Saturday, September 29, 2007

Proud to be an American

Tonight our family had a wonderful time at a party for our closest friends who were celebrating becoming citizens. We attended the ceremonies for them during the past couple of weeks, and I was quite moved by the entire process. This family is incredible, they arrived in the US coming from South Africa with nothing but a few suitcases and a dream, and it all culminated 6 years later with their becoming Americans.

Sitting in the court rooms as each of them gave their oath to their new country, looking at the faces of all the others who had endured many hardships to reach this day, I realized how easy it is to take our American-ness for granted. Being born and raised an American, we don't stop to think about what it would be like if we did not have the freedoms we have today, the relative safety and security that America has to offer. Listening to many of the stories of their life in South Africa, the day to day dangers and challenges, the kidnappings and car jackings, American life takes on new meaning.

I am honored that we are friends with this family. We all love them so very much, and we have enjoyed countless hours of laughter and drank gallons of Diet Coke together. They have an appreciation for all that is really important in life, and they remind us not to take the inconsequential things too seriously. Their warmth and kindness is extended to anyone who crosses their path, and their children are held as dearly in our hearts as if they were our own. They are all remarkable, and our lives are infinitely sweeter due to their presence.

Perhaps all of this takes on even greater meaning for us, as we too have had our "Thank God" moments as we landed on American soil with each of our children, uttered not in jest but as a quick moment of true prayer. We have had to wind our way through the paperwork morass to bring our kids home and obtain citizenship for them. Exhaustedly standing in line at the immigration station in various American airports we have heard the wonderful words "Congratulations...welcome to America!" uttered by nameless uniformed officials as they stamped and shuffled a few papers which was representative of a years worth of work on our part. We have walked into an American Embassy in countries halfway around the world and FINALLY found a smiling American face staring back at us and realized we were under a bit more stress coping with an unfamiliar culture than we had originally thought.

Even with all of that, it only makes us a bit more familiar with what our friends have gone through, for we can never fully comprehend the sacrifices they have made to arrive at this day. Leaving all behind that they had spent their lifetimes working for and beginning anew takes great courage. What must it have felt like for them as they landed here in America with 3 young kids in tow, knowing there was no turning back? I have often tried to figure out what Kenny must have felt in the same circumstance and I come up empty, for as hard as I may try to put myself in his shoes I know it will fall short.

As I saw their beaming faces tonight, I was filled with gratitude for their family's presence in our lives, and for this wonderful place we live in. She has her flaws, but Lady Liberty provides more opportunities than just about any place else on earth...the opportunity to start a new life, the opportunity to become parents to the parentless in foreign lands, the opportunity to practice our faith as we see fit without government interference.

In deference to the ocassion, our family made special T-Shirts to commemorate the day. Seeing the photo this evening of three other little immigrants smiling for the camera was a reminder of just how large our world has become, or perhaps that should rightly be how small it now seems, where lands that once sounded so exotic now have a ring of familiarity to them.

I know one family that is very proud to be American tonight, and their friends are equally very proud of them!!

Friday, September 28, 2007

"We Are Family"!!

We have had a busy week with our first trip to Glenwood Springs to begin the long and arduous process of working with Kenny's cleft issues. We had a much more pleasant experience with the dentist this second time around, although fear was still very evident. We are seeing a specialist group 2 1/2 hours away from home because they were recommended by Children's Hospital in Denver as being the best to work with Kenny, and they were not lying. These guys were awesome! A combined pediatric practice with orthodontia and dentistry together, and they were the kindest and most understanding I have yet met. We are in the beginning stages of getting the appliance to spread Kenny's top palate to prepare him for surgery to hopefully close the hole for good.

I had one of those momentary "teary mom" experiences this morning while driving the boys to school. We have a new Veggie Tales CD which features songs of the 70's, and everyone has their favorite song that we have to listen to. Matthew loves "Car Wash", Joshie is "In The Jungle" and Kenny's...Kenny's is "We are Family". Yea, he sings it at the top of his lungs, more often than not getting the words wrong, but singing the refrain correctly every time with a huge smile spread from ear to ear. As I glanced in the rear view mirror I couldn't help but think that I was so grateful that God has allowed Kenny to experience what a family's love is, and that he too seems to cherish this new life of his. He really is a very special little boy, one with an abundance of joy and kindness, and over and over again I am reminded of how fear could have kept us from making one of th best moves of our lives in deciding to bring him into our home.

Yesterday I had a teacher stop me in the hallway and tell me she saw Kenny do something that really touched her. On the playground there was a fight starting when a bigger boy was picking on a much younger and smaller little girl. She said she watched from afar as Kenny marched over there and put himself in betwen everyone and asked them to please not fight, to leave the younger girl along and to go play. He then took the younger girl aside and started playing with her and her friends, making sure they were safe. He didn't hit or push to get the bigger boys to stop, he handled it appropriately, and through the telling of this story I began to see why he is receiving hugs daily from 4 or 5 girls as he leaves class every day.

We have had a special gift of time offered from a close friend to help Kenny catch up. One afternoon a week a friend who is an ESL teacher by day is going to work with Kenny on some basics in language and reading, and after our first session this week she said she had never worked with a child who was more fun to teach. He is enthusiastic about everything and very much wants to please. This will help Kenny so much and keeps me from being thrust into "teacher" role while we are still working on "mommy" role.

A busy weekend is ahead of us with a party to look forward to, soccer, church cleanup...and the good Lord only knows what other little quirks and adventures!

Friday, September 21, 2007

"When I was in your tummy..."

I have pondered this post the past couple of days, wondering how I could put into words emotions and experiences that I haven't quite grasped myself yet. Adoption is natural, and yet it isn't...and every person processes it differently...the birth parents, the adoptive parents, the child...all come to the table with their own baggage and perspective. What affects one person deeply, is but a blip on the radar of life for another.

We have yet to develop enough of a relationship or language to begin to understand where Kenny is in the mix of all of this, but with Matthew and Joshua we have two complete opposites in their personalization of their own adoption experiences. This was never more evident than this week, when by happenstance and chance both boys brought it up in very different contexts.

First, let us take Matthew. He and I were sitting on the couch one evening, working on his Cub Scout Bear Handbook, and the conversation took a turn somehow and we began to talk all about how Kenny has so much to learn, so many things he missed from not having a family when he was little like Matthew and Joshie. Then, in all seriousness, Matthew casually throws out there "Yea, and that doesn't even include all that I got from you when I was in your tummy...". I just let that hang there for a moment to see if he was joking as would be expected, and when it was obvious he wasn't, I was taken aback. I mean, we have had adoption discussions off and on forever, it has always been a natural part of our conversation and not something to be avoided or dwelled upon, just matter of fact. Could it be possible that he really didn't "get it" and I had missed that somewhere along the line?

I then said quietly "Matthew, do you realize what you just said? Don't you remember that you weren't in my tummy either?". He looked up with a blank look, and then slowly a huge grin spread across his face and he laughed so hard saying "Oh Mommy, that is so funny! I actually forgot! But it feels like I have always been with you and we are so much alike.". In all honesty, I probably am most like Matthew versus Kenny or Josh. But it was very interesting to me that Matthew fels so close to me, and sees me so firmly as his Mommy, that he has assimilated into our family so deeply that he even CAN forget briefly that he is adopted, that he is not of our flesh. To him, it is all pretty simple and matter of fact, he is Matthew LaJoy, he was born overseas, adopted by us, and that is that. No yearnings, no loss, just happy and feeling pretty much whole...for the time being anyway. He has always acknowledged his adoption in a positive manner, and this was not his way of wishing for something that never was, it was just a slip because it is all so easy. Kind of like when his first grade teacher was talking about Matthew's height and said "Well, he'll probably be tall...look at you and Dominick, you are both fairly tall." without thinking twice about it, and then it hit her and we both started laughing.

Then there is Joshua, my dear sweet little sprite. Adoption has NEVER been easy for Josh, it has challenged his emotions from day one, it has haunted him at times even when I know now that he feels fairly secure with us as his family. Before Joshua became a part of my life, I would have quickly "poo poo'ed" any notion of children that young feeling grief from abandonment, or at the very least being unable to quickly move past such things. In some ways, having Josh has put the "Fear of God" in me over every little thing I say and do with my children, as I now recognize that events and emotions can run much deeper and have more of a lasting impact than I ever would have thought possible.

Fall has always seemed to be a "trigger" for Josh. I don't know if it is because the cooler weather reminds him of the time of year when we went to get him, or if there is some other memory attached to it, but inevitably Josh tends to become more emotional during this time of year, and this year it is more obvious as many of the behaviors we thought were now left far behind have resurfaced, albeit in gentler forms, but still they are there. We have had a wet bed 3 times the past month, and a few days where his personality is completely different, where his cries are different and frequent, where you can almost feel the grief oozing from his pores. He also sits straight up in bed in the middle of the night and starts crying, still in a sleep induced haze and unable to share what he as dreaming about. Thankfully, as he matures, it is less frequent and less intense, and I think having language to express his thoughts helps that. But still, I have a little boy who will suddenly cling to me in tears saying "I just want my mommy" as he holds on tight. This may sound normal to the parent of any 4 1/2 year old out there, but it is the subtle things that make it different, the tone of voice, the desperation in his clinging to me, the inconsolable "I just don't feel right" sense of urgency in him at moments. It is at times like these when I realize that for this child, adoption and abandonment may always be an issue in his life, something that he feels "happened to him" rather than as for Matthew it was just a part of his story in the same way as childbirth is for a biological child.

A couple of mornings ago I was working with Joshie on some pre-school work, letters, numbers, writing, etc. He decided he wanted to draw a picture and write his name on it. While I puttered in the kitchen and he was at the table he drew, and then proudly showed me the picture. I asked him to tell me about the picture and he proudly said "That is me when I was in your tummy!". Again, just as with Matthew, I found myself at a loss for words for a moment (which if you knew me personally is not something that happens often! Hahaha!) and then I said "That's a great picture Josh! But do you remember that you were never in my tummy, but you were in your birth mommy's tummy?" and he said "I know, but I really want to pretend that.". I stopped my puttering and sat down in the chair next to him and drew him into my arms. We then began a long conversation about his "first mommy" as he often calls her, and losing her, and not being born to me. He really understands all of this quite well for a 4 year old, the problem is that he doesn't like it and wishes he could rewrite his own history. I told him that there are moments when I too wish I had given birth to all of my sons, but that God had a totally different plan for all of us and that I am very grateful we found each other at all. He also drew a picture of himself to send to his Grandpa Rock and his Uncle Ronnie and asked me if I could mail it to heaven to them. He asked me to write on it "I'm sorry you died". Sadly, neither my dad nor my brother ever met our sons, but this is not the first time Josh has brought them up. Perhaps it feels like a loss similar to his birth mom in the sense that they are people he knows would have been in his life and would have loved him, yet he never met them.

There are times like this when I just don't know what to do. I can see that there is this gaping hole in his heart, and I know there is nothing I can do to fill it. I can not snap my fingers and make his birth mom appear, I can't even trace her as she left him behind an apartment building with no note or anything. I can not change his history and find myself pregnant with him, as he so desperately seems to want. I can only stand beside him as he slowly processes this at each age, which is exactly what is happening, and hope that a time will come when he can find a way to be at peace with it. My biggest fear for Josh is that this will hinder him in relationships as he searches to fill the void that can never be filled.

As I sat there at our dining room table with the mid-morning sun gently warming us, Josh cradled on my lap, I looked into his eyes and saw so much loss revealed. So much that a 4 year old brain can't begin to understand...can't really take in that a mommy may not have even wanted to be pregnant or to have baby, or maybe a mommy was destitute and did what she could to save her baby's life. All he feels is that once she was there, and then suddenly he felt alone, as he says "I was all alone in Kazakhstan until you came and got me.". I knew when I became a mom that there would be things I couldn't fix for my kids, broken hearts from high school romances, bad grades from tests not studied for, disappointments and failures on sports fields. I never could have imagined facing such deep life questions out of a 2,3 or 4 year old...and ones for which I have no answer. Talk about feeling inadequate...

It is at times like these when I readily acknowledge that our family is not ordinary. We are no better nor no worse than a biologically created family, but we are certainly not ordinary. I have extraordinary children with extraordinary needs who have overcome extraordinary odds. And yet, we are very ordinary in most ways. So ordinary that I, and obviously even Matthew, sometimes forget that we came together as part of a Divine plan. Recognizing that to be true, I have to trust that God will hold Josh in His hands as He so often already has. He has provided Josh with loving men and women, boys and girls, who envelope him in warmth and love. Men who have replaced the Uncles and the Grandpas that are not present. A couple of men, aside from Dominick, who hold him and it is quite obvious the deep love they feel for this little boy, and for that I am eternally grateful. I am also so very grateful that out of all the women in the world, I was the one selected to raise him, to guide him and nurture him. But the one thing I must acknowledge I think, if he is ever to fully heal himself, is that I am NOT his birth mother. For if I hide from that single truth, I can not help him stand strong and face his own truth. Much as I would love to sweep it all under the table and make it disappear, to look at the world through those much heralded rose colored glasses, that is not what he needs. It is not my job to paint it all as a pretty picutre, but to stand beside him and hold his hand as he bravely faces the demons that continue to haunt his nights, and the doubts that plague his waking hours.

And I guess that is what makes me his mommy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Where's My Baby?

Have you ever had those moments with your kids where you look at them and suddenly, they've grown up just a little bit more and you feel as if you've lost the child they once were without even realizing they were leaving? And they didn't even ask permission!!! Hahahaha! I am not sure if this is making any sense or not, but I had two moments like that in the past few days where I looked at both Kenny and Matthew and realized the child they once were...the one I thought I was parenting...had disappeared and a new one had moved in and taken his place.

Kenny had vaccinations again this week, his second round of them. If you recall from a previous post the first time was very traumatic for him, an episode filled with tears and trepidation from the moment we told him he was getting them until after it was all over with. Not wanting to be dishonest with him, I told him the day before about what was coming and was surprised to see him take it in stride saying merely "Ok Mom" and then continue on playing. The next morning I took Matthew to school and then Kenny and I went to get his vaccinations. Other than acknowledging that yes, we were indeed getting his shots, not much else was sad about it. We get to the office and I realize I have been cringing a bit, just waiting for the fear to errupt from him and yet nothing happened. He happily skipped up the sidewalk and in we went. We sat down, and still, nothing. I am thinking to myself "Does he even remember what this is?" but he seemed to be quite clear. Then the real test comes, we are called into the office where the shots are given and asked to sit down. He wants to sit in my lap, but that is the only sign that he knows what's coming next. He talks about the vaccine being in the fridge and watches as she prepares the needles, and even the nurse who was the one who gave the injections last time is surprised and whispering to me quietly "This sure is a change from last time1". Kenny has to have 3 shots with one of them being a little painful (tetanus), and so there he sits, rolling up his sleeves and she gives the first one. He screws up his face and gives an "owie owie" and I know he wants to cry, but he doesn't. Number two comes quickly and the same reaction, with us saying over and over how brave he is...and he even gives a little giggle when it is over. The third one he is VERY close to tears but never gives in to it and he is quite relieved when it is over, but no outburst, no heavy sobs, just quiet, calm courage. Wow, it was so amazing to me that he had been able to overcome that fear. It sure helped to make me feel better and not like I was some evil creature who was out to harm him! I also looked into his eyes as we still sat there in the office and saw that a little of the younger Kenny had just slipped away.

Then there was Matthew. You go along, merrily living your life, hustling your kids here and there, laughing and joking, playing and learning, all the while knowing they are growing up but not always seeing it in your day to day life. The other day we were out on the soccer field watching him play a late afternoon game. First he was goalie wearing an oversized shirt and looking very swallowed up in it, knees not even showing and grinning from ear to ear as he tracks the ball. Later, he is out on the field sans goalie shirt and I was sitting on the grass, camera in hand as usual. The late afternoon sun was casting a beautiful golden glow and I love shooting the kids in that light. I am readying myself for the next shot and there, through the viewfinder, it happened. Matthew is standing there looking so much older, so mature, so...dare I say it...beautiful. H definitely didn't look to my Mommy-Eye like my 8 year old son that cuddles in my lap. My breath caught for just a moment as I snapped the pictures one after the other, realizing my son is well on his way to becoming a man, in a little boy sort of way. I could almost see the teenager he will be in a mere few years, handsome and strong.

Perhaps because Dominick and I didn't create him ourselves I can stand outside of myself and see him in a little different light, with no sense of trying to see myself in him or looking for a biological connection to other relations. Or maybe it is impossible and matters not a whit whether we made him or not, a mommy still thinks her kids are gorgeous no matter if their ears stick out funny or they have buck teeth! Regardless, I just sat there for a moment and admired this child, the one that someone else gave birth to yet I have the pleasure of raising. I thought to myself, the little boy is gone now and he has been replaced by this sturdier version working his way into manhood.

My baby's are almost all gone, and there are those moments where there are pangs in my heart as they move further and further out into the world, just as they are supposed to do. Aren't we all incredibly blessed to have children in our lives and have the chance to marvel at how this all works?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sharon, contact me!

Sharon, I am posting this to the blog in case you don't check my response to comments. I have lost your contact info and really want to get in touch. Kenny has asked often about phoning Vika! Email me at and we'll connect.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pity Party is Cancelled!

Hahaha! I reread my post from yesterday and WOWZA was that awful!! I am laughing now as I had a great nights sleep, woke up refreshed and ready to face a new day, and generaly embarassed at my lousy attitude the day before. Thank goodness I am not generally one who wallows too much, that sure doesn't feel very good!

I also had a special little surprise in the mailbox today that really helped lift me up. I have an Adoption Angel, someone who has offered me encouragement and words of wisdom just when I needed it most this past year. I will not name her here as I try to keep people's privacy, but she has "been there, done that" and really seems to understand exactly where I am coming from most of the time.

She sent me a card and a Guideposts magazine with an article in it on Karen Kingsbury, the Christian author, whom I had no idea had adopted 3 sons from Haiti. What a neat story! I laughed when I put it down because what struck me as funny was that as I read it, what kept going through my mind was "How cool! What an awesome thing for someone to do..." if we hadn't done the very same thing ourselves! Hahahaha! Don't know how to explain it, but maybe it is that when I hear about others who adopt internationally I have an enormous amount of respect for them, for the difficulties and challenges involved, and yet I somehow see our experiences as "normal" for us, nothing exceptional at all. It's just the way we have kids and I don't look at it with the eyes of an outsider, for me it was all part of a days work. When I finished the article on Mrs. Kingsbury, I appreciated the honesty she expressed in saying that adopting the boys was not without it's challenges, but that it was worth it. Maybe that is exactly what I needed to be reminded of after yesterday.

So once again, my Adoption Angel helped me see things from a new perspective, reminding me of what it is all about. Thank you, it was JUST what I needed to get myself back on the right track.

I am also happy to report that Kenny is back on the right track. His teachers all said "Thank You" for whatever we did because his behavior today was much improved. Dominick actually took time off work and showed up at school to make sure he was settling down, which completely took Kenny by surprise. I was going to go but Dominick said "Let's knock him off balance a bit and have me show up, he won't expect that and he also needs to know this is both of us, not just you, that is working on the discipline.". So my knight in shining armor went off to school and thankfully, Kenny had decided to change his behavior even before Daddy got there but it no doubt reinforced things when he showed up. He also went and visited Matthew's classroom, who surprisingly still loves having us there and was quite happy to have Daddy suddenly appear.

So we end another day, mom and Kenny with their "attitude readjustment" complete. The Pity Party is cancelled due to lack of interest!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Ups and Downs

I am exhausted. I don't mind sharing that with you. I have slept very little the past few nights, been on the run, and feeling very weary tonight as I write. Even as I write these words I say to myself "Why the heck would anyone care about that???". Often I see this blog as mere babbling of mine with nothing much profound coming out at all, and then I will be reminded, perhaps by a private email, that somehow someone's life has been touched by the silly words I put together. I have been told over and over again by so many of you that it is the honesty you have come to appreciate, and so here I am, honesty up the wazzzooo tonight.

We had our meeting at Children's Hospital in Denver with the Cleft Team yesterday, and it went very well. We saw 8 specialists in one very long day, then the long 5 hour drive back home. I found myself marveling at just how good they were at their jobs, how in 2 seconds it was easy to see why they are considered the elite in their fields. To the number, each of them had a wonderful rapport with kids and truly appeared to have a passion for what they did. Thanks to close friends of ours who have dealt with cleft, we already felt more knowledgeable walking in the door than we otherwise would have. We were told that Kenny's cleft repair in Kyrgyzstan was surprisingly good, but that his palate that was repaired has a pretty large fistula (hole). We are looking at least 4 surgeries over the next 4 years or so, as well as significant orthodontic work. They suggested we work with a pediatric dentist and orthodontist team that is in Glenwood Springs, which is still over 2 hours from our home. We will go with their recommendation despite the awkwardness of such travel on a regular basis, because we'd rather have it done right the first time and this team is supposed to be very, very good and have a lot of experience with cleft dentistry. We have an appointment for the end of September for our first visit. We were told there are no guarantees that the palate repair will fully close the fistula, as it is large and expected to increase in size with the orthodontic work to spread his palate. There is a nose and lip revision called for, as well as a revision of his philtrum, which is the area below the nose and above the lip where it naturally dips in. He will definitely need bone grafts on both sides of his upper jaw and likely to need implants when it is all done. They also want to see an appliance called a obturator used for him to temporarily close the hole in his palate so we can more successfully work with speech therapy. It was described as being like a retainer.

So, quite a bit ahead of us, quite a lot of painful procedures for Kenny, who continued to show trembling fear at the prospect of seeing the doctors until he realized well into the day that we could be trusted and all they were doing was looking at him. We have no idea at all how much all of this will cost, and with an $8000 out of pocket deductible/coinsurance each year it is a significant financial concern for our family. Somehow we will figure it out, I know, but it leaves us with some sleepless nights. Before we traveled to get Kenny we were told his palate had been repaired and so we were not expecting as much medical expense as we are now going to have to face. When I let my mind settle on it for too long, I get scared as does Dominick, but we also trust that God would not bring all of us this far if He didn't have a way for us to handle it. I don't believe in pennies from heaven but I do believe in hard work and sacrifice, and neither are strangers to us. However, we did have a small blessing Sunday morning when we were literally standing at the front door ready to leave and our next door neighbor came over with a thank you card for a small writing task I had done for them, and in the card was a $50 gift card for Chili's restaurant. We had just been saying not 10 minutes earlier that we had no cash for the 5 hour overnight trip to Denver and wondered what we could do to keep the food costs down, and there we were handed the equivalent of 2 evenings meals for the 3 of us, totally unexpected. We were very surprised and thankful for that.

Kenny did very well the entire trip. He had to be constantly reassured that he was not going to get a "boo boo", but other than that his behavior was awesome. Every specialist we met was astounded at how far his English has come in such a short period of time, and how he obviously understood almost everything said to him.

Then, we enter the Kenny Zone, where today was really not a good day at all, in fact probably one of the worst we have had since returning home. I was met almost at the school door this afternoon by one teacher who informed me that Kenny got into a fist fight with another boy today and was bossing him around which is what started it. Kenny has this sense of entitlement to tell others what to do, and kids his own age don't take kindly to it, nor do those who are old enough to be his mother...or ARE his mother! There are days where it never happens and then there are days, like today, when he digs his heels in and is going to be in charge, no matter what, and I can tell he thinks we are idiots by the tone of his voice. 2 more teachers stopped me to say that they had problems with him and then I finally hit his classroom and his poor teacher said it had been a very difficult day with him. He wasn't listening, was telling everyone in authority "no", and was generally just being a pill in every regard. I still had to go get Matthew, so I firmly told Kenny to stay in his class and I would be back in a minute. I returned less than 3 minutes later and there is Kenny, walking down the hall acting oblivious to what I had told him. I grabbed him by the backpack and marched him back into his classroom, telling him he is to do exactly what I ask him to do, not what he wants to do, and he was to sit down right now. I spoke at length with his teacher, who happened to have another great teacher there who had retired recently but was back for a visit and helping out. I then asked Kenny to come over and I sat in a chair eye to eye with him, and read him the mommy riot act. I was calm, I was rational, and I let him know I was very angry with his behavior. I purposely did it right in front of his teacher, so that he would know we are together on this, and he did try to tell me he would talk to me in the car but I told him that we would talk about it right there. He admitted to not behaving at all, to telling her no several times. I made him apologize and reminded him that we had a deal and he now owed me 30 minutes sitting on his bed once we got home. I think the thing I am finding the most frustrating, out of all the behavioral issues, is that I have to remind him constantly that he is not the boss, that he is not an adult and he should not correct others as if he is their parent. This seems to come naturally to him, and I know he has talked about caring for the younger kids at the orphanage. However, we need to curb this ASAP.

So, we came home and off to the bedroom he went. To his credit, he did go without complaint. I know today's behavior was exacerbated because he as very tired himself from getting to bed late the past couple of nights. Understanding it and trying to correct it are two different things. Being consistent with him, being vigilent, it's very wearing at times. And then there is the feeling you are making others' lives more difficult because you decided you were up to the challenge of parenting a child like this. We had a choice in this, his teachers did not. I couldn't ask for more support than we have gotten from the staff at school, but there is a part of me that actually feels guilty for making their days so challenging with the addition of Kenny in their classes. I know, I's their job...but at times it feels like this is really asking them to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Then at a meeting I was at tonight I kind of lost my patience and copped an attitude I shouldn't have. I wasn't completely obnoxious, but I certainly wasn't at my best nor was I proud of the way I acted and I know it came across. I let the frustration and fear get the better of me, and it came out about an issue that wasn't even related nor worth the effort expended. I usually try so hard not to be negative, as there are certainly plenty of people in line waiting for that particular pleasure. Tonight I fought the battle and lost, and I showed an incredible lack of grace...something I am not all that full of in the first place.

Tonight as I sit here and type, I know in my heart it is all worth it. He is undergoing enormous changes and dealing with tremendous pressure every single day. Sometimes, because overall this is going so well, I tend to forget that it has been a mere 3 months, a smidgen of time, really, and many kids are barely settling in with their families by this stage. He is not at all showing signs of being a "bad boy", and his gentleness and forgiving nature continues to surprise me at odd moments. But only..I am feeling a bit defeated, only for a few hours. I know that even parents of bio kids go through days like this, and I don't think at all that it is abnormal of me, but I don't like feeling down like this. I know he needs me to be very positive and upbeat right now, that he needs to see through my eyes that I see him as a success. Tonight I am just having a harder time summoning up the enthusiasm. But only for tonight.

Tomorrow is a new day, we'll all wake up well rested hopefully, and the world will look different. The ups and downs are easier to take on some days, harder to take on others. Regardless though, I wouldn't change it at all. For it is the difficult days that make us appreciate the good ones. Now, Pollyanna's evil, depressing twin sister "Witchy Poo" is going to get some much needed sleep, assuming Joshie doesn't wake up crying again for the third time in a week!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Soccer City

Today was the first game of the fall soccer season, and it was a total riot at moments as well as a huge surprise! Matthew is showing some real promise at the sport, and thanks to the help of a teenaged friend has develped some pretty good footwork. He still doesn't have that "killer instinct" and likely never will, but he loves the game and is becoming far more than just an adequate goalie as well! Joshua, well, let's just say that at 4 1/2 years old he was far more interested in playing with the flag marking the corners of the field than he was in playing the game. In between playing ghost with his shirt over his head and flashing his imaginary Spiderman webs at everyone he did manage to kick the ball a few times. And Kenny, I have to wonder where in the world the kid that I saw on the field came from! What a stark contrast to the early weeks of Soccer Bible Camp when I had to coerce him into even running 20 yards and when he shuddered every time the ball came within 4 feet of him. It is not an exaggeration to say I was completely stunned at the boy I saw out there on the field today. He was running the entire game, hustling and getting in there to fight for the ball, even managing to make some pretty good moves out there! He also surprised me when he became very aggitated at his team mates whom he felt weren't working hard enough as the other team scored goal after goal on them. At one point he came very close to a crying melt down when he said in dismay " friends all asleep!!!" and he pointed at his team. I had no idea he has this competitive side to him, and it was fun to see him take it seriously and work hard out there. He has very kind coaches who are not put off by his lack of skill and knowledge, nor his ocassional backstep into babyish behavior. They are doing a great job with him and we are thankful he is having a very positive experience this first time out.

The Week Ends on a High Note

I went to the school on Thursday afternoon with some trepidation, wondering how firm I would have to be with Kenny, admittedly expecting the worst. I had a long talk with him that morning telling him that he must be quieter in class and to quit acting silly, disturbing his classmates. When I arrived at school, I learned I had missed his music class, that somehow our wires must have gotten crossed on the time so I proceeded on to his regular class to spend the afternoon with the expectation of telling him to "shhhh" the rest of the day or to sit down and do his work. I walked into his class and his face lit up as I pulled a chair up next to his desk. They were working on math most of the time, and I also worked with Kenny on some vocabulary flashcards with photos of food items, which he knew all of them. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was doing very well, sitting quietly, working on his tasks diligently. Recess came and his teacher and I talked for a moment and she said he had done really well all day, but she had heard there were a few kids who had acted up in music, so I went out to speak with the music teacher. He told me that Kenny was actually really well behaved, and it was obvious to him that he had taken my words to heart. He said "When he started to act up a couple of times all I had to do was give him a look, not even say a word, and he straightened up...he was MUCH better today!". I was relieved and reassured him that all he had to do was let me know and I'd be down there to correct his behavior. I then spent the rest of the afternoon pleasantly with Kenny, watching him shine in the one area he is actually doing very well in, as he seems to have a good grasp of most math concepts for his grade level and things that are new "click" quickly for him. He seemed to really enjoy having me there, and I was able to quietly explain things to him that he wasn't quite understanding as new concepts were introduced. As I sat in those tiny little chairs that only fit a second graders behind, and I watched Kenny working so intently, trying so hard then looking sideways at me with a grin stretching from ear to ear as he figured out the solution to a problem, I think I fell a bit more in love with him. You know how you have those moments with your new children, or perhaps your "old" children? When something...a glance...a giggle...a comment...somehow makes you seem them in a different light and your heart leaps just a little bit? This little guy is trying so hard to please us, trying to understand his new world. Sure, sometimes he is failing, but others he is really reaching and succeeding. I am very proud of who he is, and am slowly gaining more and more respect for him with each passing day.

When he was out at recess he also was very excited to introduce me to his new "frenchy" which is the word he uses to say "friend". I saw him happily running off with a few 1st graders and then they ran up to me as he introduced his new friend, who seemed like a very nice boy who genuinely appeared to enjoy plating with Kenny. Then, much to my surprise, as they were lining up to go in after recess, he was hugged by no less than 3 girls!!! I was reminded of "Kenny and the Aspenettes" at church camp this summer, and how the girls took to him after the first 3 or 4 days. I don't know what it is about this little guy, but he definitely seems to attract the girls!

When we got home, I was busying myself in the kitchen when I turned down the hallway and there were all three boys, Matthew in the center reading them a book. I had spiked their hair with gel at their request, as that is likely the only way they will ever get a mohawk living in this house! For some reason I was so touched by this scene, Matthew kindly reading to his little brothers, explaining the story to Kenny when he didn't understand. He is such a good brother, so accepting and nurturing, not in a "mushy" way but in more subtle, less flashyor attention getting way. He doesn't fawn over anyone, he just quietly surprises you at odd little moments with his thoughtfulness. Last night I was complaining that I was tired, that I haven't slept good lately because of back and hip problems. I walked into my bedroom where he was playing on our computer and he stopped, turned around and said "Mommy...lay down on the bed and take a rest.", and then he hopped up on the bed and started giving me a foot rub!!! Hahaha! The other two walked in and soon I was being pummeled everywhere, and I'll admit that though it was not the most relaxing massage I have ever had, it certainly was the sweetest one.

We end this weekend with our trip to Denver for the evaluation for Kenny at Children's Hospital. We have had to reassure him over and over again that they are not going to hurt him this time, that it is only an examination. He seems quite concerned about what they re going to do, and no amount of reassurances seems to be working. I guess allw e ca do is wait until we get there and he actually experiences it and learns we were right. I sure wish I knew what had happened in his past to cause this much trepidation...did they not tell him prior to his surgeries that he was going to have a procedure performed? Was something done without anesthetic? Did he see something done on someone else that scared him? Whatever it was, it created a real tension in him about medical treatments and a lack of trust in what people tell him. Hopefully he will learn through this that we will always be honest, and he can trust what we say. So, tomorrow we will make our 5 hour drive to Denver and surely learn quite a bit about what the future holds for us, both medically and financially.

I also felt very humbled and quite undeserving reading the uplifting comments on my last post "Back to School for Mom". I also received a couple of encouraging emails in response to it as well. I want to thank those of you who have taken the time to comment directly in the blog or to send emails. I have learned a lot from many of your suggestions, and I have also felt boosted at times when it is sorely needed, when patience is running thin and the world seems a little overwhelming. Joan's comments touched me more deeply than anything has in a long time, and while I sense she might be a teensy weensy bit prejudiced it is just nice to know that others perceive you in such a positive light, especially when at moments you don't really see the bigger picture because you are so focused on the details.

Gotta hurry and finish so I can get some sleep! Dominick's snoring is remidning me it is very late :-)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Back To School For Mom

Tomorrow mommy has to go to school during music class and sit on Kenny, as I got word today that he is goofing around too much in class, disturbing the other kids and playing "Ham bone" wanting to use the microphone all the time. His music teacher is a relaxed, laid back, great guy and isn't all that disturbed by it, but I want to nip it in the bud now, so I informed Kenny that because he wasn't behaving in class I had to go with him to make sure he was going to listen and pay attention. I also learned that he is pulling the same act at school as he is at home, telling adults "no" when asked to do something. Now, this is not at all a snotty, obnoxious "NO", it is a softer, gentler-yet-still-controlling "no". So in front of his teacher I explained again that he is NEVER EVER to tell an adult "no", and that his teacher would email me immediately if he does it during the day and when he gets home he will sit on his bed for half an hour for each time he has told an adult "no" that day.

Thankfully, his teacher said that overall he is actually doing very well and they are all seeing him slowly calm down. I think in another few weeks he might settle in pretty well, but we need him to know we are very serious about this and that we all present a united front where his behavior is concerned. I want him to know that I will know everything that goes on, that I am checking up on him, and that he will get away with nothing. Sooner or later he will get the idea that the rules at school are the same as at home, and his efforts are wasted. If I have to go to school with him every day and correct him every 20 seconds until he improves, then that is what I will do! I have always threatened Matthew that if he misbehaves in school I will show up and sit next to his desk until his behavior is corrected, and maybe him seeing this actually happen with Kenny will let him know I am dead serious about it...not that it has ever even come close to being an issue with him.

So much of this can be attributed to simple immaturity and boredom in class when he doesn't understand something. While I understand the causes, I am responsible for trying to correct it. I think what bothers me the most is not Kenny's behavior, but him being a distraction to the other students and a burden on the teachers who already have their hands quite full. We all agree though that soon, when they start his ESL pullout and speech pullout that some of this might lessen a little as he will be more actively engaged at a level he can understand and participate in. In the meantime though, I am ever so grateful to those who are working with him daily and showing such great patience and understanding.

Tonight we went out to dinner with our Social Worker and family friend, Joan, as she was gathering information for a post-placement report for Kenny. All 3 boys adore her, and she is wonderful to them as well. I am so lucky to have such a great resource to turn to if the going gets rough, and I wonder how many others really have a good relationship with their agencies and social workers or if they view it more from an adversarial perspective. That is so sad because I think it is often forgotten that these folks are there to help families work well, not to judge us. Because they have the job of trying to capture our life in words for peop;le who will utlimately amake the judgment we are scared of them instead of viewing them as part of our support team. Joan has really made a difference for our family, especially with Josh and his RAD, and I went into this adoption of Kenny knowing I had someone on my side who had great experience and who really cared if we succeeded or not. If issues did arise, there was someone in our corner who could help. I am not only lucky to have her as our social worker, but as a trusted and caring friend.

As we sat there talking about all that Kenny is doing now, how he has grown in size and language acquisition, I found myself surprised that something so monumental happened in our life by adding Kenny, and yet when looking at it from a distance I can see it has been but a blip on our radar. By that I mean that the balance of our family was not horribly disturbed, that the "feel" of our family was not changed a whit. Sure, we are struggling with some things as I have shared with you all, but none of it is at all insurmountable or overly "life wrecking". We have peace and happiness at home almost all the time, we share jokes and laugh and goof around and none of that has changed. You would think that doing something as drastic as this would have totally upset the apple cart, changing the entire dynamic of our family unit, and yet it hasn't. I have no explanation for it, or for so many other things that have surrounded this adoption other than to lift my eyes upward and thank God for all of it.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a preachy, self-rightous, pious type. I am not at all formal in the practice of my faith, and I have a very down-to-earth relationship with God. He is in my life daily in very practical ways, and I talk to him about stupid, insipid things that I can probably see His eyes rolling over :-) I guess I can just see God in all of this and it has been a very profound experience for me, a very faith-affirming time in my life. There are moments when I have asked why we have been a part of this, especially since I have not lived the perfect life nor have I done anything wonderful to deserve being selected to witness Him so powerfully in action. There have been times of doubt and moments of complete utter disbelief in my 41 years. I received an email today from someone commenting on Kenny's friends being adopted, how much prayer went into this from others and how now the rewards are finally being seen. I realized that God used us and dozens of other very imperfect, very real people, to fulfill His wishes. I also saw quite clearly that if He waited until all of us were perfect to be used by God, then by golly none of us would ever be used! I think I was struck by a moment of real self-discovery today that God wants to use all of us and can use all of us for amazing things, and we don't have to be perfect...the only real requirement is we need to be willing.

I remember quite vividly one evening about 4 months after Matthew came home standing in front of the mirror in my bathroom, staring back at myself but not really seeing me at all. I was very intent on the thought of having more children, and yet had no idea how to make that happen financially. I knew after parenting for even such a short period of time that I felt very much made to do this, even in my own imperfect way, and in one of those very intense moments I told God that I knew He was laying something on my heart, but I wasn't sure at all how it would happen...but I promised him right there and then that I would gladly and eagerly take on the job of mothering any children he brought into my life who would need it, that I was His to use and if He had a plan for us to adopt more kids, then I would totally turn it over to Him to figure out the "how" of making it happen and I would provide the loving labor. I think that was the first time I really understood what it meant to surrender one's self. I felt it happen, I offered myself up and in no way making a bargain simply let Him know that I was here and would do as He led.

As I sit here and re-read this, it all sounds so "churchy" and that is actually so NOT me. But I don't think you can go through something like this and not be utterly and completely changed. I watch the light that is Joshua and know where we started from, and know we might not have made it...and I see God's mercy and goodness. I watch Kenny and I see the courage provided by God's strength coming through. I sit back and observe Matthew from afar and I see God's grace shining through in his easy acceptance of two challenging circumstances with the addition of his brothers to our family, one even usurping his role as the eldest. I also see God speaks to me daily in a million different ways, and I guess I finally got to the point where I wanted to acknowledge that and not ignore it. I finally wised up and realized that I am not smart enough to totally run my own life, as I made some big mistakes and used poor judgment at times all because I elected to turn my back and ignore those messages that were coming through from Him.

So, here I go again, rambling on about nothing in particular, just wandering mentally from one idea to the next. We'll see how tomorrow goes at school, and I can better judge what Kenny's behavior is like and how much discipline needs to come into play...and I might find myself enrolled in Olathe Elementary School myself if he doesn't start settling down! Hahahaha!

Monday, September 03, 2007

This weekend was spent recuperating from the first full week of school, and doing some home improvement projects. We are painting our family room which is a huge room, and thanks to a friend who actually does have some design sense we are also putting up some crown molding, if we actually get it finished! A mishap with Home Depot's Paint Department caused us to repaint the room twice thanks to an incorrectly mixed color batch. But as of this evening everything is looking nice and I think we might get it done by the end of the week...hopefully :-)

Kenny's first full week of school was up and down. He made a new friend, he cried 3 times on Friday because of various confusing problems, he wore his Cub Scout uniform proudly for the first time as we recruited at Back To School Night for our Pack, and overall I think he wore his poor teacher out!! Overall, the various adults he has come in contact with at school seem to think he is a sweet kid and have been very understanding about his lack of understanding of proper school behavior at times. They have been stern in correcting him when needed, yet applauding his successes and encouraging him at the same time...all much as what we have been doing here at home. We have a very long way to go, of course, but we have started down the path and as his teacher said this week, she is sure that the changes will be extraordinary from the beginning to the end of the school year and it will be wonderful to watch...if we all live through it! Hahahaha!

I am finding myself having to correct him constantly at home about a couple of things, one being that he is NOT to snatch things from people's hands even if it is because he is trying to be helpful. He does not seem to understand how rude that is, and I am sure it is going to anger kids at school if we can't get him broken of that habit. Another is that when I say "no", I really, really, double ditto mean it. Over and over he will stop, listen to what I say and then go right back to doing what I asked him not to do. I think honestly at times this is not as purposeful as it sounds, as I also have found that when I say something to him during a conversation we are having he is so focused on saying what HE wants to say, that he may be quiet while I speak but it is as if I haven't spoken and he blows right past what I may have just said...not sure I am explaining this well, but he can pause his voice but his brain is still on his own thoughts and I am not sure things are getting in the brain when he is in that mode. So we are working on having him repeat back to us what we just said, so that we know the message is getting through. Not sure if this will work but we'll see this week if we can gain some ground in this area.

I had a very understanding friend talk to me for awhile this weekend about all of this, and she knows our family extremely well. It was so nice for me to have someone sit back and say "You must be SO tired sometimes with all of this! He's doing great, but it is hard work!". Just knowing that someone understands how wearing all of this is helps enormously, and I think there are times when I myself am discounting how much work parenting is right now. I am having to think about every single step I take, what approach works and what does not, when to make an issue of something and when to recognize that I can't correct everything all at once and I need to step back. I am constantly looking for teachable moments, encouraging and steering, correcting and disciplining. As tiring as it can be it is also very rewarding to watch the slow yet steady changes being wrought.

In other areas, he is doing SO well, and actually although much of the behavior is annoying and exhausting to continually correct, it is all very minor stuff. He had great fun this weekend working with us as we painted, taking light switch plates off the walls, using a cordless drill, learning to use a paint roller, and even taking apart an old slide projector to see what was inside. He is definitely going to be our Mr. Fix It to put Matthew's Mr. Build It plans into action! I realized he may never have had the chance before this weekend to really work side by side with an adult learning these kinds of tasks, things that we have taken for granted that our other two sons have done all along. Watching him sit on the floor with projector parts strewn all around him was quite a sight to see! And all the boys were a big help when it was time to clear out the room and get walls prepped. Kenny taped off windows like a pro, surprisingly, and Matthew helped Dominick put up a new ceiling fan while Joshie picked up trash throughout the weekend. Finally, we are at the stage that we can joke about all they will be able to do around the house and see that it might come true eventually! Hahaha!

As a reward for all the hard work, we went to the Drive In movie last night with our buddies, and hearing Kenny's shrieks of laughter at Shrek 3 made all of us giggle along with him. He has this high pitched squeal when he laughs that is so funny. He also has fallen into some interesting verbal patterns, for example saying "Free me" instead of "For me", and if something is difficult to do and we would normally say "that is hard" he says "That is heavy". He probably has a vocabulary now of about 300+ words which are being used properly in context which is just amazing to me. But I have to say that the funniest saying going around our household right now is Joshie's when he talks about me having my Diet Coke and he asks if I want a "Toka Tola". I remember one of Matthew's was saying "World" as "Worled". Don't you just hate it when those little mispronunciations disappear?

We leave this next Sunday for Denver for our visit to the Cleft Clinic at Children's Hospital where we will hopefully get a good idea of what lies ahead in terms of surgery and dental work for Kenny. We have had friends kindly offer to take Matthew and Joshie so we will only be going with Kenny, which will really be our first time alone with him since we returned home in June.

So we will see what this next week brings with school and doctors. We also have friends met via the internet who are on the Board of the Antares Foundation who will be heading off for Petropavlovsk at the end of this week, and who will be able to visit Angela and Olesya while they are there, so we are keeping them all in our prayers and asking them to give our girls big hugs from us. Part of me wishes I was going with them, and another part of me realizes how utterly impossible it would be for me to see those two little girls again and leave them behind. They surely have my heart, and as school has started here I would give my right arm to be taking back to school pictures of them and seeing them pack up new backpacks and wear new clothes and march them into their new classrooms leaving them with a hug and a kiss and a promise to return at the end of the day. The joy we felt at receiving photos tonight of Turat and Askar as they visited with their soon-to-be new parents was sadly a bit tainted by the knowledge of "our girls" who do not have that and may never have that, and of all the other children we have met in our travels and orphanage visits who will never, ever have the love of a family to prop them up when the going gets rough and to cheer them on when they excel. But even as I type this there are three little guys sharing a bed in the room next to us who are deeply loved and cherished, and for that I am very grateful. Good night!