I'd like to know what he'll name his first band.

The mornings are cool now, cool enough to wear a sweater, especially on the scooter. The sun still burns strong in the middle of the day, so that you look down at yourself suddenly and wonder why on earth you are wearing a sweater. It’s hot! you think. Why am I wearing this? Because the chill of the morning is a vague memory, and you don't even remember how uncomfortable it is to wash dishes in cold water on a cold morning.

I love this weather.

Tonight I lost it and shouted at the kids a bit, because they were fighting over turns on the computer and it drives me batty. Batty enough that I tell Chinua, "you'd better come in her because I'm pretty sure I'm not cut out to be a mother. I don't know why I'm realizing that right now." 

We worked it all out, and I apologized for shouting. We shared our vision again, of a family that helps the younger ones and looks out for each other, and spends time together and doesn't get rigid and miserly over things like computer turns. Most of the time my kids are the farthest thing from miserly, practically showering affection on our friends and visitors, the first to invite people over or suggest more hang out time or set their friends up on the computer. But with each other? Well, it's hard to live with a lot of siblings. (Great preparation for the real world.) 

Kenya suggested a game of Phase 10 after dinner, which turned into Phase 3 when Isaac was too sleepy for us to finish. Not that he was playing, but I needed to get him to bed before he keeled over. Suggesting Phase 10 was a good idea on Kenya's part. My kids love the crazy goofy mood I get into when playing any board game; part evil competitor, part wild encourager. I'm known to gloat a bit and also to start singing songs like, "I think you're amazing!" to the tune of Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, if anyone gets down on themselves for not finishing a phase. It's a strange combination, but it works for us. They love it. They basically love it when I leave off of being the super serious, slightly frazzled mother that I can be, and start having fun. It's a lesson to all of us. They also love it when I lie in bed with them at night, for the same reason.

Halfway through our game of Phase 3, Leafy went to get a glass of water. He's a budding chef, and he came back into the room and announced, "This is my famous drink, called Disheveled Puppy." 

I lost it. Wha? Leafy only gets quirkier as he gets older and he is always good for a lot of non sequiters. It turned out that I had heard him wrong and he had said "Shoveled puppy," because the spoon in the glass of plain water he brought in was the shovel and the water was the puppy. Still strange. 

I've started enlisting one kitchen helper per night so I can teach them more about cooking, and the way that I can tell Leafy is a budding chef is because he can't leave the food alone. "We have to sauté the onions and garlic slowly until they are really soft and almost see through," I tell him, and he says, "That looks and smells so good, can I eat a little bit of that plain, right now? Can you put it in a bowl for me?" And then when we add the tomatoes he's hopping up and down, he can barely wait to taste it.

He also comes up with good names, like Disheveled Puppy. 

Our friends from Australia arrived a couple days ago, two couples who are coming to be part of this budding community that is starting here. Of course, today I discovered that a weed whacker in Australia is called a whipper snipper, and though I have promised myself to stop laughing at what things are called in Australia, I couldn't help myself. Whipper snipper. Snort. I'm so happy I can barely contain myself. 

I've also been battling depression and extreme feelings of unworthiness and despising myself, so hey, how's the roller coaster? It's all over the place. I found myself googling "signs of depression" the other night, and I don't know what I was expecting to find. Maybe "Number of times per week it is normal to drive through countryside sobbing on a scooter?" or "degree of self loathing permissible for food that doesn't taste quite the way you wanted it to?"

I'm teetering. I'm not deep in it, but I tip over into it easily. I'm working on it, and I'm always afraid of writing about shame and depression, because that is what it does to you. But I'm going to continue, because I know it helps someone out there somewhere. And for all the reviews I get that say I'm too whiny, I get twenty more that say, thank you, you helped me. That's what matters. I'm glad that there are people out there who don't know what it feels like to be crippled by anxiety or depression, but I am not one of those people. 

I'll tell you the truth, because I can't always believe it myself, and in telling you, I'll tell myself. You are beloved by God and you don't need to be ashamed. Every day, every beautiful thing is a gift from His heart to yours, and you need to learn to reach out and take them. Take the Disheveled Puppy and the game of Phase 3, take the hug from your husband and truly feel it. Don't tell yourself you need to justify your existence by making money or giving a lot or being wise. Take the love from your kids or your parents, take it openhanded, because it is from God. Don't let the shame pit drag you down into it. You don't belong there, just because you got a little shouty, just because you over salted the food. You belong in love, and friendship, and safety.

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 Solo,

The other day you came with your dad and I, to Chiang Mai, all by yourself. It takes three hours to get there, on a very curvy road. We had rented a car so we could get to the city and back on the same day, and we left really early in the morning so we could get there in time for your appointment at the consulate for your new passport, which is expiring soon. (This means that you are very, very old. Nearly six years old!)

You were an angel. We were rather surprised by how quiet our day was. You read in the car, slept a bit, hummed to yourself, talked with us a little about the radio show we were listening to. Your dad and I had long, uninterrupted talks while you watched the passing trees through the window. In Chiang Mai you sat at the consulate quietly, we talked a bit while we waited. You stood and looked at the man when he was checking that the baby on your first passport was really you. (Hard to tell, really. It looks like a photo of Isaac.) You held our hands on the way back to the car. When we asked you what you wanted for lunch, you said “pizza,” so you and I got pizza while your dad looked for a salad. 

We painted your gloves on, but they started to melt off, all over you!

We painted your gloves on, but they started to melt off, all over you!

Of course you were still you, delightful, curious, stormy, stubborn, surprising you. When I asked you questions to draw you out, you gave me a “how dare you speak to me,” look. I reverted to one of my oldest tricks, talking casually about something I know you’re interested in, and waiting for you to join my one-sided conversation. It worked and you told me all about a video you had seen for making oobleck out of potato starch, starting with raw potatoes. (Couldn’t we just buy potato starch? I thought.) 

But you were a milder, more thoughtful you. This has been creeping up on us as you morph into the little boy you are. (And it’s hard to call you little when you look like an eight-year-old. I constantly have to remind myself that you’re still only five, you are nearly as tall as Leafy.) 

You are the best at Memory.

You are the best at Memory.

It told me a little bit about how hard it is to be you sometimes, the fourth kid, with the personality of someone who loves to teach, to offer knowledge, to instruct, and to have older brothers and sisters who often say, “I KNOW,” when you try to tell them something. I’m always trying to help them understand that they need to build your confidence by listening to you, but they forget.

They should listen to you more, because the world needs a kid who figures things out for himself, who loves to teach himself how to do absolutely. everything. Who came to me and said, “food is crunchy because the molecules are closer together!” and it was a discovery with enough joy that it could have been the discovery of a new planet. The world needs someone exactly like you, Solo, someone who thinks the way you do and is fiery like you, someone who draws so beautifully and loves people the way you do. 

Over the last couple of years you have had no patience for neighbors who just want to say hello or shoot the breeze. You used to be the chattiest of small talkers, without even so many words. Now it’s a waste of time to you, and no amount of trying to talk you into it will change things. (I know you’ll eventually come around, the way the other kids did.) But you are the first to make a friend when you meet a kid, pouncing on them with all your sharing abilities, telling them all about something you’ve done or seen or made. You practice headstands, you play with numbers in your head. (“Eight take away two is six!” you’ll announce out of the blue as you stand on your head against the wall.) You climb on things, you skip and jump around instead of walking. You get terribly angry when you feel ganged up on. You take really good care of Isaac. You’ve become excellent with Wookie. You adore your father, right now. (I’m kind of a runner up, these days. It’s okay, you had your years and years of shadowing my every move.) You’re a budding geologist, always finding the coolest rocks, always looking for geodes. 

You remind me often of India, the country where you were born, with your highs and lows, the way you can look as though the sun has come out radiantly, or as though we’d better head for cover. And like with that beautiful, maddening country I love, I am entranced by you, my son. You are so purely you, refusing to be anyone else at all. 

It’s wonderful.

Love, Mama

 

(Credit goes to Chinua for many of these photos.)

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. 

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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.


Love,

Mama

A journal of the flu, or how I am the worst sick person in the world.

The Flu: Day 1

Argh, argh, meltdown! Everything unbearably sad, fever fever, can't stand up, better get up because Chinua has hypertension, oh, lying back down. Guilt. Sadness. Fever. Darkness.

The Flu: Day 2

Certainly I will be better today, take medicine, get up, make breakfast, go to the market with all the kids to buy shoes for Leafy. Home, bed, whoops I'm no longer okay. Chills, chills, it hurts everywhere. Chinua brings food. Dying. 

The Flu: Day 3

Worse! I'm worse! Body no good anymore, head feels really far away from feet, skin too sensitive, crying in the kitchen, back to bed with you. Sleep, sleep. Can't focus on words on a page which means: REALLY sick. Chinua brings food. Must eat, can't taste.

The Flu: Day 4

Giving in and resting in bed. Why is the sun so bright and ugly? Everything sticks out and pops you in the face with too much color. Legs and head exist on different planets. Baby comes in occasionally to lie on my face. Children's voices like old tin cans banging on concrete. Chinua brings food, bless him. Can't think about anything at all without near emotional and mental implosion. Take me Jesus. 

The Flu: Day 5

(Lifts head tentatively) Wait, I think... fever is gone. Gone! Whoops, unsteady legs, slow down sailor. Up and at em, go to market, look around fuzzily, what am I supposed to be buying? Why must everything be bright? Home, tidy, lie down, write a bit, lie down, moan. Hang out with Isaac. Celebrate standing and talking!

The Flu: Day 6

Life might actually be worth living. Body aches, lungs clearly useless, sinuses in the act of mutiny, but look, pretty! The sun is shining and I guess it's not gross after all, maybe beautiful even? Kids have melodious voices and are funny! Only a little crying, mostly standing, cooking, drinking beautiful water and well, whoa, still not so safe in my head. Let's think those thoughts again tomorrow, maybe they'll be easier another day.

Falling away.

(Photo by Tom Heine, Chinua singing with friends at a charity event in Goa this year)

(Photo by Tom Heine, Chinua singing with friends at a charity event in Goa this year)

It’s been rough around here lately. My Superstar Husband was hospitalized for severe hypertension (very very high blood pressure) on Monday and finally came home yesterday. He was on an IV with anti hypertension drugs and it still took a few days for his blood pressure to come down. (It was at 245/135 when he went in to the hospital.) This is his first inkling that he has high blood pressure, and it means a lot of thought about how to make life different. His diet is great, exercise could be better. Stress could be better. So. This precious, precious person is not well. He was sick in the hospital with an IV and it was very scary. Everything else falls away.

 

My week was about cycling or riding the motorbike back and forth between my house and the hospital (thankfully very close together), bringing him food, visiting, staying there at night while Miriam stayed at our house with the kids. My next weeks are about taking care of my family, my husband being one of the people I need to extend all of my care toward. Everything else falls away. 

 

I feel like we’re standing on the edge of a canyon and I can’t see to the other side. I don’t know what I’m stepping into, how our life will change. Last night a very kind American cardiac nurse came over to talk with us. Chinua is still on bed rest and she was lovely and funny and helpful, but also told us how to tell the difference between a stroke and a heart attack and I looked at her and thought, “You’re using naughty words, those words aren’t allowed in this family.” Like she had said stupid, or hate, or ugly, or divorce, words that we are not allowed to say. Heart attack and stroke are naughty words that we’ve never thought of, and what happens now? Does it go back to normal? Is there a normal? How come every time I get my breath I feel like my feet get knocked out from under me? 

 

All of this happened after a trip that was a bit wild, in the insane Laos April heat, with a few too many obstacles, and does it also mean that we can’t be quite the wild travelers that we are used to being? Do we need to calm down? (For instance, Solo’s passport only had three months left on it and I knew this could be a problem at the border to Laos, but I said, “It’s okay, we’ll be able to talk them into letting us in,” which was TRUE, and we were, but maybe talking border officials into letting us do things is too stressful and we shouldn’t do it anymore. Maybe?) And how much of this is my fault, for not recognizing the stress that Chinua has been feeling? How much is it my fault for being a bit of a basket case of a wife? And when the things that are difficult or stressful are things that I can’t change, like quarreling kids or finances or all the unknowns we are constantly facing, then what can I do to help? 

 

I feel like very suddenly things have stilled or quieted, like a movie on pause, and I look around and see all the things I’ve written or declared for myself, the independence I’ve longed to strike out for, the labels I’ve longed to give myself (I'm an Artist. I'm a Writer), and everything is very suddenly quiet and in the quiet I see that God has given me this family, here, in this place, and this is what I have, and this is what I do. The palm fronds are still, the animals are quiet, my hands are full, my heart is full. I’m in love with them, with all of them. They are the art I make with my every day. 

 

And I’m so thankful. Thankful that Miriam came from India the day before Chinua got sick (I don’t know what we would have done without her), thankful that I have a new partner-in-crime (house helper) who is helping me for a few hours a day, thankful for the food we eat and the days God has given us and the goodness of lying in bed with Chinua at night, talking about nothing and everything, laughing at silly things we see on the Internet, thankful for visitors in the hospital, for the sunshine, for love and each other and most of all for God sustaining each breath. For in Him we live and move and have our being. Acts 17:28

We could use your prayers.

Around the corner

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These days I have sketchy outlines of thoughts in my head. When I gather them in my hands, many are so insubstantial that they slip through my fingers. My mind is often tied up with my novel and the pretend people that speak in my dreams. Other thoughts are of more stories that I want to write, and then there are the drawings that I imagine, the colors I see behind my eyes. The other day I was watching an oil demonstration on YouTube and when the artist moved away from the brown underpainting and laid down the first line of brilliant red, my eyes filled with tears. Sometimes I think that living as a mother and artist involves keeping hopeful. Each day I think, well, it’s possible that I will draw today. It’s also possible that all I will do is wash dishes, but so easily, so easily washing dishes could turn into dancing and maybe a movie spooling from the tips of my fingers, or I could be set free in a small room with all the colors of paint that I could ever want, and all the time to lay them down as I imagine them. My relationship to the practical things of life is so strange. I so often look at my hands, peeling carrots for the millionth time, and think, have I really managed to keep us all fed all these years? Me? And what about the repetitive nature of cleaning? Why does the wildness of dust and mold try to take us over? Will we ever win? Is it winning when we have to devote hours and days to it? Should we just give in and let the jungle take over? Let the dust turn us back into a desert?

Leafy washes dishes. He either washes breakfast dishes or lunch dishes every day, and he does it with his whole imagination intact and flowing into the dishwater. It is not actually helpful, when Leafy washes dishes, it carries the hope of one day being helpful, but at this point in time the kitchen becomes a glorious mess. “I don’t know how you do it,” I say. “I’ve never seen anyone able to make mountains of suds appear on the floor from the plumbing like magic.” When the floor becomes wet, in our outdoor kitchen, the dirt from the ground all around it makes the kitchen floor into mud. Leafy is lost in a world of carefully making each dish sparkle, while his eight-year-old feet are dancing a mud puddle into the space around him, accompanied by sound effects from his adorable mouth.

Kenya fits her art into every spare second. She moves rapidly from eating breakfast to making things with modeling clay, to taking care of Isaac while I get something finished, to working on her schoolwork, and then writing her picture book. When we go out, she carries a purse with paper and pens and a piece of modeling clay in it, because she can’t stand not being able to make something. When I start to read aloud to the kids, Kenya jumps up. “Just a second! I need some paper!” or, “I need some clay!” Practical things need art and signs around them. When she started rescuing bees from the honey bottles (that people always leave open) in our kitchen, (tenderly washing them with water from the sink and putting them somewhere safe so they can dry off their wings and fly away) she made a sign that said, “Bee Rescue Team.” “Who is on the Bee Rescue Team?” I asked. “Me,” she said. She also made a bee hospital out of small unwanted toy barrel that she laid a rose petal in for a bed. Kenya is not an artist. Kenya is ART.

Kai claims to hate creative endeavors. You couldn’t write a script with a more polarized pair than these two kids who most often actually enjoy the same things and yet love to be opposite. From eating (we have two staunch moral vegetarians, and two omnivores who delight in Thailand’s grilled meat delicacies) to books (they both love Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid but Kenya hates Percy Jackson while Kai has read every book three or four times) they find ways to disagree. Kai has his own art, though he would hate to hear me say it. The way the kid plays with numbers in his head can only be described as a kind of dance. He loves science, facts, he loves to know and memorize everything. Knowledge runs through him like sap in a tree, he is thrilled by comedy and deeply moved by sad things. He is literary to his core but he doesn’t yet love the effort that writing takes. He has very little belief in his own abilities, but I tell him not to lock himself in. There is no telling what he will be. Just around the corner a new love could appear. This is the first year he has stopped claiming to hate Math, instead giving himself long division questions to stream down pages. We never know what is around the next bend in the river.

There is no telling what a day could bring. Yesterday we discovered that one of the many stray cats who like to lurk here, hoping that Wookie will be careless with her food, had her kittens in the ceiling of our kitchen. The air around the kitchen was filled with tiny kitten cries last night, Kenya hopping up and down with excitement, planning a life with all these stray cats to keep her company. (Oh dear.) Today the mama cat started moving them, jumping down from the roof with blind babies in her mouth.  There are stories everywhere and I want to record every single moment but often these days I am obligated to simply live them and flash on to the next thing.

The imprint of God is on me, a divot on my every waking thought, the way he made me, the way he made my children, all of us different and doing the messy, kitchen disaster business of beating the dust away from our lives and trying to be what he intended. When we close our eyes we can nearly taste it, smell the fresh eucalyptus smell of his spirit chasing away the lethargy that can creep in, that can hamper our delight, or the bitterness that can make us stop trying. This is why I have to keep hoping that I will find all the beauty, that I will find a way to put it onto paper or canvas or into my home. God put the longing here, God makes the whole thing a mystery, how we are transformed and being transformed, how he is devoted to us and we are devoted to him though we can’t see him, because we see his evidence everywhere. There is so much evidence of God in the life of a mother, in all the bending and bowing down, self-abandonment and yet hope of beauty, of the quick smile of a child, the hand on my back when I’m not feeling well and I look up and find that it’s my eleven-year-old massaging my shoulders. I will simply never be the housekeeper I would love to be, I am not naturally organized, my head is too far in the clouds. But God is with us and so the kitchen mud puddle won’t overcome us and we won’t let the jungle swallow us after all.

Memory lane

Chinua has been adding CDs of photos to our digital storage, and it has been sweet, seeing the photos, to travel back in time.

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Back to when we were a little bitty family, when I was a baby. I mean, when Kai was a baby.

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Adorable.

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We show them pictures like these when they're frustrated with each other.

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My friend Rebeca made me that quilt.

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I think the picture that made me the most nostalgic was this one, because car, guys. I used to be a person who drove a car. Now I drive a motorbike and a chariot. Life is very different, with many twists and turns along the way. You too may drive a chariot, one day.

I like to ride my...

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One reason that Christmas went well this year, I think, is that the presents were very simple. The kids got a toy each from us, and a toy each from each other (I split them up in the store and had the little kids choose something for the big kids and the big kids choose something for the littles... though, really, am I calling Leafy little? Wishful thinking. Older kids and younger, maybe.) They got more Lego and K'Nex (ordered online and carried over lovingly by their dad, who is part camel) from their grandparents, and then! Boardgames! Boardgames are a win for everyone!

(I really am not a big fan of Monopoly, though others in my family love it. And I think I've pinned it down to my issues around money. Scrambling to come up with money for rent strikes a little close to home with certain instances in the past and is. not. fun. It's the anxiety-inducing game! You're headed for poverty, ho! ho! ho! You have to mortgage all your properties and watch as the bank reclaims them! We're having so much fun!)

I got a lovely bracelet and necklace that Chinua and Kenya picked out, and here is the present I am Very Excited About!

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A second-hand Japanese city bicycle, just for me! There are so many times that I jump on the scooter when I would benefit from cycling my little legs around and getting more movement in my life. I plan to change the basket in front to one of the lovely local bamboo baskets and to put a little bamboo baby seat on the back, for Isaac. And it's purple.

I cycled to a quiet place to write today, my first writing day since the beginning of November. I've been jotting down some writing plans and getting some work done in my novel. Despite my terrible head cold, I am very, very content.

Poured out.

Morning is here and full of hope. It is five degrees Celcius (42 Fahrenheit) outside, and maybe a degree more in my wooden house with many windows and no heat. And yet, the hope, soft as gentle, heavy bubbles rising on a summer day, the kind that you make with a big string and a tub full of soapy water. Hope for creativity in this day, for kindness, for good food and moments with the crystalline knowledge of the love of God, all around us and in us. And the happy hope that Chinua will be home in two days’ time, falling into all of our arms.

Christy and the girls have gone, crossing airplane paths with Chinua in the sky, after a day of seeing animals and feeding parrots in Chiang Mai. It was so good to have Christy here: a much needed boost for the kids (she loves them, and they need that love of others in their lives, as all kids do) and a much needed grownup friend for me. We’ve already begun plans for a little monastic retreat in California whenever I get there next, since for two deep and spiritually minded girls, our conversation was rather limited to “Does vegetable soup sound good—Solo stop hitting Kai!” and “Sure—Fiona, do you need to potty?”

Seriously. Two women who haven’t seen each other for years, who have traveled the world together, through India and Nepal, into the Andaman Islands and the far reaches of the Himalayas, who have talked and journaled together, shared tiny guesthouse rooms with toilets that stank to high heaven, have taken buses with chickens and Nepali villagers, have cried together, have sat together by smoky fires at the largest Hindu gathering in the world, have washed travelers’ feet together in the plains of India, street kids’ feet together in the gullies of Delhi, have slept in the woods near Santa Cruz together, helped people tweaking on drugs together in San Francisco… give us seven kids and no dads and we will have surprisingly little time to talk. (Wow, writing that list out, and it is by no means exhaustive, makes me realize what an incredible history we have!) Our eyes have had to say it all. (And bedtime, let me tell you— you mothers of older kids already know this, but it stops being a thing where you can have everyone sleeping at 8:00 pm and go and drink wine together. Bedtime: it goes on and on my friends, and anyway, Christy’s jet-lagged kids had her up at 4:30 nearly every morning.)

So we have a good long weekend coming to us, someday. Christy is one of the sharpest minds on Christian and Eastern Spirituality that I know, I love to sit and here her thoughts, and traveling with her has always made me go deeper in my writing and thoughts. Hmmm… maybe we have a writing project together in our future?

But it is the beauty of seasons, isn’t it? We who have traveled as a young teenager and twenty-something, now with our abundant families flocking all around us? Pouring ourselves out in this different way? We will travel farther down this road into a future of older kids and then our empty nests and we will always be able to point back to our memories together. Being poured out as mothers now. It is a scripture and thought that has come to me often in these last five weeks, as I have pushed myself to get up after all the kids are in bed and finish those last few dishes in the cold outdoor air (because I know it will be colder in the morning): “I am poured out like water,” from Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted in his suffering, referencing the suffering of David. As a mother, I suffer only my own undoing, unmaking, and it is a very rewarding suffering, with a house full of people around me. But I relate, I am poured out like water, like other mothers everywhere, we are poured out. We relate to Jesus in this way, even when we don’t have time to sit and reflect and go deep, when we are responding to fights and the endlessly needy stomachs of growing boys. Poured out.

Dear Isaac

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Love,
Mama

Growing

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This morning I woke up and the sky was very grey.

Oh sun! My heart called. I miss you! 

And later, it reappeared. The sun came out and I am in love with it. I love the light and the blue, blue sky behind the hills. At the end of a long rainy season, I am so ready for the sun, ready for the clothes to dry on the line in less than 48 hours, and ready for the brightness that sunlight brings to everything.

I tasted that brightness when I left the hospital with Isaac on Sunday, a full week after he was admitted. He still wasn't feeling completely normal when we left, and in the next days he dropped all that water weight he had gained from his IV and I could see just how much of his real weight he lost with that infection.  He seems so tiny, now. I pick him up and he feels like a different baby. But thankfully he was so very chubby and he's not thin, now, just not the humongous Isaac that we are used to.

No one has been able to get their fill of him. The kids dote on him and he soaks up all the attention. Unfortunately, they are also sick with noisy coughs, so I've been trying to get them to keep their distance a little bit, since I want him to be protected from illness on top of illness.

We had a scary moment a couple of nights ago, all of us woken up by Solo's croupy cough and breathless crying. "I can't breathe," he kept saying in the tiny bit of voice he could squeeze out. We took him and held him in a chair in the night breeze. It was raining and I sat under the shelter with him and gradually the swelling in his bronchial tubes lessened, and then Chinua took over and held him while I tried to get a little more sleep. Before I went upstairs, the garbage truck came by. It was 4:00 in the morning, and except for Isaac, every member of our family was standing around outside downstairs, having a croup worry party. What must the garbage men have thought? They didn't share, they kept on silently emptying the recycled tire trash containers into their large yellow vehicle. I had a flashback to working nights, and the strange little scenes I would see, blinking them away because anything at all can happen in the night and nothing seems odd at all.  

Chinua did try to usher Kai and Kenya back into bed, but Kai said, "How can I sleep when my brother is sick like this?" Eventually they did go back to bed.

 *

Today I got annoyed because Kenya dropped a plastic jug of milk on the floor in the kitchen and it spilled out everywhere.  I was in the middle of cleaning another mess already, and I was so irritated, so I said, "How on earth did you drop it? How do you drop something with a handle?" Then five minutes later I apologized for being a Grump-a-saurus Rex over spilled milk, of all things, when there is even a rule against being grumpy about spilled milk, and Kenya said, "You're not a Grump-a-saurus Rex, you're a Sweet-a-saurus Rex." And then we danced around in a big dance-y hug.

The other day Leafy made glasses out of black duct tape, and he explained the whole process to Chinua. He sat looking at them for a minute, and then he said, "But they're not glasses. They're tape-ses."

Last night the kids were talking about computers and how they haven't been around all that long.
"When Daddy was a kid, computers were only for rich people," Kai said.
"Kind of like 3D printers now," Kenya said.
And I missed the next part, but they were talking about someone who was pretending to be poor but was really rich because he was wearing a suit, and Leafy said, "Wait. A suit?"
"Yeah,  you know... all black, with a tie," Kenya said.
"Ohhhhh," Leafy said. "That kind. I've been watching too much Iron Man."

Because he was picturing a rich guy with an Iron Man suit. All the rich guys have them.

Everyone is getting older and now I have this eleven-year-old now whose smile can light up a room, a nine-year-old who grows in grace daily, a seven-year-old who is too smart to believe, and a five-year-old who writes me page after page of random letters, bringing each one to me proudly. These are real people who fight and get mad at each other a lot, but they are fierce with love for one another and the hugs in this house! The hugs. I have to pinch myself sometimes, even when housework feels like drudgery or one kid has given another one a dirty look behind my back, again, because this is my life and these are my kids and they're wonderful. I have young ones and middling ones and soon the house will be full of teenagers- it'll be a blink of an eye and it will be here. I can't believe we got here so fast, they're not all little anymore and it seems to have happened when I wasn't looking.

Isaac in the hospital

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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.

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Making a scene

A couple of weeks ago I couldn't stand the thought of my kitchen, so we walked through our little town to a burger place in an alley. We eat there once in a while, and always manage to nearly fill the place up, it's so tiny, with a few stools in front of and beside the grill, and a couple of small tables across the alley. Big van buses go by every so often, forcing everyone standing on the street to press against the edges and suck their guts in.

We got our food and sat eating in our various places. Kai had picked up a few of the yummy Schweppes lemon sodas that we all like, from the nearby 7-11. He ran back and sat down, ready to eat. There are photos on the wall of people eating at the burger place, and Kai jumped up to point out one that clearly had him pictured in it.

Then he said, “I feel really bad.”

I turned and saw that his face was gray and sweaty, so I jumped up and grabbed him, and he sort of sank in my arms and then got panicky, saying “Mama! Daddy! Mama! Daddy!” Chinua was with us holding him as well by this time, and then Kai’s eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped completely. He had sweat all over his face.

I’m going to stop here and say that when something like this happens completely out of the blue, an observer might be able to say, “Your son has fainted.” But when you are the parent? Deep and awful panic sets in. Your first thought is, “We’re losing him!” Chinua and I unashamedly starting shouting “Hospital!” Like calling “Police!” only we were calling “Hospital!”. Kai was still out, and Chinua was holding him, trying to get him to respond. A nearby Thai woman and her father stepped in to help.

“We have a car,” they said. “We can get him to the hospital.”

The man came and started talking to Kai, and Chinua was trying to keep him awake as well. I actually have no idea what I was doing or saying. I seemed to be out of my body and with Kai. I think I was helping him, wiping his face, talking to him, but when I remember back, I only see him and can’t remember me.

Kai came to, and at the advice of a young German couple across the street we laid him down and put his feet on one of the stools. It started to look like Kai had simply fainted, (sorry, Kai would like me to call it passing out) so the kind woman called a local clinic, asking whether they were open. When it turned out that they were, Chinua ran home to get our scooter so they could drive over to the clinic.

I stood with Kai, who was still lying in the middle of the floor with his legs up on one of the stools. I wiped his face with a wet towel, that's what you do, you know, when people have passed out. He seemed fine at this point, though still a little weak. Kenya was fluttering around feeling embarrassed about the fact that we were causing a scene. “Can’t we move him off the floor?” she asked in a fierce whisper. Kai, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy making the scene quite a bit, now that he was feeling better.

When Chinua came with the scooter, the Thai lady went with him and Kai to the clinic, to show Chinua where it was, and when Chinua entered with her, he discovered that she was a Thai TV star and that everyone knew her. It explained her crystal clear, perfect Thai. Having her help us was like fainting in England and having David Attenborough take care of you and help you to the clinic.

We were a bit mystified  and confused about why Kai had passed out at all. But the next day, when I looked in the freezer and found that about half a bag of chocolate chips was missing, it all became more clear. Kai has been hypoglycemic since he was a baby. I don’t remember him ever waking up without crying until he got food or a snack, he was always miserable after a nap until he ate. And one thing that can happen with hypoglycemia is a sugar craving, then a sharp spike after eating sugar, and a big crash if nothing else follows the sugar. He had eaten so much sugar that he crashed hard enough to lose consciousness.

That is all. He was and is fine.

This all mirrors events in my childhood so closely that it is a little uncomfortable, remembering. I never did faint, but had extreme sugar cravings and similar chocolate thievery. Even into adulthood I have to be very careful to eat before I go shopping, so I don't end up with Oreos in my cart. And oh, I'm so glad Kai is okay. We're working on keeping him topped up, to lessen those crazy sugar impulses.

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.

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.

Dear Leafy,

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Yesterday, as I was sitting outside eating a mango after lunch, you walked over to me.

“Mama,” you said. “This might sound weird, but I think I have sensors on my tongue. I can tell whether or not a bite of food that I’m taking is going to make me full, right as I put it in my mouth.”

And you waited for my response. So of course I said, “That’s cool, Leafy.”

It is cool. You’re cool. I mean, seriously, mind-stoppingly incredible. 

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This is not a birthday letter because you turned seven on January 20th, exactly a week before Isaac was born and now you’re WAY older than seven. Obviously. At the time I wasn’t at all sure whether I would be in labor on your birthday or not. But we had a party and there were all these other kids there and when you opened your present (a Clone Trooper mask) you screamed with joy. For once, we didn’t shush you.

What will you do with all your lungpower, son? Your ability to project across the country of Thailand merely with the sound of your voice?  And what will you do with your brilliant mind? Your mind is in love with play. You play with words, with ideas, with pictures. In your mind, definitions are made to be bent and flipped inside out, every problem has some way to be worked around, in large, creative, sweeping circles.

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As I write this letter to you, you are walking in large circles around the room, not seeing anything in front of you, deep in your mind, in the action that happens in your imagination. You can do this for hours, and I think you’ve done it since you could walk. Sometimes we have to tell you to please watch your feet, because you’ve been drawn away so far that you don’t notice if you are stepping on things or even people.

He's killing me.

And then sometimes you get drawn swiftly back to the here and now, as when you hear Isaac crying and you run from wherever you are to find him. You love him so intensely, his cry seems to affect you just as physically as it does me. I knew you would love him, you've always loved babies and you sit for hours with small friends of our, talking baby talk and listening to the baby words they tell you in turn. But I wasn't prepared for how much you would love him, how you would sob in the hospital when you realized that you had to go back to the house and Isaac would be staying with me in the hospital. How you always come and find us in our room, first thing, and lay your head beside his as he nurses.

We cut the rest of Leafy's hair off yesterday and he turned into a mini Chinua.

We cut the rest of your hair off the other night. This time there was no crying, you were excited and happy to see how different you look. I could barely contain myself, you emerged looking just like your daddy when he was a little kid, and it was so endearing, so, so endearing. I loved the way you looked with dreadlocks, and with your dreadlock mohawk, and now that you have short hair I can see every gesture you make in a different way, how you tilt your head to the side when you're thinking, or imagining, as you so often are.

I mean, I can't, he's too, ahhh.

You bring me flowers and you dream up things to give me, and long to make things for people you know. You often tell me you're going to build me a house one day.  I've stopped expecting this affection to go away because I know that this is who you are, with a deep core of tenderness and a love of giving to others.

So far this year with you, your year of being seven, is challenging, as you are stubborn or whiny sometimes in a way I'm not used to with you. And this year is above all,  beautiful. Like you.

Love,

Mama

Dear Isaac,

Love.  

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.

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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.

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Love, Mama

(Last photo is courtesy of Chinua.)

Isaac's birth story: wild animals everywhere

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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

A day on the town with Kid A.

It's a blessed woman who has a ten-year-old boy, which is just my funny curly way of saying that I love my oldest son. 

We went out on a mother/son date about a week ago, on the scooter, off through the jungle, south to Panjim, the capital of Goa. Our destination was a bookstore that has a lot of kids books, to buy him book three and four of the Percy Jackson series. (He then inhaled them in one day. Sigh. I can't keep the kid in clothes or books.)

All the way, he entertained me with his personal, Kid A form of love: random trivia delivered from the back of the scooter. Things about planets, Greek mythology, and micro organisms. When he starts telling me these things, I know he's feeling well, that he's feeling a lot of love, and that this is how he tells me he loves me. I bask in it. "Really?" I say. "I didn't know that."

(I truly didn't, most of the time. He can carry a whole world of facts in his head, just like his father.)

Bikes in the background.

I took him on some of my own errands, too. To the art store. I was looking for quality watercolors, but decided I couldn't quite afford the Winsor and Newton ones, and I bought a new set of Camel Artist Watercolors. The Indian brand. Not too bad, if you haven't worked too much with high quality watercolors, which I haven't.

He posed in his father's sunglasses, borrowed for the journey. A man walking by said, "James Bond."

Helmet kid.

A kinder, gentler, less womanizing James Bond, perhaps. (Younger, blacker, cuter.)

We then went to my favorite fish curry rice restaurant for lunch. Except that we didn't make it for our lunch time, we made it for Indian lunch time-- 2:00, and the restaurant was packed with people waiting for seats. People who weren't about to wait patiently in queues. Once I saw a few people saunter by me while we waited in line, I decided to do a little reconnaisance. We scooted to the back of the room and waited nearby two people who were nearly done with their food.

It's a dirty job, but sometimes it's the only way to get food.

The fish thali (in Goa called fish curry rice, as in: fish, curry (prawn coconut) and rice, and about three other vegetable dishes and clams) was everything I'd been dreaming of, and Kid A had a plate of golden fried calamari all to himself. (A splurge, at $3.)

Busy market before Diwali.

Then we went to Mapusa to buy flowers for the devotion circle and drink a coconut because we were so thirsty from all that driving in the sun. Mapusa was crazy because it was just before Diwali and everyone was out preparing by buying tinselly things.

I may have to start a photo series called "Kid A drinking things." His face is so awesome.

The drinking face.

Mine is rather splotchy with my lovely pregnancy mask. Lately I get hyper pigmentation in pregnancy, which I wouldn't mind if it was only evenly distributed, and not concentrated on my forehead and upper lip. But ahhh, who can complain, with all these excellent sons and years ahead of James Bondish riding on scooters, buying books, and drinking sweet lassis? Not me, that's for sure.

(This answers Leaf's question in the comments on the last post. To answer Eleanor's? Wellllll... we've been to the little banyan tree in the coconut grove beside our house, but we haven't been to the big banyan tree that we show in all our pictures. Not yet, anyways.)