Saturday, December 29, 2012

Intentional Down Time

A respite...we all need it once in awhile.  This holiday season, believe it or not, has been wonderfully low key, and scattered with little pleasures that mean a lot.  Heading into it, I was not in a good place.   For a variety of reasons, it has been a difficult year, and I am ending trying to ignore a lot of doubts about myself that have settled in.  There has been stress on many fronts, most of it willingly shouldered but not necessarily desired.  Then I made some decisions to initiate a few changes, and became intentional about establishing some much needed boundaries.  

Of course, guilt set in.  Doesn't it always?

One of the decisions I made was that Advent was going to be Advent, whether others tried to intrude on it or not.  I am so very glad I didn't let it all slip away.  In that decision, God provided much needed moments of warmth, of acceptance, of peace.  

Sometimes, you just have to say "enough", and mean it.  In our case, one of the things I said "enough" about was the stress and disappointment over what we couldn't provide the kids.  I shed a couple of tears over it, and then recognized that we had already made Christmas about the important things and really it was MY sense of letting them down that was the problem!  For them, Christmas has become about so much more, and shamefully, I admit,  I wasn't getting it and was actually focusing on what I have worked so hard to get them NOT to focus on all these years!  Old habits die hard.

We have spent the past few days doing the things that small town people do, all the things that make living here  so special for us.  We went sledding, we greeted friends traveling home after their Christmas a state away with dinner and hugs.  We have visited and been visited.  We will be having game night and football afternoon over New Years, where many of us will gather whose lives are intertwined.  Right now, there is the sound of two other semi-adopted LaJoy's playing in the TV room with the kids.  The kids have all taken turns working with Dominick at the airport, each one taking on a little more responsibility this year and proving to be better employees than we ever could have imagined at their ages.  Matthew has spent hours and hours loading our CD collection onto iTunes for us, a task I have long wanted to do but been unable to find the time to dedicate to it, and he keeps finding songs and turning to me to say, "Hey Mom...I love this one!"...and I hear him playing a Steve Miller Band hit or something from Jackson Browne, and my heart is warmed.

We have cleaned kitchen cupboards out together, and then laid around to watch a movie.  We have talked about taking the tree down, only to talk ourselves out of it :-)  We have talked and talked, played games, and read books.  Poor Dominick is the only one who has been unable to kick back, but as we lost an employee and had another not show up, he knew he was supported as every single one of us offered to fill in and help him out. 

We are recharging for a new year.  This Advent has been a time of waiting, of expectancy, and also of much needed rest.  It has been a time of physical and emotional healing, and of appreciating all the good things that circle us, for no matter how hard life gets, no matter how much conflict or stress, this place...these people I live with...all is the greatest gift a wife and mother could ever ask for.  I know how blessed I am, I know that my life is so, so rich!  Our home, thankfully, is a haven from the hard things of the world.  Our friendships are our anchors in so many ways.  

So, as we try to have everyone home at the same time (and feeling well!) so we can do the pie in the face, we are also soaking in the comfort and peace of home.  

I hope that your Advent season has been as intentionally peace filled as ours has been!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Russian Adoptions Closing

Winding down 2012, there has been news spreading like wildfire over Facebook about Russia's plans to halt the adoption of its children by American citizens.  While this is part of bill that includes other issues, it is flat out politicizing the welfare of children, and it makes me sick.

Vladimir Putin, in all his pseudo macho glory, is an ass, pure and simple. In her book, Psychology of Orphans, noted Russian psychologist Ludmila Shipitsyna wrote that the official number of orphans in Russia in 2004 was 699,200 but officials police files have been noted to claim that number is vastly understated and the true number of orphans is closer to 2.5 million.  Dr. Shipitsyna stated that "Russia occupies first place in the world by number of orphans per 10,000 children".  Th e truth is, even the adoption of Russian children by Americans is a mere drop in the bucket, regardless of which number is correct.

From 1998-2011 there were 45,112 Russian orphans adopted by Americans.  Think about that number, 45,112 lives saved.  The argument is that of those 45,112 there were 15 (I think the number I once researched actually put it at 17) adoptees who were killed at the hands of their adoptive parents.  That is one of the arguments Russia is using to stop the adoptions, that Russian children are not safe her.  Hmmm...if one were to look at it only from a statistical perspective, what would the odds be with any sampling of 45,000 children, orphans or otherwise.  How many would die at the hands of their parents?  Now, I am not saying I think even one is acceptable, because it is not, but if we pull emotion out of it, how many biological children would be killed at the hands of their parents in a group of 45,000?

More importantly, and of course completely non-supportive of Russia's arguments, how many children in state run institutions have died due to neglect, malnutrition, beatings from caretakers, lack of medical care, failure to thrive, etc?  I can pretty much guarantee you that number would make your jaw drop.

Russia says it wants to encourage domestic adoption.  Good idea!  Where are you going to put those 700,000+ kids RIGHT NOW???  And considering the standard of living is SO terrific throughout Russia, I am sure you will have people lining up to take in children who are so damaged they can't begin to function normally.

What bothers me to no end about this, is not necessarily that adoptions by Americans will be halted, it is that now, those poor, helpless, innocent children will be completely hidden from the one will be able to see and report on their suffering, which is so great.  No one will be able to see the horrific images carried back by adoptive parents who share what they have seen first hand.  And no one will do anything to save these hundreds of thousands of kids, because they will become invisible in a way that is hard to understand here in of the investigative journalist.

We won't have anyone able to share the smell of urine, the vacant stares, the rooms filled with beds, the children left to languish whose muscles atrophy and brains slowly die off.  Faces staring out windows framed in lace curtains and institutional blue paint on every wall.   Children warehoused as if they were a commodity. Children who can't walk, talk or speak normally, children whose only crime was being born.

No one will be able to speak for those who can not.  They will be voiceless, they will be abused, they will continue to be neglected in ways we can't fathom.

They will die.

Why, you might ask, do I care?  After all, our kids were from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, not Russia.  It doesn't matter, it's all the same.  The former Soviet Union created a system of orphan care that is the same regardless of whose borders you are in.  You walk in an orphanage in Russia, and it will be identical to one in Kyrg or Kaz.  Same color, same scent, same vacant eyed children.  

We all ought to care, we all ought to be outraged that a country with that many of it's citizens being neglected ought to be held accountable rather than being allowed to hide them behind closed doors.

Dominick and I, and so many of our blog readers, parent the end result of institutional care.  We see the damage inflicted, we deal with it daily, and we try to help repair what was not done as children were hidden.

Broken hearts, broken backs, broken brains, broken spirits...and it will continue on a scale we really don't have the capacity to wrap our minds around.  If you took every student in Los Angeles County Schools and locked them up, starved them, denied them medical care and adequate schooling, you will get close to being able to understand the sheer numbers of children who are institutionalized in Russian Orphanages.

Russia, if you want to stop appearing to be Third World, then act it.  Go ahead and deny the right to adopt your children, but then fling open the doors to your orphanages...all of them, yes, even those special needs Hell Holes, and let the world see you step up to care for your children adequately.  Give them hope, give them a future, give them love.  We will support you if you do right by them.  Develop a foster care system that is not corrupt, oh...wait...I forgot, your whole damn country is corrupt.  Guess that won't happen.  You can't even hold a fair and just election, how in the world can you care for your unwanted and abandoned children??

Poor, poor babies.  Mouths taped shut at one of your hospitals so you don't annoy anyone.  Tummies hungry, always so hungry.  Bottoms so raw and sore filled because diapers aren't changed.   Dying of the most benign conditions.  Rocking yourselves to sleep so hard your crib slams against the wall, because no one will hold you.

That sound?  That is the sound of an orphanage filled with a couple hundred children under age 4.  Why is it so quiet?  Because they have learned that it matters not how much noise you make, no one is coming.

Sickened.  I am sickened.

For all the kids like Alem and Anes, Toktogul, and the Sushkova girls...otherwise known as Joshua,  Matthew, Kenny, Angela and I wish there were more that could be done.  How I wish the world would rise up and demand a response that makes sense so that no more of you suffer needlessly from hunger of the heart and body.

Maybe someday we will find ourselves living in a world that provides for all.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

LaJoyful Christmas!

"Joshua...what was THAT??"

"Eeewww...I don't even want to know!"

"Ok, it's getting cold out here.  Let's make mom happy and get this over with quickly!"

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday, rich with all the important things! We had a wonderful Christmas Eve, with friends over the share dinner with before heading off to church for the candlelight service.  The kids LOVED the music, and talked about it all the way home.  A bittersweet conversation as we know with our choir director leaving, it will never be quite the same again.

As I sat in the pew at the end of the service, I had a hard time not shedding a tear or two.  These souls we find ourselves connected to are so, so special. Now, I know that to anyone else, they are just a handful of ordinary kids.  But as I watched Matthew and Angela standing at the front of the church readying themselves to collect the evening's offering, I almost couldn't take my eyes off them.  They looked so mature, so capable, so lovely and loved.  All of them have come so far, and are such deeply good young people.  There are moments such as those tonight, sitting side by side in the candlelight, when I know that there will never be the words to express the value of what God has given all of us.  Each of us needed one another, each of us was missing the most important thing in the world.


Tonight, the world celebrates the love that came in the form of the Christ child, offered freely to all.  Tonight, we celebrate the love that came in the form of other children, long yearned for and hard earned.  We are a family tonight by choice, there are seven people who are not alone tonight by choice, and by extension there are others who surround us who, hopefully, also feel part of our family and because of that know that they, too, are loved.

As each of the kids opened their gifts tonight, that love was offered over and over again, and it had nothing to do with what was or wasn't under the tree.  It was their glee at my new slippers that Matthew gave me, it was the delight in the surprise for Dominick when we all pitched in to come up with the $50 to give him a gift certificate for a 30 minute Go Kart ride.  It was the thoughtful note Olesya gave us, the gratitude for something as small as pickle flavored chapstick, an $8 wall clock, and "re-gifted" used  M*A*S*H DVD's tied up in a green bow and offered with great love from a friend.  All that was missing was the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree :-)  It couldn't have been any better.

Somehow, when genuine love is present,  all that matters is "presence".  We received handmade Christmas placemats today with that as a reminder written right across the middle of each one from someone who really understands us.

Tomorrow we will rise and head over to join Dominick at the airport.  We might even get a special visitor for the second year in a row, offering her own gift of "presence".  We'll laugh, we'll work, we'll surely sing a little and hug a lot, 'cuz THAT's how the LaJoy's roll!!

Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Story Tree

I am propped up in bed, 11:00 PM, heating pad held close to my chest and hoping that tomorrow breathing will be a little easier.  I told Dominick tonight that I am getting just a little frustrated with my annual holiday wreckage, missing out on what is for us the best part of the holiday...the little things leading up to it.

But then I stop and think...I hear the rushing of the wind outside hopefully finally bearing snow tonight, and I am safe and secure with all my loved ones under our roof, warm and snuggled in bed.  This week, that somehow feels like a true gift.  I think probably every parent feels that way right now.

It is a Christmas season filled less with frivolity and great joy this year, and instead is one of quiet reflection and softly whispered prayers of gratitude.  In the background of the past couple of weeks has been the loss of the grandma of my dear friend.  Lost to Alzheimer's long ago, it was mainly her physical presence that slowly reached out to the peace that must have long alluded her.  It was a lingering sort of process, one that had emails going back and forth each day asking, "How is she? How is your grandpa?"  The kids all wrote cards and letters to Grandpa Wally, whose beloved wife was leaving him after 68 years.  What an incredible gift of loving, devoted marital love they were able to witness as Grandpa Wally gently nurtured his wife, who much of the time in recent years couldn't remember him.  Jill, my dear friend, our hearts are with all your family tonight...your family who has adopted us as if we were theirs, who have graciously opened their family holidays to include first 4, then 5, then 7 LaJoy's crowded around your table and all making us feel as if we belonged.  We will be praying for every one of you this week, knowing that hearts are heavy.

You know, if we each examine our lives, there is always something we could sit back and say we wish were different.  We might want a bigger house, better cars, more money and less month.  We might wish for better relationships with relatives, more prestigious jobs, or nicer material possessions of any sort.  I, too, have sat back once in awhile and wished for a few of those things...a larger dining room area to homeschool more comfortably in, newer furniture as the stains, tears, and general wear are taking their toll.  Not 10 minutes ago Dominick asked me about how we could save for Angela's dental crowns, needed sometime in the next year or two, so money is always a concern.  I sort of laugh over that one, because I grew up that way and I guess I wouldn't even know what to do if there wasn't some sort of hovering financial issue!!  I wish we could go buy a new van...totally brand new with the new car smell, the paper tags,the whole 9 yards.

We all wish, but we don't all yearn.  I don't, I really don't.  How could I?  I am bathed in love so often, cared for, comforted, supported and God shows up time after time in the most extraordinary ways!

First, there are these 5 young people I live with and this Italian Gruff Teddy Bear of a hubby.  Sick in bed for the past 6 days, I have awoken my kitchen and dining room having been cleaned up, sink spotless, stove cleaned, floor swept.  Angela and Joshua have done it each morning.  No one asked, they just were the first ones up and didn't want me dealing with it.  And it was no big deal, they never pointed it out, they just went on about their day.  Kenny, Olesya and Matthew have all done their fair share as well, moving laundry, vacuuming.  Each evening I have had Kenny, the Firestarter, make sure there is a lovely fire going in the woodstove, Olesya has brought me blankets and tucked me in, and Matthew has helped by making sure that the kids are all directed a little in getting to the main school work without me having to say a word.  Woke up late this morning after a very long night awake, to find Kenny, Josh, Angela and Olesya had all done their math already, Kenny had remembered EVERYTHING he needed to do in the morning as well as did another hour of Fast Forward, and Matt had math done and spent 4 hours all afternoon on finishing his German for the semester, so that I could get his school records recorded early and not worry about it next week.  Josh came in and made my bed for me one day, Dominick went at 4:00 AM to the store to stock me up on over the counter meds before he went to work so I didn't have to go out.  I have been cared for by Team LaJoy in ways that make any "wish" seem so frivilous.

I also have the kind of friends that no amount of money can buy...who are far, far better at friendship than I am.  I sometimes wonder what keeps them circling my life, because they give so, so much of their hearts to us, and I am never as thoughtful, as generous, or as kind in return.  I try my best to keep up with it all, and once in awhile I manage to do a little better, but generally, it is nothing compared to what we are blessed with, and I know it.  I wish they each knew just how much their love means to us, but there is no adequate way to express it.  Our life is as joyous as it is, in large part, because of the souls we are surrounded with...and while it might be more convenient to have that larger dining area or that new car smell, I know with all certainty that it would never, ever bring happiness.

So thank you, to whichever friends may be reading this today.  Please, please know that the gift of YOU is the best thing that ever happened to us.  I mean this to all who love us, both near and far...from CA to VA, from Kyrgyzstan to Canada, be it virtual or in real life.  YOU are what Christmas is about for the LaJoy's.

I looked at our tree today, and discovered that probably more that any other thing in our home other than this blog, that tree represents us.  It is our story.  The ornaments we have collected over the years speak softly of love anticipated, of love realized.  In a week, Joshua will be 10.  Three years ago, we were in turmoil and learning how to walk the talk that for us, Love Wins.  How different our life has been from what I ever imagined it being, and how lucky I am that it has been so different!!!!

Matthew at 2 years old, back when we truly thought he would be our one and only.
Don't laugh too hard over that one :-)

Oh, how my heart hurt as we waited...and waited...and waited!
They were worth every single moment.

An ornament with one of first photos of Kenny we received, as we waited to travel for him.
That smile has only grown broader.

With only 2 babies out of 5 children, this Baby's First Christmas for Joshua is precious to me. 

I spied a card from Olesya for Mom and Dad! That was a new addition today!
Wondering if any of you remember the stuffed heart given to us by the girls, signaling a fresh start as we hit the "reset button" on our adoption trip for them.  It may look like it is for Valentine's Day, but for us it was a Christmas Miracle.

We carried our Dollar Store felt snow men home all the way from Kazakhstan, as a remembrance of one of the ways we spent those long, frigid afternoons trying to test the new family waters.  Glitter glue and some felt, and something much bigger was made.

A tree, covered in miniature stories.
It's nothing all that special...looks like an ordinary tree to anyone else 
but those whose story resides upon it.

Santa may no longer be listened for on Christmas Eve, but the Spirit...the real alive and well at Casa LaJoy.

It's not all about us, though. Our Wichita friends, the Ewings, long ago sent us something we use every year:

The symbol of a friendship born in adoption, and nurtured through the internet. 13 years later, as we visited this summer while they were in Colorado, I am reminded of how our Cyber Family has been such an important part of our lives.  Today I received a surprise from another long time cyber friend, whose special gift meant so very, very much this year.  Dee and Elva, thank you for caring from afar for so long.  I feel as if we are raising our families side by side...OK...well, maybe a little far apart physically, but we have prayed, cheered, and mourned for you as I know you have for us for a very long time.  I love the connection our kids have to one another, and it is my fondest hope that one of these days, we'll manage to meet in person.

The reach grows beyond our borders though, as the mail today revealed to us that God uses us in little ways, too, that may make a big difference somewhere down the road...even if we never do meet another face to face.  Angela and Kenny received a special little package from Kyrgyzstan, via John and Julie Wright in Canada.  About a year and a half ago, Angela and Kenny were touched by a story John shared on his blog about a young teenaged girl in Kyrgyzstan who needed a prosthetic arm.  Angela was so moved, that she offered a significant amount of her savings to try and help provide the $300 needed for the prosthetic, and Kenny jumped right in to help make up the difference that Angela couldn't come up with.  John was somehow able to get the prosthetic provided at no charge, so asked if they would like something else to be done with their money.  Both agreed that if the need had been met, they wanted to meet a "want", so they asked John to use the money to give her a computer that she longed for to use for her studies.  Today, we received a small little box with a beautiful set of earrings and a ring, a gift of love (and no doubt at some sacrifice) from this young girl and her mom.  Kenny and Angela were so excited to feel the connection with someone so far away!!
Bright smiles, the warmest hearts. Dearest God...thank you for the gift of each of our children...children that were wholly a gift from you!!

Angela put the earrings on but took them off right before bed.

I know this is a ladies ring, but I don't think Joshie needs to know, nor would he care!  He asked to wear it, and I think it is on his finger as he sleeps right now.

We also received another addition to our Story Tree, as John and Julie thoughtfully included a little something from them...another ornament to remind us of those we care for.

And Matthew is looking forward to this weekend, when he will spend many hours volunteering on his own with Civil Air Patrol organizing and handing out gifts with Toys for Tots.  I was really disappointed to miss his CAP Christmas party, and sent the camera along with Team LaJoy.  Once they came home, it became obvious why I tend to be behind the lens more than in front of it (OK, I also hate how I look on film, really hate it.)...they barely got one decent photo!  I had photos of the floor, heads cut off, blurry poinsettias, and one photo out of only 20 (How can they take a camera and take only 20 pictures???) that turned out decent.  But what I really want to know, is how did this darling little angel:

Turn into this Big Galoot!:

That's him, second row, third from the right.
Love that smile of his!  He is the quietest of our five...yea, a LaJoy is quiet, go figure.  But what a sweet, decent young man he is...a blessing to his entire LOUD family! HAHAHA!  Hard to believe from his size that due to his age he belongs in that front row of younger cadets.  He has earned another rank advancement, and will get pinned at his next meeting.  He has made it his goal, even though he will not go into the military due to his orthopedic issues, to work to attain the top rank in Civil Air Patrol for young cadets,which he read only 1% ever achieve.  By golly, the way he is going, we just might see a very different kind of 1%er there!  What I love most though, is his enthusiasm to help others. He told me he is really enjoying volunteering at the food bank, and he is anxiously awaiting this weekend to hand out toys.

Yes, Christmas is coming, the Spirit hovers over us bringing us a special sweetness that nothing else can measure up to.  I am so, so happy that it is not about the gifts under the tree, but is about Joshie killing all of us singing Jingle Bells for the 3,783rd time.  It is about Olesya carefully baking cookies, and spending hours decorating gift boxes.  It is about all of us working Christmas Day, greeting travelers with big smiles and homestyle service as we hand them that sandwich and wish them a heartfelt "Merry Christmas"!!  We are all excited about working on Christmas, strange as I know that may sound to some.  It's just, well, it's who we are and what we do even if it makes no sense to anyone else.  We will all be together, sleeves rolled up and Santa hats on, and that's all that matters.  It is about giving of ourselves in the ways we can, even if it often doesn't seem like it is enough...we know God understands what our gifts mean. It is about candlelight service, it is about friends near and far, and yes, it is even about Mom getting the Annual Crud...because I guess it just wouldn't be Christmas without it! HAHA!  Yes, we LaJoy's have some pretty twisted traditions :-)

I wish I could send every single blog reader a Christmas gift, the gift of whatever it is that your soul really needs.  We can't send that, but in the next couple of days, as I hopefully get better, we will be posting a video for you all of Pie Slamming...and surely a little laughter along with it.  Thanks to all who donated money for Christmas in Kyrgyzstan. This year is worse than ever as there is no gas at all for heat in Bishkek right now.  Horrifyingly, this means people are dying due to the cold even as I type this.  So as you read this and you hear your furnace kick on, give thanks for that...and for flush toilets...and that you are safe tonight.

Stay tuned, we'll post Pie in the Face as soon as we can manage it!  And, if I don't get the chance to say it again beforehand, Merry, Merry Christmas to you, my friends.  Thank you for your love.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Admitted Slippery Slope

Shannon from CO, who is a long time blog reader, left an urgent and heartfelt comment on my last blog post, one that deserves some thoughtful consideration by all of us.  She spoke of the very real slippery slope we approach when we speak of the how to best approach the treatment of the severely mentally ill.  Indeed, the idea of forced medicating and the loss of individual liberties that would mean is not something to take lightly, I agree 100% with that, Shannon.

I am a bit of an odd duck.  I am an amalgam of liberal and conservative thought, and I don't like to have myself pigeon-holed into any "camp", which is the main reason I am a declared independent.  Some might call me liberal based upon one conversation, and another call me conservative.  What i think I am is moderate or centrist, left leaning on some issues, right leaning on others.  Probably, most of us are closer to that than the fringes on either side of the aisle.  I am someone who believes in the right to bear arms, and at a young age was taught to shoot by my Dad who drilled into me gun safety and never had a loaded gun in the home and kept his arms under lock and an unused gun safe that now sits in my own garage.  I owned my own .22 single shot rifle at 14 years old.  And clearly, I believe in the rights of the individual, as our decision to homeschool and be responsible for our kids' education reflects.  So the whole idea of the intrusion of "Big Brother" is one that I do take very seriously, and cringe when I think of the ways in which we could lose our liberties. what point do we begin to be honest about the needs of those who are, for a time in their life, unable to help themselves?  Even if we are not thinking about possible future victims, don't we, as a country, have some sort of responsibility to them?  It is a dilemma of the most conflicting sort.  Once a child reaches the age of majority, in most states a parent or other loved one is completely unable to get long term care for someone who is almost always unable to recognize, due the severity of their own condition, that they are in desperate need and sliding down a slippery slope of a different kind.

As I read part of the Wikipedia entry for the Virginia tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, it states what part of the problem is.  His parents had tried to get help for him since early adolescence, but once he turned 18 he was beyond their legal reach.  The entry is below with my own bolding inserting:

During the investigation, the matter of Cho's court-ordered mental health treatment was also examined to determine its outcome. Virginia investigators learned after a review of Cho's medical records that he never complied with the order for the mandated mental health treatment as an outpatient.[64] The investigators also found that neither the court nor New River Valley Community Services Board exercised oversight of his case to determine his compliance with the order. In response to questions about Cho's case, New River Valley Community Services Board maintained that its facility was never named in the court order as the provider for his mental health treatment, and its responsibility ended once he was discharged from its care after the court order.[64] In addition, Christopher Flynn, director of the Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech, mentioned that the court did not notify his office to report that Cho was required to seek outpatient mental health treatment. Flynn added that, "When a court gives a mandatory order that someone get outpatient treatment, that order is to the individual, not an agency ... The one responsible for ensuring that the mentally ill person receives help in these sort of cases ... is the mentally ill person."

This is the problem we bump up against all the time, and to me it makes so little sense it borders on the absurd.  We are asking a mentally ill person to be responsible for ensuring they get their own care.  Obviously, that doesn't work at all in many cases.

I won't pretend to have the answers, but what I do see is a need for a much larger national conversation about how best to handle such individuals.   Shannon, your very valid concern is what has kept this a "hands off" topic for so long in our country.  They are concerns I share, and I daresay much of America shares as well, but when we are at a place where Kindergartners are being shot to death in the halls of their own schools, they are concerns we can no long avoid dealing with because of our own discomfort, but need to address openly and honestly in an effort to find at least some solutions.

Believe me, Shannon, when I say no offence at all was taken by your comments.  I brought them to the forefront here on the blog because I think we all need to talk about these issues, informally in our homes, and in more structured settings like the halls of Congress.  What are we willing to live with?  What does seem to be the fair and just approach to the treatment of mental illness...or gun control?  And perhaps most importantly, can we wait any longer before being willing to have the hard conversations?

Because I, in large part agree, with Shannon, I am having an internal struggle about when to the rights of the individual become subordinate to the rights of the whole?  Is this a gun control debate we need to have, or is it a mental health debate?  Are our very freedoms at stake if we enact legislation that limits certain behaviors?  No one wants Big Brother running our lives for us.

And yet the faces of 6 and 7 year olds continue to stare back at us, pleading with us to at least try and do something to stop this sort of carnage from happening again.

I was reminded in Shannon's comment that there, but for the grace of God, go I, when she said that whatever decisions we come to as a nation in the coming months might drastically effect those I know and love.  I have seen up close and personal in my family, and I am not speaking about my children, the destruction that mental health issues can bring about.  Thank God it was all more self-destructive than directed outwardly, but the ripples certainly stretch well into the future and touch other lives no matter what.  But I do ask myself the question, if I were in that position as the mother of a child such as Adam Lanza, or even one with lesser issues, what sort of help would give me the sense that all possible was being done to avoid calamity?  I can say, with certainty for us, that we would ere on the side of caution.  Some would ere on the side of individual rights.  Both might still find themselves facing media cameras one day, the unintended targets who are the only ones who can offer any sort of explanation to the question, "Why?"...while still being completely incapable of answering it.  For we all know that regardless of the approach, mental illness will still be around, and in some cases, even the most invasive of efforts can fail.  That is another component to why this conversation is so hard to have, because at times it can all feel so darned hopeless.

As the past few days have had us all trying to wrap our minds around the very special sort of grief that the parents of those 20 children are feeling, we may not be privy to the sort of years long hell any family of a mass shooting killer has experienced.  There is something wrong with their child, and they know it.  They are sometimes afraid for their own lives, as last Friday and many other times proves they well they should be.  As they watch that perilous slippery slope their child slides down which can only lead to unknown future heartache, they claw and scratch to help their child regain some semblance of sanity before they commit some unspeakable act that send them tumbling into the pit, forever unreachable.

Curiosity and real interest has me wondering, if we approached the families of some of these killers, had they had a choice of forced medication or not, what path would they have chosen?  Would they have fought for the rights of their child and their freedoms?  Or would they have gladly reached for the Rx and felt great relief that at least some help was at hand?  The truth is, after the fact, I'll bet that most might weigh in on the side of forced medication.  After all,  who wouldn't do anything in the world to retroactively prevent the sort of heinous acts their loved one committed?  But were the question to be asked before the act, I think it would be perfectly normal for a parent to say, "No, we don't need to resort to that.", for the very reality of what their beloved-yet-terrifying child is capable of just can't ever really sink in.  We may know something is terribly wrong and in quiet moments we might be able to allow a smidgen of brutal understanding in, but for the most part, what parent  really can look into the eyes of the child they have nurtured and desperately loved for so long and see in them the capacity for harm that lies beneath?   It's why after once of these incidents we often hear people saying, "We knew he was upset/struggling/having issues but we never in a million years thought he'd really hurt someone."

Sometimes, it is the even more powerless outsiders who can clearly see it, as in the case of Jared Loughner.  His community college professor sent emails prior to his rampage about him.  Here is what she had to say:

“We do have one student in the class who was disruptive today, I’m not certain yet if he was on drugs (as one person surmised) or disturbed. He scares me a bit,” Lynda Sorenson, a 52-year-old wrote in an e-mail to friends on June 1. “Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon.”
“We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me,” Sorenson wrote in another e-mail on June 14. “He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon.”
Or about Seung-Hui Cho, it was reported that as early as 8th grade he had created a "hit list" of students he wanted to kill.  Here is what fellow students of his at that time shared:
In 1999, during the spring of Cho's eighth grade year, the Columbine High School massacre made national news. Cho was transfixed by it. "I remember sitting in Spanish class with him, right next to him, and there being something written on his binder to the effect of, you know, ' 'F' you all, I hope you all burn in hell,' which I would assume meant us, the students," said Ben Baldwin, a classmate of Cho.[25] Also, Cho wrote in a school assignment about wanting to "repeat Columbine". 
All the signs were there that a future horror was in the making.  In most cases, post-event research and interviews reveal that there are very few times when at least one person hadn't predicted that the perpetrator was in real need of help.  What is so maddening is that the help that is necessary is just out of reach for a wide variety of reasons, all of which really need to be addressed...laws that keep us from getting help for someone, inadequate facilities or trained professionals, cost of care and long term management, and sometimes the unwillingness of someone close to the ill person to really and truly internalize how very dangerous they have the potential to be.  It is not just one factor, it is many, all of which need to be taken off the shelf, thoughtfully examined, and then perhaps we can come to some sort of agreement about what course of action is most respectful of the individual, while still attempting to protect the rest of the world as well.  
And lest we forget, most of the time these young men (for that is who we are really talking about) are suffering in such ways that they take their own lives as well.  So, that causes me to ask the rhetorical question...if one of these young men were alone with no semi-automatic weapons, in a hospital room and threatening suicide, would we feel it was appropriate to force medicate them in order to save their lives?  And if the answer to that is yes (and it does happen), how do we then justify the argument of the rights of the individual over the rights of the whole?  Wow, this stuff is the sort of thing that Constitutional experts and ethics specialists wrestle with.  I guess any of us can be forgiven for also finding it hard to wade through our thinking surrounding such very important issues that will change our country forever.
When one thinks about it a little dispassionately, there are hundreds of ways in which we have already agreed on how to legislate the rights of the whole over the rights of the individual, and no one screams over those.  For example, we make people take driver's tests to prove they are safe on the roads, and if they don't pass or grow to old to see well enough, we remove their driving privileges because we all know it is safer for them, and for everyone else.  Every time we step into an airport we allow ourselves to be searched, and as many incidents remind us those searches often go way over proper boundaries, but we all agree to it because we'd like to remain in the air on those planes, rather than victims ourselves.  For goodness sake, since the Patriot Act, I recently discovered I don't even have the right to see our children's library record and fines on screen, even though they are minors and I am legally responsible for them!!  But we allow that in the interest of public safety.  And yes, I was hopping mad over it and don't like it one single bit.  There you go again, my own conflicted feelings surfacing over those issues of individual freedoms.
What was most ironic was the (as usual) anonymous comment that came in right after Shannon's thoughtful comment.  It was the weary, tired phrase that does carry some truth to it, " Handguns do not kill anyone. People kill people with guns."  
Exactly, that is why, no matter how difficult, this conversation has to include more than "Get guns off the streets."  As usual, with difficult problems there are no easy answers.  But because it is hard does not mean we ignore it, as we have the prior 61 times in the last 30 years.  Even if we are extremely uncomfortable with the slippery slope, we need to have a serious national discussion about it, about the ramifications of any legislation we might enact that has to do with firearms or mental health care.  We may try something, find it is not the best solution, and look for another.  Ignoring it, though, is the worst "solution".
I don't have a clue what's best.  I am working through it in my own mind, weighing and balancing, just as so many are after Friday's sad event.  None of us really does have the answers, not by ourselves. And regardless of the outcome, there will always, always be some who will be extremely disappointed and upset over the results.  It is another reason why our polarizing positions need to be shelved, as most likely, solutions we find we can live with as a nation will be found somewhere near the middle.  We are a country that will never give up its guns, but perhaps we can come to some sort of rational middle ground that everyone can accept which will at least cut the risks a little.   We are a country passionately protective to our personal freedoms (and rightfully so, I might add), but maybe somewhere between "impose medication on everyone" and "they have the right to refuse care, even if they are not in their right mind" we can find a narrow road we all can agree makes sense.  
Even with change, we will never stop incidents from this from ever happening again.  But as statistics in other countries reflect, we do not have to live like this is a common, everyday occurrence.  It is only in our inaction that we can be 100% certain that history will, indeed, repeat itself.
I think we all need to walk up to the slippery slope and peer over the edge.  We might find that there is a safe ledge there, if we look hard enough for it.  Thanks Shannon, for inviting me do a little more peering myself, both now here on the blog, and in the days to come.  While we might find ourselves disagreeing, I you urged me to do...being very careful about what I advocate or vote for.  We all need to remember that just because we might find ourselves on differing sides of an argument, that does not mean that our perspectives have not been reached with just as much thoughtfulness as those who adamantly disagree.  Respect, at all times, is what keeps the conversation moving forward in helpful directions. And I say that, not as a reminder to Shannon, but as a reminder to myself, to never assume that someone's differing opinion was somehow reached through rash thinking.  It's just different, that's all.  
Regardless, we all find ourselves standing on that slope...and if we can't find ways to come together, we might all tumble down with no safety harness.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

As We Near Christmas Eve, A Nation Grieves

It's the holiday season, and right on schedule I am battling another bronchial infection.  Good news?  It's a little before Christmas so I should be in good shape for the holiday if I am not stupid and don't stop.  I came to a dead stop 2 days ago, and have spent the time doing absolutely nothing but watching a "Psych" marathon on Netflix, and cleaning up my computer files a little.  Haven't had much energy for anything else.  Angela and Josh are also sick, but of course they just have a head cold.  Matt already had it (Thanks, Matt, for giving it to me!), so we have Olesya, Kenny and Dominick trying to avoid it.

Whaaaa...I sound like a real whiny Gus, don't I?  I really have no reason to be over a minor illness.  Kind of hard to consider anything I am going through as "bad" when compared to the sort of heartache experienced by so many yesterday in Connecticut.

I just can not imagine the horror so many must have felt yesterday, hearing the news on the radio, TV or from a friend that their child or loved one was in grave danger.  Rushing to the scene with hearts racing, prayers mingled with tears as they held on to hope with all their might that their child was safe.  I could hardly look at the photos, so familiar as we see the faces etched with grief, the candlelight vigils, the First Responders lined up to clean up the carnage.  The location may have changed, but the pattern of response has not.

And that is the problem.

This sort of nightmare should not be occurring with such frequency that we all know how it will play out in the days that follow.  Yet somehow, in our First World Nation, we have children who are experiencing Third World Horrors.

I know there are advocates on both sides of the gun issue.  There are those who say that the problem was that no one else was armed on campus, there was no one capable of "taking out" the shooter.  Others say that guns themselves are the cause, that guns ought to be banned, and startling statistics,if they are to be believed, appear on Facebook about gun deaths in other countries with strict gun control laws, and numbers of deaths that number less than 100, while America stands at over 10,000.

It is an issue that is more complicated than we might think at first glance.  Yes, we need to enact gun laws that are sane.  The American gun culture and my Dad's beloved NRA have done wrong by us, selling us a bill of goods that many have bought hook, line and sinker.  I have no doubt that even my own Dad, were he with us, would look at the news and say, "OK, something has to change."  No one needs a semi-automatic for self-defense.  No one needs an assault rifle.  No one should be able to purchase a weapon in a transaction that can be simpler than obtaining a driver's license.

We can also see that tighter regulation without going as far as banning gun ownership has a significant impact on gun deaths.  It may not stop it entirely, but it certainly helps:

However, as necessary as much tighter regulation on firearms purchases is, there is a missing component, one that America seems unwilling to talk about as deeply as they are willing to talk about regulation.  We must...absolutely must...find a way to provide better mental health care to individuals in need.  We need laws that allow family members to obtain help for their loved ones who are incapacitated by mental illness and yet kept from the very care that might save them by our "rights".  We need to have affordable mental health care available to every single American.  I am of the era that remembers our own, somewhat infamous, Camarillo State Hospital being closed down due to funding cuts.  We see people in need of mental health services all around us, and yet often the very people who want desperately to get help for their family member or friend discover they are helpless because of either lack of access to care that is affordable, or the inability to get a mentally ill person committed for more than 72 hours.

I realize it is a fine line when it comes to our rights as individuals, I get the arguments against it.

However, I'll bet there are loved ones of 27 victims who are left wondering tonight about the rights of their children, sisters, wives, and friends.  And yes, I include the family of the shooter, for they have to live with the loss of a mom, a son, an ex-wife, just as the rest of the victims do.

I think back to Gabby Giffords and the Arizona shooting.  Jared Lee Loughner, the gunman, was a very, very sick young man.  Friends, co-workers, and family members all noted a "personality transformation".  Later diagnosed with schizophrenia, it seems completely out of kilter that he could be forced to take medication so that he could stand trial, but no one could force him to take medication prior to his arrest...medication and treatment for an illness that might have prevented this tragedy.  Likewise, Seung-Hui Cho who committed the horrendous Virginia Tech shooting rampage was also documented as having very serious mental health issues.

According to statistics noted in an article in the Washington Post yesterday, there have been sixty-two mass shootings in the past three decades in the United States.  SIXTY-TWO!  No WONDER our media has become expert at reporting these awful incidences.  Research indicates that at least 38 of these mass murders involved a perpetrator who had exhibited previous signs of mental illness.  

Interestingly, according to another related Washington Post article, most of the guns obtained that were used in those sixty-two mass shootings were obtained legally. 

Another interesting fact, which seems to further confound the issue. According to a Gallup poll, gun ownership in the US is on the decline, as you can see from the chart below:

And one can draw a correlation between the above chart, which reflects a decrease in the number of firearms owned over the past 30 years, and this chart, which shows that there is also a decrease in the number of overall firearm related deaths (All deaths, not just mass shootings).  What ought to be sobering, is the incredible difference between America,and all of the other 34 nations that are currently partners in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development:

I know that many say now is not the time to "politicize" the whole gun issue, that now is a time for mourning and reflecting, of grieving and healing.  But I have to ask when does it become the right time?  When we hit 75 mass shootings?  80?  100?  When do we decide, as a nation, that we do not want to send our children to schools and fear for their safety?  When do we decide, as a nation, that we want our moms and dads to make it home from their workplace safely each night?  When do we decide, as a nation, that we want our fellow Americans who suffer from severe mental health issues to get the help they need so their families don't have to get an unimaginable phone call after trying, often for years, to get them the help they need and knowing deep in their hearts that someday, their child, or husband, or brother will hurt themselves or someone else?  When do we, as a nation, de-stigmatize mental illness, or stop ignoring it, or stop funding the care for it?

We need to move beyond platitudes issued from press briefings.  We need to move beyond candlelight vigils, and makeshift alters.  We need to move beyond partisanship and rhetoric, and be moved to do something about it.

Ten days from now, many families will be forlorn, aching, no doubt crying out in gut wrenching anguish as packages already bought and wrapped sit beneath a Christmas tree, never to be opened. Having experienced that myself when my own Dad died a mere three weeks before Christmas, I have a little tiny sense of the kind of special heartache it is to lose someone around the holidays.  I also know that my own grief that year can't come close to the sort of heavy pall that will hang over Newton this year...and for many years to come.  It is also a never ending loss when it is your 6 or 7  year old child who will never be returning home from school.

We grieve as a nation, as we well should.  But for once, let us take that grief and use it.  After the vigils are done, after the last little stuffed animal and poster has been removed from the front of Sandy Hook Elementary, let us as a nation not allow our attention to be quickly captured by some other event.  Let's finally do something to try and prevent the frequency with which such awful tragedies occur.  Let's thoughtfully approach the issue from all angles, and let us not settle for a quick law change, but work to see to it that the bigger picture is addressed as well.

May hearts be comforted as best as possible in Newton this night, and the many dark nights ahead.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Curriculum for Future Minds

When Matthew entered 5th grade, we quickly sensed that the traditional public school setting was not serving him well.  Of course, it wasn't hard to spot.  When your normally laid back, quite adaptable child comes home after the first day hanging his head and declaring, "This is going to be the longest year of my life." as he quietly trudges off to his bedroom, you have a pretty big clue that something isn't right.  When you then sit back and realize that the same child, who in years prior had devoured books had grown to seldom pick one up, or when you see the know, that Tween Slouch that speaks to disengagement, you also have some additional clues.

Of course, the fact that Kenny was entirely unable to read, and knowing we were bringing home two Tweens who couldn't speak English might also have been a motivator as well.  OK, I know for some, much of that would have been motivating in a different thrust them quickly in school and trust the job would be done well because I have never said I am a qualified educator.  But I guess we were just getting the idea that maybe we needed something a little non-traditional to achieve the results we hoped for.

But what exactly were those results?  What did we really want for our kids?

Dominick and I had several long talks prior to making the decision to leap into homeschooling.  We didn't really do it thinking we could produce academic geniuses, we did it out of self-preservation!  We knew we were throwing square pegs into the public education system's round holes, and it was no one's fault that it wasn't quite a fit.  But now that we would be in full control of it, we had to determine what, precisely, we wanted education to look like for our children.  That is no easy task, trust me, especially considering the special needs that we had on our plate.  We had a limited number of years in which to accomplish an enormous amount, both academically and emotionally.

During our conversations we recognized that there was much about our own educations that we felt was lacking.  We also felt that many of those areas had only gotten worse during the interim years between our school attendance and our children's.  Most importantly, we felt that the slippery slope of teaching to tests, cramming facts, and filling schedules with courses that had no specific connection to a specific child's interests and individual gifts was harming kids...and was in large part leading to the high drop out rates.  Knowing we were bringing kids to the system who already had enough challenges on their plates, we admitted we might need to take a less than traditional approach to their education.

So, silly as it seems, we sat down and I took the sum total of our shared conversations and created a "Mission Statement".  Here it is:

LaJoy Homeschool Mission Statement

When our children reach maturity (not necessarily 18 years old) and are released from high school it is our goal that they would:

1  1)   Lead a God centered life.
    2)  Exhibit good moral character in all circumstances.
    3)  Have an understanding of themselves as part of a community, and not be centered solely
         on "self".
    4)  Have a well developed intellectual curiosity and be self-directed, motivated learners.
    5)  Have a base of strong, practical life skills to build upon.

        *We will always place “family” above anything else.
        *We will recognize that learning happens in both traditional and non-traditional settings
        *We will remember that education is not a competition
        *We will respect each of our children for the unique and wonderful individuals they are
        *We will work to help our children discover their God given gifts and talents

    I am really glad we took the time 4 years ago to put down in writing our guiding principles.  I have had to revisit this many times to remind myself that our goals might look a little different than the traditional school model, and that will mean we can't compare ourselves to a model that is so divergent from our own.  We intentionally created a little "mission statement" that focused more on human development than academic development, because we knew we would need to be reminded that our kids are more than test scores and grades, and the ultimate end goal was not to have children who could hold up stellar report cards but who could handle situations with maturity and grace, and have great care for others as they move through this world while engaging in it jobs or relationships...that had great meaning for them.  That is not at all to say that we wanted to slight academics, but that we knew we had a limited number of years to work with 3 of our kids adopted at older ages, and we needed to be realistic about prioritizing what would serve them best when they entered adulthood. 

     Now as I type this, I guess I could say that while we were unaware of it, Dominick and I wanted our children to finish high school with a good, solid education and a sense of themselves as viewed through Micah 6:8 ; "He has shown you, O man, what is good;  and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."  We never said that, but looking at it now that appears to be at the root of what we desired for them.

I    The other day I came across this amazing...completely, utterly amazing (OK, for me at least...many of you will be bored stiff by it and I recognize that.  But I am weird that way! Haha!) Prezi presentation that someone posted on Facebook.  WOW!  Someone encapsulated all the things we felt were important to education, and named them.  Check out this main chart, and then visit the Prezi presentation at this link:

This chart highlights many of the non-academic things we are trying to incorporate into school.  In fact, just this week we had a long conversation around the school table about what Emotional Intelligence is as compared to a standard IQ, and which might be more important overall to the success of any individual.  We are working diligently to develop critical thinking skills as we analyze everything we read and watch and look for bias or misinformation because in post-institutionalized children, those are skills that are sorely lacking.  No one has helped them connect the dots before. 

We talk often about generational echos...both good and bad...and how to be aware and intentional about not repeating behaviors that are damaging, and most importantly, that though it IS common for history to repeat itself it isn't necessarily a given that it will happen.  I can't emphasize how important that kind of awareness might be for adopted children.  We have conversations almost weekly about how to select a good mate and how to be a good, involved parent.  We find it extremely important for our kids to learn how to have constructive...not destructive dialogue, and to learn how to really listen to others even if you disagree.  And we also feel that showing how interdependent humans are, how much we really and truly need one another, and how interdependent they should be with one another even as siblings, is highly important.  Then we take that interdependent teaching further in hopefully sharing how our community at large is a system of interdependence.

I was just so happy to see that someone was thinking in a new direction like this, that we are not the only ones who find the development of little humans into big humans to be about so much more than whether they get an A on their biology test or not, or whether they master geometry.  That is not to say that academics are not important, because clearly they are, but how we go about it might be a bit skewed, and the emphasis we place on achievement in academics might be better served if we had an equal emphasis on other qualities as well.

As time marches forward and we find ourselves in the middle of our fourth year of homeschooling, we are seeing some results of our hard work, results that have less to do with academics and everything to do with the whole kiddo.  

I saw it as Matthew and I had our class session alone together this week.  I was excited for him when he shared with me that he is taking a big leap in Civil Air Patrol and is interviewing to be part of the squadron leadership.  I asked him how that had come about, and he said he wasn't initially at all interested, but then a couple of the older cadets encouraged him to do so.  He knows it will mean taking on more responsibility, and he wisely said he thought he was too young and inexperienced to try to fill any of the higher positions.  He is young, at 13, but most of the cadets there seem to assume he is older.  What really touched me was when Matthew said to me, "Well, you and Dad are always doing things to lead, even when it is hard.  I guess I see it is important."  We talked about how he could present his pros and cons, and he was quite honest about areas of his own strengths and weaknesses and able to assess himself well.  I shared with him strategies for interviewing and how to go about sharing weaknesses in a more positive light, as well as how to emphasize strengths without sounding arrogant, etc.  He is not sure if he will be accepted, but I was very happy to see him wanting to step forward and try.

I saw additional results again as the kids eagerly listened to Miss Mary share about her trip to Italy, Greece and Turkey.  They were so interested in what she had to share, each leaning in eagerly to see photos of the Partheonon and Olympus on her laptop screen.  They talked about not "if" we can ever go to Europe, but "when"...which signaled to me that they have already learned that no dream is beyond reach if you work hard enough to achieve it!  Of course, dreaming was encouraged by our lovely Miss Mary when she gave them books she brought home for them, and a bag full of Euro which she said they should hold on to for their own trip one day, because she too believes in the power of dreams.

As I look back on our Homeschooling Mission Statement and try to assess whether we are making progress or not, I see that we have indeed learned a great deal of life skills, as I watch each of them work well in the kitchen knowing at least some basics, see them be able to approach minor repair projects around the house with just a little supervision, and hear them talk together with a very solid understanding of the cost of living and what kind of income it takes to make a decent life today, which motivates them to further learning.

However, high school is rapidly approaching, at least for Matthew, and the academic learning continues because it, too, is just as important as all of the areas covered in the "Curriculum for Future Minds".  I guess the difference is, we realize it is ALL equally important.  

This week we had a couple of successes which always helps motivate me.  Matthew and I spent time learning his new software for Dysgraphia, which was NOT inexpensive and for which we were super grateful for school funds.  First of all, you must have Microsoft Word to use it, which cost us additional money because we had been using the free Open Office word processing software.  WordQ and SpeakQ costs $279, and you can only use it on one computer.  

But wow, did it make a difference!!  Matthew and I were both thrilled to see the changes in the mechanics of his writing.  While it still isn't perfect, the difference is quit dramatic.

Matthew wrote first, and looking over his shoulder I could see it was nothing like what he ended up with.  Then, he used the software to read it back to him three different times, as he then made edits each time he went through it.  He can hear his mistakes, but when reading them he absolutely can not see them.  Truth is, I have never seen him write something as a first draft that was this close to being correct and without having any help on it.  I was explaining Matt's dysgraphia to a techie friend of mine recently and she said "Ahhh...that explains it.  I got a card signed by the kids and each had written something in it.  I was a little surprised at what Matt wrote, because it was pretty messed up.  I know him so well that I know he is intelligent, so I was confused by his writing.  Now I understand."  For using the software for the very first time, we were astounded by the difference, and we now feel that we have a solution for him!  I can't tell you terrific it feels to have struggled 4 years trying to improve an area in one of the kids that has been so frustrating, and to finally feel like we have made significant progress.  He still has a lot of progress to make, but at least now it feels possible.

Then there was Kenny this week, who started out SO SO far behind.  The cyclical nature of his deficits was explained to me as being quite normal by his speech therapist, Miss Sandy, who also has auditory processing issues herself which are evident even to me.  She said there are bad weeks where it feels like you took enormous leaps backward for no explainable reason.  Monday and Tuesday felt exactly like that, as Kenny literally couldn't hear the difference between short "o" and "e" and was pronouncing words wrong all the time, including "London" as "Lenden". I even had to say on Monday, "There is no point to trying reading today as we have to teach a new concept, and Kenny, I just think we'd be wasting our time. Let's work on something else and see how your brain is doing tomorrow."  I am SO glad I have learned this critical point, that trying to force learning when his brain is not firing is a complete waste of time and is frustrating to both he and I, so it is better to wait.  By Friday though, we reintroduced syllables...and maybe, crossing my fingers and hoping...I think he just might be getting it after all these years.  He was able to successfully break apart many words correctly with this instruction that before he would not have been able to do, and he and I both hardly dare breath as we went through the list, looking up at each other and grinning with each correct word. 

With Kenny, the growth is in such small incremental bits, it is hard to see it sometimes, but it IS happening!

We all spent a lot of time working on what unsurprisingly appears to be one of Josh's best subjects, life sciences.   We are continuing to use Nancy Larson Science, which thank goodness has a scripted teaching manual, for that has helped me a lot.  Many people ask how you can teach subjects you are not good at, but they have no idea the kinds of curriculum available to help you do just that if you look hard enough.  There are packages that walk you through everything, online courses that are taught by someone else, video classes, local classes taught by experts in certain fields, you name it.  As homeschooling continues to grow, there are more and more designed to help walk parents through teaching any subject, and this curriculum we are using for science is terrific for middle school science.  This past week we studied cells, and their makeup.  All the kids are really enjoying it!  We learned about the parts of a microscope, and viewed cheek cells, fly legs, and other "cool" things on slides.  

     Academics or other subjects, we are busy here trying to fit it all in, with a few hugs along the way thrown in for good measure.  There is so much to learn, and so little time to learn it! But I am betting that the most important things learned will have nothing to do with worksheets, planned courses, or tests.  It is the lessons of the heart that matter most...and those can't be put under microscopic scrutiny :-)