Monday, September 29, 2014

Over-Rated Roads

Taken our first night camping...we were all awestruck.  
Such views are healing for the soul.

Home.  Unpacked.  Laundry being done...well, let's face it, it's never fully "done".  Walmart run completed and groceries in for the week, maybe two if I can stretch it.  $419 and two carts full.  I wanted to gag a little, it always feels that way after we have emptied the fridge prior to a trip.  Nothing but food, and only 4 meat items purchased.  I laughed out loud recently when someone asked about our food bill.  I offered the explanation like this:  "Well, if I buy a single bag of apples, there are usually 7 or 8 apples in it.  That is one snack for one day." That was greeted by a stunned silence as the realization set in.  No one I know wants to trade grocery bills with us.

We had a total blast, really enjoyed our time in Durango, and all the beauty of the southwest.  I am sharing photos randomly on this blog post, just because :-)  We ended up coming home on "Color Weekend" through the mountain passes in Western Colorado, when the hues of yellow and orange were at their most show-offy.

PS:  All these photos were taken with my tiny little iPhone camera, as an experiment.  
What do you think?

I know my last blog post sounded a bit like a Pity Party for Cindy, and I regretted posting it after I closed up the iPad that night.  I mean, my life is far from awful, in fact, it is down right beautiful in all the ways that count.  Seriously.  I don't make anything up here, I have too many "in real life" friends who come visit me here on the blog and they keep me honest! Hahaha!  Our family genuinely IS very, very happy.  We DO laugh that much.  We DO deeply love one another. And yes, our kids DO actually get along that well.  I am not faking it when I post about the know the ones...because that is how we live our lives. I take no credit for it, aside from making sure God is as present as we can manage, and though I know many don't "get it", that changes every.single.thing.  It really does.

But I long ago vowed that this blog was for us, and because of that, I had no reason to hide anything or sugar coat it.  As time passed, and I realized there were more people reading it than my 2.5 friends, it became even more important to be as articulate and open as I could possibly be.  As I was preparing myself each and every time we adopted, it seemed everything I read was either a Fairy Tale or a Horror Story.  I knew it was neither, and that folks were just too uncomfortable to share their truth....all of it.  There are things, out of respect for the kids, that I don't share.  They know I blog, and they will sometimes say, "You won't post that, will you?", and of course I won't.  However, they all know what a challenging road we travel as a family, and they have seen first hand and heard from many, many others who have explained how much it helped to read things I have written through the years, so our kids see our blog as a ministry of sorts, and are supportive of us reaching out in whatever ways we can to help others see things more clearly.

My regret about posting my Mini-Mama-Meltdown was completely wiped away when I received this comment today:

I've never left a comment here, but I always looks forward to your posts because I truly feel that we are living very similar lives, although my kids are a few years younger than yours (13. 11. 10. and 5). I have searched and searched to find other blogs or other moms that can understand what I'm going through and your blog is the ONLY one I've ever found that seems to parallel my life. I just wanted to tell you what a blessing today's blog post was to me. You articulated so many feelings and fears that I have. In fact, I was just out on the back porch talking to myself (because, you know, NO ONE else understands, so you end up talking to yourself.. a lot) and I expressed the same feelings that you're feeling right now. I don't have any advice or really anything good to say, but just wanted you to know that you're not alone in this. And can I tell you how much I appreciated knowing that I'm not the only one who explains the same thing over and over and over again, even after a very logical explanation? I really thought it was just my family. Thanks again for your blog. It keeps me from feeling that I'm alone in this."

I have often said, both in person and in my blogs, that no one should ever have to feel alone.  It is one reason I am incredibly passionate about the company I am working behind the scenes to create, which will hopefully offer some level of support, encouragement, and resources for families like ours, and like my fellow mama above.  We shouldn't have to feel this way.  We shouldn't have to talk to ourselves, we shouldn't have to cry alone, we shouldn't have to fight every step of the way to convince professionals that we are not idiots and something is very wrong with our beloved children.  We shouldn't have to research it, present it, and beg for testing...that is THEIR job.  We shouldn't have to feel that crushing sensation as we look around and realize there isn't a single place to turn to for understanding and help.

We should NEVER be alone in this.  Yet, we are.

I may sometimes feel that alone, because our circumstances are different and others have no experience with it, but I am inordinately blessed with friends who listen, who care, and who offer tangible help when they can.  Even with that, I still feel deeply isolated at moments.  I think all special needs moms do.  That's why I try to write with honesty.  Those who have followed us for a long time, hopefully, see that reflected in my posts.

However, the funny thing is that most of the time, I actually forget I am, indeed, a special needs mom.  Dumb, huh?  I mean, isn't it obvious even with Kenny?  Let alone the fact that every single one of our kids has some sort of diagnosis?  (No, I am not a "diagnosis" junkie, but we've needed to know so I could find great tools to teach with...and to know when to press and when to let go.)  Well, if you knew our kids in person, you might better understand why it sometimes catches me off guard. They are indeed, "uniquely developed" or "Limited Edition", as Angela has dubbed us.  They ARE bright, they ARE deep, they ARE smart!  

That, in a nutshell, is why it can be so disheartening and hard...because they ARE so many things other than a label.

LaJoy Men...Strong, Good, Awesome!

After much reflection, I realized that part of what erupted for me was grief stemming from  the growing realization that I think we might be dealing with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or some related disorder with Kenny, and likely with the girls as well.  Of course, we know that is highly probable with the girls, as we have a history that includes incredible alcohol use.  We are undoubtedly fortunate that it isn't much, much worse with the girls.  With Kenny, it is a big unknown. Surprisingly, not a single specialist has ever suggested it with Kenny, and I am not sure why.  In reading more and more about it, a light bulb is going on for me.  He has such a myriad number of issues, all of which could be independent of FAS, but together seem to point directly to it. 

And with each new level of understanding, with each new layer uncovered for our children who are in many ways complete enigmas at moments, it is as if I have to take a deep breath, and allow myself time to grieve the latest understanding.

So much damage very much that was 100% avoidable and unnecessary.

Tonight, here alone in the quiet with nothing but my keyboard and my thoughts, I marvel at the path God has encouraged me to walk. Having talked it all through, cried it all out, and handed it over to Something Bigger Than Myself, I am better able to be and feel all I need to be and feel.  It builds over time, all of "this", and it needs to rise to the surface.  How grateful I am, though, for all that Team LaJoy is together.  For all our "failings" in the eyes of the world, for all that doesn't work the same as it does for everyone else, for all that is frustrating and aggravating on a daily basis, there is one thing I know for certain:

We are never in it alone.  We, the seven of us, are there forever for one another.  We have ALL healed and have scars, we have ALL overcome, and we are ALL going to make sure that everyone makes it.  Sometimes I need to look back a bit, and see just how far we have already come.  We have such a "Two steps forward, one back" kind of life, that it can be hard to measure the true distance traveled.  Oh man, have we made it a long, long way. How could I ever forget that?

Josh was listening the other day to some music, and on came the song I used for the adoption slide show I created for the girls.  We have come to think of as "the Girls' Song", popularized by Rascal Flatts (Broken Road), though we used the version by Selah, which is far more beautiful. Josh started humming it mindlessly, or so I thought, until he glanced up at me and said, "Hey mom, this song is really about our whole family.  God really did bless the broken road that led us to each other."

Straight, perfect roads are highly over-rated.  I'll take the broken one, has more to offer my heart.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This Gig Ain't Easy

Here we are, in Williams, AZ, and I decided it was time to have a little meltdown.  Thankfully, it was short lived, but it snuck up on me and I was completely unaware that I was emotionally depleted.  There was nothing in particular that triggered it, and we truly are having a lovely, relaxing trip.  The drive through Monument Valley was nothing short of spectacular...the contrasting hues of the deep red rock and verigated greens of the various plant life were set off by crisp blue skies in which clouds of billowy white were nestled.  Definitely a photographer's dream setting.  I didn't take many photos though, preferring to view it through the windshield or as we stopped to stand in amazement without muddying the experience with a camera in my hand.  I'd post photos, and will when I get home, but I seem to be having trouble posting them to the blog from my iPad, which is all I brought with me.

Spending the night in Utah, we arrived just ahead of the storm clouds, but they rewarded us with a stunning landscape post-downpour that, for me at least, made the entire trip worthwhikle.  We drove to Williams, AZ the next day, and are staying in a very nice campground run by a couple who have owned it for years, and you can tell it is their life.  It is not resort style accommodations, but it is a wonderful family-type facility and we all are enjoying the conversations and friendliness of the owners and others here.  We went to the Grand Canyon yesterday, and spent the entire day walking the rim.  The weather couldn't have been better, mid seventies and clear.  Though we enjoyed the Canyon, every one of us thought the beauty of Monument Valley was unrivaled by the Canyon, and perhaps our favorite part of the visit was people watching, and predicting when Victim #27 would fall over the edge and die.  There have been 26th deaths thus far this year, we were told, and it seems that Selfie Addiction is causing people to use poor judgment in their attempts to get ever cooler selfie photos to post.

This morning, it seems everything caught up to me, and I felt the weight and reality of being a special needs mom in a way I don't think I ever have.  We are blessed with children we adore, and whose behavior is very easy to be around, and I think that has caused me to overlook the day to day stress of dealing with the challenges we have in other areas.

I couldn't ignore it today, for no particular reason, and I felt such sorrow, anger and grief that it overwhelmed me for quite awhile.  There is no getting around it, I am exhausted from being "on" 24/7, teaching, guiding, correcting and pointing out inconsistencies that seem like they will never be "fixed".  Over a 24 hour period there were 5 or 6 instances where the lack of logic was so stunning and "in your face", where memory loss kicked into high gear, that I just felt defeated.  Most people who are around our kids view them as reasonably bright, fairly articulate, and avoiding the spotlight at all costs...none of them care to be out in front, though like anyone they do like to be quietly noticed.  I am realizing it is because they don't want to be seen as "dumb" because they can't always come up with appropriate responses...for some of our kids, their brains don't work as well as others.

Every single day, multiple times a day, I find myself repeating exactly what I just said five minutes prior, or one of the kids will ask a question that I just answered with a solid explanation.  Oh, so many have told me "it is typical teenage brain", and I get that, I know it to be true, but this is NOT typical.  Angela is showing serious signs of disconnect and memory issues at times, not typical stuff but truly not recalling any facts about something we might have studied for a good solid week or more.  We continue to work on strengthening logic daily, but there are moments that all I can do is shake my head and move on.  Olesya is so, so behind in math, and her disability there is staggering, alongside the same sort of logic issues we are seeing with Angela.  Kenny, poor sweet Kenny, the need there is so huge, so beyond my ability to fix, and my heart breaks as I see him try and try, never giving up, and yet watching him do something as simple as a word search and having it take two full hours to complete it is agonizing as his mom.  Seeing Olesya struggle over a simple 3 or 4 digit addition problem is awful, watching Angie as she grows so frustrated at not knowing something she knows she ought to be able to recall is so hard as the emotions play across her face.  Throw in Josh and his emotional turmoil that hits periodically (He is doing very well on the trip, despite crying for 3 days before we left because it just felt wrong to him and he didn't know why), and Matt with his challenges with writing and emotionally as he looks toward surgery and is frightened of it, and I guess it is no wonder I am feeling this way.

And I am tired.  Worn out.  The well is dry.  I am exhausted from repeating over and over,  I am tired of worrying about the future, I am tired of trying to diagnose the seemingly undiagnosable, I am tired of wracking my brain seeking yet another way to get information across that might make it stick, I am tired of no one seeing how damned hard it is every day because learning disabilities are hidden, I am tired of interpreting everything, I am tired of checking in to see if something was understood, I am tired of advocating, I am tired of trying to meet both ends with two on the gifted spectrum at the same time, I am tired of feeling like a failure at least 7 or 8 times a day, I am tired of begging for help where no help exists, I am tired of fighting, I am tired of nothing coming easy, I am tired of reteaching phonics and basic reading skills and months of the year and making sure proper grooming is done at 15 or 16 years old, I am tired of being the logical one for five others, I am tired of cheerleading when there is no one to cheerlead for me.

This is one of those rare days when I feel I can't possibly do it anymore, and I couldn't stop the tears from coming over some stupid repeat of information.  I wanted to scream, but I didn't...and I know that every single day they want to as well.  It was one of those days that has me wondering if any of my kids will ever be gainfully employed, let alone in jobs they enjoy.  It was one of those days when gratitude for all they are was hard to summon because of all the worry, and all the beating up of myself because it feels like I am failing them over and over again because I can't fix damaged brains and I can't go back and redo their childhood.

I want to hit the very next person who minimizes my daily struggle with a shrug and a knowing comment flung out about how it is just because they are teenagers, as if at age 20 all of this will pass and they will magically have memories returned and brains healed from trauma, neglect, malnutrition, and very likely alcohol or drug usage.  This doesn't go away, and that might be the very saddest part for me, because I'd love more than anything to grab hold of that and rest secure in the fact that all of this is temporary, and they will emerge with everything suddenly healed and whole at age 20.

The difference is that I can't have that sort of casual assurance like other parents can.

On days like this I remind myself of what is important and what is going right.  They are deeply good human beings, they are respectful of others and willing to stand up for what they believe in.  They are helpful, kind and incredibly thoughtful.  They are connected spiritually and are active in their community.  They don't hate their parents, despite the fact that at this age, our culture tells them they should.  They are very forgiving of our failings.  They are incredibly hard workers.

I know all of this, I am grateful beyond words for it.  But maybe just for today, I had to allow myself to feel ALL of it...the frustration, the concern, the exhaustion, and more feelings I can't quite name yet.  I really have no one to share all of this with, other than virtually, and that makes it harder.  There is no commiserating with anyone who walks in shoes like mine, and it is isolating.

I got over myself, and the afternoon eased into a beautiful reflection of all the good stuff...we walked the main drag in Williams and visited the Route 66 gift shops, and even returned in the evening to see the old hotel signs all lit up.  Dominick bought us each a couple of caramels, a simple little treat that was somehow so sweet because he surprised us with it.  We played badminton badly, tossed the football around a little, and laughed into the evening.

Special needs moms are not super heroes, but what we go through can often build and build, and leave us filled with doubt.  I am there this night.  It'll get better, I know that, and I'll repeat myself another million times until they get it.  I'll explain and re-explain until they hopefully begin to develop skills on their own to logically think things through.  And I am sure I will shed more tears along the way, some of frustration, and some of delight as I witness a mastering of a skill or an ability to remember something.

Tonight I feel a bit purged.  Maybe I needed to get away from our usual environment for this to rise to the surface, if so, it is good.  I know how blessed we are, and I know we'll all make it somehow.  I wouldn't trae my life for the world, but this gig isn't easy, and I think it just caught up with me.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

One Step at a Time

Once again, I have failed to blog this week until this very moment.  It is not because of a lack of interest, but because my "free time", such as it is, has been taken up with other projects, including writing.  I was blessed with the opportunity to write for a new homeschooling magazine, Learning Tangent and here is the cover of the latest e-issue (they are working their way toward print):

See that article at the top?  Toss the Textbook! An Eclectic Approach to History is mine :-)  I really enjoyed writing this, and will be writing for their Winter edition as well, which will be right up my alley as it is about Family and Faith, but from a very respectful...not proselytizing tone.  For those who don't know the homeschooling world very well, it is largely Christian, and secular, non-Christians, or more progressive Christians can find it difficult to connect with others.  I am hoping I can craft an article that is interesting, and yet perhaps addresses this specific issue.

I also was asked to write a review for a new homeschooling handbook written by one of our favorite curriculum developers, Steven David Horwich at Connect the Thoughts.  Here is a link to my review, at the bottom of the page, for anyone who is slightly interested:  The Homeschooler's Handbook .

In addition to these little writing projects, we have been hard at work...and learning some hard we continue to develop our newest family "member".  I have mentioned previously that there is something going on behind the scenes, and this week it became apparent that already it has grown larger than we ever anticipated when we first kicked the idea around.  We are working on a homeschooling web site with special needs as the focus, and this week we had to abandon one platform and look at moving to another as we needed something with more capacity and features than we initially thought.  This meant hundreds of hours of work had to be ditched, and I was feeling quite depressed about it, enough to feel like walking away from the idea all together.  It was inspiring to me, upon sharing what was going on with the kids, to have all three of my Data Input staff (Angela, Olesya, and Matthew) look at me and say, "There is NO WAY we are going to quit!  When do we start over?"

I was "schooled" by my own kids in Resilience 101, and Stick-to-it-iveness 201.

With the help of our adopted auntie, who is a Web Diva and incredibly talented, we are going to begin anew.  Reminding myself that tackling something new means taking it one step at a time is important.  I learned a lot, and realized we wouldn't be at Iteration 2.0 of our project if we hadn't learned so much from Iteration 1.0, so it is worth it...still a little disheartening, but we'll get there.  If everything works out, it is going to be phenomenal, and hopefully a huge help to other families out there like ours.  That is what is keeping me going, because I know how hard it can be, I know the frustration and how lonely moms of learning disabled kids can feel, and I don't want anyone to have to feel that way.  Our kids are all quite excited, for this is really going to be a family thing and each can participate in one way or another.  Already they are learning a lot about using images online, spread sheets, marketing, etc.  Kenny already is proving to be quite creative in thinking of social media, despite never using it before himself...he just gets it.  We will see where all of this leads us, but it is occupying an enormous amount of time at the moment and is where my focus is.  In time, we will reveal our New Baby.  

Tomorrow we are taking a little camping vacation, or first "real trip" with the trailer.  We are heading out to the Grand Canyon and Southern Colorado to explore, take photos, and slow down a bit as a family together.  We have driven through this area, but never spent much time there, so we are all looking forward to it, and I should have lots of photos to post!  This is a test run for what we hope will be several more longer trips in the trailer to explore America.  We'll see how it goes, and if we are comfortable with that many people in that close of proximity to one another for that long :-)  Hahaha!  Saying a little prayer for us would be a wonderful thing.

Now we are off to participate in the Montrose CROP Walk, which is sponsored by Church World Service to raise awareness about food and water insecurity locally, and throughout the world.  It is a small event here in town, which we hope will grow over time.  Dominick is working at a BBQ and Street Dance at Sharing Ministries, the local food bank we volunteer at,  as they strive to raise funds for a new facility.  I guess it is Service Weekend for the LaJoy's before we head off into the sunset tomorrow!   

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to Love Well

Today dawned crisp and clear, a beautiful Colorado fall morning.  Everyone slept in late, enjoying the opportunity to rest more after a busy week.  Angela and I were preparing to head up toward the Grand Mesa, where I was going to sing at a wedding in the afternoon.  The location was stunning, a small ranch with log cabins dotting the hillside, sheltered by aspens.  It was a great chance to spend a little one on one time with Angela, and the drive up and back was lively as conversation flitted from one topic to the next.

The young couple, so earnest as they recited their vows to one another, were completely authentic and endearing.  This was a wedding that was not a high budget, over the top extravaganza.  A beautiful homemade dress, a groom donning a cowboy hat and tails, decor pulled together by the mother and future mother-in-law, all helped to create an atmosphere that was the antithesis of "Say Yes to the Dress" kinds of affairs.

Someone thought to visit each table with a video camera and asked guests to offer their best marriage advice to the newlyweds.  Put on the spot, everyone sputtered a quick sentence or two with general comments of well wishes, and I did much the same.  Afterward, however, Angela and I talked a lot about what love is, and I was called upon to give some real thought to the questions, "What makes a great marriage?  What is real love like?"

Interesting to ponder after this week's news reports of the fact that, by official count, 50.2% of the American population is now single.  So often I hear such negative comments about married life, including today at the table as those who were embittered over love gone wrong struggled to find any positive things to say at all about being married.

I realized something as I conversed with Angela.  While not an expert by any means, I do know a little something about the topic.  I am blessed with a thriving, healthy marriage of 28 years, and we have welcomed five strangers into our home to live with us, developing deep bonds of commitment and respect, let alone abiding love.  I had never given it a whole lot of thought before, but I have finally arrived at an age and stage of life where I have gained a little wisdom and experience.  I know things now.  I've tried and failed at many things, succeeded at others, and figured out "how to do love well".  

I know that love is acceptance, not of mediocrity, but of human frailty.  If only we could look inward in complete honesty, we would see our own failings, and that honest assessment might help us come to a place of humble acceptance of others and their very human failings.  

We want one person to be our Spiritual and Physical Everything.  That order is far, far too tall, and incredibly unrealistic.  While I deeply love Dominick, and I know he deeply loves me, we are far from each other's Everything.  The human soul is much too complex to be able to have a single person fulfill each and every part of us, and to expect that from another is unfair.  It is also lazy, as that means we are unwilling to do the hard work of putting ourselves out there to meet others who can fill in the cracks that our One and Only leaves not quite completely covered.

We are harmed more by our pasts than we ever want to admit, or are even capable of seeing.  Love doesn't stand a chance if we hold every potential partner accountable for the sins of others that came before.  We generalize, we categorize, we don't leave space for new people we meet to be wholly themselves, as they stand before us forced to be imaginatively dressed in the garb of our former partners or parents.  We make them pay for all the wrongs of others, then wonder why they don't live up to our expectations.  Such difficult patterns to break, and yet break them we must in order to allow someone to stand before us undiscovered and unfettered.

I have learned that love is often contradictory, it is a study in opposites attracting...then having those very opposite qualities that once called out to you drive you nuts!  Appreciation wanes, and frustration drifts in.  Acknowledging that this will inevitably happen is how love survives.  Forcing yourself to see the value in partnering with one whose strengths are your own weaknesses, and vice versa, is what can help love to thrive.  That whole "You complete me." romantic statement can only be true if your "other half" is indeed the other half of you that is missing, and not an exact replica of the you that you bring to the table.  This can infuriate and fascinate those who are willing to grab the hand of their mate and, fingers entwined, move forward in gratitude for those very frustrating qualities that we don't always understand, yet intuitively know we need in our lives.

Being voluntarily accountable to one another is love, and one key to that mysterious emotion that many resent the most.  We must be willing to be bound to another, and that can be very hard to do.  
Men and women alike tug at the reins, unwilling to be yoked to someone else and pulling in the same direction.  Of course, we are Americans, boot strappers and lovers of all things independent.  But love leans on one another, and freely recognizes that in relationship with others, we have an obligation to them.  For many, this can be the hardest thing to do, but it is necessary for a healthy, committed relationship.  Are you giving up something?  Yes, undoubtedly so.  But I have a secret for you, one that few today ever want to readily admit in our "You can have it ALL" world.  You can't have it all, you really and truly can't.  You are playing head games with yourself if you believe this to be true, for you have to give up something to gain something.   Love can often be more about deciding what it is you are willing to give up, than it is what you will take.

Love requires presence.  It asks of us that we work hard at it, all the time, and that we don't neglect it, leaving it sit on a shelf only to be pulled down from time to time to appreciate.  Love has a shelf life,   if left disregarded, it withers.  Oh, it might still be sitting there, waiting for you, but without regular attention, you are missing out on the sweetness of all that love can be, and are instead settling for a stale version, hardened and lacking texture.

Most of all, I have come to learn that everlasting love, the kind worth giving your heart over to, asks of us to be courageous.  To be in a satisfying relationship, be it with a spouse, partner, parent or friend, means exposing as much of your whole authentic self as possible, and that can be terribly frightening.  It means asking the questions you are afraid to ask, it means boldly risking rejection as you share your innermost thoughts, and it means daring to trust another with your yearning and devotion, hoping against hope that it won't be thrown back at you.  The kind of love that is singularly fulfilling means you must have the courage to reveal your tender spots, as the one you adore gingerly does the same.  It is that process of bringing all of ourselves to the table and laying out the emotional buffet that makes the kind of love that fills us up possible.  Without that courage and revelation, there will always, always be something missing. 

Loving well is a complicated, messy affair.  We think it is the thing of Romcoms and billowy white wedding gowns, when in reality, it is everything but that.  We also almost never get it right the first time, or even the second or third time.  It must be practiced and tested, but over time, we just might eventually get it right.  If not, keep on trying, for love is worth all the effort.

Now, if I could only learn to love myself as fully and completely as I seem to be able love others.  There's always something to work on, isn't there?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Season of Chaos

Fall is my favorite time of year. It is also our busiest.  Volleyball with three different teams, trying to get schoolwork done, other activities in the mix...I know some families have it worse than us, but it seems as if we are always on the move each day.  I don't mind, but I prefer the calmer months of winter.

We are planning a week long camping trip this month.  It will be our first longer trip with the trailer, and we intend to go visit the Grand Canyon, Durango, and Southwest Colorado.  We need to get away together, we need to regroup.  It has been a long and challenging year thus far, with more on the way.  We need some breathing space "in between".  Getting away from Dominick's constantly ringing cell phone, and stopping everything for just a short time will be so wonderful, even if it does mean we are 7 people crammed in a camping trailer.

Angela had it right when she told me this afternoon how excited she was about the upcoming trip when she said, "Even when we went to Lake City and it was only for 1 full day and 2 nights, it felt like we really got away and got to be together.  I love those times."  Dominick and I are blessed that, particularly at this age, our kids still enjoy spending time with their family because most are off doing their own thing by now.  A dear friend was at our house recently and we talked a little about the kids probably living with us longer than kids who are the same age but in higher grade levels.  She looked at me and in all seriousness said, "There's another reason...why would they want to leave love?  This house is filled with it,  Everyone should be so lucky."

I don't think I have ever been paid a higher compliment.

We made what for us was a big decision recently, when over the Labor Day holiday we decided it was finally time to replace some furniture, and actually go and purchase a set for our main living area.  The decision was sort of made for us the last time Dominick used the upholstery cleaner to try and clean the couch, and threads kept popping and stuffing was visible.  I didn't mind at all the fact that it was 25 years old and faded a bit, but if I can't keep it clean without shredding it, then it is time.

So off we went, all piled into the car and headed to Grand Junction...the Big see if we could find a deal over the holiday weekend.  We had no idea exactly what we were looking for, only that we really wanted something to accommodate all seven of us, finally.  We had discussed the possible purchase ahead of time with the kids, and this was not the first time we had gone Dream Shopping...but last time a couple years ago Kenny stopped me by wisely asking if it was a need or a want.  This time, we all agreed, it was at the point where it was a need.

We also agreed on something else, that this was going to be a family decision, not Mom and Dad's decision.  We are trying to be faithful about not getting into debt for "wants", and the only way we were able to consider this was because of the sale of our little rental that the kids all worked so hard on.  There wasn't a ton of profit from it, but enough to get a badly needed new roof installed, which is coming later in the fall...hopefully before too much more rainfall or snow.  We had a little more leftover, and we felt it was only right that the entire family benefit from it after the incredible job the kids all did and how much heart and soul they offered for the project.  Everyone thought new furniture, which we could never otherwise afford, was the best use of the remaining funds.

Oh, we had so much fun...and I am sure we drove the young salesman crazy!  We must have "test sat" every sofa in the incredibly large store.  If any one of us didn't like something, it got crossed off the "Possible List".  We were pretty certain we preferred leather, for cleanability, durability, and keeping allergy issues down.  We narrowed it down to two different sets, and after carrying over various coffee and end tables to see which went best with it, which surprised the salesman as we traipsed all over looking like an efficient moving crew, we settled on a set that was super comfortable, cozy, and truly "all us". I don't think he was used to seeing kids so involved in furniture purchases, but they asked pertinent questions about the materials it was made with, pricing, etc.  They are growing into smart consumers, and they did a great job.  It is not fashionable or magazine ready, but we are all so thrilled with it, and the way it is set up is more conducive to the way we talk as a family together.  Every single one of us has said multiple times, "I love our new furniture!", so we definitely selected what suits us best.  It is a bit large for the space we have but our family is a bit larger than this space was designed for, so it is what it is.

It's the first real new furniture we've had in 25 years, and it feels so luxurious and special that I feel spoiled beyond belief.  Sitting here enveloped in soft, squishy deep brown leather as I type this, I am so, so grateful.  I can imagine winter days spent with all of us sitting side by side, tucked under blankets reading history together in the mornings.  We all thanked each other over and over for the back breaking work that went into this being possible...each of us feeling as if we accomplished something extraordinary as a team together.  The first night was sat there laughing and remembering how poor Olesya spent days staining the fence at the rental, how many wheel barrow's full of gravel were moved, how depressed we were to have to go in and clean after terrible tenants.  We all agreed that it was worth it, and made us appreciate the new furniture more than we would have had it not taken so much work to earn.

Aside from that, blogging has been hard to get to because I am spending hours and hours in front of the computer screen for other reasons.  The web site for our new business is slowly taking shape, and we hope to have it life by the end of November. Not quite sure if we will make it, but we are going to work hard to try to hit that goal.  We are easily at a couple of hundred hours spent, between my Data Entry Team, consisting of Angela and Olesya, and my IT and Imaging Team, made up of only Matthew.  I am doing Content Development, overarching planning, basic design, and more. Dominick is lining up vendors, and Kenny and Josh get a pass until later in the plan, as they will be our Show Salesmen.  I have no clue if this will lead to anything of substance, but we are putting our hearts into it and will see if we can make something happen.  My hope is that it will be able to help others, and if we make a little something out of the deal, great.  The kids are learning lots of new skills as we talk it all through,

Kenny in particular (no surprise) is a great big picture thinker and has some terrific ideas on a bigger scale than I am thinking.  He may not have organizational skills that will allow him to do the back end work, but that young man will really be an asset as we move along.  Matthew is also quite high on the idea, and is imagining a much bigger future than I am :-)  I hope all their enthusiasm is catching!  LOL!  The two of them are planning another little small business, which will take quite awhile to unfold.  They want to sell their existing 50 lbs of Legos to allow them to purchase a 3D printer.  They are talking through the design of some sort of device that will sort Legos robotically, utilizing some sort of laser "eye" system that can help determine color and size.  I have no stinkin' idea what they are talking about, but they have a Plan, and with a 3D printer they can create the individual parts to build this machine.  Of course, they have to learn a lot in the process about electronics and robotics, and I am not sure how they will manage that, but Matt is the builder, with Kenny's input, and Kenny will be the Marketing Guy.

They have so much confidence in each other, and it is actually kind of sweet.  Individually each of them keeps talking to me with great excitement about their joint venture.  When I questioned Kenny about whether Matt could really build this, he looked at me sort of incredulously and said, "Mom, of course he can!  I helped him talk through the design, and made him think about how people might like to be able to sort Legos.  Matt can teach himself anything and is brilliant.  I don't think you know how smart he is, Mom.  He can totally build this, but it is going to take trial and error, and he'll mess up.  But when Matt gets on a project, you know how he is, he won't give up until it works."

Later, Matthew was talking to me about Kenny, and he said, "People don't understand just how smart Kenny is, because he can't remember things or organize things.  But they underestimate him, Mom.  Kenny can think...better than most people can, and he thinks deep about things.  I know he is always going to have a hard time because of the things he can't do well, but there is so much he CAN do well.  I never want to sell or talk to people, and that is where Kenny is awesome...he can talk to anyone and if he hears "no" it doesn't bother him at all.  He said if I can build it, he can sell it, and I believe him.  He is already talking about figuring out how to get someone at Lego to see it if we can get it designed right!  Haha!  He'd totally do that, too, Mom."

There has never been two young men so completely different from one another, who understand one another so well...and respect each other for their differences.  It is a far better blessing than a new couch.

Lots of dreaming going on around here, and lots of hard, hard work that is not visible yet, but getting there.  What a wonderful team I have in Team LaJoy.  I have made the commitment to continue blogging throughout the kids' childhoods with us, and I am sticking with it even when it is hard to fit in the time.  Lately I have missed blogging the moments, the glimpses of things I want to remember, and I have to do better at it.  I'm trying, but in the Season of Chaos, I might slip a little!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

No First Day of School

The past several weeks Facebook has been replete with photo posts of bright, shiny faces toting new lunch boxes, and chalkboard signs thrust into their hands upon which is written, "First Day of School, 4th Grade".  There are the Kinders, whose moms are catching the moment through teary eyes, there are middle schoolers whose tolerance of the camera allows mom to capture a fleeting glimpse of the very last remnants of childhood on their faces. Most of them harboring mixed emotions, one part dread, one part anticipation, as they adjust backpack straps and head off to school.

I realized that we have not continued that First Day of School Photo tradition.  I felt a brief stab of guilt, knowing I had not satisfactorily captured those images to look back on years from now.  How could I fail this way?  Why didn't I think of this?  Homeschooling shouldn't mean we give up every cultural ritual, should it?

Leave it to the kids to help me gain perspective.

Over lunch as corn dogs and Dagwood-style sandwiches were being consumed with gusto, I brought this very thing up.  I wish I could share the look I received, it was priceless...quizzical...a big ol' wordless "Huh?".

"Uh...Mom...why would we need to do that?" Kenny asked.

Silence greeted his question, as if I could almost see a comic book style word bubble hovering over our kitchen table.

"Well," I replied, "To help us remember what you looked like each year as a new year begins, it is a tradition!  We took photos the first day of school when all of you were in public school."

More silence.

Then Matthew ventured a comment.

"But mom, we aren't in public school anymore.  Those aren't our traditions.  Why would we do that?", he asked.


Why would we?

One last weak attempt.  "Do you think we should take one today?  School really just started, we could pretend it was the first day of school."  My voice drifting off at the tail end of the sentence.

Angela spoke up, "I don't think we need to, you just took some great pictures of us when we were camping last weekend. I mean, school pictures are really life pictures for us, aren't they?"

Man, have I missed the point all along.

School and life are not separate things for us.  We don't have a beginning and end point other than completing one book and and starting another.  Life IS learning, and wasn't that my goal when we began homeschooling?  Wasn't it about creating an environment where learning happened organically all the time?  So why was I trying to create separate boxes to place "school" and "life" into?

Cultural norms are hard to shed.  From time to time, part of me really wonders if the kids are missing out on something by homeschooling...and if I am being honest, I wonder if I am missing out on something.

I miss the casual hallway conversations, waving at other moms in parking lots, attending school events where everyone is abuzz with excitement.  I miss fitting in, not being constantly questioned when out and about during the day.  I miss the easily created Rights of Passage that are simply part of a public school experience.

Oh, the list of what I don't miss is a mile long...enormous Back To School Supply Lists, exorbitantly priced photo packages you are expected to purchase or are classified as an uncaring mother, bullying, trying to make square pegs fit into round holes.  I don't miss IEP meetings where tears of frustration trailed down my cheeks as I kept my anger in check as best I could.  I don't miss peer pressure, hours of homework each night, and concerns over all that comes with the social expectations typical of American Middle and High School attendance.

There are things that are missed, but there are things that are gained.  I had a long Facebook conversation with someone considering homeschooling for the first time, looking for some suggestions and information.  It was an important reminder, and the timing was perfect to put my mind at ease.  Our kids won't be missing  something that is not part of their own cultural educational experience.  Instead, they will look back fondly on time spent snuggling on the couch reading together, long and deep debates and conversations over Things That Matter.  They will have been able to discuss God and faith as they relate it to their own lives and overlay it on the history of the world...something that would never be allowed in a public school setting.  They will recall having time to explore anything and everything they want to, library and field trips, and most importantly, perhaps, they will recall the many special people who have entered their lives and taught them something interesting.

OK, so I don't have cute Facebook photo to post, with an adorably crafted chalkboard sign.  I guess the trade-off is worth it.  They know there is no real "first day", for learning happens every single day, as long as we pursue it.

Besides, I don't know how to make that cute lettering anyway:-)