Tuesday, September 29, 2009

After a Day to Calm Down...

Well now, maybe I can post about this in a more calm and rational manner. I mentioned in yesterday's post that I was very angry about something and I decided to let some time pass before I put anything in writing...if I decided to at all. I hesitated mainly because it is a bit embarrassing, but decided to go ahead as it may be helpful to someone else out there who might someday go through the same thing so that they wouldn't feel so alone.

You know, it is not often when I am dumbfounded or left speechless. I often have a snappy retort or a quick comeback, but what I encountered yesterday left me literally with my mouth hanging open, and I am still kicking myself for being unable (or maybe unwilling, haven't quite fully analyzed that one yet) to articulate my thoughts well in this situation.

Let me begin with a little background. We live in a small country neighborhood, a cul-de-sac on a gravel road where there are 8 modest homes, each on a little bit of land which at the time we all bought was dirt cheap. We have several retired couples living here, and most of us have been here since the development was built 13 years ago. We all know each other, we visit when we are out in our yards, and there have been mini skirmishes typical of any neighborhood over the year but nothing all that serious and thankfully nothing much involving us.

In every neighborhood there is the one woman who tends to enjoy keeping track of the comings and goings, who likes to sit back and comment when she feels something is amiss or if she thinks someone might need the "benefit" of her experience. In our case it happens to be a retired couple who are both this way. While we have experienced moments of minor annoyance in the past, Dominick and I would both be the first to say that they also have had moments of being kind and going out of their way to help us, so we tend to try and smile our way through the rougher conversations and quietly forgive them their trespasses (I say that both figuratively and literally as we drove up to our home one day and found him sneaking tomatoes from our garden and trying to hide it!).

I have thoroughly expected a visit soon, as Matthew and I have been "spotted" taking a morning walk to the mail box for our mid-morning break. A neck craning a couple of days ago was all I needed as a signal that a knock would be coming, and yesterday it did. We haven't visited in months as they were gone for the summer, but we've waved as we pass one another on the road. Well, as I expected, an excuse was made to come over and have me look something up on the internet for her but the real reason was apparent almost before she set foot in the house as she began to grill Matthew about what he was doing home, why he wanted to be homeschooled, if he missed being with other kids, if he was sad, etc. While I stood there gritting my teeth I realized Matthew was handling it all with aplomb so there was nothing to worry about, and I would handle it the way I always have in the past...with a grin and a nod in person, and shaking my head as she walked away. Talk turned to our impending adoption and the usual skeptical comments were made...not at all a surprise since each time there has been a pretty negative reaction as they simply can not understand why we would go so far away to bring home kids. We have purposely not said much around them so she was in the dark about it all but now that we are soon to travel I figured it was time to go ahead and share a bit. After 30 minutes or so though, she was on her way and we were on with our day having once again decided to just look beyond it.

Matthew and I then took our morning break and headed down to the mailbox, when we encountered her husband who pulled up next to us and turned off his engine. Expecting the usual inane banter I walked up to the cab of his pickup, a smile on my face and a "How're you doin'?" on my lips. I no more had the words leave my mouth when he yells at me...not quite at the top of his lungs but barely a notch lower...:

"How in the hell do you plan on feeding and clothing 5 kids? How in the hell do you think you are going to send them to college? What in the hell are you two thinking???"


My face turned crimson, I could feel it. Matthew was standing right there, hearing this, and he turned and quickly walked back to the house.

And I was left standing there, feeling strangely humiliated, as if there was some reason for shame.

I stammered, I offered some lame explanations of how we felt called to do this, of how whatever we could offer even at the barest minimum would be more than they currently have.

And I felt like a total idiot. A very angry idiot.

You know, I am not perfect. I have surely hurt others unintentionally in my lifetime. I have made gaffs like everyone has. But I have never, ever spoken to someone like that before, and never would.

I didn't know how to handle it. And if I am honest, perhaps it is because it touches that fear that resides not all that far from the surface that we KNOW this is a lot for us to take on, we KNOW it could turn out to be very, very hard...and not just financially but emotionally as well. That fear, I think, is what kept me from responding.

I am so mad at myself, and that is where some of the anger is coming from as well. Angry that I didn't stand up for us, angry that I didn't tell him to...well...you know what I am thinking.

But a tiny part of me also recognizes that for me, my own reaction or lack thereof showed me that I have indeed changed, that I am gradually maturing enough to recognize when it is pointless to argue or justify. I am not one to throw around Scripture, I didn't memorize it as a child growing up outside the church and don't have it handy in my memory banks. But today I turned to my "Rule Book For Life", Proverbs, and found Proverbs 18:2 "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions."

Besides that, I know full well that what we are doing in many areas of our life doesn't make sense to the outsider. How can I explain our decisions to any rational person? What we are doing IS irrational!!

Through the years I have been backed in a corner over our decision to marry so young, our decision to leave steady jobs in California for unstable and unknown self-employment in Colorado, our decision to adopt internationally versus domestically, our decision to adopt a second, third and now a fourth time, and now our decision to homeschool one of our children. I find it fascinating that people are so vocal with their opinions, that so many people must live their lives so perfectly that it is now time for them to turn outward and offer their advice to other poor saps who are floundering along, sinking in the quicksand of life without their Vast Knowledge.

But in all the years and the hundreds of comments, I have never been attacked like this before. I have had snide comments, side comments, and behind the back comments, but never a full frontal assault like I received yesterday.

Man, I was sorely unprepared and you'd think after all these years of practice I would have been in top form. I am more than a little disappointed in myself!

Why do I share this here? Well, maybe it will make just one person think before they open their mouths to offer undesired opinions. Maybe it will help others see that families who are a bit out of the norm for whatever reason...be they adoptive, gay, step or rainbow colored all still have the right to live their lives however they see fit without fear of someone verbally assaulting them. Maybe it will serve to let those who love us know just how much your support means in light of the words and deeds of others.

I spent yesterday in a bit of a haze, so angry was I. When I walked back in the house Matthew said "Mommy, you should have told him to mind his own business.". Maybe I should have...

But as always, God's arm reaches out to snugly enfold us in our times of frustration or pain. That afternoon I received a couple of packages from people who care. This morning I received an unexpected invitation to have a lunch date and visit at the park, and the love felt there was...as always...nourishing and understanding.

Thankfully, the world is not filled with those who will never understand what I can't quite explain myself. The world is also inhabited by those who don't expect an explanation but will love you no matter what.

Is he right? Time will tell I guess. Will I let it eat at me? For awhile, if I am being honest. Kind of hard to shake it. Will we let it stop us?

Not on your life.

A little criticism isn't worth giving up what I am surrounded with every single day, in fact, it is that which surrounds me which makes taking the criticism worthwhile.

And I repeat my new mantra, as if to convince myself:

"I have faith in the tomorrow I can not see."

Oh please God, let that faith not be misplaced.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Introducing "LaJoy Boys Services"!

I originally sat down to create a post which would have been written out of anger, and have erased it after having spent a half an hour venting. I need to cool off and write it later tonight or tomorrow when I am less venomous.

So instead you get pics!

We have yet another adventure going on in our home. "LaJoy Boys Services" has begun operation! I was approached by a friend about a part-time cleaning job at the "Dolphin House" which is a local child advocacy center housed in a beautiful older craftsman style home which coincidentally used to belong to friends of ours from church. I was so grateful for the chance to have a little work that would be flexible and would help bring in a little extra money. Then I got to thinking about it, and knowing that my friend who approached me about it would be OK with it, I sat down with the boys and asked them if they would like to have their own cleaning company and have their first client. The looks on their faces was so cool when I told them what they could earn, and that they could split the money. They had been talking about finding jobs raking leaves or pulling weeds to try and earn some extra money, so this was almost a dream come true!

I explained they would have to do the work themselves (with Mommy helping and supervising, of course), that we would open a bank account for them, that they would have to bill their customer themselves and take care if all expenses. We also laid the ground rule that whatever was purchased would have to be agreed upon by the "company" and be shared equally, and have approval of Upper Management (the Bigger LaJoys). With this money they will have to pay for any extras they would like, such as movie nights out, special activities above and beyond what we would normally provide, etc. For example, if they would like to go to the Hot Springs pool which we can afford only on a rare ocassion, they could withdraw money and pay for it themselves. In truth, it will cover exactly what it would likely cover were it to go into our household account...the extras we can't always afford. So why not let them take ownership of it and let them direct how it is spent and learn to save it?

We thought this was the perfect opportunity to hone their entrepreneurial skills as well and have them learn more about budgeting and finances. Kenny in particular is highly likely to own his own business one day and this will allow him to "get his feet wet" and try it out on a baby scale. Both Kenny and Matthew proved their mettle this past winter when they stepped in to replace an employee who left us midway through the season, as they worked every Saturday for 6 or 7 weeks voluntarily and did a great job busing tables, getting drinks, hauling trash, etc. so we felt this was the next logical step for them. They each saved the vast majority of the money they earned so they can have spending money on our adoption trip, and they even shared a little with Joshie. So we feel fairly confident that they will make wise decisions...and if not they will learn from their mistakes.

Here is the crew, ready for action!

We spent 3 hot, sweaty hours on Saturday afternoon cleaning, from floor to ceiling. The building needed a good initial mucking out and then it will be much less time each week. They mopped, they vacuumed, they moved furniture and dusted and did windows, they cleaned toilets, they scrubbed sinks. When all was said and done it looked pretty darned good...and they felt like they were very grown up! I asked in the car on the way home if they thought it was going to be worth it, and they were already calculating up how much money they had the potential to earn and were deep in discussion about how best to spend it, or what to save for.

After a quick dash home, it was off the the local Corn Maze with out tiny church youth group which this time around also included Kenny's best friend and brother and sister. The Bomb (aka the 15 passenger van) was loaded to the gills as we pulled up to the Maze and all piled out. I'd love to show you a photo of our little motley crew but I purposely do not include recognizable photos of others on the blog out of respect for their privacy...but I did get one with all heads turned the other way and Dominick attempting to guide us all through the Maze!

Our littlest member was napping in the car while Mommy stayed close by and watched. We all had a great time wandering around in the corn. It was not at all a new experience for Kenny's buddy and his siblings as their Daddy is a corn farmer!! Afterwards the Bomb headed back to our house for a dinner of pizza and s'mores cooked over our outdoor fireplace while kids played hide and go seek and jumped on the trampoline. It was one of those wonderful warm fall evenings that we won't have many more of.

And finally, I just had to share Joshie's missing front tooth!

Catch Up Time!

We were all excited to receive our first postcard! One came in from Columbus (Thanks!) and we hope our lonely first card is soon joined by many others from all over. Thank you so much to those of you who are making the effort to help us create a little memory for our girls. It is thoughtful of you to go out of your way to get a card, write a little something on it, and get it mailed. I know how my days go and sometimes my best intentions are swept away by the busyness of the day, so we appreciate the time that goes into fulfilling this request.

Sorry for the blog remaining quiet for so long, as you all know it is quite unlike me. I just have a lot on my plate right now (or platter as I joked with someone else, we LaJoy's don't use mere ordinary sized Chinet! hahaha!) and I am trying to focus on the most important tasks at hand first, and sadly blogging is a little lower on the list at the moment. Don't worry though, as things develop it will quickly rise to the top of the list!

We heard from our agency and the dossier is in the last stages!!! Hurray!!!! Why does it still feel so unreal? I think it won't feel as if it is really happening until we step on that plane...and we have a contest winner. What an incredibly long journey this has been, one that in reality has yet to physically take place but emotionally has been like traveling the Mojave Desert with an oasis in sight just ahead...just ahead...just ahead...only to never quite find that shade and promised cool drink.

In some ways maybe it has been good to have had my "spare brain time" taken up with learning the ins and outs of homeschooling as it has made the weeks pass more quickly. My mind sure has been preoccupied with research and study as we explore this new lifestyle of sorts. Letting go of old ways of thinking about education is proving difficult...I want to embrace the freedom that comes with homeschooling and yet worry greatly about "doing it wrong". But I have learned with great gusto right along Matthew, trying to gain footing and balance as I laugh at God's great joke. So it wasn't enough to tackle an extremely difficult international adoption, no...God wanted me to take on school for lay ministry and wouldn't leave me alone until I obeyed. Then we have to create a 5th grade curriculum from scratch in 24 hours, gain enough confidence to say to myself "Yes, you can do this." and pretend to have a teaching credential all at the same time. Anything else God? How about becoming Manager of the Cubs too???? Hahahaha!

I really am joking about it despite how absurd it feels when I sit back and look at it all. These challenges are mountains of love to climb, they are all good things which bring meaning and purpose to life. There is someone I care about who has been slammed over and over again the past 4 or 5 months with major life event after major life event, and the hits still keep coming. We all have those seemingly unending times when so much happens are afraid to lift our head off the pillow in the morning for fear of what the day might bring. I certainly have lived through some very dark, dark days. So when I begin to think to myself "Hey, what is going on here?" as I examine the life I am leading I can only give thanks that at least for today, my troubles are minimal, at least for today I may be very busy and have my mind racing a thousand directions but there is no death and no great sorrow. For that I really do give thanks every day, for I know that another season will arrive eventually, bringing with it a wintry cold to be trudged through when life will not be filled with happy busyness but with true reasons for sorrow.

I was thinking to myself that this time with Matthew is precious and perhaps necessary. Life in our household is often about meeting the needs of Kenny and his medical, educational and emotional deficits. Nothing that can't be handled as you all know, but he is often the focus. It has often been about Josh's needs as well as we struggled through the Valley of RAD and revisit it occasionally. Steady Eddie Matthew is rarely at the center of need. He demands little, requires little, and rarely wants to have all eyes on him. He is the quiet strength of the boys, he is the one who sets the example, he is the leader...and he has often been the unnoticed one by others with his less gregarious and outgoing nature when compared to his two brothers. He has lived through the ups and downs of adding 2 siblings, some of which was far from easy, and he has taken it all in stride. Now he once again will live through another big life change as we add the girls. I can't help but think that these few months he and I are having alone together homeschooling will strengthen our relationship and provide him with some unasked-for-yet-always-appreciated one on one time with each other, just Matt and Mommy. I have always been so grateful for each of our sons, and I also realize that Matthew sets to tone and has, in many ways, unknowingly helped us parent with his calm reactions to over-the-top emotions or his gentle guidance of his younger siblings. He is all boy and yet has a touch of kindness that springs up at moments and touches my heart.

For example, the other day we were driving to the store and out of the blue he says "Mommy, it feels weird without the girls home. For some reason, it is like someone is missing even though they have never been here." Then he added "I need to talk to you about something. I think that in between the two trips you need to stay in Kazakhstan and not come home. I have been thinking about it a lot and we men will be OK, but the girls might be heartbroken and scared you will never come back. Remember how Joshie was heartbroken? Maybe if you stayed with them until they can come home they will feel safer and know you are not leaving them for good. I am worried they will think you won't come back for them."

And through my tears I lifted up this son of mine to God in thanks.

Embracing the sisters he has never met, loving them from afar, protecting them before they are even home. Yes God, thanks for these precious weeks to let HIM know that he too is very, very important.

Joshie lost one of his two front teeth a couple of days ago, and man, he is the cutest thing with tat big old gaping hole there and just a hint of a lisp. Don't know why this hit my heart the way it did, maybe because it is one of the last vestiges of babyhood and I know I won't ever get this again as we are rolling past all the last of the younger childhood stages faster than ever and I wish we could slow the train down just a little bit!! He is growing up so fast, this next Saturday he is competing in a triathlon for kids with his best buddy in the whole world. Josh will be doing the biking portion of the race and has been "practicing" on our street. It is a 3 mile trek and I think he will love it.

Kenny had a difficult week last week (another reason I was away from blogland so long) as "Daddy Kenny" once again reappeared and we had 2 days where we had minor incidences at school where control was a factor as well as lying. Oh how frustrated I get when we visit this place again, especially when we go along so well for several weeks and then BAM here we are. Someone asked if I thought it was triggered by Matthew being home schooled and Kenny wanting attention and I simply didn't want to feel obligated to explain that this is cyclical for us, sort of like clockwork and I can almost predict when we are due for a bad week.

Frankly, I get tired of explaining things to others all the time. I get worn out feeling obligated to nod my head and smile so I am not seen as rude, despite how rude others are in making assumptions that they know what is best for our children...as if they have adopted kids from these backgrounds and can understand the nuances that go into parenting them. I am NOT talking about casual or private conversations with those who love our family, I am talking about the mom you don't know well from school, the passerby at Walmart, the casual acquaintance whose children are perfect, don't you know! Hahaha!

So back to Kenny, we have made it clear to him that serious consequences are coming down the pike. One of his offenses was playing around during math time in class. Not such a biggie if one doesn't consider the other facts that for 2 weeks he was coming home with homework saying his teacher never explained it or never talked to the class about it. Hmmmm.....this is Kenny. This is Mommy knowing Kenny. This is Mommy not quite buying Kenny's explanation. This is Mommy letting Kenny suffer a natural consequence of not interfering, letting him not turn in his homework completed, and having his teacher notice he was not paying attention in class and had a talk with him. This is Mommy being asked to speak with the teacher after class...and this is Kenny not getting to go to woodworking or TaeKwonDo that night because he was playing in class when he was working so he now needed to work at home when he should be playing. This is Kenny not very happy about it.

We had another incident of straight out lying the next day, and yet another day last week after school his teacher talked to me again as Kenny along with the whole class Kenny was instructed specifically not to do something but decide that he was going to do it anyway because in his words "I wanted to", so we made it clear to Kenny that his next consequence was going to be more severe. If we have another incidence this week, Kenny loses all after school activities and TV for one month. The TV won't be too big a deal as they don't watch that much anyway, but when they do he does enjoy it a lot. But the after school activities will really, really bother him. So we will see if he gets it together and we have a better week this week (I sure hope so!) or if we continue down this not so pretty path and end up sitting at home much of the month. On the bright side, these rough patches are growing fewer and further between, he IS slowly maturing and as I was telling someone this weekend we place him at about 8 years old now versus the emotional equivalent to a 4 year old we brought home. I know where the desire to control stems from, I know the logical explanations for his behavior, and it would be easy to play "Pity Kenny" based upon that knowledge, but that won't create an honest and respectful young man, so the "Pity Kenny" party disbanded a long time ago. That doesn't mean that privately at moments I don't feel for him, he is fighting to let go of skills that once served him well in orphanage life, and it is expected that it would take years to undo what was created in him. We'll get there, we just might have a few rocky roads to travel first.

So here I sit, 2:30 AM as we begin another week...all for you folks as I was feeling guilty about not blogging! What adventures in LaJoy Land will this week bring? Will it bring "The Call"? I hope we get it before our Family Celebration...how much fun it would be to walk in there knowing we finally...finally...finally will be joined with the rest of our family.

Only the Shadow knows...! Hahahaha!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You Are Cordially Invited To A "Family Celebration"!!!

Much to my surprise, some dear friends from our church
approached me a week ago and said they are throwing us a "Family Celebration" which will be sort of like a shower, but will put the focus on "family" where it should be. How wonderful and unexpected! And I loved that they grasped that the bigger meaning for us would be not about gifts but about simply acknowledging how blessed we are and to commemorate our upcoming adoption in some way.

So I got to thinking and decided I was going to "invite" all of my best supporters which are found here in the blogosphere! While I know you are far flung and couldn't possibly attend, I am hoping you will do so virtually by mailing us a post card (no gifts please, seriously) which shows your location on the front and has a message for our girls and family. It would mean a lot to me to have all of you present somehow. Maybe you could put how long you have been reading the blog or have "known" our family via online groups...some of you have been following our family in one form or another on the internet since not long after Matthew came home! I'd like to display them at the celebration somehow.

So, if you would like to "attend", please send your postcards so we receive them by a day or two before the celebration on October 17th. You may mail them to our work address:

The LaJoy Family

C/O Jetway Cafe

2100 Airport Road

Montrose, CO 81401

Wouldn't it be cool to have postcards from all over the US...and even from our readers out of the country? But the most important thing is that it would be incredibly meaningful...and powerful...to share with the girls some day so they could know that there were many who were praying them home.

We are so grateful to all of you who have carried us in your hearts for so long, visiting our blog often to check in, leaving encouraging comments, and walking this road with us. If I had my way I would have every one of you here to help us celebrate in person and I'd "pull an Oprah" and pay for your airfare to boot! hahahaha! But this is my little way of letting our "real life" friends know that many of you are terribly important in our lives as well, and we consider you to be a part of our extended family.

So please, if you think about it, grab a postcard at the store that says "Georgia" or "California" or even "France" and drop it in the mail to us, and we will celebrate knowing you are with us in spirit!!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pow Wow!

Before leaving for my retreat on Friday, Matthew and I made his study on Native Americans come alive by visiting a local Pow Wow with some of his homeschooling classmates. This was our first venture out with anyone and we had a really good time!

But what excited mommy most was using my new camera for the first time, and man, was I thrilled with the results!

I received some birthday money from my Mom and mother-in-law, and decided to use it to purchase a small pocket sized digital camera for our trip to Kazakhstan. As most of you know, I love taking photos although I am quite amateurish, and I usually haul along my big old Canon digital SLR Rebel. I have always been quite frustrated with the shutter delay on the smaller digital cameras, and rather than buy one and throw it across the room thereby making my purchase a financial fax paux, I had just given up on ever having a smaller camera to tote around.

But knowing how much stuff will be crammed in backpacks and carryons, and wanting to keep it lighter, I decided to do some research and see if there was some newer technology out there that I might find less frustrating and lighter to carry around for weeks on end.

I found a Canon SuperShot SX110IS online and reading the very positive reviews and how others said it was a good substitute for SLR lovers, I decided to see if I could check one out in person. We found one at our local Target, and made the counter person dig out a memory card for it so we could give it a real try. WOW! It actually DID have minimal shutter delay! And it is in the "super zoom" category which also meant we could take pictures of locals in Kazakhstan inconspicuously which would really come in handy. But wouldn't you know, it was discontinued and the display unit was the last one they had. Dominick gave me "the look", which is the signal for me to walk away because he is going to try and bargain and I will totally blow it because I will be embarrassed and ruin the deal.

Thankfully I stayed away long enough...Dominick talked the clerk into giving us a 30% discount!!! Yippeee!! The camera had only been on display less than a month and in our small town that means it hadn't been handled all that much, so we were not too worried about it.

So as a test run I took it to the Pow Wow Friday. It was SO nice to have something that fit easily into my purse. But it was when the action started that a gleeful giggle escaped my lips. We were easily 60+ yards from the action when they started dancing, and not only was the camera able to capture some great images they were nice and clear as the image stabilization feature really kept the blurriness down even when zoomed almost to the max. Below are just a few samples of the pictures I captured which Matthew wants to incorporate into his lapbook:

Incredible to me that these came out so clear...clear enough to see faces well and this is cropped quite a bit too...and I was EASILY 50+ yards away!!!

And this one I was more like 70 yards away...and this too has been cropped by about 1/4.

I was maybe 20 yards from this young lady and the photo was cropped about 70%. The colors are stunning and the clarity is awesome!! I didn't do any photoshopping of this one at all other than cropping, so what you see is the real deal in terms of exposure and color straight from the camera. Have I said I love this camera yet?

OK...so this is not that far away, although still maybe 10 yards or so...and most would think this is a dumb shot but I love the more abstract views even though others often don't.

So overall, the trial run was awesome, and the shutter lag was very minimal. I caught shots I never would have caught with a standard pocket digital camera. Canon really stepped up to the plate and hit a home run with this little baby!

Now tell me why it is that I can't get this excited over a hairdo or makeup? Ugh! I am such a non-chick!!!

This camera is going to take phenomenal pictures in Kaz, and I hope I am blessed to have the opportunity to shoot some really interesting and unique things while there.

So a room may not be ready, we may not have a stitch of clothing for them, but hey...priorities, right? We'll have some fantastic photos!!!! Hahaha!!!

What Makes it Easier??

"I Have Faith In The Future I Can Not See"

What an interesting affirmation I received at the women's retreat I attended this weekend. Very fitting for where I am at in so many ways.

I had a wonderful time going with 2 other friends to La Foret, where the boys go to church camp every summer. This place is so special, it feels sacred from the moment you turn up the drive and it was cool to see how many other women felt the same way. The boys teased me about going off to camp, and warned me about the fable of the Purple Bishop, which is some sort of haunting story they hear time and time again there. I didn't realize how much I needed the break, and it was terribly nice to leave guilt free thanks to a terrific hubby who understands that my "job" is not an easy one and I need to have this sort of brain break once in awhile.

I have tried to blog a couple of times over the past 2 weeks and have found my brain is just not engaged. I sit here staring at a blank screen, waiting for the words to come which never do. My mind seems far too full of every day practical things to go to that place I visit when I blog. The work involved in jumping into homeschooling over night has been pretty intense and time consuming, and I think I have crammed 12 months of research into 2 weeks. But the work involved with defending our reasons for homeschooling is even harder. When you are not pulling your child out because of their failing grades, when you are not pulling them out to separate them from the worldly influences, when you are not pulling them out because of behavioral issues it seems to make it more difficult for people to understand.

Teachers will complain about how they are not really allowed to teach anymore, that they are only teaching to tests or reading scripts from carefully selected textbooks. They explain how frustrated they are with the lack of creativity and experiential learning that kids get today. They admit that kids are missing out on necessary play time with getting only one recess at lunch time and no other breaks throughout the day. They too have to deal with the myriad issues that children bring with them into the classroom...issues that require a psychologist more than a teacher.

And yet many teachers get defensive and fearful your child will not be getting the education they deserve the minute they learn you are homeschooling...even when that decision was made for those very reasons they have just cited themselves. I don't really understand that.

Luckily I happen to have a couple of open minded teacher friends who can offer encouragement and support, and who after hearing our thoughtful reasons understood our decision to pull Matt out.

And the urgency where Kenny is concerned grows stronger with each passing day. In Sunday School he was given an assignment and I learned after returning home what he wrote, calling himself a "punk" who never did anything right. When asked where he got this from, he said he heard it on the playground, and while some of it might have been a bit of a play for sympathy as he had gotten in trouble a bit the past few days for slipping back into "Daddy Kenny" role again, part of it also speaks to how he is not feeling successful and viewing himself negatively. He brought home his baseline spelling test from the first week of school, and he missed 98 out of 112 words. His teacher seems to understand our serious concerns and has a plan to begin working on phonics and revisiting all the rules he never was given, but I am afraid it is beyond reason to expect he will come close to hitting grade level this year, and his speech issues are making it that much harder for him to spell and write well.

You know, all of this is a real lesson in humility and keeping it real. There are a few people in my life for whom this is all a subtle competition to prove whose kid is smarter than whose, who have that hint of condescension in their voice when they discuss any of this and say with a pitying tone "Well...maybe they will eventually do OK." as if Kenny isn't as bright as the next kid but simply hadn't had exposure to material, or as if Matthew was suddenly a troubled kid because we were proactive and made a choice to try and head off the trouble before it really started. I want to yell so badly sometimes "People, it is NOT a race!!! This is life and hearts and minds!!! WHO CARES WHOSE KID IS BETTER! I want them ALL to do well!".

In our family we have straight A's and...well...those who aren't. One is NOT more intelligent than the other, and at least in the haven of our home no one insinuates it or tries to "one up" one another. Instead we try to lift one another up. I can hear Kenny coming in from school the day after Matt's first art class last week and raving over Matt's art work. I can see Matthew reading with Kenny and Josh, helping them with words they don't know. It's about support and nurturing, and helping everyone to the finish line and not leaving anyone behind or making them feel "less than".

There are also our friends who totally understand it, who will be there pulling for us every step rather than waiting to cackle behind our backs should we fail. Thank you God for those who are real and who are secure enough to have no need to tear others down.

I realized at the retreat this weekend that our life really is taking a divergent path in even more ways now, and that more and more we will seem outside the mainstream. I also realized I am OK with that and actually prefer it. Maybe we never belonged in the mainstream in the first place, and frankly I am tired of trying to pretend to fit where we don't really fit. Kenny is not a 4th grader other than in name only, my kids aren't white and never will be, I can't help it if Matt wants to learn at a different pace and explore many things out of plain old curiosity, Joshie can't stop himself from feeling very insecure at times and needing us.

And I love being the Mommy in this divergent family. I love it so much. It is interesting, it is fun-filled, it is dynamic and loving and amazing. I am sure if I had the typical 2.5 kids and lived in the suburbs with kids who were cookie cutter perfect like my cookie cutter tract house might be...I'd be bored out of my mind and feel unfulfilled and unchallenged. I will NEVER be able to get away with saying that around here!!! Hahaha!

The difference between the LaJoy's and the not-LaJoys is that even though we may appear to be mixed up, even though our cookie cutter is a little bent and our family is divergent, even though our path is crooked and winding, even though it might be easier to "quit while we are ahead"...

We have faith in the future we can not see.

We have faith that our daughters will join us and at some point we will all truly become one loving family. We have faith that our children will flourish as we make what may seem to be odd choices for them in terms of education and activities. We have faith that God is not taking us places and only to leave us dangling. We have faith that eventually our children will look at us and thank us for not feeling bound to the norm and for being willing to sometimes look outside the box despite the criticism of others. We have faith that we can work it all out somehow. We have faith in the love of our family and friends.

We have faith in the future we can not see. We really do.

It isn't blind faith, not at all. It is well thought out, hard earned faith. It is strong because it has been validated over and over again. It is a day-by-day-try-your-best-and-count-on-God-for-the-rest-kind of faith. It is a sustaining, life giving, heart nurturing faith when there is nowhere else to turn, when the world seems against you.

We have faith in the future we can not see.

And that makes it all so much easier.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Oh, the Places You'll Go!"

The motto of every homeschooler ought to be taken straight from the Dr. Seuss classic that sits beside me as I type this...

You have brains in your head,

You have feet in your shoes,

You can steer yourself

Any direction you choose.

As I read this to the boys this evening, it seemed to speak to me and our curent life situation so clearly. Not just about our decision to homeschool, about which we have received many concerned comments, but about everything.

However, as it relates to Matthew this week, nothing could be clearer. We made the right decision for our son. Period. Is it the right decision for anyone else? I am not the one to judge. Will it be the right decision for our other children? We will wait and see.

Seeing Matthew with his nose joyfully buried in a book (He read at least 9 or 10 this week), seeing him gleefully skip as he walked out of his new art class where he produced a work unlike anything I have ever seen him create before, watching him excitedly writing down new vocabulary words and discuss prefixes and root words to try and discern the meaning of a new one, well, it was all the evidence I needed to support our decision.

What was even more interesting was watching the "learning spiderweb" begin to grow. Watching videos of Native American music and dancers on Youtube as he was creating his lapbook cover, he tentatively asked about the flutes. Wanna know more? You don't have to ignore that curiosity...let's flip to a web site and look at their design! He then asked if we could listen to sounds of the rainforest which will be our next unit...wanna know more? Let's take a listen!! NOTHING is stopping him, and he is just barely beginning to move outside the public school box and is shedding that herd mentality. It will be but a few weeks and I bet he will be burning up the laptop going from site to site to learn more! As it was, we checked out over 40 books this week from the library and I was chided by him when I said we had probably more than we could handle and he said "Mommy, you can NEVER have enough books!". Music to a mom's ears.

It is as if my son's spirit has been freed, turned lose on the world to grab as much knowledge as he can...and this is only the beginning! I can not even express what this is like. Here is his cover art for his Native American lapbook unit, and even it almost sings with a newfound joy:

I am so happy for my son, he is discovering a new side to himself, and he can explore and create and express himself in totally different ways now. It is all I ever dreamed of for ALL of our kids.

Oh the places you'll go, Matthew!!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

20 Observations of a Newbie Homeschooler

I have been so busy the past couple of weeks I haven't posted much, so you are getting a lot tonight when I finally have time to sit here in the quiet and regurgitate all my thoughts for you to read.

A week into our homeschooling adventure, and already I have come to a few conclusions and have a few observations, some of which are unexpected and some which do not come as a surprise at all. I thought I would share them with you here and would be interested in hearing your thoughts as well...preconceived notions and all!

1) I will not...do you hear me? NOT ever wear a denim jumper with a white T-Shirt.

2) I am quickly seeing that part of the reason our life is so hectic is that in many ways we have lived life like a homeschooling family all along, but have tried to cram in 8 hours of school in addition to all the unofficial homeschooling we have always done. We try to enrich their lives with outside activities and experiences, we look for ways to create intergenerational interaction, we are a service oriented family right down to Joshie. It was something I would not have perceived until the past week, that we already teach our kids a lot, just not the core subjects, and we feel all those other things are equally important to creating men of character who also have followed their passions which leads to much greater happiness.

3) People just can't help themselves, they have to comment upon seeing a child in a store during school hours. Luckily, we have had good training for this with adoption being part of our lives and everyone feeling the need to comment about our family. I guess now we have at least encouraged variety in the comments...which do they question first, the fact he is not in school or the fact that we don't match?? :-)

4) Matthew loves to read. Matthew loves to read a lot. Matthew gobbles books like the cookie monster when given the time. Did I say Matthew loves to read???

5) I didn't realize that this decision at this time would bring a load of guilt for not having Kenny and Josh home too. It wouldn't be wise to jump into all of them being home yet, but I feel guilty for depriving them of what I think is quickly becoming obvious would be a better path for them as well.

6) School supplies when purchased for use in your own home, and which are always so much fun to buy in the first place, become even MORE fun when you get to see them used in front of your eyes!

7) I didn't realize that homeschooling my kids might mean I too am going back to school to learn HOW to do it...and hopefully do it well.

8) The whole socialization argument is bogus. Totally. Completely. If anything, the socialization more closely mirrors "real life". As adults we have choices of whom we interact with...we just don't always see it that way. We can choose to leave a job, we can choose to leave a relationship, we can choose to walk away from a church that doesn't suit us well or a friendship that turns sour. It is only in public schools where we tell our kids to just "walk away" when they encounter kids that are evil incarnate (hyperbole here, of course!)...then we force them to sit next to them in class for hours on end. How exactly do they have the choice to walk away? How is that like "real life"? Kids are powerless to change their environments, adults aren't. Adults may CHOOSE to remain in a job with people they don't care for, but that is their choice. Instead we thrust our kids into situations where they are powerless and can't act on the choices we want them to make. They are stuck and sometimes they succumb. There are plenty of opportunities for peer interaction if you are not holing up in your compound and actually WANT interaction with the outside world and kids of the same age. Also, where else in life other than in public school are you ever in the situation where you only have people your own age to interact with? OK, 'nuff said...but suffice it to say that my biggest fear is quickly becoming laughable, and that is unexpected.

9) You will justify your decision to others forever, just as you find yourself justifying your decision to adopt internationally versus domestically forever. You can get angry and snotty over it, or you can develop your spiel and let it fly when needed. I just haven't had time to develop this spiel well yet.

10) Homeschooling changes your own thought processes about education completely, it upends them and it takes some getting used to. Sort of like becoming a Christian, you learn to live life in a new way and create a "new normal" which may seem abnormal to everyone else.

11) Being scared of failing drives you to research very, very, very carefully. Fear is a great motivator. I can fail when it is myself, but I can not fail my children. Period.

12) I never thought I would say this, but I think it is possible that Matthew (and maybe all the kids eventually) will get not only a different education, but a better education...as long as #11 above keeps Mom working at it.

13) My son is interesting, very interesting. I knew that before, but I am discovering it on a whole different level now. He has a cool mind.

14) I will never, ever fit in any particular category. I am weird, I am non-conformist without striving to be, I am not going to fit into the homeschool mommy mold any better than I did the public schooling mommy mold, or the Christian mommy mold, or the Betty Crocker mommy mold. In some ways, now that I think about it, NOTHING about me screams "Mommy"!!!

15) Joshie and Kenny are phenomenal and supportive brothers. They are proud of Matthew, there is no jealousy, there is only understanding compassion and encouragement. Every day when they get in the car it is "What did you do today Matthew? What did you learn?" and when looking at his work there are a lot of "ooohs and aaahhhhs". I expected "It's not fair you get to stay home with Mommy!" or "Why can't I?", as that would be normal. My kids somehow also don't seem to fall in the "normal kid mold" either. Maybe THAT is why we all belong together! hahaha!

16) People automatically assume your child was A) A trouble maker or B) Failing in school if you make the decision to pull them from public school and homeschool them. They also look at you like you are lying when you say "Honestly, he was bored and it wasn't working for him.", or they assume you incorrectly think your kid is some kind of genius and that you are arrogant.

17) The term "Special Needs" has a certain connotation. We forget that every single living person has "Special Needs" and deserves to be cared for regardless of what those needs are.

18) I have not yet figured out why it is assumed that an adult who managed to graduate high school with good grades and who has lived in the real world and functioned in jobs for 25+ years is incapable of teaching their children elementary math, reading and writing skills. Like we haven't been keeping our household books, writing letters, reading everything from computer manuals to Reader's Digest. Naw...I can't manage to teach my kid what a synonym is, I can't correct his writing mistakes. But most importantly, why is it assumed that we, as parents, are not only teachers but facilitators of our children's education...meaning that we can figure out how to have others teach our kids what we ourselves can not. Isn't that our job in life anyway? To lead our children to learning experiences in addition to teaching them what we know? I may not know calculus...I'll grant you that...but I DO know where to find a teacher or a class to teach it to my children.

19) Teaching our kids to think and be resourceful is more important than teaching them facts. It is sort of like the old adage about giving a man a fish and you feed him for today, but teach him how to fish and you've fed him for a lifetime. Giving our kids the tools to be able to find information when it is needed is almost as important it not more so than having them memorize facts and dates. There is a place for that, but if my kids can problem solve, have people skills, and can find what they need when they need it, they will do OK in this world.

20) Pulling your child from school is not always a judgment of their current teacher, the school itself, or even a judgment on the system in general. Sometimes it is that your kid is not the norm, and schools teach to the norm. That's all. There are some people who really and truly don't have any blame to lay on anyone, they just want a different environment for their kids.

So there you have it, my first 20 observations surrounding our new homeschooling adventure. Nothing profound, nothing even all that interesting! But I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What is Your Jesus Like?

What an emotional weekend it has been. Lots of subtle things going on around me, gentle reminders of God's presence all over the place, moving quietly in and out of the lives of the people I interacted with. At moments God spoke through the tears of some, and through the sincerity and thoughtful introspection of others. There is heartache in the lives of a couple of people I love dearly, situations with no quick fix or easy solutions. There has been a reaching out to me in love as I have in turn been trying to reach out to others in the ways I can.

Our children's sermon this morning was such a blessing, and a reminder that our family is worshipping with folks who are unique and extraordinary in their care and nurturing of us. Our new pastor is...well...she pretty much totally rocks. What I loved about her message to the kids this morning was how natural it was, how profoundly understanding it was of issues we deal with daily, and how it was just a part of how she views the world and not at all about making a point about any particular person.

She was talking about the various ways in which people see Jesus differently, and she had a picture projected up on the screen of Jesus surrounded by children in modern attire, and in typical multi-cultural style there were children of many colors surrounding him. On his lap was a blue eyed blond boy (and of course Jesus was depicted as Caucasian with blue eyes, regardless of the fact that there was almost no way he was fair skinned or blue eyed!). Our pastor then asks if we see anything wrong with this picture? After a couple of responses about Jesus' blue eyes, she gets to her point.

Why is it that you rarely see Jesus shown with a child of color on his lap? Yes, you read that right...she was bothered by the fact that the Asian child, the Indian child, the African child were not shown in the "seat of honor" but instead there was the perfect little Caucasian child being held by Jesus while the others looked on.

Matthew then spoke up and said "How come I can't sit on his lap?".

And once again I was brought up short, realizing that even at my best and most intuitive I can never truly understand what it is like to be Asian living in a Caucasian world and family. Subtle messages bombard our children without us even recognizing it, telling them over and over again that they are not good enough. You see very few Asians in our media. We don't recognize it, because we have been conditioned to see things such as this picture and not give it a second thought. It may not have been a purposeful slight on the part of the artist, but it goes to show how we become accustomed to seeing life in a certain way, and we don't usually question or even think much about it.

In our small congregation at the moment, our children are usually the only non-Caucasians in attendance. And yet our church family has never seen them as "Asian" or even really "adopted" other than when we are going through the process of bringing them home. Right now without me doing any pushing at all and having only brought the idea to one of our ministries, they are raising money for John Wright's work in Kyrgyzstan, and with their contributions have helped provide a way to make a living for one family and are working towards more mattresses to be made for seniors and orphans for whom the mere existence of a mattress to sleep on instead of cold concrete through the winter might truly save lives. Watching Kenny on his knees this morning peering at a poster with pictures of Kyrgyz folks right there in the sanctuary of his church half a world away from his old home, I thought how welcoming that is for a little boy to have the people around him show by their actions that he is accepted. Awhile back our congregation showed us in another way that we are loved, by adding the Russian word for peace to our closing circle refrain of words for peace...Shalom, Salaam, Shanti, Vrede, Paz, Mir, Peace.

For me, that is the real Jesus...he is present in each of us who embrace the Spirit, he lives because of these sorts of actions, actions like the ones our church takes, without fanfare or need for attention. My Jesus...the Jesus that lives in the hearts of the people I call my church family...that Jesus would try and scoop up ALL the kids and plop them on his knee!!

On another note, I managed to get my homework done for class this weekend, and I am so glad it is over! I am NOT a preacher, and it is very difficult for me to write and deliver a sermon. It is about the most uncomfortable thing I have ever done!! I don't know how anyone gets enough confidence to step up to the pulpit week after week. I enjoy my classmates a great deal, and it was great fun to hear all of their sermons. I still have one more class meeting in November and have to deliver 2 sermons for that session. How I hope I am not there for it!!! Not because of the fear factor of sermons, but because I hope we are winging our way to Kazakhstan!!

After class I had the luxury of dinner out with a close friend, and hours of conversation. When I arrived home I was treated to a big surprise...an envelope was laying on the table waiting for me. When I opened it, I found a gift card and a message from one of our blog followers to use it for the girls. What a sweet surprise it was...made all that much sweeter by seeing her family's faces on the card itself! It was the coolest thing! Somehow this company makes the gift card with your photo on it!! It touched me deeply, and will be used for girlie clothes! How much fun!

Well, time for bed as I have a field trip all day with Kenny tomorrow, and then Tuesday we begin the homeschooling for real! Maybe tomorrow night I will manage to get to bed before midnight. A special thanks for all the homeschooling tips and web sites...keep them coming! I am checking out absolutely every single thing you post and appreciate all your suggestions and advice!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Homeschooling Scoop

It is late, and I have finally finished all of MY homework for my lay ministry class tomorrow. Between Kenny's trip to Chicago and this week being consumed with research for Matthew's homeschooling, my own work had to be put aside. Talk about waiting until the last minute, I spent the entire day holed up trying to write a sermon to deliver in class tomorrow. I am terrified! Luckily I have preached a couple of times, so perhaps some of the butterflies will be diminished, but somehow it is a whole lot scarier in a room with just 5 or 6 people than in front of a congregation. It's more personal, it's more close up...and you get graded on your efforts.

I want to thank all of you who posted comments or wrote me privately about our decision to homeschool Matthew. It is surprising just how much that encouragement helped! I also had a true blue friend visit for dinner tonight who, instead of questioning our judgment, rushed out and bought us a couple of books about homeschooling! Friends like that are the real deal, and she is worth her weight in gold to me.

I received a lot of questions about how we plan to do this, and while this blog will not become a homeschooling blog any more than it is wholly an adoption blog, a family blog or a ministry blog, I thought I'd share a bit about our unique plan.

We are blessed to live where there is an umbrella program with the public school district in the neighboring town. They have a program which is sort of a hybrid of homeschooling and public school. There are a couple hundred kids enrolled in this program, which is called VISION. There is oversight by the school district and far more accountability required than with traditional homeschooling, which for some folks would be enough to turn them off but for us provides us with a bit of confidence that we will be forced to be accountable to someone...we can't get lazy! Also we have access to special ed, ESL for Kenny and the girls should we eventually enroll them, a library just for homeschoolers with curriculum, etc and group classes and field trips which usually consist of 10 children or less. They have their own Center and resource staff to guide us every step of the way and to help us document our learning in the ways in which the state would want to see it. We will be provided with funding of around $2000 per year, per child, to purchase curriculum, pay for field trips, buy books or computers, or anything else of that nature. Curriculum can be expensive, and that money can go quickly! But we are a Frugal Family, and I'll bet we can make it stretch pretty far by utilizing used curriculum, making certain it can be used by multiple kids, etc. We will be at home a good portion of the time, but the issues of socialization are solved with enrollment in their classes and field trips, along with the outside activities we already are involved in.

The cool thing is that other than overseeing that you are actually making progress and putting in the necessary hours, you can teach pretty much anything you want and in whatever way you want to. Matthew has a love of history that can hardly be matched, and so we are going to wrap his learning around that. We will start out with some things, knowing we will like some and not like others. But it is great to know we have a choice and can change if we are unhappy. Below is a guide of what we are going to do and the curriculum we are going to use. I wouldn't normally share this kind of boring stuff but the private emails I received from many wanted to know what we were going to do and use.

Math - Saxon Math (to me this looks like a boring program, but everyone raves that it is terrific)
All Subjects - http://www.time4learning.com/ - We are going back to this, not as a full curriculum but as a supplement and review tool
Writing - http://www.time4writing.com/ - This is by the folks at Time4Learning and is fairly new. It teaches writing concepts that the student types and sends online, and then they are reviewed by a live teacher who offers suggestions for changes or corrections.
Science and History - Lapbooking - I love this and hope it works for us! Through a homeschooling friend who is doing it I was able to see finished samples, and talk to her son who is loving learning this way. It is a creative way of putting together material you have learned in a unit study on history, science or any other subject, and having a finished product to use as a reference tool later. It involves research, writing, reading, vocabulary and often geography. We will be starting with studies from http://www.handsofachild.com/
More Science and History - http://www.brainpop.com/ This is an AMAZING web site, you pay for an annual subscription but it is a stand alone curriculum in many subjects if you utilize all that is available to you on their web site.
Spelling - Spellwell workbook
PE - Seasonal soccer, TaeKwonDo, swimming, and he wants to learn tennis
Fine Arts - He will continue with piano lessons, and maybe branch out into guitar someday.

We will be creating our own timeline of historical events, and adding to it with each unit we do. We won't be doing each item every single day, but hopefully will get into a routine quickly.

Matthew is very excited about all of this, his first response to me when we first talked about it was "You mean I can do what I want and not have to wait for everyone else?". He is only just now beginning to see how his learning will differ from a school setting, how he will be able to read all that he wants and study any topic he wants, as long as we cover the basics of reading, writing and math. Already in only 3 days he has read 2 books about the rainforest (our first science unit will be on that, at his request we are doing habitats this semester), an Eyewitness book on WW1 and another one on WW2 as well as chapter book on true stories from WW2. That is in addition to 2 hours of online testing he had to do to establish a baseline for grade level.

I am letting him lead on a lot of this, as I want him involved and voicing his opinion about what he wants to learn. We went to Walmart and got some boxes to organize materials, and picked up a few other supplies we didn't happen to have hanging around the house. He asked for his own dictionary and thesaurus..."a real one mom, not a baby one with pictures in it". We have owned a globe since he was 3 and interested in where things were in the world, but I'd like to get a couple of good larger maps. He asked if I would "let him" have a protractor and compass of his own, so we bought that. Luckily most things were on closeout from back-to-school leftovers. We still have things I am going to keep an eye out for on Ebay, like a couple of good atlases, and maybe the Usborne or DK encyclopedias of Science or History, but we can get them as we find decent deals on them.

But the telling moment came when we looked at the lapbooking unit studies, and he turned to me with a huge grin and said "Mommy, I want to get them ALL!!". The light is back, the old Matthew has returned, and I felt justified in making this decision. He was telling Joshie and Kenny all about his "new" library at school and how cool it is, how many fantastic books are there and the other boys are eager to check it out. It is not really that big of a library but it has a great selection of better learning books. This morning he turned to me and asked if he could keep reading his WW2 book, and I said "Go for it! You can read as long as you like!" and his face lit up and he said "Oh yea...I forgot! I LOVE this!", and his nose was buried back in the book as he was oblivious to all that was around him.

This will be hard, it will be enormously time consuming, and it will require a lot of me. But man, sitting back and watching the overnight change in his demeanor was enough to sell me on the idea for as long as we can manage it. Dominick is 100% committed to it as well, and left me a sweet email the other morning saying "I love you, and thank you for wanting to nurture our kids.". It's worth it, and we will do all we can to continue to support Matt and all the kids in whatever ways we can.

Then there is Mr. Kenny who was so tickled today over a surprise I had for him! I almost giggled myself seeing his reaction! Someone has started offering drama classes for children here in town, and I secretly enrolled Kenny in this once a week afterschool class. When I told him about it this afternoon he literally jumped up and down like I was Santa Claus!!! This is such a perfect fit for him, and I just have a funny feeling he might find a new side to himself and a new area of giftedness in acting. He really needs a boost and to feel successful at something, so I was thrilled to find this for him. He begins classes on Monday, and hopefully he will love it as much then as he loves the idea now.

Joshie is loving school, he loves every subject, he loves being there, he loves reading and writing and he wishes for more homework. Josh is our little enigma still, in that he has not shown a strong preference for a sport, art activity, or subject. He loves riding his bike, and generally everything but no real passion other than playing superheros has risen to the surface yet. In time I am sure something will stand out, and we will then quickly see what we can do to encourage it.

So there you have it, a quite boring post but I answered questions I have been asked via email all week. Now, let's hope that after all this research and putting off my own work, I will manage to do OK in my own class tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

And Yet Another Unrequested Adventure!

Well, now we have gone and done it. How has this happened? I don't understand it. Life can take you on such long and winding roads, along which there are speed bumps and road blocks, detours and stop signs. We are becoming one of "them"...the ones whom I have never imagined we would be like, not because of any negative images or perceptions, but because I just thought we were going to be more...well...ummm...normal. First, we go and adopt these kids who look nothing like us, then we adopt some more, then we get a 15 passenger van, then...

We decide to try homeschooling.

Yea, I can't even believe I am writing this myself. And you will be surprised at the child we are trying to homeschool first. No, it is not Kenny with his incredible need to catch up, no, it is not Joshua whose attachment issues led me to consider it awhile ago.

It's Matthew.

The straight A student, the one with no real issues at all. But the one who is unhappy in school because he is not being challenged enough, the one who wants to explore subjects and has done so on his own since before he could read and he begged me for books about castles, the one who is tired of kids sitting next to him in class continually using vulgar language and being totally disinterested in learning.

There are a million reasons to do it, and likely a million other reasons that folks could provide us for not doing it. I have almost hesitated to even share with anyone that we have been considering it this past week. The judgments run so deep and often even venomous about one's educational decisions for their children. I have people who I am close to who have let me know in the past they are against the whole concept and I am dreading sharing this, I have those who care about us who are cautious about the idea, and frankly I am not sure who all we interact with who will actually be supportive of the plan. However, none of that is important as I am not willing to sacrifice any of my children on the alter of "agreement". As uncomfortable as it can be at moments to have others feel they have a right to judge us about so many things we have decided to do in our life, we have a job to do and the opinions of others are simply not important.

But I know I am not a teacher, I know I don't have a college degree, I know I don't have any skills in this area. And I am afraid.

But I am more afraid of losing my son...I am afraid of him losing that light in his eyes as he discovers something new, I am afraid of losing the happy little boy who consumes books like they are pizza and wants to discuss the causes of the Vietnam war. I am afraid of watching him slowly give in to mediocrity and become ever-so-slightly depressed as he has been since the beginning of this school year.

Please don't get me wrong, I would be the first person to say that I am harboring no geniuses at the LaJoy home. But I do have 3 sons who are intellectually curious (one despite his language defecits), who are all bright and eager learners. I am not striving to be the family with the kid who graduates high school at 13 or who thinks their kid has the highest IQ of their peers. I just want our sons to thrive and I want them to continue to have that thirst for knowledge that we have tried so hard to instill in them. I WANT them to enjoy the Discovery channel, I WANT them to leave a symphony saying "That was awesome!", I WANT them to ask questions and go dig out the answers in the dictionary or Google or want to try a new experiment. We have tried our best to foster that kind of curiosity, we have encouraged free thinking and advocated for getting a good education since before they ever started school.

I am torn because I love the school my sons attend, there are some phenomenal people who work there, I have the greatest admiration for almost every single person I have met. The problem is, that style of education is no longer working for our son. It may ultimately not work for any of our children, but for the moment we are taking it one day at a time. Kenny needs one-on-one attention in the worst way, he is getting the very best they can offer and has an incredibly gifted teacher...who has twenty-some other students who also need her attention. Right now Kenny is in 4th grade, doing classwork out of the 4th grade reading book...and struggles to read Joshie's 1st grade reading book at home at night. We are coming to the point soon where we will have to admit that our kids do not fit inside the box, for a large variety of reasons, and the only ones who can open up the box and let them soar is us.

So, despite God's not-so-funny sense of humor with what I perceive as bad timing with this, we are going to attempt it. How Dominick and I have agonized over this decision!! I can't begin to tell you the number of hours I have spent researching over the past week or so...not a single night have I gone to bed before 1:00 AM, and it is beginning to show. We have looked at all the angles, we have hashed this out and tried to find every possible alternative. None felt acceptable.
Matthew struggled with these same feelings in 3rd grade, and we limped through that year with me wishing ultimately we had just pulled him out. Last year was an amazingly good year for him, our fears diminished, only to find ourselves in this place once again. It is not due to the quality of teachers, he has had some fine teachers whom I have felt blessed to have had cross his path in life. It is not the curriculum nor is it wanting to pull him out of the "worldliness", although I will admit there are a few things we wish none of our children were exposed to. I guess I can't even provide a single reason, it is just not working for him.

The fact is, we feel that God has been heading us down this path for a long time, even if we didn't choose to acknowledge it. No, I am not going to use the oh-so-tired phrase "God told us to", as if that alone should dispell any doubt. But it does feel like a bit of divine intervention here, and if I am honest I am feeling a bit like this is one of those "make or break" moments for our family, that we are at a fork in the road and can continue down the path we are on and see how it all develops, or we can take a risk and give something new a try. It might work, it might not work, but we haven't really lost anything by trying...and we might gain a lot if it proves successful.

Fear stops us from so many things in life, doesn't it? Fear of failure, fear of others' opinions, fear of being different. All 3 of these have come into play with this decision, and yet as Matthew himself told me a couple of days ago after admitting to being scared "It's OK Mom, I am up for the challenge!". How can I not be willing to push aside my own fears and walk beside him as we explore new possibilities about what school can look like?

So please...please...please...do not post comments about all the negatives that are so often brought up about homeschooling. I already have had every argument against it running through my head for the past week. Socialization, missing out on supposed "once-in-a-lifetime" events such as prom, inability to keep up with peers in school work. There is nothing you could possibly bring to our attention which we have not already thought about. Sometimes though, we forget what school is really intended to do, it is to help us acquire an knowledge. If that is not being accomplished in a way that works for your child, then what is the point of it?

Will we eventually homeschool all the kids? I don't know. I am not worrying about next month or next year, I am going to focus on today and let tomorrow work itself out. I think there is no doubt that Kenny will come home at some point, but he doesn't need to be my guinea pig as I figure all this out, and he is happy where he is right now. The girls? Well, we would not be dropping them right in school immediately anyway. Joshie? Who knows! God doesn't tell us we have to have the long term picture all painted and wrapped up in a bow, we just have to trust and let the Spirit guide us, and right now this feels very, very right.

So I will spend the next several weeks in an uncomfortable place, as will Matthew. We will tackle something new together, we will explore possiblities, we will think outside the box. But uncomfortable is not an equivalent of "bad". And surely where we start will not be where we end, as we have much to learn as we test the waters and see what works for us. I know there will be periodic doubts that creep in, I know this is taking on a LOT at this moment in time as we await the arrival of two new children. I have run it over and over again in my mind that this means an entire lifestyle change for us, and a lot of pressure on me to be teacher/wife/mommy/friend/who-knows-what-all-else. We could take a different route, but I doubt I would be able to feel I did my best if we did.

As I have always encouraged our sons to say "We are LaJoy's we can do ANYTHING!", so I guess now is "put up or shut up" time.

So while God is dragging me kicking and screaming and dragging my heels into a new life yet again, I will try and smile and not let the fear show too much.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Home Again Home Again...

Kenny and I arrived home again an hour ago after a long day of flying. While it is wonderful to be home, and I missed all my other boys (including Dominick in that category! hahaha!) we felt a little tug at our hearts as we left Chicago and said good bye to our dear friends there, whom we will likely not see again until sometime early next year. It is the most wonderful gift in the world that God gave us, having people we are so close to living there. Not only does it make each trip something to look forward to, but their generosity in sharing their car, their home, their food...their love and support...is something we will never forget. It is almost like our home away from home, where "family" is waiting for us.

But getting back to our true family is always the best...seeing Matthew and Joshie come running up to hug us with huge grins on their faces is a real sweet moment, and I always miss Dominick so much when we are away. Absence may make the heart grow fonder but I'd gladly do without it if I could. I came home to a super clean house, and an empty washer and dryer as well, how much better can life get? hahaha!

We have no big plans for the remainder of our weekend, but think we will get a few things done around the house which we have on our project list. We might try and fit in some fun activity on Monday, not sure what though. It doesn't really matter what we do, I am just looking forward to some down time with us all together.

Hope you all are having a great weekend!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Kenny and MJ...Hideous or Handsome??

Imagine you are driving home with your child, and out of the blue he asks you timidly "Mommy, do you think I look hideous?".

Your heart sinks and you know that every carefully measured word of your response is likely to affect your child's self-image forever. This is one of those "moments" in which you absolutely have to have the right words to say.

Hard to imagine that Kenny actually questioned me this way yesterday, isn't it? We are in Chicago right now and had just left Shriner's yesterday afternoon where we had his first post-op visit to make sure the bone graft was successful(it was) and to check on the palate closure (we can move ahead with the next surgery but will hold off until the first of the year).

Kenny comes across as one of the most confident and self-assured kids you would ever want to meet. But beneath that confident exterior lies a little boy who has simply accepted that he is not handsome. The topic was brought up after our visit today when we talked about a long term game plane, and we discussed lip and nose revisions, timing of other surgeries, etc. Kenny indicated nothing at the moment, and it was only in the car, while we were driving back to our friend's house when he felt safe enough to express his deeper thoughts relating to his self-image. I was dumbfounded that he A) Used the word hideous...not bad for a kid with 2 1/2 years of English and B) Felt that way about himself.

He then said flatly "I don't think any girl will ever want to date me." as I thought "OK...why don't we just throw all the hard balls at mom today??".

I paused before answered, I quickly considered which approach would be best, knowing from the tone of his questions and his avoidance of looking at me at all while asking that he was gauging an awful lot based upon my response.

How much do you deny? How hard do you work at it to convince your child they are indeed not hideous looking? "He doth protest too much..." can work against you, and Kenny is sharp enough to pick up on that sort of thing.

So I took a different approach and did not answer at all right away, instead asking him why he would think he was hideous looking, what had made him ask that question. He tried to verbally probe me a bit more, working to get me to answer it but eventually saw it was not going to work. He said he gets teased at school by a couple of particular kids, and that he is very tired of having to explain his cleft to others...he said "I just want to look like everyone else mommy.".

He asked me what I would change if I were him, what I thought he should do. I looked at him and said "Kenny, I am not going to answer that for you, as this is about how you feel about yourself, not how I feel." and then he pressed on asking"But Mommy, don't you think I need to fix my lip more?". I decided to try a different approach and said "Kenny, have I ever stared at your lip, ever acted like it bothered me, ever said I wished you looked different?" and he said "No". I told him "To me, you are just Kenny, I don't even think about your lip at all. I never give it a thought."

I then thought it was time to put it point blank so I added "Kenny, I am not embarrassed or ashamed of how you look, I do not think you are ugly and in fact you are quite handsome...and not just because I am your mommy but lots of people tell me that. But I am not the one being stared at...you are. And I know that isn't comfortable and it's not fun to explain over and over again. The older you get, the less that will happen as adults understand what cleft lip is and don't really think much about it but to kids who have never seen it before, it is new and they are curious about it. If you didn't have a cleft lip, kids would find something else to tease you about because sadly, kids like to make fun of each other and are often not kind." he interjected at this point "But Mommy, my brothers aren't that way...they never tease anyone, not just me...they are kind and so am I. I don't make fun of anyone. Why do kids have to do that?" and so we talked about parenting and what a parent's job is, and how some parents do not do their job very well to teach their kids tolerance and acceptance of others.

He was quiet for a bit as we drove on, and then he turned to me and said "So mommy, you think I am just fine and you wouldn't want me to change?". For some reason, I caught a tone in his voice that told me he was torn a bit by his own desire to change how he looked and his wish to be accepted just the way he is. So I realized I had to clarify it all further "Kenny, I do think you are just fine...but how do YOU feel about yourself? This is all about you and how you want to walk through this world. We are blessed to be able to get you the surgery you need. If you want to change things or are unhappy when you look in the mirror, it is OK to take advantage of this chance and see what can be done." I laughed as he then expressed another concern...he didn't want to end up like Michael Jackson, he said "I don't want my nose to look all rotten like an icky peach". Seriously, he was relating his surgery to the results he saw in photos of Michael. I kicked myself for not anticipating this, as he has been fascinated with the early photos of Michael as contrasted with how he appeared at the time of his death.

But what a PERFECT opportunity to talk about self-image, how we can go overboard in worrying about our outsides and forget to work on the all-important inside. We talked about how parents can damage children's perspectives of themselves, how people are very unhappy when they can not accept who they are. I also compared his situation with Michael Jackson's and explained the differences.

He crossed his arms and furrowed his brow and finally said "You know what? I think I want surgery and I want my nose fixed and my lip to look better. I have to live like this a long time, you know, and it DOES bother me when I look in the mirror. So maybe I will get it done...but NOT because the kids tease me, but because I want to."

Good for you, Kenny!

Then he added "I sure am glad I have a mommy like you who helps me figure things out and doesn't think I am ugly like Michael Jackson's dad did. You would love me even if I was the ugliest on the whole earth. Sort of like God loves us, huh? God doesn't care if I am ugly or beautiful. God just cares if I am nice.".

And that pretty much sums it up, doesn't it???