Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Littlest LaJoy's aren't so Little!

I didn't have much time to blog while the Big LaJoy's were away at camp, but Josh and Olesya had a week alone with mom and dad for the first time.  It is always very interesting to have the kids in different groupings, as the dynamics always change.  Josh and Olesya are our youngest, and most often our quietest.  Kenny and Angela are our most talkative and animated, Matthew is our most serious.  Dominick and I loved having Josh and Olesya alone together, as it allowed more of their own personalities to shine.  Often, they are a little drowned out by the vivaciousness of Kenny and Angela.

Here they are, getting ready for a hike with our friend Mr. Steve:

They were POOPED when they came back!  I was happy as I had the house all alone to myself for the first time in quite awhile :-)

Josh is growing and changing in so many ways.  He has interests that are quite different, and his little math brain is clicking all the time.  A young friend recently said "Most of the time I totally forget he is only 9 years old.  I've been around my friends who have younger brothers and sisters that age and they never act that grown up."  I am sure that spending the majority of his time around  much older siblings contributes to that, but I am very glad that he still has the little boy inside as well.  But the older kid who resides within is startling sometimes.

One thing that came out while the other kids were gone was how much Big Thinking Josh is doing these days, and we had a really long conversation in the car about the universe and God, and this child grasps the unknowable more than any we have.  His unique way of thinking in terms of numbers somehow allows him to grab hold of the infinite differently.  He told me he knows he can not ever say God doesn't exist, because there is too much that is unknowable in the world and for anyone to speak with certainty about anything means "they are just showing how little THEY actually know!"  He spoke at length about the possible endlessness of the universe and contrasted it with the endless capabilities of the human mind.  With his furrowed brow he turned to me and said "Mom, no one even knows what our brains can do, they say we only use a little bit of our brains, so how can we say we know what God can and can do if we can't figure out what we carry around on our own bodies?"

He is such a funny bunny.  We came out of the orthodontist's office the other day and I had to sit down and talk with the finance gal about Kenny's account.  We were all talking about what a lucrative career orthodontia is, and Josh isn't contributing much the the group conversation.  Suddenly, he pops his head up and I can see he has been writing as he says "OK, so the doctor makes $--- per year, if you take what we paid for Kenny's braces, then calculate it by about 28 patients a day, which is what I guessed looking at the number of chairs he has in there and how long we were there.  Then you have to figure out the number of working days in the year and subtract weekends.  Mom, that guy is RICH!  I'd do it myself, but I don't care to have to look in people's mouths all day."  Then he giggled and said "But maybe one of us should become an orthodontist, one of us an eye doctor, one of us  a regular doctor, then we'd treat each other for free and who would care if we had good insurance!" Haha!  That's my logical kid.

He has been intrigued by cloning and genetics lately as well, and it is odd the timing of that because our neighbor across the street is a retired professor from Ohio State University who just a couple of weeks ago asked if I would let him come over and give a short class on genetics and mutations.  He said "I'll only take 45 minutes and explain the basics." and it was interesting how God plopped that in our lap without him even knowing Josh was interested.  Dominick laughed as we stood there chatting, telling him "I think you'd better plan on making that a couple hours.  You don't know how many questions are likely to be thrown at you."  Our neighbor is interested to see how much younger kids will pick up of what he has to share, and he thinks it might prove to be a fascinating conversation considering the adoption factor that comes into play in our family.  What he doesn't realize is that Josh is ready to hit him with "sperm, egg and spirit" questions.  This should be a riot.

Another example of how Josh's mind works differently and very analytically is his response to a question the other night.  We were playing a made up game of "Are you smarter than a 5th grader" but we play in teams and I make up questions based upon things we have studied, and I also use trivia questions from board games we have around the house.  Funny, but not one ever complains about having Josh on their team, despite his younger age, because often he recalls facts the others do not.  This time they were divided up boys against girls.  Midway through the game I threw out the question "Who were the first Americans?" to the boys.  There was much quiet debate about that one, and the supposed "correct" answer was of course Native Americans, which is what they came up with...until Josh then pondering inserted "Yes, but technically, the United States of America was not officially the United States of America until the Revolutionary War.  That means that the first 'official' Americans weren't the Indians OR the Pilgrims, because they were too early. Wouldn't the first real Americans be the ones who fought for independence and won it from England when we were actually then really called Americans and not British citizens living in America?"  We all agreed that though the answer was't what was on the game card, that logic deserved a point just for great thinking!

Olesya has been busy, busy busy!  She is currently working on a darling little sewing project she thought of all on her own.  I don't have photos yet because it is needing a modification today but I'll post tomorrow.  Her dad even got into it and asked on Freecycle today if anyone had old jeans to get rid of, so she could make another couple of items.  It is turning out so cute, so stay tuned and I'll hopefully have pics tomorrow.

Her gifts were celebrated in the midst of another celebration this past weekend, when she had been "commissioned" by our friend, Miss Jill, to make cupcakes for a bridal shower.  Olesya was so cute as she took down the order and recorded details.  Funnier still was how much practice went into creating this first order!  I swear, we must have gone to the store 4 times getting supplies to practice for those cupcakes.  I was actually kind of glad we had that week alone at home to experiment together, and her joy at having me side by side with her was worth me faking that I LOVE making cupcakes and decorating them...hehehe...shhhhhhh...someday she'll figure out I am not the domestic type but for now it is terrific if she is fooled.  What I dearly do love is seeing her blossom, watching as she discovers new talents and explores who she really is.  It's enough to make me put an apron on! And she must have told me 10 or more times how much she loved doing it with me and thanking me for spending time with her alone.

We mixed, we tested, we went online to find the superior recipes for frosting.  The end results were well worth it.  As this bridal shower was for someone from church and it was largely church folk there who love her, they were all sensitive to her need for affirmation and she received such lovely compliments, she simply glowed...perhaps even more then our bride to be!  I was happy for her, as she had gotten up early Sunday morning telling me "Mom, I am so excited!  I wish the morning would go fast so we can go to the shower and I can take my cupcakes!!", so this was a huge deal for her.  As you can see below, I think she did a darn good job for a first real attempt:

There always seems to be something interesting going on around here...crafts, science, history, camps, remodeling projects, books and more books.  Its no wonder none of the kids ever comes to me and says "I'm bored!".  As the summer begins to wind down and so many moms are hearing that over and over again, I am very thankful that I don't.

Cupcakes and cloning...all of this activity means that MOM needs to learn more!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Glasses for my Soul

I have been in a killer slump the past several weeks.  I haven't written about it here, as I can't quite put it into words.  I know that part of it is feeling as if I am sort of drifting from day to day with no real goals.  Oh, don't get me wrong, I have lots of goals for the kids or our family as a whole, but not really anything before me that is calling out to me.  See?  I can't even express it well at all.   Basically though, my days are spent in the pursuit of keeping up with laundry, dishes and shopping, intermixed with teaching the kids.  While that is certainly rewarding, I need that little something extra on the side to make me feel like Cindy...not just mom/wife/teacher.  I am not sure what that is at the moment, but it is clear I need to find something new to learn that is just for me while I am busy helping others learn.

And it ain't gonna be cake decorating :-)

Today I realized something else that had been contributing more to my malaise than I had understood.  I have been back in glasses for the past 6 weeks or so, as I started having problems with my contacts and  was unable to wear them.  My glasses prescription was at least 4 Rx's ago, and far out of line with where my vision is today.  Trying to save money and knowing I wear them very little, I never got them updated.  Hence, stupidly, now that I was in need of glasses, I was using a pair that was 6 years old.  At $350 just for the lenses, I saved money all right, but have suffered terribly the past 6 weeks...way more than I let on to anyone.

You see, I am in the category of "severe myopic" and am at -10 diopters.  Someone explained a long time ago to me that it means I can see clearly only when things are 10 centimeters away from my eyes.  Yup, that's about right.  Throw in that I am not a candidate for surgery and am 45 years old meaning I am also in the reading glasses stage now, and you have a recipe for one stupid cookie for not keeping my glasses prescription up to date.  I don't know exactly how far off it was, but it had to be considerable.  

Walking out of the MD's office this morning was a complete and utter joy!!  Oh my goodness, everything was so crisp, I could read signs from afar, I could see the outlines of the leaves on the was almost like being reborn.  Seriously.  I am not being overly dramatic in saying that.  I had no idea how bad it had been, but I knew I couldn't see the expressions on people's faces if I were more than 15 feet away, and I was unable to watch the TV from across the room or read much without large print.  Thank goodness for Google Chrome, where I can easily enlarge web pages for reading.

How much did this contribute to me being down in the dumps?  A lot.  Tons.  I felt disconnected from the real world, half part of it, one foot in and one foot out, squinting...or giving up even trying to squint to read things.  Our sight is a precious gift, it provides us with a kaleidoscope of input every moment we are awake.  We take in so much visually, and without clear vision we really are a bit cut off from the world around us, much as those who wear hearing aids are.  I felt dulled, like a Ginsu knife whose warranty had run out after cutting through a few too many aluminum cans.  Even as I glance up from my computer now, looking at the flowered pattern of my couch, or the waving grasses in the pasture behind our house, I am saying a prayer of thanks for the two little pieces of plastic that rest on my eyes, seemingly so simple a device that changes the world for me.

The power of sight extends to the internal as well, and so often we don't have the privilege of seeing inside someone's heart.  As this mom who is feeling dulled in many ways at the moment due to the dreariness of day to day life, I had the power of sight knock me off my feet just a couple hours ago in a completely different way.  Seeing inside the heart of Kenny left me in tears, and is truly what reminds me that being here to do that laundry, and serve my family in a less than glamorous way allows me to help guide my children towards insights and the ability to express themselves in ways they might otherwise never find the courage to do.

Grabbing up Kenny's iPad, I was going to add in addresses for him in his contact list.  The other day he was busy working on it, trying to personalize it and typing in addresses from kids at camp.  He told me I needed to read it when I added in the addresses.  I clicked on his contact list and laughed as I found every one of his family members listed there, as if we all have a different address or phone number!  I clicked on Angela's name, as hers was first in the alphabet and there was our home number, my cell number and Dominick's cell number.  It was under "notes" that I was surprised to find "Angela is my older sitter.  I love her smile.  She rocks my world."  Laughing out loud and grinning from ear to ear I went on to Cindy LaJoy and this is what I found, which he obviously wanted me to read, exactly as he typed it:

"I can't evan think of what you have not done for me.  You have always bin there for me.  I love you so much and I don't know how to repay you.  You are a big rock in my life.  I love that you are always happpy it is what I say the happy ones are the blessed ones.  You have made me in to a happer person.  I know I can always turn to you when I am in trouble.  The love I have for you is magnificent.  I know even on the hardets days that you still love me and I love you too."

I sit here with tears in my eyes even as I am writing this.  It seems I have been blinded in more ways than one, and God needed to remind me of where my true worth is.  Even when intellectually we know these things, sometimes we walk around in a myopic haze, blinded to the deeper meanings.  It isn't about the laundry, it isn't about the groceries. It is about being a rock for someone, about being someone they can count on...and sometimes, I think, that may mean providing the stability that comes from having parents with a less than desirable job they go to every day, be it washing cars, selling toilets, making a sandwich, or sitting at a desk all day.  It comes from doing the same thing day in and day out, to create a sense of security for children who, for years, had none.  

I needed not just glasses for my weary eyes, but glasses for my weary soul.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How Do We Stop the Violence?

It has happened again.  Another shooting spree, more photos posted across the internet and plastered across front pages of survivors cradled in one another's arms.  The outcry for more stringent gun control has begun, the interviews with folks who just knew something was wrong but were helpless to do much about it...or didn't care to.  Sadly, this has become standard fare in America, a place where our schools and shopping malls, our theaters and campaign trails are no longer where we gain a sense of community with our neighbors, but instead are where we find makeshift memorials and somber reminders that it all can, indeed, change in a New York minute.

We don't live in a war zone.

Or do we?

We live in a world where day after day children are bullied and driven literally to their deaths, where aging bus monitors are ridiculed and humiliated to the point of tears for no reason other than the delight of the young perpetrators.  For chuckles we watch the likes of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich and call it "entertainment" as chairs are thrown and DNA tests reveal who slept with who, and who refuses to accept responsibility.  We are so divided by race, by political party, by denomination, and by education that we no longer see the "we" in "We the people"...but even then the "we" was really white, land owning males, so I guess we have always been a country divided, classified and categorized.

What we fail to see is that for many of our citizens, each day is as if they are walking right into a war zone.  That war zone may be the playground, where not a day goes by that someone isn't kicked, spat upon, or called vile names.  That war zone may be the place of employment, where the almighty dollar wins out over decency, where daily our morals are tested and our livelihoods are at stake.  Sometimes, that war zone is even our own living room, where we are ignored, tuned out, or worse, physically abused.

The soul can only be injured so many times and still bounce back.

How can we expect it to get any better?  We want our children to be fair and decent to one another when our politicians use the spotlight to play as dirty as they possibly can with one another, never realizing that the mud they sling lands not just on them, but often spreads further than they ever might understand.  We want our children to feel cared for and nurtured, but we place them last on our list, behind golf, work, the newspaper, that cell phone conversation, or whatever other distraction we adults  can so easily find to keep us from having to be attentive to their needs.  We want our churches to be havens for us, places where we can find peace and perhaps sense God's presence in our lives, and yet we insist on bringing the world into that sacred space, nitpicking at one another, back biting and finger pointing at those whose beliefs might differ from our own, leaving us no better off than we were before we stepped a single foot in the so-called sanctuary.

We yearn for peace, yet we raise our battle cry.

We yearn for unity, yet with pride we point out every possible difference.

We yearn for hope, yet we throw our hands up in despair and walk away.

We yearn for love, yet we are unwilling to be vulnerable.

How do we stop the violence?  We open our eyes, we really see one another, and don't walk right on by.  We open our ears, and really hear one another, even if we disagree.  We open our hearts, and we really  love one another...yes...even the unlovable.  It's the hardest thing that we, as humans, can do.  

We find ways to better care for our mentally ill, we reach out to those who are living life in the margins, we stop elevating ourselves and burying others beneath layers and layers of judgment.

And we stop teaching our children to hate.  We aren't born that way, haters are "made".

In other words, do that stuff that Jesus taught...that's what we do.

It is not necessary to be the one who makes the Big Changes in the world, or wins the Nobel Peace Prize.  Truthfully, the most meaningful Big Change will come when the small changes are made...when you stop your child when you hear them make a derogatory remark about someone else's race, faith or sexual orientation.  The Big Changes will come when you take care of your neighbor, your co-worker, your own family in small ways that make a big difference.  The Big Changes will come when you don't contribute to the nasty public dialogue, but encourage all to be kind and fair, regardless of their politics or religious beliefs.  Kindness is kindness, and it doesn't matter whether you are from a red or a blue state, or whether you wear a Star of David, a star and crescent, or the cross of Calvary.

Somehow, we Americans have largely forgotten that.  It's not all that hard, when one thinks about it, to stop the violence.

What becomes hard is when we realize that to see the Big Changes means we too have to make the little changes, not just "the other guy"...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All's Quiet, Finally!

Home a couple days from retrieving kids from camp, and all is quiet on the Western Front.  Laundry is caught up, life has settled down, and reflection is happening all around.

As always, church camp was profound for the kids, each in their own way. Angela said it was the best camp ever, that she felt it was much more grown up 5now that she and Kenny moved up to the older kids camp that Matt jumped up to last year, and that she was ready for it.  She shared that she had a very long and deep conversation with one of her counselors there, and that she got a lot out of that in terms of learning to not worry about what others think or say, and to do what makes her happy.  Sometimes I think Angela needs to hear that even more than Olesya, for Olesya is a more traditional female, one who will easily fit in due to her natural interests.  Angela has a long way to go to find herself, and she is a very non-traditional young lady.  It is easy to see why she is taken with the Amelia Earhart story, for I can see Angela blazing a unique trail of her own one day.  She is frequently mentioning wanting to work to help people in other countries, and is very interested in politics and social justice issues.

Kenny had a total blast, and it is always interesting to see how well he interacts with everyone.  He is totally "that boy", you know, the one in every group who is gentle, social, funny and kind and makes friends with virtually everyone he meets.  When we left, I must have heard "Bye Kenny!" a million times!  He was wearing friendship bracelets made for him by others, and told me that this camp was the most meaningful he had ever been to, and that he really felt God there.  It was an hour after we left, while walking through a mall that he broke down in tears and lay his head on my shoulder saying "I know that it wouldn't feel like it if we went every day, but La Foret is so special, Mom, and I just love how God talks to me when I am there."

As Matthew grows in self-awareness at an astonishing rate, he is openly acknowledging things he is seeing in himself.  He said that he liked everyone he met, but that he is realizing that in some ways he is a bit of a loner and that he is different from most of the other kids.  He told me "Mom, it's not that I don't enjoy being around people, and especially my family, but I like being alone a lot too and I don't think I need a lot of friends the way some kids do.  Is that weird?"  I told him that many people are like that, and there was nothing at all wrong with being a bit more inward as he walked through the world.  I also explained to him that I had seen that in him since he was a little guy, virtually in his toddler years, and that it was not about quantity of relationships but quality.  He then told me "Well, maybe if I had a different family I would need more friends, but I just don't feel a need to pretend to like things I don't like just to have friends, or to be 'cool' so that people will like me.  I just want to be me, and I am interested in weird things that other kids are not interested in."  I responded that I thought that was exactly what he should do...just be himself and God would take care of the rest.  I also explained that his ability to do exactly who he was without concern about what others think, is what make a very strong leader and he was a quiet leader in the family already.  He pondered that one for awhile and said "I don't see that.", I said "I know you don't...but one day you will.".

It was also wonderful to have several of the camp counselors make remarks to me at camp pick up about how "insightful all your kids are", and "what a remarkably kind group of young people you are raising".  If that is my report card or job review, I feel successful.  To have anyone tell you that your children are very kind is music to a mommy's ears.

It was over dinner, a special treat at Chili's compliments of Daddy sending along a little extra for a treat, that I had my own awakening.  Kenny and Matthew across from me, Angela beside me, and the conversation and laughter flowed as it would between dear friends.  I have said often ever since Josh and Matt were little that I really love being with my children, that they are interesting people to me.  What I realized this weekend is that they are already turning into young adults who are a complete joy to sit and share a meal with.  They are indeed the sort of people I would search out to be friends with, and who in many ways already exhibit the qualities and traits of my adult friends.  As we left, even the waiter made a remark, though at first he was trying to figure us out.  "What a nice group of kids, are they your students?" he asked.  "No, all three are my children." I replied.  He then said, "Oh sorry I guessed wrong!  I am so used to kids that age coming to dinner with their iPods on and headphones in, totally ignoring their parents, I never would have guessed you were a family!  Those are the nicest kids that age I've served in a long time.".  Sort of sad that when a young teen acts like we all used to act that it gets noticed.  I am sure that you and I would have never gotten away with "plugging in" at the dinner table back when we were kids the way many kids do today.

We laughed, we shared, we talked about a wide variety of things, and the conversation turned serious as more discoveries came out about camp.  As is typical for middle school kids, there was some drama, but in this case it served a wonderful purpose.  Angela told me that she was so surprised to hear kids talk about their lives and how so many of the kids had really bad things happen to them.  She said "It made me realize that I am not the only one whose life has been hard, but it made me more thankful that I am where I am now, with you and Dad, because some of those kids will never make it to a happy life, and I already have made it, thanks to you."

Kenny added that he too was very sad to hear how bad life was for so many kids there, and how camp was the only place he thought some of them felt OK and safe.  He then paid me an extremely high compliment when he said "When we were all talking one time, I told them I was super lucky to have you and Dad, and that having you for a Mom was like having a little piece of La Foret all the time, because you always talk with us like the counselors talk to us at La Foret."

Matthew noted that a lot of the kids there didn't like their brothers or sister, and there was a lot of negative talk about family members.  He said he was glad none of that happened in our family, and that we might tease each other but we'd never want to hurt each other's feelings for real, nor would any of them ever say they "hated" their brother or sister as easily as some of the kids there did.

They all spoke in generalities, trying hard to share what happened but to honor the code of "What happens at La Foret stays at La Foret."  It was explained to me quite seriously how important that was, how sacred the conversations there were.  The conversation then turned to families, how different they all are, and how many kids there were from divorced parents, along with how hard that was on the kids.  I think it was the first time they all were aware of how prevalent divorce is in our culture,  but not only that, how painful it is for the children of divorce a d how torn they often feel.  Angela said, "I want a marriage like you and Dad have, not like my birth parents had.  If I get married, because maybe I won't, I will only do it if I can be like you guys together and I will copy the things you do.  I remember the first time I saw you guys argue, and at first it scared me, then you explained it was normal to disagree and it was super important to talk it out and not ignore it.  I thought people who loved each other never argued and that it was bad to argue.  Now I see how smart it is to talk things out, like you always do and like you always make us do together as a family.  It's not disagreeing that's the problem, it's not caring enough to talk together that is."  I'd say Angela is one step closer to a terrific marriage someday, if she understands that.

Overall, they each agreed that camp was where they always met the nicest kids, and that no one picked on anyone, everyone was supportive of each other, and it was something that means an awful lot to each of them each year.  They each said, in one way or another, that camp was the one place each year where they met kids that felt more like them.

Real life pulls us back in, and with it the very real challenges and sorrows.  Yesterday was a tough one for Kenny, as we worked alone on his new reading curriculum and within minutes he started to cry.  He has had such a positive attitude about revisiting phonics at a beginning level yet again, that it caught me a little off guard.  It took him about ten minutes to collect himself, and when I asked him what was wrong, he told me that it was depressing to think he was never going to read better than this, that he knew reading was the key to learning everything else and he feels like he is never going to succeed.  I sat there quietly holding him for a bit, then I asked if being at camp had made him think about it differently, and he started crying again and admitted it had, that it was so easy to see just how far behind he was from everyone else.  He said no one embarrassed him or made him feel bad, it was just that he was able to compare himself to kids his own age who could read "like an adult" and it was even more obvious how far behind he is.

"Whoa!" I said.  "Let's stop for a minute and think here. and listen to me..." and I proceeded to read a sentence from his reader the way he read when we first brought him home for homeschooling 2 years ago.  I then looked at him and said "Two years ago, that was exactly  how you read. Look how well you are reading now!!  We have made tremendous progress!  We just have to figure out the little glitches now that are stopping you from making it all the way, but that means we have to go back to the very beginning to find those little hang ups.  We ARE finding them, you can see it too...mixing up "o" and "u", fixing "p" and "b" mix ups.  That's why we are doing this, not because you need it all, but because we are discovering the final problems."  Then, with tears in my eyes and a catch in my voice I told him "I know how discouraging this is, believe me, I felt it with math when I was a kid.  But I wasn't stupid and neither are you.  I promised you I would always tell you the truth and I would give this my best.  I am telling you the truth when I tell you that we will get you reading even better if you stick with me on this, and I would not waste my time if I didn't think this would help. I am also telling you the truth when I say there are things we are not ever going to fix, things like you struggling to recall what word you want to use in a sentence when speaking, or trying to remember certain material at all...your memory may never be fixed but we will find you tools to help with that.  But reading, THAT we can get even better at, I promise you!  Just don't give up on it, hang in there with me."

He looked up at me as he wiped his tears away, and with that big old Kenny grin said "You know what I just realized?  As hard as it is for me, it must be SUPER boring for you!!  OK, we'll suffer together...Haha!" and we both laughed about that, then turned our attention back to the business at hand of trying to teach my almost 14 year old son to read higher than a 3rd grade level.  Thankfully, his comprehension is well above that and he understands things at a 7th or 8th grade level, he just can't sound it out to read it.  But, I can use that to reinforce how intelligent he is, I can read things to him and he totally understands it, and I can remind him that he has all the other skills in place to analyze and comprehend material at his grade level.

Funny how long this post grew to say merely "Camp was great, Kenny had a hard time reading."!  But its the little things that often go unrecorded make such statements seem like they are missing something.  I am glad I have the blog to flesh that out, that some day the kids will read this and look up saying "Hey, remember that night at Chili's after mom picked us up from camp?  Here was my 13 or 14 year old self and what I said to her!"...and then they might grin to themselves as they read on about what experiences touched them at summer camp during their 13th year.

And they will see who they have become because of it.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Dominick and I have had an interesting week, alone here with just Josh and Olesya.  In some ways, we wonder if it might be a precursor to our future life, as these are our youngest two and very well might be the ones home with us the longest after the others have long flown the coop.  They are also our quietest, in general, as Kenny and Angela are certainly little chatterboxes much of the time.

Has it been quieter?  Yes.

Has it been odd?  Yes. You can't go from 5 to 2 kids without it feeling a little odd.

Has it been wonderful?  Yes!!

What have we discovered?  That we live daily with delightful companions, who are so easy to be with, so gentle and kind, so thoughtful.  We discovered that our two unassuming children are indeed a little quieter, but no less deep.

It is easy to see that Olesya has no need to have attention or to be front and center (None of our kids really do, some just have stronger personalities) but she quietly shines. When alone like this with us, she does her thing, she entertains herself quite well even without others, and she is always, always involved in some project or another.  What has become more clear as the "noise" of the others around has disappeared this week is that this girl is far more intellectually curious than perhaps all the others!  Total surprise as we gradually became aware this week of just how often she quickly turns to the internet to research something she is interested in.  It is just about different subjects!

She spent an hour looking up images of cupcakes to get decorating ideas, looked up a breed of dog new to her and learned about it, made her own notebook for decorating, sketched out a business order form for cakes, watched a video about how to do something, and much more.  I guess I hadn't realized just how often she does this, but with there being far less chaos around here it was clear that this girl knows what she is interested and pursues knowledge about i regularly!  I loved seeing that and realizing she understands the potential of the internet to teach her anything she ever wanted to learn.  It is also fun to see the entrepreneur in her spark up, and it is going to be interesting to see how she grows in this area as both Dominick and I see a clear ability to operate her own business someday, as well as the desire to be "in charge" of her future.

We have been super pleased to see her fall less into the "I am the metaphorical dumb blond of the family" role, and we think her observations at church camp and our subsequent conversations about it triggered her to see that striving to appear to be lacking intelligence when you are quite smart is not the way she wants to live her life anymore.  I hope it continues!  She made a remark yesterday about worrying about being a mom someday and not wanting kids because she thinks she is not strong enough and will give in to them all the time because she gives in to Sunny too much.  That was actually a real sign of self-awareness for her, and we talked about how she has a lot of years to learn and grow before becoming an Mom...and why she often has a need to give in to others, including Sunny, in order to make people "like" her.  I explained about the roles we take on when in difficult situations, such as finding yourself living in a group at an orphanage and wanting to keep yourself safe and protected by catering to the needs of everyone around you so they leave you alone.  She admitted that she did that, and doesn't know how to be different now.  I smiled and told her "Just watch me!  Of course I want friends, but I have told you guys a million times that my job is not to be your friend but to be your mom, and that means you will NOT like me sometimes! And yet, you DO love me, don't you?"  She grinned and said "Sure we do!".

I told her to watch carefully and notice that just because someone might get mad at you temporarily, you can earn their respect and their love by being who they need you to be, not necessarily who they want you to be.  She got this thoughtful expression on her face, and stared out the window for a bit, then turned to me and said "You know, i never thought about that before!  I guess I just don't want anyone mad at me, but maybe they'd like me even more if I didn't always give in...or at least like me in that better way that is more real.  I need to think about that a lot."  Progress?  Hmmm...I hope so!

So what have we noticed about Joshua this past week?  He is 9 going on 30, and then 9 again.  He is this incredible mix of little old man inside a tender little body.  This is not new to us, we have seen the little old man since he came home all bristly and in self-protect mode at 11 months old.  He has always furrowed his brow in deep thought, he has always just been an old soul.  Well, now he is truly adult-like in many ways, even at 9.  I don't think I could keep him my baby if I tried to!  And yet, there IS the little Joshie inside, who still needs nurturing and STILL carries his blankie around with him in the evenings, this despite the fact that his friends are moving past that stage.  What is interesting is hi confidence in doing so.

When we chatted about that very thing yesterday. I laughingly asked him if he'd be taking his blankie to college someday.  He replied "Sure!  Why not?  Everyone needs something, and lots of older kids and even adults have a favorite pillow or blanket. It may look more like a grown up blanket because they are bigger, but I have noticed lots of people have something that makes them feel safer even as grown ups.  So what can't I have my blankie?  If others don't like it, that's their problem, not mine.  Remember Mom, I am really Libertarian so I see things differently."  Can I tell you how hard it was for me to keep a straight face on that one and not die of hysterics??  I love what he seems to have grabbed onto through our elections study, which seems to be very helpful to him and totally unexpected to me.  He has latched on to living his life independent of what others think of him, he seems to have found a guiding principle in "live and let live", and in the idea of personal responsibility.  This may serve him well as he eventually walks his own unique path and determines to care little about what others think about it!

It's funny because Kenny and Angela are deep thinkers in the ways which I can more easily relate to, but Josh is a tremendously deep child in very different ways.  Our conversation yesterday drifted into the realm of faith and God, the universe, etc. but was larger than I could even grab hold of, as it became a matter of science versus human's limited understanding of the world and denial that something must exist.  Josh just might be the most far left of the family in his beliefs, and that maye cause his faith to be the most expansive and less limited.  According to our discussion yesterday, God has no image whatsoever, other than he said "If I imagine God at all, for me God is the moon because it represents what we don't know about the universe either."  He is a complete biblical non-literalist as his scientific bent causes him to question all that is presented as fact.  What is so intriguing though, is that he "gets" symbolism and can apply it with faith.  Yesterday was the first time he really spoke clearly and firmly about his beliefs, and I can absolutely see him one day engaged in conversations using science and our ultimate inability to ever figure it all out to prove the existence of God.  He actually totally lost me for a minute as we discussed the infinite yesterday, and then he took it down to cells and the seeming infinite nature there that he compared to the universe.

Then, of course, there was the question he asked which I posed on Facebook last night about how we get a clone without both and egg and a sperm, which led into what traits a clone would take on which would be dominant...the female or the male traits.  Luckily, we quickly realized this is one to be answered by our retired Ohio State University professor who has been begging for time this summer to come teach a little about basic genetics.

And I keep thinking if this is 9 years old, what will 15 years old be like?

How quickly they grow up, this is the Summer of Maturing, I think, for we realize we no longer have any "little" kids but instead young people rushing headlong into adulthood, stretching and exploring, discovering who they are and what they believe.

It's the most fascinating thing to watch that I have ever witnessed, delightful in every way.  If we could afford more kids I wonder how anyone could NOT want to have 'em, for the sheer enjoyment of watching young minds expand and is the coolest thing ever!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Glimpse of What Might Be

"Gazing out of our kitchen window I noticed interesting cloud formations advancing toward our 'humble abode', leaving nothing but soaked ground and startled expressions from the fierce lightning dancing in the sky, followed in close succession by the low roar of the aching thunder.  The clouds now releasing their precious drops of rain, free falling to earth with nothing to stop them from falling onto our own dwelling, giving Mother Earth more and more water, faster and faster with more water in each drop until the clouds moved to a different place, still giving their tidings to Mother Earth until nothing is left to give."

Last week I assigned the kids a quick writing assignment, to craft a paragraph that described the storms that had passed through the day before.  All took at least a half an hour to write, and I was so happy with the initial results out of all of them!

Many people do not understand our day to day challenges.  We have a multi-layered learning situation within Team LaJoy, sparks of brilliance mixed with wit and language learning, special needs all over the place and daily corrections of the simplest things.  We are all learning how to adapt to meet our needs, how to succeed in spite of struggles with things that may never be corrected.

And sometimes, honestly, it is just really, really hard to remain upbeat.  Then along comes this, what is written above, and I think to myself "Maybe we really are getting somewhere!".

The above was Matt's first draft, typed on a computer, with spelling corrected with spell check.  This is what I mean when I say that this kid can write, but he can't edit...ever...and he definitely has some sort of dyslexia/dysgraphia/who-knows-whatia style disorder.  The only thing I touched here was punctuation, but he actually got capitals correct for the whole paragraph, which was great to see for a change.  Is it perfect?  No, and it needs some work for a final draft, but clearly, this kid can really put words together well.  I was so surprised, as he has never really written anything like it before.  He read it out loud to all of us, and Angela's eyes widened as she said "Matthew, that is the best thing you have ever written!  That is SO GOOD!", and he beamed with joy at her compliment.

I sat there quietly, realizing that despite his very clear writing challenges, Matthew indeed can write and just might write something amazing one day that touches hearts in a way he can not do verbally.  And for a moment, we catch a glimpse of what might be

Josh was so creative, writing quite a long story as he asked if he could go longer than a paragraph.  He tied the storm to a battle between Zeus and Hades, even creating a simile using "Zombie Apocalypse"!!  "Rain drops came from Zeus, who was sweating from the fight!" was definitely a memorable image as well. But when we are sitting around the table and discussing something we have learned about politics, and his hand shoots up and he offers an insight that surprises all of us as he carefully explains, using his hands as any good Kazakh-Italian should do.  As he leans over an animal carcass, as unglamorous as that might be for some, we wonder if those hands carefully dissecting are providing us with a glimpse of what one day might be.

Daily, we see our failures, and sometimes it is hard not to focus on them.  I need to remind myself of how far we have come, regardless of how far we still have to travel.  Angela is an INCREDIBLE reader, who if tested on reading ability alone would easily be at high school level.  It came so easily to her, so smooth, and she instinctively "gets" phonics.  Now,we have to build her vocabulary to match her reading ability...and that will, of course, take years.  But she blows me away every time we sit down to read, and I think "Has it really only been 2 1/2 years of a new language??" and I catch a glimpse of what might be.

Olesya is slowly coming into her own, as she gains confidence and a greater sense of self.  For her, academics come fairly easily other than the dreaded math, which clearly she has a glitch with numbers of a similar sort that Kenny has with is absolutely not a kid who doesn't "get math", this is a child who does not have the ability to process numbers at all, to visualize things like time lines, clocks, number lines or even really "get" what comes almost oddly supernaturally to Josh, that 4x6 is in reality four 6's or six four's.  However, she is a startlingly good researcher, my first kid to run and Google anything she wants to learn about.  She takes notes, she saves them, and refers to them later...something many high schoolers can't or won't do.  We are curious where her unique interests and talents will take her, and as we see her writing her first cake order from a friend, we wonder if we are seeing a glimpse of what might be.

Then there is Kenny, dear, sweet Kenny whose every single day is filled with difficulty.  Recently he had to write sentences again for not remembering to change his clothes or brush his teeth in the morning.  Well, not just for not remembering, but for ignoring using his checklist to help him remember things.  Pretty hard to remember to use something to help you remember when you have a brain that is dysfunctional in some ways and can't remember.  But we keep plugging away, and the successes are there, we just have to seek them out.  He used a metaphor in his writing for the first time during this assignment, which I can't find to share because he probably threw it away on accident :-)  Although his reading needs an enormous amount of work, he is still way farther than he was 3 years ago when he was completely illiterate.  His comprehension is at the 5th grade level, and his spoken vocabulary is far higher than that.  Where is Kenny truly successful?  That kid is a total mental math whiz, calculating things in his head like no body's business, and he has a depth of spirit that is unmatched....and sometimes, when we look really carefully, we begin to catch a glimpse of what might be...even if it is far in the distance and we have to squint really hard to see it!

In Facebooking with a mom of a newly adopted 14 year old, when reading of her feelings of being so overwhelmed as she discovers at 14 he doesn't know times tables and has never encountered division before, I know exactly how she feels.  Those of us who adopt children are not so different from those who give birth.  We want to crow about our kids' accomplishments like any other parent does, even if that isn't quite as humble as we ought to's human.  We just sometimes have to look a little harder for it, we celebrate the little things.

And maybe...if we look really carefully, if we work hard on ourselves, we can let it all go and just love 'em for who they are.  And then we might just catch a glimpse of who we might be.  Maybe that is the most important glimpse of all to catch.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Honoring Our Real Heroes

Yesterday, 1st Lt. Robert E. Bennett finally came home.  It only took 45 years, but he made it at last.  A pilot in Vietnam, 1st Lt. Bennett's remains arrived in Montrose yesterday morning, and our family was honored to be present.  You can learn more about his story here:

While the photos feature Matthew, who was invited to be part of the saluting vets as the hearse passed through the airport gates, all of the kids found it to be a moving moment and were very glad we made time out of our day to pay our respect to a man who died for our country.  There were only a handful of folks there to honor him, but I have heard his funeral service Saturday will be well attended and will include a B52 flyover.

We are always looking for opportunities to teach our kids lessons that are not "book learnin'", and that will hopefully touch their hearts.  We want them to see our country realistically, without some idealized vision of our supposed "perfection", but to also recognize who incredibly fortunate we are to live where we do and to understand that, just as humans are, our country is on a journey as they can be an important part of.  We want them aware of their freedoms and we encourage them to exercise them, even if they have opinions that might be unpopular, for that is what thousands of men and women have died for, our right to express them...every single person to express them,  Be it "boo's" on a parade route, a letter to the editor, or even walking through the door of our chosen church every Sunday morning, those rights are precious and should never be taken for granted.

Perhaps having our children come from the countries of their birth, we have seen firsthand how different things could be, and it tends to temper our negative comments about American in general. Until you have been warned that there is likely a listening device in every hotel you have ever stayed at in a country, until you have seen how the photo of the president must be displayed in every office you enter for fear of being seen as not buying into the rhetoric you have shoved down your throat, until you sit in front of televisions with news that is merely cheerleading for a political leader, you might never understand how America really is a wonderful place to live.

Thank you, 1st Lt. Bennett, for your service and your sacrifice.  You are the sort of hero we hold up in our family...not the mess that is the Kardashians, the highly over paid athletes, or the overdosed rock stars.  The LaJoy family is very appreciative of the life we have, and of the life you lost.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Laughter Filled Fourth!

In our family, I am the "serious" one.  The kids, upon adoption, immediately inherited Dominick's Funny Bone and they all along with Dominick are a total crack up.  They also love slapstick-esque humor, which I actually just can't get into no matter how hard I try to enjoy it with all the rest of my clan.

Yesterday though, I found myself laughing harder almost the entire day than I ever recall laughing, and I do mean non-stop.  In fact, despite the chaos and travel of the week prior, this entire week (and it's not over yet, folks!) has been made of the little things that make a life truly happy.  Silly stuff, like this:

Our Pastor and friend came over Sunday evening to display her talent for chocolate sauce creation.  As you can tell, she had a crowd anxiously awaiting the final taste test!

It's not the big things, it's the little things that kids remember.  We try never to forget that because it helps keep things in perspective.  It's woodworking and hiking with Mr. Steve, it's baking cookies with Miss Lael, it's sleepovers and Chick Flick nights with Miss Jill...and so much more...that will be recalled about their childhood with fondness.  It will not ever be "Remember when mom and dad bought us...?" that will bring a smile to a 40 year old Kenny's face, but I'll bet you a million bucks that laughter will ensue when they all get together as fifty-somethings and joke about trying to trick Mr. Chuck with a trivia question, and how he threw one right back at them as a challenge.

Here we were this week, with a borrowed food dehydrator and our first attempts at making dried fruits and beef jerkey.  Josh has decided he is a total beef jerky fiend in pursuit of the finest marinade.  The banana chips didn't go over so well, the strawberries were a total hit!  Olesya oversalted the second batch of jerky to the point that even the dog turned her nose up at it :-)  That's OK, it's a learning process, and we had some jerky marinated in teriyaki sauce that was gone in 12 seconds!

Olesya's eating as many banana slices as are going in the tray! Haha!

LaJoy Men will NOT go into adulthood without being able to at least cook up a 
mean jerky for a hot date!!! :-)

I have a feeling we might end up trying to buy a dehydrator.  All the kids have really enjoyed it and are wanting to try all sorts of things with it!

Yesterday, the Fourth of July, we took part in another time honored tradition for all candidates, as we worked again on the campaign of our candidate, Greg Thornton.  We were asked if we wanted to be in the parade and carry banners and flags, so  Team LaJoy morphed into Team Greg for the morning!  It was hot, humid, and fun!

Getting ready for the parade!

I think the kids would have done the parade just for the chance to wear the silly hats!

It was unfortunate that the kids also learned another valuable lesson.  During the parade, there were folks who actually "boo'd' simply because Greg is a Democrat.  We live in largely Republican territory, I am a staunch Independent, and Dominick is a Republican.  The "boo's" led to a long conversation about what the Fourth of July and America stand for...freedom of speech, as well as the right to have representative government.  We talked in depth about negative campaigning, and how it degrades the entire political conversation when folks prefer to point out the negatives of the opponent rather than focusing on what they see as the positives of their own positions.

Angela saw a friend in the crowd, and knowing that family's positions I told her "You just might have lost a friend over this."  I was quite proud of her when she said "Then she isn't a friend in the first place.  We shouldn't have to agree on everything to be friends.  That's one of the things wrong in the world, that we can't agree to disagree without hating each other."

It was extremely hot, so we all went home to cool off for a few hours before heading off to a friend's house for a BBQ.  Dominick was in the parade for work as well, so we were all in need of a break.  We got home, closed the blinds and cranked up the swamp cooler.  Then I ended up spending the next hour and a half laughing so hard I thought I'd die.  Seriously.  We had heard of the Christian comedian Tim Hawkins before, but I had only heard outtakes of his shows.  Angela asked about him so we looked him up on YouTube, and found a taped version of one of his entire shows.  

Oh my goodness, he is the single most hilarious guy I have ever seen.  All of us were totally rolling on the floor over him.  He does stand up and musical parodies with the funniest lyrics ever.  Those my age and older will recognize tons of oldies from our youth, and he does a darn good imitation of many of the original artists as he changes their lyrics.  His humor is sort of along the lines of Bill Cosby, although I find him even funnier.  What I loved most was he was totally, completely clean. It made me stop and think about how few times we can watch something that all of us will enjoy these days, that we don't have to watch for every nasty word or sex scene.  

Here is a link to his show we watched, I guarantee you it will be the funniest hour and a half you have ever watched:

And here is a little taste of him, one that had Dominick laughing really hard:

Thus began the LaughFestFourth!  Later, after a brief storm arrived and swept through the area almost canceling plans, we went over for a late afternoon gathering with many of our favorite people in the world.  Despite the fact it was cool, the kids had an enormous water fight, where Olesya was The Queen and it was that water that occupied her almost the entire evening!

You Go Girl!!

We played games all evening...shuffle board, horseshoes, and a Loncar Family Special...Poop The Potato!  Oh my goodness, what a sight that was!

Everyone had so much fun, and came home exhausted.  It was definitely an old fashioned Fourth of July, filled with friendship, laughter, hot dogs and apple pie and all the good things of life. I hope yours was as terrific as ours was!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Drug Court...Yes, You Read That Right!

You know, the days at Casa LaJoy are always filled with interesting things, we are NEVER bored around here.  As I told a young friend recently, if I hear "I am bored", then Miss Cindy can ALWAYS find something to "unbore" you, and I can guarantee it will be so unpleasant that you'll think twice about every saying that phrase in our house! Haha!  I am EVIL!!!

Truly though, we never hear those words around here, and for that I am eternally grateful.  I have made it clear that I am not the official "Entertainment Committee" and I see how not meeting our kids entertainment needs has been one of the better parenting decisions we have made.  Consequently, they are content when they have time to themselves, they know how to self-entertain in a variety of ways from playing in the pool for hours to the inevitable Lego extravaganza weekly to playing imaginary superheros.  Oh we do video games and movies too, but we limit it a lot more than most people.

As I type this the kids are spread across the tiny bedroom floor for Campout Night, every one with a book in hand.  Miss Lael offered to let Matthew borrow the Harry Potter books which Joshie's  buddy got him started on, and he is finishing book 4.  Angela is reading a wonderful book I checked out which is Love Stories from NPR's Story Corp series.  Josh is reading an encyclopedia of DC comic heroes.  Olesya is totally surprising me as she is flipping through my borrowed copy of Christian Century, saying she is reading the headlines and the bolded comments.  Kenny is reading a fiction book called "Ordinary Boy"...and poor Dominick is sleeping!!!

Today though, was an interesting and entertaining day for a different reason.  We have such incredibly bright, caring adults who are family friends and always so engaged with the kids.  I don't know how we were so blessed to be surrounded by such neat people, but we are grateful.  Our friend, Judge Greenacre (the one we went to visit in Houston last summer), invited the kids to come to his courtroom this afternoon.  We went to visit Drug Court and to witness a graduation.  Not really knowing what to expect, we piled in the car and headed over to Delta to watch our friend in action, and to learn a little along the way.

What a thought provoking afternoon it turned out to be, and what lessons were taught without me saying a word.

We sat there watching as one by one, each of the defendants answered questions such as "Do you have a job yet?", "What will you do to have a sober 4th of July?",  "Have you regained custody of your child/children yet?" and many more.  We heard a litany of depressing circumstances, and saw a parade of very young children...many seeing their moms and dads in court as part of their weekly visitation.

Compassion and encouragement also filled the courtroom, and we quickly saw exactly why our dear friend is someone we so love and admire.  Here is our amazingly well educated friend who is a judge, rising from the bench and giving a personal standing ovation for each and every person before him who is celebrating their sobriety, whether it be literally 4 days, or 300 days.  His very humanness, his desire to see the sorrow before him change to pride and accomplishment, his clear concern for all who came before him helped us view him in a new light, and for me personally it almost brought tears to my eyes.

It  was a very strong reminder that we are ALL engaged in ministry, should we so accept God's call in our life, not matter what role we have.  We can be the cashier at Walmart and minster to those we encounter, just as easily as a judge can minister to those who come before him or her.  God uses us all, and can use us in powerful ways if we are open to it.  You don't have to bear the title of "pastor" or "reverend" to be a true minister.  I know a bartender who is absolutely a gift in the lives of those who ask for another round.  I know a web site designer who donates her time and talent for all sorts of causes she believes in.  I know several teachers whose efforts change the world for the children they work with. And I even know a Car Wash Guy who has been known to make a difference in the lives of those who work with him, as he nurtures immaturity into maturity, or tells people working at minimum wage level that he truly believes in them and tries to help them see their own potential.

As we pulled away from the courthouse at the end of the afternoon, I asked the kids what they noticed, and we learned the word "demographics".  Quickly it was noted by all the kids that almost all were unemployed and had been for quite some time.  As they discovered from Judge Greenacre, many drug cases involved people whose educational level is extremely low with most not graduating high school. We all talked about how there is this fallacy that most drug addicts are African American or Hispanic, but we saw largely Caucasian folks there...and the word "stereotype" was introduced.  I also told them that even though certain " demographics" were strong indicators of issues like this, you couldn't let it fool you and that there were plenty of middle or upper class addicts as well.

What saddened every one of the kids was to count up all the children who were in foster care and not living with their parents, all because of drug addiction. Angela noted that it was highly likely that those children too were at high risk to repeat the same mistakes.  I looked over at her and said "But it doesn't have to happen.  If kids recognize the mistakes their parents made and commit themselves to living life differently, it doesn't have to happen."  She thought about that a bit and then said "But Mom, don't you think it is really hard for a kid to even understand that, or know that life can be different if that is all they know?"  then she added "And I think it is really important for those kids to have someone come into their life who can help them see things differently, and make them see life can be different.  They need someone like you and Dad, like what you have done for Olesya and me."

We spent the next 10 minutes talking honestly about her parents, their mistakes, and how the life she and Olesya live can be absolutely different, and that I expect it to be.  We talked about her own wisdom, how she already can see the things that lead to drug and alcohol abuse, and how much she and Olesya both have going for them...intellect, a living family to now support them, a network of caring adults surrounding them, a good work ethic, caring hearts, and so much more.  I suggested that maybe her own mom never had any of that, and it would have been very hard for her to create a different sort of life.  That got her thinking, then she said "There is no way I am going to let this keep repeating itself.  I will never do to my kids what my mom did to us.  If I start to go the wrong way, Mom, you need to be stricter than you have ever been with me, because I really don't want to be that kind of person.  Do you promise you'll be tough with me?"  I replied with a reassuring grin, "I think I can handle that.  Have you ever known me to be wimpy?  I promise you I will do everything in my power to keep you moving in the right direction, and I'll never give up on you two."  She looked back at me with such a serious look and said "I don't think any other mom could ever have stood up to me perfectly the way you know just when to be soft, and just when not to put up with me.  With you and Dad, I think we can make sure our own families are good ones, and that we don't repeat things." that was a little heavy.

We may not have gotten any language arts done today, but I'd say it was a far more important pursuit than writing a paper or diagramming sentences. We saw first hand the consequences of dangerous behavior, and it wasn't pretty.  We heard the sorrow and the struggles, we caught a whiff of the helplessness and the hopelessness.  We saw real people with serious problems, all wanting to work their way out of it and some simply not having the skills to do so easily.

Yup, a very instructive field trip, and one that will stick with them for a very long time.

Civil Air Patrol Camp

Sorry, y'all, but you'll have to indulge grandma today!  I wanted to post some photos of Matt's Civil Air Patrol Camp so she could see what it was like.  He is not in a lot of them, but it gives a sense of what it was like. I know most of you have no interest at all, so this is one of those posts you can just click the upper "X" on and close the window! Haha!  I do have a couple of photos included here of what the fire was like for cadets, which might give you a sense of why they evacuated...and gives me a deeper sense of gratitude that Matthew and thousands of others escaped to safety.

Here he is, checking out radio controlled aircraft!

And again, he is the second from the left.  They attended worship in the beautiful Air Force Academy Chapel which is the large building behind them.  He really seemed to enjoy it, and even kept the bulletin from the two hour service to share with me.

You can see him here, leaning forward toward the end of the line. They are looking at equipment at either Peterson AFB or Fort Carson, as they got the chance to visit both.

These aer views from where they were on the Academy grounds.As you can see, it was a pretty serious situation and while ultimately I believe the grounds were safe, it is clear there was definitely a need to evacuate.

Matthew is on the left, big grin and flag in hand!

While the experience was cut short for him, Matt was not at all disappointed and handled it all with his usual attitude.  "Mom, we got to do most of the cool stuff, and I will go back as a leader next time so I can have the full camp...but not get yelled at all the time!  It was awesome, and I learned a lot."

What I shared on Facebook but didn't share yet here on the blog was that less than 24 hours later, we had to drive the 5 hours back to Colorado Springs to pick up his gear.  While I was less than enthusiastic about that and was completely dreading it, all 3 boys jumped up to say "We'll go with you, Mom!" and so we had a Mom and Son overnight mini-road trip.  My heart melted just a little when I said "You guys don't have to do that, you just got back too and are exhausted, and surely don't want to sit in the car another 10 hours1  I'll be OK."  Their response was "We want to keep you company, and besides, it is fun to go places with you!  We'll all suffer together." , Kenny added "You need some men with you for this, Mom."  So, my mad quickly turned to glad, and off we went while the girls remained behind and kept Dominick company.

I didn't realize I was in for a small surprise.  When we arrived at the parking lot where all the gear was being sorted and collected, Matt's roommate's mom was there.  She said she was so glad to have the chance to meet Matthew, and she thanked him for being so kind to her son.  She said "Christian told me that you were so helpful to him, even though you were the same age, and that you were a very nice boy. He said that you kept encouraging him to work as a team with the other cadets in your group, and that is something he is not very good at. I wanted to thank you for making this a really important learning experience for him."

No award equals those kind of words for a parent.

When we got back in the car, I asked Matthew about his roommate and what had prompted that sort of response from his mom.  He said that Christian had kept on wanting to make it a competition with the other cadets, trying to prove that they were better than the rest of them in keeping their room tidy, etc.  Matt told me "Mom, he kept getting mad at me because I was helping the other cadets once we were done so that our entire area was in good shape.  Christian kept saying that we should only worry about our area so we looked better than anyone else, and he was pretty self-centered and wanting to be best and first.  All I did was sit him down and explain that our entire Flight was a team, and it was our responsibility to help everyone, not be worried only about ourselves."

I asked him "So why didn't you have the same attitude?  Was there supposed to be some sort of reward or something for the roommates who did the best job?"

He grinned and looked over at me as he said "Mom, it's always that way at our house.  Remember, I used to be like Christian when I was little?  But then I finally got it that work gets done ten times faster if we all work together and no one is lazy.  No one at our house is lazy, and we get big jobs done way faster than doing them by yourself...and we don't try and compete against each other and leave the other kid stuck with something, we all go help them get if Joshie can't keep up with us.  Kenny and I have gotten really good at working together to get things done!  Truthfully, he probably works a little harder than I do, but I work a little smarter because he can't organize himself, but together we get things done quickly.  Christian just needs to learn that, and in a bigger family with parents like you and Dad, we've already learned it."

All in all, I'd say Encampment was a memorable experience for Matthew, regardless of whether it was cut short or not.  I keep hoping each of the other kids will find something to explore that they are as passionate about, for it will add so much to their lives!  We'll keep on trying things out, and eventually they'll all find their "thing".