Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Orphanage Life is Great...NOT!!!!

UPDATE:  On of my Facebook friends posted a linnk to this blog post over at Eurasianet.org under the comments section for the article, and someone at Eurasianet.org deleted it!  What's the matter, Eurasianet, does your reporting leave a little to be desired?  Why are you so afraid of first hand accounts and the TRUTH getting out...that children are starved to death and medical care is withheld if your Eurasian governments feel kids are "special needs" and not worth feeding or treating?  It is a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY and humanity ought to be crying out!!! 

Let's keep 'em busy over there with their censorship, I'd love it if everyone would take just a moment to hit the article and post a comment with this blog post as a link.  At least let 'em earn their days wages by deleting it a bunhc of times.

Sickening...

Now on to the original post.

The past couple of days I have been disgusted beyond words, and I can't help but voice my opinion about the absurdity of the growing opinion surrounding international adoption.  As country after country has closed its doors to international adoption, there is an increase in the opinion of world leaders that it is preferable to have a child remain in institutional care rather than place them in loving homes outside their birth cultures.

Today another story came out of Eurasianet.org about the adoption hold up for well over two years in Kyrgyzstan, where two of the still waiting 65 children have already died due to medical conditions that were not properly treated.  You can read the story here:  http://www.eurasianet.org/node/63186 .  The sheer ignorance represented in this article as it continues to do nothing to seriously refute some of the decades old fears about Americans adopting children to be organ donors is beyond irresponsible and is laughable.  It was 11 years ago in Kazakhstan when adopting Matthew that we were interviewed on TV there in an attempt to show that Kazakh children adopted by Americans were indeed dearly treasured and were not going to be carved up and parted out for profit. 

I sit here shaking my head in disbelief that any former USSR country would still honestly hold such ideas up as having any sort of validity.  Literally thousands of children have been adopted from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Ukraine during the past 10 years, with tens of thousands of photos and post-placement reports that serve as proof that the overwhelming majority of children are deeply loved and their adoptive placements are quite successful for both family and child. 

We don't have an adoption at stake anymore, and I feel freer to share my thoughts on this whole issue.  The idea of a child in an orphanage setting being better off in their birth culture is a total crock.  What any country fails to see clearly, or will flat out not admit, is that orphans are not engaged in their birth cultures at all, instead they are shut off from their fellow countrymen, locked up with keys thrown away and the only culture they have any experience with is Orphan Culture.  And trust me, the only culture that comes close for comparison's sake to Orphan Culture is Prison Culture. 

The fact is that the arguments about organ donation and birth culture are nothing more than a smoke screen to distract attention away from the real reason why international adoption is being attacked.  The truth is that these countries do not want it known that these children are throw away kids, left to languish in buildings that are similar to prison cells.  Malnourished and unloved, the hundreds of thousands of orphans (Yes, you read that number right) of the former Soviet Union are an embarrassment of  broken societies which can not and will not take care of their abandoned children.  They are hungry for love, hungry for decent nutrition, hungry for LIFE outside the walls of some of the worlds most depressing institutions.  If they shut down international adoption, then the rest of the world will not learn of the awful conditions most of these children live under.  If they can somehow put a twist on the story that makes Americans and those from other countries who adopt somehow look bad, then that's even better.

I am SICK of hearing how innocent children are better off remaining in orphanage care.  I am SICK of hearing how it is somehow better than life within a nurturing, loving family regardless of nationality.  Yea, sure, that's why we have our beloved children whose brains might NEVER work the way they could have if they had only had their basic needs met as infants and toddlers.  That is why one of our children cries out in the night 7 years later for fear that we will leave him...because he received such "loving care" at the orphanage...where adults never held him while feeding him and carried him facing outward so that eye contact was never made.  That wonderful care is why one of our children is dealing with the effects of rickets 10 years post adoption.  It is why one of our children is 12 years old and still weighs only 73 lbs. 

There is no way I will ever be convinced that life in an orphanage is better than life in an average, decent American family....or German family...or Kazakh family.  I don't care WHERE that family lives, I don't care if it is a native family or an international family, children do NOT grow well in institutions.  Period.

Want more proof of how much "better" orphanage life is for children?  Want to see how special needs kids are neglected in the former Soviet Union?  Let's not talk about children dying in Kyrgyzstan from lack of shunts for hydrocephalus.  Take a look at the blog post below and then have the audacity to tell me that any child is better off in their "birth culture" or that an adoptive family is somehow lacking something because they aren't part of the child's birth culture.  Take a look at this and then tell me that the argument against international adoption because of a handful of abuse cases amongst the tens of thousands of completed adoptions somehow offsets the abuse at the hands of their own government that HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of children suffer on a daily basis, some suffering so much that a quick, easy death might be preferable.  Sounds awful to say, but it is true.

Read this, and try not to weep...then tell me international adoption is somehow more damaging than this:

From
http://www.carringtonscourage.blogspot.com/

Friday, March 18, 2011


URGENT, Please Pray for Carrington!


Meet Carrington


My friend Shelly just returned to the US with her two newly adopted daughters last night. Her daughter Carrington is 3 years old and ELEVEN POUNDS and in absolutely awful shape. I am crying thinking about this precious angel right now. The sight of her condition was enough to bring grown men (hospital staff) to their knees in tears. If this doesn't make you want to jump up and scream and shout and DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE ORPHAN CRISIS, then nothing will. You can imagine Shelly's pure horror when she took her daughter out of the orphanage and saw her without all the layers of clothing for the first time. This is what she saw:


OH MY DEAR LORD why? How? How is this allowed to happen today? This poor child neglected and dying for so long. Can you imagine the horrific pain, loneliness and suffering this poor soul has endured? I can't even begin to imagine. Thank God he led the Burmans to this sweet girl. Thank God she is now getting the medical assistance she so desperately needs. She literally would have died if she had spent another day in that orphanage. She is very malnourished and struggling right now. It is a miracle this angel even survived the flight home. Please pray for this sweet girl and her family and the long road to recovery. Shelly asks for specific prayers for her health situation and that her frail, weak body will be responsive to the medical interventions she is receiving. How many more children are in this same exact condition at this moment? I'm afraid the answer is more than I can handle. My heart breaks tonight for Carrington and for so many other BABIES.....these children are BABIES people! Praise God for rescuing Carrington and pray that he will bring others to rescue more children so they do not have to suffer in this way.

Three years old and 11 pounds.  And I promise you, this is NOT an anomaly.

Yea...these kids are so "loved" in their hell homes...oh, I mean orphanages.  I am thankful tonight as I sit surrounded by my children that they were never in orphanages quite this bad...although Matthew's condition upon adoption was definitely headed in this direction as a simple bronchial infection and malnutrition had us and the American MD's in Moscow scared he might not make it to the US alive without further intervention. 

I try to be positive and most of the time I pull it off.  There are times when I truly don't see our own children's backgrounds for what they really are, because they are SO resilient and they are the most spectacular people I know in this world.  But when I stop to take a breath and think deeply, when I add up the collective challenges of our kids...and theirs are minimal compared to so many other adopted children...it makes me so angry that there are those who would DARE say that the life they lived prior to being adopted was better for them.  Poor, sweet, awesome Kenny who every day for the rest of his life will struggle against some of the issues he faces due to lack of brain stimulation early in infancy, or speech for lack of proper medical care early on.  The girls who almost lost the family who loved them desperately due to no fault of their own, but due to the "loving" coach at their orphanage whose own life as an orphan led her to a "successful" career right back  there in the same institution because she couldn't make it anywhere else.  I think of the neglect Josh suffered and how much emotional pain he lived through post-adoption and still does. 

Yea...right...orphanage life is great.

If this post offends someone, too bad.  I will never apologize for this, for THIS is truth.  Flame me all you want, tell me how great the care was at your child's orphanage, it won't make a difference.  Sure, I know there are some good ones out there, in fact I think overall the girls' orphanage wasn't half bad.  But it was STILL an ORPHANAGE.  Underfunded, understaffed, no decent medical care, no decent dental care, lack of contact with the outside world, lack of decent educational opportunities that even those in neighborhood schools nearby had.  And that is a "good" orphanage where, from what we can tell, there was enough food even if not as nutritional as it could be, and there were enough clothes, and there was no physical abuse from what we can tell.

And still they wait, the orphans of the world who are voiceless.  They wait for love to come their way, they wait for advocates to fight for them, for the Carrington's of this world are powerless.  They wait for their countries to take notice of them rather than hide them behind concrete walls where no one will see them.

The children of Kyrgyzstan, of Guatemala, of Kazakhstan and of Russia and of China cry out to you from their hearts.  They need someone to fight for them rather than to buy into the theories of countries and organizations whose agendas do NOT include making sure kids grow up in loving homes free of neglect.

God help us all when we can not see the truth, that Micah 6:8 should be lived out by each and every one of us....to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Where is the justice in orphanage life?
Where is the kindness in orphanage life?

Sadly, the humble is easy enough to find...in the eyes of the forgotten children of our world.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Love Our Techie World!

I wanted to share a couple of links that I am thrilled to have found, as maybe they would help someone else out.

We were trying to find an encyclopedia on disk to use at home, as the kids are doing their first research project on world religions.  I quickly discovered that there were few options on disk these days, and that most of the encyclopedias are now online.  After checking Target and Walmart, as well as Amazon, I stumbled upon the World Book Encyclopedia online.  You can find it at http://www.worldbook.com/ . This is an incredible resource!  It is not free, and there is an annual fee of $50, but it gives you access to 4 different versions.  Each one uses a progressively higher level of vocabulary, but it starts with a lower elementary version which still provides great information. 

The version that is terrific for language learners is the "Discover" version.  You can click anywhere in the text and it will start reading it out loud to you!  Also, with all versions, if you come across a word you are not familiar with, a mere click of the mouse on the word itself causes a dictionary listing to pop up.  On the student edition there is even a timeline creator which Joshua has already really enjoyed using.  The built in tools and ability to use whichever of the four versions works for you or your multiple children makes this a great investment.  When I think of what it costs to purchase a full published set, $50 is minimal even over the course of a childhood.

I loved the World Book set that my parents sacrificed to buy us.  We had that and the Childcraft set as well, and geek that I was, I used to grab a book and take it into the bathtub with me every night :-)  I must have read both sets two or three times.  It is such fun to see all 5 kids enjoying reading about everything under the sun, even if in a much more high tech way than I ever did. 

Also, I found a terrific math app for our Android phones.  For Olesya, in particular, this will be an outstanding tool to help her work daily on her math facts which are such a struggle for her.  I have to admit, ti is fun too and I even enjoy playing it!  Check it out at:  http://www.appbrain.com/app/math-workout-lite/com.akbur.mathsworkout  .  It is sort of timed flash cards and other fun games, and you can track your progress.  The "lite" version allows 2 users and is 2 games shorter than the full version which allows 6 users and has 2 additional games.  Olesya really loves this and so do all the other kids. 

Hope this helps someone else!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Perfectly Suited, Perfect Love

As always happens on road trips, I seem to come away with some new insight.  Home and settled now, a couple of things stand out for me...and one is profound.

I am deeply loved by our children.

Sounds silly?  Maybe it is, but as I spent the entire weekend with these incredible young people whom I adore...and they know that adoration exists...I realized all the little ways in which our relationship goes much deeper than I ever had the guts to imagine.  This is not mere dependence upon me to be the Taxi Driver or the Laundress, these are not children who show appreciation only when they get their way or when they want something.  What Dominick and I share with our children is the blessing of a truly reciprocal relationship.  I don't think I fully realized that until this weekend, and I am not sure why.  I also know this sounds very corny to some, too "To good to be true" ish, but as this blog is really for them to read someday,  I have to cast aside any worries that others might think that I might live under the incorrect assumption that my kids are perfect.  I don't, believe me, but I do think we are all perfectly suited to be united as a family, and I want them to know that and carry that with them throughout their lives.

We all have images in our minds of what parenting will be like.  Most of those are completely shattered within the first few sleepless nights home :-)  But as we are pregnant, or as in our case "paper pregnant", we conjure up the future and what our relationship with our kids will be like.  Dad's often dream of throwing the football around the yard on Thanksgiving afternoon, Mom's dreams may consist of baking side by side with their daughters in cute matching aprons (OK...EVERYONE knows THAT dream was not really mine! Hahaha!), or of Sunday mornings spent curled up in bed reading the funny papers.

As I drove over the snow capped mountains with spring beginning to make it's presence known, my mind wandered backward in time 11 years ago, when paperchasing to bring Matthew home  It was about the same time of year, as we traveled in May...and a time when I barely dared believe I might become the mom to one child and five was NEVER in the picture.  It was beginning to become more of a reality, this thought that after 13 years of marriage I just might find myself actually mothering a  much longed for child.  Previously, I had really never allowed myself to hold those dreams of what it might be like, for fear that it would never come to pass.

I do recall, as I had become enamored of this cutie patootie adorable little boy staring back at me from the video, that I finally let my guard down ever so slightly and allowed myself to think "I wonder if he'll like reading books with me?" and "Will he be into football or baseball?  I miss going to games!". 

Then, something truly wonderful happened...I let it go...I let it ALL go, every dream, every preconceived notion. And Matthew was allowed to be who he was, and was loved to the Nth degree even though he turned out to be utterly uninterested in team sports and is a very different boy than  the ones I grew up with. 

I might add that I am VERY grateful for that difference, for who he is...who they ALL are, far surpasses anything I could have imagined for them.  Our imaginations are so limited, and what God has wrought is so superior to any dreams we might have held onto so tightly!!  However, sitting next to Matthew in the car on the drive home as he was totally engrossed in reading his latest Landmark history book about the French Foreign Legion, I couldn't help but smile and recall that one question I asked prior to his arrival..."I wonder if he'll like reading books with me?"  169 pages later in about an hour and a half, and I almost laughed out loud...yea, he's my kid through and through :-)

At various times throughout the past few days the kids in subtle, gentle ways showed their love.  Walking hand in hand with 2 kids as 3 others rushed off to check out the latest treasures in the flea market booth, only to have another veer off in another direction and have another take his or her place with an arm around my shoulder, I recognized how very blessed I am to have children of this age who still unabashedly take their mom's hand in public, who are unwilling to bow to conventional attitudes among their peers that showing affection for your parents is totally "uncool".  Will it last much longer?  Who knows, but we have certainly had it longer than many have, and our family's open, easy warmth and affection is probably the single greatest gift we each receive in living as a member of this group of gathered people. 

I had breakfast catered to my bedroom and a second child on the second day come and ask if I wanted something, cuddled with Angela in bed as we giggled over gas (we ARE LaJoy's) as if we were at camp, took a shower the last day and came out only to discover that the entire room was not only picked up, but everything already packed down in the car.  I had Joshie curl up on my lap, Kenny wash the car windows without being asked as we stopped for gas on the way home, and Olesya making sure I was well stocked with Diet Coke.  In the midst of the usual chaos I was thanked nicely for virtually every single thing, and I had doors held open for me.  I also have a hubby, not to leave him out, who took time away from work on Thursday morning to surprise us and meet us at McDonald's where we awaited friends who were traveling over on the same day, just to say good bye and give us one last hug. 

What, I have to ask, did I ever do to deserve this precious love?  This active love?

Then I recall, the single dream I held on to through all those years of childlessness, through each and every adoption journey, was a very simple one.

Love...a loving family.  That's all I ever really wished for.

We may have children who will never, ever live out our secretly held dreams, they will likely never be captains of the football team or Rhodes scholars.  They will never be "mini-me's"...OK...Kenny JUST might end up being a mini-Dominick ;-)  But what they are is, well, themselves, and that is just about perfect.

And that is really all God asks of us, isn't it?  That we give and receive love, for in that love, we experience God.  For some, the receiving of love is easy, but being aware of the special ways in which we can offer love is the harder thing.  Surprisingly, for others, it can be that being the recipient of that love is the challenge, for we feel undeserving and yet offering love is natural. 

But when we get that balance right, when we can live fully in the giving AND receiving of love, that is the secret recipe for living in the Spirit.  Oh, we humans try to make it more complicated, we create litmus tests and creeds, we demand statements of faith and declarations as proof of one's relationship with God.  But really, sometimes I wonder if God isn't enjoying a great big belly laugh and saying "That's not about ME, that's all about YOU!!"

And I think that this morning, Joshie got it 100% right when he said something in the car on the way to church. We have friends who are striving to begin a new church, and thus far it has proven to be an uphill battle as they work to build a congregation.  The kids asked to attend their service this afternoon, and I replied "Well, it may be just us who are there, no one else may show up." and Joshie quietly said "Well Mom, that's OK...because even if it's just us and them, it's still God's family."

Amen, Joshie, amen.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mini-Road Trip

I don't know about anyone else, but there is nothing that does the soul more good than a road trip.  I know there are many for whom traveling with 5 children would NOT necessarily be considered "soul time", but for me it always is, and now even more so.  Maybe it is moving out of homeschooling mode and more fully into just plain old Mom mode for awhile that does it, or perhaps it is the long drive necessitated by where we live that gets me into the mood, I am not really sure.  Whatever the cause, it is a deep pleasure to go places with the kids, and not something I dread at all...we have a blast when we go places, even if it wouldn't excite anyone else!

I am writing you from a hotel room in Denver, not an exciting destination, but still we are out of Dodge for awhile.  We came to see our friends from Las Vegas who are here visiting, and to complete our year science study by topping it off with a a trip to the Butterfly Pavilion, a very cool zoo/museum sort of place filled to the brim with bugs!


Yes, we have an extra child thrown in for good measure, and he looks like he fits, doesn't he?  The kids had fun holding tarantulas (guess which two were willing?), chasing butterflies, and looking for camouflaged insects. 







These photos were taken with my new phone camera, and I am semi-pleased but need to work better with the white balance, as it is a bit rough aroiund the edges.  I am SUCH a camera snob!  Still, it was nice to have one with me when my camera battery didn't hold a charge.  Shutter speed was predictibly slow, which is my big annoyance factor with every digital camera that is not an SLR.  Kids move too fast and you need a fast shutter speed to catch them before they are on to something else!  Overall though, these weren't half bad.

Funnily, I think the biggest hit of the day was NOT the Butterfly Pavilion, but instead was the outdoor flea market we hit earlier in the morning!  This was reminiscent of the huge one held at the Rose Bowl in California, but was not very busy on a Friday morning.  The kids acted as if they were...well...kids in a candy factory as they ran from one booth to another checking out the bargains.  This will definitely have to be on our "must see" list when we come back to Denver in the future.  The Big Finds of the day werecollector Lego guys (Of course!) and a pair of skis for Joshie for $5...he totally scored.  The kids all were carefully calculating how much they could spend of their money that they have been saving, and it's great to see them beginning to think ahead and be wise with their cash.

It has been wonderful to visit with our friends, who we wish lived closer so we could visit them more often.  Now I am waiting for kids to get moving so we can get back on the road to get home before it gets too late tonight.

I'll try and catch up on blogging this next week, lots of thoughts running through my head, none of which are all that profound :-)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wants versus Needs

The past couple of days have led to strong moments of self-evaluation and modeling for the kids.  Funny how God seems to pull themes together if we look for them.  I sometimes wonder if this is naturally occurring or something that just seems to spring up because of increased awareness of what is going on at any given moment.

Our terrific history curriculum is briefly introducing the ideas of Confucius and has moved on to the Greeks with Plato and Socrates. We have also just finished watching a FANTASTIC biography from PBS (Thanks to Netflix!) about Thomas Jefferson.  I know many of you may wonder what the kids get out of such things, knowing that Kenny struggles so much with content sometimes, and that the girls' language is developed only by one year, but we "watch" in a different manner than most do, and it insures they get a lot out of whatever we view.  We stop after every single phrase that they might not understand and explain it, going further to discuss it if we need to.  Tedious?  You might think so and I suppose for some it might be, but for us it creates a rich environment to go deeper and discuss what we are learning.  Yes, it takes a TON more time than most would tolerate, and a 3 hour movie turned into about 5 1/2 hours of viewing, but what we learn from it is far richer than what we'd get out of zooming through it.  Hearing Angela refer back to Thomas Jefferson twice in the next few days with insightful comparisons made it all worth while, as we can begin to see her true growth in critical thinking skills, which were sorely lacking when she first came home.

But...I digress...we were talking about Socrates and questioning everything, bringing in idioms like "think outside the box" and explaining that, and the kids all made the connection that I did not help them see...that Thomas Jefferson was an original "outside the box" thinker with his experiment in new forms of government with America.  We also talked about how much he lost in terms of time with his family in order to be instrumental in the formation our nation.  But the key thing Josh picked up on and has mentioned several times, is that many of the world's great thinkers taught themselves, they pursued knowledge with a passion that one rarely sees anymore.  He was really surprised to discover how much learning Lincoln, Jefferson and Franklin did all on their own...and he connected it with his own ability to teach himself whatever he would like to learn.

We have also talked a great deal this past week about the difference between wants and needs, and had to put it to the test on two occasions.  Dominick and I have been considering getting "smart phones", which we do not currently have.  His is not working well and needed to be replaced.  Quite honestly, I don't use a cell phone much at all, but that is due in part to it not being a real "tool" for me beyond a phone.  Being home much of the day means people can always reach me here if they need to.  However, I am on the road a LOT alone with the kids, and definitely need access to a phone, and tools like GPS, on the fly email, and the ability to look up places on the 'net would be truly helpful.  Dominick has no option and must have a phone as it is his only way to be contacted with a mobile business.  He does not have an office phone, and operates solely with a cell. 

But we weighed heavily whether a smart phone was a want or a need.  We talked with the kids at length about this...is it a toy or a tool that will help us run our very busy lives more efficiently?  Could we do without it?  Obviously, we could as we have been all along.  But would a standard phone make more sense?  Were we falling prey to the world's values in  feeling like we "gotta have it"?  As I explained to our Pastor, who helped us graciously with the consideration of our purchase as she had just done a ton of research herself and is much like us in her use of technology, the additional $15 per phone for a data plan is, for some, not a big deal and many would never understand our reticence to commit to such a small monthly amount. For us, it is a carefully considered added expense, as we simply don't have the ability to pay for all the extras that some families can afford.

But there is another, more faith oriented consideration as well for us, which I realize might seem silly to some but is absolutely not to us.  We have trusted God to provide for our family, when on paper it looks like this is ridiculous to be able to pull off.  When we were in the process of deciding whether we really could handle two more children and all the costs associated with that, we recognized with complete certainty that WE could never handle it, but God could.  It seemed clear that God wanted us to bring the girls home, and so we stepped out on faith and in partnership with God to do what appeared to be foolish...add two more mouths to feed and two more bodies to clothe.  However, we were also quite aware that this meant we would have to be even more responsible with the gifts God gave us, that we could never, ever take it for granted that food was on the table and the mortgage was paid.  We knew that if Dominick were to earn enough to house and feed us all, it would mean being the best stewards of the money God gave us. 

Somehow, in this economy where car detailing is definitely a luxury and where travel is down, we are still able to make ends meet.  However, it does mean making decisions about what to give up if you want something.  So, in order to feel good about our decision, we are giving up our satellite TV and going with Netflix only, and that cost in turn can roll over to cover our data plan for our phones.  In fact, we might come out $10 ahead on the deal.  We discussed this with the kids, who all were unanimous in their approval of this "family financial plan", even though it means they will give up access to a few shows they occasionally watch. I must admit, this little tool is awesome and will absolutely be a blessing in a lot of ways.  No more hauling around several devices which are all rolled up into one on this phone, no more forgetting events or appointments because I didn't have my laptop and Google calendar with me to plug in something immediately while away from home, no more getting lost without a GPS handy in a strange town...there are a million uses I am discovering for our new HTC phones, and I would love to hear from anyone who is a mom like me who uses a "must have" app you think I'd find handy.  I want to really turn this into a mobile Mom Office, as it will make me feel even better about the purchase if I can discover ways to use it that make it even more indispensable.  And if I discover over the course of the next several weeks that it is unused, or not used to it's fullest and is more a toy than a tool, then I will quickly and readily give it up.

I think the little rainbow bubble background is what sold me!

It may be a little thing for some, but involving them in the thought process behind this helps them see that money doesn't grow on the proverbial money tree, and there is a set amount we have to work with, just as there will be for them some day.  Hopefully, as we continue to bring them in further and further into the world of adult finances, they will gain some helpful budgeting skills as they see us having to do just that very concretely.

But then, there was another learning experience, and that was in putting what is right before what we want.  As you all know, we had to put together quite a large package that would be presented to the school board with the hope that they would approve our request to use our remaining funds for entry fees, etc. for our trip to Washington, DC in May.  This package has not yet been reviewed, and it is a larger than normal request because most families use it for one or two kids for a local trip to Denver or something. 

It came to our attention that the school board is discussing ways to meet the budget shortfall this coming year, and our homeschool program may take a big hit.  There is, as one could imagine, a ideological disagreement about the value of homeschooling with some on the Board, and they often feel that students like ours could be adequately served in the standard classroom.  We learned that certain comments were made by the Superintendent, and our homeschool program asked if there were any families who would be willing to go to the meeting this week and present our side of the story to show support.

When I explained to the kids what was going on, Kenny piped up that he really wanted to speak at the meeting, and I planned on doing so myself.  I thought it said a lot that Kenny saw himself as a valued member of the community whose ideas were just as important as any adult.  He never gave it a thought that he was only 12, or that his voice wouldn't be an important one to be heard.  So Kenny came home and wrote out a short speech explaining how he felt in the classroom, how he often was embarrassed about not being able to keep up with the other kids, and how he was teased a lot on the playground.  He shared that he had improved a lot in his reading and writing since starting school at home, and how he hoped he would never have to go back to public school. He then donned his dress shoes and tie, and off we went.  I'll tell you, it was hard not to tear up hearing him, as this was the kid who 8 months ago couldn't begin to read something as smoothly as he did up there that night, let alone get his thoughts together well enough to be confident enough to do it.

We all went and Kenny did a great job of expressing himself, and showed real courage to get up in front of 150 people to speak.  The kids all got a lot out of the experience as they saw the Superintendent grow angry at what he felt was an attack based upon words he claimed were taken out of context (they were not, they were well thought out and needed calculations done prior to him making these comments), they saw parents passionate about fighting for their kids, and they saw a microcosm of how our political system works in a very real way that effects them and their daily life.  They saw first hand what "spin" is, and are learning how to identify it for what it is :-)  All wonderful learning experiences at a very young age.

But what they perhaps learned most was that we all have a responsibility to stand up for what is right, even if we lose something in the process.  We were all aware that the very people we were addressing that night held our family trip in their hands. If we angered the Board, they could easily reject our request to use our funding in this way (Yes, even though it is really "our" funding...they can deny us) for an academic trip.  The kids all realized we were taking a risk to speak up on this issue, but that we all have a responsibility to stand up for what is right, even if we lose something in the process.  As we discussed this possibility, Dominick and I realized we must be doing something right when down to the last child each one loudly made it known that it didn't matter, the school board had to know that they were wrong and we had to speak up.  Not a single groan of "ohh...nooo...what if they get mad at us?" or "Maybe we should keep quiet." Instead what we heard was, seriously, "We're LaJoy's, we can have fun whether we get the extra money or not!  We will find something else to do that is fun and free, and we can learn from....it will be cool to see stuff even if we can't go inside some of the places."

And I was reminded once again that we are raising children to be adults, not children to remain children....no matter how much I think the years are passing too quickly.  It is hard work, but in the end we just might find we have raised exactly that...adults we can be proud of, adults who are willing to do the right thing, adults who will see no end to their learning, adults who can easily see the difference between want and need.  Time will tell, and the work continues.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

MO's

Yesterday was a wonderful, wonderful day in the life of our family.  It is the simple little things that are often the most important, and are also very often overlooked as Momentous Ocassions that should be well marked.  Well, the blog is our place to mark those MO's :-)

We are in the midst of the annual state testing the kids have to take, as you all know, and Kenny and Angela already had the  experience of having a little guy in their group start crying during the tests because of the stress caused by viewing himself as a failure.  Kenny comforted him saying he too had challenges and the reading part would be where he would probably cry!

Picking up Kenny yesterday was such a delight...he was literally bouncing up and down as he waited for me, broad grin spread across his face.  "Mommy, Mommy!!!  Guess what?  The test was EASY this year!!!  I can't believe how EASY it was!!!  Last year was SO HARD but this year I can really, really read and it didn't take me forever!"  then he added, totally melting my heart "Thank you so much, Mommy!  You promised me I wasn't stupid and that somehow you would get me to read by the time I graduated.  Well I can read NOW and don't have to wait until graduation and it is all because of you!"

That alone made all the sleepless nights of research worth it.  My son, who formerly thought he was "stupid" now sees his intelligence.  My son, who could barely read at 1st grade level now sees himself as a successful reader taking a 4th grade test.  While we are not out of the woods yet by far, we can finally see the meadow ahead through the low laying branches. Kenny will struggle the rest of his life with certain issues, he will have to find work arounds, coping strategies, and may never spell worth a hoot. 

But maybe he will no longer view himself as "special needs", instead, from now on, he just might see himself as we do..."special".

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring Slide into Summer

Oh, how it has hit...the clocks rolling forward bringing with it cool, late light spring evenings and the total lack of desire to prop in front of the TV with Netflix options abounding.  Tonight it was craps and Uno Attack after a very busy day of state testing and a new adventure on the track at the local high school.  There the kids met for the first time with a local homeschooling group to participate in their annual month and a half preparation for the area homeschooling track meet held in Grand Junction at the college stadium at the end of April.  We know no one in this group, and I wasn't sure what to expect, but the kids enjoyed themselves and each sort of found a new friend to connect with, and that even included Mom! 

Another Mom sidled up to me and after a couple of minutes of conversation revealed that her kids too are adopted and she feels she doesn't fit in any more than I do for a variety of reasons, one of which is that many homeschoolers like to declare how far ahead their child is and that they are going to graduate at 14 and head off to Harvard.  Like us, their family faces a variety of challenges academically and we are simply grateful for the chance to have our kids work at a pace that makes sense for them.  When she said "I could care less if they graduate at 20 years old, I just want them to be able to feel good about themselves and love others." I knew I had found somewhat of a kindred spirit. 

Matthew made a connection with another young man who is into web design, and since we just started learning a bit about that for our church youth group Matt found that pretty cool.  Kenny found another little guy who has a facial deformity and also enjoys running.  Olesya ended up with the younger children, half mothering them and half pretending she enjoyed running :-)  Angela made friends with a younger boy who was friendly and kept up with her.  Joshie was the only one who didn't really make a connection this afternoon, as he was one of the youngest ones there with most of the kids being in the upper elementary and above category.  However, he walked/ran the track 6 times and was exhausted!  When I suggested he try and compete in the dashes instead of the long distance events he thought for a moment and said "Naw, I want to see if I can do it!"  More power to you, Josh!

Kenny's compassionate side shined today at their state testing.  He, Angela and one other boy were in a class together taking their math test for 4th graders, as they were the only ones who were testing with accomodations of some sort...both Kenny and Angela, along with Olesya as a 3rd grader, are allowed more time to take the tests as English Language Learners.  Well, this other little guy started crying when he realized that he was not only finishing last in a regular classroom, but finished last in the accomodations group.  Kenny told me how badly he felt about this, how he became friends with this boy and comforted him saying "Wait until tomorrow with the reading tests, it will probably be ME that is crying!  I have a really hard time learning too, so don't feel bad, you aren't alone." Like Kenny, this child had been in public school until last year, and from the information shared he was totally demoralized.  Angela softly said "Mama, I think he have even more harder time than Kenny.  Kenny really, really smart in a lot of things but this boy not read good, not do math good, and he feel so so bad.  I not know how to help him feel better."

I thought to myself that I was seeing a double blessing...Kenny being a light in the world to someone else, and the blossoming of this really neat relationship between Angela and Kenny that has taken hold lately.  When she first came home I feared Angela would view Kenny with disdain, and in fact at first I think she actually did although might not ever say so out loud.  They gradually moved to a different place, as Angela became less hardened and became more sympathetic and understanding.  As Kenny settled into to homeschooling he gained more skill and confidence, and is able to shine quite often amongst his siblings.  Slowly I have noticed them move from tentative acceptance, to warmth, to real respect and deep friendship with one another.  Now they willingly pair up on projects together and Kenny's progress this year as well as Angela's makes this a pretty good match. 

I have decided that one of my "before the end of the year" projects will be to totally revamp the blog.  While it serves wonderfully well as an online diary of our day to day lives, there is a lot of experience buried in old posts that might prove helpful to others if I could only find the time to categorize and tag everything.  So, with the help of a friend I am going to create a new blog framework and orgainze it all.  When I will do this, is anyone's guess, but it is time.  900 posts exist in this messy blog closet of mine, and I need to straighten out before we hit the 1000 mark.  I laugh at that number as I never imagined sticking with this that long and writing that much.  I wonder, are there any of you out there who have read it from day one?  Any sorry souls who can claim they have read the vast majority of those 900 posts and know waaaayyy more than they ever needed to know about the crazy LaJoy clan?  As I have no design sense whatsoever, and have never done anything at like this, I can only guarantee that it will not end up being one of those cute little mommy blogs that I see all over the place and admire.  Cindy LaJoy will never be able to pull that off, and instead is happy if she acheives "functional".

This week I also had a happy little surprise invitation to be a regular guest blogger on "Homeschool Hows and Whys" http://blog.connectthethoughts.net/ a blog created by the writer of our wonderful history curriculum, Connect the Thoughts http://www.connectthethoughts.com/, to address various aspects of homeschooling. Yea, you and I know we are total rookies at this and writing about homeschooling should most certainly be reserved for the wise and worthy, but don't tell Steven David Horwich that :-)  What makes this even more of a surprise is that Steven is an Emmy award winning writer who has worked with some of the top names in the entertainment industry, as well as taught at USC.  Steven made it a point to tell me that he rarely invites anyone to share his blog space, but he was impressed with my writing and thought I had something of value to share.  While I have no idea what that "something of value" might be compared to the more experienced homeschooler, I was truly quite humbled to receive this request, and am excited to be a part of Steven's blog.  I don't yet have anything put together (it IS CSAP state testing week here, and I am on the run back and forth dragging kids!), I will get something together soon and let you know when it is posted...not that most of you care much about the homeschooling aspect of our lives :-)

I had better get some sleep, as we have a long week still ahead of us with the Test Stress of 2011, the commute with kids all getting done at different times, and the excitement of whatever silly thing we have going on around here that always seems to entertain us.  I have a couple blog posts in mind, and hope I have time to get to them this week!  Night all!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What's Happenin'!!

We have been a busy little family over here, although doing not much that is likely to be interesting to anyone else :-)  However, you are here visiting (Funny how at moments it almost feels as if I have opened my front door and said "Come on in!" here on the blog!), I will offer you a Diet Coke or a glass of iced tea, and I'll gab a bit about what we've been doing lately.

I spent the last couple of days before my trip to Memphis and the first 2 days of this week preparing a package to submit to our "cover" school.  We are hoping to take advantage of the remainder of the funding we have available to use for our trip to Washington, DC in May.  We are traveling for what will surely be our very last time in an airplane as a family, for we could never come up with airfare for all of us again.  We have frequent flier miles we need to use by August or lose, and so we decided that we would use them for a once in a lifetime trip, going some place we'd otherwise never get to see.  The timing couldn't be more perfect as we are going to attend a cultural festival of sorts for Kyrgyz adoptive families while we are there.  We have old, very dear friends we are going to visit, and...guess what?  We decided that since we can take a train for less than $250 for the whole family, we are going to go to New York City as well!  Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, Metropolitan Museum of Art...and of course, for Matthew, the Intrepid Air and Space Museum.  It will be the first time ever we have gone anywhere as a family someplace totally new because we simply wanted to...no surgery involved, no adoption stress, etc.  I am sure it will likely be our last trip as well.  If we don't get the funding, NYC will be strictly seeing what little is free.  We have already done a fair amount of learning this year that ties much of this together, and we have much more planned for the next two months.  In order to qualify for using our remaining funds this way, we have to have a lot of documented learning to back up our request, and we also have our friend Mr. Steve teaching us a class on Washington, DC. 

I laughed when the administrators at the school said "This is EXACTLY what this program was designed for, to allow students the opportunity to learn in new and creative ways.  The documentation necessary for such a trip is intense, and many families don't take advantage of this rightful opportunity because they feel the process is too complicated."  Complicated?  This measly little project?  Ha!  I scoff at that! I am an International Adoptive Mom, I am an EXPERT at complicated paperwork.  This is a cakewalk compared to all we have been through in the past.

So on Tuesday afternoon I walked into the school office with a banker's box full to the brim with documentation.  :-)  Nooooo problem! Hahaha!  Now we wait to hear in a few weeks if we are approved.  If so, we will be able to have a SUPER amazing educational trip.  If not, we will STILL have a SUPER amazing trip seeing every possible thing for free that we can find, and in DC that certainly won't be too hard.

Part of the preparation for the package was that each of the kids had to write a short essay on what they hoped to learn on the trip.  This all gets submitted to the school board.  They had fun writing it, as well as other essays on the films we have watched and other activities that tie in.  Here they are, hard at work.  I know it doesn't look like it, but seriously, they were!
This winter this has been the favorite place for school work...in front of the fireplace!


A soft sister makes a great pillow!


Did you know I had an extra student?  Sunny is always in the middle of it all.


















                                                                                
We have some interesting school projects lined up to finish out our year.  Although we will continue to homeschool throughout the summer, it will be a lighter schedule.  The kids have already accomplished so much this year!  But the fun has just begun.  We are beginning a basic comparative religions project where they are each assigned a religion to research and will create a display board.  This will be terrific to help introduce them all to research skills and resources available to them.  Even Joshie is in on it and it will be interesting to see what each comes up with.

I also came up with what I thought was a terrific idea.  Each of the kids will create a book at the end of each year and illustrate it.  Then I will get it bound at Tikatok http://www.tikatok.com/create , which I found through Barnes and Noble.  I thought it would be a wonderful way to end each year, and if we follow through and do it each year it will create a nice keepsake to compare how their writing changes over the years.  I am doing this with a bigger culminating project in mind for their senior year in high school.  There is a curriculum out there that is designed to help high school students create their own adventure novel in one year.  I have t his idea that  we will have each of the kids do that as their senior year writing class, then have that bound as their huge final writing project.  What a neat thing, if I can pull it off, to have lower level books authored in their elementary years to sit alongside such a huge final project at the end of their school years.  It might be something I don't pull off, but it sounds like a good idea to me now!

We are going to create lapbooks about colonial times and about the White House, and these should take us awhile to complete too.  We have several movies in mind to watch, as that really seems to help cement things for Kenny, and in fact are midway through a 3 hour biography of Thomas Jefferson, who is a fascinating dude :-)  We plan to try and fit in Monticello, so this is a good introduction to the history of it.

Let's see...what else?  Oh yea, the kids had the first of two porcelain doll making classes last week, and we encountered the most lovely woman who was teaching them.  She is in her late 50's and was actually State Foster Family of the year several years ago.  I can see why...she is delightful, and the kind you can tell is plain old gifted with kids.  Our kids ended up being the only ones in the class, and when I went to pick them up she and I chatted for quite awhile.  It is always nice to get compliments on your kids, but there are certain kinds of compliments that are more meaningful than others.  I don't really care one whit if my kids are deemed good at something by others, but it means a lot to me when people notice things about their character.  She asked me "Are your kids really always this kind with each other, or is this an act for the teacher?"  When I shared with her that we were indeed very blessed and they indeed really did enjoy each others' company as much as they appeared to, she smiled and said "It has been so nice spending the afternoon with them, I don't think I have ever been around a more pleasant and decent group of kids."

I'll take that over "brilliant" or "talented" any day of the week.

Olesya is doing quite well with her sewing class, and we are sneaking in math skills that she is probably totally unaware of practicing.  She LOVES it!  While she is far from her mother in this area, I bow down to my obvious Domestic Goddess daughter in the making. 

As part of our science curriculum which we just finished, we were excited to watch butterflies and lady bugs grow from pupa to adults.  Josh, in particular, was fascinated (no surprise there, huh?):



Something about those hands that are as beautiful to me as the wings.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Matthew...straight from the tropics!  Thanks to our incredible substitute teacher and blog reader, Lael, the kids were transported to Samoa when she shared about her travels there while with the kids.  She is such an incredibly intelligent, gifted woman...and generous to a fault. Want to see what Matthew has been wearing ALL WEEK LONG around here?  A lavalava!  It cracks me up because on him, it looks so appropriate.  He looks like hs is right at home in it!

He loved it so much that he almost wore it to the store, but chickened out at the last minute.

As for me, I received a surprise invitation to work at another homeschooling fair in a month, this time in Duluth.  Yea, I know...it's Duluth and I know that isn't anyone's idea of a lovely getaway.  But I was honored to be asked to do this again, and will thoroughly enjoy it, I am sure.  Dominick will be done with ski season and knowing he could handle more with the kids he encouraged me to jump at the chance.  So Duluth, here I come! Hahaha!

So now it is time for me to get some sleep.  I am fighting a bad cold, and with the time change I will be losing even more sleep after a bad night last night coughing.  Dominick and I have a floor full of kids tonight, all of whom I think are finally asleep.  Shhhhh....let's not wake them!  G'night!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Spiritual Journey Begins

Tonight I unexpectedly attended our Ash Wednesday service, having expected to miss it due to playing Mom Taxi.  Sadly, I hate to admit that Lent snuck up on me, my mind has been preoccupied with many details about all kinds of things.  It seems I have allowed that to happen a lot lately, as I have pushed God to the back burner in ways I should not.  Sometimes, I think we all get so busy "doing" that we forget that we need to just "be" sometimes.  Being intentional about moving God to the proper place on the front burner means, at least for me, that all other things fall into place more easily in my life.  I realized tonight that Lent for me will be about reconnecting.

To do that is not always easy for me right now.  Brain space is often taken up with the mundane, day to day stuff.  But what if for the first time in my life, I take time every single day, just for the period of Lent, to be intentional about my faith life?  What if, for the first time, I make an appointment with God each and every day, not just quickly uttered prayers on the run, in the shower, in the car?  Of course I'd love to sit here and hold myself us a paragon of religious virtue, but that would be a total joke.

So, I will declare it here in an effort to hold myself accountable, I am going to make an appointment with God each and every day.  I will not give up Diet Coke, I will not promise to give up sugar, or anything else other than what God holds most precious....time.  I will give up time to walk and talk with God, literally.  I am going to begin tomorrow and make sure that we get some "alone time" each day by going for a long walk, which has always been when I hear the Spirit whispering the most.  Since I have been feeling out of touch for awhile now, I think it is important for me to dedicate myself to intentional relationship rebuilding.  It is my hope that this spiritual journey that I will have a few things revealed to me, that God's will for my life and the life of our family will become more evident.  I also will use this time to be sincere in a deep examination of who I am, where I need to make changes, and what I need to do to be who God wants me to be. 

In addition, I am going to ask that God use me every single day of Lent to be a light to someone, even if only a very low wattage one.  I try and remind myself, when at times I feel as if nothing I do makes a difference, that in a pitch black room, the dimmest of lights becomes a beacon...when there is total darkness, sometimes the thinnest sliver of light creeping in under a door is enough to keep fear, loneliness, and isolation at bay.

I don't want Lent to be in name only.  I want this Lent to be about much more for me, I need it to be about more. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Dancing a Happy Homeschooling Jig!!

Tonight I am grinning from ear to ear.  I can't begin to even express how happy I am, seriously.  You know, homeschooling is still very new to us.  We've only been at it full time with all the kids for about 6 months or so.  Every day I sit back and wonder who is learning more, me or the kids.  I don't have any training for the very unique challenges we face every day.  What I do have is some awesome backup with friends who care and love our kids, and a passionate desire to see our kids succeed.  Throw in a little mix of mom intuition, and that is about all we have going for us.  To say that at moments I still break out in a cold sweat would not be too far off the mark. 

Since we began, I have made it a policy not to test the kids, other than the thrice yearly testing required by the program we are enrolled in.  You see, I am of the opinion that tests have been used to flog kids to death, to make them feel either superior to others or to drag their self-esteem through the mud.  Testing is to measure how much knowledge a child has gained and retained from their education.  If you don't DO something with those test results, then what is the point?  For years and years, children take tests and if they do poorly, no one really remediates.  No one sits down with them and goes back over the material again and again until they know for certain it is understood.  Instead, we measure and assess, push the kid on, and then NOTHING is done with that information!  I don't get it!  For example, state testing...this huge emphasis is put on annual state tests, but the results don't really do anything but categorize a school.  No one takes those results, then goes back to the child and works on areas where there are deficits.  Often those test results don't even come back until the child is well on their way to their next year of school.

In our case, testing really doesn't serve much of a purpose.  Because we are working with them on every single assignment, because we correct it and make them redo whatever is missed, because we do NOT let them move forward until we feel a concept is grasped reasonably well, test results are sort of pointless...they don't aid us in teaching or the kids in learning.  We already know their weak areas and are targeting them, a test won't really tell us much more than we already know.  Now, I know there is some value in them learning HOW to take a test, so from time to time I have decided to go ahead and give them one.

This past Wednesday, the last day before I left town, was one of those times.  We had "The Test".  It had the kids shaking in their boots and doing a little sweating of their own :-) Hahaha!  I had a purpose for testing them, I wanted to determine exactly what they were gaining from their science curriculum.  Since much of it is group work with follow up worksheets designed more to reinforce topics, I felt a need to measure their learning in this subject.  We had just finished our year's curriculum (we are moving faster through it than is standard in an effort to try and catch up in this area), and so it was the dreaded "Final Exam". 

It was funny to watch Angela take it oh-so-seriously and study over and over again for it, reviewing terms, definitions and words repeatedly.  She and Kenny worked with each other a lot.  Matthew helped Joshua and Olesya study in the back of the van on two or three longer drives.  It was good to see all of them take me at my word that this was going to be a tough test, and I was not going to make it easy on them. 

And I didn't!

35 questions, all open ended, not a single multiple choice.  Yes, even Joshua...and I do realize this is not the style of test a 2nd grader would usually have to face, but instead this was more like a high school style test.  I was quite curious to see how he would handle it.  I was not grading on spelling, for that would be unfair at this point for all but Matthew, but I WAS looking for thorough and complete answers, with appropriate expectations for grade level and ability.

Like I said, this was not a pushover test by any stretch of the imagination.  I asked questions like "List the different kinds of habitats you can remember and describe them." and "Define exoskeleton" and even "List the life stages of a human and share what you remember about each life stage."  Then there were other words to define like metamorphosis, deciduous and entomologist.

I had no idea what to expect, and frankly I was secretly worried they would all "tank". I mean, think about it, I am asking the questions above of 2 children who have spoken English for only a single year, another whose learning disabilities are a real challenge, and an 8 year old!  Basically, I was setting the bar ridiculously high, gearing the test to the highest student and not the lowest.  I wondered if I was being unfair, but I really wanted to see what had been retained and if they could do more than eliminate the wrong answers and guess a right one with multiple choices. 

I finally had the chance to correct their tests tonight, and found myself alternately cracking up and thrilled at the same time.  They all did an outstanding job, really WAY better than I expected. with none lower than 80%.  But you will never guess this...guess who TOTALLY rocked the house??  Mr. Kenneth Toktogul LaJoy!!!  Reading his answers I literally wanted to cry, I was so darned proud of him.  Somehow, and I don't even know how, we have hit on a way that really, really works for him.  I don't know if it is the discussions we have, if it is my awareness that he learns differently and I try and draw things out more for him with pictures and colors, I don't know if it is me animating a lot of things in our teaching, but whatever it is, it is working beyond my wildest dreams and I just can't believe it.

For example, for the open ended question "Share with me what you know about the skeleton." here is what Kenny wrote, misspellings included:  "There is two hundred six bones in your skeleton.  Your head is called a skull and you have eight bones on top of your shull it is called a crainiom.  The feamer is the largest bone in your body.  The rips protet you orgoins.  The spine holds your rips together and it holds you up straght."  Shoot...I am in tears just typing this.  This is my child who can't remember the months of the year, but can name the number of bones in the body and cranium.  This is the little guy that can't remember how to spell "does" and spells it "dose" every time.  When I asked "How do some animals protect themselves" Kenny responded "By looking bigger or conofloshing (camouflaging) into their habitat." 

Can I do the happy homeschooling dance now?  Just for a minute?  After all, I know tomorrow will bring some reason NOT to do it...hahahaha!  But I want to enjoy the victory of today while I can!

Matthew won for the funniest answer when he responded about the digestive system that it included "the esophogus, mouth, small/large intestine, bladder/POOPIE CHUTE." Heck, I was impressed that he got the right form of "chute"!!  He is not known for his terrific spelling.  It seemed that the question about the digestive system created great fodder for the funnier answers.  Joshie's was "it is your system that smushes up your food into mush."  Yup, for 2nd grade, I think that is the perfect answer!

There are days that are hard, there are even some days that are super hard and I want to throw my hands up in the air in despair when I get blank stares or "I dunno's".  But I live for moments like these, when I feel validated for taking the harder road and not giving in to complacency myself.  It can be very hard not to compare ourselves to others, and in the homeschooling world it often seems as if every kid is headed off to Harvard at 14 years old, because you often hear these terrific success stories and think "Well, that sure isn't going to be us!  We must be doing something wrong."  We just want healthy, happy, well rounded kids.  We don't want or need another Einstein or another musical prodigy.  Man, there are days when I am just happy if we can manage to get the date written correctly on the paper without forgetting how it is done yet again.  That is not even written tongue in cheek, that is really the truth. 

Somehow though, we have been blessed with bright and curious kids.  At first glance they may not all appear to be that way, for others have no idea what they have had to overcome.  But we know, and we recognize that there is a lot more going on here than merely being able to read and write.  I am so glad that WE see them for all that they have going for themselves, that WE see their unlimited potential and can encourage and try and find ways to inspire them.  I am so stinking happy to see the light in Kenny's eyes these days, to see him shine so completely as he straightens his shoulders and realizes just how remarkably smart he really is...and that Mom and Dad truly believe that and will do everything within their power to help him realize his dreams.  Now if we can only get Olesya there...

So as I lay down tonight and place my head upon my pillow, I will once again give thanks to God for all we have been given.  I will be thankful for the thunderous voice I heard proclaiming we needed to homeschool, as I looked upwards saying "You can't be serious!!"  And as I looked at the girls papers and realized the enormity of all that they had taken in this year, I again said a prayer of gratitude for finding a path that worked for us.  We could be in a very different place right now, and not acknowledging that would not be fair. 

But here we are, and for just tonight, I have my clogging shoes on and am doing a jig!

Monday, March 07, 2011

It's a Different World

The blog has been quiet because I have NOT been quiet! Hahaha!  I returned home late this evening after having been invited to work at the booth for Nancy Larson Publishers, the company which created the science curriculum we are using.

I had no idea what to expect from this weekend.  I have never been to Memphis, I had never met Madon Dailey, who I would be spending the weekend with, I had never done anything like this on this sort of scale before, and I had never interacted with this many homeschoolers before.  While I was looking forward to the opportunity, I'll admit I was a bit tentative about it and was unsure of myself.

I ended up having a great time and was very grateful for the opportunity to do it!  Madon was wonderful, we discovered we had a lot in common and we enjoyed each other very much.  Our interaction with one another made the weekend fly by.  I also hadn't realized just how much I had been missing sales/service contact with others.  Just about every job I have ever had in the past has involved working with the public, and being home this past year has been a real change for me.  I love what I am doing with the kids, and consider it a great gift and blessing, but having a little taste of working with others again in this capacity was a nice change of pace.

The convention had good attendance, and I met a lot of really nice moms and a few dads as well.  I had time to wander around and peruse materials myself, coming up mostly empty but gaining a few ideas that might work well for us.  Much of the curricula out there is firmly rooted in the Christian faith, and because of the public school program we are working through we are not allowed to use any faith based materials.  I had hoped to find a few more secular or neutral items there, but was unable to find much.  Even if we were not required to use secular material, I personally have found that there is a lot of curricula that brands itself as "Christian" and gets attention simply because of the label or because there is Scripture sprinkled throughout, but that doesn't necessarily make it superior.  I also am of the mindset that curricula is not inherently bad because it is secular either.  Often, for our unique situation, secular curricula as far more able to meet our needs than Christian curricula is.  That being said, there is also some high quality Christian curricula out there as well, but you have to work your way through a lot of chaff to get to the wheat.  I guess I just like my educational materials to be "whole grain", and that doesn't mean it has to be stamped with a fish on it.  In every other area of our lives God works through all, and I think that comes to curricula as well.

We didn't get the chance to see much of Memphis, as we were literally working 12 hour days.  But we did have a treat at the end of the day.  We stumbled into a local landmark, Westy's, which was right on the trolley line and a block down from the Convention Center.  There we met Reggie, the finest ambassador for Memphis that ever lived.  We were treated to his version of warm Memphis hospitality when he pulled up a chair and shared a little history of downtown Memphis, and made recommendations for menu selections.  We had "to die for" ribs with real down home BBQ sauce.  Best I have ever had, bar none.  This place is a whole in the wall leaning toward the "dive" side, but authentic as it gets and we loved it enough to return two nights in a row.  Meeting Reggie was a treat in itself and when he saw us the second night he surprised us with his virgin version of  his speciality "triple threat" mixed juice cocktail which was yummy.

I had time for a lot of reading and contemplation today, as I had a mini-retreat in a corner of the Memphis airport where I had to wait 8 hours for my flight to depart.  I found I did a lot of thinking, maybe because it was the most downtime I have had in months!  Here is what I discovered for myself:

1)  This convention was good for me in many ways, one of them being that I met many moms who appeared to have it all together when the approached our booth, but after a few minutes of conversation it "got real" and I was able to see that no one has it any more together or less together than I do.  I am not the single worst Loser Homeschooling Mom, everyone is struggling to keep motivated, to keep their kids moving forward, and to cover all the bases.  In other words, we are all doing the best we can, and that looks different for every family.  I think I hadn't realized it, but I needed to see that.

2)  However we homeschool, it will never look like anyone else, and I think I like it that way.  We did not look like the majority of homeschooling families I encountered there.  Many wonderful families filled with delightful children who were all dressed perfectly, had every hair in place, and admittedly had terrific behavior.  Lots of mom/daughter combos who dressed alike in skirts and were cute with their long hair braided and very demure.  Let's put it this way, the LaJoy Women will never, ever be demure.  Totally not a word anyone would ever use to describe the three of us, or come to think of it any of our extended family....hahahaha!  Skirts and braids, not happening.  But you know what?  As much as I honestly had an appreciation for those Duggar-esque families (Who wouldn't admire that sort of organization and decency, really?), I walked away with a greater appreciation for who WE are as a homeschooling family.  We will never fit a certain mold, but that's OK because we broke the mold anyway :-) 

3)  I like what I saw in terms of the children I encountered and their easy, respectful and comfortable interaction with the adults around them.  I am seeing that same thing slowly develop in our kids as well, and I'll admit I didn't expect it.

4)  There was a subtlety I picked up on, which if I hadn't been part of the public schooling system so long I might not have noticed. In public school, parents tend to "brag" on their kids' sports accomplishments, with homeschoolers it is far more often about academics.  It took me all weekend to see that clearly, that with homeschoolers there is a much greater emphasis, in general, on academics and that is where the pride is reflected, but in public education parents seem to gain more pride in athletic ability.  That's not to say that there isn't some flip flopping there from time to time, but in general, this appears to be true.

5)  My world at home has changed, our kids have hit the next phase, and I heard it in their voices and in their laughter during our late night phone call.  Goodbye, young childhood, hello pre-adulthood.  Don't know why it hit me full force like that, as of course there have been changes going on continually around here, but it was very clear and obvious.

6)  I really like homeschooling, yes, even for myself.  I like what it does for our family, I like how it has enhanced and shortened the time it took for emotional connections to develop.  I like how we have gone from a frantic, running every evening group of individuals living under one roof, to being together as a family far more often.  I like that I don't have that sense of guilt hanging over me continually that my kids are at school and are not getting the individual time they need, especially Kenny.  I knew this was not going to work, I knew I was failing him by leaving him in school and by allowing him to be moved to be moved to 4th grade.  I may not do better than the school did with him, but my guilt has dissipated because now I feel like we are giving it everything we've got to help him (and the girls too!) achieve and be all that it is possible for him to be. I like that we all share in our successes every day and can celebrate them, where in school, for some of our kids, their successes would barely be noticed, even if for them it is huge.  I like the atmosphere in our home at mid-morning when all are engrossed in their work.  I like the clink of the piano, the swoosh of the loom shuttle, and the twang of the guitar strings. 

7)  I need to carve out more time for me, I need to create more, to work more, to connect more...it makes me happier and the kids as well.  I need to be intentional about it, for I need to be filled too in order to have anything to fill up others.

8)  I can be outgoing, but I am truly an introvert.  My outgoingness does not come naturally at all, and I have to do a lot of internal talking to move out of my wallflower mode, where I live happily most of the time.

9)  I realized that I am much happier having a game plan in place, a framework to work from, and throwing in spontaneous things or projects.  But I could never be too loose, it would be too uncomfortable for me.  I also realized that creating a general plan through the end of high school is important for me to be able to let go and get in the moment, so I started one and hope it is a living document to be worked with.  Already the simple act of doing that has helped release some tension.  I know it is silly, I also know that the greatest plans of mice and men yadda yadda yadda, but for me it brings peace to plan, it allows me to let go of certain data and make room for other more important data.

10)  We'll never be able to do it all, so get over your bad self!!  What we DO accomplish will be amazing and extraordinary.  There will be gaps, if we are sane.  If we are insane, we will try to cover every single thing and I will beat my head bloody against a wall.  I don't want to miss the joy in all of this, and letting go of the need to do EVERYTHING will help in that regard.

There were many more insights I gained, or maybe internalized more after having already given it some brain time.  Strengthening who we all are in this, and what we envision for our kids, is an important part in my evolution as a mom. 

My eyes are closing on me, and I need to get some sleep.  Glad I am only driving a computer!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Disgust or Pity?

The past couple of weeks, we as a society, are watching a man implode, almost as if it is a spectator sport.  There is a familiar feel to what we are witnessing, almost reminiscent of the spectators cheering as the Christians were devoured by hungry lions.  In this case though, it is we, the viewing public, who are devouring a human being.

As Mr. Sheen began making statements over the course of the past couple of weeks, I found myself waffling between disgust and pity.  We all have known about his very sordid past, for it too has been plastered across the covers of magazines and featured in short sound bites on TV shows.

It is easy to let disgust overtake us, isn't it?  Here we have a man who seemingly appears to have it all, and lately has been proud to shove that down our throats with his own comments.  His fame, his money, his Hollywood lifestyle which is indeed the envy of many who spend their own days anxiously trying to reach that "pinnacle" of success.  This man, who has everything a man could want and has spent the past few days expressing exactly that thought as he thumbs his nose at the world around him, is arrogant, obnoxious, and the very epitome of what we all hate about those we put at the top of the entertainment world.  His words spoken recently prove our point that everyone in Hollywood is a spoiled brat.  There is very little there to like, and there is very much there that fills us with disdain. And yet for all his arrogance, for all his pride in all that he owns and has achieved, for all that we equate with the excesses of the Hollywood lifestyle that we see displayed with gusto in Charlie Sheen these days, what is painfully obvious is this:

Charlie Sheen is a broken man.

If you stripped away the pompous attitude, if you stripped away the money and what he currently perceives as his "bankability" and his star power, what you have is a troubled, addicted, perhaps also mentally ill man.  I can't help but pity Charlie, who right now is spiraling downward so quickly due to whatever demons have their grip on him.  And sadly, the news magazine shows are giving this poor, ill man a platform for his drug or mental illness addled mind to spew forth the venom and far out thoughts that are so clearly the sign that he needs help, despite his claims to the contrary. 

I hear a man who has given up the fight, who has said, pardon me, "Screw it...I can no longer deal with this so it is easier to go with it.  The fight is too hard, I give up.".  Is that reading between the lines?  Yes, but I do think it is true. 

Addiction and mental illness (for I know not which Mr. Sheen is afflicted with, perhaps both) is a terribly misunderstood state of being.  We feel it is something that a person ought to be able to control, we feel a sense of superiority for being of higher moral character than those who succumb to such things, we view it is a weakness rather than an affliction.  We would be wrong.

I do not have a particular fondness for Mr. Sheen, to me he is just another actor.  I am not defending him, per se, nor his actions of late.  I guess what I am saying is that the machine that is our media always has to be fed, and often it is fed with the bodies of the folks whose desire for fame and fortune litter the side of Rodeo Drive.  We can say all we want that "they asked for it", but when one sees the rapid decline of a Britney Spears, a Lindsey Lohan, or a Charlie Sheen, one ought to pause briefly and think about a culture that is so hungry for fodder that it chomps and gnaws on it's designated heroes and spits them out the other side. 

Did they ask for it?  Did they?  I don't know that anyone can every be fully prepared or understand what they are jumping into when they desire fame and fortune.  Does the young kid from Oklahoma who graduates from high school have a CLUE what they might actually be getting into when they pack their car the day after graduation and head off to Hollywood to try and achieve stardom?  The lives we see portrayed on film and in glossy photos are seductive. It must be, after all, we pursue it with our magazine purchases and our viewing habits to the tune of billions of dollars every year.  And we sit back and point our fingers at the folks who too are seduced by what they saw and fall victim to the excess, an excess that you and I as bystanders and not participants can not really understand.

It would be easy to play devil's advocate and say that one could hardly say that Charlie had no idea what the Hollywood lifestyle was about, after all, he was born into it.  The Sheen family is a mini-dynasty, he certainly had to be familiar with the risks.  What we fail to see though, is that Charlie Sheen also had no idea what life is like outside that Crystal Palace, he has never had the chance to view life from a different vantage point which might help put things into a more balanced perspective.

The nonsensical ramblings and the abandonment of his long time publicist tell us that not only has Mr. Sheen given up on himself, but those around him, aside from his father, have also given up on him.

Dr. Drew and crew exist because Hollywood is filled with brokenness.  But before we point our fingers and shout in disgust about how "those people" ought to suffer because they were focused on the things of this earth, let's not forget that we too fail, we too chase after homes we can't afford, cars we shouldn't be buying, "fame" in the form of promotions at work or prominent places in our community.  We may not equate it with the same excesses as Hollywood exhibits, but in God's eyes it is likely the same.  When we yearn for that which is transitory, when we fail to see what real riches are, we are no better than those we sit back and ridicule from our armchairs as we watch Dr. Drew's interventions. 

We too are often very, very broken. 

Thankfully, there is a God who can heal that brokenness.  There is a God who will not look at us with disgust.  When we spiral out of control, if we look down we will see we have our feet planted firmly in God's palm and are still being held, even if at the moment we feel all alone. 

I wish peace for Charlie Sheen, I wish healing and hope, for right now it appears he has abandoned all hope of living a different sort of life.  I wish  protection for his young children so they might not see all the ugliness surrounding this current situation.

I think I will push aside pity and disgust, and might open up to a little compassion.