Saturday, February 20, 2016

How Do You Measure Success?


We all need it, and sometimes we have to stick with something for years before we see true fruit.

The past couple of weeks have been perhaps the single most encouraging of my life, and I am sensing a Big Shift for myself because of it.

Our family has taken the road less traveled, and often been criticized for it.  We were formed differently, we have educated differently, we have worked differently, we have loved differently. Sometimes it has been incredibly painful and hard to emotionally insulate ourselves from the comments others make, from the doubts they feel the need to openly express, from the criticism we have been subjected to.

Every single time we welcomed a new child into our family, there were multiple times we had to trust God and not the thoughtless and often cruel statements of others who would never have made the life choices we made.  Having children from very hard backgrounds has meant we have had to parent differently, and yet often those with no knowledge of how to parent kids who emerge from trauma and neglect have felt the need to express their concern over our parenting.  I have personally had to endure six years of being questioned about how we educate our kids, and then been ridiculed because I am only a "high school graduate" so how in the world could I ever be capable of doing it well?  Even the purchase of the liquor store has put me in the position of justifying that move because that isn't a Christian business to be in.  While I know many of our readers might casually say, "So ignore them!  Walk away!  Be rude back!" I have never been able to feel comfortable with the bluntness that is required to make others back off, it is not in my DNA to respond rudely to others, or to answer initially honest questions without honest answers.  And sometimes I am fooled, a seemingly innocent start to a conversation quickly turns on me as someone learns more and then feels the need to voice their opinion.

I did a lot of reflecting while I was gone on my mini-retreat, and I realized that our life together as a family is sometimes overwhelming because it is so busy and so much more challenging  at moments than it is for other families, and it demands a lot of me from me organizationally.  I fill wayyyy too many roles for this to be an easy road to walk...psychologist, educator, special needs coordinator, accountant, taxi driver, and I could probably list a gazillion more!  However, it is all made that much harder because of the effort needed to let almost daily judgment roll off my back.  For some reason, people seem to feel very free to make comments to me, and Dominick and I often laugh about it because no one dares say things to him.

Affirmation came in all kinds of ways, and the Spirit leaned over and hugged me this past week.  I am beginning to view things in a new light, and am so grateful for that.   We have a long road still ahead of us before we can heave a sigh of relief that we "made it", and that encouragement is the kind of thing that helps keep me going.  My "job" is in many ways solitary, lonely, and requires a level of self-motivation every single day that, frankly, I never thought I was capable of.  I don't have a boss who offers glowing annual reviews or a pay increase, I don't have any way to concretely measure my success...

Until a dear friend leaned over and offered a compliment at a church potluck last Sunday morning, saying, "I mean this, your kids are so well read, better than any I know."  As Pat said that, she had no idea how much that single comment was worth to me.  Such a little thing, yet it really mattered.  A well educated person herself can see results in what we are trying to do here, and doesn't doubt that something good is coming of all this work.

We had a string of outward signs this week of hard work paying off, of doing it differently reaping something...well...different and amazing and enriching and validating.  They were the typical successes most families celebrate, such as Josh discovering he had earned two trophies in the Gun Club Shooting Tournament last weekend, scoring high enough to place 2nd in team and 3rd in individual:

His first ever trophies!

Kenny made a basket at basketball.  Yea, all season and I think he has 2.  He is awkward, gangling, uncoordinated and yet he managed to get the ball in the hoop! Most parents of a 17 year old boy would take this for granted, we don't.  Next year, if he chooses to play, he will likely move up to varsity due to his age so he will probably rarely see much playing time and he will also be playing with talented young men.  This may be his last basket ever in a game, and we celebrate it and lift it up as success!

Then there are the other, less tangible successes that serve to encourage me like nothing else.  Matt's completion of his 3D printer that I showed video of in the last blog post was huge.  I mean huge.  The perseverance required, the number of trial and failure moments, the self-teaching that happened with that were something to really watch unfold, and it validated for me that what I saw in 5th grade and knew needed to be nurtured in a different way than a traditional educational model could offer was true, and that we needed to make that happen somehow for Matt.  Others may not get it, that his education may take a different direction in the future than college (he still isn't certain of that yet), but what I DO know is that I trust his gut and mine, and he will craft a path forward that uniquely fits him, and we support that 100%.    As he shared his device with our Miss Mary's husband, Pete,  yesterday, who was seriously intrigued and is himself another tinkerer and self-educator, it was easy to see that different thinkers like Pete and Matt need different environments and freedom to explore:

Lots of tweaking still yet to do before his "Capstone" presentation for Miss Jane.  I was told "I want it to be perfect, and I have to figure a few things out.  She believed in me, and I want her to see it working as well as possible."

Mary had a terrific idea of starting up a debate project, and Pete came to see the 3D printer and to judge the debate.  WOW!  What I saw was so fascinating, as they took the topic of Colorado's push to repeal an old law allowing for alcohol to be sold in grocery stores and big box stores, and argued for and against it.   To take a kid like Kenny, who has so many learning challenges, and see him perform SO incredibly well, was awesome!  He articulated his points clearly, has such confidence about himself with public speaking despite his speech issues, and was so logical...something that would have been far out of reach a few years was easy to see how our hard work has paid off.  

I remember turning to Dominick in great despair a few years back as I said, "These kids can't THINK!  Kenny, Olesya and Angela have had someone thinking for them half their life, and they have no understanding of logic.  I don't know how to fix this!!"  Using a variety of critical thinking curricula, logic tools, tons of Socratic questioning to get them to start digging deeply into why they believed what they did and forcing them to support their stance has paid big dividends, as was evidenced through the debate.  We still have some work to do, but we will continue to work hard and seeing so much progress is heartening.

Pre-Debate Conference with one of the judges.  That look IS Kenny, wide eyed, engaged, so darned smart and eager to learn!  I don't care how hard things are for him, I STILL believe in him and see a Big Life ahead for him.

Pete, our other judge, in his comments post-debate noted that Josh carried himself so well, and presented his case so well, that he never gave a thought to the almost 5 year age gap between he, Angela and Kenny.  Joshua made several great points and guided the thinking around the debate, perhaps better than anyone else.

This was Team Two, and here they are briefly discussing their points before the debate began.

THIS girl floored us all!  Olesya was confident, looked at everyone without checking her notes, made excellent points, and was so different than the Olesya who first came home 6 years ago.  My heart grew three sizes when later, in the car alone, Angela talked about how well Olesya did, and told me, "Mom, you have made such a difference in Olesya's life.  I don't worry about her at all anymore, she will be fine in the world, and it is all because you kept believing in her and telling her she was worth more than she thought she was worth.  Funny how all it takes is knowing someone really believes in you to change you so much.  All your hard work has paid off with her.  Thanks for helping her so much."  

This is one picture that represents so many people who have contributed to who our kids are becoming.  Any success they experience is the result of so much caring input from so many folks who have selflessly given of their time and money to help them make it.  There is simply no way Dominick or I can take credit for these young people not ending up a statistic like so many, particularly older adopted kids whose struggles are often never ending.  God brought us the support they needed through the kindness of others.

These are the tangible accomplishments.  This makes me happy, it helps encourage me to keep moving forward and helps me know my time is being well spent and our methods are solid.

But honestly, this is not how I measure success.  These things are, in large part, how the world measures success, and while certainly nice to see, matter less to me.  My yardstick is different, and the other parts of these kids matter far, far more to me.

Valentine's Day is usually not a biggie around here.  We don't put much thought into it, feeling it is merely Hallmark's way of raking in the bucks.  If you have to look to one single day to express your love, you are doing it wrong.  This year was different though, as God knew what my soul needed.  Unexpectedly, the boys "outcarded" the girls, as Kenny laughingly put it, and gave me a treasure that spoke to a different kind of success that is more affirming than anything else.  Minds being developed is one thing, damaged hearts being healed is another.  The loss of adoption is very, very real, my friends...more loss than I care to even share on all sides.  This past year had us hearing story after story of kids whose hearts were not whole, whose damage was so great that leaving their families was the only solution, some with no hope of ever returning, some with love still surrounding them in hopeful anticipation of change.

That all five of our young adults can express their emotions so articulately is a major win.  That they can feel all they feel and express it so beautifully is a testament to their resilience, for they all had the potential to be hardened, cold, flat.

This is the way I measure success:

These kids all did more than sign "Love, ..." they shared their hearts with me.

Matt: "Thanks for caring and loving us for who we are.  I know we are different from most families, but I like it better that way.  I know that without you, I'd be part of the majority.  Thank you also for showing a guy (brick) like me how to have healthy relationships and what I should value in life."

Kenny:  "I have no words to explain how much you mean to me.  I know your job in just keeping me alive is a full time job.  You take on my brain everyday with such love and grace.  I can't think of my life without you.  Thank you for everything."

Josh:  "Happy Valentine's Day!  I could say that I love having a day all about love, but who needs that when I have you.  Thank you for being so caring, loving, teaching, wise and for being the best dang mom there has and ever will be!"

Angela: "Thank you for all the sleepless and restless nights and days you both put in, in order for this family to stay and live in love. 'All because two people fell in love'.  Happy Valentine's Day mom and dad, I love you SO much.  The relationship the two of you have makes me believe in true love with God working its magic.  As Matt mentioned there are some things we cannot describe.  What you mean to me cannot be ever described with all the words in the world."

Olesya: "Dear Mom and Dad,  Every day is Valentines's Day in this family, but I would still like to say 'Happy Valentine's Day!'  Thank you for showing me what true love is.  You are the best parents, and I truly mean that.  Being a part of this family is a blessing, and I thank you both for all the time you put into us.  I love you very much and always will."

Somewhere there is someone reading this who is as discouraged as I have been (and sometimes regularly am!).  Somewhere there is a mom or dad who is fighting hard for their child's heart, who is beaten down by school IEP meetings, who sees how bright their child is despite the obvious learning disabilities they have.  Somewhere, there is a family who is broken and trying to hold on to hope, there are parents whose hearts are breaking as they wonder if their child's heart will ever heal.  Somewhere there is someone reading this who is making tough decisions to do things out of the norm because their child doesn't fit the norm, and who suffers constant judgment and doubt flung at them making their job so much harder.

We are just a few years down the road from you, we have struggled mightily for hearts and minds to be healed, we have fought for this family's wholeness for years as many of you have read about.  We have days right now that are discouraging and so darned depresing it is hard to pick ourselves up and keep going.  Just this past week Kenny was making signs for Ash Wednesday and spelled it "Ashe Wendsay".  REALLY??  We have to go back and learn how to spell days of the week at 17 years old?  Or Ash? ::sigh::  

But as I was reminded so clearly, what is my measuring stick?  What matters most?

Hang in there, be different, hear Matt's words as he said, "I know we are different than most families, but I like it better that way."  Make the hard choices, live outside the box, recognize that maybe it is society who measures the wrong things, and that you don't have to follow along.

And when it is hard, when you feel like a failure, when you don't know if you can take it anymore, reach out.  Admit how hard it is, don't hesitate to be vulnerable and reveal how battered you are.  Others can't come alongside you if you don't share it, and it is hard when you feel judged.  

Do it anyway.  Know that you are loved.  Measure YOURSELF differently.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Hello...It's Me..."

It's been awhile, I've had guilt over not blogging, and then I allowed myself to just "Let It Go".  Seems we are on a musical theme tonight, Adele's lyrics for the title and all.

I needed a respite, and that was what I got...thankfully.  After my last post I was able to go spend a week and a half with my best friend in Massachusetts, and there we shared more adult conversation than I have had in months as we explored Cape Cod and downtown Boston, as well as spent time just hanging out with no real agenda.  It did my soul good in all kinds of ways, and I was very grateful to Dominick for helping make that happen and being so supportive of my need for a break.  I returned feeling relaxed and ready to tackle anything.

This was one of the most moving things I think I have ever seen.  There is a Holocaust Memorial downtown where several large glass towers were etched with the actual numbers of every victim.  Thousands upon thousands of numbers.  Visualizing it in this way helped me grasp the vast loss of life as I never had before.

There was more that has filled me up since my return, as we spent time with friends, both as a family and by myself, and the kids each had some successes that bolstered all of us.  While I was gone, the kids completed their US History major final projects, with time lines and two longer essays.  Each did a fine job, put so much effort into it, and seeing how their writing take a step in the right direction was a boost for me.

We celebrated Dominick's birthday at  breakfast with Miss Jane and Mr. Steve, whose birthday is one day after Dominick's.

Josh participated in his shooting club's competition and we are still waiting for results.  When he left he was in line for 2nd Place, but there were several more kids who were left to compete and he very well may have been nudged out of placing.  However, what excited him was that he shot his highest score ever, and improved on his prior scores, so even if he doesn't place, he left feeling good about himself.

Lot's of Bull's Eye's!

We were equally proud of Olesya, who not only spoke up in church recently, but is speaking up a LOT more at home, sharing her opinions, beginning to explore another leap in confidence.  She is still camera shy, but every once in awhile I sneak in getting a picture of her.  Nothing this time, though I am working on it :-)

Matthew finally got his 3D printer working successfully, and we all were excited for him!  It culminated a year of effort to design it, purchase parts, purchase parts a second and third time as they failed or he messed them up, re-design it, learn 3 software programs needed to work with it, and finally produce a real product.  Here is the video of it creating a little boat:

This was a happy day for all of us, and we can't wait for him to produce something awesome!  Here was his little first item:

While there were a ton of other deeper, more meaningful posts to share in my mind, they will have to wait.  I have been writing for a homeschool magazine and a couple of other projects, and my brain is totally fried!  

So it is time to head off to sleep, but I just had to share the picture below...7 Loved Ones all in a row!