out to dinner or not, and the kids all told us to plan on it.  In the days leading up to it, they kept asking us where we were going, etc.  Saturday comes along, and we knew we were going out to eat but were in the great "Where do you want to eat?" debate when Josh and Olesya each come up to us and hand us gift cards they had purchased for us.  One was for Outback Steakhouse, which is too far away but will DEFINITELY be on the agenda, and one was a Visa gift card.  Neither was aware of what the other had bought, so it was a funny moment...and terribly sweet...when they gave them to us.

Off we went to a local Mexican eatery, where we enjoyed just sitting and visiting without others present.  Many might think that is rare for us, and in some ways I guess it is, but we are pretty lucky to be able to find the time at home often to talk.  We just tell the kids we need some time without them interrupting, and they occupy themselves. What we don't often get is the time, period, where we are both awake and alert, where schedules are not such that it is squeezed in between the next thing to do on the list, etc.  After dinner, we went for a long drive in in the evening "golden hour", traveling off the beaten path and winding through ranch land with a mountain landscape in the background that I still never take for granted.  What we can have at a moments notice is what others pay dearly for a vacation to experience. Believe me, it is worth the money...it is also worth the effort it takes to make it here, for it is soul filling in ways a typical city can never, ever be.  We may some day have to move from here, but my heart will always live in this place.

Arriving home, we pulled up to find a sign greeting us, wishing us a "Happy Anniversary", and once inside the door, it was obvious that a lot of work had been put in to cleaning up the house, setting the table with a tablecloth and wine glasses with root beer waiting to be poured.  While we were gone, a cake had been baked and frosted, and the viewing area prepared as Angela had a special surprise for us.  We all gathered in the TV room, where Matt the Tech Man had her computer hooked up to the TV, and we were treated to a slide show she had put together for us that told our story along with some tender and funny comments mingled with the photos.  It was darling, humorous, and so, so sweet.  We watched it twice, both Dominick and I with tears in our eyes.  When it was done, we hugged and thanked her, and she dissolved into tears herself, saying she had no idea why she was crying but she was so glad we loved it.  We stood there, the three of us in a long, slow hug, each of us with tears streaming...filled with a gratitude that only those who have been through the fire of trying to help Love Win can understand.  We knew why she was crying, and that alone was the best anniversary gift a parent could ever have.

We found one another in this world, and our love was hard fought for...and damn, it is good.  Angela's hesitation four and a half years ago was logical, her actions were painful but understandable given her life circumstances to that point.  Today, her love for her family is fierce and intense.  She has a soul deep appreciation for all that Team LaJoy is, and loves us with great zeal.  It was an honor to feel the love that flowed through her that night, to know it took her two weeks and many hours to create "our story", all the while savoring what she is a part of...she belongs somewhere and she belongs to someone.  She now has "her people" and she knows their story, having folded it into hers.  Words alone can not express the power in that, and once again we were humbled to have the Spirit flow through our home in a big "Whoosh...".

That was not all, over cake we opened cards from each of the kids.  More tears.  Our kids really, really put things into words beautifully, and more than one person has told me that when they receive a card or note from a LaJoy, it is a "keeper".  Kenny's touched us so deeply as he wrote:

"Your love is wider than the roaring seas. Your love is deeper than the abyss. Your loyalty for each other rockets into space. Your marriage is the eighth wonder in this world. It burns bright, showing all those that seek it.

Together you laugh through thick and thin. As one you pierce through life with laughter, joy, hope, vision and love. As a body of one you give life and form to a family of your own. With encouragement, support and love you create a life that transforms other people's lives. You were made for each other in every way possible."

We are truly not "all that", but to know our son sees us that way is quite special.  That he would put it into words is even more so.  I want to preserve his words here, as I often do other things the kids say or write, because paper might one day disappear, and I never want to forget these little things that made up our life.  Oddly, this blog is our family journal and scrapbook, and I as the kids mature and grow older, I am ever more grateful that I have continued to blog and save this bits of treasure from our life here...and I am thankful for a dear friend who saves it every month for me by backing it up!  How I'd hate to lose all that is recorded here.

So, needless to say, it was a lovely anniversary.

But wait, there's more celebrating to be had!!

I am still so mad that I didn't bring my camera!  Life conspired against me to keep me from running back home and getting it.  Yesterday friends cooked up a 50 1/2 birthday celebration for Dominick to coincide with the 4th of July, so he would never guess.  And he didn't :-)

We spent the late afternoon and evening with an outdoor BBQ, and Dominick sitting on his "throne", a new office chair that the kids purchased for him.  It was an old fashioned Fourth, with an egg toss, water gun fights for the kids, and believe it or not, "Cut Throat FourSquare" was played for a couple of hours by adults and kids alike. It was a hoot, and the adults took it very seriously, sacrificing our bodies to the cause as many of us, including myself, took tumbles.  Dominick was spoiled with several gift cards for JCPenney, so he could purchase some new clothes for himself and was warned not to use them on the kids.  This man has put himself last on the list, year after year, and has always insisted that everyone else get what they need despite my haranguing that he needs new clothes, too.  He lost a lot of weight this past year, and really desperately needs some pants that fit...but along came his own root canal and still-in-need of implant, my own recent crown after a shattered tooth, and on and on and on.  Because he works in grubby conditions, he has always worn grubby clothing because logically, who wants to pressure wash greasy gunk and ruin good clothing?  But it has left him without anything very nice for non-work wear as he hasn't replaced anything.  He will be well outfitted now, as friends showed such generosity and love for him.

Having no plans to go the fireworks, Angela and a couple other kids in attendance expressed their dismay, so at the last minute, three cars ran off to find a somewhat secluded location from which to view them.  There, in the evening summer glow with a light breeze caressing us, we adults pulled out the yard chairs while the kids ran ahead and giggled, oohing and aaahhing with each colorful explosion.  We spoke softly, we adults who have now shared many years of friendship and many other happy 4ths together.  We have created a history for all of these kids and grand kids, memories of holidays shared, of adults and kids playing together, of shuffleboard and horseshoes and Killer Foursquare.  Kenny's first 4th of July was spent with this crew, and every one ever since.  These people have wrapped their arms around this rag tag family who is just trying their best to make it, they have loved us thoroughly, and hopefully, they have felt the love coming right back to them from us.

So, pictures or not, we had a splendid 4th of July week...the entire week has been a celebration of love and all things 'Murica...which to me really means family and friendship, as well as sacrifices big and small.  Next time, I won't forget the camera!!