Maps.

Every morning starts out with birdsong. Lately I wake before my alarm, meaning that I really need to go to sleep early, because it doesn’t seem to matter whether I go to bed at 10:30 or 11:30, I wake up by 5:30. The world is still dark, but the birds are just beginning to sing.

Birds are fascinating, with their fast little heartbeats, the way they rush the power lines, rocking them back and forth in an effort to make the loudest, best songs. They compete and threaten each other. They peck away at insects and steal things to build their nests. We have a lot of mynahs, they are our “crows,” and they are versatile. They growl and mutter, click and belt out notes. They fill the air with the flutter of wings and the trills of songs, and if things get hard, they can just turn a wing, lift up with a rush, and fly.

If I was a bird I could sit at the tops of all my favorite trees. If I was a bird, my heart would beat faster. I would be even more nervous than I am now.

 

I am coming to terms with the fact that I am a creature plagued by fear. I have admitted for a long time that  I struggle with anxiety, but that is somehow removed from me. Anxiety, yes, it is a disorder, it plagues me. But I realized recently that no matter how many good things come to me, I am still afraid. And I will be that way until healing comes or until I am transformed in a flash, a great mystery. The circumstances don’t matter. I think if I succeeded with writing and made a lot of money, I would be worried that it would go away, or that it wouldn’t happen again. 

I can almost draw maps of fear. Cities have places that I have been afraid. That’s where I worried that my father wouldn’t meet Isaac if he wasn’t born that week. That’s the place I cried because we lived in a new place that was so foreign. There I worried that our new friends didn’t really like us. There I was afraid of the bright lights, the rows of products, the crowds, the fish in buckets, the days stretching on forever. I drive through streets and the spots echo back at me. 

The weirdest part is that I struggle with fear when things are the greatest. 

Oh, enough. If I was a bird I could fly up to the highest branches of the trees I love best. 

Maybe you are also often afraid. When fear is like a sickness, like something that flows through your veins, just facing the day is often the bravest thing you can do. Facing the blank page, the blank canvas, the question of what to cook for dinner can require bravery big enough to scale a mountain. I’m sure that even if you are afraid, you are very brave.

But what I know is that I am not made of my fear. And I don’t have to let the maps of my heart be written over in fear’s red pencil. That’s where we learned that Isaac was going to be okay. That’s where I found the best spring rolls. That’s where I spent hours looking at paint colors. I met my husband in that city. My son put his hand in mine on that street. Every single day, just as every morning I woke to hear the bird’s sing. There were hundreds of beautiful evenings, all the birds shrieking from their trees. We are more than emotion. We are more than emotion. We get to tell our story, to decide what is recorded, what will take over, what will be remembered. 

And that is what I am recommitting to, looking forward into the New Year. This place has been a place to remember all the beautiful things, to draw the map in bright blue pencil, making notes, drawing pictures along the way. A map of life, of the childhoods of my family. I’ve may have lost my way slightly, but I’m finding it again. 

All the things we have.

There's a girl in my tree, a toddler in my lap, a dog at my feet, a pre-teen sitting not totally close to me but not so far away either, a five-year-old who doesn't want to hold my hand but keeps forgetting and grabbing it again, an eight-year-old washing dishes while standing on a skateboard in my kitchen. There's the most amazing man with his arm around me as we walk down the street, friends on the Internet, family on Skype cameras, beloveds on their way to us, new neighbors and friends around every corner.

There's homemade jam in the fridge, bread (not homemade) in the bread basket, a banjo, saz, guitar, violin, ukelele, djembe, and someone's bass guitar in the studio. There are tubes of paint, canvases, pencils, and pens on my desk. There are blank books in nearly every room of my house. There is fabric in my fabric tote, there's paper in the printer, there are edits to be made on my book. There are seeds (real ones) to be held in our hands and planted. There's soil to be dug, there are walls to be built, there is rice to be cooked, there are dreams to be fed and watered and breathed into existence.

There are days. And hours. And they are not scary. (They are not!) They are open and full of every possibility. There is grace and love that fall from the hands of God, his words that enter my ears in the morning when I wake. There is time, and it is not running out. It is full, and we are rich with it and all these other beautiful things, and we will be brave. 

 

This and that.

Photo courtesy of Solo. Shopping with my kids is both fun and maddening. 

Photo courtesy of Solo. Shopping with my kids is both fun and maddening. 

It’s a beautiful cool morning after a long rain yesterday and I’m collecting my thoughts and thinking about the events of the last days.  There has been this and that and lots of beauty. Lots of love for my family. I am well out of my anxiety crisis and feeling better daily, although my heart still thumps away when I’m running errands or shopping. Oh, who am I kidding, it always does that! 

 

* I sent my manuscript out to some beta readers and have been wringing my fingers and chewing on my hands. I’m so glad to have it out in the world even a little bit, though. It’s time for that baby to be born.

* I’ll be showing you some finished paintings in the next couple of days. I decided to live one of my dreams and bring art back into my life, and I’m so happy I did.

* I’ve also been setting up for selling originals and prints online, which has been kind of fun, because it’s Thailand and I was running around Chiang Mai (heart thumping away) making orders for mats in Thai, measurements in Thai, perusing gigantic markets for the supplies I need. Outdoor markets do help the thumpy heart calm down. Target-like shops and malls- no.

* I can’t think of much that makes me happier than buying a new canvas or tube of paint.

* I made an appointment with a woman here in Pai for earth building at the meditation space, starting on the 25th of this month. We’re going to have walls! Just one full wall, two half walls, and about a meter around the rest so we can still see the beautiful hills. But we’ll be able to put our backs against the wall and be sheltered from the crazy hot afternoon sun.

* Also on my to-do list: find a really good concrete guy to make the countertops in the meditation space kitchen. Right now we have no counters and no shelf space. We need lots of work space so we can make community meals together in the kitchen with music and talking. 

* Let’s not talk about my to-do list. It’s crazy.

* My children are delightful. I really, really like them. They’re quirky, too, and quirkiness is one of my favorite characteristics, so I’m glad about that. 

Kenya in the car on the way home from Chiang Mai: “Daddy? You know how you say we should enjoy the short moment of having a cookie in our mouth? I feel the same way about a wiggly tooth.” 

Chinua: “I get that! Free entertainment in your mouth!”

Kenya: “It feels so good to twirl it around!”

Hmm, perhaps it’s clear where they get their quirkiness from.

* One morning last week, I was sitting with my coffee and writing emails when my friend Kaveh came over. Isaac ran straight to him for a hug, which was beautiful because Kaveh had had a rough night. His wife had just given birth to a baby and there were some complications, so she was being treated at the small village hospital and Kaveh couldn’t understand what they were telling him about what she needed. He had come for help.

Off we went to the hospital, where we talked to the doctors and nurses and decided on a plan of action. Julie was in a general labor ward, so we got her in a private room and everything started to feel more normal again. I saw the beautiful baby and beautiful mother and felt the warm and happy feeling I only get when I am able to be present at the beginning of a little family— the warmth and confusion, the exhaustion and beginnings of falling deeply in love. It always reminds me of having Kai, of blearily watching Star Trek episodes with Chinua in the hospital and glancing down at our gorgeous baby thinking, “What just happened to us?” Having Isaac, in comparison, felt so normal, so easy to tuck him into our family, because we have a family with kids now and we know how we do these things. But that first child is very, very special. The little family is home now. I hope to visit with some love and food.

* The big rain yesterday flooded my storage room. How thrilled I am to clean that up! (Not really.)

* Our trip home fund is at 80 percent! I'm starting to allow myself to get excited about visiting home. Over the last years, every time I’ve thought of it, I’ve stuffed that thought away. “You can’t have that.” It’s one of the refrains of those who live far from where they originated. “You can’t have that.” You fold up the desire and tuck it on a shelf somewhere. But I’ve been unfolding those things and looking at them again. Some have crumbled to bits—it’s been so long I don’t even remember them, like foods I may have missed or coffee I wanted to drink. Some, like the driftwood beaches of BC, the laughter of my brother and sister, the red hair of my niece and kindness of my sister-in-law, the hugs of my parents, the welcome and laughter of Chinua’s family—these are intact, and I am holding them close to my heart. Thank you so much for donating and sharing.

The water fell and my heart got lighter.

The joy part of this year hasn’t been going very well, unless by joy you mean Falling Completely To Pieces, which actually wasn’t the idea at all, but tell that to my body, which reacted to the flu by throwing me into an anxiety meltdown tailspin car crash, BAM, your brain hates you. 

It seems I’d been saving it up. Truthfully, the past month was rather strange. Chinua was hospitalized, we had an earthquake, I got the flu and so did Isaac, and we are in the middle of a coup. I saved it up until it was too much and it came pouring out and my mind was in the dark place, the one where I am like a small child cowering on the sidewalk and every car and stranger that goes by is exaggerated and looming. “I need to buy milk,” I might think, opening the refrigerator, and the words leave my  brain as creepy silent shapes mouthing “milk failure, milk failure.” “That doesn’t even make sense,” I say back, but it doesn’t matter because I feel afraid of everything: the sky, the idea of a day, the country I live in, the people on my street, my dog, the fact that my children depend on me. Dread, really, I feel dread. The huge thing that loomed up during this time was how much I miss my homelands. Both of them, the wild northern country of my birth, and the one I adopted when I married Chinua. (Let’s not even start with India, better to not go there.) It became unbearable in my broken mind. The milk and the fact that I couldn’t get on a plane right that second mocked me. The fact that Wookie needed a bath nearly sent me over the edge.

What was there to do? I couldn’t even taste food, the inside of my mind wasn’t safe. One day I cried in my bed until I sat up and said “enough.” I got on the bike and drove. I went up the mountain, I wanted to go to the very top, so I could see everything from a distance, but I couldn’t find a road high enough, so I went to the waterfall. Perhaps a poem will come out of my mouth, I thought, perhaps I can get this bike to fly. Maybe I can go through my days and collect all the scraps of beauty, hold them close to my heart, protect myself from wandering eyes, convince myself that I am not sad. Oh, it has been a long loneliness and there have been so many times that we’ve said, we’ll get back somehow. 

I sat and looked at that water throwing itself down the rocks, and I watched the kids who let the water sweep them down along the rock slides, unhurt, incredibly, every time. How do I get bravery like that? I wondered. The water washed the rocks and it washed my mind. I closed my eyes and asked God to fit himself in all the strange creaking places in my brain and my heart. 

The beautiful things are these: 

1. I am coming out of it. Yesterday was nearly normal, today was a bit wobbly. 

2. My mind hasn’t been sick like this for a long time. The last time I can remember it being this strong was when we first moved to India (I wrote that it felt like a large cat sitting on my chest every morning), but it’s possible that I’m just forgetting. I know it’s been a long time, though. 

3. I held it together for my kids. There were no fits of rage, the Crazy Town girl was successfully kept on the inside, I probably seemed normal to them, though a bit tired and recovering from the flu. 

4. There will be so many more days of light and joy in my life. I feel like a newborn baby right now, raw and vulnerable, but close to the heart of God and needy of him. I told myself the story over and over, remember when you felt like this before? And God brought you out of it, he has you, he won’t let you go.

A better container.

I had a birthday on the weekend and I spent some time thinking, as I always do, about the last year and the coming year. Fater a birthday call with my sister first and then my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and parents, I walked away from the computer with that feeling that only comes with the bigger holidays— happiness for a good Skype call and a deep sadness at missing them for so long. 

Then I folded that sadness right up and put it under my necklace, next to my collarbone, and went to bake some cakes. I’ve become very good at holding a lot of sadness I thought. But I don’t think I’m very good at joy.  

It’s true. I can live with sadness well, I’ve learned how to grit my teeth and keep making food through hormonal lows and anxiety. To be faithful. But happiness? How do you do that? And I think God wants me to be happy. I don’t mean that God wants me to do whatever I want in the name of happiness (I need to write a book called Wash, Bow, Love) but that he is sometimes waiting for me to open my heart and know that I am allowed to feel happy. I don’t have to scrap around for reasons I shouldn’t be happy. I can look at that sunlight and know that dinner is going to be good and we’re at peace and we might even have some fun.

So here it is- this year- Happiness! Joy. Peace. Lightheartedness. Cheerfulness. A good sense of humor. 

I’m making playful art. 

I’m playing more board games with my kids.

And I’m taking selfies. I’ve been a bit of a snob about selfies, like why do you need so many pictures of yourself? Preferring to be behind the camera. But what I see when I look around the internets and find friends who have a lot of photos of themselves is that they are being joyful. Or at least saying, “Let’s be happy for this photo right now,” and of course, doing something happy leads to being happy. Dear friends, if you are struggling with a deep depression I am not advising you to “act happy,” this is not for you. But for me, I am coming out from under the postpartum cloud (I just weaned Isaac) and I am in the habit of containing sorrow. I want to be a container for joy. I like the way self portraits say, “I was here and maybe this other person was here too and we were being silly and I don't care about eye wrinkles or my wolf tooth, I'll show it all off and it was just another day but we will remember it.” 

This is the year for it. I know it. I'm pretty sure that it’s going to be an amazing year (almost as if God is just pouring the blessings on right now), and I have a book nearly ready to publish and I’m painting, and money is not something I should worry about, and my husband is going to get better and my preteens are lovely, my toddler is adorable and my middle boys still cuddle me. We’re holding meditations and gardening at Shekina. Friends are coming, friends are here, the rain has come back and the sky can sometimes be so, so blue. 


On goal posts and the real order of things.

Isaac flower (1).jpeg

I have goals. As an example, I have fitness goals. My fitness goals can probably be boiled down to Please to not have any more people touch my belly and ask me if this is child number six. I realize that I could accomplish this by moving to a place where people wouldn’t ever do that, like Sweden, for example, or New York City. But in Sweden I would probably have to live in a large city also because I bet you anything that in a Swedish village a grandmother would find me and touch my belly and ask me if it is child number six. I do have other fitness goals, like less back/neck/leg pain and more prancing around.

We all have ways to accomplish goals. I’m working toward accomplishing my fitness goals with my new fitness program called No morning coffee until you do Pilates. It’s working well, but I’m finding that I have a little more lag time on getting out of bed, which cuts into my writing time and my new painting time, both of which have to happen before my faster-than-a-European-train toddler is up and about. It’s clear to me, on bad days, that I can choose writing or fitness, not both. (My other system is riding a bicycle most places that I used to drive a scooter, which is great for a general happiness goal, but my town is small so I never have to ride that far, and I still have this whole belly/back thing that the Pilates is really necessary for.)

I have many other goals. More writing projects than I know what to do with. Art goals. Meditation space goals. Homeschool goals. Some of my goals are things with no obvious steps. Be a better person. Be more cheerful. And this is when goals start working against me, because when I have so many things that I’m trying to accomplish, all the time, my artist self gets a little freaked out and I can’t write at all. Or the mothery parts of me get overwhelmed and I get snappish with my kids. And the goals become their own demise. It's a terrible circle.

I do like goals because they help me to consolidate my desires and gather the time I have to do the things I love. An hour can so quickly pass if I don’t have any tether on what I want to create. Create! is too big a command. Write 1000 words is something I can get my mind around. Paint for 20 minutes is totally doable. But lately my hopes and dreams and desires have expanded to include so very many things and my pockets runneth over with tiny pieces of paper that have things written on them, like Blog Post! Email! Sew those things! Take pictures of those other things! Be nice to everybody! Pray!

The thing is that I don’t want less creativity. I’m so happy that I have book ideas coming out of my ears. I’m happy that I feel an urge to paint. I’m excited about my different blogs. I just don’t always know how to be gentle in the process. Yesterday, for instance, I rewrote a lot of my novel, (I’m in the fourth rewrite) covering nearly 5000 words, which is a good day, especially since I didn’t start working until the afternoon. What would have been excellent at that point is if I could have given myself some tender loving pats on the back and been exceedingly happy and proud of my work. Instead, I peered at the list of things that I hadn’t finished that I should have finished and it spooled out ahead of me into the horizon and there are money needs and I won’t ever see my family again unless we can save enough money for the trip and clearly no one is going to university ever. 

Take a piece of advice from me. Don’t beat yourself over the head with your goals or get hysterical about them. Never worth it.

*

 Sometimes I walk outside to find Isaac sitting on the ground, using his fingers to twirl a single flower that has fallen from one of our trees. It is the most peaceful thing I have ever seen. Isaac twirling a flower, his curly little head bent in utter concentration. He is so open! Nothing is too small for him to stop and examine. Nothing is too disgusting. Guidance from me sometimes sounds like, “Isaac! The compost pail is not a snack bar!” or “Stop eating dog food!” He’s open to any experience because everything is new to him. In so many ways I would love to be like him. Even in the bad things, the bad experiences (like the taste of dog food or sand) that come because he doesn’t know any better. I want to be softer, to not allow my hurts to harden me or make me expect less of life.

Kenya is the most productive artist I know. She doesn’t so much produce “finished” canvases or work, but she does sketch after sketch, comic book after comic book, character after character. Now that she is working with story more, seeing her come up with various sketches of her characters in different moods and poses and then putting those same characters (Doctor Owl, Mama Squirrel and Squirrel babies etc.) into a story that she has created is inspiring, to say the least. It’s impressive for anyone, and she’s ten. And she doesn’t set goals for herself. (She sometimes does, but rarely with creative things. Instead she makes lists for her days that say “Eat Breakfast. Play.”) She sits and works and waits to see what comes that day. And the next day she looks at what she has done and tries to finish it, then she thinks of something new. 

These two beautiful children have me thinking about openness. About openness being more important than my goals. The problem with my goals is that they are fixed and they can be closed off from what is happening right now, in this day, in this place. They lack gentleness and flexibility and love. Goals are not the problem, but living by goals is not a great lifestyle.  It doesn’t give much room to what God wants to do or to what may surprise me. On the other hand, openness is a way of life. I have gone back and forth in these realities over the years, swinging between my own task oriented/creative nature (what a combination) and the need to be prepared for any possible reality. I remember living on Haight Street and having a million and one things to do, community bills to pay, vehicles to be brought in for repair, newsletters to write, and there would be a knock at the door and it was a street kid who needed help, or someone who just needed to sit and talk, or someone who was crying. I remember how hard it was to shut the office door and leave my to do list behind, to sit there at the kitchen table, how hard it was and yet how rewarding. 

A life of creativity seems to be dependent on a life of openness. Other things that seem to require openness are community, helping others, being a mother, and a life with God. All are dependent on how wide I can open my mouth to drink deeply of the day’s wonder, how open I can be to God making my heart just a bit wider, a bit more still, a bit more ready for adventure. I bet it's the same for you-- your life, wherever you are, whatever bits of creativity or fun or giving you are putting into your days are dependent on your ability to be ready for something bigger than your own plans.

I see things with such small, myopic vision, in lists and next steps. God sees the whole world and all the possibilities. Why wouldn’t I want to be open to that? It doesn’t mean that I will throw out my dreams or even stop considering them as goals (especially rolling like a ball before my morning coffee.) But I am trying to remember to take more breaths and remember the real order of things.

Things I've observed, Part 2

BTS-kids.jpg

So, from my notes we had:


Cha chas
Getting on buses with my kids
Pink hijab
Dentist glass tables bikes
Middle aged dancing man
Spanish people durian
And I’m adding: Dog food purse

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Here we go!

Cha chas

On our recent dentist/visa trip we went to a flashy new mall in Chiang Mai, which had an amazing playground. I paid for the kids to use it for three hours. It was a bit of a splurge, but free playgrounds aren’t an abundant thing in Thailand and this one had three levels with a huge ball pit and giant slides. It was awesome. While I was paying, the woman said, “Give me your phone number so I can call you if I need you. We won’t let your kids leave until you come and pick them up.”


My jaw dropped. “I can leave them here?”


I skipped out of there as fast as I could with Isaac still in the carrier on my back. I knew exactly what I was going to do, what I didn’t really want to do with my kids with me. I was going bra-shopping.


I needed to buy a new bra because my cha chas have left me, they are once again diminishing past the point of deserving the name cha chas. They are in the wane cycle. This is because Isaac is nursing less lately, and there have only been five times in my life that I have filled out a t-shirt in a way worth mentioning. Actually, I should say twice, because the first four times were attached, really. Pregnant nursing, pregnant nursing, and repeat. After Solo was weaned, I was shocked to see what my real size was. I lived on a beach where I could often see people filling out their bikinis while my own bikini top flapped empty in the breeze, and I became rather jealous.


I’m accepting of my cha cha-less self these days. I’m going for the Japanese loose shirts look. The “We’re flat chested and we love it!” look. Or something like that. And yes, I’m blogging about boobs. I’ve gotten older, I’m uninhibited. What will I be writing about when I’m sixty? We’ll have to wait to find out.


*

Riding on buses with my kids


When I was a teenager and rode the city bus to school, I used to have these frequent daydreams about having kids and riding the bus with them. We’d be a diverse group, I thought, since a lot of my kids would surely be adopted and probably of various ethnicities. I imagined us all trailing on, causing a bit of a stir, sitting and joking together. It was a pleasant daydream for fifteen-year-old me, awkward, in my man phase (when everyone mistook me for a man and called me Sir), in grungy Japanese All-Stars, fat corduroys, and a polyester shirt. This was before I knew I liked art, or writing, before I ever had a boyfriend. (I had my first boyfriend and kiss at twenty. He was Chinua.) I knew I liked reading, and I knew I liked kids.


Looking back at this little daydream, what strikes me is how completely it was fulfilled. There is nothing truer in my life than the fact that I ride on buses with my kids, that we are diverse, that we cause a stir, and that we sit and joke with each other. I couldn’t have imagined almost anything else about how my life has turned out, but I imagined that. Wow.


They’re such excellent bus-riders, too. (And train-riders, sky train-riders, plane-riders, tuk tuk-riders.) On our recent trip to Chiang Mai, I asked Kai to hold Isaac so I could get back on the bus and check under the seats to see if we had left anything behind. When I looked up, though, Kenya was already doing it, and she continued to do it in each place we left, the entire time we were away from home. Then I had to take an unplanned trip to Bangkok because I couldn’t get my Indian visa in Chiang Mai. Chinua was back in Pai, building the fence for our meditation center. I put the kids on a bus to Pai and they rode back on their own. It went flawlessly. (The buses are not really buses, more like big vans, and the drop off is very close to our house. Chinua met them there.) Riding on buses with my kids. That’s my life.


*

Pink hijab


This one is about Isaac, who talks non-stop. Non. Stop. He talks to anyone who will listen to him, forming full sentences with laughs for punctuation, listening for responses, but he doesn’t use any words. He loves to talk to people walking by, people on the bus, people on the street. Everyone.


One day I heard him rattling away with enthusiasm and I turned to see who was getting such a thorough talking to. It was the toddler from across the street, just a couple months older than Isaac, who had been carried over to our fence by her dad. She was wearing a pink hijab with sparkles and staring at Isaac, who was talking a mile a minute, as if she had never seen a specimen quite like him before.


*

Dentist glass tables bikes


We went to the dentist for a yearly check up recently. Clean bills for Kenya and Solo, Kai has one cavity in a baby tooth that is due to fall out soon, and Leafy had a tooth that we already knew had to be taken care of, so we took care of it that day. The dentist’s office was lovely and bright, with toys and even bikes to play with, which seemed fantastic, until I realized that the combination of glass and bikes was going to make me fall down dead. My kids rode the bikes in circles in a room where every wall (floor to ceiling), door, and table was made of glass, and I couldn’t help thinking that something in this set of circumstances was horribly, horribly flawed.


“Careful!” I said/shrieked inanely, while my kids did their best to drive slowly and carefully, but you know how these things go, how everything only escalates with boys, how there is no settle down mechanism in their brains. Left to their own devices, boys will escalate every single game until someone is in the hospital getting stitches or a cast, and that is why they need sisters and grownups. In this case, Kenya was also drunk on indoor bicycles, and I couldn’t count on her to put a halt to things. All I could do was call out directions, “Watch the wall! Not near the tables! No, not near that wall!” The toys at the dentist’s office put me in bed for a week.


*

Middle aged dancing man

The kids were playing on the aforementioned mall playground and I was finished with my bra shopping, so I sat and was highly entertained by people playing that arcade dancing game where you have to step on the squares, you know the one? I’ve only ever seen it in movies before, but this arcade has a few machines and I couldn’t have been happier than I was when I sat watching people use it. First there were the high school students, still in their uniforms from school. They were awesome. But later, out of nowhere, a middle-aged man with glasses, a polo shirt, dress pants and dress shoes approached, lurked casually for a minute, and then began his game. He was rocking it, not in a  “Wow, what a great dancer” way, but in a “He hits every step with his own style” way. He was fully into it, arms waving, feet skipping back and forth across the squares. He competed with another high school student and won. He went on and on, until finally, he pulled out a handkerchief, wiped the sweat off his head, and left.


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Spanish people durian


Solo gets confused easily about nationalities and languages. He still doesn’t really have it all placed in the proper categories in his head— where people are from, where we are from, what language we speak. Lately he has taken to calling every foreign language “Spanish.” I’m not sure why. We tell him the kids are going to Thai class, he needs to practice his Thai, he needs to say thank you in Thai. Nope, he calls the language Spanish.


In our guesthouse the other day he pointed to a sign that had a picture of durian on it, with a big red circle around it, a red line slashing through it.


“It’s the yucky fruit!” he said. (They do not like durian.)


“Yeah,” I said. “You’re not allowed to have durian in this guesthouse.” (It smells really, really bad, so it's banned in most guesthouses.)


“See?” he said. “Even Spanish people don’t like durian.”

This is such a perfect example of a Solo sentence. I can't express the delight this boy brings to my life.


*

Dog food purse


We’re on our way to India, stopped over in Bangkok for a couple of nights, using the sky train because Thai protests have taken over the ground level streets.


Kenya carries a purse with her everywhere she goes. In her purse she has her wallet, pieces of blank paper to draw on, pencils and pens, modeling clay, and dog food. She started carrying dog food when we got Wookie (as if that explains anything) and the dog food has come in handy while we’ve been walking around Bangkok. Kenya uses it to feed fish in coi ponds, or stray cats.


Lately she told me she doesn’t like it if she feels that people think she’s not girly. Girly as in, likes to do makeovers and play with barbies. So she goes along with the makeover parties and barbie playing if they come along, but in all honesty, she’d rather be feeding stray cats in Bangkok alleys. (She would be so happy to be a farm girl, or to live somewhere that she could ride horses. She lives here, so she feeds elephants and street animals.) I told her she’s plenty girly and girly has nothing to do with plastic dolls, and I wouldn’t want her to ever be anything other than amazing, animal loving Kenya.

Kenya-with-cat.jpg

Also, when given a choice of candy or fruit, choose fruit.

 I rode a rental motorbike from Pai to Chiang Mai over the weekend. It’s quite a ride— taking anywhere from three to four hours by bike (the way I drive anyway, which is safely, thank you very much—besides I don’t have a big motorcycle, only a little automatic) and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to drive back or not. I thought maybe I’d turn the bike in and take the bus back- much more comfortable, less cold, less tiring.

But I felt indecisive. I stood in the bus parking lot for a while, going back and forth in my mind, putting myself in each situation, going over the details. Finally I needed to reach for another source, I was too indecisive. So I reached for a life rule of mine. I’ve formed a few of these for times when I’m too paralyzed by my tendency to think that no matter what I choose, it will be the wrong thing— a result of anxiety.

The one I reached for was “When given a choice of comfort or adventure, choose adventure.”

The thing is, if I knew what I wanted I could do it. If I was desperately tired, I would choose that bus in an instant. (Not that the bus is so refreshing, but it is a little less tiring than the motorbike.) But sometimes I don’t know exactly what I need, and I know that I never regret certain things. I never regret adventure.
 (Another good rule that I use is “When given a choice of isolation or connection, choose connection. Sometimes I’m desperate for solitude, but if I’m on the fence, I try to choose to stay with friends instead of a guesthouse, or invite people over, or bring a kid along with me.)

*

Things I saw on the road on the way to Pai:

-Three monks hitchhiking in yellow robes
-Pines that smelled like heaven
-Around twenty-five Mini Coopers (mini coop coop cooper)
-Nearly three hundred Vespas (I lost count at around two hundred)
-Two Lamborghinis, three Porsches, three Audi sports cars, and various other luxury cars
-A few Harley Davidsons and numerous other motorcycles that I don’t really know about, including big ol’ Hondas and dirt bikes. Apparently there was a ginormous car festival going on in Pai over the weekend.
-I was shivering on my bike in a sweater and a down jacket, but I saw a man drive by with only a short sleeved shirt on, then I saw a Canadian flag on his backpack. I’m not a real Canadian anymore. Khon Thai leow, as they say here, when I mention my love for chillies or Som Tum. I’m Thai now.
-A couple of Hmong men in gorgeous embroidered pants, pouring water into their radiator to cool off their little old truck that was filled to overflowing with neatly stacked cabbages, and overheating on a hill.
-A guesthouse called “Road View.” Who needs Hillview, Seaview or Greenview when you can have RoadView?” I’m asking you.

*

It was the right choice. It was warmer on the ride home and the trees whispered to me.

I want to see everything, to live on every hill everywhere, to come alive with the strain of travel, to be sweaty in train stations, to ride across India with Chinua when we’re old. We have never been flashpackers- we stay in the simplest guesthouses, we ride buses and trains, we don’t plan ahead (we’re not so good at it) we walk long distances, we squeeze all of us into rickshaws and tuk tuks, we eat street food. Sometimes I’ve needed a lot of recuperation time after particularly difficult travels but do I regret them? No, not one bit. I’m glad for every moment, for every difficult thing. We’ve been building a life of adventure, and it’s hard, I’m not going to lie. It is very, very hard with children, 37 hours on an Indian train is no picnic, but it is so worth it. (They love it too- they’ve been begging to go somewhere. A plane! They say. A train! What are we doing? We need to travel!)
I can’t wait to see where we go in the future, and in the meantime, I’ll choose adventure wherever I can get it.

*

Below you can see about a minute of the drive. (I apologize for the terrible vertical video- I attached my iPod to my backpack, and this is what it captured.) The drive is about two hours of curves like these, and one hour of straight road.

Trying not to look down.

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I have a friend who is very beautiful. Whenever I tell her about how drop-dead gorgeous she is, she always says, “It’s only because you have beautiful eyes.” And she tells me about how a girl on a bus once drew a picture of her and emphasized her least beautiful features. (Personally, I think the girl on the bus must have been a poor artist, because my friend doesn't even have any least beautiful features.)

The bridge in the photo above is one we have to walk over, very carefully, to get to the meditation space. We were there on Sunday for a little family devotion time and when we started walking back home, Leafy turned to me.

“This bridge looks just like Golden Gate Bridge, except it’s smaller,” he said.

Leafy has beautiful eyes.

I’m heading into a month that feels a bit like walking across a very old, very rickety bridge. Chinua is going to the U.S. to share about what we’re doing here, to spread the word a bit and hopefully gather some interested hearts. We’d love to grow a little collective around Christian practice here. Actually, let me edit that: in order to move forward, we need to have other people working with us. We can’t do it by ourselves, and we don’t want to. We are used to living, working, singing, praying, and eating with others and we love it. So it’s necessary for Chinua to go back— sometimes you need to meet face to face with people, something we both know. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. When Chinua went to help take care of his friend Ian, Miriam was here with me. This time I’m on my own.

Add to that the fact that due to weird circumstances, we’re having the most difficult financial month we’ve had in years, and I find that I’m a little nervous. I look across that bridge and shade my eyes, trying to see the other side. As I’m sure many of you know, when you have no leeway in your purse, there are no shortcuts. You make everything by hand, you cut out the extras. “Mandatory fasting, for you and me?” I asked Chinua when we looked at our numbers, only partially joking.

I want to look at this with beautiful eyes. I’ve thought for a long time about living a monastic lifestyle as a mother, I know I’ve written about it. Monks and nuns volunteer for poverty and simplicity, they volunteer for work. Walking into a month where I know I will be stretched, I want to be monastic about it. To sing and pray, to be inordinately simple, to take frugality on like a robe. To walk under the same blue sky that we all walk under, whether we are rich or poor, leisurely or working hard. To be thankful, with every breath, for all that I have, for all the good work I do—the work of raising and teaching a family, of writing, of being surrounded by love.

At the same time, I’m not flippant about this. Although my children are wonderful, I can’t count on them to be anything other than what they are: children. That means they aren’t consistent or self sufficient, they don’t need to offer me friendship. They are receivers. I’m working on a list of things I can do to take care of myself during this time, as well as help the family to live harmoniously together.


It’s going to be a challenge, but it will be a good one. I'll be in the center of the bridge soon, stepping carefully, trying not to let it sway, listening to the rushing water underneath, and before you know it, I'll be on the other side, skipping off into the forest.

Healing words

Lately I’ve been dwelling in a broken down cardboard box with a few scraps of newspaper and items of canned goods around me. I’ve got nothing but one can of peas left, and an opossum just stole my can opener. It’s time to come out. I carefully put my head up over my box, peek out to see if it’s safe, but no, it’s not. The sun is out there.

The whirling and seething of the broken lands are all inside me. I find myself watching people, wondering, “How do you do life? How is it possible for you to keep going, to do things so effortlessly?” Every night when I go to sleep, I think tomorrow I’ll do better. But every day I mess it up: I snap, I despair, I leave things undone that should be done, I make the mean face at my kids, I hold pity parties for myself, I retreat, I retreat, I retreat.

It’s not that I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to live with myself in the darkness. I don’t want to be with me, who could want to? I want to approach something like consistency—to wake up and be the same everyday, not on this emotional roller coaster.

It doesn’t help that we’ve been sick, including Isaac, (whom Leafy suggests we should call Isick) which means that nights are not times to sleep anymore, but times to fall into a deep pit of slumber, only to be pulled back out every hour or so. Isaac and I do a non-sleeping dance together, he finally falling asleep only to be woken by his own coughing. He hasn’t had croup, which I am extremely thankful for. It’s just some bronchial virus. Healing is onits way, but it’s taking its sweet time.

Yesterday I watched some bits of The Two Towers with the three older kids. Abby, the superhero reader champion managed to read The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Two Towers to the kids in three months, which is a marathon of reading. I’ve allowed them to watch the movies, now that they’ve heard the books.  I love the movie The Two Towers (except for its rendering of Faramir— so unjust to Faramir, who is supposed to be the shining antithesis of the more fallen men in the book) and especially the part in the beginning when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are running for three days to save Merry and Pippin, who have been carried off by the urukhai.

The orcs pick up the scent of the following three and begin running faster. Oh no! We worry. Our heroes won’t know that they are going faster. But no worries, because Aragorn has his ear to the ground. He’s listening to the deep sounds. “They’ve quickened their pace,” he says. “They know we’re following.” He goes on to tell the story of everything they’ve done and are doing. He pieces together the truth based on his sharp eyes and finds hope in the midst of despair.

Ah, the magic of fantasy. The heroes face the biggest obstacles, but they have exactly what they need to combat them. At every turn we worry for them, only to be reassured by the fact that Aragorn is not only a man, he is a man who has skills beyond anything that any dark and deadly orc can throw at him.

 *

I’ve been thinking about healing words for a while. It came up when I was having a really rough day after losing my temper with my kids. I told a friend of mine, “I so often feel like I’m not a good mom.”

“I would love to have you as a mom,” she said.

I stared at her in shock.  “Seriously?”

She was someone who knew me and observed me as a mother from a close place. I knew she couldn’t be faking it. With her words she put a healing balm over a sad, lonely place in me, where I never know if I’m doing a good job or if I’m messing it all up.

I received an email from someone this week that did the same thing. A little scared sad place in me was comforted by the words this person took the time to write to me. Her words spoke directly to the wounded place in me.

We all have an enemy of our souls, and he would like nothing more than to destroy us and drive us out of the arms of our Maker. Our Maker’s love should appear to us to be brighter than any dim and frustrating day that we have, any old wounded place within us, because it is blinding in its brilliance. But we are forgetful and we hide in broken down boxes. We peek out and are afraid of the sun. God has made us to need the healing words of our friends.

We can look at each other and speak the truth, like Aragorn stooping to the ground to hear the deeper sounds that echo in the earth. We tell the real story, with our deep understanding and the eyes that God has given us to see the beauty in one another.


You are doing okay.
You are loved.
You are lovable.
You are blessed.
You are beautiful, blinding really, in all the brilliance of who you are, who your Maker has made you to be.

Never underestimate the power of healing words. They are as strong as a hero reaching into their strength at the moment when you think all is lost, pulling the truth of a greater story out of the rocks and the earth, finding signs of hope when all you can see are the edges of your fraying cardboard box.

We need to speak healing words to one another. We also need to hear them, really hear them when a friend stops, opens her beautiful mouth, and speaks words that will comfort our souls.

Making sense: Part 2.

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 I’ve been thinking and scribbling away about rhythm and schedules and getting things done. I’ve read your comments (thank you!) and thought about those. And I’ve thought about the current materials we have and what we need to do with them. If there’s anything I’ve learned about organizing life, it’s that I need to be flexible: every season requires a different juggling style. Also, I need to become better at juggling in pairs as Chinua and I continue to learn to work together.

One thing I do with homeschooling is periodically take a look at each kid and ask, “What is the most important thing for this kid right now?” In the last season, it was that I wanted to get Kenya and Leafy reading really well. I also wanted the kids to finish their grades in Math. That has gone amazingly well, and Kenya and Leafy are both fully launched into the reading world—this is a huge part of my homeschooling strategy, get them reading and everything will fall into place— and Kai is finished with his math year, Leafy and Kenya following closely behind. Right now my priorities are helping Kai with his writing (he’s working on a story, hitting some obstacles), finishing our history read alouds, and giving time to projects.

(An aside: My family is opposite to the standard wisdom about the timing of boys and girls and reading - just to prove that there are always anomalies and exceptions. So far my boys are intuitive readers, reading as easily as breathing, while my daughter was the one who took a long time to read. Now, at age nine, she’s finally really enjoying reading. She’s always been more interested in drawing and writing her own stories.)

I said my words were Together, Peaceful, Sacred, Creative.

Focusing on the word Together, I realized that it’s time to adjust the jobs list as the kids are getting bigger. Before, Kai and Kenya were taking turns on breakfast and lunch dishes and Leafy was cleaning the table. Now I’m teaching Kai and Kenya to do laundry and alternating them, while Leafy starts washing dishes for one meal a day and Solo takes over getting the table clean. So each week one kid will do laundry, (wash and put on the line) one will do breakfast dishes, one lunch dishes, and Solo will keep the table clean. (They also pick up their toys, clean their rooms, and we tidy the living room/dining room/homeschool space in the mornings.)
I’m also taking either Kai or Kenya as a kitchen helper two nights a week, with the goal of having each of them cook a night a week.

This ties into Together because I’m continually at fault for trying to do everything myself and not including others in the work of the family. Having the kids do jobs means we are working at the same time, we are focusing together and learning together.

I also want to try to have dinner at 6:30 instead of 7:30 or 8:00, which often happens because I’m trying to get some project of mine done in the afternoon and run out of time to get dinner done early. This will help with an earlier evening and more reading time together—our school reading or finishing with Lord of the Rings. It also makes more space between dinner and Isaac’s bedtime, so I can help more with getting the kids set for bed. (Mostly Solo, everyone else is fine.)

Then there are the words Peaceful and Sacred. I think a major part of this is the way the morning begins. First I want to aim for getting up at 5:30 or 6:00, something that has been a habit of mine for a long time but that gets a little muddled in the whole pregnancy/new baby thing. But my baby is seven months old and sleeping pretty well at night (the all night buffet is still open, but I can mostly sleep through that).

It’s a world of difference for me, waking up before the kids do, drinking a cup of coffee and spending time writing, reading, and getting my thoughts in order. So my mornings will start with reading the bible, prayer, a couple of quick morning pages, and writing. I’ll write either 1000 words in my novel, or a blog post, or 1000 words for another project. No internet, no emails. Focusing on one thing will make it peaceful (I often start the day thinking that I need to get my 1000 words done and then a blog post as well, I think this is sabotaging what I can do before I even start).

Blogging in the morning will also help me to keep my writing day set aside for my novel, the next Journey Mama book, and artist dates. I love the concept of an artist date from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a time to refill the creative well. My best artist dates are scooter rides into the hills or going to an outdoor market to look at fabrics and piles of multi-colored fruit.

I really love the idea of keeping one very important thing in mind as I head into the day. A list of one thing to get done- this of course is on top of all the regular things: cleaning, school, cooking, all the habits I’m trying to form. The one thing might be a letter I’ve been meaning to write, a blog post that is burning in my brain, some friends who are arriving (like today, yippee!).

Another thing for a girl like me, a queen of sabotage where things are really meaningful and I am terrified of messing things up: the twenty minute rule. This is something I started working on for myself when I was getting sunk in the frustrating repetitiveness of life, feeling like I’m not building the creative life I long for. I reminded myself that a life is made of years, and years are made of days, days are made of minutes. A collection of small interludes of creative minutes builds a creative life, and the strange thing is that I’m often so stymied by the fact that I feel I don’t have enough time to finish things, so I don’t start them.

My way of tricking myself now is the twenty minute rule. This helps a lot if I am going through a particularly anxious time for whatever reason. Let’s say I need to work on my book and I am resisting because of fear. “Just twenty minutes,” I tell myself. “Do a twenty minute meditation.” “Just work on the painting for twenty minutes.” I can handle twenty minutes. It is a trick, a very tricky trick, and I do end up spinning the twenty minutes into an hour or more sometimes. But even if I am short on time and I really only have twenty minutes, all those minutes pile up on each other and they’ll form something that looks like a life of art and meditation in the end.

I realize this is a rambling post. Let me summarize.

* Working on the most important things in homeschooling.
* Gathering the kids in help with jobs around the house for togetherness, as well as having dinner earlier to make bedtime more peaceful and spend time together reading.
* Starting the day with peace, focusing on one thing, keeping Fridays for writing my novel and artist dates.
* Just twenty minutes. And there you are, a little peek into the world of my disordered mind and all that I do to try and make it orderly.

Making sense.

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It feels like forever that I've been tweaking my days and my schedule, trying to find the best, most peaceful rhythm. I will keep trying, though it often feels like running against the wind, and often the wind is of my own making, as I get sidetracked by emergencies, my own anxiety, and the internet.

Sometimes I only consume, when I would rather be creating. 

I have a set of words that I want to form the essence of my days:  Creative, Sacred, Peaceful, Together. Now that my kids are older, we do so much together. We talk together, work together, make things together. But sometimes I forget how to really be together when I want to work on things on my own. When my novel is waiting and I really want to get back to it, am I fully aware of all the minutes we can spend on making things together?

Abby is our friend who came to stay here for three months to help with our kids. I can't even express what she has given me during this time. We were building at our new meditation center, and she gave me the freedom to mull over things with Chinua, to drop everything and hop over to the space for opinions and dreaming. She's lifted the weight. I haven't felt like "everything is too much" for a long time.

In a couple days she is leaving, this sweet girl who joined our family for a few months. (I cannot say enough about Abby- what a wonder she is. She couldn't be more fun, more interesting, more easy-going, more considerate. It's always an adventure to invite someone into your home for an extended period of time, and in this case, it couldn't have gone smoother. Abby is a treasure, and her leaving is going to sting.)  

I am casting my thoughts forward, thinking of how I can arrange and rearrange things in my life to make them more doable. More peaceful, more like the life I want to create.  

These are the things I'm working on right now: 

* Homeschooling my kids. We go year round, taking time off when we travel.  

* I just finished the third draft of my current novel and am writing the fourth draft. (I got a tattoo from a friend recently, a rather large tattoo which took 12 hours of work. I wrote the last two chapters, previously unwritten, longhand in my notebook while my friend was working. They were emotional chapters, and my thought was that pain would help me to write them. The other thing was that I was stuck in a chair! I wrote and wrote. See? All I need is to be restrained.)

* Painting

* Learning Thai

* Working on the meditation center- we have to build the earth walls and do the landscaping. 

* My own spiritual life- the life of prayer, contemplation and study that I want to cultivate. 

* This blog, which suffers neglect, (not from painting, as some of you feared in the last post, but from general lack of focus and time). 

* The Shekina Community blog, which has a string of drafts that I have started and need to finish. 

* The meditation e-course that I have been meaning to produce. 

* My bookcase. The wood is still sitting in the studio. 

* And of course, life. All the emails, phone calls, cooking, shopping, laundry, housecleaning, fighting back armies of ants, gardening, documenting, and time spent with my husband, kids, and people I know in this town.

Put all together, it sems like a lot. It adds to my sense of defeat, sometimes, that I give myself more than any person can accomplish in a day.
I have some ideas on working this through. I'll share them in the next couple of days. For now, I'm thinking and drawing some things out.

What do you think? How do you put rhythm and sense into your life so that it doesn't feel like a series of things that only happen to you? 

 

 

This is a morning.

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Some days I wake up with dread already smoldering in my heart. It feels like I have too many things to do, and perhaps the baby was up a lot and I slept through the alarm, so it's later than I want it to be and the gun has gone off but I'm fifty meters behind all the other runners. The dread fills me until even when my children look at me I know that I haven't been doing enough for them/with them and I'm now one hundred meters behind and still haven't started moving. I snap at them because I've already failed them. My legs are weighted, like they are when you are running in a dream and you can't get anywhere, no matter how hard you try.

Everything I see reminds me of something I should have done already. Dishes in the sink from the night before. Weeds in my garden, (how did I let it get like that?) Lego on the floor, laundry not yet put away. Words not written in my novel and when will I find the time now that everyone is awake?

This morning was like this, until I sat down with my journal and threw myself an alternate scenario. It turned my morning, my day, my life around, and I thought I'd share it with you.  

This is the truth: I get up, step out of bed into another morning-- the sun has risen into another day in the world. Jesus has made this day, God is in the world, now and forever. I am a friend and servant of the Creator, I step into the day murmuring prayers and breathing the life that is evident from the moment I open my eyes.  

I look around and see the small kingdom that God has given me in the newness of this morning. Birdsong in the eaves of my house, in the trees around me, white flowers on the ground. This, my home, is a place of peace and blessing. There will always be more to do, more to accomplish, but I am the guide for my family- into peace, creativity, blessing.  

This is far beyond lists and my own bad timing. This is far beyond sleeping through the alarm. I am alive to the wonder of God. He is with me--my heart open and ready. God leads me in peace when my heart would become a frantic little mouse. God speaks spacious words when my mind would entangle me.  

This is what lifts me out of the choking hold of mere tasks and into the calm of serving. Stooping to clean the floor, washing circles in peace. None of it is meaningless, none of it is too late. God sings to me, sings over me, and I do my work in the light of his tenderness. Kindness is paramount, praise falls from my lips.  

This, this is a morning. 

I know what this is.

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It is far too familiar-- the taste in my mouth hot, rancid, bitter on the edges. I back away from it, shaking my head--no--but I know what this is. The looming self-loathing, widening darkness, the new world I am thrust into, far from anything like cheerfulness, lightheartedness. It's all familiar, the way I am deadened, irritable, unable to focus. The whispers when I am shopping:

"I'm not very good at this." I shrug them off, or I try.

"Nonsense," I whisper back. "What's to be good at? I know how to look for wormholes in the tomatoes, I know how to tell a bitter cucumber."

"All of it, I'm not good at any of it. At life. I hate myself," the whispers say.

"I am loved," I say back. "And this is only shopping."

"Soon the fruit will crash all around me, I'll be slipping on the market floor. They'll be angry. They already are." That's the whisperer again, the whisperer who is me with a bag over my head, led from place to place like a hostage.

"Nonsense," I say. And I flee. 

I know what this is, and it comes at what seems like the most unfair time, it spirals into my life, an out-of-control car through the glass of a flower shop, just when I'm heady with delight over my new baby. It dulls the beauty of this first year, it has done the same four times before. This thing, postpartum depression, has marked up six years of my life so far, and here it is, back again. I can't bear to look into the coming days.  

I drive off on my scooter in the dark after midnight, unable to sit with my own self hatred any longer. I know, I think . I just won't talk anymore. I'll go far away inside, where no one can find me.  

But even as I think it, I know it can't be. I'm in the market, I'm under the sky, I'm surrounded by people. By children. I can't turn away, they won't let me. God wouldn't let me.

And it wouldn't be good.  

I know what this is, and here's the one good thing-- that I know. I have its number. It's not quite under my thumb perhaps, but I can talk back to it. Swirls of heat and pain steam from me, but I can smile and be calm and be kind. Most of the time. I can pretend, but it's really so hard for me to feel any different. I act in ways I don't feel, because action determines the quality of my days, rather than feeling. Action determines the health of my family, the strength of my marriage. I write my lists, I pay attention, I somehow propel myself through what seem like unending days. I act lighthearted, sometimes funny. I act happy. And underneath, all the while, the streams of sadness.

It won't be forever, I know this too. Around the time I wean my baby, when he is fifteen months or so, this will lift from me and I will be reintroduced to myself, a girl who is never free from shades of melancholy, but often happy, recognizable, smiling even on the inside. It's not forever.

I know what this is and I find that I am angry about it, that I see again how many years I've lost to this. 

But the years are not quite lost, and this is why writing is all the more powerful to me. Even if I can't feel enjoyment, I can write about beautiful, funny, and poignant things, and in the telling, they come alive, they are as real as if I felt them. I write down my stories and in them, my husband is a Superstar, my kids are funny and quirky, my life is beautiful. God is all around, giving gifts in every day, his voice muted by my own panic, but still there. This is the way these beloveds always are, even when my vision is foggy and I only want to hide away. In forcing myself to pay attention, I don't get totally lost in the swirling darkness, it will not take me away and get the better of me. In acknowledging the simplest, most restrained things, I become free.

Not Supermom.

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Mother's Day came and went on the weekend. It didn't make many ripples over here, and it usually doesn't, always coming on the heels of my birthday. The kids are already spent. Didn't we just celebrate you? their eyes seem to ask. They did, and they do.

I've been mulling over motherhood a bit more than normal, mostly because I'm parenting on my own at the moment (halfway done!) and I find myself thrust up against my own existence as a mother, without even a break to catch my breath. And now, with a ten year difference between my oldest and youngest, I find myself doing these very different types of mothering- helping the moody preteen and the infant. Using my mind for all it's worth in one instance, and my body in its infinite mothering capacities in the other.

Motherhood can make me feel so absolutely alone, because whenever it comes right down to it, I am the only mother to my kids. My friends and family love my kids but only I am the mother. I look around for someone to join in the mothering, but I'm here, in the spotlight circle by myself. It's me. This me who still sometimes locks the doors at night and feels a gasp of surprise. Where's the grown up? I'm alone in this house with these kids? People are letting me do this?

The most alone I feel is when people look in from the outside and call me things like "Supermom." I know when people do this, they are giving me a compliment, sometimes right from the heart. They are expressing awe at what I do with many kids. I receive it from them as kindness. But it makes me feel more alone, because I am not Supermom at all.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about one kind of Super. I know about superheroes and how you sometimes need to put your Wonder Woman cuffs on to go shopping for Christmas or birthday presents because shopping is very scary. You need your superhero persona to override regular you and throw a great birthday party, because throwing great birthday parties has nothing to do with your natural personality, nothing to do with what you would do if you had a moment alone.

But Supermom sounds like Superman, and mothering, in its truest definition, has nothing to do with Superman.

Since I have been a mother, I have grown smaller and softer, as well as larger. I am more open than I feel comfortable with.

I craft moments or meals and they aren't always received with the same tenderness I offer them in. I am stung, shrug it off. This doesn't feel super.

My lap is an intersection during rush hour traffic: people climbing in and out, laying their heads on my knees. My ear is the opening for all kinds of complaints, from "I'm bored" to "He punched me" to "No one understands me at all." This doesn't feel super.

I feel bereaved of the child that was just two weeks or an hour ago, even as I open my heart up to the child that is now. I feel old and too vulnerable. I want to creep back to safety, but to leave, to take my heart and presence would be the worst move of all. So I live in this discomfort. This doesn't feel super.

To be a mother, you need to exert all of your strength and willpower. Being a mother is certainly mighty, but Superman does everything he does with ease. Bullets don't hurt him. I don't resemble Superman at the end of a long day, when I am as limp as a tired plant in an unwatered garden, when I lie down on my bed with sweat on my upper lip, curl up under the fan and fall asleep without meaning to. I don't do this with ease.

The bullets pierce me. I hurt when my children hurt, even when my consequences given for their wrong actions are the things doing the hurting. I make choices that don't always feel right. I answer eight thousand requests a day, often with the wrong answer. Help Kai with his math? Or sit with Solo making something? I can't do everything, something always has to give. It is often me. This does not feel super.

Superman gets his super self from one place to the next with super speed. I am as slow and stunned as a turtle.

Oh, I think mothers are strong and brave and incredible. If I can step back from all the small mistakes I make, I can even say that I think I am strong and brave. (And incredible, ahhh awkward!) I think you, the mothers who are reading this, are strong and brave and incredible.

But I also think you are soft, and in need of protection and love from the community around you. You need people in your village to look out for you, and though they can never be you, never be the mother to your children, they can support you and tell you that you are important.

(I think I've said this before, but it's the greatest gift of living in Asia- this importance of the family. It's very simply accepted, that mothers are important and that they need help.)

You are not Supermom- your giving goes deeper than the giving of someone with unlimited strength and energy, because you are so limited, so small, so human, yet you continue to give. You are less like Superman and a little more like Jesus, giving and giving. Laid out and vulnerable, choosing to give parts of yourself to people that can very easily hurt you.

And still, I know and see that when people call me Supermom it is a part of the support that I need. They are acknowledging what I do, and though I want to protest that no! I am not an alien without needs! I smile and shrug and thank them. And accept the loneliness that comes from being, for my kids, the only and very non-super mother to be found.

Night is a gentle friend.

It's 10:30 at night and I'm just getting around to making the yogurt. It'll take a while for it to cool, so despite my best efforts, it's going to be a late night. Again. But I couldn't help myself, I thought about yogurt and about boys who always want snacks and how I told them I'd make a new batch today and I had to get that milk cooking.

The good news is, I'm writing a blog post. The other good news is, I don't seem to be afraid of nighttime anymore.

For years now, as soon as the sun has gone down, the world has shifted into an unfriendly place for me. My thoughts scatter and retreat into corners, I only want to go to sleep. I've explained it away as the fact that I'm a morning person (which is true) but that doesn't quite justify the fear. There have been deeper anxieties beneath it all, thoughts of days that end when you haven't made the grade yet, when you feel deeply unsatisfied with yourself.

A while ago, I started to ask myself, "What would it take for me to feel like I've done a good job, at the end of the day? Or even to get the phrase, 'done a good job' right out of my head? What would it take for me to simply enjoy night, the deepening indigo of the sky, the night frogs and geckos, the quiet of the house?"

I can't say that I know when it happened. Was it when I stood on the street at midnight at the beginning of the New Year, watching thousands of lanterns forming rivers of light in the sky? Was it when Isaac came to me after nights of walking? Did I sweat it out? Did God set me free?

Maybe it started with that question... What would it take? It seems that with all bad thinking we need to get to the root, and I've been thinking about the story that I always seem to tell myself: that life is a list of things to get done and done well. In truth, there is so much more to life than that. There is so much more to God than that.

There's nothing that messes with to do lists and self-expectation like a baby in your arms who doesn't want to be put down. You have to slowly reel your mind back in, focus on his face rather than dinner waiting in the distance, unweeded garden beds, the laundry that needs to be strung on the line, the chapter you were smack in the middle of reading to the kids, clutter everywhere. You pull yourself back to the baby and slowly he comes into focus and you realize how relative time is, again. Days fly like leaves do when the wind is strong and they rain into your kitchen. Moments are slow and sluggish, then speed up again when dinner should be ready by now and the kids are arguing because they're hungry.

My lists will stretch on ahead of me all of my life. But life is not about finishing, life is about continuing. Continuing in love and patience for helping the pettiest of heartbreaking arguments between small kids. Continuing with the daily things that grow mind-numbing in their repetition. Continuing to notice each other and breathe the same air in peace. And continuing to be thankful at the end of the day, to meditate on all the good things, even all the mediocre ones because continuing often is mediocre.

A long string of mediocre moments extends like a dream into the past, and this is what life was and is. Every video I have of the kids is precious, only because it was picked out. In the moment I'm sure I was just as antsy and bored and ready to get things done. But we pick out these moments and we remember them and write them down and photograph them and record them. We make songs out of them and draw all over them and somehow the mediocre is the real life, far beyond getting the laundry on the line. It's almost laughable, when you think about it that way. Oh my overflowing shelves need to be organized, but YaYa is learning to play the ukelele, and Isaac is gurgling and talking more and more, and the morning breeze is like heaven.

The yogurt is probably cool enough for me to stir the starter in now, so I'm going to go and do that. And then I'll shower, and go to bed, and breathe in all the rest the night has to offer before I fall asleep.

Turning again.

Leafy and Isaac.

I'm writing this post on a hot Saturday afternoon, with the knowledge sitting behind every word that at any minute my baby could wake up and need me to stop writing and come to him. These are a few snuck moments at the end of his nap, on a day when I said "I will write a post this morning" as soon as I got out of bed. But here it is 2:30 and I'm just getting around to it.

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Time is funny, and all of life is some kind of cycle. The biggest, most langorous of course is the life cycle, the one that Isaac is just now embarking on. A slow, slow turning. We barely feel the spin, it's as ponderous as the earth on its axis.

My mom like a light.

Then there are other, smaller but still large cycles. The year and the seasons. Here in Thailand, we don't have seasons like I grew up with. In Canada the seasons are the type that justify snowflakes on Christmas decorations, and it was only when I came to Asia that I realized that so much of the world looks at a snowflake as a pretty decoration, but perhaps has never had their nostrils freeze over because of the cold, or that intense ache of thawing fingers, crying and running them under the tap. (Was it only me who cried over that? I was a rather dramatic kid.)

Still, we have seasons in Northern Thailand. We have the cold season, which never reaches freezing, and the hot season, which is also called fire season because the fields are filled with the flames of farmers using their traditional field preparation, and the forests are burned to allow the hunters to find animals to hunt. And then we have the rainy season. A cycle of three, turning on itself again and again. It repeats so consistently that people are nervous when rain comes in the cool season. "The world is changing," one taxi driver told me, in the middle of an unseasonal storm.

Better now.

In Newborn Land, I have to again get used to the shortest kind of cycles. Isaac and I do the same things again and again all day and night long, in short, rapid sessions without a lot of space between. He wakes up, I nurse him, he uses his pot (we do EC, or diaper free), we talk to each other, I give my mom some Isaac time, and it's time for him to sleep again. Sometimes he spits up, or we introduce a new concept, like bathtime. But this is the way it turns for us, again and again and again.

The biggest yawn.

With my first child, I was very impatient with these short cycles. I was used to full afternoons of painting, to sitting and mulling over my coffee like an old man on a red padded seat in a diner. I squirmed against the coils of my new life even while I tried to understand it. Of course, by the time I had YaYa, I knew that this cycle of eating and sleeping gradually loosens into a long, curly tendril and I would get hours that had more space in them again. I began to enjoy the short cycles, the way my baby and I met up, as if for a date, again and again. "Well, hello there," I say. "There you are, beautiful. I've missed you, while you were asleep."

We meet and it's passionate and needy and I feed my child, I have fed my children and I have kissed every inch of their faces, if only for a short while. 

First bath.

These cycles are not like a life cycle, or the slow turning of the earth. It's more like the wheel of a bicycle spinning through a tree-lined neighborhood, the sun glinting off its spokes. We ride quickly and the wind on our faces is like the gentlest touch, it's full of the scent of flowers.

It's tricky, but you can find your footing.

Outside the window there are no doubt wonderful things. But we are content in  here.

Hello from Newborn Land. I'm waving and blowing kisses, so thankful for all the loving comments that you have sent my way. I feel surrounded by love from so many places. Thank you.

I'm waving because Newborn Land is like an untethered island, and it drifts in a sometimes pleasant, sometimes stormy sea. Everyone else (everyone who is not in Newborn Land) is on the mainland, walking around as normal, but I am up and down and sometimes falling, sometimes gaining my feet, sometimes just rolling with the waves.

We are home, in Pai. There were a couple of crazy days as we got everything ready for our return home. And our return was clumsy, though we were full of good intentions. We arrived at 10:00 at night and there were tears from tired kids and then I had a full meltdown. I had overdone it, getting ready to leave Chiang Mai, and I could feel the strain.

But things looked better in the morning. I woke up to find breakfast from my beautiful Chinua beside me.

Welcome home breakfast from my Superstar Husband.

I've been in bed now for a few days, taking care of nothing but the sweetness that is my newborn son.

Another morning look.

For mothers in Newborn Land I heartily recommend a full week in bed if possible. There is so much going on in our healing bodies, with hormones making emotions rise and fall. It's wonderful to find your rhythm with your new baby, to have time to sort out sleep from waking and nursing.  If you can fill your floating island with things you love, like good books and chocolate, or movies and herbal tea, you'll balance the new and unfamiliar.

I find that I need these things, because the hormones hit me hard. The world seems like a strange and scary place at times, and I fold over into tears, hiding behind my hands. It's hard for me because I have the memory of years of anxiety and depression, and it feels scary to have these giant emotions cascade over me. But I know this is different, this is temporary. It's all part of the adventure path of a new child in my arms, and the fogginess will lift.

In these moments, love is strong, almost too strong. Love becomes worry, worry about my other kids, worry about my mom (who will be with us for the next few weeks) worry about our home, our life. Then I blink and see that everyone's fine, actually. Everyone is happy and running around and only I am sitting in such a strange and new place, seeing beautiful things through a lens of sadness.

Then, between bouts of crying, heaven is visiting me. This small baby is such an incredible gift.

We hang out like this a lot.

He's a tiny radiant bit of sweetness. He's so alert and laid back. He zones in so quickly when he hears a new sound, or one of our voices. I bought Karen Peris's solo album, and I've been playing it all morning. He listens with such intensity and I can tell that he loves it. Basically, he's amazing.

I love how much the other kids love him. They worry over him if he cries. Solo especially offers me bits of advice on how I can help him stop. "He wants milk!" he shouts. When Isaac is quiet, Solo tells him things. "Your mama is holding you," he says. Or, "Baby, when I was a baby, I was a golden baby," (referring to the color of his skin- we've been talking a lot about each kid and all their different shades and what color we think Isaac will be- probably like Kid A or Leafy) or, "You came after me." He has a special raspy quiet voice he uses for being near the baby.

Leafy is madly in love. He adores Isaac and hates being away from him. And the love just seems to spill over and touch everything. Kid A has given me multiple voluntary hugs (!) and Solo has not once told me he doesn't like kisses, (!) even when I kiss him again and again and again.

I think we're getting along pretty well in Newborn Land. Even if beautiful things always seem somehow washed in sadness.

In the very beginning of a year.

I'm full term.

It's fun to be expecting a new baby in these first weeks of a new year because everything is brand new and you know a little of what to wait for. You know that there will be kisses and little sleep and milk and emotions. You know enough not to plan too much. You know everything is shiftable and pliant in those first weeks and months: everything. The times of day, the regularity of walks, of shopping, of eating easy pickup dinners compared to cooking. The amount that you can stand other people, the skies and clouds and the sound of the new baby's voice. The walls themselves seem to shift, the trees are slightly to the left of where they used to be.

I know enough to know my emotions are fuller than I ever expect them to be, after I've had a baby. Also, that milk is everywhere and thus, I can't start the New Year with a resolution to not be covered in milk and baby spit up.

Okay. So what can I resolute? Resolve? Resolutify?

*Once a week (if at all possible) I will find a body of water and sit beside it. Whether it is a stream or a river or waterfall, I will sit near moving water and pray.

*I will be optimistic.

*I will spend 20 minutes doing things that need to be done. 20 minutes writing, 20 minutes cleaning the kitchen, 20 minutes reading to a kid. It's enough to start with, it usually turns out to be either enough, or it turns into more. But whispering, "Just 20 minutes," is a good way to begin.

*I will spend time on my porch. I will love the corners of my house.

*And I will be try to be ready for what God brings my way. A person who stays for dinner, a conversation that goes on for an hour, a new friend, a phone conversation.

Do you have anything that you want to do? That you want to put down in writing?

Many birds.

Morning at the sea. Solo swimming under the water, arms and legs going like a fish's would, if a fish had little Solo shaped arms and legs. Solo jumping in the waves, never minding if he goes under, bobbing up again and wiping the water off his face. Remembering him in his bed the other night, his eyelashes just before he slept. "I had a pet penguin," he told me. One last tale for the day. "But it died. Also a pet chicken and bird. But they died too."

Sitting next to Kid A while he digs a watery sink hole in the sand, telling me about how he was afraid for those minutes when he and Leafy were getting pulled out on their board, and they couldn't get back in.

Me telling him, "You were so calm, you didn't panic. You just listened to me and floated back to me." Feeling so proud of him.

YaYa playing with all the babies. Pointing out the sandpipers. "Mama! Sandpipers!" Sandpipers and a flock of some other kind of bird, flying above the water like a dream.

Two Ukrainian kids talking and talking with us. In Russian. Wishing I could understand them, enjoying them  as they bubbled over and laughed and played with us in the sea.

Early afternoon at Miriam's house. Talking about the garden, eating cookies and drinking coffee. Kids playing a card game. Solo getting into everything, Solo hiding under the purple cushions.

Late afternoon in the garden. More butterflies than ever. The new plants doing well, including a volunteer orange tree that we replanted. (Kid A spits his mandarin seeds in the garden. A plant sprung up between two bricks. Last week we extricated it and YaYa and Leafy replanted it. I realized after they dug the hole and filled it back up that I hadn't done a thing.)

Walking to the store with YaYa and Solo for tomato sauce. YaYa pointing out all the chickens along the way: the ones roosting on someone's house, the baby chicks among the old coconut shells. Looking for kingfishers in the big field.

Leafy, while I was gone, not sure where I was, saying, "Maybe Mama went to Manhattan." Getting into a conversation with him and Kid A later: If I had boarded a boat to Manhattan, how long would it have taken to get there?

YaYa setting the table without being asked. Kid A having to be told three times the proper way to put books on a shelf. Still not getting them on there straight (now that I look again.) Telling stories of funny things they said when they were younger. Me thinking I didn't write enough of them down.

Thinking about baby names. YaYa calling, "Group hug!" Painful, elbows on the belly. More talk of the baby, (3 lbs now!) more dreaming about what he will be like. Talking about birth with everyone, Solo declaring confidently that he knows where the baby will come from! Lifting up my shirt, "Her bellybutton!" like a movie of a four year old kid. Telling him the real story. YaYa saying, "So that's what that hole is for!" Me with raised eyebrows, we've had the talk so many times, but they always forget. They know more about how dolphins and seahorses mate than people.

Chinua coming home from meditation on the beach. Telling of an impromptu gospel song session, a great big circle of people. A pang of regret. I wish I had been there. I can't be everywhere. It's never been possible.

A night "cool off" drive on the scooter. More emotions than I can name churning through me. Lights on houses, a sign that says, "Birthday cakes however you wish." A man sitting and playing with his tiny naked baby. The smell of warm trees cooling off in the night air. Love and despair present around every corner.

I won't make it, I think. This is too much life, too much of it rolling around me, unstoppable, like the uncontrolled intersections here, the old men under the tree, the girl checking her dress out in the glass of a giant Mary shrine, the birds in the sky, in the sea, in the fields. But we do make it, day by day by day. We do it clumsily and beautifully, pressed in on every side by the thick, heavy presence of God, of love, by the knowledge of how small we are, and yet, how big.