Thursday, August 11, 2016

One or Two Years and a Couple of Changes

This has been a unique summer for Matthew, one in which he has had some wonderful opportunities as he gets ready to enter his senior year.  Though we know he still has one year to go, Matt really is a man in every sense of the word these days, and a delightful one at that.

Dropping him off at the airport this morning, his bag of Fritos (Ok, that sort of negates that "man" thing! Haha!) and carry-on in hand, I think I was far more excited for this latest adventure than he was!

Recently, Matt applied for and was accepted to be on the Rocky Mountain Region Cadet Advisory Council for Civil Air Patrol.  This is a Cadet run three person advisory board for the five state Rocky Mountain Region, and is quite an honor.  Matt had to submit an essay with several ideas he hoped to see implemented in the Region, and he was thrilled when he was invited to be a part of the Council.  What he wasn't aware of at the time was that he would then be offered an all expenses paid trip to the Civil Air Patrol National Convention in Nashville, TN this weekend!

And what did he do when he learned of his new position?  Nothing.  Nothing at all. 

There was no boasting, no need to point out the honor to others, just an inner sense of accomplishment and only explained what was going on in his Squadron when it became necessary.  In a house full of many extroverts, Matt is our most introverted.  He can be hard to read, which can sometimes make you wonder what excites him, what motives him.  What he is, is humble...something that you rarely find in another human being to this degree.  He is intrinsically self-motivated and has little need for outward recognition, though I am sure at moments he appreciates it like everyone else. He remains cool, calm and collected regardless of the situation.

Upon completing the reading of David Brook's "The Road to Character" at the end of last school year, a book I am now very slowly working through with all the other kids, Matt remarked that he learned a lot about  what true character looked like and how best to develop it, and I noticed that this hugely impacted his spiritual life.  Somehow, the message came through in reading about a wide variety of famous folk who all struggled against their lesser selves, that developing self-awareness and willingly subjugating yourself to God (in whatever form that was understood) was a common denominator.  He identifies quite firmly with his Christian faith, and told me on the drive home from his last year at camp this summer that he realizes as an adult he will always need to attend to his spiritual self as he has the capacity to be colder and more distant than some might be, that God calls him to be a more intentionally loving person and he likes the reminder that practicing his faith brings to work on himself regularly, to bring his better self to the forefront.

He is easing his way gently into adulthood, and it is so sweet to watch.  He has plans laid out for this coming year, ambitious ones.  I am sure that in his methodical, quiet way he will accomplish all he sets out to do.  

I am reminded of a particular line from a Jackson Browne song, Fountain of Sorrow.  Though it relates to something else in the song, it reminds me of where all our kids are:

I'm just one or two years, and a couple of changes behind you...

Our other three 17 and 18 year olds are on a different trajectory.  They came home much older, had so much to catch up on, so much to work through, and so much more to challenge them.  Yet they are all slowly working their way toward adulthood as well, perhaps not at the pace others think they ought, but nevertheless, they will find their way in their own time.  Matt may be leading the way, despite technically being our middle child, but we all see the growth and maturity steadily happening in Olesya, Kenny and Angela.  A couple of years from now, we will see ever more blossoming, wings unfolding, and wind catching beneath them leading them each into worlds unknown.  What we can best offer them all now is the gift of time...time for those changes to occur, time to reach backwards toward childhood as often as is necessary, and time to discover who they are.  There is no rush, they'll be fine, and they will do just as interesting and valuable things as Matthew is doing in his chosen arenas. 

As their mom, I am reminded by Matt's nature to remain calm, cool, and collected in the face of comments and nudges that they are somehow "behind".  It can be hard to bite my tongue, to gently change the direction of conversations for those who are insensitive to the ways in which their seemingly benign inquiries actually touch nerves that can be, in any given moment, quite raw.   Graciousness is something I need to work on.  I am always stunned how crass some people can be in assuming they understand the needs of our kids.  If you have not parented a child adopted at an older age from an institution, trust me, you truly are pretty clueless about their needs, their pain and grief, and their suffering.  I know this because I was once that clueless.  The difference is I have never assumed I had the right or the knowledge to be able to offer my critique and advice to someone who was in the trenches and had more experience than I.

Yup...and perhaps me remembering that others are in the same place as I once was will lead to more graciousness.

I'm just one or two years, and a couple of changes behind you.

And that is perfectly OK.  

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Fake Family

The world is all a twitter over the following news story about Simone Biles, Olympic gold medal winner (Yea!!) and the comments made by NBC broadcaster, Al Trautwig, which many consider demeaning and dismissive of her adoptive parents, who are her biological grandfather and his wife. For those who are unaware of the controversy taking the adoption world by storm, you can quickly read about it here:

I have pondered this one for the past 24 hours, trying to ascertain what my truest thoughts are about having an adoptive family so blatantly denied the validity of their relationship.  I have come to one conclusion... just isn't worth it.

Knowing I will be in the minority on this one, that my hackles aren't up and my ire is not aroused to the degree that many think it ought to be might need a further explanation.

You see, almost every single day of our lives as the LaJoy Family, someone somewhere questions our legitimacy.  I have lost count of how many times we have been assumed to be a foreign exchange group out in public.  Any time we are walking through a store and one of our sons puts his arm around my shoulder and leans in to say something, we get stared at quizzically.  Our daughters' accents mark them as foreigners and it is never, ever  thought that I am their mother.  When they try ti explain that I am, indeed, their mom often there will be stares and an utter lack of understanding as it takes a few moments to "click".  When samples are handed out, I have had to be forceful more than once that yes, indeed, I am their mom and am entitled to give permission for them to partake of the goods being hawked.

Is it right?  No.  Do I like it? No.  Is it what is? Yes.

Frankly, I have too many other more pressing concerns to get hot and bothered about.

That doesn't negate the fact that education starts with me, or that other families find this more disconcerting than we do, or that even from time to time we all get a little tired of explaining and being stared at.

Walking through the world as a family that is so obviously different than the norm, you grow a thicker skin.  The world will think what it will think, and there really is little we can do about it.  The fact that the imagination of the average American is so narrow that it can't possibly fathom that people of different races might really belong to one another is not something likely to ever change easily.  Over time, as more diversity is reflected in film, television, and advertising there will be a growing awareness of mixed race families.  Meanwhile, I'll do my little part by kindly correcting, gently pointing out the errors.  I have never found that being militant about anything ever brings about much other than anger.

What matters far, far more to me is that our family views itself as legitimate, that we are strong enough to be public and not hide, nor feel shame or embarrassment because we don't "match".  Long ago, I realized that this was forever, that for the remainder of our lives we were walking around "branded" as different, and I had two choices.  We could walk around with a chip on our shoulders, taking offense every time it happened and waiting to pounce to correct someone, or we could recognize the innocence behind most of it, and that there was no judgment behind the mistaken categorization, but merely a lack of awareness or exposure to a variety of differently matched families.  We could laugh and keep the moment light, or we could elect to darken it ourselves with a layer of assumed prejudice or delegitimization.

We can't walk through life that way, we are the only ones that hurts.

Sure, I agree with the argument that we are "real" family, and I understand the need to change our collective understanding and language around this.  I also see how this was an extreme situation and there was an obvious lack of sensitivity in the case of Simone Biles and her adoptive parents.  I am not even at all against the numerous editorials and Facebook posts condemning Mr. Trautwig for his crass denial of this family's legitimacy.

But regardless of what anyone else ever says or does, there is not a single thing they can do to refute the Real Deal...the love the exists between us creates a bond as strong as any biological connection could ever be.  I have wiped their tears, I have encouraged them through struggles, I have giggled at their silliness.

I am called Mom by five of the most wonderful young people on earth, and the fact that I feel they are the most wonderful young people on earth and burst with pride at every little accomplishment, or fight tears with every discouraging or painful moment means I have earned that title.  Whether there were court documents to support that claim or not matters very little.  I am Mom, they are sons and daughters, we are family.  Let others say or think what they may, it won't change a thing.  We aren't a "Fake Family", there is no such thing!

Asian eyes smile at me, heavily accented English greets me each morning, dark skinned arms wrap me in warm hugs.

Let the wars go on, and we'll do our small part along the way to help change hearts and minds.  Time will change things, and in the meantime, we'll keep on loving one another openly and joyfully.

And in the long run, that really is the only thing that changes anything.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Not-So-Lazy-Days of Summer

These "lazy days" of summer haven't been so lazy around here!  Take a look at a DIY project Olesya and Josh were helping Dominick with:

Water and snow had damaged the bottom of our siding in our patio area, so it was time for our Handy Men and Women to go to work!

Olesya is so much like Dominick in many ways.  She truly enjoys more physical tasks, and loves things like detailing cars and working with her hands. She is also far more domestic than her mom (I totally admit that one!) and is a happy explorer in the kitchen, trying new recipes.

With Dysclaculia, a math disability that makes math concepts far harder for Olesya, using basic math in real life situations helps her gain a greater understanding of certain math skills.  Measuring and cutting helps with fractions, something that still stymies her.

Josh came long and provided labor as well, and learned how to use a caulking gun in the process.  Metal flashing was also installed beneath the siding.

Having such willing and eager helpers makes life so much easier!  While Matt and I were in Salt Lake City the next couple of days, and Dominick was at work. Kenny, Angela, Joshua and Olesya all repainted both sides of the house where the siding had been replaced.  A few years down the road, it is rewarding to watch as the kids put into practice some of the practical skills we have taught them on various projects, like the rental rehab we all worked on about 4 years ago.

Matthew and I were in Salt Lake City at Shriner's Hospital to have his back checked.  He is having considerable pain, with numbness and tingling as well shooting down his legs all the way to his feet.  Though he was in pretty good shape a few months after his spinal fusion, something has caused a shift and he is in constant pain right now, and his life is quite limited.  He is trying to be as active as he can be, but that is proving very difficult.  Sleeping is not restful, sitting is hard, bike riding can be done but brings on pain fairly quickly.  Xrays revealed little, so an MRI is being ordered and we will hope that answers will follow.

It isn't slowing him down in other ways though, here he is working on his 3D printer in his recently created work space in the garage.  He is making good use of his Creative Space, and spends many hours out there doing things I don't understand with parts that I have no idea what they do...hahaha!

We have been crafting Matt's senior year in high school, and he has asked to take both Pre-Calculus and Trigonometry as he is seeing the need for it in the work he is doing on his own.  We also found an awesome resource for him which will teach him all he needs for a wide variety of IT certifications in all kinds of content areas for tech...when I asked him what he wanted to focus on for career learning post high school, he quickly responded, "Everything...every single thing I can find to learn.  I have no idea what I want to do yet, but I find it all fascinating and none of it boring, so can I learn it all?"  Yea, that didn't help so much, what does "all" mean?  Ummm...according to Matt, it includes, but was pointedly not limited to, "Networking, Cloud Storage, Mobile software, repair, Windows certifications, Cisco certifications, Amazon Web Services, and...anything else I can think of.  Oh yea, and drones, and GPS technology."  He will start with a fundamentals course for COMP TIA certification, and work his way up the list, I guess.  That ought to keep him busy for awhile :-)  

Aside from driving hither and yon all summer long, I have been compiling resources for our coming school year.  We are going back to a bit more eclectic approach for science, as the textbook was a big fat flop for us for retention this past year.  Sooooo...back to the drawing board, and I decided to use videos from the BBC series' Life, Planet Earth, and Human Earth along with tests I found online in various places.  In addition from Teachers Pay Teachers I found a wonderful series of science articles based on current topics along with thought provoking questions.  We will see how this works.  We have a tremendous amount of work to cover next year, and a lot of fun and interesting things to learn!

Angela has been working diligently on all kinds of Russian translation with Olesya, as well as tending her lovely flower garden, so I have beauty in vases often right now:

We have had my friend Candi's two kids visiting us throughout the summer, with Christi coming first, then Billy.  It was such fun having them with us, they were a joy and contributed so thoughtfully to conversations we had, helped at the store, and just hung out and relaxed.  We did a little mall hopping and sight seeing with each of them, though mostly we just lived life together:

Rural girls don't get mall opportunities often!

Moms being teased by Mall Hopping Teens

Love my sweet, sweet daughters so much...and yes, you can tell I am not good at selfies and keeping my arm out of the shot!

Boys and boulders.  Nothing more needed.

This is the first summer since beginning homeschooling that we have taken completely "off" from school, and we all really needed it.  We won't even start our studies until the day after Labor Day, which is when we traditionally started when I was a kid.  It feels like we are playing hookie!  I love it, and we have a whole month left.  Full speed ahead once we start back up though, so we are all taking advantage of it while we can!

Thursday, August 04, 2016

What is Real?

Growing older, it becomes more obvious that my life is exactly how I perceive it to be.  If I view it as troubling and difficult, then that is what it is.  If I view it as exciting and interesting, then that is what it is.  If I view it as filled with abundance and blessings, than that is what it is.

Every single one of the above noted descriptions could be used to describe my life, and our life together as a family.

So which one is "real"?  If we are talking about the same family with the same circumstances and the same challenges...which description is the most honest?

The one which best fits the desires of my heart.  

You see, it matters not one whit what others think, what matters most is how you view your circumstances, and that perspective often gives birth to the very life you seek.  

The other night I had a lovely phone conversation with a long time adoption Facebook friend who I have never had the pleasure of meeting.  There was a sharing of information, some reassurances that were hopefully helpful, and a little laughter over similarly experienced quirks that are only found in families like ours.  As the conversation drew to a close, there was a sweet moment where I was offered some beautiful compliments about our family and a word or two about how our blog makes it all look so perfect.  I laughed at that, recognizing how often I have felt the same thing as I have read blogs written about other families through the years.  Between Pinterest worthy photos of gatherings and Facebook posts about accomplishments and awards, it is hard to ever get a sense how authentically a family is being portrayed.  For some, it is a desire to have only the best and brightest image reflected to the world.  For others, it is something entirely different, and perhaps even less believable.

I think we fall in that latter category.  

Sharing as much as I do on the blog, and having as many people read it who know us in "real life" it would be impossible to fake it.  It really would.  We'd be called out in a minute flat.  I have revealed more intimate moments our family has experienced here than most ever would, and with our children's blessing I might add.  Do I reveal all?  Of course not, that would be impossible and intrusive into our life, but I have shared some of the very hardest nights of darkness, the painful past, and the hard won battles.  I hide little, and share openly the summaries so that others can perhaps learn from our mistakes, and catch a glimpse into a family life that is lived just a little differently.

We are far from perfect, but you know what?  You can be very, very intentional about how you live your life together, about how you move through the world, and about what you value.  We actually do view our life together as the single greatest blessing any of us has ever received, and we cherish it...each and every one of us.  We actually do cry openly with one another, revealing our vulnerabilities so that we are not alone in our fear.  We actually do laugh at those things that are difficult and embarrassing so that we don't take ourselves too seriously.  We actually do offer as much love as we possibly can to those around us, knowing that doing small things with great love makes a difference in the world.  We actually do respect one another, sibling to sibling, parent to child (Yes, not child to parent...respect starts with modeling it, and our kids deserve the same respect we desire.).  

Dealing with so many hardships could sour our family life, it could alter our outlook on the world, it could color others and ourselves in great depressing swaths of darkest purples and muddy browns.  We don't let it happen, we have simply decided to let God lead, to let Light in, to see abundance rather than lack.  We have permanent disabilities, we have financial challenges, we have pain, we have fuller than full plates, we have great grief, and we have pasts that are hard to acknowledge.

There is no attempt to sugar coat it, in fact most of you long time readers could easily recite how much we have been through and how hard it is.  However, there is one difference, and one difference only...we choose how we view it all.  And our family life is ALL of the things described in the first paragraph!  It is abundant and difficult and exciting and sometimes troubling, a plethora of adjectives could be aptly applied and all would be true.  But it is the descriptors I elect to cling to that define us and end up influencing behaviors.  

We are not Pollyanna-ish, but we are positive, we are motivated, and we are very hopefully Light Bringers into dark places even if only in little ways.  We are also realistic and honest about limitations, we allow the real to show through and we don't run from it or pretend the outlook is better than it really is.  

Allowing vulnerability to show is, for some, the single hardest thing to do.  Man, does it require a level of courage that is hard to summon!  But that very vulnerability, that ability to show others your emotional boo boos is the single greatest tool for healing and for healthy interactions.  

So, lest I leave you thinking mistakenly that the LaJoy family lives in Shangri-La, let me assure you that we have the same "discussions" about how there could possibly be 45 empty glasses sitting around not put in the dishwasher, and we have frustrating moments when kids are not getting it with school work and I have tried every which way to explain some concept and want to pull my already thinning hair out.  We have musty smelling towels because someone left them in the washer too long, and we have disagreements over what to do on a sunny afternoon.  We have messes and procrastination and tired cranky people who live here, too.

But we don't yell at one another, we don't disrespect one another, and we don't stop loving one another.  Ever.  And we all view our lives together as beautiful, precious and finite. I guess you could say we have the life that fits the desires of our hearts, in all its chaos and clutter.  It's not that we don't see the bitter hard pills on the Table of Life, we just elect not to swallow them.  After all, we all really do have a choice.