Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Failures and Hurricanes

Yesterday a circumstance arose which I really didn't know how best to handle. I am still mulling it over in my mind as I write this and wish I felt more confident about it. I haven't even yet had the time to tell Dominick what happened as our schedules have conflicted the past couple of days and we have both been on the run.

The boys were at TaeKwonDo class in the afternoon, and there are only 8 students total in the class right now. Kenny was paired up with a little boy who has been a challenge for the teacher from the beginning with his behavior...he doesn't remain on task, always interrupts as he seems to need to be the center of attention, etc. Well, this little boy is supposed to grab on to Kenny's wrist as they learn a new technique to escape their partner's grasp. Kenny ended up being grabbed quite hard and asked several times for this boy to stop it. The teacher made it clear this is for practice and they should hold firmly but not too tight. As usual, it was not a surprise that this boy took it too far.

But that was not the problem. I looked away for a moment and the next thing I notice when I glance back is that this little boy is doing an incredible exaggeration of Asian eyes, trying to get his to be as slanted as possible and is pushing his face close to Kenny's. No other parent was present, and the teacher did not notice this. It went on for a good 3 or 4 minutes as he kept saying "Hey!" and then making the face.

And there I sat, not quite sure what to do. I took stock of the situation and realized Kenny had no idea what this boy was meaning by making that face, and Josh and Matthew in the same class were occupied and did not see it at all. Kenny seems quite oblivious most of the time to the fact that his parents and he are of different races. He doesn't really identify with "Caucasian" or "Asian" yet, and I think that perhaps developmentally he just isn't at a place where he sees that. His concerns run 100% towards his cleft lip and his perception of its unattractiveness.

I was waiting to see if the teacher would catch it when the boy finally stopped and moved on to some other annoying behavior. Kenny seemed no worse for the wear, and later when we got in the car and I brought it up from a sort of oblique direction it was clear to me that he had not taken offense, that he thought the boy was just not well behaved but had not at all internalized what had happened.

I was left pondering this one all day today. Should I have stepped in and stopped class to say something? Did I do the right thing in letting it go? I am not at all sure. I took the position at the moment that I would be drawing attention to something that I had a gut feeling was not being understood for what it was by Kenny in the first place, and that it would be better for me to remain quite and see if it escalated...which it didn't. But did I do all the boys a disservice by not making a stink over it? Should I have hopped up from where I was sitting and stormed up to that boy and made an issue of it? Was it a one time occurrence or will it happen again? And if so, what do I do then? Making a point of it is not going to change this little boy, as it is obvious from his behavior that there is something lacking in terms of discipline, so would going to the parent do any good at all?

Normally I would not hesitate to say something, to step in, but for some reason this felt like something I would be better off just letting slide and waiting to see if it becomes a problem again in the future.

So why do I feel like I failed on this one?

On another, happier not, today I made a little leap. I may not yet be ready to allow myself to work on getting a bedroom together with frills and lace, or to set out to buy much in the way of much needed clothing or "girlie" toys, but I did spend some time at Target early this afternoon selecting 2 photo albums and a couple of sets of stickers. I think it is time to take a baby step and start putting together "New Life" albums to send over to the girls to show them what their new life will be like. We did this for Kenny and discovered it was a much beloved item so I want to do it again and include photos of our family, home, school, church, friends, etc. I am not sure when I am going to start it, as I need to print out a bunch of photos and take a few more, and at the moment I happen to have at least 5 or 6 projects on my plate that need immediate attention. But one of these mornings after returning from dropping the boys off from school, I might spread out on the kitchen table and begin putting a dream together encased in a couple of photo albums. This feels a bit scary, I don't mind admitting, like I might "jinx" something by moving forward. It's definitely a part of the bonding process with an older child adoption, and one that most people don't understand is a bit of a stretch as it pushes us a little closer to feeling like we are "nesting" and preparing for a new addition to arrive. I guess I am taking tentative nesting steps and not quite ready to really fluff my feathers just yet.

I also am not very creative at this sort of thing and I have not a single girlie item such as paper or anything to begin with other than what I bought today. But part of what is also holding me up is how in the world can I convey to them in a limited space and with few words just what their new life will really be like, how much I personally already feel for them...how firmly I feel I am their mom, and that they will really be safe with us. I guess what I am having a hard time expressing even here is how do you say "I love you" in a meaningful way, how do you encourage them to hang on to hope, how can you cast away fears that must be co-mingled with excitement. I know most of you think I never lack for words (especially those few readers who know me in real life and are laughing as they read this knowing I NEVER shut up!), and indeed sometimes the words flow easily. Then there are other times when you try so hard to express what is in your heart and it is just too closely guarded to let it out.

It seems there are lots of deep, meaningful, challenging discussions going on in my life right now, both internal and external. Working with the older youth of our church I am trying to find ways to reach them and have no skill at this whatsoever, and yet it matters to me deeply. I see them yearning to come to a better understanding of God in their lives and I am ill-equipped to help them on that road, and yet here I am in that role. Daily I find myself in unusual, thought provoking conversations with the boys which leave me baffled and often with more questions myself than I feel like I have ever answered for them. At school and with Scouts I find myself torn at moments as I try to come up with creative ways to help kids see things in a new light, and yet I am not a teacher and often walk away disappointed in myself. In the virtual world I am frequently involved in long, continuing email conversations about adoption issues, fears and concerns. Often lately I step back and look at my life and wonder how in the world I end up in some of the situations I seem to be led to, as if I am supposed to have answers when really all I have are more questions that at any other point in my life.

It is hard to just be still. It is a skill I have yet to master and one that right now I desperately need. I am so profoundly grateful for a couple of people in my life who listen to me spew, who are my sounding boards, who don't look at me like I am nuts when a conversation goes off in half a dozen different directions in 10 minutes, as they understand that my life right now is about more than just multi-tasking, it is about somehow trying to figure it all out myself, about who I am, what my role really is in the various places I am involved. Not to be overly melodramatic or anything, but at moments right now my life feels as if I am swirling around in a hurricane and have not yet landed or been implanted in the side of a barn!

Maybe when I do eventually land, it will be very obvious why the hurricane picked me up and carried me the direction it did in the first place!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Kenny's Baptism Slide Show

Ok, so since I finally figured out how to do this, you are now subjected to another video. I blogged awhile back about having put together a short slide show/video for Kenny's baptism which was shown at our church. It has some baby pictures of Kenny at the orphanage that are priceless gifts to have with an older child adoption and which we have our friend Tami to thank for. Hope you aren't totally bored by these videos!


video

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The LaJoy Boys Choir!!

The boys are totally hooked on a song from Mandisa's album, which has been the main attraction in the car recently. Our family sings everywhere...in the shower, while washing dishes, while playing Legos, in the car. Now, don't get me wrong here, because we do not sing well, we just sing. We were all dancing around and singing tonight while cleaning up for dinner, and the boys were so funny I thought it might be cool to try and catch them on the web cam built in to my laptop. It was so cute because earlier Kenny grabbed a photo we have of the girls and started singing to their picture, then all 3 boys were seranading them from afar. Of course once I pulled out the video cam the boys were far busier watching themselves on the screen than dancing or singing, and Joshie looks like a cardboard cutout standing there.

The song, quite fittingly is titled "Only You" and part of the lyrics are:

Only You,
You satisfy,
Only You are the love of my life.
If I got everything I want, no, it still wouldn't do
I got a whole lotta' nothing if I don't got You!

Now I know this song is about the Lord, but the lyrics also sort of fit our family as well. So here you have it...they don't hold a candle to the Vienna Boys Choir and I pity our poor Choir Director if she ever wants to have a children's choir Sunday...maybe they could sit back and pantomime or do sign language or something...hahahaha!

video

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Incomplete Puzzle

Dominick and I are back home after our trip to Denver to visit the CIS office to file our immigration papers for the adoption and to get our fingerprints done one more time for the FBI. We had an 11 hour round trip drive for what ended up being 45 minutes of work. However, making that drive shaves weeks off the process, so it was well worth it. We are close to being finished with our dossier and look forward to sending it off to the agency in a couple of weeks, if all goes well.

During our long drive Dominick and I had the first time to visit uninterrupted in a very long time. Fall has really "fallen" here, and the splendor of magnificent color all around us as the aspens change to startling yellows and reds is breathtaking. We took the "back road" highway home going over Monarch pass which is pines and aspens as far as the eye can see, with crisp blue skies overhead it was nearly perfect. Each of us expressed how glad we were that we made the decision 12 years ago to leave it all behind in Southern California and take a risk on moving out here to start a new life. I can not imagine living anywhere else, this place fills our souls in a way nowhere else ever could. We saw antelope and deer along the way yesterday, and the abundance of wildlife is something I still recall being startled by during our first year or two here. I can remember on only one occasion seeing deer during my first 30 years of life before moving here, and now I have seen wildlife the likes of which most people never see in their true habitat. Bald eagles in the early morning winter sunlight proudly perched upon a barren tree branch, Big Horn sheep skittering nimbly along the mountainside, majestic elk...two words which really do belong together...grazing as the snow covered Rocky Mountains serve as their backdrop. I am so glad we still don't take it for granted, every day here is a gift.

We also talked a lot about our future family and what it will be like, what it will look like, what problems might arise, what blessings may be bestowed. I asked Dominick how he really and truly felt about being the daddy to little girls, as it has been the long running joke that he and the boys have convinced me every time to adopt boys instead of anyone of the female persuasion. Anyone who knows me at all knew there wasn't really any convincing going on as I LOVE boys and enjoy them immensely. When asked if he was honestly excited about it, the smile on his face couldn't have been wider as he replied that he sure was.

The conversation flowed intermittently during the drive, with both of us lost in our own thoughts, then pausing from our reverie to give voice to what was being mulled about in our minds. As we spoke about how quickly the boys are growing up, how we have no "little ones" anymore, I was for the first time really struck by how much I personally will have missed of our children's lives, how much "baby time" I never really got to experience. Dominick is perhaps the single only other person who understands what I mean when we talk about how I missed out on Joshie's babyhood. The struggles were so overwhelming and his rejection so staggering, that it was as if his infancy and toddlerhood flew by in a rage, and then pre-school age was suddenly upon us and peace settled in. Having missed the first year of life for both Matthew and Joshua, and then having a giant 8 year old come home in the shape of Kenny, I will eventually find myself the mother of 5 who really only parented an infant for a few short months. I have never really felt a strong sense of loss over that until yesterday, a pang hit me when I allowed myself to take in for just a moment all that will have been missed. Dominick too was quite introspective about that, he understands that he too will miss cradling his daughters in his arms as he did Matthew and Josh, that Kenny was never tossed up in the air as a tiny little guy as the other boys loved so much. When we hold our friends little girl a mere few months old, I think we both relish it as we never got enough of it when it was our turn. It was almost like a tease, where you experience enough to know what you are missing versus never having had it at all and not really knowing just how sweet it is to rock your droopy child to sleep, or to see their toothless grins as they gurgle and splash in their bath when they are so little that water is an inexplicable mystery.

We both remained quiet for a few moments as we let it all sit there with us, and then as if of one mind a smile crept on our faces as we both talked about all we have now, and all we will have in the future despite what has been missed. I said to Dominick "If I had to do without all of that to have what we have today it was worth it completely." for what we have is wonderful beyond description, we have very unique and thoughtful sons whose lives have formed them into the boys they are today...and us into the parents we are as well. We are a family like no other, this mismatched ever-expanding bunch!

And when our new ones finally join us, they will come to us in larger bodies having been knocked around by life quite a bit and having a history that might not ever be fully known to us. They will not smell of baby lotion and won't grab onto my hair with chubby little fists as I stand with them resting upon my hip. They will come with habits and impressions and fears not understood by us, they will be puzzles which might always have a missing piece here or there. But something tells me that the pieces we will get to share will somehow all be put together in order and will leave us with a pretty good impression of who they are. Some of those missing pieces just might be found and put into place by us, some will be lost forever. When all is said and done though, what we will all be thinking of when we look at the finished project is not what is missing, but what remains which tells a story of its own as we stand back and marvel at the beauty of that completed puzzle.

I, for one, am betting that our family puzzle will look as beautiful as a Monet when the last pieces are gently put in place. A piece may be missing here or there, but I doubt any of the 7 of us will long for those missing pieces too much, for we will be too busy looking at the end result to worry too much about what is not there...we will be seeing all that remains.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Gracious Giving

I have felt a need to write about something for a long time, and yet have been unable to find the words to do so. Many of you know part of our story, and many of you have joined our blog later down the road after certain posts have been pulled and explanations of activities have been purposely left vague and fuzzy. As all of you know by now, we are in the middle of the process to adopt two more children. At this time I am not free to share the details and will do so at a later time when it is "safe" and at that time I will also re-post the old posts which also help explain how this all came to be, when we initially thought Kenny would be our 3rd and last child.

We are a blessed family, of that I am certain. We are blessed to have found one another, blessed to have been taken care of by God in so many ways, blessed to have some very special people walking through our lives. But we are not "special". The LaJoy family is very, very ordinary. There is no one who knows us in "real life" who would ever say we are anything other than average.

And yet somehow, despite being very average and ordinary, something very special has happened to us which has allowed us to move forward with this adoption. Someone made a choice to reach out to us and offer us the opportunity to become parents one last time. They wanted to partner with us to make it financially feasible to help two children find their forever home. We couldn't do it ourselves. I guarantee you we would have done everything within our power to try to make it happen, but the fact is it would have broken us financially to pursue it. We had even seriously discussed the possibility of selling our home, this meant that much to us and would it have been able to raise the needed funds, we would have done it without question.

But there was so much more to this than a monetary gift. This was God deciding to teach us about the keys to gracious giving. It was not easy for us to accept a gift of this scale. It is a very humbling experience, it makes you examine your heart to see if it is pure. Believe me when I say that it really is far better to give than receive.

Were it not for the graciousness of the giver, I don't know if we could have accepted this even though the end result of bringing our two children home was our greatest dream. This generous offer had the potential to change our life and the lives of two wonderful kids, and yet it also could have proven to be one of our worst decisions ever to accept it. We could find ourselves walking away feeling forever indebted, or perhaps having lost a sense of who we were. It had the potential of leaving us feeling like "takers", something we have worked hard in our life to avoid becoming.

We have learned so much through this experience thus far, and I know we have much more to learn as we continue to progress through the process in the coming months, and much of what we are learning has nothing to do with adoption at all. I'd like to share some of what we have learned thus far...

1) To be a Gracious Giver can be as much of a challenge as accepting the gift. It can be hard to approach someone you'd like to help and leave them with their dignity intact. When the gift is quite large, it makes this even harder.

2) Being a Gracious Giver is about far more than the gift itself. The money was a means to an end, but the gift was far greater than that. Our Adoption Angel, as I have called this person, has offered support, prayer, encouraging cards and emails, little gifts to lift us up when we have been feeling overwhelmed, and has let us know that we are not alone in this. Having someone to walk through this with us as we have experienced the roller coaster ups and downs has meant so much, it has lifted us up when we have low and been wonderful to have someone to rejoice with when things are going well. Although the financial gift is making it possible, the emotional gift is worth its weight in gold. We feel we have been given someones heart as well as the means to make something possible that was previously impossible.

3) Give the gift without reservation, give it with no strings. If you feel confident enough to give the gift to someone in the first place, then be confident enough to trust them with it. We can not believe the level of trust placed in us with this extraordinary gift. Although we have offered it, we have not been asked to account for it. We have been encouraged to do with it what we need to do. We have been asked no questions, we have not been made to feel for one moment as if anyone is worried we will squander it or use it incorrectly. 100% trust has been placed in our judgment.

4) As the receiver of a gift given with such trust, it is up to us to show even greater responsibility for it without being overseen. We are aware ourselves that we are our own "overseer". We prayerfully consider every move, we are careful to account for all expenses as incurred, we realize the potential for abuse exists when there is no accounting, and we want to express our gratitude in the ways we can...and one of those ways is with complete honesty and reassurance that the gift is being used wisely, to the best of our ability.

5) God's people can do things well beyond their imagination if they pool their resources. This was a harder one for me to accept personally...that my "resource" was my energy, love and determination...and that those resources also had value. I felt that if I didn't have the finances to bring our children home, then I had nothing to offer to this venture. I was made to see that I have "gifts" to offer as well, that they come in a different package than money might, but that they are valuable as well. Grouping those gifts together can bring about change in the lives of others, it can literally change the world, at least for two little people it will. I am filled with gratitude that our Adoption Angel was gracious enough to point this out to me. Where their gift will end, ours will then begin in the loving and care taking for 2 precious little people.

6) God is with us, always. Yea, I know...I already knew that...but I have felt it in ways I never imagined through this. I have learned to see and hear Him everywhere, and perhaps that has been the greatest gift of this experience as I will carry that with me the rest of my life. I "get it" in a way that I never have before, and it is in large part due to the Gracious Giving of someone.

7) Believe that Miracles do happen. There is no doubt that we are walking smack dab in the middle of a God Sized Miracle. It has been the single most unexpected and humbling experience in either Dominick's or my life. The miracle is not just the finances either, although of course that is huge. It is the fact that other factors worked to free our kids, that something we had been told would NEVER happen indeed happened. Our God is HUGE, my friends, He really is. That whole "moving mountains" statement is true, as He has done exactly this to reveal His Power in our lives. I can only hope that we have done a good job of sharing that with others, that they are seeing Him in all we do right now. Honestly, it blows our mind.

8) There is a time when pride needs to step aside to let those big things happen. I will never forget Dominick's tears when we realized this was all "for real" and he laid his head down on our kitchen table and said essentially "I surrender...I know now that what you have felt all along is real and I am 100% on board and am overjoyed.". Putting your pride aside allows God to work, and it is sometimes very difficult to do...and yet very necessary.

9) Sadly, this far into our unique journey we have also learned that not everyone will rejoice with you. Some will judge you, some will give voice to their anger over what someone has elected to do for you. Some will call you hurtful names and will make assumptions because you prefer to keep certain things private that might exhonerate you in their eyes.

10) You can not always give back in equal portion. I personally have struggled with this as I feel we are being given far more than we can ever repay in any way. Individually and as a family we do what we can to help others, to try to lessen burdens for others in ways which we can. We offer our meager portion in terms of time and talent...and yes, money when we can. But how in the world can we EVER show thanks and repay what we are being given right now, what our future children will have been given in terms of opportunity and love? The answer is that we simply can't. BUT...and this is what I have been repeatedly reminded of, we CAN give all that we have to give and give it freely as our gift has been given to us. We can offer ourselves up for service, we can take care of others, we can give of our time and our hearts. If we give all that we have, than we have done enough. We all have different sized portions, it is how we spread around what we have that is important. Maybe I am finally getting that.

We have been shown so much kindness the past couple of years, we have had people reach out to our family and offer love, warm thoughts, clothing donations, babysitting time as we handle much of our adoption related work. We had a very special day at Disneyland thanks to a couple of wonderful folks. Can I repay these people individually? No, but I sure wish I could. But can I pass on our clothes to someone else? Can I watch someone elses kids? Can I lend a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen? Can I help pay a child's fee for an activity when his or her family may not be able to afford it? Yes...those things we can do and try to do on a daily basis. Can I offer my time to others? Can I show them I care? Can I work with kids whose parents may have to be at their jobs? Yes, that I can do. We may not have the financial resources to do some tremendous thing for someone, as has been done for us. But what I have to offer is also all I have to give, Dominick and I try to give as much of ourselves as we can to others. Is it an equal portion? No, we know it is not. But we hope that God accepts our offering and knows we are giving all we have to give to Him and to others.

I was reminded of the value of the gift of time myself this weekend when unexpectedly someone made an offer to us of the gift of their time. With what will likely be the "Winter to Remember" ahead of us as we look forward to surgery for Kenny, adoption paperwork and travel arrangements to be made, as well as possible adoption travel during our ski season when we are beyond busy anyway, someone offered to train to be a "back up" for us at work. Knowing that someone had taken the time to even think about our family and what might be happening, that they cared enough to have given us more than a passing thought in the first place was so touching. Sometimes, when you are in the midst of a storm, you know you need help or might need it eventually, but you don't even know what to ask for or how to ask for it. There had been a lot of thought given to how to help us, and a desire to do something that would really help us feel supported and encouraged. This will give us a peace of mind that is worth a lot more than an expensive gift. And suddenly, as I walked away from this conversation feeling all warm and fuzzy, I recognized that my gifts to others might do the same thing for them...even if they appear to the outside to be less than glorious or breathtaking, the little things we ALL do matter a great deal. There is no gift from the heart that is not worthwhile, and maybe I can eventually put to rest the notion that the ways in which we can give or not worthy.

When all of this first started coming together, I never could have imagined the impact it would have on our lives. I never could have foreseen just how much growing I would do this year, how much I would learn from certain very special people. At moments it feels like I am back in grade school, and I am learning how to read, and everything is starting to gel for a full understanding of how it all works. Instead of learning how to read though, I am learning how to give. It's better than any university lesson I might ever be taught!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Good Days, Lots of Praise!

I became a "Blue Hair" much earlier in life than I ever expected as this evening a gaggle of boys wanted to spray it with the colors of our high school for the homecoming game, and so...why not? I bent down and let them do it as well as apply face paint. Go Pirates! We had a wonderful evening with 23 of our our Cub Scouts and their families as we attended the Olathe High School homecoming game after a tailgate party where plenty of hot dogs were consumed, and thanks to several parent volunteers I got to do what I love best...play with the boys. We had several Nerf footballs and spent quite awhile throwing them around with me as the quarterback. Yes, thanks to my Dad I actually CAN thrown a mean spiral quite accurately, and I earned the respect of a few of our Scouts tonight as we enjoyed the warm evening sunset prior to attending the game.

Watching so many other boys as they mature alongside our own sons is an extraordinary gift, one that I am thankful for daily. I love building relationships with "our" Scouts, these wonderful little boys who are changing so quickly and who each have something unique to offer the world. It is a lot of work, and at times a bit overwhelming as I am not a "Creative Babe" nor am I the best organizer so it is a real struggle for me to come up with fun and interesting meeting ideas. We have many new Scouts this year as the program is growing rapidly, much to our surprise. We are well over 30 boys now, having started 2 years ago with only one. We also have 5 more Kindergartners waiting in the wings as they are all siblings of Scouts who can't wait until it is their turn. Joshie has been so patient, and will be so proud the day he finally gets to put on a uniform.

I volunteered this morning for the first time in Matthew's class, and really enjoyed it. It was kind of funny as his teacher asked who knew Mrs. LaJoy and every single hand in the class was raised, and as I looked around the room I saw the faces of children staring back at me whom I have helped learn to read for years...and now we are moving on to more serious writing. Matthew has a really incredibly teacher this year, someone quite gifted at his profession and who was born to teach, it is so obvious. I will be helping with writing on the mornings I volunteer, which I will really enjoy.

Today was a big day for Kenny, he received his first report card with real grading. It was mid-term time, and last year Kenny had not progressed enough where it was fair to grade him on much other than citizenship and classroom behavior. We were very, very proud of him as we read his report card and saw an A+ in social studies along with all B's with the exception of one C in spelling. Of course, he is being graded on the work that is appropriate for him, which is not at grade level but is pretty much first grade work...but he is working very hard and his teachers are all commenting on how much he improved over the summer. I am sure that the Time for Learning online curriculum helped a great deal as we really concentrated on working on that a lot and it helped make up some of the basics that had been missed. We also read a LOT in our house and keep the TV time to a minimum without going overboard and striking it out completely. But mostly I give credit to Kenny's determination and work ethic which even at 9 years old is very strong. Matthew brought home a terrific report card as well with all A's and one B, and I was touched by his desire not to be the center of attention or bring it up much, instead he went out of his way to compliment Kenny on his good work so far and encouraged him to keep working hard. Matthew has no idea what an important factor his attitude has been in Kenny's adjustment and school success. Joshie had no real grades but received some very nice comments on his report as well. I think tomorrow is ice cream day to celebrate their hard work!

I dearly love this phase of our life, and I can see how quickly it will pass. It is easier now that Joshie is a bit older and more able to take care of himself. I loved the "baby stage" and at moments wish we had the opportunity to experience a little more of it, as I feel a little ripped off at moments when I think back to missing a year with both Josh and Matt along with the continuing struggles we had with Josh well into his late toddler years. I missed out on some of the snuggling and rocking, the helpless reliance on me as the mom. I would have liked to know what Kenny was like as an infant, if his personality today mirrors that of his babyhood. The boys are all still at the stage where it doesn't stink to have me around, in fact Matthew was very enthusiastic about having me volunteer in his class again this year even though we don't really interact that much with one another in class and no one would know it. But he even asked me at the beginning of the year if I would still do it even if other parents stopped in 4th grade. I am caware about giving him his space, dipping in and out as appropriate, and without being overly motherly we give one another secret winks when no one is looking. I am not really the "cool" mom as some are, but for some reason I am pretty well accepted by the kids in the various classes I have worked with. I am not sure why, as I don't really work at it, I am not at all "hip" or pretty, and I am certainly not a pushover and don't let them get away with much. In fact, I am pretty demanding and hard on them if I am going to be honest. I have expected that most of them wouldn't care much for me because I expect them to do their best and not slack off, and have been somewhat surprised that they are ok with me.

Tomorrow I had hoped to remain at home and enjoy a quiet Saturday being lazy with everyone, but I think we are going to have no choice but to go to Grand Junction and try once again to re-order Matthew's orthopedic shoes. We ordered them over 2 months ago and they have not arrived, so we cancelled the order and need to get a different brand. Matt was actually almost in tears tonight as his feet and ankles are hurting him so badly. He is currently in some cheapie shoes designed just to get us through until his new ones came in. Alas, that has yet to happen and his feet are really giving him a problem now. I think he had started to adjust to the orthopedic shoes and we had seen some improvement on his pigeon-toed walking, and now it hurts his feet to be in standard shoes. We are hoping to avoid further surgery as he grows older, and when I see the pain he is in now I realize it is definitely worth the exorbitant cost for his special shoes. It was a side effect of malnutrition and rickets that caused it and it was unexpected, as I had never given it a second thought once he did all that catch up growing the first several months. If we don't get it corrected and keep him in the proper kind of shoe, he will continue to have steadily worsening pain and that could cause damage to knee and ankle joints, so we can not ignore the problem.

I also realized I forgot to post what became our final solution to our laundry issues. We had a friend contact us about a front loader washer and dryer set that was for sale in a small town about an hour from us...he had seen it on Craig's list and remembered we were talking about it. The set was a year and a half old and had been used by a single woman to do two loads a week, so was basically brand new. Two loads a week? Ha! I do about 9 or 10 now, and that will increase exponentially this next year. She was asking $650 for the set, which was an incredible bargain, so we went up to take a look at it. The woman was moving in a couple of weeks and had to get rid of it, but no one was willing to drive all the way up there to check it out. Dominick offered her $550 for the pair...and she accepted! Can you believe it? It was like brand new it had been used so seldom. So we ended up getting the set for quite a bit less than the price of one piece of the set. The woman met the boys and ended up giving us several nice board games as well which they will enjoy. We feel so blessed to have stumbled on this deal which really is solving what was becoming a worrisome issue for us. And I am not totally sold on front loader washers after having used this for a week. Man, are our clothes cleaner! I also noticed that softener is actually leaving the clothes softer now, it is more effective than the top loader used to be. AND, most importantly we are using far less water which will be really helpful for our septic system, so Dominick is relieved. I think that now we are prepared, laundry-wise at least, to become a family of 7. My washer and dryer might go into shock with all that impending pink, purple and frilly stuff coming it's way, but at least it will get it clean. And we will be far less likely to wake up one morning to a sewage back up due to a failing septic system.

Oh, the joys of parenthood :-)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Busy Busy Days

Today was just one of those days, where you feel anything that can go wrong WILL go wrong! Thankfully it was nothing too serious, but I felt like I was peddling backwards all day. First, we learned that our appointment in Denver for filing our I600A immigration papers and fingerprinting was going to need to be rescheduled due to a misunderstanding about when the fingerprinting office was open. I am SO glad that our agency rep. caught that and was able to let me know before we got all the way over there. We are working one rescheduling the appointment and hopefully can still make it within the next several days. We don't really want to pull the boys out of school but our pre-arranged sleepover plans won't work well for other days under consideration so we are looking into alternatives or may just have to bring them along. So much for the overnight getaway for us :-) Oh well, there are worse things, right?

Then I had printed out most of our dossier documents and realized afterwards that the words "sample documents" were at the bottom of them all and needed to be removed, so half a days work had to be redone.

Around lunchtime I received a call from the school, and Kenny was in the office crying and had been for some time. It seems that some 4th graders were on the playground and started bullying him, and pushed him to the ground. They called me so I could talk to him on the phone and see if I could calm him down. I asked him what had happened and I heard his little sniffles and tear filled reply as he tried to explain it. It is hard to understand Kenny when he is on the phone, and it is there that I realize his speech is worse than I imagine it to be. In person, face to face, I can almost always easily understand what he is trying to express but I guess I am taking clues from lip reading a bit or watching facial expressions, etc. I quickly calmed him down and told him we would talk about it after school, as I could sense he was fine but just a little shaken up.

Upon arriving at school later on, I learned that a whole group of Cub Scouts rushed to Kenny's defense. Matthew had not been outside yet when it all transpired, but was there for the aftermath and said he had guessed who the offenders were, and assured me I should take Kenny's word for it that he had not instigated it as evidently these particular boys see themselves as the Playground Kings and do things like this often to younger, weaker kids. I asked Kenny what he did and he said "Nothing Momma, I too scared they hurt me...then I can't stop crying.". It is hard not to want to go down there and solve the problem for him, but I have a feeling it will resolve itself if I let it go.

I was very proud of our little Cub Scouts, as we had just had our first meeting and I had talked about Scouts setting an example in our school, of being the leaders and the ones who would make a difference. We always try to emphasize character when we can, and we now have such a large group our boys are a real presence on the playground and in the halls. We even talked about the strength of the group and exerting positive pressure by not allowing kids to be mean to others, and by purposely showing kindness to everyone. It was so rewarding to hear that some of that was taken to heart. Scouting is an extraordinary amount of work, but we love every one of our boys and in such a small community we know we will be watching each of them turn into young men whom we will all be proud of someday.

In the midst of the lack of productivity today, I had a wonderful phone conversation with another Kyrgyz adoptive mommy, and we shared a lot realizing we have even more in common than we already thought.

Dominick always finds it quite humorous when I say that I don't know what I am going to do with my time once the kids are in school, or summer is here, or whatever change is happening at the moment. It seems that I am often busier now than I ever was working full-time! At the moment I have on my plate:

1) Dossier document preparation - and we all know how much time THAT takes!
2) Review and purchasing of giftware for the restaurants
3) Planning of a Murder Mystery Fundraising Party for our church
4) Rescheduling and planning of a younger kids Halloween party for church
5) Taking a class on prayer at church
6) Choir
7) Planning and Leading the Sr. High youth discussion group at church
8) Bidding on a playground equipment set and coordinating possible delivery for our church
9) Planning the next few months meetings for Cub Scouts
10) Working on a donation project and possible presentation for Kyrg
11) Volunteering in each of the kids' classes on a regular basis, including just being asked to come in as many mornings a week as I can spare for a Writing Workshop for Matthew's class
12) Coordinating transporting the boys to TaeKwonDo, music lessons and Scouts
13) Working diligently at home on homework with the boys, Dominick and I "tag teaming" it working specifically with Kenny on additional work for reading
14) Thinking about pink and yellow bedroom decor :-)
15) Trying to better educate myself about challenges and issues we might face with the girls so we are better prepared to parent them
16) Tailgate Party for Scouts tomorrow night for the Homecoming Football Game of the high school
17) Helping Matthew sell items for band
18) Pretending I really am keeping all the balls juggling in the air quite nicely!!

Whew! Seeing it all laid out like that in bold black and white scares me a bit! Lots of room for things to fall through the cracks. And yea, I am a stay-at-home mom most of the year so I really am not doing anything other than watching Oprah, eating bon bons and laying around in my housecoat all day! hahaha!

In the midst of all of this, the craziness and the tears, the planning and the fears, I try to find time to blog. It is my release, but there are days like today when the deeper and more meaningful blog posts just don't seem to come and I am lucky to get anything at all into words. Then there are the times when it feels as if I can't let another moment go by without writing something down.

And so we go on to another day, wonder if anything will actually get accomplished tomorrow???

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Better Week

What a difference a week makes! We heard from our agency yesterday afternoon, and with great relief I report to you all that it looks like we will be ok to move forward with the adoption plans. While there are many families who will sadly be affected by the coming changes, for the moment it looks like we will be fine and are moving full-steam ahead. For the first time our agency even gave us a tentative time frame, if we get our dossier in to them by October we will hopefully travel in April. That seems like a long time but it really isn't overall, and it works better for us as well as then ski season will be over and I will be back to being home full-time.

So we are off to Denver on Monday to file our immigration paperwork and get fingerprinted yet ANOTHER time. Gee, the FBI must get tired of seeing "LaJoy" in their adoption fingerprint files :-) Today Dominick is remaining home to help me with some adoption paperwork as we will try and blast a lot of it out as well as work on some passport issues. We were both so totally energized over the call we received yesterday, and I can see for Dominick he now has turned a corner with it all suddenly. I think having someone say "your daughters may be home by April" has made it more concrete for him, as he now has a possible end goal.

Another thing which has made this week much better than last is that a reconciliation has taken place in my extended family which is so wonderful to hear after 20+ years of estrangement. I hope for all involved that this turns out to be a very rewarding and loving time in your lives as you reconnect and rediscover one another.

I have more to write but need to get some grumbly little boys up for school, so it will have to wait for another post. I just want to thank each and every one of you for taking this journey with us, for your continued prayers for two little girls to finally find their true home. This has actually been harder emotionally than all 3 other adoptions combined, but I have no doubt that in a few short months it will all be worthwhile when we finally complete a family which has taken 9 years to build and taken some unexpected twists and turns...and required more seats around the dinner table than we ever could have imagined. There are those images that creep in that almost don't want to gain a foothold in case it all falls apart. I think of 5 bodies sprawled on the floor watching TV together, of looking in the rearview mirror and having not a single empty seat in the van, of hearing 5 "Night Mom"'s calling out after everyone is tucked in bed. Somewhere along the line I conquered the fear of parenting 5 kids which had never been on my radar at all, and now am looking forward to the logistical challenges...and yes, even the laundry. After all, I have yet to wash any pink or purple in all the thousands of loads I have already done!

But I think the one picture that keeps flitting through my mind is the first moment we see them, where my arms will finally feel full as I hug them along with our sons and my heart will rest easy for the first time in years knowing that all of my children are now safe, and loved, and nourished in all the ways they need to be to grow to be the incredible people they will no doubt become. And it will be that evening when I lay my head down to sleep that I will no longer worry about a son or daughter that is not yet home. And maybe, just maybe, I will sleep better than I have in years as it will not be just my heart carrying around certain children, but my arms wrapped round them permanently.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Moment of True Character

We were on the way to school yesterday, when I received a surprise phone call from a friend asking if I wanted to go that morning to see Barack Obama's appearance in Grand Junction, an hour from us. She was asking because the evening before we had visited and were talking about his visit, and how fascinated Matthew was with the process of electing a President. I know, it is a bit unusual to have a 9 year old interested in such things, especially to the degree he is, but that's Matt who is also our history buff. I spent many of our long drives last winter on Saturdays alone with him discussing the various candidates, expressing opinions, talking about the economy and the war, explaining what a "platform" was, and talking about how historic it was that a man of color...ANY color...was running as well as a woman. Matthew and Kenny both watched the convention speeches by Barack and Sarah Palin, and sadly we missed McCain's but we explained what was accomplished at the conventions. Our town also has a way for children to vote while their parents are voting and then the votes are tabulated just like the adults are, so they can begin to develop a habit of participation in the process.

We heard Friday that Barack was coming to Grand Junction, the first time in 60 years that any presidential Candidate has come our way and that alone is a bit historic! Hahahah! Matthew has been fascinated with the history making aspects of Barack's potential presidency and I am not sure if that has been somewhat internalized because he knows no one of color...like himself...has ever made it to the White House, or if it is a more general interest. I know he has discussed a few times how he and his brothers can never be President because of not being born in America...and that too has been talked about in light of both McCain and Obama's birth circumstances that are a bit unusual...yea, I know, he's only 9...tell that to him! I have a hard time keeping up with him sometimes. He is also very interested in McCain's past as a POW and his military service, finding that to be truly honorable as do most Americans.

So I had considered taking Matthew from school to go see Barack. After all, I too had never seen a Presidential Candidate in my lifetime either and might never again have one so close to us, so it would be a really educational experience...plus a nice "Mommy and Matthew" date. I am not such an incredible stickler for school attendance that I don't think there are moments that are worth being pulled out for the day.

During the call from my friend she told me she had just heard they had opened it up to the public and we wouldn't need a ticket after all, and so she was going to go up and would I like to go and bring Matthew too? I told her I would get right back with her and hung up. I turn to Matthew and explain what is going on, and ask if he would like to go with me. His face lit up and said "Mom, that would be SO cool to see one of them in person! Are you serious, we can go?" and I explained what had had been announced and that we could go with our friend. I look in the rear view mirror and see Kenny's grin from ear to ear as he is getting excited as well and I explain to Kenny that I will not be able to take him, as sadly he is going to be missing far too much school this year anyway with surgery and dental appointments, etc. and that there were times that he had that were special alone with me, and times that Matthew and Joshie both needed as well. The grin quickly changed to a contained frown...and then the tears slowly eeked out. It wasn't that he didn't understand what I was saying, it was that he was disappointed and hurt not to be included. Joshie of course was fine as none of this meant anything to him at all. Kenny's tears continued as I tried to make him feel better, explaining if it weren't for his need to be gone so much from school this year I would take him, but we had already had a long discussion recently about how much he needed to catch up, etc. And yea, all the while I am feeling badly as I see his heartbroken face staring back at me, wondering if perhaps I should have never mentioned it but also realizing that each of my kids has different interests and needs, and they can not all always do everything just because the other one is doing it. It was a tough call, and frankly, I hadn't expected Kenny to get that upset as he has not been that interested in the process, but has watched it on TV with us.

It was then that I hear softly from beside me "Mommy, if it is going to make Kenny sad and feel left out, I won't go.". What? This is something that was really important to Matthew, something he could witness that we have spent months engaged in discussion and debate about, something that he might never see again...and he will give it up because Kenny is crying about it. Kenny overhears this, and then quickly tries to wipe away his tears and tells Matthew "No Matt, Mommy is right, I be ok, you go...you really want to go...you go...don't worry about me.". We spend the next few minutes in silence, Kenny quiet in the back seat as he is pulling himself together, Matthew in the front seat with a thoughtful look on his face.

We pull up at the school and the boys gather their things for the drop off and Kenny says "Matthew...go! It's ok, I'm ok, you go have fun with Mom and have your Special Day, I get mine later." I then ask Matthew "Are you sure you don't want to go? I know how much this would mean to you." and he looks back at me, gives me a bit of a sad grin and says "No Mom, I'll stay...it's the right thing to do..." then throws me a quick "I love you" as he walks away from the car alone, his head hanging, his back straight and tall...and me with tears in my eyes that refused to stay put.

"It's the right thing to do.", what a simple powerful statement that speaks volumes out of a 9 year old boy.

As I drove back home to meet my friend, I found myself sobbing in gratitude for these children of mine, these wonderful sons whose thought and care for one another truly blows me away much of the time. Matthew and his willingness to put aside his own desires so his brother's feelings are not hurt, and Kenny as well who was able to pull himself out of his disappointment the moment he realized it was affecting his brother and strongly encourage him to do what meant so much to him...suddenly, his own feelings were not important at all.

I met my friend who asked "Where's Matthew? I thought he was coming!" and I explained what had transpired, and then SHE started crying! She said "I'm not really surprised, you have such kind boys!"

I don't know what we ever did to deserve these little guys in our lives, these blessings from God who are bigger blessings every single day. I can tell you, Dominick and I are not THAT kind or thoughtful, so it is not learned by example! In fact, it is often I who learn from their example.

Now if we can only get our elected officials to follow the example of a 9 year old little boy and just say "It's the right thing to do"...and then do it. How would our world be changed?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Much Needed Reminder

After an emotional and stressful week filled with lots of events and circumstances that required a lot of thought and "mulling over" in my mind, today was the remedy I most needed. Dominick and I really rarely have time together, something we have probably not made enough effort to remedy but that our ridiculously busy lives sometimes doesn't seem to leave much room for. We try to capture a few minutes here and there, a phone conversation on the fly, a whispered conversation in bed if HE manages to stay awake (hahahaha! It is a running joke in our family how fast he falls asleep, he even feel asleep once while talking on the phone to his mom!). This morning we had a couple of hours of uninterrupted time together, just talking around at the kitchen table and while doing small chores like folding clothes out of the dryer and emptying the dishwasher. We had 17 years together without children if we count our dating years, and so we certainly can not claim we have not had enough time in our marriage alone together...it just all happened during the first part of it! But we do treasure those times right now when we can just be with one another, catch up on day to day conversations, gauge where each other is in many areas. I am very much looking forward to our long drive and overnight trip alone to Denver and back in a week as we go to process our immigration paperwork and get fingerprinted. We always end up looking at each other and saying "Hey! I know you!" and laughing over it. And yet as much as we sometimes miss that alone time together, we wouldn't trade our life now for our old life for a single second. Sharing private grins as we look across three dark headed little guys is such a reward.

This evening we attended a concert in a neighboring town about 45 minutes away. It is a small little town, the kind you imagine might not still exist but does and is kept a secret from the world. This was the free first concert of the season of the Valley Symphony and we accompanied our adopted Grandpa with all the boys and had a pincnic dinner. The concert was held at a beautiful park and there were probably 300+ people in attendance. The kids all ran off to play at the playground under the canopy of the most beautiful shade trees while the adults sat and talked and then our Grandpa had to go work throughout the concert leaving Dominick and I again alone in our lawn chairs to visit. This is the kind of event you think is only depicted in the movies anymore, as surely no one in America actually has a life like this. Well folks, that is why we live where we live because yes...some of us still do. There was bunting hung from the outdoor concert area, watermelon was plentiful, Boy Scouts presented the colors of our nation as the laughter of little children filtered gently over the sounds of the nearby creek, and the local political candidates canvassed the crowd handing out small bags of homemade chocolate chip cookies in an effort to woo voters. Yea, small town America and its values DOES still exist.

As the band struck up the beginning chords of the Star Spangled Banner, Dominick and I both glanced over towards the park where there were 25 or 30 kids playing and our eyes both flitted as we tried to spot our three amongst them all. Actually, it wasn't hard at all as one by one we spotted them each, there in the evening golden sunlight glow standing at attention amidst the gaggle of scrambling kids surrounding them, and each of our sons had their hands over their hearts and were singing their National Anthem...three still, proud Kazakh and Kyrgyz young men showing respect for their country. Standing 100 yards away were two equally proud American parents.

It is such a gift to raise our kids in such an environment, where they can experience small town life and enjoy all that comes with it...the closer relationships, the seeing everyone downtown on Shopping Day, the knowing that if you do something wrong someone WILL see it and WILL tell your mom and dad! While our town itself is a smaller city of around 25,000 and pushing 40,000 in our county, the school they attend is an a community of about 2000 total, if you are lucky. We are surrounded by lots of smaller towns and smaller cities...cities that don't have a Walmart and where the appliance store is still family run. It's a place where innocence still exists to some degree, or at least where knowledge of evil is delayed just a tiny bit longer. Sure, we have drugs and we have alcohol...but we also have real cowboys and a flourishing FFA and 4H program. It's a place where presenting your son with a BB Gun when he turns 9 or 10 is a right of passage, and where their best friends actually know how to rope a calf and herd cattle. It is this place that is one of the things that has contributed to our sons being who they are, and we feel very grateful for it even if it requires an extraordinary level of effort to remain here where the average income when we first moved here 12 years ago was $19,000 per year and where 70% of the kids at our school qualify for free lunch.

It is our hope that this week we will receive some better feedback on the adoption front, and until that time we are in constant prayer and trying hard not to lose faith in the promise we feel He made us, that they WILL come home. We received photos this week, and I was struck by a panic I usually don't feel...time is passing, they are growing up...and what will we do if they don't make it home? In all seriousness, thoughts of picking up and moving to Kazakhstan actually crossed my mind even if that is utterly ridiculous. And how in the world, I wonder, can I feel such an incredible and abiding love? It makes no sense...or maybe it makes all the sense in the world. This time it is simply different, that's all.

And during our ride home tonight as I listened to all the happy conversation filling the car leaving no empty spaces at all, why did I still feel the empty spaces? How can you miss something you've never had? It makes no sense to me, and yet that is exactly how I feel at times right now.

In the middle of my ponderings we arrived home and stopped to check our mailbox. I could hardly believe what I held in my hands. Two large manilla envelopes, return address the "FBI". I groaned inwardly thinking the fingerprint cards and approval we need for our dossier had been rejected as we had just sent them out a week ago and were told to expect they could take up to 18 weeks to come back, so I knew it was not good news. I asked the boys to say a quick prayer before we opened it up, as at this stage we don't want to lose another week or two as we get new prints made and send them in. As I quickly tore open the first envelope, I let out a little yelp as I discovered this WAS our approval, letter and all. I was dumbfounded...there was no way this could be the real deal. They received the request on the 8th of September! We are supposed to be waiting up to 18 weeks for this to be returned! NO WAY!! It is impossible!

Seems I forgot in all of this how Big our God is. Forgive me, God, for my doubts and dismay. I will try not to worry, despite what rumors may float or what others may say, you once again reminded me Who has it all under control.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Storm Passing Over

Warning: This Blog Post will be all over the map!

I sit here typing with a dim reading light as three little boys are asleep on the floor of my bedroom, creating a sleeping bag and pillow obstacle course that I am surely going to trip over during the middle of the night when I have to make an inevitable bathroom run. We had a tremendously loud thunderstorm for a few minutes at bedtime, one that even had my heart pounding a bit faster as it caught me off guard with a loud CLAP, so we decided it was "camp out" time. We actually have a "camp out" in our bedroom once a week or so, as the boys love to fall asleep near us. Often in the dark I will tell silly stories made up about them and their friends, adventures of heroism and courage and far off lands...and they are often idiotic and admittedly include a reference or two to intestinal gas being released either via burps or...well...you know.

I currently have 23 emails yet to answer, and I apologize if yours is on the list, but I felt the blog calling me so it took precedence this evening. The 23 are what is left of over 65 today, so I made good progress with deleting the advertisements and answering several as quickly as I could. Sometimes I feel as if the blog and email tasks associated with it, as well as emails regarding church and Cub Scouts is a full time job in itself! I half joked about being a "stay at home mom" who is supposed to suddenly have a ton of time on her hands with all 3 kids in school who can BARELY keep up with anything as I have so many tasks on my "to do" list every day. I think I need "people" like the movie stars (or reality celebrities...Ewwww!) do! Hahaha! Just kidding on that one, for sure!

It feels like I have a ton of things to say, none of which are at all very interesting, but you clicked on the blog so now you are all subject to my disorganized drivel!

This Sunday, during "rug time", our Pastor asked the kids about loving your neighbor and loving your brothers and sisters. Kenny wasn't present, having spent the night at his best buddy's house, but Matthew and Joshua were. As the other kids were asked about whether they loved their brothers and/or sisters I wondered what the boys' response was. Much to my surprise, instead of the goofy response I expected they both unequivocally and quickly said they loved their brothers...and when pressed with something like "Are you sure? All the time?" and again without even looking at each other both Matt and Josh were firm and certain in their response.

I thought of that this morning as we once again had to go through more vaccinations, this time just one for Kenny as they were out of vaccine for the second one that he needed and Josh needed as well. As you long time readers might recall, the last visit was a tough one and I really was not looking forward to the emotional build up and fall out of this one. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about as Superbrother Matthew saved the day! He had been hovering around a bit as we were getting settled in the office where the injection would be given and I asked if he would like to go in the waiting room and wait but he declined. After they were all ready they directed me to the chair I was to sit in with Kenny held in my lap, and already Kenny's heart was racing. It was then that I realized Matthew's plan as he grabbed another chair and placed it right in front of Kenny's so they were facing one another. He then reached out for Kenny's trembling hand and placed it in his, and told him "Squeeze it as tight as you can...it will be over super quick!" and then he proceeded to tell Kenny to look at him and not the needle while he made the silliest faces ever! In a moment it was all over, and Kenny's ragged breaths were soothed as he stood up and was embraced in a bear hug by his wonderful brother who told him "See? You are SO brave!"...and off we went as the County Nurses looked at us with incredulity and I heard them say as we walked out the door "That was the neatest thing...what nice boys!"...and I will admit to a teensy weensy bit of chest puffing as I flared my feathers and walked down the hall with my 3 little heroes all in a row.

I am so blessed...so BEYOND blessed...to parent these special little boys, whose hearts are so big.

Today was a big day in the progress of Kenny's cleft treatments. We had to drive 2 1/2 hours to the specialist in pediatric orthodontia who declared that Kenny's palate has spread far enough, and we can now move forward with the necessary steps for his first surgery. I will be contacting Shriner's tomorrow to see what our next step is, but I am assuming we will still not have surgery until after the first of the year as they shared with us on our visit there that their Operating Rooms will be shut down during November and December for remodeling. Along with that good news...well sort of good news but perhaps not in Kenny's eyes...Kenny now has braces! They placed the first set of braces he will need on his upper teeth so they can straighten out his very crooked front ones. They still don't know if he will need more pulled, but it is highly probable that at least 2 more will have to be extracted somewhere along the line as one has an exposed root and I am amazed it hasn't caused him pain. Ten minutes out of the office and he acted as if he had worn braces for years and they seem to be giving him no trouble at all. Joshie and Matthew were VERY impressed when he arrived home and flashed his tinsel smile.

I had a Not-So-Good-Very-Bad-Day yesterday, and you know how it goes when the ball starts rolling down hill and it gains momentum. I had very little sleep the night before for unknown reasons...ok, if I am honest here it was probably due to a little too much Diet Coke a little too late in the evening. Anyway, that probably exacerbated things throughout the day. I received the bad news that an extended family member has pancreatic and lung cancer. I have very little extended family, and that which I do have has been estranged for years due to reasons I am not even sure I myself understand. There was no "event" which caused this with my parents and them, just a years long lack of concern and consideration for others which eventually led to no contact. I think that sitting back and watching this play out over the years and throughout my childhood made a big impact on me, and is one of the reasons I work so hard at encouraging the kids to see one another as their most important relationships, the ones which can most be counted on. I don't want my kids to end up with the kind of sibling relationships that both of my parents ended up with. So hearing this news created conflicting emotions, brought up lots of old feelings I thought had long since died, and of course filled me with compassion for someone I have vague memories of as a child as being an ox, with large hands the size of tree limbs almost. Later in the day I was the recipient of the hospitality of the Colorado Highway Patrol's welcoming committee as I was coming into town and got a speeding ticket. It was earned as I was more concerned with getting the boys to their first Tae Kwon Do class than I was watching the speedometer. In the evening I was left feeling like an utter failure over something and wanted to throw in the towel completely, but common sense got the better of me and I know in a few days I might be able to view the situation from a different perspective as I have asked God for enlightenment on it all...but He might figure that keeping me in the dark is the wisest course of action. Forgiveness can be hard, can't it? And sometimes, that forgiveness needs to be of ourselves and that is the hardest.

Tonight I feel very unsettled. I received word out of Kazakhstan adoption circles this afternoon which is not good, and I am trying hard not to let the Rumor Mill fuel my growing anxiety which I know is also born somewhat from other things going on around me, but it is hard. We have come so far, and I have had faith for years that I clung to and won't let go of...but this is seriously one of the hardest things I have ever done. Trying to remain filled with faith and trust is really all we have to cling to at times, as there is nothing concrete to grab hold of. I try not to allow myself to question the leading we have long felt and to let go of it all, and sometimes that effort is in vain. It is not that I am not patient, because life has taught me that in many ways. Maybe it is the fear of misplaced faith, or the fear of losing hope...or maybe most strongly it is the fear of never having forever.

And in the midst of that unsettled heart rests a tiny light that burns ever brighter as others reach out. As I typed this blog I had a call from someone who knew of my difficult days yesterday and today and he wanted to say "Hey! What's Up? I care...". Isn't it sad how all of us...each and every one of us, has the power to help someone feel comforted with just a few words and sadder yet is how few of us exercise that power.

Well, much like the past couple of days events, the storm this evening has passed. My 3 boys have now grown to 4 as Dominick is now snoring solidly nearby. The thunder and lightening have moved on, and perhaps too the emotional turmoil of the past couple of days will pass over as well.

All we can do is have faith, show kindness, practice compassion. It comes back round our way eventually, it really does. Everything else is up to Him.

And the storm rolls on...

Friday, September 05, 2008

What Makes a "Good American"??

I thought long and hard about whether to blog about this or not, and when something doesn't leave my head I realize it is probably something I should write about. It seems that when an idea creeps inside my cranium, I can't do justice to anything else until I explore it or write about it, so I decided to blog about this so that at least I could perhaps write something better tomorrow rather than carrying this around in my head longer.

The other day I received one of those emails that gets forwarded fifteen million times, you know the kind that we all get from many different people. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes silly, sometimes we have read the same one umpteen times, once in awhile it is a touching story...and then there are the ones that you close, open up again and reread, close again, and then can't seem to release it from your mind. You find yourself thinking about it off and on throughout the day, rolling it around in your mind as it stews or ferments. This can happen for many reasons, because you firmly agree with something, because it makes you angry, because it brings up unpleasant memories, or because it makes you think about yourself and your own perspectives in a deeper way.

That is what happened this week when I received one of those emails. It was titled "Can Good Muslims be Good Americans?" and the gist of it was that it was impossible for a "Good" Muslim to be a "Good" American. I read it through once, and then again, and then closed it. I came back to it a few hours later and re-read it. I was disturbed by it, but couldn't quite pull it together in my mind just why I was so bothered with it other than the obvious reasons. After thinking further about it as the day progressed, I realized it was because it hit too close to home, that my world since our adoptions is far larger than it is for some others and I doubt that many of my friends or family can adequately understand that perspective. After all, they are not parenting children with a Muslim heritage.

I wrote a lengthy, and what I hope was a respectful and kind response to the sender as I know it was not sent with any ill intent, and as usual in the writing came clarity. But it also brings up a much deeper struggle we all have as parents of kids from different cultures...how do you show respect for their past and embrace the person they might have been if they would never have been adopted? For those who firmly believe that their children's eternal fate was at stake should they have remained in their birth country, how do you handle this issue without setting yourself up yet once again as their personal "savior", a role which is already assumed by many outside the adoption triad as they look inside and say over and over again "Oh, you saved that poor child from such a bad life"...and now you can claim that you saved them from eternal damnation as well, if that is your belief. How do you help encourage your child's pride in their birth culture if the majority of those around them express anger and hatred towards those of the faith they most likely would have been born into?

And do you remain quiet about it and ignore it, trying not to make waves or rock the boat? Do you confront it haughtily and with a superior attitude, as if you know better than anyone else because...after all...you have been there. That's kind of like throwing into a conversation "Well I have lots of black/gay/hispanic/asian/jewish friends..." as if that statement alone absolves you from all thought that you might be just the tiniest bit prejudiced. Do you try to gently get the other person to see things from a different perspective? Do you let them know that something that has been said is simply unacceptable whether they understand your reasons why or not?

We are role models for our children in all kinds of ways. As adoptive parents, despite the fact that most of us have not been adopted ourselves, we model for our kids how to view the world and how to respond to those who interact with us. How we answer adoption questions in front of them gives them clues about who they are and what approach to use when asked those same questions themselves. If we act ashamed, then our children will be ashamed. If we agree that we are the saviors, then our kids wrongly feel that they owe us a debt that is impossible to repay. If we respond angrily, then our kids walk around with a chip on their shoulder waiting to pounce on anyone who innocently asks a question but might not be "PC" enough to phrase it with whatever wording is approved of at the moment.

But what about when our kids are not watching? Isn't that when we are put to the real test? What if someone says something or emails something that your children will never know about...do you go ahead and pretend that it isn't offensive or do you address it in the same way you would if your child were present? Do you ignore it if you can? Or is it impossible to overlook because you forever now see things through the eyes of your child?

How do you respond to someone saying something like that in front of your child? What if someone came up to you in front of your son or daughter and said something like "If your child were still a Muslim as they probably would have been in their birth country, there is no way they could ever be a good American.".

To me this particular statement might happen to be about religion, but it could just as easily be a stereotypical comment about race... "Your child is going to be a whiz at math, because all Asians are good at math." or "Your child is going to be good at sports because all blacks excel at sports.". You will notice here I am purposely avoiding the more negative comments that are spewed by ignorant, thoughtless people as I can barely allow myself to even type them.

In part of my somewhat lengthy response, which I will not share in total here, I said the following:

My kids are not "good Americans" because they are Christians. Nor are they lesser people because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. They are good Americans because they have good moral character, a sense of responsibility and a strong work ethic. What makes us all "Good Americans" is our desire to follow the laws of our land, to actively participate in political life, regardless of whether our chosen Candidate is one others agree with or not...it is the participation in the process that is important. Our Christianity has NOTHING to do with whether we are "Good Americans" or not, and that doesn't just apply to our family but to all families, regardless of their chosen faith.

Did I have to even write a response? No, I suppose not and it surely would have been easier to just hit "delete" and act as if I had never read it. Should I have done that? Perhaps I should have...I will not say I know for a fact that what I did was the best option. But as I look into the upraised, trusting faces of my sons I did feel as if they needed someone to speak for them, for at this stage they can not address such things themselves. Whether they ever knew about it or not, I would.

But if I didn't this time, wouldn't it be that much easier next time to back down...to keep my less-than-popular opinion to myself? And that next time might be right in front of the boys...someone might say as I have been asked years ago once already "So, are there a bunch of ragheads there?" and then will I have the courage to stand up to that kind of prejudice if I haven't practiced that much needed courage? Or take away the race or religion issues altogether, what about the next time someone boldly and thoughtlessly asks "So were any of them screwed up from the orphanage?" as the boys stand beside me. Will I have the guts to say what needs to be said in as kind a way as possible if I haven't taken the smaller baby steps towards that moment? Courage begets courage.

There are so many facets to this whole thing that it is hard for me to work it all out in my mind. All the "untouchable" topics are kind of rolled all up into one on this one for us...race, politics, religion. And yet somehow, Dominick and I are the ones to translate all of this for the kids, we are the mirror that reflects it all back at them and in which they develop their own self-image. Are they Americans? Yes. Are they Kazakhs and Kyrgyz? Yes. Are they Christians? Yes. Would they have been Muslims? Most likely, Yes.

So if they were not adopted, would they not have been good people? Sorry, I can't answer yes to that one. Others seem to think they can answer that one in the affirmative. On this one, I think we just have to agree to disagree.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Phases

It has been a week since my last blog post, and you'd think that with Joshie now in school along with Kenny and Matthew I would have tons of time as I am alone at home much of the day, but somehow that really isn't happening. I can't really account for how my time has been spent, as it has been on this and that, but I have been really busy. A friend pointed out to me today that perhaps I am keeping myself busy so that I can distract myself from adoption nonsense...like getting one more FBI fingerprint check done (Now really, how many times for one adoption do we have to prove we are not child molesters?), or waiting and waiting for things to move, even though I know there is only so fast it can go. You'd think after 3 international adoptions this would be easier and I would be more laid back this time around but the fact is this is the hardest of all for many reasons.

I was in Kenny's and Joshie's clas volunteering this last Friday, and I couldn't help but send up a prayer of thanks for the terrific teachers that all 3 boys got...as if God knew (well of course He did!) exactly what each one needed and saw to it that they got it.

Joshie's teacher is a brand new teacher, sweet and young and very, very good. I got a phone call yesterday afternoon from her because she wanted to share something with me. She said they were discussing a story in class about things that babies do that big kids don't do anymore, and each child was to share something they used to do. When it was Josh's turn he told the class how he used to "cry and cry all the time" and even "threw cars at mommy from the back of the car" but that he didn't do it anymore because he had just been worried I would leave him but now he knows I will only leave him if I die. Just like that, very matter of fact, he kind of summed it all up in a brief sentence. She wanted to share with me how she handled it all, how she reinforced for him that she knows I love him very much and would never leave him, and that he had lots of people in his life that loved him. I was so glad that I sent her that email before school started explaining his background and some of our current struggles about him thinking I would die while he was in school. She wasn't blindsided by Josh's statements and was able to handle the appropriately, and she cared enough to call and check with me to see if I felt she had done ok. What a gift an in-tune and caring teacher can be.

Poor Kenny is struggling a bit, as this year he is in a different circumstance and is expected to follow along and not just read a book if he can't understand something. His regular classroom teacher is ESL certified and so she knows exactly how to get Kenny up to speed and also understands very well his limitations. We have been emailing back and forth coming up with strategies, filling in the blanks for her about his experiences, and finding our way around what is the best way to work with Kenny. I found yesterday afternoon that we have another challenge that I had not thought about when it comes to reading. He was to read a book together with me (I am doing most of the reading but he is sounding out a few words) and then write a few sentences phonetically about the story. We all understand he is not ready for real spelling yet but are working with him to hear sound and be able to write them down or read them. All phonics, all the time right now. Well, Kenny's speech, while certainly intelligible, is very poor. Many of the sounds he simply can not make, and so he substitutes another sound for it. G sounds like a K or C to him, so that is what he writes. TH is impossible for him so he makes an F sound, but then he writes the F sound in lieu of a TH. We can all see this is going to create some new challenges for him as he learns to read and write phonics but writes things exactly the way he says them, which is incorrect. That doesn't seem like such a big deal until you have a 10 year old in 3rd grade who still can't read more than 7 or 8 words and he is quickly becoming further and further behind. I feel often like we are in a race against time to get him caught up, and yet I am outwardly keeping it all laid back and cool. I don't want him feeling pressured as he is working diligently in class, comes right home and gets on whatever homework he has with no delays, and I realize we have a lot to make up for in all areas of his life, not just academics.

An interesting development around our house is that both Kenny and Matthew are fascinated by the presidential election. We watched Barack Obama's speech as well as Sarah Palin's and although Kenny didn't understand much of it, we tried to explain pieces and parts of it as the speeches we being given. I was surprised that he was interested at all, as I had assumed that would hold not hold his attention at all. We are finding though that he has firm opinions on things, and I admire his willingness to share them and his well thought out comments. Matthew loves the whole process and has asked tons of questions about it all. He has gone with me to vote before and wants to go with me again this time. I wonder where this interest in politics has come from? It certainly isn't that we are all that political here at home, although we have talked about it from time to time. But it is kind of cool that the boys are even thinking about it, and watching the speeches together was interesting to see their reactions and hear their thoughts.

So we are all getting back in the groove of things with school, activities, early bed times. I am having to adjust to having no little guys underfoot for the first time in 8 years, and honestly it has been easier than I expected, most likely due to the fact that I have a lot of projects to work on which is keeping me occupied. But it is bittersweet as well, as we say goodbye to one phase of our life and we enter another.

Wonder what the next phase holds for us all?