Saturday, November 07, 2015

I'm 12 For a Moment

His deep voice, slightly off key and not yet fully settled into the eventual lower register it will occupy for the rest of his life, accompanies me...

"100 Years"

I'm 15 for a moment
Caught in between 10 and 20
And I'm just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are

I'm 22 for a moment
And she feels better than ever
And we're on fire
Making our way back from Mars

15 there's still time for you
Time to buy and time to lose
15, there's never a wish better than this
When you only got a hundred years to live

I'm 33 for a moment
Still the man, but you see I'm a "they"
A kid on the way, babe.
A family on my mind

I'm 45 for a moment
The sea is high
And I'm heading into a crisis
Chasing the years of my life

15 there's still time for you
Time to buy and time to lose yourself
Within a morning star

15 I'm all right with you
15, there's never a wish better than this
When you only got a hundred years to live

Half time goes by
Suddenly you’re wise
Another blink of an eye
67 is gone
The sun is getting high
We're moving on...

I'm 99 for a moment
And dying for just another moment
And I'm just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are

15 there's still time for you
22 I feel her too
33 you’re on your way
Every day's a new day...

(oh oh ohs)

15 there's still time for you
Time to buy and time to choose
Hey 15, there's never a wish better than this
When you only got a hundred years to live

So apropos, these lyrics he belts out with passion, hands gesturing unselfconsciously, just he and I and the music speaking where his heart is this very moment.

Not yet 15, but definitely caught between 10 and 20, this beautiful soul sitting next to me is feeling so very much the fast fading childhood as puberty has grabbed hold of the unsuspecting boy and is dragging him toward adulthood without asking him if he is ready or not.  A new haircut accompanies the ever broadening shoulders, and the conversation deepens with each passing mile.

We are heading to Colorado Springs, Josh and I, so he can attend his first middle and high school retreat at LaForet, the kids' beloved church camp.  There is a special sort of courage exhibited here that others wouldn't be able to identify, as this is Josh's most difficult time of  year emotionally, old feelings rise to the surface with inexplicable history that bring about an always present anxiety for several weeks.  Yet here he is, going to spend the weekend alone, unaccompanied by a friend or sibling, and I notice something.

"Josh, are you nervous going alone?  Today you seem relaxed and so happy."

He thinks for a moment and says, "I am happy and I am not nervous.  LaForet is sacred, and it always makes me feel better to be there.  And I know I will make friends within the first hour.  It's just the way it works there."

Hmmm...I told him that maybe we had stumbled upon a concrete way to help him through his annual depression.  If he enjoyed this, I suggested that we make it a priority for him to go every year and that having something he knew would bring peace to his heart might help eventually lessen those feelings that always surface in the fall.  He thought about it for a moment, and I realized I may have just seen a light bulb moment. 

I continued, "You know Josh, you may never get rid of these feelings, they may always hit you in the fall, or you may always feel insecure during life changes, but you can be intentional and proactive in dealing with it to lift you out of it more quickly.  You can discover things that help you feel more secure and then reach out for them when things don't feel right.  You don't have to just give in to it.  You can do what you did last year and come to me to share how you feel, reaching out to others always helps and then you don't feel so alone.  As an adult, you might want to make sure you have something to look forward to in the fall that distracts you and gives you hope.  You have the power to help yourself feel better, and I think you are old enough now to notice it, name it, and work with it."

He sat there quietly thinking, and then said, "Mom, that's not a bad idea, and maybe if I do go to retreats in the fall the next few years through high school, I might find that fall doesn't bother me at all someday."

Gradual insights lead to lifelong healing, we hope.

We drove on, music playing quietly in the background, conversation so different and more adult than a year ago.  He brought up one of his concerns about being left alone at home after everyone else grows up, and I explained that by the time that happened he might be ready himself for new adventures, and that it was up to all of us to make sure our family was tight knit and there for each other.  I also shared with him that Matt had told me that he had no plans to leave after high school graduation, that he wanted to pursue his education at home...and he also said he knew Josh might need them all around longer.  The love our kids have for each other overwhelms even me sometimes, they are such a real team and truly care that each one of them succeeds.  

He shares his feelings about each of his siblings, and he expressed deep compassion for Kenny's concerns about his future, for some emotional struggles Angela has battled the past few weeks, and said he wished he remembered as much as everyone else in the family did!  He told me, "I was so young I don't remember a ton of things we did, or things like when Kenny or the girls came home.  To me, it feels like they've always been here, and I don't remember how hard it was.  For me, it was easy, but I know it wasn't from what all of you say!" and then chuckling, he added, "Maybe that's a good thing, right?" 

As the miles passed, we touched on everything  being scared to one day ask a girl out on a date, to his love for Colorado and how he can never imagine living in the city, and hopes he can always live in Montrose or some place nearby because it is so peaceful and calm.  Interestingly, we talked about future careers for him, despite him saying he had no clue what he wanted to do someday, but then asked if I could imagine him as a policeman, or a paramedic.  Talking out the pros and cons of those careers was interesting, and I was able to throw in what I saw as his unique gifts and talents, and he provided weaknesses.  No fireman, I learned, he hates the heat and is scared of fire!  He clearly doesn't want a desk job, though he doesn't want to be working at hard physical labor like Dominick.  We joked about building a chain of liquor stores that he could run, and when I said, "Yea maybe all across the state!" and laughed, he said, "Oh no Mom, internationally!!!" and we got a kick over that.

I got serious for a moment, and turned to him and told him I wanted to tell him something.  "Josh, I want you to know that I think you are an incredible young man, and at 12 years old there is no rush at all to imagine a future for yourself yet.  I know it might feel like it as the older kids are talking about theirs, but they are in a different position than you are, and it is OK to be a kid longer.  But I also really want you to hear me on this...I don't think I have had the chance to tell you what a solid young man you have become, how strong and capable you present, and yet you have this unique tender side of you that is compassionate and connected in ways most young men your age are not.  You are very bright, and can do anything in the world you want to do, you are very lucky to have been blessed with a good brain.  But more importantly, I see developing in you an extraordinarily kind, thoughtful young man."  I then added, "You know how you were saying that Matt feels so solid, like all is ok when he is around?"  He looked at me, waiting for me to continue as he affirmed that.  "You feel very much the same way to me.  You don't see it yet, but I feel safe with you, I feel I am with a wise, strong young man...not a little kid."

Oh, the look on his face.  I'll never forget that look.  How I wish I could have recorded that.  It was like his budding manhood was affirmed, as it should be.

I threw out something to him to think about, as well. "You know what career might seem silly to you, but I see really fitting with who you are?"

"What's that?" he asked.

"I think you would make a phenomenal nurse." I replied.

Raised eyebrow, interest caught, he said, "I never would have thought of that."

He asked about the levels of nursing, the possible income, and how hard it is to get through school.  Then he asked, "Why do you think I would be a good nurse?"

"Because you are incredibly compassionate, intelligent, and would make very wise and confident decisions in an emergency.  You think well on your feet, and you exude an inner peace that would really benefit patients, and that comes from you being so tapped in to your spiritual side, and that is growing for you.  Sort of an unbeatable combination of gifts for nursing...oh yea, and you don't freak out at all over blood and guts." and we grinned at each other, images of previous dissections of various snakes, worms, and baby birds no doubt displayed by our joint memory.

Our time alone together drew to a close as we pulled up at camp.  Ever the gentleman, he offers me he has ever larger firm hand as we walk up the steps to his cabin, and he grabs for it again as we head back over the drop off point.  I ask him if he remembered everything, and he checks off his list, saying, "Bible, clothes for two days, pillow, sleeping bag..." and then as casually as if he were still 4 years old he adds, "Blankies."

The term Man-Child so applies, and my mommy heart melted a little when without shame or concern,  he revealed that he brought his two little blankies with him to camp.  As tall as I am these days, peach fuzz mustache near requiring a razor, and the heart of the boy still resides within.  His body betrayed him a bit, maturing faster than he was ready, but wise person that he is, he will not let that dictate at what speed he moves through the world.  Straddling childhood and teenage years for awhile is perfectly OK.  He gets ready to get out of the car, and suddenly, for a brief moment, I see his fear arise.  Leaning over to give me a hug and a kiss, he looks me in the eye and says, "OK, guess I gotta go in, right?", the question lingering softly. 

"Yea, go ahead, they'll be waiting for you." I nudge him.  

He climbs out of the car, lumberman jacket on, and just as the door slips from his fingers to close, he grabs for it, climbs back in, and kneeling on the seat gives me a long, tight hug.  He pulls back, and I realize that walking in there alone to join what will be 90 kids for two days feels scarier in this saying goodbye moment than it did on the long drive over.  Bravado gone, he is 7 or 8 years old before me.

Smiling, I reassure him.  "You'll have such a great time, I can't wait to hear about it on the drive home.  Go ahead."  then I add, "You'll be ok, you're ready for this."

Breathing in deeply, he slowly gets out, and looks through the dark at the warmly lit Ingliss Hall.  He turns back at me and says, "You're right.  I love you!  See you in a couple days."  He turned, squared his shoulders, and off he went.

Watching him walk away, I knew in that very moment, as all moms know, that this was, in some ways, another gradual letting go of childhood.

He doesn't realize the man is waiting in the wings, ready to emerge...and what a fine, strong young man he will be.

I love you, Joshua LaJoy...boy or man, or something in between for awhile.  I'll always be here for you.

12 years old for a moment...

Josh on the left, a mere 2 years ago at camp.

So little on the far right, 2 years ago.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Soul Abandoned

I have a houseful of "lovelies", as my pastor occasionally calls them.  Five extraordinary, incredibly kind, bright, terrific kids, each as different from one another as if they, well, as if they came from different mothersA! Haha!  We are a struggling, uniquely happy family who has it better than most in the relationship department, I think.  6 years down the road from our last adoption, from the outside it appears we are settled and well past the turmoil of initial adjustment, past the difficulty of learning English and being able to communicate well, past the challenge of trying to live into the hope God has for all families...that each would be stable, loving presence in the lives of each member.

From the outside, all looks easier now, and in many respects it is.  Anyone who knows us would attest to the fact that we are one solid unit, bound to one another by shared experiences and deep love for one another.

From the inside, I don't know if it is harder, or just a different kind of hard.  Grief has arrived like a lightning strike, for all kinds of reasons, some anticipated, some sneaking up and surprising us.  You see, adoption is processed and re-processed at each developmental level.  A soul abandoned, even if found by another, still remains a soul abandoned in the dark recess of the heart.  There are some things an adoptive mom can only be present for, and is powerless to help heal from conscious or even subconscious memory.  All we can do is listen and cradle, affirm and nod, and gently guide troubled young souls toward the light.

In the process, our own heart gets rent over, and over, and over again.  Often it is barely knit together from the prior onslaught, the scar fresh and pink, and perhaps not yet fully encasing the wounded organ protectively before another incident causes it to be lacerated once again.  Moms hearts that have been privy to the evils that have been done to their children are never, ever the same.  People see the wounds of the children, but the wounds of the Healing Mother are not even imaginable, and they go unseen, multiplying exponentially with each additional hurting child.

Fall stirs Josh's demons, it always has, as predictable as the tide, it flows in around late October, and remains until the joy of mid-December.  Though the toddler years were filled with anger and lashing out, from pre-school on it has been more of an anxious, aching heart sort of thing, a period of about 6 weeks or so of inexplicable unease and distress.   The change of seasons and the rustling of the kaleidoscope of leaves is a time of year my Southern California upbringing denied me, and it bathes my soul in a sense of security, and an anticipation of hibernation.  It is that very sense of security that eludes my son, as he anxiously runs around our home every few minutes looking for people and animals he thinks have left him, as his sleep is disturbed and even at this very moment he is wrapped up in a blanket on the hearth before me, unable to rest at 6:00 am because those thoughts  and those emotions that are so hard to name are filling him with dread.  

And what his spirit is really aching for is a birth mom who left him, and an answer to his questions.

For some children, healing comes, but memory never fades.

Last night was a Perfect Storm, as Josh and Kenny were with me doing errands, and Josh began to talk about how this time of year leaves him feeling so panic-striken at moments, and with an inner lack of peace he was able to talk about.  Near tears, he spoke of his fears around change, how the end of volleyball season leaves him feeling like the end of church camp with a lump in his throat for days.  Speaking of the future, he voiced deep fear about Matt graduating high school in a year and a half, leaving the four to attend to their studies without his steadying presence.  How that will break Josh's heart!!  It won't matter that it is highly likely Matt will still be home with us, studying on his own, wandering through the kitchen in search of root beer and goldfish crackers.  Routine and structure will change, his beloved brother will begin the gradual process of moving forward into a new life, and Josh fears being left behind, abandoned once again.

Oh, I comforted as best I could, just as I do every year.  I pointed out that change is inevitable, that we are at a stage where we will be experiencing change every year as the kids mature, yadda yadda.  None of it helps, and I know it, though it feels it must be said.  The only thing that helps is that I continue to be present.  Period.  That I never leave him, that I listen to his difficult to express pain from an experience prior to his ability to recall.  11 months old when we adopted him, no one ever, ever understands the imprint of loss on infant brains.  

And my heart has old scar tissue ripped open.  Tears threaten as I hear his quavering voice.  God, how I love this kid.

Kenny, quiet in the back seat, years of wisdom packed into that young man who knows when it is time to slip into the background as others work through things, offers his own pain up to join Josh's.  He explains to Josh that he knows how he feels, that right now his own life feels so very uncertain, how he feels like it is hard to explain the loss he feels as he contemplates a future that is hindered and likely not to allow for the kind of independence that every teen yearns for.  I could hear it in his voice, the grief so deep, as he said he just can't seem to wrap his mind around what a future even looks like for himself, and will he ever have a family of his own if he can't even take care of his own needs.  This comes off an incredibly difficult couple of weeks that were stark reminders for him of his limitations.  At Shriner's he couldn't recall his own birth date or answer other basic questions, and then when he did he got it wrong.  He has forgotten his iPad 3 different times and almost lost it.  He forgot the Sunday School materials at church.  He has forgotten to work on an entire unit for school, though he had it written down, because he forgot to check his list. He fears a life of dependence, a life of loneliness, a life unfulfilled of dreams of ministry, of marriage, of parenting.

And the jagged edges around the Kenny portion of my heart truly never heal, for I fear the very same things for him, and though I will do everything in my power to see to it that at least those dreams that are possible are lived into, there is only so much either of us can do with a broken brain.

I came home to find Angie on the couch, and we had a conversation that lasted the two hours until I had to go pick up Josh at gun club.  What began as a discussion about school and fitting in activities quickly devolved into deep sobs as grief literally poured out of this beautiful spirit that is my longed for daughter.  Being 17 years old and in 9th grade is hard, mixed maturity affects every one of our kids and is something that is hard to explain to others.  Ages don't fit grade levels, desires don't fit cultural norms of when they ought to be doing what, and it feels judgmental when people inquire, when in truth it is really curiosity and nothing more.  But every single one of us in our family, at one time or another, grows weary of being the "weird ones" who everyone thinks they have the right to ask intrusive questions of, or make painful comments about.  Questions about dating, college or career, or where your family is when they are standing right next to you but are of a different race become painful over time, a reminder of how you don't fit in.

Angela is also struggling with school work, as it is becoming clearer that she, sadly, did not escape the likely effects of alcohol either.  Olesya, at 16, is still working through whole numbers in math, has yet to be able to comprehend decimals easily, and fractions are even more elusive.  Thankfully, that is the only manifestation of a childhood and certain in utero exposure to alcohol. Memory seems to be where Angela is experiencing it, and as her work load for school has increased and is growing more challenging as she has entered 9th grade, she is finally really seeing what I have seen for awhile but been unable to put my finger on, and it causes her great concern.  Vocabulary words I have explained in depth, when encountered later for the written assignment, are completely lost, and even as their definitions are looked up it is as if she has never seen them before.  

"I don't always want to be the foreign girl", she also grieved deeply, her beautiful accent causing everyone to question where she is from, also casting doubt upon her assertions that yes, I am her mom and not her foreign exchange host.  Though an innocent and logical question, it is for our family a way of delegitimizing us.  Explaining every single time you are out who you are and how you belong together is not easy, and I can not count the number of times we have had to answer foreign exchange student questions.

It is more than the accent and being questioned though, and through her tears she spoke of how questions such as those bring her wretched and very painful past immediately to the forefront of her mind, and she feels like she can never, ever let it go because the world won't let her.  She has a new life in which she is cherished beyond all measure, but she is sometimes haunted by a past that was horrific, and she knows she can never forget all that came before, despite being so very grateful for where she is now.  I also am certain that survivor's guilt exists below the surface around all of this as well, for this is the year most of her orphanage mates will be dumped on the street, no future, no hope, no loving family there for support.

And what can I do to ease the pain of a lost and very broken childhood?  What can I do to help her work through anxiety about very real truths, very real suffering?  And what others can't possibly understand is the mixed maturity in our home that convolutes everything, and leaves me doubting every single move I make.  17 year olds who have really only had 5 years of childhood and desperately want more, and yet a culture that tells them they ought to be acting like 25 year olds.  16 year olds who are mature acting, but whose hearts and minds are really only about 13 or 14, yet the world sees atypically responsible, unteenage like behavior and assumes they are far more mature than they are.   Angela was asked by a mom several times if she wanted to go to a barn dance last weekend with the homeschool high schoolers, and each time she politely declined, much to that mom's surprise.  Angela looked at me and just said, "Maybe next year, I am just not ready for that sort of thing yet." showing a wisdom that makes me incredibly proud of her.  Our kids have not always had all the experiences necessary that allows them to respond as their age related peers do, but they "look" normal, and that causes confusion for some.  The only thing I could think of to share with Angela as she expressed concerns about being older and not fitting in, and being uncertain about her future, was that we talk about being present to the moment at church a lot, and maybe the single best thing for her to do right now was to just be present to the Spirit and her spirit in each and every moment, to simply be in 9th grade, take in all the love around her, and when the future or the past lures her, to call herself back to a safe and known present.

Sometimes, the only thing I feel I can do is fiercely protect my childrens' right to be the developmental age they are and not let the world push them forward before they are ready.  Every kid feels it when it is time to spread their wings, and so will ours.  So I try to shield them a little from the barrage of well meaning questions about driving, dating, and futures.  To those closest I have explained, "Imagine you have only had real love, safety and security in the form of a family for 5 years, then imagine everyone telling you how you have to begin to pull away from them."  Most of our loving friends understand once explained.  It is growing harder as they grow older, innocent questions open cans of emotional worms that wiggle out and spill all over the place, unbeknownst to the inquisitor.

And all I can do is grab those worms, respect their existence, and gently place them back in the can and snap the lid on tight.

I write these blogs for myself, because sometimes it is what needs to happen for me.  I need a place to set it all, and then sometimes, on good days, I can walk away from it having dropped a heavy load elsewhere.  But I also blog for the thousands of other parents out there who read this blog, who are hurting and parenting the hurting.  As I told Angela with great vehemence tonight, there is NO SHAME and NO EMBARASSMENT over any of this.  We are all victors, we adoptive parents and children, dealing with brokenness in the best ways we can, trying to emerge whole at the end.  Things were done TO our loved ones, and we all carry very heavy weights around as we do what feels so darned impossible...heal cracked hearts, discern hidden disabilities, teach connectedness and the need for relationship after years of no one to lean on.  Our parental silence hints at shame, at lack in ourselves, and it sends a message that this is something to hide, these very real painful experiences.

I guess my writing and our family's willingness to allow me to share openly is our attempt to take the cover off and come out of hiding.  Other parents need to know they are not alone, other parents need to know they are doing the best they can and that others feel as impotent in the face of their child's grief as they do.  My children have nothing to be ashamed of, not a single thing.  They are out of the norm, true, but what IS normal?  We are learning healthy ways to express emotions, we talk about our feelings openly, and together we heal and move forward into new life.  There will be scars, some that will hinder futures, but all will still move forward in some fashion.  And as I shared with Angela, those scars can be reminders of not just a terrible past, but can bring a smile to our face when we think of how far we have come, and how very loved we are now.  

But sometimes, my own tears and scars are just too much.  The weight of things right now feels at moments unbearable, the past couple of years have been incredibly hard in ways I haven't shared, because doubt, insecurity, and struggle can only be shared so often before they cease to matter.  Perhaps if we weren't homeschooling, my heart would lighten, but not a single day goes by without doubts assailing, as I question if I am doing enough, am I doing too much, and wonder what in the heck is my yardstick because not a single person I know is in my position and there isn't anyone to turn to and ask, "Am I doing ok?  What am I missing?  Am I meeting everyone's needs in the best possible way?  Am I ruining them for life?"  When there is so much healing work in the mix, it is hard to have confidence.  I share this only so that other moms, homeschooling, adoptive, or otherwise, will know they aren't alone...and the issues continue well into the future.  When you think it is "over", it really isn't.  

I know there is no need to compare, but the world does it for us, doesn't it?  Then we are left with a frightening concern that we are not enough, we hide our scars as if we caused them ourself.  Not me, though others may not understand why I share, not me.  I am proud of this difficult road we walk, I am proud we have made it this far intact, I am proud to be called "mom" to the most beautiful hearts in all the world.  

I may be proud, but damn it hurts sometimes.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

And The Winners Are...

Volleyball season is drawing to a close, and the first of two all day tournaments was completed today, with Kenny and Olesya's team playing on one court, and Joshie's playing on another.  The day felt a bit different than in years past, as Dominick was working and unable to get time off to be with us for the tournament, which because if involves homeschoolers is really a family event.  He went early in the morning for Josh's first game, but then had to head out and missed the remainder of the tournament.  Funny how even at something like that, with one of us missing, we all feel a little off kilter.  It helped that our friends, Jane and Steve, came to cheer the three on and stayed for a long day.  Though both teams lost the tournament, Olesya and Kenny's team took first place for the season, so despite the tournament loss, they still came home with medals.  

We don't have jocks, we have kids that are usually on the "B" teams, with the possible exception of Angela sometimes.  They are playing for fun, for exercise, for comaraderie.   There are no illusions here, no delusions of Olympic or pro futures.  The league is competitive, and yet reasonably fair about playing time for most of the kids.  The coaches are sweet and care about their players, so all in all it is a great experience for our kids and something they look forward to eagerly each fall.

As our kids all mature, both physically and emotionally, they are teaching me more than ever, and it is humbling.  Today, after the tournament, Kenny showed me how to be more gracious, how to be more appreciative, and how to simply be kinder in my thinking.  A comment had been made to him by an adult afterward, in front of others.  It was meant to be a compliment, but I felt it was inappropriate.  It wasn't encouraging, it wasn't uplifting as it was meant to be, I think, it was as if the adult knew they had to say something and had given it little thought, and so threw out what was at the forefront of their mind without thinking how it might be perceived.  Kenny sits on the bench a lot, he is not one of the better players.  His coordination is not nearly as well developed as his peers and probably never will be.  Sometimes I think people think that just because he does so without complaint, that it means he doesn't also wish he could play a lot more...he does.

When I mentioned this in the car on the drive home, and that I was not angry, but was disappointed  that such a comment had been carelessly made in front of so many, and was feeling a little protective.  Kenny had quite a bit to say about it.  He was surprised that it had bothered me, and he said, "Mom, I can see what you are saying, and why you feel that way, but it didn't bother me the way it bothered you."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Well, a lot of reasons.  First, we all say things when we are on the spot, and we don't always think about the words we use.  I have done it, you have done it, we all have done it, and it's not fair to get mad over it, that's just being human.  Second, I am not a good player, but I can be a good cheerleader.  Sure, I'd like to play more, but someone has to sit on the bench, so why not me?" he responded.

I shot back, "Yea, but you have improved SO much, and that ought to be acknowledged. It bothers me that people often don't allow people to get out of their original boxes they are put in.  We don't see change in others easily once we have pigeon holed them.  I guess I am feeling that has happened to you, and it bothers me."

Looking in the rearview mirror, I saw him, and he smiled at me.

"Mom, I love you, and thanks for sticking up for me.  But its ok, really.  You taught me a long time ago that I was in control of my own attitude, and I decided I was probably always going to be the worst player, so I could decide to be happy and enjoy it.  I like practice, I like hanging out with the kids, I like playing when I play.  And SOMEONE has to be the worst player on every team!!" he answered with his usual great humor.

What a comeuppance.  What a way to practice the faith he has been taught all these years.  What a way to remind mom kindly how to be gracious to others.

I saw more of that gracious, accepting young man at Shriner's this week, where we had his annual team meeting for his cleft lip and palate medical care.  Every day is a one that has Kenny confronting his disabilities.  When asked for his birthdate, he couldn't recall it, and then when he did, he got it wrong.  He just smiled good naturedly and moved on.  He didn't pick up on important conversation around him, and I had to explain it all later.  He was asked many health history questions, and had to look to me often for answers, unable to recall events in sequence.  

Each and every time, there was a patience with himself that I was so glad to see, and which was pointed out by the psychologist who has extensive experience in working with kids with FASD.  She explained that most kids of this age are behaviorally challenged as well, deeply wounded by a world that doesn't view them with compassion, doesn't understand the unintentionality of their seeming disobedience and lack of attention.  She said it is remarkable that Kenny is as high functioning as he is, and she agreed that despite not having a diagnosis that relies a lot on facial features that his cleft would disguise and a birth mother history which are not present for Kenny, he most likely is an FASD kiddo...too classically falling into line with specific deficits.  

There are winners and then there are "Winners".  Kenny is a "Winner", through and through.  I have no idea, other than by God's deep goodness, that Kenny has the heart he has that is specifically prepared for the life he will be forced to live, but it is clear he does, and it will make him an even finer young man.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Passion and Action? Or Opinion and Rancor?

Facebook is a curious culture, and it has deeply changed how the world relates to and interacts with one another.  I am at times equal parts amused and appalled as I consider the ramifications of a world in which connections can be made with others across the globe, and real relationships are developed that deepen with each post shared.  The flip side is that sometimes, right in our own communities with people we are likely to cross paths with at the grocery store, the post office, or the playground, there are venomous words spewed, people called out for driving infractions and imagined slights in language that would most likely never be used if the encounter were face to face.

The most disturbing trend, for me, is the need for folks to spout their opinion on every possible subject, with little thought to how they couch it.  If one considers Facebook something akin to a virtual city street or town square, I highly doubt that any but the most uncouth would walk up to a small group of their friends (or perhaps as large a group as 300-400 people!) and fire off some political diatribe that they knew would be insulting to several present, using language that was callous and insensitive.  If we had to be present to the body language, or the hurt reflected in the eyes as our typed words essentially battered someone, we might think twice about the need to say some of what is often shared in such a wide public forum.  Our distance numbs us, it also gives us false courage.

There are pros and cons to anything, and Facebook activism is an ever growing movement, as posters "Like" issues and "Share" them, causing viral awareness to grow around an event, a cause, an action. Sometimes, this can lead to very real assistance, as it did recently with our church as we assisted Syrian refugees directly due to a Facebook connection I had with a reliable friend.  Hundreds of dollars were raised and food was put immediately into the hands of those so desperately in need.  Facebook "viralism" has its place, and can translate into very concrete help.  We have all seen that happen in one form or another, or perhaps been involved in it ourselves as a cause close to our hearts is shared.

But when our opinion, our "Share", our "Thumbs Up" on Facebook becomes all we do, and we feel as if something monumental has been accomplished because of the click of the "Enter" key, we have failed.  You see, opinions are like...well, I don't need to finish that one, we all know that crude phrase.  However, there is some truth in it, isn't there?  Anyone can have an opinion, it is the rare few who back up their opinions with action.

Do opinions really make a difference?  Sure they do, but only when someone works to bring an opinion into full bloom, meaning something changes because of that opinion.  The single best way to prove your opinion is "right" (if there even IS such a thing), is by setting the example, by living out what your opinion is.

And isn't that sort of what faith is really all about?  Isn't it about having an opinion about how one interacts with the world, both on a concrete level and a spiritual level, and then showing, by example, that their "opinion" is valid?  That their belief leads to action that sets an example of the teachings they believe in, allowing others the opportunity to see and then judge whether or not they might like to try living that way, too?

Our world is ever more opinion driven, and it feels at time as if it is ever less action driven.  Living by example is far more challenging than sharing some opinion thrown out there with every intention of riling people up, perhaps due to boredom, and with little care or thought about how it might be received.  After all, isn't everyone entitled to your opinion?

Frankly, no...nor does the world always need it.

What we need is your example.  What we need is your kindness, your thoughtfully and compassionately expressed perspective that is then backed up by action you take that proves you are living that opinion out in your life, not just subjecting others to something you are unwilling to back up.  What we need is a world changed over and over again by examples of the change you want to see in the world, by passion and action.  Passion and inaction do absolutely nothing but create friction and rancor, a nasty combination.  Lord knows we have enough of that.

I would be the first to raise my hand  and admit that there have been times in my life when I had not-so-humbly offered my opinion to others, and then not backed up with action that supported it.  However, the older I grow, the more I realize the fruitlessness of that, and maybe I am beginning to find a bit more wisdom and recognize that there is a time and a place for everything, and if I am unwilling to act on it, perhaps my mouth (and my keyboard) ought to remain silent.

Our world is not always gentle, it is not often sensitive to the tender spirits we carry around inside us.  As is our mantra at home, "Words mean things", and I believe that wholeheartedly, but it is the fact that words lead to action and example that really means something.  Words plunge us into despair, or elevate us to lofty heights.  Words encourage us to be more than we thought we could be, or can discourage us from even trying.  Opinions expressed through words are potent, but it is the responsive example that gives those words power.

Facebook is here to stay, opinions will be floated there in ever more voluminous style.  Let's hope that for some, it moves beyond the screen and into the hearts and lives of those who post.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Yes and No

Fall is gradually creeping in this week, as temperatures have dropped from the low 90's to a far more reasonable 70ish.  My favorite time of year is upon us, and we are settling into the hectic rhythm of autumn with full time school, volleyball practice or games every single night of the week, church participation, and seemingly unending medical appointments.  Dental visits, Shriner's visits, and Dermatology visits abound, and sometimes juggling the family schedule feels as if I am more like Command Central.  With the new business, it is proving even more challenging as we don't have the luxury of Dominick's previously more flexible work hours which.  Somehow, though, we are managing.

The choices we have made for what our family life looks and feels like are not the choices others might make, but we wouldn't have it any other way.  It does mean life is more challenging in all kinds of ways, but the benefits are enormous.  Our super scary (and sometimes still is!) decision to homeschool all five was outside the norm, and I know it isn't the right choice for everyone.  It is hard, harder than I often let on for a variety of reasons, thankfully none of which have to do with my kids or their attitudes.

Homeschooling is hard for our family because:

1)  We have a tremendous number of special needs
2)  The income lost by my being home has made our lives more challenging on many levels, and has put a lot on Dominick's shoulders in order to provide for us.
3)  Being all roles has been exhausting.
4)  I doubt myself every single day.  That is hard on the old ego, and I wonder if I will ever be able to look back with complete confidence at what we have accomplished with homeschooling and not feel like a bit of a failure.
5)  No feedback, no job reviews, no raises to affirm you.
6) With special needs, you DO feel like a failure all the time, because learning that appeared solid, suddenly isn't, and it feels like it is your fault.
7)  With gifted, you STILL feel like you are never doing enough to help them become who they can become.
8)  I miss grown ups, sometimes more than even I realize.

When I think about all I would have missed though, if we hadn't made the decision to do so, I want to cry.  The past couple of weeks have been so reflective of that very thing, it is all the affirmation I need.  In no particular order:

1)  Angela, Olesya, Kenny and Josh all had an assignment for Miss Mary to write about the qualities they wanted to find in their future mate.  This came from beginning to read The Hiding Place by Corrie TenBoom and Corrie's beau that ultimately did not become her husband.  I was privy to the hearts of my kids, to the dreams of their future husbands and wives.

But Olesya...oh my dear sweet Lessie!  All of us sat there quietly thinking what huge change taken place in this young lady over the past 5 1/2 years.  She spoke with such confidence about wanting a man who would love her the way she is and not want to change her, who would be wise, who would value her completely...and she said it as if she deserved it.  FINALLY, my daughter sees herself as worthy, and it has taken years to get there, and daily reminders over and over again of her worth.  That would not have happened had she been in school, away from the family who is nurturing her out of her prior life and the perspective of herself she came home with.  She and Angela both spoke openly about the need to be with someone who was physically warm and affectionate, who would be unashamed to hold their hand or put their arm around them in public.  This from the girls who literally had to have "Hugging 101" lessons when they came home.  Sweet victories I am not sure we would have had if it were not for the inordinate amount of time spent enveloped in open expression of love.

2)  A couple of weeks ago, we were studying Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then the conversation turned to Chernobyl.  Angela asked me about what radiation really was, and why you couldn't see it.  Matt turned to me and said, "Mom, can I answer that?", then he proceeded to go to the white board and offer a 10 minute explanation with diagrams about what nuclear energy is.  Where in the world did he learn this?  I didn't teach him any of that?  We then watched a video that said almost verbatim what Matt had taught us.  I sat there dumbfounded.  I asked him how he knew all of that, and he explained that he had just taught himself somewhere along the line.  What I am discovering now that we are this far in is that homeschooling has offered the gift of time, the gift of exploration and not being overburdened with "have to" work so that "want to" work can happen.  All of the kids, at one time or another, astonish me with some new concept they understand that was never taught them.

3)  The freedom to be who they are without fear of ridicule.  If they were not homeschooled, I highly doubt that Josh would be sitting here beside me as I type, wearing his brand new full sized pink headphones that he got on a deal because the retailer was donating to breast cancer.  What 12 year old boy would tell you his pink headphones were totally cool and who cares what anyone else thinks, and besides mom, I like pink.

4)  We get to spend time with people we care about, who care about us.  We have had such wonderful support in our homeschooling journey, with friends sharing their talents and interests.  This past week, our friend George came and shared his love of poetry with the kids, reading to them his favorites from his collection, challenging them to think differently about poetry which is hard for most of our kids because they really struggle with rhythm, and of course Kenny can not hear rhymes to save his life.  We have Miss Mary who has spent hours and hours in deep conversation on topics ranging from news stories to relationships to faith as she weaves in and out of their lives working with reading with them.  Through the years there have been numerous caring adults who wanted to contribute, and who have made a real difference...and the kids have different relationships with adults because of that.  Rog, Pat, Lael, Steve, Jane, Kim, each blessings in many ways.

5)  They haven't had to grow up too fast.  When you have kids who have lost half their childhoods to isolation and incarceration (that is what it really is), being able to take your time to enjoy what time is left, and maybe step back a few years, is vitally important.  There is enormous internal work to do, trauma to overcome, trust to develop, and there is the need to let go of having to take care of yourself at all times and to settle in to being taken care of.  That work alone takes years, then there is no rush to move out of that once you are finally comfortable with it.  Homeschooling has allowed our kids the time to mature at their own pace without external pressure.

Angela, at 17 years old, just got her first real pet, and watching her excitement over it is so much fun!  She researched it all, bought all the supplies, and found a cute little parakeet she has named "Alejandro", and calls him "Ali" for short...because she couldn't decide on her favorite Hispanic name or a name for a boy in India, so I suggested she go with this one.  She loved it, and adores her new little friend!  But think about it, 17 years old and finally just ready to take on something like this.  It takes time for them to grow into who they can be once trust is established.  We don't need to be thinking about things like boyfriends and driving, we need to be thinking about our first pet!  The rest will come, in time, when she is ready.

6)  The kids are around all ages and kinds of people, something that wouldn't have happened had they been in school around solely same age peers.  Opportunities such as working at Sharing Ministries, helping out around the businesses with Dominick, volunteering at the library, helping out our adult friends from time to time because they are home when others are not has opened up the world to them in a different way than it would have been had they attended traditional school.  They easily chat with adults with little awkwardness, and they are comfortable around anyone in general, regardless of socio-economic status, race, etc.  This was so evident this past weekend at the store for our Customer Appreciation Day, where they all visited with our customers with ease and respect, where I saw them interact with disabled folks, non-English speakers, rough hewn construction workers, and more.  They had fun, and they can't wait until next year's event.

 7)  Thanks to homeschooling, Kenny can be Kenny, and he can be loved,  corrected, reminded, and laughed with (not at) as we continue to struggle daily with his broken brain.  That child would never have made it had we not homeschooled, it literally saved him in a million ways and he says so all the time.  For that alone,  I am deeply grateful to have the opportunity to do be with him.  Yes, our days are sometimes incredibly hard, yes, I spend an inordinate amount of time in "training" mode, but the more I read about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the more I am filled with love for this son of ours, who, unlike many has the warmest heart, takes correction so graciously and with great understanding and wisdom, and who never gives up.

You have to give up something to gain something.  For every "yes", there is a "no" that must be said.  We have had to say "no" many times, but the things we have said "yes" to make every "no" seem easy.  For that, I am so thankful.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Dad Gets a Break

"Teenagers are awful!"

"I can't wait for them to get out of the house."

"You poor thing, 4 teens so close together?  You have my sympathies."

Almost daily I hear some sort of comment about how terrible the teen years are, about how awful it must be to be me and be stuck at home with so many kids so close in age and all hitting puberty at the same time.  Often it is said right in front of the kids, which infuriates me, and it is a cultural bias I simply don't buy into, and decided years earlier to ignore.

I have come to think of it as a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy...if you choose to think the teen years are awful, they will be.
How often have I replied back, "Oh man, these are the BEST years!  Our kids are my favorite people to be with, I am so blessed to be their mom."...and I make sure to say it loud enough that if the kids are around, they hear me affirming my joy at their presence in my life.  I am not "stuck" with them every day, I am privileged enough to be able to BE with them every day!  

Dominick feels the same way, though he admitted to me that while I was gone last week he got a good dose of how hard it is to be me these days, and he thanked me profusely for all I do that goes unnoticed so much of the time.  But that is the logistical and teaching components, it is not the interaction piece.

Dominick and "da Boys" took off for Denver for the weekend at my urging, to take a Manhood Break and simply be together and do whatever hit their fancy.  We can't really get away for a real family vacation right now, and probably not for a good year or so more, at the earliest.  He has been working so hard, as many hours as he was with two jobs and maybe more, and he is worn out completely and needed a little fun, and some real time with the kids.  So we thought a guy weekend might help all four men connect more deeply with one another, and give Dominick a chance to relax and have a little fun.  So off they went, to do exciting things like play laser tag, claw their way up climbing walls, explore two "escape rooms" which for those who have never heard of them is a new adventure type of game where they describe it as an interactive video game where you solve puzzles and look for clues to help you escape from a themed room.  Not being major sports fans, going to a game was not anything of interest to any of them, so this was a terrific Nerd Adventure Weekend for all of them, and if the photos being texted are any sign, they had a blast.

Here they are at Puzzah!, the escape room challenge they did.  Successful at Room 1!
They really don't look like anything other than young men now, do they?  All three, so mature and mom thinks they are pretty handsome, too.

Go Kenny!  He and Matt, in particular, really enjoy climbing walls.

Late afternoon burnout.

Successfully completed room #2 and reportedly with only 11 seconds to spare!  Love the Sherlock Holmes props, totally fits these guys :-)

I was at our store yesterday, filling in a little for Dominick, when one of our employees asked what Dominick was doing this weekend over in Denver.  I explained that he hadn't had much time with the kids this year, and wanted to take the boys on a weekend just to get away and be together, and that what they did wasn't really going to matter much because they'd find ways to have fun somehow.  I got a bit of an odd stare, as if wondering why in the world he'd want to do that.  Why?  Because this man adores his family, and his sons are some of his most favorite people in the world.  Now, I know this doesn't sound like a major cool thing to do, but it was planned by the boys, they researched what they wanted to do that wouldn't be too expensive, and they knew their Dad would do anything with them, solely because he loves spending time with them.

Yea, teenagers are just so hard to be with. :-(

That left the girls and I to have an at home Girls Weekend, and though it was a quiet one, it has been sweet in so many ways.  We all went to work, and the girls spent a few hours redoing shelf tags while I stocked shelves and the cooler, bagged ice, and did a little accounting work.  Major excitement, right?  Not for most, but do you know I was thanked twice for "letting" them come to work with me?  It was late afternoon, so we elected to have a rare treat out and go to an early dinner at Denny's, where we three sat and visited for an hour after having finished our meal.  Once again, we were mistaken for a foreign exchange family, and Angela explained that I was their real mom, and the young waitress said she loved their accents.  That led us to a much deeper conversation about our family.

Angela's class would be in their last year, she would be aging out, and that weighs heavily on her heart as she shared that she often thinks about the kids left behind, and what they will do with their lives.  I find it hard to think about as well, and it seems that right now I have many adoptive family friends in crisis right now, and it all just feels so hard, and I feel so fortunate that the challenges we face are manageable.  It sure is a reminder though of how far we have come, how things could just as easily go the other way, and how I will never take for granted what we have here.  Together, we have all overcome some really awful pasts, and we work diligently every single day to maintain closeness.  Sometimes, that is just not possible because hearts have been too badly broken to allow connection.

Everyone is home now, all settled and tucked in for the night.  Our regular routine starts back tomorrow, with school, volleyball, and church meetings on tap.  There is something quite precious about the ordinariness of it all.  The girls pointed out during out conversation that they love that no one in our family needs anything all that exciting to be happy, that we all have fun together doing things that might bore others, but they realize that real life is not always filled with excitement.  Angela said she really wants us to have a family "camp out" again, because she loved it in her early years home when we all slept in the same room together, telling stories in the dark and just being together. That's one reason camping is so sweet, because we are all tucked in together in the same room, giggling in the dark.  I was so touched to realize those moments meant so much to her, and though we were short changed in terms of their childhood, this was something lasting that we were able to offer to carry with her the rest of her life.  So maybe we need to plan a family camp out soon.

A new week begins, and many more hours with my "awful teens" will be thoroughly enjoyed as we all continue to learn and grow together. Time for mom to hit the hay so I can be supercharged for the morning.  And as I roll over and curl up in my blankets, I will give thanks yet again for the sweetest teens in the world, who are thoughtful, generous, hard working, and a gift to me in every possible way.  Sometimes, I can't believe how much I love them all, and how easy it is to do so.  Yes, the cute younger years are behind us, and now the adults are gradually emerging.  The coming years will be every bit as tender, every bit as wonderful as the younger years were.  How can they not be?  Team LaJoy works hard together, plays well together, and loves fiercely.  Nothing else really matters.