Monday, April 30, 2007

When is it Enough?

Isn't it interesting how you will have a particular topic thrust in your face all of a sudden, over and over again, and you don't really know why or where it is coming from? Kind of like buying a new car and then it seems your eye is drawn to that make or model of car and you see them everywhere when you never noticed it before?

Friday I had that happen to me, and I am not sure why. Actually, I think I am sure and it is because that is one of the ways God uses to speak to me. I was listening to talk radio, NPR and the like, and during my drive home from Denver every program I listened to brought up the topic of our society's self-centeredness and desire for more "stuff". Hmmm...well...that is not such a new topic I guess, but it was interesting to see that others were really beginning to talk about it. As often happens during long drives in warm, sun drenched cars, my mind started to drift. I was thinking of examples of this self-centeredness, all this materialism, and really how totally ridiculous we have all become.

Take the now well known episode involving Alec Baldwin and his daughter's insult to him by not answering the phone when he called. I heard much of the tape that was released of that call and my first thought was "This sounds exactly like what I would expect from a TV/Movie star who thinks the world revolves around them...". His anger was not an admonition to his daughter to correct her "thoughtless" behavior, it was a rant about how she had "embarassed him", how she hadn't thought enough about him. It was self-centered arrogance at it's finest, and if I were Mr. Baldwin I would have shrunk in utter shame when I heard those words replayed for me.

I thought about the NFL draft, and the millions upon millions of dollars paid out to young men who simply play a game. They are not adding much to society really, they are not contributing in ways that will truly benefit others. They are highly paid entertainers who are rewarded for throwing a ball and hitting one another.

Then there are the typical MTV rappers who will record their "music" which is ultimately trash talk set to a beat, will pimp their rides, build their mansions with their 5 plasma TV's and continue to live extended childhoods long after it is appropriate. Then our children will see this standard of living that is unachievable by the average American and think that they too should have the plasma TV's, the cool rides...and they feel deprived if they don't get it.

And it is not just limited to our youth. HGTV has made all of us middle income 30 and 40 somethings yearn for houses that have granite countertops, $40,000 living room renovations, and landscape designers. We see it on TV and in Home Depot, and think we can't live without it, as if a formica countertop won't serve us just as well as the latest polished marble.

When is enough enough? When do we finally begin to have a deep understanding of the fact that chasing all this "stuff" and searching only for what we think will make us happy has nothing to do with true joy? When and how did it get to this point, where we let the media in all it's forms dictate to us what our lives should look like to the outsider? Are our lives so easy, so shallow, that we honestly think that we MUST have the biggest sub-zero freezer in our home or we are just not going to be considered successful?

It is so sad to me, that life for most of us has become this...we idolize those who would have been considered degenerates 20 years ago, we hold ourselves up to some sort of materialistic standard that is asinine, we fail to feel for others any longer unless it somehow relates back to us. Americans have had it so good for so long, that they have lost themselves somehow along the path to middle-class wealth. And believe me, our middle class is wealthy, even when compared to our own parents when they were our ages. The Walmarts and the Office Depots have allowed us all to own more stuff due to their incredible buying power bringing prices down to lows never imagined in years past.

And then I read about others who haven't forgotten...who have recognized the value of "we" instead of the value of "me". Take John and Julie Wright. They are doing incredible things for the homeless and orphans of Central Asia, and they are very inspiring to me. The stories on their blog, the photos they share really serve to put it all into perspective...a toilet used for a sink in an elderly nursing home, entire families living in a garbage dump, children long forgotten by anyone, never feeling special even once in their young lives, never feeling treasured.

For that is what it is about, isn't it? Do any of us really understand what it means to never...not even once in your life...have felt special or important to anyone? And for those who are in those shoes, how do they ever begin to see their own self-worth when no one else has seen it in them and reflected it back? I have been treasured by many in my lifetime, thankfully. I had parents who would do anything for me...not for them, but for me. I have a husband who has always thought of me first before himself, I have sons who put each other and their parents first even at their expected selfish stage in life. I have friends who have never truly felt treasured, I have sons who were not treasured for at least a small portion of their life. It causes untold damage, and it is something that any single one of us can change for someone we meet who feels that way about themselves. It doesn't cost a thing, only time and effort.

And what about people who are generally considered "throw aways"...those who we ignore every day in our rush to acquisition. What about our lonely elderly, our latch key kids, our societal misfits who never quite manage to grasp the norm?

When do we stop thinking about "me" and start thinking about "we"?? It doesn't take much really, a small act of kindness here or there, an expression of faith in someone else's abilities when no one else stands by them. Why don't we go out of our way more often? As I have talked to others about the Antares Foundation I have tried to make them see that even if they don't send a gift to an orphan, an encouraging card or letter can change their life...an ongoing relationship with some one who cares if they get a good grade in school, or who is concerned if their feelings are hurt...that is free for us to offer.

Giving of ourselves, our time, our effort...that leads to thinking of things other than our own needs and desires. It is awesome to me how taking our mind off ourselves and putting that effort into something or someone else suddenly dries up desire and dismay at what we don't have. It not only creates joy for others, it brings joy to our own hearts as well, almost as if by magic. I guess it is magic, actually, it is called "love".

If you would like to read a great blog that will make you stop and think for a moment, a blog that will make you count your blessings, check out the Wright's blog at www.actofkindness.blogspot.com. If you don't come away after reading it with a new perspective, I would be totally surprised.

And then think to yourself "When is enough, enough?"

Sunday Picnic




We went on a picnic today after church at Morrow Point Dam, and I took these pictures of the boys. All I can say is:

Watch Out Almaty, the Handsomest Kazakhs are Coming to Town!!

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Little News

When you are adopting an older child, and all you have that is concrete in terms of information about them is a photo, anything you learn is precious and savored. We have been one of the very few fortunate families to adopt an older child from the former USSR and get baby photos and to meet folks who have actually spent time with him, albeit when he was very young. A sentence or two in an email can keep you awake for hours, trying to flesh out what you have just learned, rolling it over and over in your mind.

Ok...I will now officially admit it...Man I want nothing more than to give that little boy a huge bear hug and smother him with kisses! I want to spoil him rotten, I want to shower him with affection!! I want to stare in his eyes and have a conversation with him, I want to learn everything that has happened in his life...I want to know what his soul is like. The fact is there will be no smothering, no hovering, no smooching and no soul searching for quiet awhile, I am sure. I am wise enough to recognize that it will be a slow process of connecting and feeling comfortable with one another. But eventually......

I received an email from a Yahoo Group listmate friend, Shannon, who is adopting with our agency and is over there right now. Shannon kindly offered to take a little present over with her to give to our coordinator to deliver toToktogul from us, so I raced to Amazon.com the week she was leaving and ordered a Russian/English children's book and a "Lightning McQueen" car for him. For the uninitiated into the World of Boys, Lightning McQueen is a character in the movie "Cars", and Joshie's all time favorite. In fact, I surprised Josh and got a ring tone for my cell phone of Rascal Flatt's singing "Life is a Highway" from the movie, as he is always singing it and dancing around the house to it. You should have seen his eyes widen when he heard it ring the first time! He almost couldn't speak! But I digress again...

Anyway, Shannon emailed me tonight and described what happened when she was at the baby house and gave Saule, our coordinator, the package. This baby house was Toktogul's as well:

"When we were at the orphanage, I had given Saule the envelope for Toktogul with the book and car in it and the workers all started talking about him. They were saying how they loved him when he was there and how he was such a fun and happy boy. They were thrilled to hear that he had such a wonderful family coming to get him."

That's it, 3 short sentances, but for us it is a precious piece of who he was. The mere fact that they remembered him at all (although with the cleft that would make it much easier for him to stand out in their minds) so fondly warms my heart, and already I feel "Mommy Pride" kicking in and I want to shout to this quiet, sleeping house "That's my Boy!". Silly, but I want to go in and wake up Dominick and read that to him, but I will restrain myself.

Dominick and I were just talking a couple of days ago about how awesome it is that even though we are adopting an older child which many would consider a far riskier proposition than an infant (and frankly, I agree with that), we can get on that plane in 3 weeks with no qualms, no doubts, only absolute certainty that we have a very, very special son waiting for us. I remember actually feeling that way each of the times we traveled to get our sons, I had this sense of "rightness" about each one of them, as if God reached down and whispered in my ear "Yes, you are bringing home the son I had in mind for you, so don't worry." Unlike many others who have shared this journey over the years, I didn't fret over things like head circumferences the size of a walnut, medical histories missing things like surgeries to repair clefts (we have had nothing other than a height and weight on Toktogul), heart conditions that were listed on medical histories but not necessarily ruled out (Matthew). I have been very blessed with this sense of just simply knowing...knowing this was my child. Believe me when I tell you that having that sense of certainty is worth a million bucks when you are embarking on a journey halfway around the world, splaying your heart open in front of everyone and spending tens of thousands. You don't feel so great going into it with the adoption version of "Buyers Remorse" (Yes, said with tongue in cheek, no flames please about "buying" our kids.). I have actually considered this certainty as one of God's greatest gifts to me with our adoptions, most especially this time around.

You see, I had a bargain with Him, Dominick and I felt even prior to adopting Matthew that there was an older child that we would bring home one day. But even years before identifying Toktogul as our son I asked God to make me absolutely certain in my heart that whichever older child we might one day bring home would be ok in the long run, even if it was hard at first. I wanted to feel that we were not bringing a disaster into our home, exposing our boys to all kinds of strange behaviors. I never wanted to board a plane having a heavy heart, scared of what the future would hold. And I told Him that if He could give me that sense of peace, I would march right into older child adoption with Faith, and never look back. I never would have imagined having so little information and moving forward, and I never would have imagined moving forward without meeting any older child we would adopt prior to making it all legal, but here we are doing exactly that. After all, I have to keep up my end of the bargain with God!! And it feels right, it feels good, it feels safe. We will board that plane with nothing but joy and excitement in all of our hearts, despite the very real possibilities of issues we might face, it won't matter, just as it didn't with Josh and attachment disorder. Whatever is to come is what we are supposed to face head on. Just because something is hard, doesn't mean you shouldn't do it!! Life is NOT about perfection, it is about the journey and what we learn about ourselves and others as we go through it.

Oh my, such philosophical leanings tonight. Sometimes I think I must be the very strangest person anyone has ever met! Why in the world, might I ask, does ANYONE read this blog??? So now I will go to sleep, or at least to bed, and reflect on Shannon's email, knowing that obviously Toktogul was very loved when he was young, and that too makes my heart smile.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Gratitude

We are now 3 and 1/2 weeks away from traveling to Kyrgyzstan, and time is actually passing quickly. Although there is much still to do, we are all beginning to really feel the excitement of this trip. But I think the emotion that raises it's head most often is gratitude.

We have felt the love and quiet support of so many of our friends, and some have gone out of their way to show us they care. I spent much of the last couple of days cutting tags out of a wonderful assortment of brand new clothes that one family who is dear to our hearts sent us for Toktogul. Not only was it an extraordinarily kind gift, but it took a huge weight off my shoulders when I got a phone call saying "Don't worry about a thing, I've got it all covered!". Another friend touched our hearts in a special way this weekend as well. We've had people praying for us, caring about us, and even folks we don't know carrying small gifts over for us to our new son.

It has been an incredible time in our lives, one where we have felt God moving in ways which we never would have been able to predict. It is odd I think, but throughout my life I have always felt closest to God when things are going well, when I have been particularly blessed at any given moment. In the rougher times I tend to not to reach out to Him, to feel more distant. But I think that as all adults have experienced, when you have had some hard times behind you, times that have been overwhelmingly sad or have caused you great struggle, you have the ability to really appreciate the good times in a way you might not otherwise do.

Love and caring sometimes come to you from unexpected people and places, just as hatred and anger can sneak up on you when you are totally unaware. The balance of those emotions is what makes life sweet, the rewards of which leave you with a feeling that your spirit is nurtured and your soul is protected.

I am grateful for every single thing in my life, for every bad experience, for every lonely moment. It makes the good times that much richer. Without the isolation once felt, I might never be filled up by the sounds of my family as they slowly wind down at the end of the day. If it were not for those times when every single thing attempted was an effort and nothing was easy, I might not be able to recognize God's hand in my life when He has taken over (and I have not pulled against Him!) and all has easily fallen into place thanks to His goodness. If it were not for disappointments and failings, accomplishments would not take on as much meaning.

Gratitude springs up at unexpected and delightful moments...in the morning sunlight streaming through the kitchen window as I stare in Joshie's eyes and marvel at his long eyelashes, in the sudden surprise at how much younger Matthew looked when he finally lost one of his two front teeth last week, it comes when laying in bed next to Dominick as we are drifting off into that place between deep sleep and slight coherence and hearing him softly say "Cindy, I am so glad I am married to you.." and knowing he really, really means it.

Gratitude is in the little day to day things, not always so much in the big events. With Toktogul, gratitude might come on that first night after he has had his first bath and is in his jammies with Matthew and Joshie next to him, and the reality hits that he really is our son now...that he now smells like and looks like he belongs to us and is a La Joy. It might come the first time he willingly reaches out to hold my hand looking for security and comfort in what will most likely be a very confusing world for a long time to come. Or it might be in simply hearing three little voices laughing and giggling as Dominick and I look over their heads and smile knowingly, recognizing that we are indeed the most blessed parents who ever lived.

As I write this I am in a hotel room alone in Denver, all is quiet, and I have a wonderful room with a luxuriously made bed filled with plump down pillows and a soft duvet. I could order room service if I so desired, and can read and write uninterrupted for the first time in months. And yet for all the posh surroundings and solitude, I am not as grateful as I should be to have this opportunity that many mothers would kill for . I would rather be at home saying for the fifth time "No more stalling, it's time for bed!" as I stand at the sink washing the dishes. I would rather have Dominick snoring in the recliner in front of the TV as I channel surf wishing something decent was actually on.

It really is the mundane things that make up a life, and it is our ability to find comfort and joy in them that keeps us from yearning for things that are of little value. For me, gratitude is not at all a fleeting emotion, but is a constant and conscious daily choice of how to live my life. I've known great sadness, and the absence of that sadness is what gives me joy...I am not waiting for something or someone to make me happy. The simple fact that I wake up and nothing causing me emotional pain instantly appears in the forefront of my mind is enough to make me smile.

So here is hoping that any of you who happen upon this blog today or tomorrow have as much to be grateful for in your life as I do in mine. Here's to going home tomorrow, back to the mess and the noise and the Boys :-)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Family Pictures on Josh's Adoption Trip






Here are some of the photos from Josh's adoption trip that are mainly of him and us, some are favorites of mine.

And More Kazakhstan Photos






I can only upload a few at a time on each post, so here are a few more.

As Requested, More Kazakhstan Photos






Here are some additional photos of our adoption trip to get Joshua in 2003.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Kazakh Eyes


I just love this picture!!

Kazakhstan Photos






Here are a few of the photos I took in Kazakhstan on our adoption trip to get Joshua. Some are in Almaty, some are in Uralsk.

Finally Relaxing

I sit here writing tonight, and I finally feel relaxed for the first time in months. The majority of the major committments in my life are now over with, and I feel as if I can finally focus 100% on our adoption trip and Toktogul joining us. The sermon went well this morning, and I heaved a huge sigh of relief once it was over. I hadn't realized just how stressed I was over it until it was all said and done! Cub Scouts is over for the year, as we ended it early to get ready for travel. I am the Cubmaster/Denleader for Pack 479 in Olathe, Colorado and we have 12 wonderful little guys in our Pack. That along with church committee meetings, full-time work that just ended, and adoption paperwork and planning has left me feeling pretty drained. I had a relaxing afternoon today working on scrapbooking with my friend, yacking and playing, and it helped drop everything down a notch.

But now is the time for the 4 of us...time to reconnect, to enjoy the closeness and love that is the soul of our family. Time to take a moment or two just for me. And time to really absorb that our lives are about to be forever changed. We will relish this last 4 weeks as a family of 4 all the while looking forward with great joy to becoming a family of 5. I was talking on the phone today with my mom and referred to the boys having "brothers", and stopped for a second when I let the pluralization sink in, and it was lovely to hear my own words.

It is so nice to be home and not running constantly, to feel hugged by my homelife which although not up to some people's standards is absolutely wonderful to us. Dominick and I sat down together and had breakfast at the same time, and it was something we hadn't done since the hectic winter months had begun. We looked at each other and laughingly said "Hello! Nice to see you!". I think that despite the stress of travel, our long trip together will be a very special time in our lives with no interruptions, just hanging with our boys playing games, and just being together. I am very much looking forward to this retreat from the world in many ways.

I am also very much looking forward to the chance to use my camera on the trip, which I haven't done in quite awhile now. I am a TOTAL amateur photographer but I truly love it, even if I stink at it. I have a "different" eye, shall we say, and sometimes what I see that is fascinating to me is not at all of interest to anyone else. But it is fun and harmless, and thanks to digital cameras is a free hobby once the camera is paid for!! I will try and post a few of my favorite photos I have taken over the years here on the blog, but you have to promise not to laugh!

Now on to Monday, 27 days until liftoff!!!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Travel Plans

We have finalized our travel plans, and things have changed a bit. We are leaving Montrose on May 19th (Less than 1 month!!) and will travel through Frankfurt, Germany. We will layover there for 2 nights to give the kids a break in travel, and then we will leave and arrive in Almaty, Kazakhstan on May 22. We stay there for 2 nights, and then we leave for Bishkek by van on May 24th. We will meet Toktogul on May 25th and visit his orphanages, an older one and his current one...and then he leaves with us that day! After that, we remain in Bishkek a few days to finish paperwork, and then we drive back to Almaty on May 30th. The adoption process will technically be completed on May 31st, but we will not head back home until June 6th. During that time frame I will fly to Petropavlovsk to visit the girls we sponsor through the Antares Foundation as well as visit the orphanages there. It should be an eye opening experience and I will learn a lot, I am sure.

We are flying Lufthansa to and from the USA, which we flew in the past and enjoyed. We are still making arrangements for our stays in Almaty, but in Bishkek we are staying at the Asia Mountains Guest House, which looks like a wonderful place to stay and is very reasonably priced.

We will try and blog from each location, depending upon internet access. We will also try and upload photos as we can but due to the slow connections there we will likely try and upload most of them after we return home.

So, that's it! Now we just work on tasks at home to ge ready, to pack, to add to my lists. It doesn't seem like a mere 30 days from now we will be in a country that now has a very familiar feel to it, a country where no one speaks our language, where we will absolutely be looked at strangely everywhere we go with our little English speaking obviously Kazakh sons, a place that has given us the greatest gift of all...the gift of parenthood.

Sunday Morning

Tomorrow I am doing something I never imagined myself doing...I am preaching a sermon at our church. Our Pastor is out of town for the weekend and somehow I got volunteered to write and preach the sermon. Quite honestly, I am so scared...I have never done anything like this before and am NOT good at public speaking, nor have I ever written for "public consumption" before other than my measly efforts on this blog.

It has given me pause this evening, as I wonder what I could possibly say that anyone would find of value. I feel completely ill equipped and out of place doing this. However, it is a great learning experience not only for me, but for the boys as well. I have let them know this is something I am very uncomfortable doing, and that it takes courage to move away from our own comfort zones and try something so totally foreign. I hope that seeing the example of doing something new even if you are scared will sink in and maybe they can look back on it someday when they are in the same position.

It is also serving to give me a small insight into the very challenging role of being a Pastor. It would be such a struggle, week after week, to read the Scriptures and then find a way to interpret them and make them meaningful in a time when so often anything having to do with religion is laughed off as "backward" or "irrelevant". When you consider that is just a small part of a Pastor's job it gives you greater respect for all that they do to serve the people of their Congregation.

So I will have a sleepless night as I fret and stew over tomorrow, and by tomorrow night it will all be over with and I will be able to relax and really focus fully on our adoption plans. We are now counting down and have barely less than a month before we leave, and there is much to do still...lists upon lists of things to do.

A Yahoo listmate of ours left today for Bishkek, and is graciously taking along a small gift for Toktogul. I ordered a small "Lightning McQueen" car and a very nice picture book of Russian/Engligh words tramslated. While she will not get to meet our son, she is passing the gift on for us to be delivered to him. I wonder if he has been told when we are coming for him? I wonder what he is thinking about all of this, if it has really sunken in yet? I guess the answers to those questions are coming soon...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Wet Colorado Easter




We had a rainy, wet Colorado Easter but the boys had so much fun! Church in the morning, a small party and egg hunt in the afternoon...and eggs and candy galore! Our church service was very, very nice and the sermon was inspiring, as is usually the case with our Pastor.
Matthew was worried that Toktogul would have nothing for Easter and wanted to send him a basket, but I exlained to him that it wouldn't arrive before we did, so he is saving candy for him :-)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

5000 Hits!

Our blog is celebrating our 5000th hit today...wow, what a shocker that is! That is a lot of hits in a mere 6 months for a nobody! Never in a million years did I ever imagine that anyone would seriously want to read anything I wrote, and I am grateful to all of you who are following along on our journey. I hope you have gleaned something from it of value to you, or that you have simply enjoyed the distraction from your own life or perhaps the reflection of your own.

I have really enjoyed reading the various comments that all of you have left, as it is interesting to have that kind of interaction ...it makes this feel more like a conversation with acquaintances rather than a solitary dialogue with myself. I have plenty enough of those already!

Anyway, thanks for following along...thanks for your warm thoughts and prayers... thanks for sharing in our excitement!

Special Thanks to Dylan!!

We just received the nicest gift today, a young man named Dylan is thoughtfully sharing some of his clothes that he has outgrown with our boys, and we are so grateful to him! How kind of another child to reach out to help boys he has never met yet, but cares about. We are a bit stumped about what size Tokie really is, and it would be very expensive to buy several outfits that we find don't fit him, so having some really nice clothing of various sizes to take with us will be wonderful. Dylan, thanks so much from Matthew, Joshua and Toktogul!! They will look so cool in all of your great clothes...our Kazakh and Kyrgyz boys will be looking stylin' thanks to you!!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

HELP!! Anyone know Russian Children's Sizes?

I need help, and I am hoping that someone who reads the blog may be able to answer my question...please??!!??!!

We were provided with sizes for Toktogul by our coordinator, but they were the Kyrgyz/Russian sizes and I am clueless as to what the American equivalent would be.

Here is what I was given:

size (shirt?) 68/sm
trousers 70/sm
shoes 24/sm


Can anyone give me an idea what sizes I should be buying?? If so, please comment or email me so Tokie doesn't have to leave the orphanage naked! Hahahaha!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Kazakh Kid

This is Joshua dressed in his traditional Kazakh outfit. He wore it for our speaking engagement in Grand Junction last week. It was the first time he has worn it, and he looked SO Kazakh to me, reminding me very much of the young boys we saw dressed in the ceremonial attire at the Victory Day celebration when we adopted Matthew.

Travel Planning

We have spent the last couple of days on the phone and internet trying to book a fairly complicated trip. Here is our tentative plan, which could change at any moment!

We are hoping to book reservations leaving Montrose rather than Denver which is 5 hours away from us. We are going to layover a couple of days in London and do some sightseeing (and give the kids a rest), then on to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for the adoption...then we drive to Almaty, Kazakhstan to complete the process through the US Embassy there, then I will travel by myself to Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan to visit the girls we sponsor there through the Antares Foundation, then back to Almaty...then finally home. Whew!

My head has been spinning just thinking about the logistics of all of this, and the travel planning has been quite a challenge, more than we anticipated. No flights are booked yet but we are hoping to get it completed in the next day or two, if we can.

All I know for certain is that on May 25th I will hold our new son in my arms!!!

Monday, April 02, 2007

RAD Mom

I have thought a lot about how I could share what it feels like to parent a child with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), and having time distance me from the worst of it made me realize how much I actually WANTED to put distance between myself and the experience. Writing my post about "fears" and then visiting with my mom a couple of nights ago made me search my soul a bit, and I finally admitted to myself that my experience as Josh's mom those first couple of years altered me in ways I never expected, and it colors my expectations of my future relationship with Toktogul. I wonder if it will make me a better mom, or a more tentative, cautious one.

I knew in my heart, from the first couple of visits with Josh, that he had a serious problem, and that most likely it was attachment related. We had been so excited about adopting a second time, about adding to our family when we had thought we might only have Matthew, and this was an event that was supposed to be filled with the greatest of happiness. I remember after the second visit, which was by myself with Dominick back at the rented apartment in Uralsk with Matthew, and I got in the back seat behind our driver and interpreter and couldn't stop the tears from welling up. I was feeling helpless, out of control of the situation, and very, very sad. I was scared too, scared that God was holding my hand to the fire to tackle something I felt very ill-prepared to handle. In fact, it was my greatest fear. My heart was so heavy during those subsequent visits, and yet surprisingly there wasn't a moment when the thought entered my mind to not move forward with the adoption of this specific child. For us, God made it clear that Josh was ours and He had planned it that way all along, so whatever lay ahead was what we were supposed to go through.

We had a very, very difficult time traveling home. Josh did nothing but cry and sob and scream with very few exceptions. It was so bad that after almost an hour of non-stop screaming while in the hotel in Almaty, the Russian maids actually used their key to gain access to our room in the middle of the afternoon while Dominick took Matthew out for a walk, and there I stood in my PJ's, bleary eyed from lack of sleep, frustrated beyond all belief, feeling like the worst possible mom that ever existed...I was impotent in the face of Josh's dispair. The frowning, growling maid soon found she too had no control over it and after 30 minutes of attempting to prove that this incompetent American mother didn't know what she was doing, she too gave up and handed him back to me, leaving me feeling somewhat vindicated and much more at a loss as to what to do to calm him down.

A month and a half after returning home with him, Christmas afternoon that year was not spent with smiling happy faces surrounded by gift wrap flung everywhere and joyous celebration over our newest addition's first Christmas, but instead found me "Googling" everything I could find on infant attachment disorder, and finally landing on a web site with a check list that I printed out. As I went down the list, I was stunned to find behaviors I hadn't even related to attachment disorder staring me down in black and white. It was Joshua all right, my suspicions were no longer suspicions but were indeed fact, and my heart felt like someone was squeezing it so tightly I could hardly breathe. There was something about having my gut feelings confirmed that took my breath away. This was no longer something I assumed or that I thought, this was fact...my deeply desired precious new son had a disorder that can lead, at it's worst, to him becoming a Jeffrey Dahmer or a Ted Bundy...a child who could grow up to set fire to cats tails and laugh about it, who could graduate to far more sinister and cruel behaviors than that. This may sound a bit over-the-top to those who have not gone through it, but believe me, it is not at all out of proportion when you have a 12 month old child who can dissassociate for hours at a time or who is unable to tolerate human touch. It was frightening and disturbing...and motivating as well. For now I had a firm label to attach, and that was at least a starting point.

Day after day, week after week, and most especially night after exhausting night I struggled with so many emotions. I had never in my entire life been rejected in such an in-your-face way. Josh's behaviors were so intense and unrelenting, and I never felt that in his eyes I was his mom, or even someone whom he would tolerate having around. The first 6 months I have very few photos of him, partly because I didn't have the energy to take pictures of him, and partly because he never had a pleasant look on his face to want to capture. He alternated between anger and sadness, and was so uncomfortable in his own skin it was easy to see why he was further disturbed by touch from others.

And I was so afraid. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get through to him, to crack through the thick layer of ice he had encasing his heart. I was scared that we would never, ever connect...that he would never allow me to comfort him or cuddle him. That I would live the next 18 years with someone who was a virtual stranger, who would never be able to have real eye contact or meaningful relationships. I was afraid I'd never have a decent night's sleep again as he was waking up 8, 10, 12 times every single night with screams and sobs, nightmares haunting his sleep.

But honestly, what I was most afraid of was that I would eventually give up and settle for what was instead of working towards what could be. The thought went through my mind over and over again that I didn't know how much longer I could hold on to the hope that things would improve. I could see my heart one day just shutting him off, and once I got to that point I knew I could never turn it around. That frightened me because I couldn't dare give voice to those feelings. I mean, how can any decent mother admit that she might never love her son the way she should? That she was only tolerating his presence? How long can a person who has never really felt the reciprocity of affection with a child continue to bang their head against a wall, all in the hopes that one day that child might decide to let them into their heart?

And yet hold on I did, for what other option did I have? Joshua needed me more than ever to stay committed, to not take his rejection personally...and man did that involve hours of self-talk...to be the mommy his first mommy couldn't be for whatever reason - the mommy who stayed rather than walked away. Sometimes I felt like I was seriously involved in a battle for his very soul, and I guess in many ways I was. I cried more that first year he was home than I had cried my entire life. I was humiliated in some ways, feeling so inadequte, so tired of being used as his emotional punching bag for something I had not even done to him. I was challenged in ways I had never expected to be, nor ever wanted to be. I had to restrain myself when things were at their worst, I had to learn to lean on others when that was something I was loathe to do in the past. I had to smile when acquantances asked me how things were going and pretend that all was good, and I resented the fact that I couldn't wallow in the joy that most mothers feel with their infant and toddler children. I grieved for the passing months of his toddlerhood that were being spent locked in anger and controlling behavior.

Slowly, ever so slowly, before I even recognized it, something began to shift. The stress level began to ratchet down a bit, a smile or giggle would appear unexpectedly in between the temper tantrums. Things began to mellow out a little and there were longer and longer stretches between tantrums. Joshua began to acknowledge my existence in his life, and then made the first tentative steps at accepting affection. He finally called me momma, and if I hadn't been so stunned I would have collapsed in tears. This amazing little boy began to reach out to others, to allow emotional connections.

Then, finally, came laughter...hugging....kissing.

And my heart began to sing again.

I experienced some of the very lowest lows of my life with Joshua, and also the very highest highs. I gained a measure of confidence in myself I otherwise never would have had, I faced the most feared evil and stood toe to toe with it, slaying the dragon within. He and I have traveled a very different path to becoming mommy and son, one that has in fact drawn us closer to each other than we might have otherwise been if all had been easy and simple. I had to walk a mile in his shoes, feeling the same sense of rejection and fear that he must have felt upon being abandoned, so I could better understand his pain. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

My love for my son knows no bounds, he is...along with my other sons and my husband...my everything. It is as if he crawled inside my heart and kicked around inside of it for awhile, stretched it almost to the breaking point with his struggling, and then finally nestled deep inside it after burrowing a nest of his very own.

Joshua has grown to be the most engaging, empathetic, tender child...he is also dynamic and deeper than many his age too at times. Not doubt his earlier life touched his soul, and not just with sorrow but with the strength to forge ahead despite fears.

It was during the conversation with my mom the other night that a light bulb went on for me, I realized that part of my fear and worry about whether Toktogul will ever really love me and accept me as his mother goes back to what I experienced with Josh, for that very thing actually did happen once already so I guess that fear is not unreasonable. But I have to push myself out of this and recognize that this is not about me, but about him, and I have to be mature enough to keep that in the forefront at all times. I also have to remind myself that this child is different, that he may struggle with attaching, but it is not a given that he will.

Regardless of what we go through with Toktogul, there will be so much I will learn, mistakes I will make, and new paths to discover...paths that will lead to another child's precious heart. My journey with Joshua may have served to well prepare me for what lies ahead.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The First Glimpse



Here is the picture that started it all. We were simply asking our agency what Kyrgyz kids looked like, curious to see the similarities between Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. We were emailed photos of several kids, and I don't know what it was about this out-of-focus, less than ideal portrait that captured me, but as the week went on my mind kept leaping back to his smile and his bright, sparkling eyes. There was something there familiar, something that felt like a fit for our family...he just looked like a LaJoy to me. I know it is stupid and doesn't make sense, but I could easily picture him peering back at me from the back seat of our van along with Matthew and Joshua. Maybe it is that our family is one that laughs often and plays a lot...and his smile said he also could be a part of that. I am so happy that I didn't give in to the idea of a daughter, as I am so certain that he is right for us, and that we are right for him.

Opening the email the other night was surreal, even though we have done this before it was different because we actually had to go to court after meeting both Matthew and Joshua, we didn't get any emails saying "The adoption is final" prior to even meeting them, as in this case. Can you imagine finding out you have become a mother by reading the words on paper? And turning around and there is no one there to share it with, aside from your spouse who is as thrilled as you are? Dominick was actually the one who read the email while I was at the counter. As cool and calm as he has tried to act over all of this, interestingly he had been checking my email himself quite often over the prior few days. He looked up from the laptop and said "It's done!" to which I casually asked "What's done?" as I wasn't paying much attention to what he was doing in the midst of cleaning up dishes. He replied "He's ours, the adoption is final!" with a big grin on his face, to which I immediately responded "You're kidding me..." and he said "No! Come read it!" so of course I shoved him out of the way, anxiously reading it for myself. We then went in and told the boys who were late getting to bed and they let out great big war whoops and jumped up and down on their beds. Then, being a man and being very tired from early waking hours, Dominick went to bed and was asleep in 5 minutes...and there I am all alone with nothing but a computer screen for company. Here I am, feeling like I have just "delivered" and there is no one to share it with!

So, in true 21st century form, what do I do? I start to email, IM and blog! In a surprising twist, there must have been a lot of people up late because I had two or three responses right away to my emails. Joan, our Social Worker, quite fittingly was online at the same time and we shared girlie squeals via email. I IM'd my mom who was on a bit later and I informed her that she had just officially become a grandma again so of course we yacked for awhile. By this time it was after 1:00 AM, and the phone rings, and my dear friend Ellie was calling to say congratulations. That was one of the nicest surprises...that someone understood what a momentous occasion this was for us and that I had a need to say "Isn't this the coolest thing in the world??" to someone, regardless of the time of day it was. It was like she was standing there side by side with me at the hospital nursery window staring down at our new son...ok...well SORT of like that anyways! Adoption does have it's differences from giving birth :-)

The next day I also received an email from another best buddy who sent photos of the clothes she and her mom went right out and bought for Tokie after reading my email that morning. How special it was to know someone else was thinking about our new son on a day when I was thinking about nothing else!

I went to work and with the help of my co-workers put up balloons and a sign saying "It's a boy!", and posted his picture up for the world to see. Funny how I had been "pregnant" for several months and many people came up to say "I had no idea! When did all this happen?"...and that goes back to a previous post I made about feeling like any other expectant mother yet no one else sees you that way. There may not be baby showers or welcoming flowers, but this little guy has been so very much a desired addition to our family that none of that really matters.

So now we get down to the real work, we have final paperwork to gather, visas to apply for, travel arrangements to be made, and final "nesting" projects at home to be completed. We have about 7 weeks before we travel, as we need to be in Bishkek on May 24th and will meet him May 25th. We have a LOT to do before then, and this will be one of the most exciting times of our lives for all of us.

And to think it all started with a blurry faced photo...