Thursday, February 28, 2019

Josh's Year Long Film Project!

Have you ever stood on the sidelines and witnessed a moment that will forever shape your child?  Have you been surprised to see their spirit revealed to you in a new way?  Do you know when THIS is the moment that you will look back on and say, "Oh yes, that was when..."?

This past weekend Josh had his "debut" as a film maker, when his hour long documentary was presented to the members of the United Congregational Church of Conway, Massachusetts.  Working diligently for the past year, during two trips to Conway he interviewed 17 people, asking 18 questions, and compiled 37 hours of footage which was edited down to the final one hour project.

This young man dreamed up this project when he was a mere 14 years old, and began it a month after turning 15 years old.  He completed it just before this past Christmas and the showing for the congregation was scheduled.  It quickly grew into an enormous task, far larger than he anticipated.  There were times he wanted to quit, much like Matt did when he was attempting to design and build his 3D printer from scratch, and just like Matt, a year later he had muscled through and had a finished product...and a sense of accomplishment that can only come from doing Big Things.

How he grew and matured through this process!!  Dominick and I knew this would be a fairly expensive undertaking, but Josh was at a point where he needed some real one on one attention, and to be challenged by something that interested him.  Every young person comes to that point in time where they are living in between childhood and adulthood, and need experiences that respect their budding maturity.  He has offered such grace through the years as siblings received more attention due to their special needs, and his patience and kind heart shone through often.  It was his time to be invested in more deeply, and to know we had faith in his ability to do something larger than life.

And he did...

Homeschooling can be as creative as we want it to be, and as we discussed proceeding with this, we were not at all thinking we had a young Ken Burns on our hands, but we saw an extraordinary opportunity for him that would bring with it learning unlike any other.  How many kids can say that at 15 years old they have sat down with 17 people of varying ages and interviewed them, learning how to approach them and bring out key information as you guide the conversation along?  It is incredibly practical and a skill he will use someday for sure.  He undertook the massive organization of the entire project, from start to finish, which was also a big skill builder.  He then had to build a story out of hours of footage, a cohesive narrative told in the voices of others.  Then there were the practical skills of learning how to use a camera, editing software, microphones, and more...none of which he had ever worked with prior to starting the documentary.

Oh yeah, and he did it all having had only 4 hours of film class to start with.

We LaJoys tend to jump "all in", each and every one of us.

Josh also had to speak in front of the congregation, who currently gather in their local grammar school library, as their 250 year old church building was destroyed by a freak tornado 2 years ago.  This hearty group of about 25 members had just returned after a 3 year mold remediation renovation of their historic building, when the tornado claimed their building permanently.  Josh's film was to explore whether "the church" is the building or the people.  Of course, he already knew the answer, so really be was illustrating the point, and creating a sort of historical documentation for this church.

Oh, I know most parents would have considered this pure folly.  The cost, the breadth, the lack of experience, it all made no sense.  We were also not likely to get a professional production out of it.

That was never, ever the point.  It was all about the process, about tackling something huge that he was invested in, about trusting God was sort of in charge and we just had to say "yes".

I had no idea what was to be gained, but this weekend I understood.

Josh's film was about him understanding the power and value of community on a much deeper level, something that has always struck a deep chord in him.  It was about having interviewed and having an intimate conversation with an articulate, emotionally open 87 year old gentleman who himself had been a "ward of the state" and two orphans finding common ground across the generations.  It was about learning he had the power to move others to tears as he helped shape their understanding of themselves and held up a mirror so they could see their love for one another and their resilience.

For me, I learned far more about the heart of our precious son...about his emotional intelligence that is often hidden behind the veneer of teenage boy machismo, about his tender soul, about his insight and self-motivation.  There are moments we all see our children anew, sometimes we are shattered by what we see, and sometimes, if we are fortunate, we are overwhelmed with emotions that are hard to put to words.  It is something far deeper than pride, which is shallow, but perhaps it is akin to awe at what God is doing in someone and that we are gifted with the opportunity to be witnesses up close.

It was not a professional quality film, there was camera shake and editing mistakes.  It was a rookie film, and he may never do another.  But sitting there in the dark, watching others who were held in rapt attention, tears streaming in some moments and laughter shared in others, there was no doubt to anyone that this really, really mattered.  When the lights came up, some couldn't speak as they were so deeply touched.  They began to understand their life together differently, they were able to grieve the loss of the familiar building that many had been married in and counted on being buried in.

By complete coincidence, the Oscars were held the same day, and the congregation was award individual Oscars for their various roles in the film.  Josh was awarded one as well, but he was really rewarded in hugs from many members, and a sense of accomplishment that will never leave him.

Despite the lack of professional camera skills, we were all surprised at how within moments, any awareness of that dissolved and we were all caught up in the story that was shared.  Josh showed a remarkable ability to craft the story in their own words, carefully selecting just the right pieces of interviews, interweaving footage and music artfully.  It was said by more than one viewer that it was hard to believe a 15 year old had captured the essence of each person so well, and weaved together their narrative in such a sensitive way.  He did a beautiful job.

It is a great gift when others allow you opportunities to grow and try new things, and we are very grateful to the United Congregational Church of Conway for its cooperation with this effort.  Below is the film, should anyone wish to view it.

Who knows where Josh will head in life?  It likely won't be film making, but whatever it is, he gained a lot from this experience, and most of it was far more valuable than how to make a film.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Buckaroos Begins in Earnest!

Buckaroos Slices and Scoops Begins!

Tearing down walls physically, and metaphorically...

Oh my, it has been a busy month of behind the scenes work for our Buckaroos crew!  There is a lot of learning happened at the kitchen table as we go to "Pizza School" and "Scoop School" by watching training videos from experts in the field.  Angie, Kenny, and Olesya are hard at work, and here is a list of all they have accomplished thus far since our last post about their future business:

1)  They have created, edited and finalized an Employee Handbook.
2)  They have crafted a full-fledged, detailed Marketing Plan to go along with their Business Plan.
3)  They have finalized a Large Equipment List of items to purchase or lease.
4)  They are reading and discussing "Leaders Eat Last" by Simon Sinek to learn more about how to become strong managers in their business.
5)  They have completed reading and discussing "The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork" by John C. Maxwell.
6)  They have been working with a logo designer to create a customized logo.
7)  They have met with Matt to have him begin working on creating a web site.
8)  They have begun studying profit margins for pizza and ice cream shops, and learned more about price points, food cost calculation, and more.
9)  They have invited Josh to be part of their management team once they open, and he happily accepted.
10) Demolition has begun!

We have space at Dominick's liquor store we are dedicating to Buckaroos, but it needs some alterations.  Here are some of the basics that need to be done before we begin cosmetic work:

1)  Tear out a portion of a cinder block wall
2)  Build two walls
3)  Cut out cinder block for two windows at the front of the store
4)  Frame in and install three doors
5)  Install drywall
6)  Install plastic wall panels

Thankfully, Matt and Josh have volunteered to help with the construction pieces, and these are the things our family will do, in addition to calling in experts for plumbing, electrical, concrete, glass installation, ventilation, etc.  We are trying to save money and do as much as we can, and we will all paint, install tile flooring and apply sealer to other portions, install various decor pieces, install all kitchen equipment, etc.

Here are some photos of Dominick, Angie, Olesya, and Kenny working on the demolition!  It is fun to feel like something is finally happening after months of creative thinking and planning.

Here we go!  Masking off the area to be cut out.

No turning back now...

Dads are great for teaching hands on practical skills.  Glad I wasn't there and only saw photos afterward, I might have cringed at power tools in their hands, as moms often do :-)

Olesya doing some initial test drilling.

Uh oh...guess we are really doing this! HAHAHA!!  
Kenny looks a little wild eyed :-)

Oh yeah, Angie, you GO GIRL!

This isn't as easy as we thought it would be...

In fact, it is hard work!

Incredibly hard, dirty work!

And no one is doing it for them, 
when they are done they will be able to stand back and see what is possible with hard work, strong guidance, and a willingness to learn new skills.

It is also a heck of a lot of fun!

Four nights later, it is DONE.   Step one...Check!

I will be leaving this weekend for a getaway trip before things get really hopping the next three or four months.  I will be regrouping, planning next steps, thinking carefully about how best to train our crew, and taking time to breathe...really breathe while I still can.  Josh will join me in Massachusetts at the end of my time away where he will be debuting his documentary "We Are the Church" to the United Congregational Church of Conway, and he will be offering a "sermonette" prior to the viewing in which he will share how his project impacted his own faith and understanding of community.  He is quite excited about this, as finally his year long project will be revealed to those outside the family.

I arrive home with Josh, then two days later hop in the car with The Buckaroos Crew and head out to California to visit with and check on grandmas, then return to attend the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, where we hope to visit with prospective vendors, explore equipment, attend seminars, and learn a LOT.  We return home, and two weeks later Kenny has surgery in Chicago, then three weeks later we return for surgery #2.  Oh yeah, in between there, we have wisdom teeth being removed for Josh and Olesya, a final church retreat weekend somewhere in the mix for Olesya and Kenny, a graduation to begin thinking about for Angie and Kenny, and more.  Oh yeah, then there is that whole teaching school and helping the kids build a business in the middle :-)  I think I had better run for the hills while I can this next week or two!!

We will keep sharing photos here on our family blog as the project continues, and soon the kids will be writing their own blogs on their business web site, so you can hear all about the project from them!

Monday, February 04, 2019

Sometimes I Forget...

As the special needs mom of several young adults, my life is not at all what I imagined it would be at 52 years old.  Due to infertility, we started our family later, and due to disability we are actively parenting longer.  As our kids mature, the differences in our life become more pronounced, and yet oddly, with the passing of time, it has become so normal that it is hard even for me to understand what is actually unusual.  It all seems "normal", that is, until I am brought up short by some new awareness...

Sometimes I forget...

That most parents with kids who are 19 or 20 are not still having to make sure they are dressed appropriately.  They don't have to regularly remind them about hygiene issues from hair brushing to wiping their mouth at the dinner table.

Sometimes I forget...

That most parents haven't had to plan their annual calendars around surgeries year after year, or anticipate other medical needs.  I can't imagine having a defining medical moment be merely a broken arm, or that time your child had the chicken pox.  

Sometimes I forget...

That most parents have not had to take over their children's entire education because there was not another single option that would keep their child's hearts intact and their hope alive.  For the majority of parents, homeschooling is never on the radar, and for the 4% of kids who are homeschooled in the US, it is very often a choice made, not an "option of last resort".

Sometimes I forget...

That most parents are not sitting down with their young adult children and having to take over handling their finances, because they can't recall spending their money or track it, and because if it isn't tangible in their hands it is like it is Monopoly money.  Then, they look at their bank statement, and they are shocked, scared, and despondent, fearing the reality that they will likely never have the ability to fully handle their personal finances without regular assistance.

Sometimes I forget...

That most parents are not trying to help their children re-learn and re-learn certain tasks, over and over again.  That they don't have their children stare back at them blankly, saying, "I really don't ever remember that mom, I believe you, but I don't remember it at all."

Sometimes I forget...

That most parents don't have to sit before their child who silently stares at them as the clock hands move past five minutes, ten minutes, and much longer because they are in a brain loop and aphasia has kicked in, and words simply do.not.come.out.  Patiently, achingly, you wait, and still...nothing.  Wheels are turning, but words can not be accessed, and then FINALLY they come, it is with an unusual deliberateness that is not your child's typical presentation at all.

Sometimes I forget...

That most parents haven't had to hear the horrific stories of trauma, fear,  intentional neglect, and much more that your child endured.  They haven't held large quaking bodies in their arms as memories surface, as old hurts are given new life by some seemingly innocuous event.  

Sometimes I forget...

That most parents aren't terror-stricken many a night as the gnawing concern chews at them when they think of how impossible it will be to provide financially for not one, not two, but three kids they love dearly who may never be able to fully support themselves, and never qualify in America for disability payments (but they sure do in Canada).  How will they survive?  Can we take out more life insurance?  Will they ever earn a real paycheck?

Sometimes I forget...

That most parents don't turn to one another on one of the very rare evenings they are out by themselves on a drive an hour from home and one says, "You know, this may seem totally stupid, but whenever we are out by ourselves driving somewhere of any distance, I find myself thinking about what would happen to our kids if we were in a car accident and both of us died."  And then your spouse quietly responds, "No, it isn't stupid at all.  I always think the very same thing."  And you realize you may feel this way the rest of your life, for some of your children will never, ever live without assistance regardless of chronological age, and you say a little prayer that very moment and ask God to please keep you alive as long as possible so your other children, who will eventually step in, have the chance to mature and start their lives solidly before something happens to you.  And you think twice before you leave the house together with your spouse and everyone else is home.

But there is more, thank goodness, there is so much more.

Sometimes I remember...

That most parents are not trusted to be as intimate a confidante as I have been blessed to be.  Our sons and daughters trust me with a depth that can only be borne out of walking through hell and back together, hand in hand, never leaving one another's side.

Sometimes I remember...

That most parents have never witnessed their child ever-so-slowly come to life and soften around the edges.  Like a long ignored perennial whose yellowed leaves droop, there is a blossoming that occurs in a child who once belonged to no one, and now is precious to someone.  The bud that eventually flowers is sturdier for having withstood the weathering of its early life, and they turn their face eagerly toward the sun, basking in the light that is offered.  There is a sacredness in this experience that can not be easily put into words.

Sometimes I remember...

That most parents, like a perfect artisan dough, are not stretched and kneaded in the same ways we have been.  Some parents may not be able to as easily handle being punched down and deflated, only to rise again as a newer, tougher, more durable version of themselves, ready to face the scorching heat of the oven where their outer crust turns a golden brown and protects the soft, tender inner layers.  We are heartier, we are firmer,  we are leavened.

Sometimes I remember...

That most parents may begin their "third act" as their kids reach the age ours have, they can reinvent themselves, look forward to a life that is more peaceful, more independent, more carefree.  There is no more taxi driving and no more constant correcting.  But we get to live into a "third act" that might be far better preparation for our later years, for it will teach us through practical experience and real-life application what "interdependence" in healthy relationships looks and feels like, and we will better be able to accept help from others when the time comes that it is necessary for us.

Sometimes I remember...

That I once thought my life would look very differently at this stage.  I never imagined the grace that would be offered me daily by my beloved ones as I, too, try and navigate a combined world of ability and disability.  I never imagined a love so overwhelming and powerful that would be shown to me so openly and appreciatively every single day.  I never imagined the gratification of relationships that allow for joint ventures and holding hands as we dive into the deep end and must sink or adults.

Oh, sometimes I forget that our "normal" really isn't what others would view as normal.  

Aren't I fortunate?