Fire and earth.

1. The burning season has begun. Last night a line of fire glowed off a nearby mountain as local villages began their yearly burning of the forest undergrowth. It looked volcanic, or ancient. It looked like something out of the ordinary, a dragon maybe, or a fire flood. It looked like a burning wave, cresting on the mountains. I drove up and watched and could nearly hear it crackle. This morning the sunrise is very smoky.

2. Chinua and I are running together now, aiming for three times a week. We ran together for the first time on Sunday, up to the Buddha statue because of its amazing stairs. "I don't know why I believed you when you said it was close," I gasped as we ran. "It is close," he said. "It's high though." I walked the stairs of course. "How many do you think there are?" I asked. "Around 400 or so," he said. "One day I'll be able to run all of them." 

It reminded me of when we used to do Kung Fu together on rooftops in Nepal, back when we were really young (I was nineteen.) He had this one exercise that involved holding a bucket of water with arms outstretched and alternately pouring from one bucket to the other. How I cursed him as my arm muscles trembled and burned. I felt the same way about those stairs. But I'd run anywhere with him, any moments alone together are precious.

3. The big wall is nearly finished. We have to add the highest part, and I have to make the niches for candles, and then we have to make a slurry to cover all the walls. This has been the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken. It's a bit like those stairs, but stretched out over a month or more. And more beautiful than stairs. Shaping the walls with our hands has been wonderful. My house is falling apart slowly, though, and I am ready to be done with building. 

4. Isaac is a belly-greeter. You know belly laughs? Well, Isaac greets with his belly. Everyone who comes to our house gets a huge hello, the most excited, over the top "Hi!" he can muster. Even me, after just twenty minutes of shopping. I pull up on the scooter and he skids out of the house and shouts, "Hi Mama!" It's pretty wonderful. 

5. We are finishing with the cold season and coming into the heat. The cold has been hanging on longer than usual, and I am ready for the heat. I realized recently that I love this season, with its muted colors and hot, dusty breezes. Everything is gold and pale brown, dry leaves gust along the streets, dust devils briefly rise into the air, carrying a swirl of detritus with them. The sounds are clatters and dry wheezing. The spaces between things widen, as jungle falls back and dries up. The heat is a desert heat, not so hard to take. I love it because it is seasonal, and in three months or so, the rains will come back and the shells of things will burst open again to become their vibrant selves. I hope the same for me.

I'm about to show you a scary picture, but everything turned out all right.

On Tuesday, I wrote this:

I know I go on and on about how awesome it is to have a fifth child, or perhaps I really mean, a later child, but it really is. We are always shaking our heads over Isaac. The other day Kai said, "I really don't know how we were even happy without him." And I said, "That's how I feel about all of you."

But I know what he means. 

I think my favorite thing about this late baby is how everything toddler related falls into perspective in a bigger family. When Isaac is protesting at the top of his lungs because he wanted to brush his teeth a little longer, it can't help being funny. Even as I'm guiding him toward calmer, saner behavior, I'm laughing inside, because he's trying so hard to run the show, but he's, like, two inches tall. 

When I had my first kids, I was young, and I think they did seem big to me, even at 21 months old. But with a twelve-year-old in the house, a nearly two-year-old seems like the tiniest of guys, so him asserting himself with all his might is adorable. 

"A bath! A bath!" he yells as I wrap him up in a towel and carry him away from the bucket we call a bathtub. It's time for bed. And as he continues to yell "A bath! A bath! Brush teeth! Brush teeth!" (he has a love of grooming) I look up and my eyes meet Kai's and we straighten our twisting lips and I say, "You really liked that bath, didn't you? Don't worry, you can have another one tomorrow." 

And don't worry kid, even though heartbreak over bath time ending feels like the worst kind of tragedy, the other six of us will be here to reassure you that it's not. 


That is what I had written, and then what happened is that Isaac found Chinua's blood pressure pills and was playing with them. Usually, of course, Chinua keeps them far out of his reach, but he had taken them earlier and left them on the bed in our room. I was in there with Isaac, reading to him and playing with him. I turned away to write an email and when I turned back, he had the daily medicine container in his hands. 

There was half a pill in his mouth, and then when we counted the pills, we found that one was missing. I still don't know if he ate that other pill, or if it disappeared, but when I googled it, I found it on a list of the most lethal drugs to kids, medications that can kill in one pill.

The. horror.

Chinua immediately took him to the emergency room here in Pai, and I stayed on the phone with him to figure out how they were treating him, googling madly as we went. It was terrifying. "Have they given him activated charcoal?" I asked. I heard Chinua ask the doctor the question. "He says he's too young for charcoal," he told me. "No he's not!" I cried, looking at a page where it listed the dosage of charcoal for kids over one year. "Tell them to give him charcoal." 

"We have to take him to Chiang Mai," we decided, realizing that the care here was not sufficient. They began to get the ambulance ready. He was growing very sleepy from the side effects of what he had taken, and at one point, Chinua told me, "We can't wake him up." "I'm on my way," I said. "Tell them to give him the charcoal. Right now! Right NOW!" 

When I got to the hospital, they had just inserted a nasal tube and were pumping his stomach out through it. They then gave him the charcoal. He was very sleepy but protesting the tube. The fear was like long waves of water that doused us. I thought we were going to lose him and I so desperately wanted to rewind, rewind! How could we have been so stupid? The doctor told me that he would be very sleepy from the medication but that they would monitor his pulse and blood pressure in the ambulance. I decided to go along, and flew home on the scooter to get passports and diapers-- the necessary things. 

We took a three hour ride in the back of an ambulance, and when things like this happen, I find out how superstitious I am, despite the fact that I think I'm logical and trusting. I watched the pulse monitor excessively and it was very reassuring because I could see that his pulse and oxygen were normal and steady. But when I thought of closing my eyes (it was near midnight by this time) I felt that if I even took my eyes off him for a second, he wouldn't be okay. So my brain was somehow telling me that I was keeping my son alive with my attention. And I don't think that's how that works. I thought and prayed deeply about it, and had a moment of release there, in the back of the ambulance. Whether or not I closed my eyes or stopped praying, he would be in God's hands. I closed my eyes. I managed to keep them closed for about five minutes. I may still have some growing to do.

At the hospital things immediately got better. It was still very very scary, but point by point and hour by hour we checked everything out and as time passed, we realized he was going to be okay. He had an EKG and some blood work. He woke up a little more and said, "Up peese Mama." He got mad at the tube in his nose. They admitted us into the ICU and kept him on the heart monitor all night, with a blood pressure cuff on his leg to take his blood pressure periodically. Every once in a while it would start up and he would wake up long enough to lift his leg straight in the air and stare at it, like what on earth? I slept in the bed beside him, and with the beeping and the nurses coming in, I didn't get much sleep.

In the morning, he was his spunky, active self. Pissed off at the tubes coming out of his arms. He was so annoyed with his nose tube that he just pulled it out, and we didn't bother putting one back in. 

He. was. fine. And the nurses and I scrambled to find ways to occupy my twenty-two-month old in an ICU bed for the hours before we could be discharged. They came up with latex glove balloons, which were a big hit. And before we left, nurses took turns taking photos with him and playing with him. They were so kind.

Here's the thing. Every doctor I talked to said, "Oh, well, he only ate one pill. He should be fine." But then when they researched that medication, they got very serious very quickly. Because I think we feel that kids taking a whole bunch of medication is dangerous, but one or two pills is no big deal. Did you know that there were medications, prescription medications, that could kill a child with one pill? I didn't. I had no idea. 

This terrifying incident has made me realize, no, hit me over the head with the realization that I need to know every medication in my house and what it can do. We all need to know that. And then of course, we need to keep medication out of reach, all the time, even in our bedroom, where the kids don't normally hang out. 

I am so, so thankful that Isaac is all right. I am so thankful that some stupidity on our part didn't hurt him. I'm so thankful for this beautiful boy in our lives. I hit a point when I thought there was no going back, that everything was going to change terribly, but then, very quickly, it did go back to normal, and we were allowed to start again.

Isaac recovered very quickly but I think it will be a while before I do. 


Dear Isaac,

This morning you woke up at 5:30 and began shouting “UP!” “UP, UP, UUUUP!” you said, as though I was late already and you’d been waiting for hours for your slovenly mother. If Kai tried something like lying in his bed and shouting “UP” at 5:30 in the morning we’d probably bring him to the doctor to get his head checked and then if everything was okay, Minecraft would be over for the year. But this is being 16 and a half months old. You get to do stuff like crazy shouting at odd hours, and instead of bringing you to the doctor, I haul myself into your room, pick you up, and kiss you all over your face.

Living with you in Thailand is like bringing a celebrity everywhere I go. When I walk into a shop heads turn and faces light up and sometimes (for instance, in 7-11) a group of women will hustle over and begin chatting with you. You LOVE it. You love talking to people, smiling at people, blowing people kisses. You love saying Sawadee Krap with your hands together and a sometimes exaggerated bow (once you bowed until your head touched the ground and you fell over). You love standing outside our house and having hollered conversations with our neighbors, who enjoy it almost as much as you do. The other day you were in the carrier on my back when we went to the hardware store to buy black paint and a large group of ladies surrounded you to talk with you. You put your hands together to make a wai and say Sawadee Krap and they were delighted. They asked you in Thai whether you speak Thai, and in your excitement to repeat what they said, you told them you did. (“Poot Dai,” you said.) That was exciting. 

Living with you in general is like living with the most delightful and destructive person on the planet. You alternate between giving me kisses and hugs and pulling things apart. Did I just put all the colored pencils back in the metal cup? You would like to carry them to all the ends of the house. Are there bags of lentils in the cupboards? Only for you to try to open. Did I give you a cup of water? You’ll drink it nicely and then pour it over your shirt and watch it puddle at your feet. 


You can say all of our names now, though somehow you still get Daddy and Mama mixed up. I love how your relationship is different with each one of us, and I think you are such a shining star in each of our lives. You calm and elevate your tween brother and sister. You play with Leafy and you are wildly delighted by Solo, whose empathy is growing daily through his love and care for you. 

You were what we needed, son. We didn’t know it, but God did. Walking, running, smiling with those dimples, sitting on us, hovering over us, getting into things, singing in your crib, laughing along at the books we read, dancing, making silly faces to make us laugh. 

Oh I love you.



On goal posts and the real order of things.

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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.

Learning, always.


 * When the sun rises with us in the morning, we get up on the balls of our feet. We are happy in a different kind of way than on foggy mornings. I smile at the sky and get to work. All through the day, the sky is blue— in the cold morning, the warm afternoon, all the way until the pink creeps across the sky and changes to a deep blue, then deeper blue, then the raw umber of night.

* I’ve been teaching Isaac to go to sleep by himself. I started nursing him to sleep after he was sick in the hospital, when we got home and he was buffeted by other viruses for three more weeks. It was easier to nurse him to sleep. It has become less easy these days, as he smacks and twists and bites and plays. It’s not easy to teach him, but we’ve done it, and we’ve had two full night’s sleep, which made me feel like I could run ten miles. The only thing is that I’ve successfully taught him another bad habit— falling asleep in his crib with my hand on his back. When I take it off, he reaches up and puts it carefully back on. Ah well, we’ll tackle that one next.

* Speaking of teaching, I love teaching kids to read. Now it’s Solo’s turn, and we sit with our heads together, pointing at letters, making the sounds. He has a short threshold of focus—we go until he starts making nonsense words instead of the normal sounds. He’s always been my touchiest learner (he would prefer to teach) but he’s speeding up and blooming and it’s the coolest thing. When we learn together he always does well for the rest of the day— building with Lego or drawing instead of doing headstands accidentally too close to other people or teasing people or asking for one snack after the other. He has a brain like Kai’s— it has to be full of something beneficial or it is full of naughtiness.

* I’m getting ready to go be in the garden for a while now, there is a lot of weeding to do and I haven’t been all that great at gardening for the last few months— I never seem to find the time, it is always time to start the next meal or put the baby to sleep. But I’m reminding myself, like with so many other things, that twenty minutes at a time is a start, that twenty minutes gets things done, and that a life of twenty minutes of gardening at a time makes a gardener, a life of twenty minutes of painting at a time makes an artist.

Dear Isaac


You are nine months old, and a very enthusiastic nine months you are. You are a delight, the delight of our whole family right now, the one we revolve around. I haven’t written you so many letters in this first year, and I think it’s because I’ve been enjoying you in other ways—taking video, little pictures, playing and playing and playing. I feel at rest beside you, I am enjoying rather than scrambling to capture everything, for better or for worse.


Here’s the thing: all over again, this is a new experience, like with every baby, and it is also deeply familiar. Also, it is its own experience in its own right, because this is the very first time I have had a baby this way, with all this space between siblings.


Let me explain. Your oldest brother and sister were nineteen months apart, and your Leafy brother was born twenty-two months after that, and Solo came a couple years later. So I didn’t have a baby, I had babies. I didn’t have kids, I had babies and toddlers. But I didn’t know that, I thought that having kids amounted to huge amounts of care and protection and physical labor. I thought being a parent was forever spooning food into people’s mouths and wiping up messes and changing diapers.


But everyone is growing so quickly and now I have you after these kids have grown up so much. Solo is five! We have eleven, nine, seven, five, and then a breath, and then you. I’m delighted by this, because it helps me see what wasn’t clear before; that this time, the baby time is unique in your life. How appropriate that you come into the world needing so much protection and somehow the whole family revolves around your care and the whole family sacrifices to keep you well, to keep you safe. Now I know that kids become older, and as they do, they don’t require this kind of vigilance, this wide-eyed stance against the dangers of the world and all the mouth-shaped pieces of flotsam in it. They are strong and capable, they are warriors on their own, they do well. Kai and Kenya are my right hand man and young woman. You will become like them, one day, but for now, we all stumble over each other to care for you. We dote on you.


So into this nest of a family you come, and I experience parenthood all over again, and I wouldn’t change our family for anything but I do love doing this at the ripe age of thirty-three. (You are the lucky one—with the grownup for a mother.)

I missed some things, so I’ll tell you now. When you were six months old, your motto in life was, “I can dance to that.” You had this rippling dance you did, a hunch down with your shoulders, then a lift, then a hunch. Your belly was at the center, you bobbed and grooved. A motorcycle going by? “I can dance to that.” The kettle boiling? “I can dance to that.” Music? “I can certainly dance to that, and I will, right now, here I go.” This was delightful.


You got sick when you were seven months old and we were in the hospital for a week. This was a scary time and you seemed to be a newborn again, as you slept for hours and hours and lay quietly. I remember wishing you would get up and get into things again, because it would mean you were better.

I got my wish—God heard my prayer. This last month you’ve learned to really crawl on your knees and you’ve been pulling yourself to standing for a while now. You can cruise along while you stand. Your sister walks with you holding her hands for a long time every day, practicing, she says. You adore your daddy and call to him whenever you catch sight of him from a distance. When you do, he hears you and comes to pick you up and you wriggle with joy. You see Kenya as a sort of second mother—she is the one you look for if I’m not around. You revere Kai, play with Leafy, and think Solo is the coolest, craziest thing you’ve ever seen. I often see you staring at him with pure wonder on your face.


Now you are impatient and sometimes fussy. You want to be everywhere all the time! When you want me to pick you up you scrunch both your eyes in something that we call a Turkish two-eyed wink (people in Turkey do this as a friendly gesture—it’s adorable) and duck your head. It’s like your own personal sign language. You have enthusiasm for life and it must be expressed. When you see me strapping the baby carrier on, you start yelling immediately. Will I put the baby carrier on and go for a walk all by myself, leaving you behind? It doesn’t seem likely, but you are certain it could happen if you don’t remind me that you are there! Willing, ready to go wherever I go!

And you do, you go everywhere I go, you are my constant companion and I juggle you and all the other things, always ready for your smile, always thankful. I have such a gift in you.



The name is chosen, though not in the way I'd expected.

I'm writing with a baby on my lap-- a baby who crawls now, in full hands and knees baby crawl style. He also cruises, but we don't have any couches, so there isn't much for him to cruise around on. He does it on the headboard of my bed, which always leads to me clutching his ankle to make sure he doesn't get too close to the edge, and him tugging his leg away from my hand in frustration. "Let go me!" he would say, if he could. 


The hammering noises behind my house are coming from my kids, who are building a club house in the old bamboo chicken coop. I'm happy about this, it has brought about some great moments of teamwork from the four kids. There is a lot of running back and forth, making of signs, sweeping of dust, and hammering of random pieces of bamboo that were left over from the creation of the chicken coop.  


I'm supposed to be having a writing day today, but this afternoon Chinua had to retreat into a dark room to huddle out a migraine. Poor guy. It makes me worried-- this is the second one in two weeks and I don't want them to come back. He's been doing well, migraine free, for so long now, ever since he figured out magnesium deficiency was the cause. He thinks drinking coffee has triggered them, so hopefully if he cuts caffeine out of his diet again, they'll go away.


The days of mental anguish over the book name have come to a surprising finish. Thank you so much for your help! My whole family will be so glad that I've finally decided on a name, since I've been walking in and out of rooms muttering random words to myself, or saying, "What about...?" over and over and OVER again.

A Home as Wide as the Earth got the most votes, and I came to believe that it was the best fit-- it describes a lot about me and about traveling. But then yesterday I started working on the third book in the series and found this post, which represents the title so perfectly and represents a lot of what that next season of our lives was like. In that next two years, we lived in California, back in Goa, in Nepal, and in Thailand, and those were the years when home became almost an obsession for me. So I think we've found a title! For the third book, that is.


So now we had a title for the first and the third books and they followed a sort of pattern and it fits that the middle title would follow the pattern, at least in a sort of vague-ish way, which cut out a lot of the other titles I had been considering. I had this idea about lights in dark water, from this post about Chinua and I swimming among phosphorescent algae. And I came up with the title Oceans Bright With Stars, and immediately knew it was the one, and the great thing is that we have two, both of these books have titles now, which is good, because I'm trying to have them both out by the end of the year.

I think they work well in a series-

Trees Tall as Mountains

Oceans Bright With Stars

A Home as Wide as the Earth

-they say what I want them to say, they all tie in with specific themes or posts, and they are alike enough to go together, but dissimilar enough that it doesn't get cheesy. Thanks so much you beautiful people, we done good.

5 Things: Hospital

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1. One treatment for Isaac when he was really sick was a nastrogastric tube down his nose and throat and into his stomach. It drained off the excess gas and gastric fluid and bile that was building up inside him. On the other end of the tube was a little plastic ziploc bag that gathering the contents that drained out. His intestines had stopped working, so a lot of bile was coming up at first- bright green in color. I had to maneuver him around with this tube and bag for many days, holding the bile bag in my hand so that it wouldn’t spill, or drag, or tug the tube out of his nose. Oh, how I hated the bile bag. Isaac hated it, too. He pulled it out the first night he had it, which earned him a mitten hand. After a couple days, we took the mitten off and he didn’t pull it out again— he learned to navigate around it. Clever baby.

2. In Thailand, everyone has a nickname, and everyone goes by their nickname rather than their real name. When nurses were filling out forms, they would ask, “What is your baby’s nickname?” or, “What do you call him?” I would always reply that he doesn’t have a nickname, or that we call him Isaac. (Izzy just hasn’t stuck. Yet. Chinua calls him Zacky Zac sometimes.) But later I thought, well, he’s our Thai baby, maybe he needs a nickname! So I asked one of the nurses to help me come up with a chu lenn, a play name. Together we came up with Mee Noi, which means Little Bear. It seems appropriate. He’s little, but so so big. (He’s as big as all the eighteen-month-olds around here.) Now the nurses call out “Mee Noi,” when they come into the room. I love it.

3. One incredible thing about the hospital in Thailand: the food. They started feeding me yesterday, when the “No Food, No Water” sign was removed from our door. (I guess I had been sent to my room without dinner as well.) I received a menu and saw that I could order a choice of any number of 1.)Depressing Western hospital meals, such as macaroni or weird steak fillets with mashed potatoes and tired carrots, or 2.)Delicious Thai meals, including meals from many regions. I was wracked with indecision. (No I wasn’t.)

Before they started feeding me, I was dependent on someone helping me by bringing me food or sitting with my baby so I could head down to the third floor to get some food. Down there they also serve Thai food: very affordable Thai food. And in the little shop there are things you can pick up, like really yummy fresh spring rolls or deep fried seaweed. (So good.) There were a couple times when I didn’t have much food and ate rice cakes for my meal, but it’s mostly been really good. Since Isaac’s bile bag was removed, I’ve been able to take him along with me, wheeling his little IV trolley alongside. I also found this book in the shop. I was surprised, and though I was tempted, I didn’t buy it.


4. Before Isaac was admitted to the children’s hospital ward, we were at the children’s clinic here. It has been built to look like a space alien station, with space-age silver rounded couches and blue lights in the ceiling. I didn’t like it. It felt like too much, like, we’re sick! Blue lights are weird! I really appreciate the quality of medical care in Thailand, but I don’t like the whole commercial feel it can have. I don’t want a woman who looks like a flight attendant with whitened skin, and contact-enlarged eyes to lead me to the doctor in her high heels. My baby is sick, give me someone in scrubs and comfy shoes and I’m happy. But it is a popular trend here as part of the health care process. The women are the equivalent of a hostess in a restaurant taking care of people, only there are many of them, and they don’t look like normal people. (To me.) I was happy, arriving at the children’s ward, to see that the nurses look like the nurses I’m used to, with regular ol’ scrubs on. The only difference is that they take their shoes off to enter the room. And the doctor comes and sits on the floor with us to talk to us. (Love. They took the bed out when I arrived and put the mattress on the floor so Isaac would be safer.)

5. During the last few days that we have been here, when Isaac has been doing better and I’m not worried, I feel like I’m at a very strange resort, where I cannot leave the building and the decorations are institutional, and I’m having forced rest. It’s a gift. I’ve been editing the next Journey Mama book and have completed so many months, and I’ve been reading and watching a movie here and there. We get sprung today, (yay!) and I’m praying for a gentle landing as Isaac and I re-enter the wild, wonderful world of our very busy home.

Isaac in the hospital

Rae and Isaac hospital.jpg

Okay. Writing about this.

Harrowing. Harrow: To draw a plough or rake over land. I have been harrowed, this week.

Isaac’s sickness took the wind out of me in a way that nothing has in a long while. For a few days there, I could just barely hold on to peace and I didn’t have my writer self with me. I was so afraid that I couldn’t even be an observer to my fear—I could only live in it and hold onto Isaac and pray the shortest, most desperate prayers. He’s better now, so much better that I feel as light as air, as though joy will send me over the mountains.
This is how it went.

Last week he had a fever for a couple days— we kept it down with tylenol and waited, but the fever continued. On Saturday I came into Chiang Mai to attend a book group meeting that I’ve gone to a couple of times. As I was getting ready to leave home, I asked Chinua if he thought I should still go, since Isaac still wasn’t getting better.
“If anything,” he said, “It will be good for you to be in Chiang Mai with him so sick.” He meant that we can’t really trust our little country hospital with sickness. Stitches, sure. But sickness, no.

I got on the bus, I went to the book group, and then I went to stay at my friend’s house for the night. That’s when things got weird. Isaac was still feverish and he started to cry in pain. His stomach was really hurting him. I remembered I had eaten a spicy curry the night before. “Stupid me,” I thought. “Will I never learn?”

We didn’t sleep much during the actual night. I walked him and held him and tried to make him feel better. In the morning, I waited for the spicy curry milk symptoms to wear off, but they didn’t. And so we came to the hospital.

Isaac had an x-ray, since my first question was whether he had a foreign object in his belly. No foreign object, but there seemed to be a blockage. He had an ultrasound, and then he had a CT scan. All of them felt so strange to do with a nearly eight-month-old, especially since he had to be sedated for the ultrasound and CT scan. He went into that big round machine, this little tiny baby with his arms up by his head. The tests were a blur of exhaustion for me, since I hadn’t slept much the night before. I was worried. I walked him and held him in that clinic for six hours, waiting between tests. Finally, they decided to admit him. The scans showed a lot of swelling and turbidity in his intestines, and the worry was that it was a kink, which would require surgery.

We were admitted and Isaac was put on an IV drip with antibiotics and fluids because he was dehydrated and it was clear from his blood tests that he had an infection. We found out that night that there was no kink in his intestine, and I tried to finally settle down for sleep at around midnight. That night I was up every hour with as the nurses took his temperature, did blood and urine tests, and tried to get him to take medicine. (He has become very skilled at gritting his little gums, and then refusing to swallow when the medicine is in his mouth, which doesn’t help him at all. If he doesn’t like the taste, he should swallow it! But he doesn’t know this, so his little act of defiance is to hold it in his mouth. The darling.)

The next day was very, very difficult. He had been fatigued and feverish the day before, but I thought that he would respond to the antibiotics more quickly than he did. All day he was weak and unlike himself completely, not really connecting or making eye contact, and sleeping all day. When he woke up, he only moaned and whined. His stomach was swelling and his face was swelling too, later in the day, and that night I tried to ask if I could speak to the doctor about the swelling, but he was busy and I didn’t understand what the nurses were telling me. I started crying. I called one of my friends in Pai to translate for me, and then called another one to translate more. I was so scared that I was shaking. All day, waves of fear had been washing over me, and it felt like they were electrifying my body. I was shaking with adrenaline and the need to protect my baby and I didn’t know how to do it. What the nurses were telling me was that the doctor was in the clinic so he couldn’t come, but if I was so scared I could come to see him in the clinic, one floor down. So we did another blood test, and then we went down to the clinic, me following the nurses who held my baby and pushed his IV trolley. I cried the whole way, I couldn’t help it, and under everything else I realized that once again, I was “that girl,” the one losing it in a public place, in a hospital, the foreigner who doesn’t understand what is going on. The girl with the swollen eyes, pacing back and forth.

The doctor explained that the swelling happens sometimes when IV fluids are high, and that they had given him quite a lot because of his dehydration.

“But he’s going to be okay?” I asked. That’s all I really wanted to know, you know.

“I’m concerned about the swelling that is still in his abdomen,” he said.

“But he’s going to be okay?”

I think all doctors should realize that parents have an instinct that makes us visualize danger to our children as a very real and sudden thing that can pluck them out of this world without warning. When Kai was born, the world shifted, and suddenly a sidewalk was dangerous. Taking the underground train in San Francisco was torturous, with all the possibilities of death and injury. The doctor was telling me that the infection was strong, and it was going to take a long time to deal with it, or at least that’s what he thought he was telling me. What I was hearing was, “He’s in grave danger.” And perhaps he would have been in grave danger if he wasn't in the hospital. It was such a severe infection that it basically shut his digestive system down, so he couldn't eat and he grew dehydrated very quickly. But now he was being treated, and he was going to be fine. That's what I wanted to know.

In the end I was reassured enough to sleep as much as I could between visits from nurses. The next day he was feeling better, and in all the days since, he’s improved, until today he’s even trying to pull himself to standing again and playing peek-a-boo with the nurses. He was allowed to breastfeed this morning, and the proteins in the milk have been able to bind with the water, so he is peeing all that edema away.

I am overwhelmed with thankfulness, and very aware of my difficulty trusting God. It’s come to the forefront of my life lately, a deeper awareness of my lack in this area. God brings things like this out from time to time, letting you know that you need to dig a little deeper, work a little more fully on bringing everything into his light. Because I don’t really control the universe, you know, but sometimes I’m tricked into thinking I do because I can control small things around me. But then something happens that is completely out of my control and I become convinced that the ship’s about to crash and sink. The truth is that nothing has changed. I am no more or less in control, really, and God is still there, quietly working. I’m working on acceptance and trust. I started working on it in the hospital, too, not fighting in my mind so much, accepting that we need to be here right now. (Until last night when I had a little relapse over the issue of whether or not I could start nursing, a subject on which I had had conflicting directions. More crying. More being “that girl,” and stressing non-confrontational Thai nurses out. I’m sorry!)

There have been beautiful things and funny things, and I will write about those too, but this post is already long and I’ll go now. Thank you so much for your prayers and support- it looks like we’ll be here for a couple more days, and then we’ll have wings on our feet as we go home.

Isaac hospital.jpg


Ever since Isaac was born, I sometimes look at him and feel odd, like I've had this baby before!  I'm sure some of it is the mystical connection that mothers have with their babies, but after looking through pictures, I realize that a lot of that feeling is due to this:











Apparently I HAVE had this baby before. 

Also, there are no pictures of Kai as a baby for two reasons: 

1. They are print photos, back in storage in California. 

2. He is the one who has a face like no other. He also hasn't changed since he was about six months old.

But remember when I had only babies?  When everyone was teeny tiny?



This and that.

Rae and Chin.jpg

1. Chinua is back and when he came, the kids wriggled all over with joy. So did I. I think we still wake up thinking, Is he? Yes, he's here! He came bearing gifts, both things he bought and things that dear friends sent to us. My favorites are the cast iron pan that he hauled in his backpack, and the juicer that was a very thoughtful birthday gift from our friends. And then there is the mountain of thrift shop kids clothes... so wonderful, so needed.

Abby and the kids.jpg

2. Last week a new/old friend, Abby, arrived. She's going to stay here for a few months, helping with different things, and especially with the kids on a brief detour from the time she's been spending in Europe. We first met Abby in Santa Cruz when we were living there in 2010, but we're getting to know her much better now. We're all smitten with her. She's been reading The Hobbit to kids. I mean, the girl is a champion reader. Three chapters of The Hobbit? In one sitting?

Also, as a side note, I think Leafy may be gaining an obsession to rival his Star Wars obsession. He now wanders around after me citing facts about elves. "Isn't it funny," he says, "that there's an elf called Legolas? And he's in Lego Lord of the Rings? Get it? LEGOlas?"


3. We gave the puppy away yesterday. I came up with a plan to take him down to the Wednesday Market, a local market with tons of people. Almost immediately, as Miriam was carrying the box, a couple who ran a market stall said they would like to have him. They seemed really nice, and they were very happy to get him. "Thank you!" they said in Thai, and I said, "No, thank you!!!" because I was worried about what I would do if I couldn't find someone to adopt the sweet little guy. I wish we could have kept him, he was so sweet and very smart. Alas, allergies. 

Red flowering tree.jpg

4. The drives have been beautiful lately. I hop on the scooter and drive away, and I'm immediately surrounded by beauty, it's all around me, flung like jungle vines. All the green is coming back now that the rains have begun. There are the hills, and the trees, and the sky is alternately blue or glowering with low hung clouds (beautiful in their own way.) It is a path through my myriad moods, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes grumpy, sometimes ringing with what feels like the saddest sadness. In times when I wonder what exactly I've done, allowing these countries around the world to have pieces of me, when I wonder in panic how I could ever have left any of them, India, Nepal, America, Canada, I am brought back by a flowering tree. The pieces return to me. I remember that I am in the hand of God, that all the world is mine to watch and love. God calls me back, "Be here and not away," he says, and I re-enter my life with love.

And I truly love it here. With each word that I remember and understand, with every familiar face, I am a little more etched into this place. I can turn in the market and see half a dozen people I know, and I am not afraid. The drives have been beautiful lately. 

Isaac 1.jpg

5. These days, when I pick Isaac up, I think "Oh, I love you. I LOVE LOVE LOVE you." He has become more chunky, less fragile, the cuddliest bear. He almost clings back, there is his soft head on my shoulder, he presses his cheek along my neck. He is the cutest thing ever and he drools and drools and drools. He smiles and makes odd dolphin noises and we are just in love. There are of course all the times when I'm carrying him for hours (he's huge-- another Solo!) or he won't go to sleep and I feel like my back is breaking, and I sometimes think, in a month or so it will be better. But then I think, I can't bear for this month to pass. Both are true, as it is true that I love him now and I will love him then, and I will always love him.

Isaac 2.jpg

A moment from my day.

Tonight Solo wanted to do up all the snaps on Isaac's zebra pajamas.

He's not all that experienced with snaps, so each one took about three minutes and there are twelve of them.

I know enough now to know that the only thing to do was to sit back and enjoy the sweetest thirty-six minutes of the week.

Leafy was watching, and there was general hilarity when Isaac kept grabbing the top snap and trying to stuff it in his mouth.

Boy giggles. Little boy concentration. Brothers loving each other. Oh, I'm thankful.

Adventures in eating.

Isaac at 3 months.jpg

(Photo by Kai)

I've discovered by experience that Isaac is really, really sad if I eat chillies.
This is tricky in Thailand. If we're out eating at a market stall type of place and I ask for food that's not spicy, people think, "Sure, of course she wants it a little less spicy," and give me only one chili. So then I ask for no chillies at all, and somehow, there are still chillies in my food. I think it's reflexive... the hand reaches out for the chillies right after the fish sauce. The hand is putting the chillies in the pan! There's no calling the hand back!!

My new plan is to only order food that never has chillies included, ever, not ever.  Food like fried rice or pad thai or stir fried kale. It means that a lot of my favorite foods are dead to me (dead to me!) at least for the time being, but it will cut out days like the horrible one this week, when Isaac couldn't stop crying and I walked the floor with him for hours.

This is what my kids are like: They had no help from me, I couldn't do many of the things we were supposed to do, they got themselves ready for bed and waited for me patiently, they dealt with my grumpiness and tiredness from walking a screaming baby, and at the end of the day they all said, "Poor Isaac," as they stroked his face and cooed to him. They don't get annoyed with him, or jealous, or frustrated because his crying is loud. "Poor Isaac," they say. "Poor, poor Isaac."

Since that bad day we haven't had any more, which is wonderful because when Isaac isn't gassy he is an angel. He is a happy, jolly boy who is growing like crazy. He smiles and drools and wriggles. To keep him ungassy, I have dropped milk, eggs, almonds, and chillies from my diet. I also haven't been drinking coffee, ever since he was born, although in the last three days I've had a cup of tea in the afternoon.

I notice immediately if I've eaten something that is bothering him. So it is mind boggling when I go to health or parenting sites and they say that it makes no difference to babies if you eat certain things while breastfeeding. ("It does!" I shout at the computer screen. "It does!") Even here, chili capital of the universe, when I told my landlady one day that Isaac's tummy was hurting, she asked if I ate chillies. And frowned at me. "Yes," I said, and begged her forgiveness.

The only problem is that I am so very forgetful these days, and I feel that I need to tattoo my diet restrictions on my hands. A while back I was at a friend's house and we were eating spicy Mama noodles. I looked at the noodles and thought, why is there something lurking at the back of my brain, telling me I shouldn't be eating these? That's silly, I love spicy food. Huh. And then I ate them, and Isaac had a hard day the next day. Doh!

This is the way my brain is with me lately. Yesterday it was almost scary, as I read through my to do list and found something that didn't make sense to me AT ALL. Right in there with things that did make sense was a line that said,

Send book to Mom.

But I have no book to send to my mom-- not even a dream of a book to send to my mom.  And I couldn't figure out why it said, in my own writing, send book to Mom. What book did my subconscious brain think I have? This morning, a whole day later, it clicked. She said she would do some proofreading for me. There is no physical book to be put in the mail, Rae! You're talking about a book file! Doh!

Why is my brain standing back and withholding information from me? I can only assume that it's mad at me because I have too many things going on, as well as nursing brain. I turn thirty-three on Friday and this is too young for dementia.

On the day that Isaac was screaming I had promised the kids I would make them mango sticky rice, so, tenderhearted mother that I am, when I couldn't get him to sleep in the evening, I put him in the baby carrier and made the sticky rice with him riding around on my front, burrowing his head into my chest.

There was a box of coconut milk in the fridge-- a brand that I never felt comfortable with, as it was called "Scented Candle Coconut Milk." I believe the box appeared in the fridge at the same time I was on my retreat with Leaf. Which is to say that I didn't buy it. I didn't trust it. Really lost in translation, thought I, briskly stirring ingredients together. That name makes it seem as though the coconut milk will taste like scented candle. They need to hire a new marketing expert. But, there it was, and what better way to use it than making this coconut rice.

Oh, but Thailand never stops surprising me, because I was wrong and the marketing people were right. I tasted the sticky rice and it tasted exactly, I mean, exactly, like a candle. Because dessert that tastes like candles is a thing in Thailand. Because this is an alternate universe where people like to eat things that taste like candles. I mean, really. The coconut milk is placed over a smoking candle to infuse it with the delicate taste of smelly floral wax.

It makes total sense. Who wouldn't want that?

You know, especially after a long day of walking a sad baby, when one is lovingly trying to make a treat for one's children, one would certainly like to make it taste like the bottom of a candle holder. Of course.

Dear Isaac,


Oh baby. Six weeks old today. How can it be?

(This is who I've turned into. Asking how how how about something as normal and constant as weeks passing as they always do. This is what you've done to me, you and all the other children, and I imagine that by the time you read this, that's all I'll say anymore. "Good morning Mom," you'll say, and I'll yelp. "Ouch!" I'll say. "You grew overnight! Stop!")

I remember holding you when you were only days old and thinking, "I don't want this part to ever, ever, ever end." But it has, in a way! You are so much older, so much wiser than you were. You are six weeks old! You have six weeks worth of world knowledge, a vast empire of knowledge. For you.

I am reminded that there are levels of cuteness in babies that continue to be unveiled, like when one of your brothers updates an app and finds fifteen new levels on his favorite game. Levels that he never knew existed. Isaac, you wake up in the morning and you've unwrapped a whole new part of who you are, and I see it for the first time and I am knocked down, son, I am knocked down.

Finding his voice.

That something new looks out from your eyes and I love discovering you.

We live in Thailand and you love it here. You love the women who come and coo at you, because they do it just right, all high pitched, and you laugh and coo in response, smiting them. You love to look at our dark window frames and our curtains. You are strong and big and everyone comments on how amazing you are.

Your first three weeks you spent mostly between my arms and your grandma's arms, and I think it was a beautiful landing for you, to be with the women who love you so much, to be cooed at and marveled over. Now you are spending more time with your Dad and siblings and you sit quietly with them, talking to them, telling them things, trying to figure all of us out.

You get really sad if I don't get you to sleep quickly enough, but other than that, you are the most self-possessed little man. You believe in our ability to listen, so if we talk to you when you are fussing, you turn your crying into a kind of talking, telling us in sad tones all about the problems you have.


Your brothers and sisters love you. I knew that YaYa would be so happy to have a baby, but I'm awed by Kid A and his love for you, how he comes to find you throughout the day, how he still prays to thank God for you, how he puts his arms around both of us whenever he can. He is so soft with you, and you look back at him, wanting to know who he is.

I think in the years ahead, you'll be someone he can count on. Because we all do it, we turn from the small grievances of the day to look into your eyes and we find sweetness and simplicity there.

You are a wonder. And oh, how I love you.


Love, Mama

(Last photo is courtesy of Chinua.)

Isaac's birth story: wild animals everywhere


This got really long! I promise it's mostly interesting.

Sometimes, when you've had a hard birth with your fourth child, a birth that lasted thirty-nine hours and took everything that you could imagine from you, what you are really hoping for is an even longer labor with your fifth child. Forty-eight hours with a scary hemorrhage and you have everything you've ever dreamed of!

I haven't written about the birth because I don't really want to revisit it, I want to get as far away from it as I can, and if you know me and my feelings about birth, that should shock you. But it's true! And that's precisely why I need to write about it. There is no better way to retrieve something and squeeze every redemptive moment out of it than to put it on the page. So here I go. A warning, I will talk about the bleeding at the end of this story, so if you are sensitive to that, just stop reading right after Isaac is born.

The days leading up to Isaac's birth are oddly surreal, in retrospect. We were staying with friends in Chiang Mai, our sole job, it seemed, to wait. We played with kids, celebrated Leafy's birthday, welcomed my parents and because of our quick exit from Pai, I wore the same three things day after day after day. 

We went to the Chiang Mai Night Safari and fed tapirs and birds, twice. We played Zooloretto, once while I was in labor, I think. It seemed we were surrounded by animals, by zoo animals, by the children, pretending to be animals, by birds and snakes (I took a picture of one I saw on a walk through the neighborhood and Chinua yelped when he saw the picture- "Rae! That's a banded krait!" It's a dangerous one.) and elephants in real life and in the drawings YaYa worked on every day. It was an animal birth. (It's a tradition with us- naming our births.)

So why did my labor take 48 hours? I'm pretty sure it was because of my uterus, which is delicate, with a severe case of performance anxiety. Do you remember that Looney Tunes episode where the frog never sings when people are watching it? As long as the one guy is there, he sings and tap dances, "Hello my honey, hello my baby, hello my ragtime girl..." but he becomes mute as a clam if anyone else is around.

My uterus is just like that frog.

I gave birth in a private hospital in Chiang Mai, and the nurses were absolutely lovely. When we first came in, one walked over to me and measured my contractions by holding her hand ever so lightly on my belly and counting by watching the clock.

"Chinua!" I said. "Look at this! It's so human! No machines!"

I was at four centimeters and contractions were every five minutes. My doctor came and checked me out and pretty soon I'd advanced to five centimeters! "This baby will be born before midnight!" she said.

I can't tell you how wonderful I felt, sitting on the birth ball under the hot water of the shower, breathing through contractions throughout that night. It was so blissful. I meditated and in my meditation I was in a field, flowers opening all around me, with every contraction. Jesus was with me and I hung around in that blissed out field feeling like the happiest girl in the world, so happy with my body and my baby and my wonderful uterus.

At around 3:00 in the morning, I decided to lie down and try to get some sleep. Didn't want to exhaust myself, no need for that! When I woke up at around 5:00, my contractions had slowed so much that they were almost gone. My mood took a swift turn for the worse. NOOOOOOOOO!!!! is something like what I thought. In my labor with Solo, I had to walk and walk to keep the contractions coming. They would stop if I lay down, and the result was exhausting.

This is not what I wanted.

The doctor came in and said that I was still at five centimeters (!) and she thought my water had broken. So leaving and coming back another day wasn't an option, we needed to get the labor going. She suggested pitocin. I've never had pitocin before, because my water has never broken before the very end of labor, and after some discussion with my husband, I decided to go for it. With an IV. Which is my worst nightmare-- I'm IV and needle phobic and though I can handle it when I'm sick, I don't want to muss up a perfectly good labor with having yucky things stuck in me.

When the nurse came and put the IV in, I got very nauseous and had to breathe through it. Chinua had gone out to find some food, so I was by myself and in tears and I thought, Girl, you have got to get it together. Now. I looked at the IV pole that was now stuck to me like a parasite. The IV pole looked back at me. All in the mind, I thought. I'll name him.


When Chinua came back in, I introduced him to Baxter. Baxter was a tree who had been transformed into an ugly IV pole by something evil, I wasn't sure what- I didn't flesh it out that far, and he had been sent to help me. I could now sit on the birth ball next to Baxter, and imagine myself back in that field, with Baxter the nurturing tree. When I went to the bathroom I had to get him over the weird bump on the floor in the doorway. "Come on, Baxter," I said, urging him. "It's fine in here." I became very tender with him. Bless his heart.

The thing with the nurses? Where they would count contractions by placing their hands ever so lightly on my belly? That got old pretty quickly, and the froggishness of my uterus showed itself, because when a nurse politely held her hand on my belly, a contraction wouldn't come. We stood together awkwardly, like two acquaintances who are waiting for a late mutual friend who is the only reason they're together at all. I smiled, slightly embarrassed, apologetic. "I just had one," I would say, smiling and smiling, just making excuses for my frightened uterus. The nurses would turn up the pitocin and leave.

Eight hours later, the pitocin drip was up so high that it was making me go out of my mind with pain. I was lying on the bed crying, and when the doctor checked me, I was. still. at. five. centimeters. This was now more than twenty-four hours into my labor. My doctor frowned into the distance, thinking hard.

"I don't know why..." she said, gently. Then she told the nurses to take me off the pitocin. "It's stressing her out," she told Chinua. "It's not working."

I said goodbye to Baxter, who had turned out to be a bit of a jerk anyways, and fell apart and had to pull myself back together again. By this time I'd had two hours of sleep in about 30 hours or so and that starts to get hard. We called a woman who lives in Chiang Mai and does labor support, like a beautiful, tall angel. She drove over and came bustling into the room, all energy, with pomegranate juice, and told me to start climbing stairs. I told her I didn't want to climb stairs. But she insisted, and we rigged up a two stair step stool which I climbed up and down again and again. The purpose of this was to shift the baby's head so the position would help my cervix open. I rallied myself again, got myself under control, (Girl, you have got to get it together. Now.) and climbed up and down. All night long. I walked, showered, prayed, and climbed, while Chinua got some sleep.

By that time, I had made my home in the words,

"Have you not known? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him to has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for Yahweh shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:28-31

I clung to those words. His understanding is unsearchable. From then on, the progress went like this: about one centimeter every four hours or so. You know, nice and easy. There was talk of c-section mostly from me, and every time we talked ourselves out of it because Isaac was doing fine and we were making progress. Chinua was amazing in this. He encouraged me in all the right ways. If only I could last until the baby was ready to come. Chinua and I started calling to our baby. "We love you... come out..." 

Finally, finally midway through the next morning, when I was about hallucinating with exhaustion, I came really close to being able to push, and the doctor told me, "your water never broke!" Ha ha ha. Ahhhh, so funny. This was after three shots of antibiotics, since it had been over twenty-four hours since we thought it broke. She broke it for me, and labor got quite intense then, enough for me to start shouting for the opiates (the only pain med option).

"I don't care if I can't stand up," I told Chinua very sincerely. "I can't do this anymore."

Fortunately, the doctor told me I needed to push. I hadn't felt the urge that we were waiting for, and this was the first time in all my births that I hadn't felt the urge. I tried pushing, and it was very hard without that strong urge. "I cannnnn't," I said. But they told me they could see his hair, so I rallied again (Girl, NOW!) and pushed with all my heart until Isaac came into the room at 2:37 in the afternoon and broke our hearts for love. He was covered in vernix and was another Leafy look-alike, and he didn't cry until the nurses rubbed him like they were curry-combing a horse. I told them to stop it and give him to me, and I held him and he nursed and those first two hours are the very best thing I have ever experienced, with each of my children it is so magical. I was on a high, exhaustion forgotten, ready to fly over mountains with my beautiful baby.


(This is not what Isaac looked like during those first two hours. He was still naked and I was naked and we were all cuddled up and I wouldn't let anyone take him for a while, not to bathe him or help me get dressed or anything.)

Chinua told me over and over that I was more amazing than he could believe. I really needed to hear it! So tired and oh, just so tired.

Baxter was returned to me, a drip of pitocin because this was my fifth baby and sometimes it takes a little help to get that uterus contracting enough to close up shop and go back to being a little-used organ that chills out all the time. I had gushed quite a lot of blood and they didn't want me to bleed too much, but they asserted that I didn't need it anymore, pretty much right away, and they took Baxter away again.


Chinua came back with my parents and the kids, and we all adored Isaac together. My favorite thing was when Solo and Leafy were standing next to me, looking down at their brother for the first time, and Solo said to Leafy, his voice full of excitement, "He moved his nose!" like Isaac was a kitten or a goldfish they were watching. I was moved up to the fourteenth floor and introduced to my new room with all its comforts. Everyone left to go home, and Isaac and I got ready to spend the night together.


The only problem was that I was gushing blood. The first couple of times, when it happened when I got up to go to the bathroom, the fourteenth floor nurses told me it was normal and I was like, hmmmm, but I said okay. But then I was rubbing my belly to massage my uterus, and it was soft and squishy, not hard, like a grapefruit, like they say it should be. Danger! And I still gushed blood any time I shifted position. I was so tired, and tempted to simply go to sleep and hope it would get better, but I remembered that with Kid A, it hadn't gotten better, not at all. So I called the nurse, and again she said it was normal, but then she massaged it herself and oh the blood. So then there were six or so nurses all speaking Thai and I couldn't understand and the blood wouldn't stop coming and I started shaking really hard and I borrowed a phone to call Chinua. He said he'd come right away. The labor nurses came up from labor and delivery and one of them massaged very, very hard, while the other one reached back up the birth canal and pulled out handfuls of clots. They kept putting the clots into a large plastic bag, and the bag got more and more full. Still, no one would explain whether I would be okay and I was shaking and crying. Finally I got my doctor on the phone and when she understood how scared I was, she said, "No no, you have to calm down, you're going to be fine, they have it under control." Baxter came back and stayed for a good long time.

They returned me to the labor room for observation, because the nurses on the fourteenth floor weren't exactly trained for that kind of work, and I hung out there for a while, telling the two nurses who had massaged and pulled out clots for half an hour how thankful I was and what good nurses they were. I asked them to please return my baby to me. They did and I cuddled up close to him and kissed his beautiful head and was so, so thankful to be okay. Chinua came and stroked my hair and it was all well. All finished and all well.


(All of these photos are courtesy of Chinua and his iPod touch.)

My parents in Thailand.

My mom left on Monday. She flew first to Seoul, where she had a twelve hour layover, yuck. If Leafy had his way, she wouldn't have gone at all.

"I hope you miss your plane," he told her very seriously.

It was a beautiful visit, so crazy and full of emotion and outside of the ordinary of our lives, both for them and for us.

Dad with the birds

My dad could only stay for a week because of work, which he could barely get away from. After two and a half years, a week seemed much too short.

But we squeezed as much quality time into a week as possible. We went back to the Chiang Mai Night Safari- this was while I was still pregnant. And of course we went back to feed the birds. The first time we went to feed the birds, with the kids, they were very satisfied. They'd been eating sunflower seeds all. day. long. They were all, more sunflower seeds? NO thanks. And eventually they warmed up to us and started licking our cheeks and playing with our dreadlocks. But when we took my parents, they hadn't had any visitors, it seemed, and they were wild ravenous feral birds. They attacked us. It was way more Alfred Hitchcock than we were comfortable with.

At the Night Safari

So we continued on and looked at more animals.

I went into labor after walking with my parents through a wood-carving village, the very sort of place I remember spending time with them in many times, over my life. Antique shops, thrift shops, artsy places. They love it. And we can all look and look without having to spend.

Isaac with his grandpa, only a few hours old

Then Chinua and I left them with our kids for forty-eight hours while I had a fun little jaunt in labor land. In the end I scored an absolutely lovely baby, so I don't hold a grudge over missing forty-eight hours of my dad's week. 

Dad and Isaac.

Can I say how impressed I am with my parents? They came to stay with us in a house that isn't ours and just fit right in, cooking in a kitchen they weren't familiar with, in a country they weren't familiar with, taking care of four children. My dad took the motorbike out, for the first time, to get groceries in a busy city.

Out for a quick drive with my  mom.

My mom then spent another three weeks with us in Pai. It started with a wild taxi ride from Chiang Mai, in which we didn't have enough space, and you know there are 762 curves or something like that. We were mostly at home, since I was obviously in rest and recover mode, but I managed to take her for a couple drives.

Last night we sent off a lantern for Isaac. A prayer of thanks.

And we sent a lantern off, as a prayer of thanks for Isaac. It was the biggest and best we've sent so far. I so love this picture.


My mom sat on our porch, which is beautiful though I never seem to find time to sit there, and she held Isaac whenever she could, and she talked nicely to him and cooed at him. She even got some coos back. The boy has smiled occasionally since he was two weeks old, and I'm so glad she got to see his first smiles.

My mom like a light.

In the afternoon she made us a cup of rooibos and we sat on the porch for a while longer. If it was too hot, we sat inside, under the fan. We talked and looked at Isaac.

The feeling of a newborn against your shoulder is like nothing on this earth. # grandma

These were peaceful days, full of grace for each other. Mom fit into our lives here so easily, it almost seemed as if she couldn't go. But she had to, though we are already talking about when she can come back.


I wrote a post at the Shekina Blog, part of a short series on Beautiful Community.

And in all the Isaac-related bliss and chaos, I forgot to mention a thank you to the Canadian Weblog Awards. I placed third in the expat category, with Finding Me in France in first place and Planting Dandelions in second place. Lovely company, I'm honored!

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.


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.

Here he is, the most amazing baby ever.

Wow, that was intense. And I'll write the whole story out for you soon, but for now, here is our son, Isaac Ayotunde Ford. He was born on January 27, at 2:37 in the afternoon, and he's 3.95 kilos, or 8 lbs 10 oz.

(Real name! I'll be bringing the names of the other kids out soon, so I figure I'll just let you know right from the start.)

Isaac means laughter, and Ayotunde means Joy has Returned. I think we'll call him Iz or Izzy for short.

It took 48 hours, it's true. It was a record breaker for my doctor-- she said she's never had it happen before. She told me all the women she's had as patients make the decision to get a c-section far before their labor gets to that point. But I'm stubborn. And she was willing to go along with that stubbornness. And there were a few moments of doubt, but we got through. Chinua is such an amazing birth companion and he told me again and again that he knew I could do it.

Ahh, the smell of him! The first two hours with my baby are the sweetest in the world. We looked at each other and discovered each other.

Then, a few hours later there was a little drama with a whole lot of bleeding. Apparently my uterus was very tired after 48 hours and couldn't shut the bleeding down. There were a lot of nurses and some painful interventions and I cried and shook and panicked as I felt blood gushing out of me, but now I'm okay.

I am anemic. Time to get on those green smoothies.

Of course we all try to figure out who he looks like. He looks like Leafy, but then there's some Kid A in there, and some YaYa, and something all his own. I can't believe we have another beautiful child.

I'm getting sprung today. My camera ran out of batteries, and in my plan to get to Chiang Mai, have the baby quickly and get right back home to Pai, I didn't bring the charger, so these are all mobile photos I took from Chinua's facebook account. But home is in sight! Today I leave the hospital, and within the next couple of days we'll head back to Pai, and I'll charge my camera and take a mountain of photos, and there will be milky snuggles. The kids are smitten, I'm smitten, Chinua is smitten, and my parents are smitten. (They're here!)

One complaint. I'm in a country that has some of the best fiber filled foods in the world. You can't walk down the street without finding green papaya salad or cut up fruit on ice! So why is the hospital feeding me bread, pasta, and meat? A word to the wise, hospitals: If you want your postnatal women to be able to poo, you have to feed them fruit! Or fresh vegetables. That is all.