Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving LaJoy Style...and Pie Challenge!!

***We interrupt this regularly schedule blog post to announce that we are jumping on the 2012 Pie Challenge late, and need your help!  We started this to raise money for John Wright's ministry in Kyrgyzstan to raise money to help bring Christmas to orphans there in Kenny's old orphanages.  If we raise $500, all the Lajoy's will take a pie in the face and post the video here on the blog!  All you need to do is head over to John's blog at and click on the Paypal link on the right.  Then when you donate, make a comment that it is for the LaJoy's, and as soon as we hit $500 we will do the pie in the face for all the world to see!  We really appreciate it so much.  The children remember the small gifts and trips out they are able to have with this money, as it is often the highlight of the year for many of them. PLEASE, help us raise the $500 for Christmas for the Kyrgyz orphans!***  We will now go back to our regularly scheduled blog post :-)

Today was Thanksgiving, and it was also a day of discovery and death.  Sadly, our day started off when Olesya realized that Jack, her hamster, had died during the night.  It was not unexpected, as Jack had been acting odd the past couple of days and was unable to open his eyes.  I warned her that it was likely he was nearing the end of his time here, but the death seemed to bring out some very strong emotions for her as her reaction way exceeded her relationship with the hamster.

Funny, you think you are on stable ground when almost 3 years post adoption you find there is more beneath the surface that is dredged up.

Dominick and I talked first, then we asked Olesya to sit down with us and share what was going on to try and see if we could discover what was beneath her extreme reaction.  After about 20 minutes of conversation, the truth finally came out when the real tears started to fall.  She talked about how the past 2 weeks while I was gone she had fears I was going to leave her and not come back, like her birth mom did...that I would choose to walk away from her.  Part of her seemed to understand that I would not actually ever do that, but there is a part deep inside that is really quite fearful of rejection.  We talked about her need to continually prove how much she loves us  and why that is unnecessary.

"Olesya, I have been committed to you since the day I received your photo and put it on our bulletin board, and from the day I first met you I realized you were my daughter and I never wavered from that.  I am never going to voluntarily walk away from you.  I won't promise something won't take me away, just as you can't promise me that you won't get sick or get hit by a car someday and leave me.  But I can promise you I love you forever and that will never change."

She doesn't understand why she feels the way she feels, she seems to have a little insight into her own lack of confidence, but today it felt like she had none.  There she sat across from me, in melt down mode, and there was little I could do. The work it takes to heal such wounds is years in the making, and it took 3 years for some of it to even come to the surface.  We talked a little about Joshua and how he feels the same way sometimes, too.  I tried to be honest about her birth mom, as I told her that yes, her mom had left her, but that she could see that most moms do not walk away from their children, and that I had already weathered some very difficult times with her and her siblings and I never walked away.  I asked her to remember that during times when she found herself lacking confidence.

Adoption work feels to me right now like it will never truly be done, it is as if we will be processing over and over again with each of the kids as time goes on, helping them to frame and reframe their lives as once orphaned children.  It feels not just a little overwhelming this evening.

We had an interlude late this afternoon as we went to our friends' house for dinner, and had a lovely meal and shared some much needed time together.  Life has been such lately that we haven't  had as much time to spend just hanging out with friends, and we all miss it very much.

The real manifestation of Thanksgiving happened later, after we returned home, and we all seemed to feel a need to connect on a deeper basis.  Matthew is sick, fighting a cold that is getting worse, and he snuggled in with a blanket and laid down on the couch while the rest of us gathered with shoes off and quietly sat together with the lights from the Christmas tree turned on for the first evening after putting it up yesterday.

I started sharing about how life just feels very, very difficult right now, and asking if anyone else felt sort of out-of-sync.  There are several things going on in the background that I am not blogging about, things that are weighing heavily on my heart and taking a lot of soul space.  We are also undergoing a lot of change as the kids mature, as this is the first Christmas when Santa and his elves have been left behind, and we are firmly stepping into the next stage.  We will be having a different Christmas this year, as we all agreed to one family purchase and a single small gift for each of the kids.  It's all we can do, and it will definitely be enough.  How I loved it when the kids said, "Mom, there is nothing we need, we already have it all." and they really and truly mean it.  I asked twice to make sure, because Josh is still younger, but even he said, "We would just be asking for something to ask for it, not because we need it.  Remember mom?  There is a difference between want and need, and I really don't want OR need anything."

As we sat there, a couple of the kids went and turned off the lights, and then wanted to light candles we have sitting around for Christmas.  The intimacy of candle light and the quiet of the house lent itself to real and honest conversation.  Questions were asked about where God is leading our family and how uncomfortable life feels on so many levels right now.  Matthew lifted his head up off my lap and said "You have to remember, Mom, if God is leading our family then we don't really have to worry because God always takes care of us in terrific ways."  Angela piped in with, "As long as our family is solid, we are OK.  Everything else can fall apart, but we will never fall apart."  

We talked about how hard it is to love all the time, how risky it is, and we talked a little about Olesya's fears when Kenny chimed in with, "We always take risks as a family, that is what I like most about us.  It is hard to be different!  They don't know how hard it is to be us, how hard it is to learn how to love and trust."  Olesya quietly nodded and agreed that it can be super hard.

The conversation turned to Jesus' lessons, and how really radical they were because they are extremely hard to live out in real life.  We all quietly brought up times when we saw how hard it was to trust or love, and how following what Jesus taught as best we could kept things from falling to pieces.  We brought up Christmas three years ago, when faith was tested and forgiveness was offered all the way around to help heal and bring wholeness.  We were reminded of seeing so many of our friends do the hard work of not just saying they were Christian, but really trying to live up to it was incredibly challenging...and how all fall short now and again, but that the constant reminders of Jesus's lessons help us always get back on track, even when we fail momentarily.  We talked, perhaps for the very first time, about Christ's call to love and how sometimes we don't receive it, and how sometimes we also don't offer it as unconditionally as we'd like to pretend we do.

Kenny then said "Others don't understand us, but that's OK.  They live their lives the way they want to and we live ours the way we want to.  We don't judge others, even if they judge us. I think that makes us very different, because we don't think that just because we do something a certain way, everyone else ought to do the same thing.  I didn't realize until this year as I grew up more how that is really different, and how most people think their ideas about the world are the only right ones.  I think the election taught me that.  They are right for them, but might not be right for everyone else.  I like that you don't think everyone has to homeschool, or that everyone needs to go to church or other stuff like that. I think you have taught us a lot about just accepting people as they are and not trying to make them feel bad because they think different than we do. I just wish others would do the same with us more."

There, by candle and Christmas tree light, my soul was ministered to over and over again as the young adults masquerading as children taught me lessons I needed to learn.  For an hour and a half we sat there talking in ways that only loved ones can, with honesty, without fear of recrimination or judgment.  Dominick silently slept upright in his chair, missing the best parts as he drifted off into much needed slumber.  Josh reassured me as he said, "Even if it is just the seven of us in this house, we are never alone, Mom.  First, there's always God.  Then, you always have us, Dad always has us, and we always have each other.  I remind myself of that all the time." Then he added, "We can get through anything as long as we talk together."

We all agreed it is a very weird season in our lives, unsettled and uncomfortable.  Too much change, perhaps, even for a Flex-O-Matic family like ours to not feel the growing pains that accompany it.  But having this sort of spontaneous sacred time is the glue. In fact, Kenny even called it that, saying sitting and talking together about important things is the glue that holds us together, even when things are hard.  I never really thought of us as Elmer's Classic White School Glue, but maybe that is exactly what a family is for one another.

I am so thankful tonight.  Thankful for Elmer's Glue, thankful for friends who care and share our life with watermelons in fall, and phone calls to say, "I missed you, and just didn't want to wait any longer to say hi."  And I am even thankful for the trials that any life brings, for with it comes opportunity to open hearts, to grieve together, and to offer reassurances to one another that Love Wins.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Adoption and Thankfulness

Two words that fit perfectly together...adoption and thankfulness.  How appropriate that National Adoption Day falls in November.  Where would our lives be without adoption?   There would be seven much lonelier people in the world, that's for sure.

As I returned home from my mom's this week, and was barely out of the security door at the airport before I was glommed onto by 5 every growing bodies and one who stood back saying "I'll get my hugs in a few minutes", I was reminded of how blessed I was to not just have children when once we had none, but I was incredibly grateful for the very specific lives that were brought together to form this family.

Yesterday was the 9th anniversary of Joshua's arrival home.  Oh, how hard that first couple of years was!!!  How beautiful the process of mending a broken heart became!  When I think of the changes that occurred in that child, I am blown away...the before and after photo reveal it all.  An expressionless face, eyes that are without a twinkle, prickly, stiff body.  Today, he is melt in your arms charm and delight, a bright and tender light in our family who is deeply loved...and most importantly loves deeply.

While I am grateful for much in my life, this will be an adoption themed gratitude list:

1)  I am grateful for boundless love and laughter, and for the arms of my entire family that wrap me in that love.

2)  Monday evening at TaeKwonDo testing someone leaned over to me and said, "I bet they fight all the time at home!" knowing we had five kids present.  How I know I am fortunate to be able to reply back, "No, actually they never, ever fight." and I was telling the truth.  Even better, when having a conversation this week about adults who argue and fight, the kids looked at us saying they just didn't understand why something had to turn into a fight.  When I asked them how they managed not to fight with each other, Joshua looked at me and said, "Well Mom, we just work it out and you've taught us to be kind to each other even when we disagree.  It's not really that hard, that's why we don't get it why adults can't do the same thing.  We do it every day."

3)  Adoption is about loss.  I am grateful for the losses each of us has experienced, for each of us has experienced great loss.  It helps us to be able to be more compassionate with one another.

4)  We are witness almost every single day to the kind of courage unknown to most.   Daily, I see someone continue on in the face of almost certain defeat, I see overcoming of obstacles that would keep others from ever even trying.  I see emotional walls coming down, and ladders being built.  At Kenny's belt rank test this week for TaeKwonDo, he was all alone on the floor in front of the entire gym full of spectators and participants.  He was the lone student trying for his black stripe, which puts him at the same rank as Matt and Josh who will be testing for black belt next.  What makes being alone on the floor harder for Kenny, is he has no one doing patterns alongside him to provide him with a glance reminder of where he is in the pattern when his memory inevitably fails him.  The higher the rank, the harder and longer the pattern.  He tried...he failed.  He started over...he tried...he failed again.  All of us were holding our breath.  One more time, we saw him gather his courage, and begin. This time, though he faltered momentarily, he made it through and did a beautiful job.  He could have given up after the first or second time.  He could have broken down and cried.  No one in the room other than his teacher, Mr. Steve and Miss Jane and his family understood why this was so difficult for the young man on the floor.  And yet, as usual, Kenny's courage never wavered and through determination, he eventually succeeded.  Witnessing that sort of courage as often as we get to is a blessing that can't really be described.  Witnessing Joshua who bravely says to me during his hardest time of the year, "You go ahead and go be with Grandma Alice, mommy.  She needs you more than I do right now." when I know darned well how hard that is for him to say, that is a complete blessing.

5)  The tenderness and thoughtfulness I live with every day is a gift that is beyond special, and I never take it for granted.  Most wouldn't look at our gregarious, loud, sort-of-Asian-Russian-more-Italian acting family and see tenderness there, but then they aren't looking deep enough.  If Dominick or I ever fall asleep on the couch, almost never do we go 10 minutes without a child covering us sweetly with a blanket.  I left on my trip only to open my backpack and find Olesya had hidden a little package of notes she had each member of the family write, and then had tied a little ribbon around them all.  She also included a couple of little snacks for me.  Matthew and Angela never let me carry anything heavy, and these days Matthew is growing ever more protective of his family as he sees his own strength and size growing.  Watching him help Olesya this week as she was trying to do something awkward and heavy and he gently nudged her aside to take over the task, I saw her give him a quick hug of thanks.  While I was gone, they spent hours helping their Dad move his work equipment to a new shop with nary a complaint.  In fact, when I told Matt on the phone how grateful I was for his help with Dominick's move, he replied, "Mom, you don't have to say thanks. I am glad we could help him!  He gives up everything for us, that was no big deal at all for us to help."  Hardly a morning goes by where I don't enter my kitchen after showering to find that Angela has quickly cleaned up any messes from breakfast.  Most of all, while we may joke all the time, seldom do we use harsh language with one another.  Sure, once in awhile we slip, but mostly we gently tease, we encourage, we speak words of care to one another. I realize that for some families, that alone would be foreign and uncomfortable, to simply speak kindly to one another. I am very grateful that is not the case for us.

6)  Hugs. Big bear hugs.  Quick side hugs.  Long, I-never-want-to-let-you-go-hugs.  Group hugs.  Laughing hugs.  Hugs with friends.  Just because hugs.  Congratulations hugs.  I am hurting hugs. Good bye hugs.  Hello hugs.  I can't make it without you hugs.  Foot hugs under the table.  Walking through Walmart arm around you hugs.  Our family is the huggingest bunch ever!!!  How thankful I am for the physical warmth we share, for Angela's perpetual protective arm around my shoulder everywhere we go.  For Dominick's enormous, enveloping bear hugs.  For Kenny's melt into you hugs.  For Olesya's clinging hugs.  For Matt's full on hugs which are given out judiciously with others but are generously and vigorously offered mom or dad.  For Joshie's ever-growing-taller-sweet hugs.

7)  I am grateful for a strong work ethic in everyone I live with.  There are no short cuts, there is no putting it off, there is "Let's get 'er done!".  To be far from home for 2 weeks and to know that schoolwork wouldn't come to a standstill and that no one had to be hovering over the kids to make sure it got done is a big deal.  To come home to a messy house after a long weekend of busy activity and know that we will set the timer for 30 minutes, and by the time the buzzer rings the house will be relatively clean is such a blessing.  For each of us to know that we have help nearby whenever we need it for any project is a huge support for all of us.  Matthew's fort project had many hands helping cut and glue twigs.  Olesya's cake projects had Matthew helping her clean up afterward.  It's not just about helping mom and dad.  Helping get work days done at the church is easier.  Helping friends mow lawns or rake leaves is easier.  Working at the airport on Christmas becomes a treasured family tradition rather than a drudge.  Everything, just everything is easier.

8)  I am grateful for the incredible sorrow we have experienced.  For the near miss with the girls' adoption which broke down hearts and emotional walls which then later proved to be such a help in  allowing us to bond faster.  Who'd have ever thought that first two weeks which were such a nightmare would actually have led to exactly what we needed in Angela's heart to be able to eventually parent her so effectively? I am grateful for the many, many times we have all shed tears over Kenny's disabilities and challenges.  I am grateful for all that Matthew has witnessed on multiple trips to Kazakhstan, and with each of his siblings' arrivals.  I am grateful for Josh's deep, deep heartache over abandonment and loss. I am grateful for the multiple difficult situations Dominick and I have faced, for the excruciating suffering the girls lived in for a very long time, and for the years spent childless.  It has created in each of us a resilience that is unusual, an awareness that is helpful, and a commitment to family that is unbreakable.  Together, we truly ARE Team LaJoy and we each hold onto that tightly, for we are all too aware of how precious that is.

9)  I am grateful for burps and farts.  I am grateful for stinky feet, and disgusting bedrooms.  I am grateful for filthy cars, and dead (or soon to be) hamsters.  I am grateful for annoying, peeing dogs and size 12 work boots and shoes left all over the floor.  I am grateful for continual messes on our kitchen counter, for books strewn about, for muddy floors 4 minutes after I swept them.  I am grateful for towels across shower bars, for scooters on front of the back door, for Legos EVERYWHERE, and for lost jackets and gloves.  I am grateful for the lack of perfection, for every  annoyance, for every single little thing I almost never had.

10)  I am grateful for the presence of God in our lives, for the Spirit which hovers not above us, but flows through us.  It makes everything more meaningful, it helps us really see one another with eyes that are wide open, it helps us mature and grow into the people we were always meant to be.  I remember one time, long before children arrived, reading how a family who had an active faith life, regardless of flavor of that faith, was far more likely to live with one another peacefully and would be overall stronger.  I am glad I haven't had to find out what it would be like without God at the center of what we do and who we are together.  For us, it works, and I am grateful.

Mostly, I am thankful that each of us is no longer alone.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

What They Don't teach You in Adoption 101

I sit here tonight, far from home but in the next room over from me is my own mom, and I am reflecting on an article today on Huffington Post which really, really captured something important, something that is never taught in adoption training.  Here is the article by Adam Saenz, author and adoptive father.  The article is entitled, "A Letter to My Adopted Daughter:  On Family".  Please, do take a moment to go read it, then come back:

Before prospective parents are approved to adopt, they must go through a predetermined number of hours of training.  Every state is different in their requirements, but the basics are covered:  Warnings about the backgrounds of available children, explanations about various types of behavior you are likely to see exhibited, emotional stories shared about loss and its effects.  Agencies try their best to prepare parents, to help them see it is not Fantasyland and that these are very real children who come with very real issues. They have you read all the right books, they do everything they can to help you step into the shoes of your as-yet-unknown child so you can better understand their needs, and they teach about the alphabet soup names of the various diagnosis your kids might come bearing.  RAD, SID, CAPD, FAS, ADD, ASD, CP, FAE, IEP, LD, and so many more are terms you quickly become familiar with (We have had all of the above used at various times to try and label our children, some were correct, others were not).

What is missing from the training though, is the most important piece.  It is how adoption effects you as the parent. It completely misses the target by not explaining how out of control your life might feel for a very long while, how hard it can be to reach your newly adopted child's soul, how awkward and uncomfortable it can be to feel as if you are strangers now thrust together and you really don't have a clue how to move from feeling like housemates to loving family.  Somehow, that part you just have to figure out on your own.

Adam Saenz's honesty and insight was so true to our own experience as adoptive parents of both infants and older children, and I didn't really understand what was being asked of me until Joshie came home.  Matthew was easy, Joshie was hard.  Damn hard.  What made it harder was not knowing what was really necessary, what God was going to ask of me.  Gradually, I figured it out, and over time it helped not only Joshua, but Kenny, Angela and Olesya as well as they adapted to new lives, and began the process of healing from old ones.

What I needed to be, and the only thing that was ever going to allow me to draw close to the hearts of my children was something totally unexpected.  I had been under the completely false impression that it was my emotional strength that would help them heal, and while that was somewhat true it wasn't the key.  I also thought that it would take my Great Wisdom to help them heal, and a little of that was needed even if it wasn't actually all that Great.

What my kids needed, what was never shared with me, was that they needed me to be willing to be emotionally stripped bare before them, they needed me to somehow be willing to be vulnerable and to feel me join them in their fear and doubt.  Sounds the complete opposite of what you'd think would work, doesn't it?  It's also why it is so hard to "teach" in adoption classes, because it is more about instinct, about sudden awareness, about presence.

In his letter to his daughter, Adam writes:  

"I knew last night that something had to give, and in the quiet stillness of this morning's coffee, I realized: it's me.

I must find the humility to empty myself of my agenda: my need to control you, to fix you, to heal you, to make you like me. Our differences have made me face my own brokenness -- my failures, my doubts, my fears and my sins."
Oh, how remarkable it is that this father saw this, admitted it, and wanted to change it!! Yes, our kids need to sense that we are strong and can handle anything, they need that for security because those adults who were supposed to be strong enough to care for them properly turned out to be weak and unable.
But what our kids need more, and what oddly leads to deepening love and respect, is to see   us struggle as they do with the emotional parts of our relationship with them.  They need to see us cry in frustration as we try to reach them, they need to hear us admit how helpless we feel in the face of all they have faced.  Sometimes, what they really, really need, is to be joined in their despair and great sorrow, then have it modeled for them how to be healthy enough to climb out.  The fact is, they do not know how to open the door to their heart, because it was slammed shut long ago and someone took the key and hit it.  
As Adam learned, we adoptive parents, must go through some valleys in which we are confronted with our own brokenness.  What is amazing though, is that in doing so, we actually leave open chinks in our emotional armor for our children to crawl into and discover our hearts.  The doors to our own hearts have to be pried open to let this new stranger in.
I remember Joshua when he was so tiny and so angry.  We had suffered together for about a year or so, and one night after waking for the 6th or 7th time to try and rock his prickly,unyielding body back to sleep, he yelled and cried, and there I was in the rocker, completely and utterly broken as the sobs came in great big heaves.  You know the ones, those that rise up from your very core and thankfully come seldom in our lifetimes, but can no longer be held back.  We sat there in the wee morning hours, rocking, crying together, each of us more exhausted than anyone would ever understand from our daily expeditions into the Battlefield for the Soul.  Suddenly, Josh stopped.  I felt his body relax just a little, and his hand reached up to touch my face tenderly.  It was one of two moments when I knew we were eventually going to make it.  He felt joined in his wordless grief, and somehow my vulnerability made him feel less alone, and I became more human in his eyes.
Adam also shares:  "When you first arrived, we hid from each other. You pretended that you weren't feeling angry, afraid, guilty, sad, and confused. I pretended that I could parent you from a distance. We looked good to everyone on the outside -- we were pleasant to each other -- but we were superficial and fake. It was a three-month honeymoon of pseudo-family."
I never walked the tightrope more carefully than when we adopted the girls, and Angela's wary truce was eventually called so we could at least give this family thing a try.  Oh, how I just knew what that cost her!  Such risk and courage!  But when we became real with one another, the moment we really and truly became mother and daughter was not when a judge banged a gavel and ruled in our favor, and it was not when we left the orphanage with her and Olesya.  Our joining together at the heart happened one very difficult night after we had been home about a month and I was still getting the cold shoulder and sharp retorts that were her defense mechanism to keep proper and perceived safe distance.  I opened my heart to her in anger, sorrow and frustration, sharing with her how I had longed to be their mother for so many years.   I explained through copious tears how she would never be able to understand how hard we had tried to move things along faster, and how desperate I was to get her and Olesya home before it was too late and her heart had grown too hard.  I named what was happening, and my fears for our future together.
It was then that we moved from Adam's aptly described "pseudo-family" to simply "family".
Many would have advised me not to "show my hand", to project only strength in the face of her behavior to "show her who's boss".  Angela didn't need that, she had already experienced enough of that in her 11 years.  What she needed was to see someone she perceived as strong be able to show the strength to expose vulnerability and softness. She knew how to be tough, what she had no clue how to do was to show softness or how to let her guard down.  It had never been safe to do that before.
I have willingly and unreservedly spoken with all of our children on multiple occasions, admitting my parenting "fails" and asking them for forgiveness.  I have openly shared my fears for us and for them, and for our relationships both now and in the future.  I have tried to help them learn how to express a full range of emotions, and to see that there is strength in vulnerability, for it means you actually have enough confidence in yourself to share your deepest parts with others.
That is the stuff they don't teach you in Adoption 101.  
The experts don't explain to you that your two year old might look you square in they eye and ask why you don't hate them like their first mommy did.  They don't give you pat answers to use when your children break down in front of you as they relive old horrors for the first time.  Adoption agencies don't tell you that your heart will break a thousand times, and that it is not only OK, but imperative that your child sees your heartbreak for the life they had before.  No one says it, but it is probably the single most important thing for any adoptive parent to know.
I didn't learn it from an agency representative, and I didn't learn it from any classes or books.  That kind of wisdom can only be taught from very special sources.  I learned it from my beloved children.  I watched for clues, I listened to their hearts, I tuned in for any signals that would help lead me down the road to their healing, and I didn't let them travel alone.
I wish that was taught in Adoption 101.  But I think I ended up with the best teachers ever, and daily, 12 years into our adoptive parenting journey, I continue to learn from my best teachers.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kenny LaJoy is Fourteen Today!!!

We have another 14 year old!  Officially we are back to two sets of twins until April.  Kenny's birthday is today, and I can't help but stop and think for a moment about just how far this young man has come.

Oh my...and you all have taken the journey right along with us, through the ups and the downs, the frustrations and the sorrows, the joys and the cheers.  This blog was started to share Kenny's adoption process, I never thought that 5 years later I'd still be blogging.  I am so glad I am, because the world needs to know that the Kenny's matter, that they can triumph over terrible circumstances, that their lives have great meaning, and that they bring untold joy to their families.

As his friend Amir still waits, thanks once again to yet another tale of corruption in a country that can barely feed their own, Kenny celebrates his birthday in the circle of love that surrounds him three layers deep.  I received an email to pass on to Kenny from his two other blessed orphanage mates, Askar and Turat, now residing with their loving parents in Australia, it is hard not to think of Amir today.  Still alone, still waiting for the family who has committed to him and desperately wants him home.  May it be so soon.

Kenny is such an extraordinary person, who has overcome so much and has yet even more hurdles to leap over.  I have never met a more congenial, sweet natured, wholeheartedly affectionate child. When Kenny hugs you, he melts like sugar into you.  He doesn't know a stranger, and he is the epitome of "welcoming".  He has so many gifts to share with the world, and has been hindered by a brain that was damaged by who knows what...institutionalization, heredity, poor prenatal care, alcohol, drugs, malnutrition, lack of stimulation, you name it...its probably all in the mix.

And yet he he thrives!!

He will succeed because he will keep working at it until he does.  He will succeed because we are all pulling for him, working hard with him, caring about him, and most importantly...accepting him and meeting him where he is at, even if that place is phonics for the third time.  He will succeed because he now has his Tribe, Team LaJoy...and his extended larger tribe, his church and other friends.  All of us do better when we are smack dab in the middle of our Tribe.

Kenny, you are my heart and soul, you are a blessing in a million ways.  Thank you for deep conversations, for head banging moments, for laughing your way through and showing me how to. May your 14th year bring you continued growth (both in size and mind!), more encounters with the Spirit as you let it guide and direct your path, and may your 14th year bring surprise successes from unexpected places.

I love you, Dearest Child of my Heart. Wish I was there to hug you today.  What a privilege to have you call me "mom".

Sunday, November 11, 2012

California, Land of Contrasts

Blogging here from Sunny Southern California as my family back home experienced the first winter dusting of snow!  Talk about contrasts, and yet there are so many others...

I grew up here, lived my early adult life here, got married here, and yet "here" isn't at all what it was when I was younger.  I've lived in Colorado now for 16 years, and it actually in many ways feels as if I stepped back in time to the place I grew up which, alas, is no more.

I am not used to seeing so many cars that all look as if they just drove off the new car lot, I am not used to so many (or ANY, really) shiny BMWs, Cadillacs, and Lamborghinis (Saw one going 95 mph on the freeway on my way to mom's from the airport).  Where are the beat up ol' pick ups, the mud encrusted Subarus, the duct taped mini vans?  This is the Land o' Plenty, at least vehicularly speaking.

Driving around the town I grew up in, wandering the aisles of the grocery store, it is in some weird way as if I have never left.  Over and over I hear songs playing on the Muzak systems or singing to me from the car speakers that were popular in my youth...and it is music I seldom here these days except for when Matthew plays the 80's channel on Pandora.  It is oddly unsettling, actually, to be 20 years older and yet hearing Michael Jackson tunes playing not just once, not twice, but virtually everywhere as if Thriller had just hit the Top 10.

The enclave of Camarillo is much as it was when I left it...pristine, tree lined streets, not an ounce of graffiti in sight, roads are spotless and gutters are clean enough to eat out of. I definitely was raised in a beautiful little town.  However, it is a town that most of my own classmates could no longer afford to live in, as the median price for a home here now is a staggering $350,000, down from a ridiculous $540,000 in 2007, while Montrose's median price today is a very reasonable and possible to attain $140,000.  We are grateful to own a home today, something that 16 years ago seemed virtually impossible.

There are lines everywhere, something that has definitely worsened since we departed years ago, but the the population density here is 3444 people per square mile.  People are literally stacked upon one another, though the luscious strawberry fields still remain scattered outside the city limits. Still, it is a far cry from the spacious skies and miles and miles of open space we have in Montrose, where the population density is a mere 1668 per square mile.

The most obvious contrasts though, the most important ones, are in my mom and I. I am now the age she was when I was finishing high school, with my life unplanned and waiting for me dive into. She is now close the the age I remember my grandmother being when I graduated high school.  is it possible?  Can we both have aged this much in the blink of an eye?  Yet my graying head and aching hip tell me it is so :-)  All those years ago I could never have imagined leaving this place, for before the realization set in that a decent future here would never be possible, I was content.  How could either my mom or I have imagined a future for me such as the one I have been blessed to have?  Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were not even independent yet, the Wall had not fallen, and infertility was not yet part of my known future.  My soon-to-be husband and I were already planning a life together, but that future had as-yet-to-be imagined children long off in the distance, though we had no clue just how long off that would actually be,nor just how far away they were.

I drove past our old high school, now surrounded by large patio homes where once stood tall eucalyptus.  I grinned as I thought about Dominick whose wavy brown hair still was prominent atop his head as he would wave at me out the window of his primered low rider mini-truck.  Funny though, I have no strong recollections about the years spent there in classrooms, but what returns are the lessons received as we were surrounded by unexpected rampant drug use, bragging about sexual exploits, and a wide variety of social cliques I was able to walk through and around but never was really a part of...nor had much of a desire to be.  The goal?  Make it out intact in 4 years.  It is truly impossible for me to imagine any of our kids in that environment, but for some reason the face that pops into my mind is Kenny's, as his 14th birthday is nigh upon us this week.

Yes, it is certainly a different world, and sometimes it is hard to reconcile the life we lead now with the way we were raised.  Usually, as parents, we draw upon our own childhood experiences to guide us.  There is almost no way Dominick or I can do this in any practical sense because our children's childhood and our own are so incredibly different.  Oh, we certainly pull from lessons learned that our parents taught, but the parenting challenges we face are completely foreign to our moms...pun intended.  It also, at times, leaves us feeling as if we are floundering a little, trying to grab purchase of land as we float downstream heading rapidly toward the whitewater.  We try, we screw up, we go back the drawing board, and we try again.  Not much else we can do.

So this evening, as I type this, my "real" life has been temporarily left behind as I visit my past and care for my mom.  Cataract surgery was something she once talked about with her own parents, and one day it will be one of mine helping me out post-surgery, I am sure.  Thankfully, all went well and we have one down, one to go on Wednesday for Eye #2.  I hear surprisingly mature sounding voices on the other end of the phone, sharing with me their thoughts, their day to day mini-successes, and their care for me.  I left with love notes secretly stashed in my purse, and receive emails from not-so-little people who reach out to share their lives with me.  And though I am far away, I am reminded that I am only as far as heartstrings will reach...and ours reach halfway around the world.

As I begin week #2 in California, I look forward to a little treat as I will have a long overdue visit with a long time adoptive mommy buddy, one who I am so glad has remained connected through the years.  We both have our battle stories to share, we both have given it our all through some difficult times...and continue to do so as we love those who were once unloved and who are sometimes a real enigma.  Sometimes, it is only during such conversations with another who has walked a few steps in my shoes, when I feel completely understood about certain pieces of my life.  The frequent uncertainty, the exhausting trial and error, the deep and abiding love that keeps you seeking answers...that is something that can sometimes be so difficult to share with others who haven't lain awake night after night thinking to yourself "What have I missed? What is it that is not clicking here?"...and that kind of camaraderie can often come only with someone for whom it has definitely not been easy.  Sadly, so often moms of post-institutionalized kids tend to drift away as their children grow older.  The first couple of years post-adoption there are many connections, but as time moves on those connections are often lost, while for some of us the struggles remain or grow even more challenging.  So it is with no little amount of anticipation that I look forward to time sitting across from one another, nodding our heads in agreement as even the unspoken is actually completely understood.

 Time to place a call back home, to hear sweet and sturdy voices.  Night all!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Crafting our Way Through the West

We did it!!  Just before I left for California, we finally finished our Westward Expansion Unit, which was very in depth, and...well...pretty darned cool.  Some folks have asked if we use a textbook, or a specific curriculum when we homeschool.  My answer to that question is, "YES", we use that and more.  I pulled this one together myself, and we read three or four short novels, we used three different lapbooks for The Gold Rush, The Louisiana Purchase, and Lewis and Clark.  We did not make lapbooks with them, we created binders filled with activities...but not all of them because frankly, some were good and some kind of lame :-)  We used a teacher's resource curriculum with text and an abundance of worksheets on Westward Expansion. We watched two Ken Burns series on The West, and Lewis and Clark.  We wrote 4 or 5 short papers, a biography, short worksheet biographies of 4 Western Heroes.  We read 3 long texts, researched on Google, created maps of forts, trails, and tribes...and much more.  Here are a couple of pics of the completed notebooks:

Last week, it was time to play and create!  We capped it all off with a variety of crafts, including a couple that are still in progress.  The kids all agreed we had a lot of fun, take a look at what we did:

This is the resource we used for a couple of ideas.  Angela decided to recreate a Mandan Indian home, complete with popsicle sticks and real live adobe mud,which we have around our area. 

We teased her that it looks at first glance like Stonehenge.

Not looking authentic...yet.

Now it's starting to take shape!

We actually went about a mile from our house with a 5 gallon bucket and dug up some adobe dirt, came back and crushed it up into a fine powder because it was very lumpy, then added water and PRESTO, instant mud!

Here is the finished product, she did a wonderful job!

Next, we have...Josh and Kenny!

Here they are debating which Indians and cowboys to use, and how to take the cowboy and make them more "pioneerish".

Kenny is making his infamous animal pen.  Seriously, this kid spent 2 hours...and had TWO sides of his pen made with popsicle sticks.  I told him that at that rate, his animals would have already been slaughtered and eaten!

Joshua paints the scene.

Then Josh hot glues the Kenny Pens to the board.  They DID look good, but it took 3 hours for those four fences!

Kenny created a log pile, as if his pioneers were in mid-build of their new log cabin on the frontier.

Hurray!!  Finally done!  Lookin' good boys :-)  And am I the only one who sees a more mature Kenny in this picture?  Just looked at it and had to shake my head, he looks different!

Next was Olesya, and she made a true diorama.  Shouldn't EVERY kid make a diorama at least once in their school career?

Wagons, and horses and tipis...oh my!

I loved her background painting!

Then Olesya worked on another project, which she preferred...

Now this is more like Olesya!

She really enjoyed this one.

So did Matthew! His feet were the only ones who fit them well, so he was a happy man :-)

Joshua did a little leatherwork himself, making a wallet.

First we had to stamp patterns into the outside cover.  We stamped the name using a screwdriver and hammer.

Joshie's funny faces as he works on this, I am sure it helped! Haha!

Sewing the parts together.

"Really Mom?"

Tada!!  A completed wallet!

Kenny trying his hand at cross stitching.

Everyone had the opportunity to write with a real feather pen that we created!  

Matthew ended up fully engrossed in a single project, which is not yet complete.  He decided to make a fort.

Looks easy enough, grab a few sticks from the back yard and get to work.

Uh oh...he has decided to "strip" his "logs", so they'll look more authentic.

In between, Matt helps the other kids with their projects.

Looking messier. And yes, it ended up all over the floor as well.  This past week was NOT for those whose houses are "perfectly clean".

First section of fence, and he likes the look.

A tower takes shape.


Trimming them.

Here he is helping Angela finish a leather pouch she made.

Our Twins :-)

This is serious work!

This is the last I saw of it, a corner tower completed, as well as some walls.  I told him this would end up taking him weeks, not the few hours I had in mind for our Unit end projects.  Matt looked at me and said..."And the problem with that is...??"  So I decided to hush up and let him work on it as much as he likes around his school work. I have to admit, we are all anxious to see the final version.

So, we will be moving on once I return from California.  Science will be our focus for the next couple of months.  We seem to naturally be drifting into "block learning" for science and history, which is working well for us so we can focus strongly on something.

And when I return home, I sure hope I don't see a whole bunch of pretend logs all over my floor!! Haha!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Our Graceless Election

I love my country.  Truth is, most Americans do.  To say that one party is more "American" than another is sort of un-American itself, for that means that we think there should be no diversity of ideas which is the very core of what we are all about.

This long, oh-so-drawn out campaign season has truly brought out the worst in all of us, and that saddens me deeply.  It also has nothing at all to do with party or candidate preference.  Somewhere along the line, we collectively decided that we would lower ourselves to name calling rather than participate in a true debate about ideas.  We have allowed our media on both "sides" to foment hatred, to present opinion as fact, and to encourage us to do battle with one another...and we have been duped because we have failed to see how much of it has more to do with generating ratings (thus generating cold, hard cash), than it does with encouraging true thoughtful discourse about the direction our country should go.

I have spent months and months in stunned disbelief as I read Facebook posts that are positively venomous from both sides of the aisle.  What really floors me is the tone, and how people type things that are so rude and intentionally divisive.  They word things in ways that polite, well raised folks would never dream of saying out of respect for those who might have differing views.  It has moved way beyond the concept of "free speech" and into the realm of  "hate speech", and it does absolutely nothing to move our country forward.  Indeed, what it does is makes us take several steps backwards as we label all who disagree with us as "enemy".  For some reason, Facebook and forums lower our inhibitions and we have turned into a people who all feel that everyone is not only entitled to, but also is breathlessly waiting to read our vitriolic statements.  I'd wager that if you asked most of your Facebook friends to repeat the things they post verbally in person in a group of mixed friends who range from Dems to Repubs, they might still voice the same opinions, but they would almost always rephrase it so that it would be more respectful than anything they carelessly post for all the world to see.  Or at least, I'd sure hope so.

The internet is a wonderful thing, but in some ways I think it has definitely caused us to regress.

Yesterday our entire family...our Republican Daddy, our Democrat kids, our Libertarian youngest, and our Independent Mommy...all attended a lunch time rally where a small group of folks from our church and a neighboring church gathered downtown to wave signs urging people to simply be part of the process and vote.  We carried signs that said "Don't Hate...Vote!!" and "Participate in the Process!". We did this to counter the increasingly negative tone of this election locally, and to remind folks how blessed we are to live in a country where we can elect our leaders without bloodshed.

As we approached the intersection, there standing on the corner was a lone man who held a large, hateful and intentionally incendiary banner.  What was it?  A large flag of the former Soviet Union with an Obama emblem on one side.  While I would absolutely defend this gentleman's right to display this, I couldn't help but ask myself what he hoped to accomplish, and why he felt a need to tell our entire town what he believed.  I will clearly state that this would have been just as offensive to me if it had been about Mitt Romney, for I guess I see no reason at all to demonize any candidate simply because I may disagree with their stand on issues.  My mom and dad taught me one important thing when I was young, and that was that someone was not evil just because they happened to disagree with me...and that sometimes they just might turn out to be right because I was not going to be 100% right in every opinion I had, I would just be right for me.

What we all should be concerned about, though, is that this sort of rhetoric is spreading, and it is harming us in ways I don't think we even recognize.  When we begin to throw around labels like "Communist", "Fascist", "Socialist", "War Monger", "Fundamentalist", "Armageddon", "Holocaust",  and so many others, we do a complete disservice to our country. Words mean things, and when we continue to use such incredibly hyperbolic language to describe things, those words begin to lose their true meaning.  We trivialize very important issues by using language that is ill suited or flat out incorrect, simply because we want to generate "buzz" or incite an emotional response.  What cracks me up is that you could ask the Average Joe hanging on a street corner what "Communism" really is and how it applies to our president, or by the same token ask the guy who is probably standing with his own sign on the opposite corner to explain how it is possible to call Romney a "War Monger", and I'll bet both men would find it difficult to draw a direct correlation between their ridiculously over-the-top accusations and what the real meaning of those words is.  That is because we have trivialized their meaning by such dumbed down attempts at public discourse and debate.  Resorting to unsubstantiated name calling on both sides is now what we settle for, as if that is real dialogue.

You ask anyone who has lived in a communist country if America is heading toward a communist society, and you'll have to pick them up off the ground, because they'll be laughing so hard.  You ask anyone who has fought for our country if Romney's desire for a strong military means he is a War Monger, and I suspect you'd get an equal response.

We may not agree with the platforms put forth by every candidate, we may find much of it distasteful and even harmful for our country.  I, for one, don't see a need to further increase our military spending unless it is for veteran care.  Does that mean I think Mitt is a War Monger? Of course not!  I simply think he has different ideas about what it takes to keep our country safe.  I disagree with him, but I don't for a moment think he is Evil Incarnate.

Someone is not evil just because I disagree with them, nor are they my enemy.  I also don't think that means we can not be in relationship with folks we disagree with...or I guess I would have been divorced a long time ago :-)

We have grown into such a graceless culture, one filled with shock jocks. Anger is broadcast to us around the clock by folks making money off of dividing us.  And we have fallen for it, we have unwisely failed to see it.

After receiving no less than 18 robocalls in a 24 hour period this week, which represents literally billions of dollars spent in an attempt to get me to hate my fellow American and view them as my enemy, I am going to make every effort in the coming years to speak only in terms that are respectful of all, and are intentionally inclusive regardless of "Side".  My countrymen are not my enemy, and those who disagree with my perspective serve me as policemen, firemen, nurses, politicians, soldiers, and so much more.  My life is better because of ALL Americans and that includes their differing opinions.