Kid Stuff

My dear friend, Leaf, asked me if I could fit the following somewhere in a blog post, so here it is:

While Chinua and I were in California, Josh undertook the job of giving Kenya and Kai a rock and roll education. They had the following conversation, as recorded by Josh:

Kenya: “So this David Bowie guy is famous for wearing makeup and being ugly?”

Josh: “No, he’s famous for being one of the most influential musicians of all time! And he died recently and the whole world cried.”

Kenya: “I didn’t!”

Josh: “Yes you did, you just didn’t know it.”

Kenya: (thinks) …

“Mom said that’s just hormones.”

***

(It’s true, I do say that a lot these days.)

 

***

And since I have written that, let me tell you more about the kids.

Tonight, I was washing the dishes I had bargained Solo for (he did all the plates and cups, I did some of the bowls and the forks) when Leafy joined me at the sink. 

“You taught me well, Mom,” he said.

“Thanks. How so?” 

“As hard as I try, I can’t say the ‘F’ word. I mean, I try and try, and it just won’t come out.”

“Oh. That’s… good?” 

“Yeah, I mean, it’s like when I try to say it, my voice won’t work.” 

It’s reassuring.

***

I’ve become quite the lady of leisure in my mid-thirties. I mean, I can pop out to the market without any children because I grew a thirteen year old and a twelve year old who can watch the others for a while, and I don’t have to push carts of screaming children around. Not that we have shopping carts here. Just sidecars, like the chariot. 

Although sometimes Isaac wants to come, and then Wookie wants to come, so I load them in the chariot and we go to the market to buy vegetables and milk, but Isaac decides halfway through that he doesn’t want to go to any more shops, and then I have to inform him that he doesn’t get to punk out half way through. 

And he’s nice to the fruit lady only half the time, but she’s nice to him all the time. When I got back from California the whole market (think of a big open air market with a lot of separate stalls) was abuzz with the news that I had left to go to America and Isaac had stayed back without me and had come to the market with Ro. 

It feels nice to be known. Although it’s less nice to be known if anti-Isaac runs down the aisle shrieking. Anti-Isaac looks like Isaac but doesn’t have the same sweetness and light. 

 

So, sometimes it’s easy to do the shopping and sometimes it takes three times as long, like the other day when I went to the Vegan restaurant to pick up food for everyone at Shekina on Gardening day, and for some odd reason Wookie kept escaping from the chariot and running around the vegan restaurant, and it made me really nervous because I didn’t know whether it was breaking their “no meat in the building” rule to have a dog running around, because she has dog food stuck in her teeth sometimes, and she is kind of live meat, but we’re live meat too I guess. Anyway, I had to put her back in the chariot three times, and I had the three-year-olds, Isaac and Jasper with me too, and they sat at a table and attempted to wow each other with tales of how hard they dance to rock and roll, by which I knew that Josh had got to them too.

 

And the other night, after community lunch, (which is lunch and then a whole afternoon of hanging out in the garden playing music and washing dishes and sometimes juggling or playing frisbee) Kai, Kenya and Leafy were at Taran’s house playing carrom, which is a game we learned in Nepal, a kind of board game where you shoot pieces across a chalky board and it may have originated with maharajas. They like to play it, so they were there at his house, and I was home with Solo and Isaac. I wanted to go to the noodle lady to get noodles, but realized that I had no babysitters, and I needed to bring the small boys. 

So, okay, they got their shoes on after seventeen minutes of looking for them and we walked along our street just as big drops of rain started to fall. I pointed out the yellow flowering tree which has seventeen thousand flowers on it and smells like heaven, just as our naughty dog, who likes to break out and terrorize the neighborhood with cuteness, came tearing down the street. Apparently she had climbed out the window to follow us. I stood there with Isaac while Solo brought her back to the house, and the drops got larger, and I sighed and swung the tiffins. 

The older Thai man who likes to exercise a lot in awesome seventies exercise shorts came out to peer at the giant crevice in front of his house, that the road workers had dug that day, and to warn us that it was starting to rain. And we waited and waited for Solo. Finally he came out and ran down the street toward us. So we kept walking, and were nearly to the noodle lady when Isaac informed me that he had left his flip flop back where we had stopped the first time, a block back, and had only just decided to tell me about it. We went back, and now the errand had taken eighteen times as long.

But then we got to the stall, the scruffy, delicious little Pad Thai stall, and all my happiest things were there. Thai-speaking ladies, umbrellas, people-watching opportunities, sitting at a little stall on the side of a street, fruit smoothies, and my boys. And we waited for our food while the rain poured on the umbrellas and we drank the smoothies, which made the boys whole year, because I normally insist that we make our smoothies at home, and Miriam wandered along and sat with us for a while and that was perfect.

So yeah, I love being a mom. It’s the best.

Color- A New Poem.

My thoughts have been emerging most easily in poems, lately. Here's a new one.

Color

Stop,
she said.
The dog might bite you.
but I walked through the door
anyway
as softly as I could
and I stood there
and I waited.

It always makes me catch my breath
an error
a step where I shouldn't have made one.

He watches the tiniest muscles
in their faces. 
A flex in the jaw, 
love and desire in the flaring of a nostril.
I look at his hands, 
a ripple of muscles and tendons
   I see unbearable sorrow.

We try to be brave and good. 
I want to flip tables.
I want to burn the house down. 

I will hate the day that I can't hear his laugh. 
For now, I stop and listen, 
as though from across the galaxy: 
I hear it. 

She sat across from me,
tapping her chin with her pen.
In our culture, we wear black to show we are suffering,
she told me.

And yes — we wore color, it's true
Bits of color under tall trees.
   But oh- how we were suffering.

 

Five steps

Chinua and I went to California for four days, flying in a sky that we normally see from the ground. Beautiful people made it possible for us to go to Ian’s memorial, just the two of us. We drove through redwoods and I rolled the window down to breathe their beautiful, spicy scent. It was the first time in 13 years that we went away together for more than a couple days. 

We held hands a lot. I cried. I hugged Christy as much as I could. She still fits under my chin. Chinua spoke at Ian’s celebration of life and he told all of us in that great giant room about his friend. My heart hurt a thousand times. I laughed, too. Christy laughed as well. I wanted to get up to say that Ian was very, very kind to me. But there wasn’t time, because people rushed the stage to talk about their friend. There were so many of us.

We slept on a soft bed and ate good food. We saw people we haven’t seen in years, people who know our story. I sat in the sun in the cool air and felt like the most blessed person in the world.

Back at home, in Thailand, the kids were well taken care of. Our friends took turns watching them, and they got a full education in rock and roll, they played a game called Abandonment, where Kai, Kenya, and their friend Taran were driven out to a spot, blindfolded, and had to make their way back home. They did it easily. (I would call it Survival, but they love to proclaim that they were Abandoned, loudly and dramatically.) They were loved and fed and bathed. Our house was the hub of hospitality and fun. We are back home now, relearning to embrace the chaos, saying hello to our neighbors.

And why do I feel so lost? Perhaps I will always feel this way. Blindfolded, trying to make my way home. I am surrounded by love, by friendship. And I’m scratching my way through the dark. I can feel so good sometimes, like I’m clearly not mentally ill. And then the tiniest of things, just one small surprise brings the drums of doom, fear without reason. (I don’t like surprises.) Ah. 

God loves me anyway. I’m pulling out all the tricks. Drawing, walking, getting up to write in the dark. Cups of tea, lots of hugs. Maybe if I can line up all the days, just get through it, God will form a life of triumph in me. The darkness encroaches, but I speed away on my bicycle. This could be grief. Not only for our friend. But for the world that I thought I knew. Why did I think friends don’t die? It was certainly never guaranteed. I grew up in a home touched by death, but still I was blind to the fact that it can happen. I didn’t believe the facts, the numbers. 

But the butterflies are amazing lately. We live in a butterfly land. Clouds of them rise up to meet us when we walk through the grass. We are sojourners in this world, like them, only here for a moment. We are strangers in a different land, wanderers who are beloved. All the paths have led to this point, they lead on from here. We are not forgotten, we are not finished. We are not Abandoned. 

He pursues us, he runs for us. We speak quiet whispers and he is already listening. We convince ourselves of our solitude, but it is untrue, because he is taking five steps to our one, every time. 

This and that...

I went for a walk this morning. The world is coming back to life in shades of green. Perhaps if I tried hard enough, I could fly.

I may have looked a little crazy, muttering prayers as I walked. That’s okay, I’m used to looking different, even crazy. Maybe I am crazy. Certainly it feels that way sometimes, as though there is a zoo inside rather than just a girl. The elephants won’t shut up. And the gibbons! Oh the gibbons.

We started school at our house four weeks ago. It’s the Thai way, to start again after the holidays of April, which is the hottest month. May was hot as well, but we lived through it and now I walk in the cool mornings and stare at the tamarind fruit in the trees by the road. The trees are tall, too tall for fruit picking, but I imagine flying up.

I thought of starting another school year and all it means. With homeschool it’s possible to get caught up ticking boxes, or to get overwhelmed and I like to remind myself of what I believe about learning every year. The future isn’t an endless parade of days. I whisper these words to myself in the mornings, I say them out loud to the kids: To play, to learn, to explore thoughts and ideas, to read new stories and write new stories, to learn how to express and how to listen. To dream and make things together, to discover what life is really about, how things work, and what things lift the heart. To explore and grow, to do good in the world and care about others because we have learned something about them.

It beats ticking boxes, though we do that too.

I’ve been having trouble with my neck lately, the old accident wound that still bothers me, thirteen years later. More trouble than usual, but it makes me realize that maybe there’s a word for my type of pain, and maybe that word is chronic, which is a scary word. But using that word doesn’t mean anything different from what I already experience, does it? It’s another sort of meditation; on the body and pain and what can happen outside of pain, what pain cannot control. Paul, a writer in the Bible, calls the body a tent. And though I work from my tent, I run and walk and exercise and eat will, I will not have it forever. And I am very brave. 

And perhaps it is pain, perhaps it is four years of being here, but I am restless. I feel a longing for something that feels like home, though home is here. Maybe it is the forested islands of BC that I long for. But if I was there, I know I would long for Thailand, for Asia. This great discontent is another sort of meditation. My home is in God, my home is in God, my home is in God. My home is in the great, otherworldly Being who shapes mountains, who is the force behind the feeling of belonging, who lifts and soothes and challenges. He is my home. I belong in him. I am in his story.

Ro guided a Devotion Circle about beauty the other day. We talked about beauty and what it is and what it guides us to. We thought about beautiful things. I shared the prayer that Leafy prayed, “Thank you God for creativity, curiosity, and the soothing taste of water.” —one of my favorite prayers ever. I think now of the light in the garden, of Leaf when she wears her bamboo basket to pick basil or chard from the veggie patches, of the birds in the morning, of the painting Kenya made for me, of Isaac’s crazy smile, of China playing the piano, of the fact that we can talk to God and he leans in close to hear us. There are so many beautiful things, more than I can count. I whisper them to myself in the morning, I say them out loud to my friends. It makes me imagine that I will become comfortable with the zoo, perhaps, even the gibbons doing all their gibboning.

Birthday thoughts.

I just had a birthday, and it was my 36th

I love the way a birthday makes me think about the years; what has been working, or not working, where I’ve come from, all the corners and edges and horizons of my life. 

I’ve been writing it all down for a while, now, almost 11 years of writing in this space. It has changed for me, become something different as I’ve grown. Writing a book has gone from a dream to a reality, a few times over. I’m no longer the mother of three preschool aged children. I’m a little more stable, a little less desperate. But I still battle anxiety every day, and sometimes depression too. I have found many, many things to be joyful over. I still seek beauty. I’m a little less whiny. I’ve lived in many houses in a few parts of the world. I have used a squat toilet on a moving Indian train while 36 weeks pregnant. 

God has led me down many paths, and stretching in front of me, as far as I can see and beyond, are more paths, roads, mountains, rivers. I love him so much, I have been carried and kissed by the Lord of the Universe. I am thankful for the fields and valleys he has guided me through. For the family that is larger than I imagined, the different countries of my mind, the different countries in real life. I go through hard and dark things, and they sometimes leave me gasping, but the softness is there, the love, the way God is so tender and good. I wish my anxiety away, and it does not leave me, and neither does my confusion about the way people work, or the sensitivity I curse sometimes. 

And then the morning comes, with its light and birdsong, and Isaac comes to surprise me and there are all these children in my life, keeping me humble and sharpening my sense of humor. It is a beautiful chaos, with a thousand ways of being, living in a culture that isn’t mine (for SO many years now), always trying to understand, always with the chance of being a little more loving, receiving and giving a little more love.

We are often hard on ourselves. (I’m sure you are too.) And because of my mind and the way it works, I wrestle with the meaning of life, with suffering and messing up, with why on earth we exist, what it’s all for. (“Just sing the Mini Coop Coop song,” my Superstar Husband would tell me.)

If your mind doesn’t ever seem to want to let you rest, here is my advice for you. (From the wise old age of 36.) And I will try to take my own advice.

Imagine yourself on a hillside, surrounded by birdsong. The warm grass you sit on is the stable love and understanding and acceptance that God holds for you. The sky above you is filled with a thousand tiny birds, swooping and diving and singing for you. This is all the joy of the days ahead. You are surrounded by love, both inside and out. 

Write stories. Draw pictures or make something the way you love to make it. Play with your kids. Sit on the floor with them. Being with God, receiving and giving love, this is the true meaning of life. Giving love in all of its forms; to the people you touch during the day, to your friends and family, to those in need. Inject small moments of love. Reading aloud for half an hour, picking flowers together, family drawing time. Look for the beauty, look for the tiniest shining things. Fill your mind and heart with thankfulness for these things, because this is presence of God with us, this is Jesus walking beside us, saying, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” The dishes when they’re done, the teasing of a 13-year-old, the hugs of a 10-year-old.

 

It means everything. It will form another beautiful year. Thanks for reading, dear friends.