Sunday, August 24, 2014

And We Will Smile

You'd think that with homeschooling we get enough family time, but in some weird way, school is school, and family time is family time, and never the twain shall meet.  I don't know why, but maybe it is because we take school very seriously and it just feels differently, plus Dominick is not around so it is never fully family time without him.

Or maybe....maybe it is because we deeply love each other and enjoy each other's company.

We took some time to go camping this past weekend, and traveled to Lake City in "Juanita", our trailer, with "Jorge" pulling all the way.  We had no plans, and let's face it, we aren't the most outdoorsy family, but there is something so peaceful and healing about being in the mountains near lakes or streams and enjoying a campfire with your feet propped up.  Heading out with no agenda, we decided to just enjoy and do as little planning as possible.  Let me show you where we went, and I just might hear a little sigh coming from your end.  I wish we could share our piece of paradise with everyone, for I know so many of you could use a mountain getaway yourselves.  This is about 2 1/2 hours from our home:

Welcome to Lake San Cristobal deep in the San Juan Mountains.

Could you possibly get anymore serene, my Dear Colorado?  
How my soul loves you.

Beautiful late afternoon sky, photo courtesy of Joshua LaJoy, Budding Photographer.

Arriving at noon, we discovered that we did not have the most rustic camp site, ending up in a super clean, wonderfully well maintained private campground that at first disappointed us because it was not much different than a Walmart parking lot, with $300,000 rigs from Texas surrounding us in very tight rows.  However, the folks we met were "regulars" who returned year after year, some coming for 40+ years, and they were warm, inviting, and quite friendly.  We overcame our dismay quickly, though humble little "Juanita" versus the extravagant mobile digs we were tucked in with made us feel a bit as if we were out of our league.  No bother, we set up camp quickly, thanks to our lovely new-to-us trailer and felt like we were living high off the hog compared to our prior camping accommodations.  With popout beds on both ends and a small slide out in the middle, it was SO nice not to be literally walking over the top of one another with every step we took inside.  Soon, the boys were off on their bikes while the girls remained behind and puttered around walking Sunny, reading , and visiting.  The boys went on an Exploration and were gone a couple of hours before returning, feeling very grown up. 

Riding around the lake, Kenny was SO tired when they came back to the campsite!

Naww...they aren't having any fun.

Another photo compliments of Joshua, taken during a break while biking.  That boy is developing a real eye.

We made dinner, then headed off into town for a walk to explore the quaint, historic buildings still standing from the mining days in the late 1800's. This little town boasts a population of just around 400 people year round, but it swells to more than 1000 during the summer season, many coming in from Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri to escape the heat year after year.  While wandering downtown, we stumbled upon a beautiful little Presbyterian church.  We joked about trying to get in to see the interior, and sure enough, we pulled on the door and it swung wide open, inviting us to explore.  It seats maybe 70-80 people, and has wonderful stained glass windows and original pews that creak with a gentle squeak as you sit down in them.  On the door was a handbill informing us of a concert to be held the following evening, and I was pleasantly surprised when all the kids chimed in, saying we ought to come into town for it, so we decided to do so.

Ready for dinner!

Best buddies

The church we stumbled into.

Still used every single Sunday, two services each morning!

We returned to the campsite, and THIS is what we did...ahhhh...

This is what camping is all about.  Forget all the rest!

The next day we had a little surprise in store for the kids.  Toward the end of last summer we purchased a used inflatable boat that could accommodate two passengers.  We brought that along to try out for the first time, and we also rented a kayak so that two more could go out on the lake and enjoy being on the water.  The kids were so excited!  They couldn't wait to get down to the lake and start paddling, so after a quick breakfast, off we went.

Blue vests, blue kayak, blue's time to ride!

Looking quite coordinated here, like old pros.

And away they go! 

Kenny helping Dominick get the boat ready.

Angela excitedly anticipating their turn on the water.

We thought they would all want the kayak, but these two definitely wanted this little boat.  Angela had a hard time getting the hang of rowing, so we teased her that Kenny was her personal Gondolier.

And there they go!

Now, you might be wondering what Olesya was doing, and if she was feeling left out.  Nope!  She decided she didn't really want to go out at all on the water, and instead wanted to work on her crafts and play with Sunny on the dock.  She said she didn't feel as stable in these boats and was a little afraid of them.  She did eventually go out with me for a few minutes, but really preferred being on solid ground.  She kept quite busy though:

Watching Sunny play in the water.

Sunny was disturbed that everyone left her behind!

Working with one of her birthday gifts, a rubber band loom.

Everyone in the family received a lovely bracelet, some in the colors of their country's flag.

We went back to the campsite for lunch, then returned to the lake for the afternoon, where I then took my turn sharing the kayak with Matthew, and there, in that little kayak as we paddled around the lake, we entered into the sacred with one another, something that doesn't happen as often with him as it does with the others, as he is slower to reveal himself to others and his need for time to gather his thoughts and then share them often gets trampled on by the presence of his more outgoing and talkative siblings.

First, we traveled near an island where there was an interesting private bridge.

I thought this was a cool photo opp!

As we drifted further and further away from the docks, our paddling settled into a steady rhythm as we worked our way across the lake.  Up, dip, pull...up, dip, pull...we quietly rowed in tandem, a complete, lovely unit speaking more and more softly as we traveled further into the marshy area at the edge of the lake.  The weather began to change, and the skies darkened, and with the overcast skies came a settling of the water and gradually, a little at a time, a fish would jump up here...then there...then again over behind us!  We sat there near the shallow end by the shore watching in rapt wonder as the circles rippled out over the surface as everywhere we looked there was another and yet another fish breaking the surface in search of a late afternoon snack of mosquitoes and other flying insects.  It was magical, and we kept whispering to each other, "Look!  Did you see that one?  He was HUGE!", and "Oh OH!  That was so COOL!".

Metallic blue dragonflies flitted all around us, landing casually on Matt's shoulder or on the side of the kayak, then quickly flying off to dive bomb the surface of the water then soar upward and whiz along the surface yet again before hovering near us once more.  We giggled together, my deep voiced son and I, his broad capable shoulders all I could see in front of me.

Then he began to speak.  He is very, very scared about the back surgery that looms on the horizon.  He is certain he needs it, as he is often in a great deal of pain that he doesn't speak much of, and even recently on a flight in a small aircraft for Civil Air Patrol they hit a patch of turbulence that left him hurting for the rest of the day.  Despite knowing how necessary it is, and despite him actually wanting it, he is fearful of the impending pain and long recovery process.  Dominick and I have both noticed how Matt has drawn even closer to me since our trip to Salt Lake City and receiving that verdict, and I am glad he can turn to me and share his fears and concerns.  

When you have kids who routinely have to face demons that others don't, you have to make decision early on about how best to handle it.  The hits will keep coming, and your children will feed off your emotions.  We also decided long ago that we would pull no punches, that our job was to walk beside them as they dealt with the blows life would inevitably deal them.

As such, I spoke quietly from the back of the kayak, admitting to Matthew that I wished this wasn't in his future and that we had no idea exactly how hard it all might be.  I explained to him, though, that he had the finest doctors caring for him who were extremely experienced and would do their best to keep his pain under control.  Who knows?  He might sail through this, but I don't want to downplay that it will be rough for a bit.  
"Matt, throughout this, you will have to tell me what you need from me.  You are older now, and not a little boy, and you may decide you don't want your mom in with you as you talk to the doctor, or that you prefer to deal with certain aspects of this on your own.  But I want you to know that your Dad and I are here for you 100%, and I will be beside you every step of the way, as much as you want me to be...and I won't be offended should you decide you want me to step back a bit.  You just name it, OK?"

At 15 years old, I want him to have the space he needs.  

He didn't waste a moment before saying, "Mom, you are never out of place, and I really want you there all the time.  I know some kids don't like that, but you aren't just my mom, you are someone I really enjoy being with, and who makes me feel calm and safe.  I'm just glad I have parents like you and Dad, you guys are always there for us no matter how hard it gets."  Then he laughed a little and added in a high pitched voice, "I'm scared and I want my Mommy!  Don't leave me!", and we both chuckled over that.  I reached out and laid my hand on his shoulder and said, "You'll never get rid of me, and together, we'll get through it, Matt.  I promise."  He reached up and grabbed my hand, enveloping it in his ever larger one and in a whispered voice said, "I know.  Thanks, Mom."

And there we sat, the shadows cast on the water as the heavy dark grey clouds gradually moved in.  The lapping of the water on the side of the kayak spoke to us of peace, of safe keeping.  We must have sat there 10 minutes or more before deciding of one accord that it was time to move on, each of us dipping our paddles gracefully back in the water and pulling our way toward the others, those dear ones we call family.

Later that evening, we went to the church to listen to the music and sing along to old favorites. Our kids were the only children present, as the crowd consisted largely of "Old Timers".  What a surprise terrific event this was for us!  Most of the performers were 80 years old or pretty close to it, and some were darling while others were down right incredibly talented.  We heard old hymns, Broadway tunes, a little Johnny Mathis, Ray Charles, patriotic tunes, and more.  There were two different pianists that brought down the house, fiddle players and a sax player as well.   We heard a tune from the Ken Burns series we just completed watching on the Civil War, and it was cute to see the kids' eyes all light up and hear them whisper as they recognized it.  

Sitting there as moths danced across the ceiling as the doors were flung wide open allowing the cool summer evening air to wash over us all, I was struck by what unique and incredibly special opportunities our children have had growing up here in rural Colorado.  We all chattered without end as we left the church, and in the car as we drove back to camp.  Every single one of them had a total blast, and we had not initially expected much and had even talked about if we could make a graceful exit should it prove to be tough to sit through.  Here we were sitting in a church that was almost 150 years old, in the original pews the miners who built it worshipped in, listening to music that teens today would never recognize nor care for at that is dying a slow death as the generations who appreciated it are slipping away.  It was a genuine gift to hear the kids talk about which was their favorite tune, which ones they recognized, and listen to their attempts to recall lyrics and sing them.  "Georgia on My Mind", "Oh Danny Boy", "Moon River", and Joshie's favorite, "I'll Fly Away" were recalled with such glee, and we all agreed we had stumbled upon quite a little event.  They each expressed such respect for the musicians, regardless of their age, and how cool it was that folks of that age were still offering up their talent for the community.  It was a night we all said we would remember always.

We will talk more about the concerns we have about our future as time passes, I know that.  We have no idea what will happen with Dominick and work over the coming months.  The foreboding feeling won't disappear, as that and the possibility of not one, but two back surgeries hangs over our heads.  For now, we will not let our minds linger too long on it, nor on the additional surgeries we have been told that Kenny will need, one of which involves breaking his lower jaw and removing bone so that it aligns better with his upper jaw.  We have major medical needs ahead of us, but all is well.  We came away from the weekend really feeling that. 

 For today, all is well, we are together, and we will face things one at a time.

We will let God carry the load, we will ride the water and paddle our best.

We will smile...

And smile...

And smile...

And smile...

And smile...

Forever, come what may.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Olesya is 15!!

When you've been cheated of years less than most parents have with their children, it becomes ever more precious. As they grow older, each birthday is tinged with a sweetness that only parents and children who have been denied making memories together can truly understand and appreciate.  Olesya's birthday was this past week, and she turned 15 years old.  We have only had the privilege of celebrating five of those birthdays with her.  We have no first bite of birthday cake photos, no 1, 2 or 3 year old cards saved.

But what we have is here and now, and it is a gift to each of us.  We had no big party, just dinner and a cake together:

Matthew insisted on baking Olesya's cake, and Angie patiently customized it with decorations.  We rarely call Olesya by her name, and she has a couple of nicknames that we most commonly use.  The kids call her Ole' and I tend to call her Lessie, so Angela put Ole (as in Olay) on the cake for her name.
It is hard to believe she is 15, and she admits she doesn't feel 15 but more like 13 or so.  That is probably a pretty accurate assessment of where she is, developmentally and emotionally, and as she says, she is in no hurry to grow up!  I love watching her and Angela savor what remains of their childhood.

Best Buddies!

The Gang

Olesya is in love with some Bollywood hunks, so Angela bought her a poster of some cuties!

Kenny isn't so sure about Bollywood...Haha!
These two regularly crack us up!  Our gift to Olesya was new boots, she has wanted them for ages.  Josh decided to model them with her!

An incredibly tender moment for us all to witness was when Matthew and Joshua presented Olesya with their gift to her.  She was shocked and they just couldn't wait for her to open it.  They both were with me one afternoon and said they wanted to get her something special this year, just because.  They selected a very beautiful bracelet, and I know she felt a bit  like a treasured princess because of their thoughtfulness.

So pretty!

The biggest gift of all, siblings who truly care for one another.

Kenny got in on it by helping her put it on.  
Angela watched and later said to me, "Mom, we have such nice brothers.  Olesya and I are very lucky we ended up in this family.  We could have had brothers who were mean, or just didn't care about us.  I think we will always be friends and be close."  I hope so, Angie, and I am glad the boys have you, too!

Joshie is digging Olesya's pink bag...he is such a goof!

What a sweet evening it was.  Nothing exciting, no major expensive gifts, just time spent together enjoying what a family is all about.  Olesya, you are the kindest young lady I have ever met.  You are beginning to gain more confidence in yourself, and are very slowly seeing your own worth.  Team LaJoy needs your creative spirit, your tender soul.  May your 15th year be as wonderful as you are!!  We love you dearly.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Small Talk

This morning, while standing near the dairy case contemplating whether to buy 3 or 4 gallons of milk, I was surprised to see an old friend from our public school days.  She stopped and we chatted, asking the usual questions moms always ask when running into one another.

"How's your son?  How's school for him?  What are you doing these days?", we ping ponged back and forth for the first 3 minutes.

Then it came, the inevitable lull when you have little in common to talk about other than a former life that little resembles the one you live today, and you know you ought to be saying something but you can't dig up anything else to ask or add.  This was a mom I was genuinely quite fond of, and I left feeling a little melancholy, wishing I was good at small talk, that I was more able to stand there for half an hour chatting about this and that.  I was struck again by the fact that no matter hard I have tried, I have spent the majority of my Mommy Years being very, very alone in my motherhood journey.  I also realized something else...

I don't do small talk.

I am not practiced at it, I am not comfortable within its realms.  What other women pull off with ease is, in some ways, pure torture for me

Instead, what I am well versed in is Big Talk, you know, the kind that moves from shallow to deep end of the pool in the time it takes to draw a single breath.  I have spent years living in that realm, where hearts with ragged, torn edges are exposed.  I don't ask for these conversations, they just seem to follow me, and it is not just within the confines of our family.  We have an inside joke that every time I invite a random mom to come hang with us at the local swimming pool for an afternoon and visit with me while her young'uns play, sometime during our time together, she will end up in tears as she shares concerns.  This has happened at least 6 times, and if I meet someone new there, I will be seeing the kids watch from the sidelines to see if the mom friend is crying.  I am glad I can be a resting place for someone, a safe place where things can come out that might have been long buried.

We've had an incredible amount of Big Talk around here lately.  There are things being shared that I am not going to openly write about at this time, and there are concerns that are easy to be open about.  Let's just say that nothing is simple right now.

Big Talk this week centered around Matthew's visit to Shriner's Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City, where he was evaluated for  ongoing back and orthopedic issues.  It's been about 2 1/2 years since our last visit, and Matt has been diligent about following instructions for activities not to participate in.  We ended up taking Josh along with us.  The original plan was for everyone to stay home, and just Matt and I make the trip.  Kenny and Angela both had work to do with Dominick, one at the restaurant and one pressure washing, so Olesya and Joshua would be home by themselves.  Late the evening before we were to get on the road, Josh came to me trying his best not to cry, telling me that he just didn't feel comfortable being home alone with Olesya and "no big kids or parents", and asked if there was some other arrangement that could be made.  He said he didn't want to hurt Olesya's feelings, but it just didn't feel good to him.  We totally feel Olesya is competent to be home with Josh, but we realized they are too close in terms of school work, etc. for him to feel she was "older"...and thankfully Olesya graciously understood as well.  It was decided that Josh would go with us instead.

What a beautiful, lovely drive we had!  I had pre-loaded some podcasts on my iPad for the desolate, long drive, and yet never touched them.  Instead, the boys and I visited and sang our way through the Utah desert, talking about life, music, faith, and futures.  The older our kids become, the more I enjoy my time with them.  They are such interesting people!

The next day, Matt and I found ourselves alone for a bit in the exam room as we waited for the doctor.  We giggled and played with the kids toys in the room, and laughed over a silly book about a grandma taking her garbage out.  When the doctor arrived, all laughter stopped.  Looking at the new xrays that had just been taken, it was obvious that surgery was now a reality.  I was very proud of how Matthew handled himself, and saw immediately how much he has matured since our last visit there.  This time there was no prodding necessary as he answered the MD's questions fully, providing details and explaining how much pain he was in most of the time.  We discussed what surgery might be like, and it was quickly decided that this would be the best course of action.  Matt was given a choice, and he bravely opted for it, as he knows it will do nothing but get worse over time.  After some conversation, we all agreed to let him play volleyball, return in November for another follow up and schedule surgery for after the first of the year sometime.

The drive home was much more contemplative than the drive there.  Matt admitted he is scared, and he knows this is not minor.  We talked out the pros and cons of waiting versus moving forward, and he was firm about going ahead with it, which I think is very wise, but I would have understood if he had elected to put it off.  We were told it would be a 6 month recovery, and probably a second surgery as well to go in and remove hardware after healing.  That was a lot for him to take in, and when we arrived home it was a lot for everyone to digest.  Everyone spoke of how Matt would have to come first then, and everything else would have to be second on the list.  As we talked with the family, Matt laid down and put his head on my lap, something he hasn't done in a long time.  I reassured him that it would all be fine in the long run, that he was getting the very best of care from folks who knew how to keep the pain at a minimum and really knew what they were doing so he could have a better future.

I barely had time to consider it all before moving on in my mind to preparing Angela for repeat root canal.  Everything went fine, and she was thrilled with the dentist we found who did my crown recently.  That made a world of difference because she came out saying she was no longer terrified of dental work, as long as this dentist did it.  He is very kind and considerate as he is working, and so we have solved on problem for all my dentist-shy kids.

We have some heavy stuff going on around here, fears about the future abound.  Next weekend we are going camping for the second time in our new-to-us trailer, and I think we are all long overdue for a breather. Despite all the concerns, we are able to share our feelings and be open with one another about fears.  That is the killer for families, when emotions get buried and there is an unwillingness to draw upon one another for strength.  We have no idea what the coming months will look like for us in all kinds of areas, but we are together, we are strong, and we are facing every challenge with an entire loving Team behind us.  That's all that really matters.