Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I also am tired and feeling defeated for many reasons, and need some down time to regain my footing.
We heard from our agency, and we have a new list of documents to gather, some more challenging than others. At the moment I am just sitting with that list, praying for some sort of divine guidance about it all, looking for discernment that isn't at the moment clear.
Ski season is over for me, I am officially back to my role as mommy and wife again. This year was very difficult for all of us, and frankly I couldn't have made it through without a couple of men in my life...Matthew and Kenny.
With about 5 weeks left in the season, I lost an employee. For various reasons I was sad about this, but one reason was that I now had to figure out how to cover the shifts for such a short period of time that it would be hard to find someone. I was able to work it out during the week, but Saturday was going to be my downfall. But I needn't have feared, for my Knights in Shining Armor were near!
Matthew and Kenny both overheard my dilemma and told me they could do it...they would work every Saturday for 5 weeks. I thought about it for a few minutes and realized that this might actually work. Although not ideal, it was possible for them to be helpful in the kinds of ways that would help us make it through to the end. At first I didn't want to do it, but after discussing it and having them remind me that we are a family and we help each other (Yea, I heard my own words replayed by my children!), and after all "We are LaJoy's Mom, we can do ANYTHING!", I relented.
So, for the last month and a half they both delivered orders to tables for customers, they stocked our soda coolers and chip racks, the took the trash downstairs and out to the dumpsters, the cleaned tables and vacuumed, they assisted at the front counter getting fountain drinks for customers. They got up at 6:00 AM every Saturday, they rode in the car for the long drive there and back, and they spent the entire day at work with me. They did so without a single complaint from either of them, and they are 9 and 10 years old. They learned a lot about themselves, about developing a work ethic, about doing whatever is necessary to support your family. I know it is not something that many families would do, as many would say it was unfair to the kids or was expecting too much of them, but they begged to do it and because of this winter I learned that my sons are becoming people who can be counted on to do what they say they will do. I couldn't be prouder, and neither could they.
As a reward at the end of season, we gave them each a $100 bill, and their faces lit up!! Truth be told, their help was worth far more than that. They both showed me a glimmer of the men they will one day become. At first there was deep discussion about pooling their money to buy a Nintendo Wii, which Dominick and I are not very hot on for a variety of reasons, but we felt that it was money they earned and they should be able to make that decision...if they followed our stringent rules about its use. After further discussion, much to our joy, they decided to nix that idea, not because of the rules but because they realized how expensive the cartridges are.
Instead, they had both Dominick and I in tears at various times over the past few days as they have proudly offered to pay for meals for the family, or to pay for a night at the movies for us to have a date night. They even both offered their entire pay to use to bid on a 15 passenger van on Ebay that we were casually looking at, excitedly counting out their dollars and pennies as the auction drew to a close! While we, of course, didn't allow them to spend a dime on anything for any of us I can't begin to tell you how moved we were by their gestures of love.
Have I told you lately, boys, just how much I love you? You are both simply amazing young men. Thank you for caring about your family so very much, thank you for your generous spirits. May you be this way with your own wife and children one day...
So we are taking Spring Break and having some time for all of us to relax and unwind a little. We have sleepovers a couple of nights this week with friends hanging out here, in fact as I write this I hear the giggles of 5 little boys in the next room as they watch a movie and get to stay up late. I will try to gradually get the house back in some semblance of order, I have a day long annual garage cleaning project planned for this week which usually leads to our Annual LaJoy Argument about how messy Dominick is in the garage...and I am vowing to keep my mouth closed just once this year. I'll let you know if I succeed :-) Somehow, I doubt I will...hahaha!
And in time, soon I hope, many things will be clearer to me and life won't feel so off-kilter.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
I am very, very fortunate. Blessed beyond belief. At this time in my life, I have many wonderful people who have taken time to "hear my story". It is not always the adoption story. At various times it has been the faith story, it has been the story of my twenties, it has been the story of my sorrows or sometimes the story of my joys. But having my story heard...whichever story it might be at that moment...has changed me. I have not always had this, I have not always had people in my life who would quietly listen, who were wise, who passed on to me the gift of not trying to "one up"me on the "Pain scale" but simply heard me.
I also saw our story (yes, now I am talking about the LaJoy story...but not the adoptive story) from a different perspective this evening, and it was like seeing my life with new eyes. My mother-in-law is here for her first visit to our home and our community. She arrived this afternoon, so we took her for a drive to see the place we call home. We drove through the streets of Montrose...up and down the two main drags of Main Street (yes, we actually have a Main Street) and Townsend Avenue which are the only two real commercial districts. We drove to the neighboring community of Olathe where the boys go to school.
I saw our paradise as others might see it. I saw the road we drive every day that leads to our home which takes us past a salvage yard, a drilling company and a stinky dairy with hundreds upon hundreds of cows. I saw the blackened ditches recently burned for weed abatement in preparation for spring's new growth. I saw shuttered stores on our Main Street, far too many of them as the economy takes it's toll on a small town. In Olathe I saw real poverty, and I know this sounds so stupid and trite but I had not really seen it in that way before. Dilapidated homes bordering being called shacks, lots full of rusting appliances and run down cars, roads in such terrible need of repair that people swerve constantly to avoid bottoming out their car.
Don't get me wrong, we have some beautiful neighborhoods where we live and of course the views are breathtaking. But it seemed that tonight as our travels took us on our daily path that much of what we see every day is far from most people's expectation of what paradise should look like.
So what is it about this place that makes it so for us? Why is it that anytime I fly home from someplace else, I eagerly peer out the window as the landscape draws ever closer and think to myself "We are so lucky to live here...I love this place so much!"? Why is it that as I have driven my kids back and forth to school each day for the past 5 years I have not seen what is right before my eyes?
I think it is because this is where our story is, it is a place where friendships have blossomed, where stress has lessened, where strong values have taken hold. It is a place where God's goodness is seen often in the relationships that surround us. I don't see the run down neighborhoods surrounding my children's school, I see instead the mom's waving to me from their own driver's seat as we pass each morning, I see the grins of the children kicking up dust from the path as they walk home, I see the care of so many teachers at their school.
The place where our story begins forms us in so many ways, doesn't it?
This blog is a place almost like a community, everyone's blogs are. It is a place where parts of our story are told, where I elect to open up and share pieces of our life to unknown people as well as those few who I know in "real life" who follow the blog Sometimes that can be quite unsettling, because when I write about "our story", I tend to write more intimately than I would ever speak about in public, and sometimes subjects come up that I might elect not to share with someone in casual conversation. This is my Thinking Place, it has become my "Virtual Labrynth" where I work to come to conclusions and figure out what is really important, what to let go of and what to hang on to.
I think I finally figured out one of the reasons that I have kept the blog public. It is because I hope that somehow, through reading about our very ordinary family others can somehow be led to find the extraordinary that exists within their own family. The LaJoy's are not any different from any of you, we have boring days, we have happy moments, we have struggles and challenges. We go to work, we go to school, we come home, we do it again. We are not extraordinary by any stretch of the imagination. But in trying to record the Sacred Moments of our lives for our children, I have hoped that somehow you too have been able to identify the Sacred in your own lives. The posts I write that often get many comments are usually not exciting, they are not life altering. They are the little things, they are the things that often we all overlook as part of "our story" because we are so busy living that story we are blinded to the power of it.
Your story has power and meaning, it contains within it much that is Sacred. Are you seeing it? Can you stop and be the one, for just a moment, to listen to your own story?
I'll bet it is simply amazing...
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Lori had some great news today, after IVF she announced today that she is pregnant. You can visit her at: http://loridoesmd.blogspot.com/ . Lori has offered so much support to waiting Kyrgyzstan families, and although it ultimately seems she will not be adopting from Kyrgyzstan herself now, I think her support deserves reciprocation. She continues to be an unflagging source of encouragement to waiting adoptive families, even as it seems her adoption journey is coming to an end.
I have never known the feeling of being pregnant, never had a child growing inside my womb, never had morning sickness. If flipped around, we could say that biological moms have never had to sweat out the paperwork, never had to worry about unknown birth parent histories, never had to worry about making the wrong "choice" when selecting a child.
We all come to parenthood in different ways, none is better or more "precious"...or more valid...than another. All paths to parenthood come with uncertainties and joys.
Lori, congratulations...and in all jest, I sure hope I "deliver" before you do!!
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
There it is, my unspoken fear spoken loud and clear. You see, it is not unwarranted...anyone who has watched those episodes of 60 Minutes, 20/20 or other news shows over the years has heard the horror stories of older child adoption gone awry. And when it goes bad, it is beyond your wildest imagination just how bad "bad" can be.
How do you know? How can you tell if something is a sign from God, or just a typical international adoption uphill battle? As someone who strives to do God's will in my life, this is the single most important thing to heed, what is God saying to us? Are these delays for some reason that will become apparent later on and are a help? Or are they something that is trying to shove us over the edge to "quit while we are ahead"...as we have already been told by more than one person.
I don't know...I didn't know when traveling to adopt Joshua that we would be bringing home an obviously RAD infant. I don't think that just because it worked out OK for the long haul with Josh that it would a second time around. We brought home Kenny, it should have been a nightmare. Instead it has been a dream come true for both he and us. Not always easy, mind you, but well worth every ounce of effort it took.
I won't be able to shake the fears, I wasn't prior to any of the adoptions...and there are so many...Will they be able to bond? Will they even like us? Is there something there we aren't seeing that will scare us to death once we get them home?
There could be. This adoption business is not for those looking for guarantees, it is a gamble for sure. And at quiet, introspective moments, it is particularly scary. But if we hadn't taken the leap 3 prior times, we wouldn't be as blessed as we are today. I also realize that does not mean that the 4th and 5th times will be as good as 1,2, and 3.
It is the thing that others don't or can't really understand if they have not been in these shoes. The uncertainty that accompanies all of this can kill you. People see the family together with the happy ending and they never think about how it could have turned out so differently...and you as the parent can often think of NOTHING but that. It doesn't really matter if it is an infant adoption or an older child, I remember sleepless nights pondering the birth history of our soon-to-be children worrying about what facts were missing, about what we would never know about their birth families and the implications.
I have felt for many years these were our daughters. What if I am wrong? Or, perhaps a better way of looking at it is what if I am still right and indeed they are meant to be our daughters, but we are meant to walk down a treacherous path with them?
Someone very smart said something to me yesterday that seems to fit this situation perfectly...God will use you no matter the choice you make. You will be used where you are at. There is no "wrong" choice if you are simply looking to be used by God. This was a really different approach for me, and one that will stick with me for awhile. If you want to be used, you will be.
How I do hope though that we are not facing years of heartache. Sometimes you just gotta jump off the cliff and see how God is going to use you. Maybe someone will learn from your success, or they just might learn a lot from your failure.
Hopefully, it will be our success that speaks to others this time around.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
This morning dawned a new day, my tired eyes feeling gritty, my head foggy as we all tend to get with a lack of sleep. I got up, got moving, got busy. What else is there to do? I had a lunch date with a new friend, someone I don't know really well but who turned out to be God "with skin on" in front of me. I didn't share the current drama of our lives, wanting for a couple of hours to escape it all, to think of other areas of my life that are growing and changing rather than to wallow in what is essentially an ongoing dialogue that has been carried on at one stage or another for the past 10 years of my life. Yea, you'd never know it from this blog but, believe it or not, I actually get tired of adoption talk.
I spoke with our agency rep today, who is so truly honest and straight forward, and very much out of control of this particular situation. We may have discovered a work around, but won't know for certain for a couple of weeks. I know that, regardless, we are close to the point where many of our documents are due to expire. At this stage I hold out no hope for anything.
In the midst of this, I received so many emails and blog comments, and even a few phone calls from those closest. Couldn't bring myself to talk to anyone on the phone though, it seems like emotions are a bit too close to the surface and while I so appreciated hearing caring voices it was impossible to pick up the phone and open up about this. Somehow, in writing, it is easier...less likely to result in tears. I have many emails I have yet to answer, and the few that I did I am afraid contained far less than my usual warmth (or maybe I am assuming I convey warmth in my regular emails!). Thanks for all the care you have shown, for the encouragement you are offering. You have no idea how much it helps.
Then, I sat down while the boys were showering this evening, and grabbed the latest issue of Reader's Digest, the April '09 edition. I had read half of it and set it down a few days ago, and figured I'd finish it off before starting "On the Banks of Plumb Creek" with the boys. There, much to my surprise, within the pages of the magazine I have read since childhood I found words which so closely echoed my own from the past. The book excerpt this month is "We Still Have Love To Give" which is about a family who lost their 15 year old son due to a heart condition, and later ended up adopting 2 children from Vietnam even as they were still working through their grief.
The mom, Pam Cope, says "What would his future be like if we didn't adopt him? Saying no to him meant he'd likely stay at the orphanage for the rest of his childhood, never getting a good education or enough to eat, never knowing that somebody loved him completely. Without us, his future was hopeless."
She then goes on to speak the words that really had me in tears, "And what would my future be like if we didn't adopt him? I wanted to live a life of meaning and grace. Despite all we'd been through, I felt God had led us to Van. We had a choice: to walk through this door and find new meaning in our lives or ignore it and experience tremendous regret.".
"...or ignore it and experience tremendous regret."...there it is, isn't it? If we quit now, even if ultimately we find we are defeated in our efforts to get the girls home, how much regret would I live with the rest of my life? How often would I find myself asking "I wonder what would have happened if we had followed it through to completion...would we have them here today?".
We have no choice, really. As much as I might not want to keep going, as hard as this is and as terribly frustrating and heartbreaking as it is, there is no choice, none at all.
For I am a mom. This is what mom's do. We don't quit, we don't give up on our kids...even if they live 12 time zones away.
So thanks God for all the hard times in my life, for the moments when I was oh-so-weary and never thought I'd make it. There have been many, and I have grown from them, I have learned to pick myself up, dust myself off and trust in You to keep going.
Thanks for the many difficult tasks...on my hands and knees painting handicapped parking signs on the ground at 3:00 AM as rain threatened, and thanks for the bloody fingertips after working 8 hour days in an office then going to detail cars with Dominick until midnight all so we could pay our mortgage our first couple of years here in Montrose. Thanks for working 7 days a week for months on end when we were saving to bring Matthew home. I am grateful for the years of struggle with Josh which taught me much about perseverance. I never imagined I would see any reason to say thanks for the multitude of truly troubling times and sorrow-filled nights which others know little about. I see now how the various trials and challenges created in me a resilience that I might not have otherwise had. Thanks for giving me a mom who stuck by her own child under the most difficult of circumstances long after many would have thrown in the towel...from her I learned as well.
Thank you for nurturing and supportive friends, thank you for the blessing of this family I exist within, thank you for my daughters who wait patiently. Thanks for forgiving my despondence of yesterday...it still lingers and will for quite awhile, I am sure, but slowly it will lift, of that I am also sure.
Thanks for talking to me today in so many ways, through a beloved magazine and even more beloved friends.
I promise I'll keep on going until You slam the door shut, lock it and throw away the key. If You don't want them home, You are capable of stopping it all at anytime, and I will welcome that should You know that this is a mistake for us and our family.
And in the meantime, I'll do what mom's do...I'll keep on fighting for my kids, all of them.
Just don't leave me alone, OK?
Monday, March 16, 2009
I had a lump in my throat all day, still do. I have lost hope that our daughters will ever come home. I checked my email on my phone at work, and standing there in the kitchen surrounded by sandwich makings the tears welled up as I read the message. I could barely tell my mom and husband without losing it.
On the drive home, I found myself going back through my mind, trying to see if I misread signs, if we actually were ever supposed to embark on this journey, if I somehow screwed up in interpreting what felt so clearly like what God was telling us. Doubt assails, it is hard to push aside. For today I think I will let it settle over me like a blanket. It doesn't feel good, but I don't have the ability to lift it or fight it.
Down the hall, the bedroom door is wide open revealing an otherwise empty room with two lone beds...and the stupid dossier was what made us have to purchase them and put them up prematurely in the first place. The faces staring back at me from pictures on the fridge door are almost 2 years older, those children don't even exist anymore...they have moved on and grown older, I missed getting to know them and someone new now inhabits them...someone probably a bit colder, a bit less able to believe that they are lovable, a bit more world weary...sort of like I am feeling right now.
Don't even tell me, as someone did recently, that no matter what I ought to be happy because we have 3 wonderful sons. One has nothing to do with the other. It is not greed that motivates us, it is not some desire to have a large family, it is not that I am so desperate to have more kids that I will never be satisfied.
For some reason, God laid them on my heart...I didn't want it to happen, heck I never even imagined parenting girls!!! Loving and appreciating my sons has nothing to do with 2 girls halfway around the world whose lives are at stake, who will no doubt become prostitutes or drug addicts in a few years...if they don't die first. I didn't ask for it, and at times have wanted to turn around and run, and so often have wanted to give up. Today is one of those days.
God, I promised you I would be their mom if You would find a way to make it happen. I thought You were doing exactly that. I have remained faithful for years now.
What else do You want?
I am not strong enough to keep this up, I don't WANT to. It hurts too much, it is too hard. I don't get what the point is here, I don't understand. I know I don't HAVE to understand, but I am toast, I am SO done. I'd love to say I am this marvelous, faithful, amazing person who would never give up in a million years, and maybe tomorrow I will feel that way, but tonight all I feel is awful, like I am crumbling inside.
How stinking hard does this have to be? There are two little girls who need us, and we want them. Shouldn't that be enough?
Or have I been utterly, completely wrong about everything? If so, can you let us off this roller coaster now? If not, then PLEASE give me a renewed spirit to keep going, because right now I can't. How can I possibly know? I need You to talk to me, to make it clear, because there is this haze of despair that is covering everything and I can't hear or see You right now.
Let me know, would You?
Friday, March 13, 2009
Thursday afternoons are when Josh and Kenny have piano lessons. Kenny LOVES piano, and is doing pretty well at it for a beginner. He is hooked, every time he walks by the piano in our TV room he has to plunk away at it. He is actually beginning to sound as if he is really playing music! I had hoped that music would "take" for a couple of reasons...A) It would help with brain development and B) It would give him a place where he might be able to experience success and C) It would give him a place all of his own to shine with his peers someday.
He has spent several months now in lessons, and was working on the last page of his book this past week. Before his teacher even came he was excitedly saying "I get a new book next week! I am on the last song now!!". I was in the living room reading some email when he was done and it was Josh's turn, and although he said nothing I could tell that he was upset about something. Kenny has en extremely expressive face, and it is easy to see the emotions as they play across it. I asked him to sit down next to me, and the way he snuggled and buried his head in my chest I knew something was wrong for sure. I asked him to look up at me, and realized he was near tears. He explained "I'm sad, I didn't finish my book today.". I said encouragingly "Kenny, that's OK...that's the first time you haven't moved on to another song after a lesson. But the music is getting harder now because you are getting better...and sometimes it may be WEEKS before you move on once you really start working on harder music! That's normal!". That is when he really started to cry and he could hardly talk. When he calmed down for a moment he spoke, "Mommy, I am good at piano, it's the ONLY thing I am good at! I fail at math, I not good at reading or writing...but I was good at piano!".
So, my son who I happen to think is pretty darned brilliant is feeling like a failure in almost every corner of his academic life. And yes, he used the word "fail". I am quickly realizing how many assumptions are made about Kenny because his vocabulary and verbal skills are extraordinary for a child in his circumstances. We talked...of course I offered encouragement and pointed out all the ways in which he has improved, we mentally walked the path back to his first days here when he couldn't speak a lick of English and I had no Russian and I got him chuckling over that. We just got a math review back from his teacher and he had a "D" on it, and he told me "I don't understand a lot of my math, and I need to tell my teacher but I'm not sure what to say." . I think he was trying to tell me that he doesn't know what he doesn't know, if that makes sense. I can very easily see why math is difficult for him, they changed to a new math program this year that is more concept based, more language based with explanations than it is a list of problems to work on a page.
You know what makes this that much harder? Kenny KNOWS he is smart, he KNOWS what he ought to know by now, he KNOWS he is capable, but he too can not make up for lost time, and it is frustrating him to no end. If he was a child who was not so self-aware, it wouldn't be as difficult, but inside Kenny has a drive unlike many kids his age, and he definitely needs to feel more success at school.
He is so amazing, he has the kindest heart of any kid I have ever met. Even last night as we were all sitting on the couch and Joshie was reading to us from his "Dick and Jane"collection, I could see Kenny following along reading with Josh...but there wasn't an ounce of jealousy out of him that his 6 year old brother reads almost as well as he does. All Kenny could do was grin that big old smile of his and tell Josh "WOW Josh, you read so good for Kindergarten! You are awesome!". What generosity of spirit I live with every day.
Kenny finally pulled it together, and told me "I will practice a lot this week and next week I'll get my new book." I think we might just make a BIG deal out of his new book next week and go out for ice cream that night. And I have to find more areas for him to excel in, where he can rest on his success in other areas while we continue to struggle with school issues. This kid has too much going for him and I can't let him feel this way about himself! He is SO NOT A FAILURE...if anyone is a failure, it is me, for not doing more to advocate for his needs and not recognizing what it is that I need to do.
Joshie caught me off guard last night as well (these kids keep me on my toes) when out of the blue he walked up to me determinedly while I was working in the kitchen and said "We really don't need birthday presents, you know." and I turned to him and asked "Why is that? Do you not want birthday presents next year?" and with all the wisdom a 6 year old can muster he replied sincerely "Because we already have lots of love, and that is God's present to us...so we really don't need anything else." then he turned on his heel and walked away, somehow in my eyes looking about ten feet taller than when he walked in.
Thanks God, I needed that...
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I have a sinking feeling, and am trying hard not to give into it. Please, oh please, don't let this be yet another setback. When will we have jumped through enough hoops? When can I finally feel "safe" in my heart so we can begin to feel some joy in all of this? I have been patient, and will remain so...but it is getting harder by the day. Remain faithful...remain faithful...remain faithful...
I just want my daughters home.
Looks like it will be a long weekend.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
We are struggling to figure out an academic path that works for Kenny, and while I am focused on the specifics of nailing that down I am finding myself struggling with something else...anger. I am MAD that my son, who is so bright and eager, is going through this. I see Matthew and Joshua, both of whom are good students and for whom school will not be too much of a struggle other than the occasional bump in the road, and then I see Kenny for whom school is a daily challenge, and I find myself thinking "If only..."...if only we had adopted him when he was much younger, if only he hadn't missed two full years of school, if only he had been read to continuously, if only his cleft didn't create speech issues that are making it that much more difficult to learn phonics.
If only he had been ours since infancy, life would be so much easier for him.
I hesitate to say that he would have been a better student, because in my mind he IS a good student. Being a good student has nothing to do with grades and everything to do with working hard at learning, and Kenny works HARD.
We have been so fortunate, so blessed that Kenny has thus far escaped the fate of so many post-institutionalized kids and doesn't have the usual alphabet soup of diagnosis...there is no FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), there are no processing disorders, he doesn't suffer from dyslexia. We are eternally grateful for that, but on the other hand it makes you that much more angry to know exactly where he could have been had he not been institutionalized his first 8 1/2 years of life, and what makes it even harder is that HE knows how much different things could have been.
I had a long conversation with Matt's teacher today which gave me a lot of insight, and helped me identify what is bothering me so much. I am frustrated because I can't take him back and have a "do over". We can't start him at the beginning, no matter how much I would love to do that for him. So we have to pick up somewhere in the middle and hope that eventually we make up the lost ground. Kenny's circumstance is a bit different even from most international adoptees. At 8 1/2 Kenny had not had any "real" school, he only had the equivalent of preschool before being thrust in an American English speaking classroom for 2nd graders. Most kids who are adopted at 8+ years old have had some education in their native language which can help them transfer skills to English. They might be behind due to learning a new language and social/emotional development, but they are not as far behind the 8 ball as Kenny was starting out.
I think I am having a hard time accepting that my child will never truly be able to go backwards and get all that he missed. I am having to accept that his educational road will be very different and I can't fix that for him. I can advocate strongly, I can never give up, I can keep my finger on the pulse of where he is at and do the best I can to help him at home, but I can never regain those lost years.
We still have no idea what the best thing is for Kenny right now, hold him back? Press for more services? Think outside the box for creative educational solutions? Who knows??? All I DO know is that I feel the pressure daily to make the right decisions, and nothing is clear cut.
I have tried thus far to remain a bit more distant from Kenny's education. Dominick does most of the quizzing at home, working on spelling words and math homework, etc. I do work with Kenny on writing and I read to him all the time, but we feel it is more important that I be "mom" and not teacher. With Kenny's need to be in control much of the time, we don't need to set ourselves up for battles over homework and who is the boss...we have enough of those battles without the added stress of me placing myself in the role of educator. Kenny has many wonderful people in his life who can be his teachers, he only has one person in his life who can be his mom and teach him what it is to be a son who accepts parental authority and recognizes that his parents can keep him safe, and he doesn't need to be in charge anymore...he can let go and just be a kid. It is one of the reasons I have purposely not been in his classroom much the past two years. Maybe the time will come when we are cemented as son and mom, when he feels safe enough to let go and let us parent 100% of the time. Until then, we think that keeping myself firmly in the role of mom is the best route to go.
I wonder if I will ever feel I have done my best with Kenny, I wonder if I will ever be able to let go of the feeling that I am failing him simply because I couldn't snap my fingers and magically make him 6 years old and in Kindergarten. Adopting a child in mid-childhood certainly brings with it a different set of worries. It also brings with it a different sense of loss...
Sunday, March 08, 2009
In case you can't quite figure out what the heck they were doing, after a project in Sunday School this morning where they made windsocks out of file folders, they asked me if they could make a project at home...so for $4.49 at Target for a box of 100 file folders, they spent an entire afternoon creating their own version of "Ironman"...or should that more correctly be "Fileman"?! Hahaha! They were going to make a set for each of them but it took longer than they thought so they made one outfit and dressed Matt in it, complete with jetpacks on the back. They had SO much fun with files, a stapler and Christmas ribbon!
We have also been fulfilling a childhood dream of mine, if you can believe this. It is sort of silly, but when I was young I LOVED the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I would save every penny until I could buy another and would beg for her books for Christmas or birthdays. I must have read them all 4 or 5 times each, at least. I actually still have the entire original set, some marked with notes in them from my Dad..."Cindy Roehrman, age 7, bought with her own money...Little House book for a little girl". I saved them all in the hopes that one day I would read them to my own daughters. Yea, I was definitely tied to traditional gender roles back then, wasn't I? Hahaha! Well, we started reading the series last week and the boys are SO HOOKED on it, they are begging me every night to read a couple of chapters. So we are snuggling up on the couch each night just before bedtime, reading about my old friends Pa and Ma, Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie. I wonder why I never imagined reading them to my sons instead of my daughters when I was a little girl?
We all have certain things we carry as dreams when we think of our life with children prior to ever having them. At one point, I had 2 of the original Cabbage Patch dolls put aside for our children...they were from the first year of issue when everyone was getting into fist fights in the stores over them. Somewhere along the line during those 13 years pre-adoption I got rid of them. I don't recall it, and I know it wasn't a traumatic moment or a letting go of a dream of a family or anything, it just seemed silly to keep them around when it looked like it wasn't ever going to happen...
I remember imagining reading to the kids, just as I do today and have for years. I always thought I would find myself hanging out on ballfields much as my own parents did for years and years but that was dropped as we realized that none of the boys are really all that into the Big Three sports. I have been spared thus far one of the visions I had of breaking up bickering, pestering children as our boys get along so well that is thankfully something that doesn't happen often at all around here but my poor mom was driven to distraction by my brother and I nitpicking at each other! I thought of sitting in front of Christmas trees with lights aglow, of trips to the library, of long talks, of bear hugs and good night kisses. But interestingly, I never imagined what my children would look like...I never saw pictures in my mind of kids that looked like mini-me's. That was one thing I didn't have to relinquish with adoption.
Somewhere along the line though, I found myself letting go of those thoughts. The longer we were married, the more years that passed with no pregnancy, the more distance I put between myself and my dreams of life as a family. It wasn't painful really, it was just reality. You gradually find your mind drifting in different directions and one day you wake up and realize that you aren't even really thinking about it anymore and it is time to make some decisions to determine if you are indeed going to let go of the portrait of yourself as a mom or if you are going to get it in gear and start looking at alternatives. We almost shoved that portrait aside for good, we were [[thisclose]] when suddenly our thinking shifted, and those images started flooding back...thinking of warm and fleecy footed pj's and quietly whispered "Night Mommy" 's.
The longer it takes the easier it is to find myself distancing a bit more from our current adoption plans. I am not looking at photos much, I am not thinking ahead to what it will be like, I am not thinking much about Girl Scouts or raging hormones or what to do with girl's hair. There comes a point where, for self-preservation, you speak about it in practical terms as if plans are still on the move but when it seems there is such an incredible distance between desire and completion of the dream, you have to let go, to turn your mind away...or you'll never make it. I am not really depressed over it, although at moments I guess I might be...I am more resigned to the wait, and continuing on with the business of living. But it gets admittedly tiresome after 2 years to say "I don't know if we can go on that camping trip...we might be here and we might not" as you sit in anticipation of extended adoption travel which may or may not be happening in the coming months. I look forward to the day when I get that signal from God that it is OK to start thinking of a future, to imagine sitting at the kitchen table doing ...oh my gosh I can't believe I am saying this...crafty things with my daughters (not TOO crafty, mind you! Hahaha!) or to think of buying a prom dress or two.
What does happen with the passage of so much time is doubt begins to creep in, and you try and whisk it right back out the door but often that proves very hard to do.
So, as is usual about this time of year, we are proceeding to register the boys for church camp, to think about summer adventures we will have close to home, we continue to make our every day plans...all the while hoping that those plans will be destroyed with a phone call giving us a couple of weeks to get on a plane. It is actually quite a weird little place to be in. With each passing month, with each delay you readjust your thinking...first it was "I am not sure if we should sign the boys up for soccer as I don't want to pay for the season and be gone for most of it" then it becomes "Maybe we will miss the first part of school next year". And still we wait.
I have changed and evolved a tremendous amount over the past few years...in many ways I am hardly recognizable to myself, at least in terms of my internal thought processes. Patience is something I was never good at, it is something I am learning to be VERY good at.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
This story captured my attention for many reasons. One of those is that man's inhumanity to man leaves me speechless at moments. Another is that it goes to the heart of what deprivation will do to the human brain, and that is something that most of us who are international adoptive parents have some level of experience with, although thank God not to this degree.
It is something I need to better convey to Kenny's teachers, something that I struggle with to find the right analogy, the right mental picture to provide them with. This is a 10 year old child who until a year and a half ago had never turned on a light switch, who could entertain himself for 20 minutes or more by playing with the zippers on our suitcases, who to this day still heads straight to the preschool toys at Walmart to play with all the little doors, windows and singing toys. Kenny was basically in what has quite rightly been called "prison for children" by some in terms of the effect that being isolated from society and normal daily activities does for a human being. Was he tortured? Not in the least. Was he chained up or locked in a cell? No, not at all. But during a time in our lives when brain development is critical, all institutionalized kids are missing out on brain building experiences. The missing building blocks of development must be recreated as much as is possible, which is why we allow Kenny to touch and play with just about anything when it is appropriate, even though a typical 10 year old would be way past that stage. But then Kenny is definitely not your typical 10 year old in any way...and not always because of his early life and what needs to be made up for but due to his courage, his work ethic, his ambition, and his smile.
Then there is Josh, whose lack of loving human contact almost destroyed his soul...and he was not left locked in a closet for years...his deprivation took only 11 short months to exact its toll. When I think of how much damage was done in such a short period of time, I can not even fathom what has occurred to the child in this news report.
We have basic needs...we can go without adequate food and water, and yes, it has an effect on us. But when we are deprived of human contact and experiences, the devastation it causes can be insurmountable. I would far rather have had any of my children go through Matt's astonishing malnourishment than to go through what Josh or Kenny had to go through. But even that seems insignificant compared to little Danielle in this story.
So, how do we place a value on a hug? How do we calculate what is lost when a child isn't read to, isn't played with, isn't snuggled? Food and shelter can be provided, but as we can easily see that is not enough.
When I read a story such as the one about Danielle, I give great thanks for the care the boys did receive under extraordinarily difficult and poverty ridden circumstances. We may be dealing with the after affects of flat heads due to laying in a crib far too long untouched, rickets and special orthopedic shoes to correct foot and leg problems, we may have school struggles for years to come as children work hard to catch up and learn a new language, we may have had emotional battles for a few years and ongoing insecurity issues...but we have children who are alive, who are capable of learning, who can compensate and adapt and grow.
Danielle is placed in a loving family now, but so much has been lost that will never be regained, this child will never grow to have any semblance of a normal life, her deprivation was too severe and too lengthy.
Orphanage care looks wonderful in comparison, doesn't it?
And maybe we need to be reminded of this fact, life in an orphanage is NOT life in a family, but it often saves children from awful circumstances where far more damage can happen in a home. It keeps children fed who might otherwise starve to death. Orphanages provide at least a modicum of medical care for those who would otherwise perish. Orphanages keep children safer than they might otherwise be. It is not the ideal solution, but often it is far better than the alternative.
Thanks Kazakhstan, thanks Kyrgyzstan. You saved my children's lives.
Check out the fantastic images at: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/03/kyrgyzstan_and_manas_air_base.html
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Some who had seen the film before me had complained to me of the violence portrayed, which I too found unexpected and yet sadly very, very true-to-life. The saddest part is that here, in our cushioned American existence, we do not want to accept in our minds that the kinds of violent acts that were depicted on screen (and often much worse) are a daily part of life for many throughout the world. We are disturbed, we see it as "gratuitous violence" because we simply do not want to accept that for many people all around the globe, anger, hatred and racism can turn ordinary humans into maiming, killing machines. Interesting to me though is that we sit back and decry this as inhumane, and yet fail to see that our denial of the existence of such evil acts is just as inhuman. That's it...squeeze your eyelids shut just a little bit tighter and you will be able to convince yourselves that these things don't really happen.
The plot was ingeniuously laid out, playing back and forth between the present and the past, with explanations for a young man's knowledge of seemingly unrelated facts woven expertly into the fabric of his very difficult, traumatic life. Many might say this movie was not at all subtle, with its way of thrusting your face right into the life of the underprivileged. I, however, found lots of subtleties in the film, many layers of struggle of good versus evil, of the triumph of the human spirit.
It had a happy ending, and despite the terrible beginnings of our hero's life, we can see how his early experiences formed in him a strength that many of us would aspire to have. It also caused the viewer to take in what one might be forced to do to survive and how that conflicts with our perspective on what makes one a "good" person, and yet our "Slumdog" hero was definitely a young man with passion, courage and a core goodness despite having done many things that we would categorize as less than noble.
And isn't that essentially how we all are? Aren't we all struggling against our own demons, doing what we need to do to survive, and yet at our core isn't there a goodness in most of us? We may do things of which we are not proud, but that doesn't define who we are. We make mistakes along the way, we grow from them, we learn to be more compassionate due to those mistakes as we can better see how imperfection aflicts us all. It is when we hold ourselves and others to an impossible standard that we miss out on the decency and grace of others...and ourselves.
I also left with a sense of futility. Children throughout the world are digging through dumps for food, are orphaned, are neglected and abandoned, are living on the fringes of society...and they probably always will. Whether it be on the streets and in the slums of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, Haiti, Africa or yes, even here in the US...there are children who will grow up uncared for and unnurtured. And who loses in that deal? Is it the child? Yes, of course it is...but in many ways we fail to see it is we who are the bigger losers. When we don't act, we lose out on the opportunity to change a life as we often don't see how it changes our own as well. We lose out on the human capital that will never reach its full potential because it is left floundering in a garbage dump somewhere, or turns to drugs or prostitution.
Seeing stories depicted such as these causes a markedly different reaction in people. Some will turn away, saying "I don't want to see that, it is too disturbing, too uncomfortable". In others it creates a drive to act, to reach out and in some way try to be a catalyst for change. The Greg Mortenson's of the world do exist (the author of Three Cups of Tea), there are men and woman throughout the world who can not see such waste of human life and not step forward to try and do what they can to change the circumstances.
We can embrace the discomfort or we can hide from it.
For some of us, such images are all too real. For my friend, this was a reality she herself experienced and in conversations in the past I know it has never been forgotten, it changed her. For others such as myself, it is a life I can very well imagine my own children living in...children of mine who are not yet home and will find themselves turning to such lives of prostitution and crime in a mere 5 or 6 years. It causes a feeling of desperation to well up inside of me, and yet sadly, I also realize that these emotions are not likely to leave with the adoption of our daughters...for they will have escaped that fate but there will always be millions left behind who will not. It is but a drop of water in a dry ocean bed.
Our lives often take unexpected turns, and we learn a lot if we have hearts that are open enough to accept what we see.
Monday, March 02, 2009
It seems at every turn this weekend, I was struck by how Matthew's quiet and often overlooked compassionate leadership of his siblings has set the tone for our family, and again I give thanks for his wonderful spirit. He is not the "star" of the family, he is quieter than the other two, he is very reserved with his affection and yet IS a very affectionate person...just keeps it close to the vest, so to speak. He just calmly goes about his business of studying hard, getting great grades, being helpful and courteous around the house, and working towards a bright future. He has never been the child who had to have pats on the back, or brags about his achievements. He has willingly let his needs be put aside due to the sometimes greater needs of his brothers, whom he loves very, very much.
Thursday I was walking towards his classroom and his reading teacher pulled me aside. She and another teacher I know were standing guard in the hall, and she said she needed to share something with me. Matt was working on a paper in her class about "Hopes and Dreams", and she had just corrected them the evening before at home. She said I needed to read Matthew's when it came home that day, that it had her in tears...he had written on it "I want to someday be an architect or engineer to build people homes. Mostly I want the paperwork to hurry up and get done so our girls can come home soon.". She said that she was so touched that a dream of his was to have his sisters home, that most people would expect our other kids to have their noses pushed out of joint about it but she loved that he was excited about it. I said that most people assumed that the boys would not want more additions to the family, that we got asked all the time what they thought about it, as if we were forcing something on them that they wouldn't want. The other teacher who I know fairly well piped in "Well then they don't know your family very well, do they? You guys parent differently, that's why your kids are the way they are.", which of course made my day to hear something so kind spoken about us. But also, just knowing that Matthew was carrying his sisters around in his heart all the time really touched me.
And again I am reminded by my quiet son that I am not alone in this.
Matthew went to work with me this weekend, and he told me that even if he didn't earn money he just wanted to spend time with me. We chatted the entire drive about all sorts of things, about his brothers (He said he wished Kenny didn't have to work so hard in school because he is SO SMART, and he was glad he had such a cute little brother in Josh), about President Obama, about his camera that his grandma got him for Christmas. He worked so hard that day, I felt almost as if I had a real employee there! Not much longer and he will be capable of taking orders and running the cash register. He even explained that he thought working there was helping him be less uncomfortable talking to people, which I thought was great insight for a 9 year old.
That evening, we had a friend of his sleeping over and Kenny slipped coming off the 2nd to the bottom rung of his loft bed ladder and fell on his arm. After icing it and calming him down, I determined that we needed to go to the ER, as to me it was obvious from the kind of swelling that he probably broke it. I told the other boys it was time for bed, and Matthew was the first one, in front of his friend to say "I'll be praying for you Kenny, that it won't hurt and isn't broken". Of course, it was broken but thankfully not badly. Kenny left the ER with a splint and we will be taking him to the orthopedic MD this week to determine if he needs a cast or a removable splint while it heals. Kenny actually did really well considering his incredible fear of all things medical, and once he realized it would probably be only Xrays taken he settled down. My brave soldier walked out with a smile and a sling, and slept well that night. I count ourselves lucky that with 3 boys this is our first broken bone.
Kenny's big concern was being at school and having to use the bathroom, and being unable to get his pants up or snapped. I asked him if he would feel ok if we asked Matthew if he would help him, and he brightened up saying "Then I wouldn't feel scared, Matthew would help me!!". So last night I explained it to Matthew, telling him how uncomfortable it would be for Kenny to ask someone else to help him in the bathroom, and Matthew readily agreed laughinly saying "Yea, I see him naked all the time, it is no big deal for me and he shouldn't be embarassed if I help!". He then proceeded to take a shower with Kenny and wash his hair for him.
I thought about it a lot last night, how Matthew's kind, quiet leadership of our sons has made such a difference in our lives. Not many 9 year olds would willingly talk about prayer in front of their friends, or would show such care of their injured brother. They wouldn't admit that they love spending time with their mom, or that they carry hope that sisters they have never met will join our family even when one of them will once again take over his place as the eldest in the family. Quite honestly, without Matthew's special heart I doubt we could ever be successful at any of this, we are breaking all the "rules" by adopting out of birth order once again. But Matthew is a true leader of his sibling tribe, he is the Quiet General who leads by example. And what an awesome example that is.