Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What It's All About

The blog has been quiet, really quiet.  I have sat down to write a few times, but ended up closing the window and moving on.  I guess I just needed a little "alone time" and am not sure how much I will write this week either.  My plate is really full right now, so is my heart and head.  We are back at school as of yesterday, home from California where we visited our family for Thanksgiving, and for us it is the start of a new semester.  We are sort of fuzzy on that sort of thing, working well outside the standard school calendar and not paying much attention to it at all.  I like the freedom of it, and we naturally move at a different pace. 

As we rush headlong into the holiday season, I am really taking stock of what this is all about.  Christmas is probably my least favorite holiday.  I've had some wonderful ones through the years, and some really painful ones as well.  Every year I keep looking for it to gain more meaning, for it to be less about commercialization and more about Christ.  In our culture, it is very challenging, but I think it may be the only way for it to eventually move up my personal holiday list of favorites.

I think overall though, that the kids are developing into different creatures about Christmas, and I appreciate what we are seeing.  We have never, ever encouraged them to create lists, and as they grow older I am so happy we didn't.  Although it can make it harder at this "tween" stage to buy for them, it also means they don't focus much on the gift part of the holiday, and for that I am grateful.  Instead they asked who we were going to try and help this year, like last year, and though many won't believe it, not a single one of the five kids came up with something to ask for.  In fact, knowing it is going to be a slimmer year this year, Angela said "Why don't we just go to the Hot Springs Pool for the afternoon and call that our Christmas gift.  We don't need anything else."  A $10 gift would be enough.  Her generous and understanding heart almost made me cry.

We decorated a couple of days ago, and they delighted in the act.  In fact, Kenny and Matt are still finishing up their Festival of Lights outside, carefully stringing them across shrubs and hammering in new nails under eaves.  It was funny to see Matt at his new size and with that depth of voice acquired this year giggle and rub his hands together with glee as he was told "Yes, you can go dig the decoration boxes out of the shed."   Olesya was nearly dancing as she pulled out the ornaments, most of which are personalized in one form or another, and she kept declaring "I remember this one from last year!"...and then turned to me and melted my heart when she grinned from ear to ear and said "I am so happy I am part of this family!!".  She and Angela retold the story of our creche, remembering that it was hand made by my own grandfather, handed down to my mom, and always put up by me when I was a child.  Kenny was worried that some shingles are loose on it and pointed out we needed some small nails for minor repairs to it, because some day they would all want to share it for their Christmases with their children and we needed to keep it in good shape.

I want Christmas to be about the joy, not the gifts.  I want it to be about giving, not receiving.  I want it to be about the music, family, faith and friends.  The past couple of years I have found that what helped me gain better perspective was making a vow to shop solely online for those gifts we purchased.  I realized that not becoming a "Mall Rat" or combing the aisles of our local Walmart went a long way towards helping keep my head where I wished for it to be.  Not caring much for shopping, what for some is a sheer pleasure is for me a despised chore and sapped me of all sense of Christmas Spirit. 

So this weekend we will do the things that make it Christmas for me...we will spend time with beloved friends as we watch the Christmas parade together and we shiver in the cold, drinking thermoses of hot chocolate.  We were gone this year for the lighting of the town Christmas tree, known fondly around here as "The Pickle Tree", aptly named by Joshie years ago due to its blueish green lights strung top to bottom.  We will continue with our deeply meaningful tradition of attending the Christmas concert with the help of free tickets from friends who look out for us and share their extras, then head over to our adopted Grandpa George's house where we will once again help him get in the mood by decorating his tree with him and sharing a meal together.  We will add in a new first with dear friends as we attend a presentation of The Nutcracker.

And I won't care a hoot about gift lists or hosting parties or finely wrapped packages.  Instead we will gradually work our way through Advent, resting in the knowledge that we don't have to create a holiday that looks like everyone else's.  We lack not a single thing, and "enough" includes enough love, enough life giving relationships, enough Spirit.  We'll throw pies at each others to celebrate Christmas being brought to children in Kyrgyzstan who have yet to experience "enough", we'll listen to Christmas carols and laugh over how bad the LaJoy Family choir sounds, we'll giggle and laugh as we watch Sunny bat at ornaments on the tree.  And on Christmas Eve we will stand together at "our pew", children ever taller and hearts ever larger.

Yeah, that's what it's all about.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saying Thanks

$1138!!!!

Today we celebrated Kenny's 13th birthday.  It was replete with the traditional LaJoy Birthday Cake with sprinkles and toothpicks, a few specially selected gifts, thoughtful cards...and hugs.  Lots of them.  He was surrounded by those who love him and consider him to be an essential part of their family.

It is a far cry from where he was on his 8th birthday 5 years ago.  In fact, he didn't even realize he had a birthday, didn't know he turned a day older on a special day of the year, had never had a birthday party, a cake, presents...or hugs from a mom, dad, grandmas and siblings

An orphanage is not a place where the individual orphan is recognized often, if ever.  It is lonely, it is lacking in not only extras, but most essentials...essentials like food, clean clothes, medical care.

In 24 hours, those connected with our family via the blog and Facebook have elected to step forward and help us raise money so some of the orphans of Kyrgyzstan will feel special and cherished, even if only for one single day...Christmas.  Thanks to all of you, we raised over $1000 in the past 24 hours.  Thanks to you, there will be little Kennys halfway around the world who will jump up and down with delight, who will be more excited for Christmas than any day in their entire bleak lives..

And if you think it is solely about the gifts, think again. It is because someone remembered them, someone sent them long distance love.

Dare I ask it?

Can we do more?  For every few dollars raised, another child feels loved.  I hate that any children will be left out, and of course we can't take care of every orphan in a country.  But can we love a few more?

If it were for me, I'd never ask. But it isn't for me.  So I will. Can you spare $10?  Can you and your family sit down to just one meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and talk openly about how much was saved on that one meal to be sent for Christmas in Kyrgyzstan?  Can you give up one six pack (OK...who am I foolin', one 24 pack!) of Diet Coke and offer up that in exchange for a child's heart?

I'll tell you what I am going to do, aside from taking a pie in the face.  If we raise another $500, to total $1638, I will donate the equivalent of all my Diet Coke money through the end of the year.  Embarrassed to admit how much that might be, but suffice it to say that it will help us reach at least $1738 :-(

Kenny and Angela have already donated a significant amount this year, let me share the story with you over at John's blog.  I must say, sometimes our children set the example for us.  When it comes to giving, with no allowance and no steady job, only from money earned here and there (and most of it was 3 days of pulling terribly 6' high weeds), I'd like to share what dream they made come true for a young girl in Kyrgyzstan.  Read about how they became Dream Agents. I hesitated to post this link, for I do feel giving is best done when not highlighted, but maybe it will serve as an encouragement for others to see what they can do as well:

http://actofkindness.blogspot.com/2011/11/you-can-see-la-joy-all-over-her-face.html

The annual Christmas Pie Challenge was started by our family on a whim, and it has grown to something I never imagined that night typing curled up on the couch as I giggled at the thought of raising money by having the kids whack me with a pie.  It has become a huge community undertaking which has spread throughout the United States and parts beyond.  I love what we all can do together!!!  I love what a mere $10 here or $25 there can accomplish!

Please, join us, reach out, offer not just your dollars, but your love and hope for a better future for all the children of Kyrgyzstan, and symbolically let every orphan on earth know they are never alone.

And to those who have donated, our sincerest gratitude.  I know some of you may know what an orphanage is like, but many of you have never set foot in one.  How I wish I had never done so as well, for my soul would not be forever haunted by what we have seen.

But then, who would speak for them?

You and I, that's who.  And we are doing so this week, loud and clear.  THANK YOU....THANK YOU!!!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Christmas Quest

Can you?

Can you help?

Please?

There are children we know who will not have Christmas this year unless we do something about it.  There are children for whom a piece of fruit is considered a special gift, who are forgotten by most of the world and their own country.

They are not forgotten by us.  Please help us bring Christmas to the orphans of Kyrgyzstan.  Join with us in the Pie Challenge, help us raise $500 for me to take a pie in the face and I'll post video here on the blog and on Facebook.  For each additional $100 another LaJoy will take a hit.

We have raised $125 thus far, can you help us raise more?

Do without one can of olives, or that cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving.  Give up Starbucks for a couple of days and donate $10.  That $10 could provide Christmas AND much needed vitamins.

Want to donate but want more bang for your buck than a pie int he face?  Ask us to do something else, we'll do it!

Go over to www.actofkindness.blogspot.com and donate in the name of the LaJoy family.  I promise you, John Wright will do right by you with your donation, and you will see full color photos of what your donation was able to offer children who have nothing.

And as you sit around your Thanksgiving table, look around at your loved ones...at the table laden with wonderful items to eat, at the warm, clean clothes everyone has.  Put down your iPods and iPads for a moment and consider their cost...or just the iTunes you recently downloaded.  For just a few bucks, you can help a child do more than receive a gift for Christmas or vitamins which might help them survive through the winter.

You will bring hope to those for whom there is very little.

Isn't that a great purchase?

Thank you from the Lajoy's.  We appreciate any help you can offer in our quest for Christmas for Kyrgyzstan's orphans.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gradually Healing Hearts and Bodies

Looonnggg post...sorry...lots of contemplation going on here...

Sometimes, every once in awhile, I pause for a moment and catch a glimpse of our family as perhaps others view us.  I am sure that at times we appear...

Broken.

I share a lot openly here on the blog, and I tend to be as open in "real life" as well.  Long ago I lost all desire for pretense, preferring instead the richness of authenticity, even if at times it reveals pain, struggle, less than Polly-anna-ish.  It's life, it's real, it's often complicated and messy.  And it's all OK.

The past several weeks have been tough ones for us.  Oh, we've certainly had worse and many of you who are long time readers and friends know that to be true.  Perhaps it is that forging over and over again that makes these times a little easier to get through, it is not really "par for the course", but we are always walking assured that the natural ebb and flow means that eventually we'll look around and find ourselves back in smoother waters.

And we are NOT broken.  Never broken.  We are actually whole in our brokenness, for we don't run from it, we don't pretend it doesn't exist, and we seek out life giving Spirit that is the glue that cements those broken places until they are stronger.

But you can't sweep those shattered shards quickly into the dustpan and dump them into the trash.  It is delicate, the process of repairing the damage, and it takes using as much of the original as you can salvage, even when it doesn't look very pretty..

Two of our children are in dark places right now. Not as dark as some are, as the news is filled this past week with soul sucking stories of yet another ten year old committing suicide as the bullying became too much to face, or the young boys abused in ways that make my stomach turn.  Adults failed to do their job, they abandoned  children who were so vulnerable, they turned their backs on the need of the helpless.  Children died, both literal and spiritual deaths.  It makes the needs of ours currently seem so mild by comparison.

And yet where would they be without the adults who DO protect them, who care about them, who stand up and say "No!  Not my child!  Not my young friend!  We will NOT let this happen on our watch!".  I do not mean to imply it is just their parents, for it is a community of caring adults that surround our children and help us nurture them into stability and wholeness.  In turn, we try to pay it forward to those we know are in need of support, for we too will not leave a child behind...and I can damned sure say I'd never witness a shower scene we all read descriptions of this week and not fight to the death to save that child, mine or not.

Healing takes time, it takes being surrounded with folks willing to fight for you, it takes love enough to hear you through your pain and patience enough to outlast the trudging steps that must be taken at slow speed.

I had a conversation this week I had hoped I'd never need to have with Kenny, but it became clear it needed to occur and it needed to happen in a safe time and place, not in an office in the middle of a meeting with a bunch of specialists who would blurt something out unthinkingly, and change my son's opinion of himself forever.

Kenny was talking about the testing we had hoped to get done through the school district, and asking questions.  Our initial answers earlier in the week didn't satisfy him, and he sensed there was more to the story than he was hearing.  After momentary consideration, my gut told me I needed to do what I always do, lay it out openly and honestly.  So I did.  We had the IQ conversation, as I quickly sent up a quick prayer for the words to put it into context that would strike Kenny as ringing of truth.  I had to, as our school program believes (and rightfully so I think) that as they mature children need to take over more of the reigns of their education.  They are invited to participate in all phases of their education, and sooner or later Kenny would be sitting in on meetings, asking questions, and learning to advocate for himself.  That means he needs all the information to do so.  After all, it is his brain, it is his future, and it is his information...we are just temporary gatekeepers of his heart, protecting it from damage until the time comes when he can take over.  We took a big leap towards that with this conversation.

I finally explained that being a non-native speaker was not the only reason he was declined for testing, that indeed there were more reasons which was why Daddy and I were so angry and frustrated.  I shared with Kenny what an IQ test was, how it worked, and how results can be interpreted.  He got very , very quiet as he thought about this information, then asked what his score was.  I gave him the number.  He asked what "normal" was, and I told him the facts about ranges, etc.  I didn't jump to reassurances, I didn't dress it up or "poo poo" it, I just let him sit quietly for a few minutes with that before saying much else.  He then asked how he compared to his siblings, a logical question and one to which I could honestly reply I had no figures for, as none of them has taken an IQ test before where we received any data.

Words can not convey that this was one of harder conversations I have ever had in my life, for my heart broke as understanding and feelings of failure flitted across his face, a face that is always so expressive and easy to read...and usually filled with joy.  Now that it was digested a little, it was time for me to help process this information.  I told him to look at me, really look at me, and he did.  I said "Kenny, have I ever, ever lied to you?  Have I ever tried to make you feel better by lying?"

 "No, never.", he replied.

"Listen to me", I said, "I have never pretended you would be a jock, we both know that would be a lie.  I have told you that you could still have fun and enjoy sports even if you weren't the best on the team, and you did with volleyball.  When things are going to hurt at the dentist or the hospital, I tell you the complete truth, I never act as if it is going to be painless if it is going to hurt, right?"

"Right." he said.

"Kenny, one of the reasons I am so frustrated over all of this is that you are a very smart young man, I can see it, others can see it, and no one who knows you thinks you are stupid or can't learn.  What is obvious is that you learn differently than others, and that your brain doesn't work the same as everyone else.  That is NOT the same as being 'dumb'.  People who don't know you see only a number on a piece of paper.  They have never had a conversation with you, they have never heard your opinions, or seen how well you can learn when we approach a subject differently. They see a number, and you are not a number. They also have never worked with a child from your background, you are a huge puzzle for them, and some people, rather than sticking with a puzzle until they solve it take the easy way out and walk away.   Believe me now, like you have always believed I would tell you the truth, you are not stupid...not by a long shot.  If I thought this IQ test  was valid at all, and really showed you would never be able to learn as much as I think you can...and as you have already shown you can...I would be wise enough to be willing to settle for whatever little bit you could give me.  Instead, what do I do?  Every day I push you, I challenge you, I expect more and more from you.  I know you can do it, and so far, you have proven me right every single time.  I am not giving up on you, even if the entire world does, but you have LOTS of people in your corner who will never give up on you because they ALL see what Daddy and I see, a really smart kid who needs to learn differently.  That's all."

Oh, so quiet, eyebrows knit together.  Pondering his own brokenness.  I knew this was a key moment for Kenny, and would dictate what path he takes as he stands at a fork in the road.  Does he take Easy Out Road?  Where he blames everything for ever on his "bad brain" or "low IQ"?  Or does he place one foot in front of the other, walking upright and with conviction towards his own future?

He looks up at me and asks "Am as as smart as my brothers and sisters?"  Everything hinges on this, I can tell.

Thankfully I can answer truthfully what is in my heart "I only have smart children, Kenny, not a single one of you isn't very bright.  Your own brothers and sisters show respect for what you have to say in class, they never make fun of you, they always listen attentively when you speak.  Of course, just like Daddy, you and I, they can see that your brain works differently sometimes, and things are very hard for you when it gets bad, but they all think you are as smart as they are.  I do too, and I mean that 100%.  I just have to figure out how to help you work with all that you have and find ways to make learning and remembering easier for you.  No one here is paying attention to any number, so it is up to you if you want to believe that a number will limit you.  If so, of those who know you, you will be the only one."

Slowly, a grin begins to spread as he tilts his head and gives me a sideways Kenny LaJoy grin. "It's only a test, and it's only a piece of paper, isn't it?  They couldn't get me to read, but you helped me do it and you said I could.  I have learned way more this year than I ever have, and I don't feel stupid anymore.  I might at school, but here I don't.  Maybe it is because no one here cares about the number, and at school, maybe people think I am too dumb to learn so they give up."

Then I say "Kenny, 90% of the secret of success is not how smart you are, it is how hard you work.  The smartest people in the world can get nowhere if they are not hard workers.  But a person who isn't as smart as Bill Gates can still get ahead by working hard and never giving up.  I'll say that in this family, you and Daddy are the very best at that AND you are both very smart men.  You can do anything you want..."

And then, in ever lovin' LaJoy form he shoots back laughing "Anything but take that test they won't give me! HAHAHA!"

Broken?  On the outside, it may appear that way.  On paper, surely it seems so.  But we humans are more than our external selves and more than data on paper.  We are Spirit and determination, we are pieces and parts of others who lend themselves to us to bandage us, cry with us, and sit us upright to begin anew.

Kenny LaJoy is not broken.

Joshua has been dealing more silently with his brokenness, for his is more subtle and hidden from the world. It appears on whispery, feathery dreams, or in moments where irrational fear creeps in which is tamped down as best it can be, but displays itself in the dark, or at moments unbidden during daylight when he once again feels he might lose what he has, as he once did.

A child who has internalized their abandonment to such a degree can not explain it, can not express it, can not even make sense of it.  They simply feel it.  It hurts and it takes much from them.  Imagine walking around for years, wondering if the person you have given your heart to at much cost will one day reject you, either purposefully or unintentionally through no fault of their own.

Night terrors ensue, bed wetting reappears, seeking out during the daytime is commonplace as they look up and you are out of sight and they can't push away that sensation that something is amiss.  Yes, Josh too has been battling demons lately, and it has not been easy.

Tonight though, there was a glimpse into how he has chosen to cope with emotions that make no sense.  He asked if we could read together, and he curled up in bed with me dragging along a few favorite books, including his favorite "The Red Blanket".  It tells the tale of an infant girl being adopted from China who struggles to attach to her new Mommy, and the red blanket that served as a bridge between the two of them.  It IS our story, it describes the avoidance of gaze, the inability to console, the frustration and eventual healing.

This time as we read it though, it was different.  I supplied more details about our story, and for the first time, Joshie asked questions about what it felt like.  We continued reading, stopping here and there to interject, changing the color of the blanket in the story to be blue, for that was Josh's blanket's color.  He gets to the part where the child is crying and stops only when the new blanket is tucked under her chin, and with his own Version #4 in hand (for 3 prior ones were lost or threadbare and discarded) he says "Stop Mommy!" and he hops off my bed, and reaches into the cupboard that is my nightstand.  There, digs for a moment and finally pulls out this:


it's a 2" butterfly box that he bought me with his own money in Almaty, Kazakhstan when we were there adopting Kenny.  He was 4 1/2, and asked me to walk away while he got his Tenge from Dominick and purchased it for me as a surprise.  It was in that very marketplace, the infamous Tsum, where 3 years prior I had wandered the aisles with him squirming and screaming in my arms as he rebelled against the idea of letting anyone hold him close, let alone hold his heart in their hand.  It is a very special gift, one that I value so much because it holds great meaning for me.  

Tonight he gingerly lifted the lid, as he said "I thought this would be the perfect place for this.  I have a little piece in my bedroom too.  I hid this here for you, Mommy, now we both have a little of it in a special spot."

This is what was revealed to have been secretly hidden:


A tiny little scrap of Joshie's heart.  That's what that faded, torn, precious little piece of cloth is.  It's a symbol of the journey through brokenness that he and I walked together.  That at 8 years old Josh would understand the significance of this, even if he couldn't explain it as such, is startling in it's depth.

 He took it out for a moment and wound it around his finger, snuggling it next to his cheek, as he does Version #4 and every other version from the past.  Then, he reached over to let me touch it too.  He said "I want you to keep this for always, Mommy.  It's yours and mine, just like in the story.  I don't know if the girl in the story shared her blankey with her Mommy, but I think it's our blankey, not just mine."

It sits next to me this very moment, a testament to healing, a quietly defiant badge rejecting the concept of brokenness.

He closed the lid and scrambled back up to hear the rest of the story, which I could hardly choke out as his head lay on my shoulder, trusting, certain of love.

Joshua LaJoy is not broken.

As I heal in body this week, my children heal in Spirit.  There is other healing that needs to occur within the hearts of others under our roof, but it takes time, trust and tenacity.

None of us are fully, completely broken.  It may appear that way sometimes, but as long as we draw breath, there is hope.  As long as we continue to reach out to others and commit to being light in the world, then brokenness can heal.  It Is Hard.  Our wholeness encompasses the broken places, that is how we can be broken and whole at the same time.  When we try to deflect any thought that we might indeed have those broken places, we deny ourselves the chance to heal and be whole.  We deny others the chance to help us find our way, to help us feel less alone as we keep on trudging and trying.

I will finally turn out the light now, and hopefully will head into a deep sleep where more healing will take place for me.  That may not necessarily mean healing of asthma battered lungs.  It may be renewal of Spirit to do the job ahead of being light for the children God has entrusted us with, of being balance to the husband God has blessed me with, of being just plain old Cindy to the friends God has gifted me with.  Maybe somewhere along the way over the next few days, I can look someone in the eye and reassure them in whatever words they need to hear, that they are not irreparably broken.  I have lived a life that has shown me otherwise, and I will take a hand to lead toward wholeness if I can.

After all, in the family God built, we have had a lot of practice.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Flexible, Like Silly Putty!

As a homeschooling family of five children who have some pretty unique challenges in the mix, I have realized that one of the single greatest assets for a situation like ours with homeschooling is the ability to be flexible and turn on a dime.  Sitting in bed these past few days is allowing me time to once again re-create what school will look like as we enter our new semester...new year...whatever it is for us.  Since we don't really have a summer break I am seeing it sort of feels like a new school year in January more than in September.

Right now we are still trying to catch Matthew up in writing skills, which were pretty abysmal when he first started homeschooling 2 years ago.  We are making slow, steady progress and his state test results last year put him in normal range for the first time.  He is not where I know he can be, but we'll get there.  I discovered that the public school perspective of focusing on content came at the expense of pushing mechanics, consequently bad habits were formed and are hard to shake. 

You all know the challenges we have with Kenny, which are constantly morphing.  Throw in the girls and how quickly they are catching up, Olesya's serious deficits in math and inability to visualize the seeming abstractness of numbers, and we have an interesting school situation, to say the least. 

There are lots of positives going on as well!  Sometimes I fail to see that as I have this underlying sense of urgency about catching everyone up, emphasizing strengths so we keep good attitudes, trying to close huge gaps that exist not just academically, but experientially.  Reminders creep up all the time about things our older adopted kids have never seen or heard of.  It has been the most challenging job I have ever had, to take these older kids in particular and find ways for them to be successful and not feel "talked down to" as they work so hard to move closer to levels that fit their age.  Having 12 and 13 year olds who are still doing 3rd grade work could be demoralizing for them, but somehow we have hit just the right tone of congratulating success and not settling for less.

But we have gifts galore, lots and lots of things to celebrate, and as I am stuck in bed I am making a concerted attempt to remember that.  Matthew's reading level is way above grade level, and he is voracious...now he is reading three Landmark history books (about 180-200 pages each) a week and informed me it was time to hit Ebay to see if we could find more as he is almost done with the 45 or so I have managed to purchase thus far.  He is enjoying a Sherlock Holmes collection, and has taken a liking to the Christian Science Monitor magazine that someone kindly has been sharing with us from church, even commenting astutely "Mom, these articles appear to be far more unbiased than a lot I read in other places.  I like it!  No one seems to be picking on someone else and is just sharing information instead of trying to convince me to believe something."

Angela's writing is really, really amazing for her being her only a year and a half.  Seriously, this child is gifted and I could totally see her being involved in a career that used writing. I can't imagine what she will produce in 3 or 4 years.  Joshie is such a funny bunny and loves his biographies and connecting the dots with dates/timelines.  He is always putting things together that use numbers...like who was alive when someone else was alive, how their worked criss crossed each other, and how far apart countries are from one another.  That kid just eats numbers like they were Doritos and it is totally cool to see how he naturally steers himself in directions that interest him.  Olesya is exploring everything under the sun, creating little notebooks that are important to her about everything from detailed descriptions of story plots, to taping in food labels to compare daily allowances, to craft ideas.  There is yet to be a single strong thread for her, but it is like she is revisiting the exploration that should have happened when she was a toddler and preschooler, but it is fun to watch it happen as an older child.  Kenny continues to love faith dialogue, comparing and contrasting visions of God and other religions, and is steeping himself in the history games of Age of Empires that Matt first discovered and loved a few years back.

The hardest part for me, is keeping up and being willing to change things up when I begin to recognize our levels are changing.  And believe me, around here, with all the playing catch up we are doing, it happens waaaaay faster than it does in a normal situation.  Wanna have a little brain fry?  Here is what I deal with on a daily basis...We first started with all 4 kids but Matt grouped together in language arts and we began at the beginning a year and a half ago...yup...every single one of them started at Kindergarten level, even Josh who had just completed 1st grade.  This way I knew we were covering all the same ground, reinforcing things, and we would use one curriculum for all so I KNEW we had covered everything well.  Josh reviewed and flew through quickly, but is more solid I think because of it and Kenny needed to just start over as did the girls as it was all new to them, so I had 2 classes essentially, Matt, and everyone else.

Then Kenny actually learned to read...Hurray!..and pulled away in reading from 1st grade to 5th grade solid in 9 months time, but still needs tons of lower level spelling work.  that required me analyzing reading material every 4 weeks or so.  Surprise, Angela eventually caught him in reading but needs vocabulary development where Kenny is ahead of her there, but generally her spelling is much better.  Olesya and Josh then formed their own little class for reading at 3rd grade although she is in 4th grade, as they are now about the same level.  But grammar has Kenny and Josh together in 3rd grade grammar for logical reasons as the girls are together learning sentence structure for English and rules.  Spelling has everyone all over the place with most in 3rd grade spelling, but Kenny and Angela are actually 5th grade.  Writing has all 4 lower learners in 3rd grade writing gaining solid skills progressively, but Angela could jump ahead at this stage probably.  Matt is actually in 7th grade, but is working on 6th grade writing, 6th grade spelling, 6th grade math, and 8-10th grade reading. 

Whew! And that is just language arts!!

Could that EVER fit in a regular classroom setting?  Each child able to work at the grade level in each subject that is truly the right fit, so that skills are acquired and not glossed over?  Trust me, it wasn't the school's fault on most of it, it is that we have a very odd situation that needs tons of one on one attention, and the ability to be flexible and not boxed into "grade level".  I realized that flexibility has been invaluable in helping Kenny learn to read and the girls show such amazing progress in academics and language acquisition.  We can jump forward and skip what seems to be solid, and we can slow down when we need to.  If something isn't working, we can change it immediately, we can add in materials, we can flesh things out, we can present things visually far more than usually happens for older kids but is exactly the way language learners and kids like Kenny need, and really helps every kid even if they are moving along just fine. Josh can work at a higher grade level in math, and so can Kenny, and not be held back by grade level.  Matt can work a grade level lower on the areas he needs to strengthen, and yet still feel like a strong student as he works above in other areas.  No one will beat that kid at social studies, history, physics and reading!  The girls can quickly move, I can stop something if I see that suddenly we are further along, and we can re-adjust and keep them motoring ahead. 

And it is all because we are not trapped by grade levels or curriculum designed with the "average" learner in mind.  Nothing I have tried to use that is a "textbook" type item has worked.  Our Colorado State History book is used in classrooms all over the state, and all 3 kids doing it are stumped as to why they struggle to retain the material when they can remember so much more presented in different ways.  They would rather look things up themselves, make scrapbooks of material learned, read a "real" book about it, or see a movie about the Colorado river. 

Of course, this discovery makes my life that much harder, as I have to work really, really hard at finding materials to present things differently.  Oh, we use workbooks too, and a standard math text with good ol' Saxon, but it is easy to see that hands on, visual, or discussion works far, far better for us.  That means hours and hours of internet research for me as I look to our next history unit of Leaders Great and Terrible and see what I can find for web links, great movies, biographies, etc.  The single best thing we did before going to DC was to watch the Ken Burns series on Jefferson.  The best learning experience ever, and they have talked and talked about all they learned.  It seriously comes up in conversation more than once a week, this far out from the experience.  Yea, it took us 12 hours to start and stop the DVD, talk about it, explain it, ask them their opinions, but it was deep, deep learning.

And it was totally fun.

So, when we return from California, we will be starting a new semester.  Matt will be starting a strong literature and composition course, and a new separate science course in chemistry.  Kenny and Angela will be grouped together for word work in their advanced phonics book, but they are way ahead of Olesya and Josh so they need separate time with mom.  Science for the other 4 will need to be taught with Matt crossing over into it with us for some units to cover ground never touched before.  I will need to add in several components for Kenny to address the issues talked about in previous posts, and I am gradually formulating a plan for that.  I am seeing I will need to be split into a few too many parts, and will be reading all Matt's books too somehow, many of which I have yet to read myself in the past.  It will require some real juggling, even more than before.  It'll be fun though, it always is. 

As time goes on, I am beginning to see that this is the BEST job I will ever, ever have, the one I will look back on and have enjoyed the most.  Somehow, I will try to keep my brain from exploding and recognize that eventually, we will have children caught up, and all of this will become more settled.  That is until we begin studying for CLEP tests for college credit and our long hoped for regional trips around the US to discover what we can, if we can pull that one off in our beat up RV.  Oh yea, who am I fooling, the life of a LaJoy is never dull, always growing and stretching, forever interesting. 

I like it that way :-)  We are the Silly Putty Family, flexible and perfect for copying the comics! HAHAHA!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Focusing on Unexpected Love and Blessings

It is 11:00 PM, and I sit here in bed as the family has all settled in for the night.  It is likely I will be awake much longer, as it is easier to breath right now while propped up.  No real change yet but hopefully now that a second dose of Prednisone and antibiotics is in me I will start to see some improvement tomorrow. 

I have stopped the world though, finally saying I need to rest.  No answering the phone, no going anywhere, nothing more than laying around.  I have let a few folks down because of it, and that feels very uncomfortable for me, but at this stage is necessary.  I can't walk well, I can't breath well, and I can't talk well either as coughing interrupts everything.  Yes, Dominick is enjoying that part :-)

How blessed I am in so many ways though.  Two different friends supplied meals tonight, totally unexpectedly and it was SUCH a relief.  I know to some that is not a big deal, but as I awoke from a nap this evening as I tried to make up for only 4 hours sleep last night, it was like being wrapped in a big ol' hug to walk into the kitchen and discover such tender thoughtfulness came my way.  Dominick is so tired himself, trying to cover everything I normally do and arising at 3:30 AM each morning working the early morning flight at the restaurant before beginning his "real" day.  

We tend to expect me to be down for the count with something related to bronchitis/asthma/pneumonia on an almost annual basis.  Sad to say, but it is true.  My lungs just don't fight off the crud the way some folks can do more easily, and it almost always slips into something fierce and challenging to recover from.  I guess I am lucky it came early this year and won't interfere with Christmas like it did a few years back! Hahaha!  See?  Always something to be thankful for.

I am thinking of an old friend of mine tonight, my childhood bestest buddy who is grieving the loss of a job.  Angela was my nearest and dearest friend for so many years, someone I admired and respected even then for her intellect, her AMAZING musical gifts...seriously gifted...and her warmth.  Another Italian in my life who preceded the entry of my hubby, it was my first glimpse into the life of "gravy" and home made pasta when I visited her home.  I remember thinking to myself how happy I was that one of our daughters was coming to us with the given name of Angela, and how I secretly hoped she wouldn't want to change it, as it was a reminder of that dear friendship and all it had meant to me.  Honestly, had we selected a name ourselves, Angela would have likely been first on the list.  I know the pain of losing a job, and how hard it can be on the self-esteem.  My heart is heavy for her tonight, as I well remember the tears that were near the surface for several weeks as I tried to pick myself up and remember that who I was did not have to be dictated by what someone else thought me to be.  Easier lessons to embrace as we grow older and wiser, but nonetheless still very painful to go through.

I also know many would think that having 5 kids and being essentially on bed rest...and throwing homeschooling into the mix...would be just terrible.  Dominick has lifted some of the burden by carrying it himself on the house project, taking the kids and working the past couple of days there with them.  What seems to be a real hardship on one hand with him having very little paying work at the moment, has actually been God's provision to help us in our quest to finish.  I remind myself not to worry about finances every single day, that somehow all will work out and perhaps the very reason he has been slow has been so I could recuperate.  I feel like a total idiot over my knee, which is healing but really, really hurts still and I have to be very careful with it. 

The kids have been fantastic, cleaning up around the house, urging me to get to bed, letting me rest when I can finally fall asleep.  I asked them this afternoon to work on their language arts assignments, and I realized we have come a long way towards independence when I knew I could crash in bed for a couple of hours without any concern that they would be doing exactly what was asked of them, with no need to babysit. For as young as they are, they are really self-motivated and with my schedule created for each of them they just check things off the list as they complete them.  Don't get me wrong, they still leave Legos and filthy socks all over the house...and the bane of my existence when the girls leave their apple cores on the coffee table, but that seems like little to complain about when most parents have to beg and plead with kids to get their homework done every single day.  I know I could go off for a week, and the kids would just move along on their own to do those subjects which they work on independently. That is something I never expected until they were much older, and it really helps when we hit the wall like we are at right now.

They are tired...and I counted up that they have worked over 115 hours on the house project thus far.  They will deserve the break coming next week when we head to California on the looooong drive to visit Grandmas for Thanksgiving.  It will be our fall break, and hopefully I will be in much better shape and able to relax and enjoy our time together as well.  I need to be out of sick mode and teacher mode for awhile and reconnect with the kids in mom mode.  It has been awhile since I have felt well enough to be at my best with them, to really tune in, and just enjoy the people they are.

I have a LOT to follow up on with Kenny, thanks to so many of you.  How can I say thanks??  Our homeschool program has also really stepped up to help create a game plan, and we will see how it all works out.  I have a lot of research to do, many great leads and ideas thrown out.  I feel better about it all as at least there is something to go on. 

Kenny and I had a long talk in the car this morning and I explained a little about what is going on behind the scenes.  I talked about what we thought might be wrong, about all I had to learn so I could then help him learn.  How humbling it is to have a kid have complete and total faith in you.  Kenny said "Well, if you are on it, then I know I'll be OK.  No one is as smart as you mom.  They may have college or have some important job as a teacher or something, but no one else got me to read, no one else got me to stop being lazy and stop thinking I was stupid."  Then he laughed so hard and he said "I remember when I first came home and I was special for awhile, and I thought it would always be like that with everyone making it easy on me.  Then school was hard and no one really expected me to be smart, so I got away with being really lazy.  The only one who caught me all the time was you!!" then he laughed his funny little Kenny laugh which is such a hoot to hear and he added "I wanted to homeschool because I thought you wouldn't make me work as much as regular school.  Man, that was when I really WAS stupid!  I should have known better!  You make me work harder than anyone ever will.  If I can survive you as a teacher, no other teacher will ever feel hard to me." 

Then he got serious for a minute and turned to look straight at me while I am still driving and he said "Thanks Mom.  If you hadn't worked so hard with me and put up with me being lazy at first, I never would have changed.  It was too easy to just get by and have everyone feel sorry for me.  Plus I really, really thought I was stupid and couldn't learn.  Once I saw that you thought I was totally smart and weren't going to let me get away with pretending and being lazy, I think I started to see that I could do a lot more."  I asked him what the hardest things were for him now and he said "It is hard to know stuff and then lose it in my brain.  That really, really bothers me.  It is hard to know I should be understanding something you tell me to do, but I can't.  It is hard for me to think that someday I'll get fired because I can't follow directions.  But maybe now that we both know more, we can figure this out.  If anyone can, you can Mom, and I promise I won't be lazy.  I may forget stuff a lot, but I won't ever be lazy and want people to feel sorry for me anymore.  I am not like that anymore, I think you changed that forever for me."

So, I will focus on recovering, relaxing, and then...

kicking butt. 

Because this support thing is mutual, and Kenny thinks I am smart and not lazy.  So I have to be smart and not lazy.  For him.  For all of them.

Watch out folks, Cindy may be down for the count momentarily, but when she rises from her sick bed, when she can breath without wheeze, we will start down the rabbit trail of learning something new about strategies and management for auditory processing.  Of course I can do it, I tell the kids all the time that you can teach yourself anything you want to know.  Time to put up and shut up, and show them how it's done.  You don't need a college degree to learn, you only need desire.

OK, off to spend another restless late night watching Netflix.  Maybe in a couple of hours I'll be feeling well enough to lay flat and try and sleep.  I doubt it, but we'll give it a try.

I think I've blogged more the past few weeks than I have in months prior!  You all must be totally bored with all this rattling on!  Night!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Fighting the Good Fight...and Losing

Today was not the best of days, for multiple reasons.  I am trying to remain upbeat, I am trying..well...not to cry.  OK, so I failed at that one earlier today, tears of frustration won over.

First of all, feeling this lousy has not helped, and I don't have my usual fight in me...although I think the audiologist from the school district might beg to differ on that one.  As of 6:00 PM I am now on steroids, antibiotics, and 3 other meds for this asthma gone nuclear.  The MD said he didn't know how I was still walking around, and though it wasn't presenting as pnueomonia...yet...he would lay odds that within the next 24 hours it would be.  It has been about 6 weeks or so getting progressively worse, and as I look in the mirror at the bags under my eyes, they pretty much tell the story of how exhausted I am.  So, no preaching in Silverton, no swimming in Delta, no youth group meeting.  Nothing but bed and Netflix for the next several days.

Bright spots?  Someone delivered flowers anonymously yesterday which was lovely and has me wondering "Hmmm...who?".  The kids are doing laundry.  My hubby went back to Walmart when they messed up the presecriptions so I could rest.  My knee is gradually getting a little better, even if it will take weeks to feel back to normal.  Josh didn't have a nightmare last night again.

On to the most frustrating, anger inducing, circular situation I have ever been involved in...other than the time when we bought a small boat years ago from a widow and the Department of Motor Vehicles insisted I get the signature of her deceased husband.  They finally gave up when I asked in a raised voice loud enough for all to hear "OK...so you want me to exhume his body to get his signature??" ...but I digress...

I heard back from the audiologist at the school district.  They declined to test Kenny.  Why?  Oh, not because they don't think he may indeed have auditory processing disorder.  No, that would make way too much sense. 

They declined because he is not a native English speaker, and because his IQ is 3 points too low.

Yea.  You read that right, although I know no one here will react with the same feeling of being absurdly pushed aside as I did.  I was told that EVERY non native speaker has what is essentially an auditory processing disorder, and was even kindly given an example of how a Japanese person will forever say "Flied Lice" instead of Fried Rice.  I kid you not, that was the very words used.  Because Kenny is a non-native speaker and can't be tested in his native Russian, his results will NEVER be considered valid.  Oh yea, and once again they basically told me my kid is too stupid and that would effect his results as well.

Can you see why I cried?  This is so darned circular that I can't even give voice to it.  We can't get him tested because he didn't speak English as an infant, and his IQ tests are low.  His IQ tests are low because he can't take verbal directions well or remember them.  His English skills will only go so far because he can't process what he hears correctly.  But we can't get him tested because...yada...yada...yada.

They also have no idea what is wrong with him.  They give us no clue, and no offer of additional testing or special services help.  Oh yea, they'll mail me a little info.

Dominick and I sat up talking about this as I hacked and wheezed with my knee elevated.  What a picture.  What do we do now?  The school route is out.  I don't know how we can afford testing on our own, it is in the thousands of dollars, and then it may only confirm what we already suspect...but we also know it is not the only thing going on.  I have to learn HOW to teach him, and I need to know if indeed I am barking up the right tree or way off base.  Notice, however, that the audiologist never said throughout our lengthy conversation that Kenny likely did not have ADP based upon my preliminary answers on the initial eval, only that they would not test for it. 

By the way, Chris J, my Colorado friend, can you email me directly about the Able Kids Foundation you recommended?  I did speak with them today, but have some questions and wanted to chat a little about it. 

I guess I am going to once again self-educate and see what I can learn over the next few weeks about APD.  There are two schools of thought, it appears.  One is that you manage and come up with coping strategies, and another is that there are ways to find work arounds in the brain and re-wire.  So far we have not seen much luck in that end, and both the audiologist I spoke with today and the Foundation mentioned above think along the "coping strategies" line and have little faith in any remedial efforts for long term success.

But what else am I missing?  This is not the entire puzzle, only a piece of it.  How much money do we spend in pursuit of possible answers?  How much will be wasted because we don't have anyone knowledgable enough to steer us?  Why do we parents have to go this alone, and not receive the services our tax dollars pay for? 

Bright sides?  Kenny is worth fighting for.  Kenny IS very intelligent, even if on paper he doesn't look it.  I am dogged in my pursuit for help for our kids.  I don't have ALL our kids with these issues.  I am smart enough to do a lot of research on my own, even if time is hard to find.  I am working with him everyday and that has made me an expert on Kenny LaJoy which helps eliminate some things quickly.  We ARE making a difference for him academically and he is light years ahead of where he was a year ago even if he is not at all where we wish he were for his age. 

I know I am so beat up right now that I am not my normal self, and that makes it all worse.  I am going to mull it all over, make more calls in the next couple of weeks, do some research and see what I can come up with.  Since I will be laid up the next few days I can research online and see what else I can come up with. 

And then, I will trust God will supply us with direction.  What else do I have at this point?  And the truth is, sometimes it takes getting to this point where you are so low that you finally hear God's leading anyway.  So...I have officially arrived at the bottom, God, can you lift me up a bit?  Can you help me keep my anger in check? 

Can you help me help my son? 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Thanks to All!

Just a quick post tonight to say thanks to every single person who has commented or emailed with ideas and thoughts about Kenny's challenges.  As this is blog is a resource for others with adopted kids, I try to be as honest and open as I can be, and to share what we learn  Maybe others out there are experiencing the same issues and we might be able to offer some sort of comfort, answers or at least comraderie as others recognize their own children in the descriptions of ours. 

Sharon did that for me when she commented on the last post.  She has a child from Kyrgyzstan who was also adopted older and is describing EXACTLY the same issues as Kenny deals with daily, down to the episodic nature of it (while it all still exists on a low level all the time, it gets worse during prolonged periods of time).  So was there something environmental that is affecting our kids?  Or is it just the fact that both were institutionalized as young children?  She describes brain mapping that shows dark spots on her daughters brain...exactly what we would expect if we had results for Kenny which is why we haven't gone ahead with expensive scans.  It would tell us what we already suspect but wouldn't tell us HOW to work with it.  Hearing this though confirms what we know in our heart to be true.

One thing I did learn that is helpful, thanks to another friend and long time LaJoy family follower, Catherine, is that if Kenny indeed does have Central Auditory Processing Disorder it qualifies him as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Trust me, if anyone has been around kids like this, they wouldn't even doubt that for a moment.  Every time Kenny goes through this at its worst is when we wonder aloud to ourselves if he will ever be able to live independently.  I am sure Sharon migh have the same doubts herself sometimes, seeing her own daughter struggle so mightily.  Catherine pointed me to a web site I had not discovered which had a checklist for CAPD, which provided me with an "Of course" moment when I read it, just as I had immediately upon reading the Infant Reactive Attachment Disorder Checklist on Christmas Day all those years ago as we were trying to figure out for sure what Josh was dealing with.

For those who mentioned Dr. Gindis and pointed me to his web site, thank you.  We already had Kenny assessed there when he first arrived home and were told what we see to be true as well...that Kenny's cognitive skills were obviously delayed but that he thought Kenny's intellect was such that he could definitely go to college one day if that were his path.  We see the same thing, if we can get this under control.  I did find the link someone sent to Dr. Gindis' article on CAPD helpful, and will be printing it out for more review and to provide to anyone working with Kenny in the future.

I am so appreciative of this little community here, for all of you who care and throw out ideas.  Many of you know how puzzling some of these things can be from working with your own kids.  No one in school districts really knows what our children have lacked, what they have experienced.  YOU are my experts, for the experts we have access to have never seen internationally adopted kids other than perhaps once or twice in their careers.  Living where we live limits us in ways those in large metropolitan areas are not limited, and I need my best resources to provide me with info I can't get from those who should be able to help.  There IS no better resource than you parents who can say "Oh yea, we had that happen!" or who have done as I have and stumbled upon info somewhere along the line in pursuit of answers for your own children.

Kenny appears to maybe be coming out of it today, we will see what the next few days hold for him.  Josh didn't have a nightmare last night, so progress on that front too.  OK, so he sleepwalked, but at least he wasn't screaming in terror! Hahaha!  Funny what we define as "progress" when we are going through periods like these.  Olesya is working hard to voice her opinion more, even if it is very difficult for her, so I count that as a semi-victory.  Angela is feeling pride in having painted a lot today, and Matthew is holed up happily creating a working Lego pistol with an internal mechanism that somehow uses cogs and rubber bands.  Don't ask me, he tried to draw it out and explain it to me, and that was something I just couldn't visualize.  I'll take a picture if he gets it to work...his creations are getting more and more interesting as he grows older.  Last month it was a 3' cross bow that flung Legos 20' or more.

And I sit here with my leg propped up so my leg can heal, looking at some beautiful flowers that someone mysteriously dropped off at our front door sometime today.  My knee is still somewhat swollen, and the skin injury is really bad, but thankfully it is feeling like nothing is broken inside.  I think.  I hope :-)

Somehow it feels like we turned a corner today.  Not sure why or how.  I was still awake at 3:45 AM when Dominick's alarm clock rang to wake him up, but soon finally fell asleep.  Despite the lack of sleep, I somehow feel at peace tonight, more so than in a long time.  Not sure why, not much has really changed but maybe God is just wrapping me up in a blanket and tucking me in tightly tonight, knowing how much I need to feel OK.  Talking openly with Kenny about all of this, seeing hope in his eyes as he knows Mom is never giving up helps too.  We are so lucky to parent him, and each of the kids. 

We are so lucky to have so many caring people in our life.  Blessed, blessed, blessed.  It helps us keep on keeping on :-)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Add Insult to Injury




Poor Kenny, man, that kid can't catch a break right now to save his life.  How he manages to maintain a positive attitude is beyond me, and I respect him even more for it.

Today was not an easy day for him.  This morning we were working on their project notebooks, and I was giving them new vocabulary words and definitions.  I'd spell words that were hard for them, and Kenny simply couldn't catch it no matter how slow I went.  He eventually dissolved into tears after fighting them back.  I finally had to spell them a single letter at a time, and even then he had a hard time with certain letters.  Suddenly he is hearing "K" as "G", and I have no clue why.  He told me "Mommy, I don't know what's wrong.  I hear you spelling the words and I catch the first couple of letters then it all sounds jumbled up and I can't figure it out."  Even as he quietly says the word to himself, he get it completely, utterly wrong.  For example, he was trying to write the word "Temperature"...a tough one, I'll give you that with that "ture" at the end not being spelled at all like it sounds.  You know how he spelled it? "Tershr".  Seriously.  He is NOT that bad of a speller.  Yes, he spells things incorrectly often, but it usually makes sense phonetically.  This was repeated over and over today, words were spelled in such odd ways that they didn't even make sense.

As we all sat around the table, and I could tell that even the other kids were feeling really bad for him, so I decided to call out the elephant in the room.  I had everyone stop for a family talk.  I asked the kids if they understood what was going on for Kenny lately, and we talked openly about his struggles.  I asked them if they minded if we took more time in spelling things and helping Kenny get things correct, or if they were annoyed.  Thank goodness Kenny has the supportive siblings he has, as all of them loudly proclaimed that they didn't mind however long it took, and they felt badly that it was all so hard for him.  Matt said "Don't worry Kenny, you've seen mom correct my periods and run on sentences all the time!  None of us are perfect." and Angela giggled as she said "Look how bad MY spelling is sometimes too!  We all make mistakes."  As Kenny's tears dried I tried to explain how Kenny heard things, and why sometimes what he does seems so out of kilter with what they know I asked him to do, and mostly I made it clear that it wasn't at all his fault and that we were trying hard to figure out a solution for him.  I told Kenny to look around the table.  "Is anyone laughing at you, Kenny?  Does anyone here think you are stupid?" he started crying again, this time from relief as he said "I am SO GLAD I am not at school.  By now in 6th grade everyone would think I was dumb if I did this stuff.  At least here I know my family knows I am smart sometimes, even if I can't spell or get things right all the time.  I just hate when this happens though, I want to be like everyone else and I don't know how!!" and he laid his head on the table and sobbed as his brothers and sisters looked on helplessly, trying to offer encouragement as they could.

I am mad now, and I fired off an email to our school program telling them we need support NOW, and I don't understand the delays for his auditory processing full assessment.  It is clearly obvious from my own research that this is part of the problem, and there ARE remedies we might be able to find with the help of qualified specialists.  The full testing costs a significant amount of money, and the heel dragging is probably because of that.  We had the preliminary testing at the end of the school year the year we removed him from public school but that was only an indicator, not the full assessment. Even that was a stunning surprise to the staff, despite the fact I had been saying there were issues for over a year that were not just language learning issues.  Just from recently answering the determining questionnaire recently it was clear from the kinds of questions being asked that Kenny is likely to be positively identified with this disorder.  Kenny needs help, and he needs it now...not 6 months from now or 2 years from now.  I know it is likely there are other factors at play here as well, but this one is clearly needing to be ruled out or identified, and then maybe I can get some assistance for him.

Then, to top it off, tonight at TaeKwonDo he learned he will not be allowed to take the belt advancement test as they don't feel he is ready.  I am fine with that, and so is he I think, as we all realize he is not quite where he should be to actually earn the next rank.  But I just keeping thinking that this poor child needs to find success somewhere, and I have no idea where to turn to find that for him.  No matter how hard he tries, it is never good enough...not good enough to play much in volleyball, not good enough to take the belt rank test, his music class on violin is stunningly bad (not surprisingly, he can't hear if he is in tune nor does he have any rhythm), he can't even successfully wash a wall right now.  I have tried everything I can think of and will continue to do so to find some place where he can achieve and feel good about himself, but we are limited in opportunities around here and I just don't know what else to do.  But I am beginning to feel it is imperative that he find success soon at something.

I have appreciated the comments and suggestions that you all have offered, and wanted to share a little with you.  Some have suggested that we try medication for ADD/ADHD such as ritalin, etc.  It is hard when reading the descriptions of his issues, as many sound attention oriented.  We are not against the idea at all, however every professional that has worked with him and every teacher friend we have that knows our kids well almost laughs over the idea of Kenny being classified as ADD/ADHD...it is that obvious when around him in person that he has issues, but that is not one of them.  Most can see it is a brain processing disorder of some sort unrelated to ADD/ADHD. 

Is it diet?  I suppose it could be, but these times when things get worse we see no discernible difference in his diet, as I have thought...especially with his background of malnutrition...that could be a cause. 

Things we are currently considering aside from the Central Auditory Processing Disorder are lead poisoning, as it has been confirmed to us that might be a strong possibility based upon his environment while in infancy and toddlerhood (anyone out there with info on that reading this, please email).  Of course, kids with cleft lip and palate are also at a higher risk for other abnormalities and learning disabilities as well.  Then there is the lack of knowledge about Fetal Alcohol Exposure which is always possible, yet everything I have researched contrasted with the bright Kenny we know seems to point away from that. 

Someone made a comment tonight about making sure we are actively using both sides of Kenny's brain, which is the one thing I have found to be enormously helpful and where I see we are making great strides with Kenny in terms of retention, etc.  This was one of the reasons we decided to homeschool in the first place, because as he was entering 5th grade and moving into higher grades after that we knew there would be far less hands on learning than he needed, and no one would be catering to his need to take information in via numerous ways that were more visual. 

As for special education teachers...that has been a total flop for us as we have found that most want to blame language learning or low IQ and call it "good", basically telling us we should settle and be happy he is functioning at all.  Because we are homeschooling under a public school alternative program, we have access to all the same services we had when enrolled in public school.  However, there is a distinct lack of willingness to dig into the problems, despite my precise descriptions of what is going on.  As you all know, we are fortunate to have several retired teachers who interact with the kids often, and every single one of them does not believe Kenny's IQ score is accurate...and they are not saying that to pacify me.  Kenny is quite articulate, able to conceptualize things on a very deep level, and can tie things together in ways that make it pretty obvious that his IQ scores do not match his true intellect.  Of course, if a child has severe auditory processing issues and memory issues, what do you think their IQ score will look like?  In the tank, for sure. 

I have combed the internet looking for specialists working with post-institutionalized kids regarding academics but all I find are the ones that deal mostly with behavioral challenges. 

If anyone out there has any suggestions at all, please, please throw them out for consideration.  I feel as if we are sinking here, and as if we are literally fighting for Kenny's life.  Does that sound melodramatic?  Maybe...but how long can a child be kicked when he is already down?  How much can his self-esteem take?  We are fortunate that Kenny is a generally positive kid, but I worry that eventually this is going to take it's toll.  As he sat at the table today hitting his head with his fists saying "Why won't my brain work right?" I wanted nothing more than to split my own skull open and exchange brains with him.  Would that it were that easy.

People have no clue what institutionalization, malnutrition, lack of stimulation, and every other aspect of orphanage life can do to a child's brain and soul.  You can not begin to understand the devastation caused until you live with the results of it.  An orphan has already lost enough when they are relinquished, why do they have to lose the ability to think, reason, love and tolerate touch as well?

The good things?  Kenny IS intelligent, he is tender and loving, he is a naturally upbeat little guy.  He is deeply loved and not a quitter.  He is precious.  Somehow, we will figure this out, but we need a little miracle here, for sure.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

What's Important

We all go through those times, when everything seems hard, when nothing goes as planned, when every single step is an effort.  Right now in my life, nothing is smooth, everything is rough hewn, friction is all around, and I have yet to determine if my role is to be the sandpaper!

Things are steadily going downhill even further with Kenny and Josh, as we experienced a full blown tantrum out of Joshie the other day the likes of which we haven't seen since the worst of his toddler days when Reactive Attachment Disorder was in full bloom.  Kenny is really off kilter completely, and unable to accomplish the simplest tasks such as rinsing the walls behind Olesya's TSP cleansing.  The directions just didn't sink in even after being instructed 3 times very clearly. 

To top it all off, I fell this morning on a patch of ice, injuring my left knee quite badly.  I am hoping it isn't severely injured, but tonight it is swollen and I have a case of road rash that is quite painful.  This may keep me out of commission for at least a couple of days, and I am hoping that is all.  Between the latest injury, the emotional turmoil around here,  allergies and asthma which are the worst I have probably ever experienced, I am a big ol' wreck right now.

The good thing about being me right now?  I know that it is at these times when God meets me most faithfully.  When at my lowest, that is when I encounter God in new and exciting ways, ways which alter my perception permanently.  Sometimes I forget that it is when we are at our very weakest that we are most open to feeling the Spirit, and so in all of this swirling around me at the moment which is so hard, I will be grateful, for I know God has something extraordinary to teach me right now, if only I'll really listen.

Today was a good day...Josh was on an even keel and is peacefully asleep on our bedroom floor, Kenny was more in tune today, the girls are settled and Matthew is his usual calm self.  Dominick had some extra work today which will help, and tomorrow we are sleeping in and that alone is likely to do wonders for all of us.

We ARE making a lot of progress over at the rehab house.  The kids have learned how to paint and have done a fine job of it!  Check it out:








Whenever I need to count my blessings, I don't need to look far.  We live in the most beautiful place on earth, a place that most of the kids have even said they wouldn't ever consider leaving if they had a choice.  Our sunrise this morning was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful:



And then there are the other blessings, wonderfully created by God and offered as a temporary gift to Dominick and I:

OK, so maybe not as stunning as the sunrise photos, but when I stop and think about how far they have each come, how courageous they each are, how loving and connected we all are, there can be nothing more beatiful than the healing that can come with God's hand in it.  Paint splattered, smiling, dirty on the outside but tender on the inside...not hardened.  Works of art, is what they each are, still in process, a long way from completion. 

It's a life I'll gladly embrace, no matter how hard it gets.  Reminding ourselves daily of what is truly important, we will remember that we have one another to help us make it through this very difficult thing called "life". Together, we'll all make it, and we will never be alone.

Isn't that what it's really all about?  Not perfection, but relationship and acceptance.

Tomorrow a mini-day of rest.  We've all earned it!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Continual Doubts, Constant Struggle

I won't lie, the past couple of weeks have been enormously challenging for me on many levels.  Middle of the night asthma attacks are keeping me from being well rested, and basically wearing me out...and that intensifies everything as well.

Kenny is having a really bad spell right now, and this morning was indicative of what we all face together as a family as we try to support and encourage him.  Math is Kenny's strong subject, actually really strong.  He is working above grade level and his state tests show he is a mere few points below advanced.  He took a review test today and got 60%.  Not such a big problem, as all kids have a bad test now and then.  But it's a big problem when he forgets what the math words mean, when he draws a total blank and we have one of his mental "hiccups" and he can't recall how to even approach a problem.  His writing, which was looking much improved for awhile has also taken a big dive.

As Dominick sat there at the kitchen table trying to help Kenny work through his incorrect test problems while Angela sat nearby, I look up and see Kenny begin the descent to dissolving into tears...and from across the counter my heart just cracked a little wider.  I went around the table and just put my arms around him as he cried, saying nothing, for words were not needed.

This kid...who is SO darned bright and works SO darned hard will struggle like this for the rest of his life, and on a night like tonight I feel nothing but profound loss and grief over it.  As we have worked on our little project house wondering if one day we might be living in it ourselves, we also wonder if Kenny will have no alternative but to reside there with us.  Don't get me wrong, you couldn't have a more agreeable life long companion and we would not have an ounce of resentment should that be the end result, but it would kill me to see Kenny limited in such a way when in other ways he is honestly higher functioning than many who are years older than he is.  He is a deep soul, and can make connections that others will never make, as those who know him in "real life" will attest to.  But his memory loss, the disconnect that occurs periodically, his inability to follow even the simplest 2 step instructions without becoming confused...these are huge things to overcome.

Adding insult to injury, he realized he lost his history journal, containing the entire semester's work in it.  He spent an hour and a half looking for it, knowing it has to be in the house somewhere, but it is long gone.  It's probably located in the same place his violin music magically disappeared to, that dark Kenny void that none of us have yet to find. 

I had a long talk with him this evening about all of this, once the emotion and frustration had died down.  I don't want him feeling alone in all of this, and I was glad to learn we have made some strong corrections for him even if we are not able to overcome much of what he faces.  I asked him how he felt about himself these days, and he said "I feel smarter, for sure, maybe not today but I do feel smarter than I used to."  I smiled when we talked about how his opinion of himself has changed since coming home for school and he said "I feel as smart as Matt now, but I knew coming home that he would never make fun of me and would help me.  That made it easier, I didn't have to worry about looking stupid with Matt as he always treated me like I was smart even if I didn't do well in school." 

We talked about how he IS smart, but that his brain functions differently than everyone else's, and that will require him to work harder and use tools and routines to keep him on track.  I also told him that now that he understood better how he learned and what his difficulties are, he needed to explain to others that work with him that he needed to hear instructions one step at a time, or have things written down for him.  We talked about ways he could cope, and how we would need to get creative to discover good strategies for him...but that would require him to not be lazy and actually do whatever we came up with, even if things took him longer. I also reminded him that I am right there with him, every step of the way, and will give it my all to help him succeed but that I expected the same thing from him.  He told me "I am so lucky to have YOU for a mom, I think lots of other moms would have thought I was just stupid and given up on me.  You never will, you and I are too stubborn to give up!"

As I shared with Dominick later, it is hard to know the right thing to do with Kenny sometimes.  Knowing that much of this is completely beyond his ability to fix, how accountable do we hold him?  And if we don't hold him as accountable as we would the other kids, Kenny has already shown he will quickly give in to the "I can't do it" attitude and play the "pity" card.  Yet I don't want to discourage him with unrealistic expectations.  Thankfully, all the other kids really and truly understand that Kenny sometimes just can't get it all together and it is through not fault of his own...they are compassionate and kind with him to a fault.  That helps enormously.  But knowing when to press and when to let up is becoming ever increasingly more complicated to discern, and I fear we are not doing a good job of it.

Kenny's anguish is very real, and very understandable...and we feel it too.  We don't have a clue what to do about it, no specialist we have contacted seems to be able to help.  Scans would tell us what we already suspect, parts of his brain aren't working right, but that is awfully expensive information to confirm when it doesn't lead to "how to" strategies.  What would make it easier, perhaps, would be if Kenny had global developmental delays and was unaware of how affected he was.  Instead we have a young man who is so sharp in so many areas, and clearly can see how he is not the same as others and how this is holding him back from being all he could be.  I think that alone is harder than actually dealing with things on a daily basis with him.

On another front, it is possible we may have had a tiny breakthrough with Olesya.  Two days ago we talked about her dance class, asking if she wanted to continue with it.  She had indicated early on that it wasn't what she had thought it would be, that kids there had been going to class together for several years and were not open and friendly in including her, and that she wanted to quit.  We told her we wanted her to give it a few weeks to see if things changed, and then we would consider letting her drop.  When we asked her, the immediate response was "Yes, I want to stay in class." and then we shrugged our shoulders and said "OK". 

Later that day while we were working, she told me she wanted to talk to me.  She said with tears in her eyes "Mama, I don't want to do dance class." I asked her why she didn't just say so in the first place, as that is why we had asked her in the morning and had told her clearly we didn't mind if she quit.  She said "I thought you'd get mad at me."  I laughed and told her that didn't "fly" as we had asked her a couple times "Are you sure?  You haven't seemed to enjoy it much." and there was no reason at all for her to think we would have been mad if she told us the truth.  We had another mini-meltdown as she then shrugged her shoulders and said "I don't know why I didn't tell you."

So we had another long talk about her being on "automatic", and how proud I was of her for finally expressing what she really felt and wanted.  The look of relief on her face was so obvious, and then, for the very first time I think she and I connected on a much deeper level when she looked me squarely in the eyes and said "I am so sorry Mama, I am going to try hard to let you know what I like and don't like.  I don't know why it is hard for me, but I going to practice!"  then she came over and gave me the most gentle kiss and said "Thank you Mama, you make me better all the time."  Since then I have noticed she has made a real effort to express herself, which is hard work for her, and not casually shrug off things.  I have praised this highly when I see it and recognize her efforts even if it is just baby steps.  A couple of times she has hugged me or looked at me in a more intimate way, as if she is slowly lifting the veil from over her heart.  Funny how I interpret such things, and could be way off base, but it just feels different in a way that is hard to describe.

Lots of intensity here at Casa LaJoy, enough to drag me under at moments, I fear.  No one else would see it, understand it, or care about it and sometimes I wonder if I were a different sort of person if all of this would slide smoothly over the layers of our lives.  If I were different, surely this would be easier, and sometimes I think it is I that is too intense and not the kids.  But there is growth, sure and certain, even if it is hard on the soul to achieve.  There is joy and laughter in between as well, even if there are nightmares and inner whispers.  I have thought a lot the past few days about how different moms would handle our situation so differently, and wondered if their approaches would be better.  Sometimes we are so close to a problem we can't see things clearly.

But I am the mom they are stuck with, and all I can do is my best, even if that looks different than how others would handle it.  Surely I am laughed at by others, surely there are some who would work wonders with our kids in ways I can't even imagine.  But no one would love them more, I guess that'll have to be enough.

Here's to what I hope is a decent night's sleep, and to not stepping on Joshie's head as I get up in the middle of the night!



Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A Long Day, A Lot of Progress

We are entering Week 3 of our project, and thus far enthusiasm hasn't waned.  The kids were up at 7 this morning, at the house by 9, and worked most of the day.  They took a dinner break, then we went on to spend 2 hours on our notebooks for the project, which are going to be quite nice once they are complete.  They each have about 8 or 9 pages of journaling, 2 pages of safety notes, 50+ new vocabulary words recorded, 25 pages of photos, 12 pages or so of calculations for square footage and budgeting, and pages with color samples recorded.  They are proud of their work, and they should be...it is going to make a terrific representation of all they have learned.  Our school is exceptional in recognizing such learning as being valid and effective, but I have to be creative (not my strong suite as we all know!) at coming up with ways to document that learning. 

Today was the day we had a guest teacher, Mr. Steve, who came to help us learn how to repair drywall and prep for painting.  We have many generous and talented folks who have volunteered to work with the kids, and Steve is a really fine teacher.  He is not at all disturbed by 5 young bodies bustling about, he "gets it" that this project is not so much about us getting the house done but is far more about the kids gaining new skills and actually doing as much hands on work as they can, and he is as patient as the day is long.  Step by step he walked them through the process, and each one of the kids participated fully and could probably repair a hole all by themselves now.  We are not quite done as we have to put a second coat of drywall compound on today and sand everything smooth, but it will all be done today...at least the big holes.  There are plenty of 1"+ holes to be filled from where the folks who owned it prior ran speaker wire through walls..enough for every kid to have a go at repairing one!  Angela worked overheard on the large grooves cut in the ceiling and seemed to really enjoy doing it.  There are more ceiling cracks for others to try their hand at!  Yea! Hahaha!

Here are some photos of yesterday's progress:

Before "class" began, preparing the floor for laminate tile to go in, ripping up tack strips.

Learning about what drywall is made of and the history of drywall.

"That looks like bread dough!" Josh said.

Measure twice, cut once...or maybe cut a couple more times for a perfect fit :-)

These cutters are getting a workout on this project!  Carpeting, drywall, ripping out old linoleum...handy little tools!

Olesya trying to visualize how to measure to trim the drywall.

Kenny taking his turn.  Kenny is really sharp at math, probably our strongest student in mental math and applied math.  Even Matthew defers to him, and he isn't shabby at it.

Ready to Rock!

Mr. Steve patiently explaining how to cut.

Tada!  Now the fun part...mudding it!

Olesya had the perfect size...until we realized she was using the wrong thickness of drywall!  Oops!

Joshua and Angie working as a team to make the patch for the smaller hole.

See?  Not so hard!

Matthew, Olesya and Kenny worked on applying the mesh and mud, as well as floating it when it was done.

Josh using mesh and mud to fill one of the many smaller holes throughout the house.

What kid doesn't like using ladders?

Angela has a real knack for filling and floating the big grooves!
Still a LOT of work ahead of us!!
Things I have personally discovered as we have worked the past 3 weeks are:

1)  Although I haven't done as much of the hands on work as I normally would, it makes the entire project run MUCH more smoothly to have someone be the designated "runner" so no one else has to pull off the job.  Especially when that running has included volleyball practice 3 times a week up until now!

2)  Our kids continually rotate in partnerships with one another, without a word being said.  I have been surprised how this keeps shifting from day to day, and I recognize that there is not teaming up against anyone else which helps family harmony tremendously.

3)  Kids are capable of far more than we think they are, or allow them to be. 

4)  Although I recognized the value before starting, I don't think I embraced as fully as I should have just how incredibly valuable hands on learning really is...and how sad it is that most children don't get the chance to do as much of it as they should.

5)  I should have saved some old shoes for this for each of the kids.

6)  I am really, really glad we worked so hard on academics over the summer so I am not stressing about what we might be missing right now.  We are at almost 500 hours right now, and we only need 720 for the entire year.  Of course, reaching that goal won't stop us :-)

7)  People can be inquisitive to the point of rudeness.  We have been in and out of stores during regular school hours far more we ever have been, as we gather supplies, etc.  No less than 5 times have I been asked pointedly why our kids are not in class.  I am not too sensitive over this, it has really been asked quite rudely.  I will never understand why anyone would ever feel it is appropriate to walk up to a total stranger and ask the things we have been asked over the years...how much our kids "cost", if they were left in trash cans in their birth countries, if they are really "mine", why we would ever choose to homeschool, aren't we afraid they will be anti-social if they aren't in class with other kids, etc.  I would never in a million years EVER think of asking such intimate questions of a total stranger.  For some reason, being "different" seems to mark us as "fair game". 

8)  I don't know how working mom's do it, my hat is off to each and every one of them.  I am flummoxed just trying to keep up right now, and I would never do it as well as so many others I know somehow managed to do it.  How in the world do you keep up with laundry and grocery shopping?  How do you ever get a meal on the table rather than collapse at the end of each day?  I salute you, working moms of the world!

9)  Our kids make great partners in large projects like this, they are steady, committed, hard working, non-whining, and fun to be with when tired at the end of the day.

10)  How in the world am I ever going to top this one??  Their interest level causes me to really step it up a notch, and I have no idea what we will do that will be more engaging than this one.  Any creative ideas for major educational projects that anyone would like to share?  We have a lot of years ahead of us!

Off to get some kids up and at 'em.  After staying up late last night to work on their notebooks I thought I'd let them sleep in a bit.  I think they've earned it!