Driving with a two-year-old.

Sometimes when I drive to Shekina Garden by myself, I notice the cows that graze at the bottom of the hill that leads there. I almost always notice if the baby blue-eyed buffalo is there, but sometimes I’m in a hurry, or I’m sad, or I’m thinking of other things I need to do and I don’t really see the cows. If Isaac is with me, on the other hand, the issue is settled. I will notice the cows, or I will notice the fact that there are no cows, like the other day. We drove down while the three oldest kids were in Thai class. Isaac was on his kid’s seat on the Pegasus, (our motorbike that is not the chariot,) and Solo sat on the back, and as we drove our conversation went something like this: 

“I’m going to see cows! No cows! Where are the cows Mama?”

“It looks like they didn’t come today.”

“They didn’t come today! Where are they Mama?”

“I don’t know, they’re somewhere else.”

“I will call them. Cows… where are you cows? I’m calling them, now they will come! Where are you cows, come hee-re!”

And it went on like that, and I was thankful for Isaac, because no interesting thing escapes him and he never frets. He never frets about big life issues, anyway. He frets about plenty of things like whether or not I allow him to look at the dog’s poo before I throw it in the toilet. 

We went to the garden to retrieve the three bottles of kombucha that I had left in the fridge there, and when we arrived, I said hello to the workers who are building our new workshop, the amazing new place that will allow us to separate garden and building tools from kitchen stuff, as all such things should be. Separate, that is, and in their own happy buildings. And any building looks better if it has a grass roof, so it was nice to see the builders building, piling brick on brick, getting the window frames ready. It's nice to see these things progress.

Solo turned seven last week and Kai turns thirteen on the first, and suddenly I’m this kind of Mom, the kind that has all these big kids with long legs. Kai is man-sized now, not nearly as tall as he will be, but as tall as many men around here, and he is still learning about holding himself back, not playing with full strength when he’s wrestling with a nine-year-old. I’m feeling stirrings of unrest as I wonder if I am skilled enough to parent teens, but the truth is that I wondered the same thing when we strapped Kai into our community’s shared car and left the hospital the first time. Why does anyone trust me with this? I thought then, but somehow we stumbled along together until I’m staring next week in the face, and my beautiful firstborn is nearly thirteen.

Like Isaac, he has his own way of pointing things out to me. Mostly ironies or silliness or grammatical errors made by his siblings. New buildings, differences between countries, the hilarity of being asked in his school book to try to imagine spending a week in India, the things we sometimes miss out on, the perfect additions to pasta (pepper), moments in books we have both read, new kids fantasy that I should read (because he knows I love it.) Soon he'll be beta reading my new book, and I can't wait to hear what he says, because he's so perceptive about literature. ("Villains always make two mistakes. They brag about what they're going to do when anyone can hear them, and they monologue.") And, like with Isaac, I am thankful for what he helps me see. 

 

Stay

It’s a quiet morning and I’m drinking my coffee out of my new owl mug that my friend Christy gave me the other day when she was visiting from California. She was unsure of whether I would like it, because her husband, our friend Ian, had declared it hideous. What he didn’t know about was my tendency to become obsessed with objects (especially ones that I can call “he” or “she”) that are given to me with love. He will always be my coffee mug now, as long as he remains in one piece. (Time is ticking, our family is long-limbed and our tiles are unforgiving, but I will protect him as much as I am able.) I think I love him more because Christy was so smitten with him and Ian thought he was hideous. It’s everything good and funny about marriage and friendship, wrapped up with love in one mug. 

I believe in marriage and friendship, by the way. I believe in love. I believe in God.

I’ve been mulling over a concept lately, something I’d like to write about more. I call it “Stay.” Stay. It’s an ironic topic for a woman with journey in her blog name (and blood), but the idea is shaping around me as I live out my days. How to find yourself where you are. There are so many books and writings on people finding themselves while traveling, leaving everything, shucking off the old, being on the road. I deeply, deeply resonate with journeying. Sometimes I think my eyes are only properly open when tracks are clicking beneath me. But can I find myself when my feet are in the kitchen? Because if there’s anything that these years have taught me, it’s that as a mother it doesn’t really matter what part of the world you live in, you are still the center in your home, small people are orienting themselves around you, and you are still getting stepped on and elbowed and hugged and your ears are ringing. 

Stay. Is there a way to find yourself in a deeper way while staying still than while escaping? Sometimes when I am feeling claustrophobic in my life I think, “I wonder what it would be like to be a Korean woman living in Korea. I would like to be a Finnish woman and take a sauna every day. Or someone living in the Midwest of America with a dozen squashy couches and a bird feeder. But then I think, if I was one of those people, I would still need to grow roots in my own existence. 

I wake up really early in the morning so that I can write and paint and dream. I can tend to think, once the kids are up and the day is moving, “Okay that’s it for now, there will be more tomorrow.” By more I think I mean more for me. My moment is done, now the day is for everyone else, as I help with math and read aloud to them and preside in my wise judication of whether The Hulk is allowed to be invincible in a fight, or whether that is totally and completely unfair. (The rules of invincibility have given me more than one headache. Superhero legislation is beyond me.)

Is there a way to find myself in the center of it all, the storms and laughter howling around me, the hands and cheeks and hugs and tears? Can I really and truly Stay, with my heart, with my attention, with my deepest longings? Can my longings be merged with the deep calling of mother so that I don’t have to wait for my time? I believe so, in all of this life's crazy messiness and snap decisions, the broken honey bottle, the tweens grouching at each other. 

Perhaps I have been writing about this for years, but it’s breaking out of me more and more, especially when I read the opening lines of memoirs about finding ourselves by leaving. But what about those of us who stay? I wonder. And I wonder. And I want to be found. 

What do you think? Are you interested in reading more musings, meditations, essays on this? Also, here’s a question: in your blog reading, do you prefer more frequent, short thoughts, or rarer long posts? Thanks, friends, I don’t say it enough, but you are truly wonderful.

This and that.

The weather has done that strange thing it does here, where one day we are still cold, and the next dragging ourselves around in the very hot heat. It's reaching the forties, and we occasionally take refuge at the pool. The pool we love has little bamboo salas (the huts in the photo), perfect for sitting, eating watermelon, and watching the river. Chinua work on yo-yo tricks and we take turns in the cold pool and the hot spring pool. 

Sometimes at the same pool, the elephants from the nearby elephant camp come down for a bit of grazing. The elephants come down for a bit of grazing!!! One day Kenya and I will hop on and go off into the distant hills together with our new elephant friend. Maybe, just maybe, we'll come back. If the boys will be good.

Brothers are a thing into themselves. They are loud, wild, sweet, annoying, and heartbreakingly beautiful. They climb on things and fall off things. They tease each other and scream. They teach each other naughty things. They teach each other good things too, like forgiveness and how to behave in a socially adjusted manner, (even if they don't seem to get it themselves, they are excellent at displaying horror at someone else being rude) and how to play The Lord of the Ring scores on the piano. 

And then there are sisters, and these brothers have a good one. She is the one to go to if you need an idea, a picture, a clay figure, a hug, some comforting, or a bead necklace. 

We had the delight of going to a little friend's birthday party at her beautiful home. Her mom and grandma made a feast and it featured a lot of fruit! Hooray, because I only want watermelon and mangos when it's hot. The kids ran around in the grass and bugs bit them and they called wayward ducks and kept themselves from falling into ponds. It was an excellent day.

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And this! I think I am the one receiving the best gift in this piano, because I get to hear the songs my husband plays. By the way, spoiler alert for all those who have googled "Who is Rachel Devenish Ford's husband?" He is not an actual superstar, not in those ways that have people holding their hands up to block the paparazzi, or buying multiple homes. He is a superstar to us. And it is true that he can play almost any instrument and sing any song and that he is the best dad ever. 

Dear Kenya,

We went out for dessert on your birthday, at a restaurant where your dad was playing music. The two of us sat in the resplendent wing-backed chairs (perhaps the only two wing-backed chairs in this part of Thailand) and chatted while we listened to Chinua play. You broke into applause after every song, causing the other diners to also stop what they were doing and applaud. At the end of the evening your dad playing "Isn't She Lovely," by Stevie Wonder, dedicating it to you. You sighed and wiggled and grinned. "He always plays this when I come here," you said, perfecting content in a little circle of love.

All day, you said, "People are so nice, people are being so nice to me." You said it as Naomi lit candles for you and Ro and a visiting traveler wove a crown of flowers for your head. It was such a simple birthday; no presents, we hadn't had your party yet. Just a day to remember that you were born, with a crown of flowers and candles in the cake we ate for community lunch. But you have always received the simplest things with joy. If you have a handful of clay, you are happy. All you need is a bit of something you can sculpt and bake in the sun, you don't need much, my love. And if people are kind to you, you are receiving a little of how people feel when you are so kind to them, when you make them gifts with your hands for goodbye presents, or do small things to make others feel better. 

Once, a traveler asked me if I get used to how beautiful you are. It was a funny question, especially asked right in front of you. And I guess the answer is yes, your face is more familiar to me than my own. But I never get used to the fact that your inner radiance shines brighter than your physical self. That is the gift we have all been given in you. You are an animal rescuer (most recently you have been nursing two baby rats), lover of justice, defender of the small. What a thing to be.

As we sat in our wing-backed chairs, you turned to me.
"Thank you for making me," you said. 
"You're welcome," I said. "But I didn't really make you."
"No," you said.
"I built you," I said. "No, that's not right. I was your house, while God was building you."
"Yeah! You were my house!" 

We sat and chatted for a while longer, you sculpted a bird with the malleable eraser that you always carry with you. A bird with one wing outstretched. And suddenly you lunged at me in a sprawling hug.
"Can you be my house again?" you asked. 
I squeezed you really tight.
"I will always be your house," I said.

The Long Labor

The Long Labor- Oil on Canvas Board- See it on Etsy

The Long Labor- Oil on Canvas Board- See it on Etsy

My fourth child was born in a monsoon after a long labor. Somewhere after the 35th hour of walking, I rested and my husband took a photo of me. I felt that I would be walking forever, waiting forever. Not knowing when it would end, I somehow had to get up and keep walking.

It reminds me of the long endurance of life with God- When I don't feel like I'm changing. When I am lost in my own tricksy mind. When I cannot love myself, from my heart comes a prayer for endurance, for the ability to get up and keep walking. 

In birthing Solomon, what carried me through was the memory of how precious the first moments with a new baby are. I thought about when we would meet and I would kiss him all over his face. Love, in other words, and rarely do we get to have a love as pure as between a newborn and a mother, but it is truly love that will carry us through the long labor of life. Love, the ability to soothe, to illuminate all the best things in someone else, to take great joy in seeing the best in one another, to look forward to the days to come. We are surrounded by love and the great love will carry us through.

What we've been up to.

And a week has passed! I can't believe how quickly time goes lately, it seems that I blink my eyes on Monday morning and it's time to make lunch, blink them again and it's Saturday. Now that our meditation center is fully up and running, our lives are full of good things! It's the way I love to be. Cooking things, making things, caring for little people, teaching, meditating. If I get flustered I always have to stop and remind myself just how blessed I am, that this is my life.

For instance, I get to hang out with this little guy. He's all about bubble baths in our bucket, lately. He hides his hands in the bubbles and asks the room at large, "Where go hands?" then pulls them out and answers, "There go hands!" He is into everything, full time, full tilt, happy and talking and speaking a bit of Thai and learning everyone's names and greeting everyone by name and shouting "Bye bye!" at random people walking down the street. You know how our house is right on a well-trafficked street, and windows make up our walls. Last night he chopped Solo in the neck with a plastic sword, just as a man was walking by. Solo cried and the man cackled all the way down the street. Ah. 

Modeling clay was a theme of the week, as Chinua held some "competitions." Here was Solo's entry. Two little pots and a platypus. I love that of all things he chose to make a platypus. Love it. 

Kai made lungs, which was extremely impressive to me because he was using modeling clay! He is often so very adamant about the fact that he doesn't do anything artistic. He loves to box himself up and I am always trying to tear that box open. But he was tempted into this competition and he managed to make his entry very "Kai" by making a model of human anatomy. Hmmm... my brain is mulling over future project possibilities.

The only time Kenya doesn't have modeling clay in her hands is when she doesn't have pen and pencil in her hands. She is a non-stop creative factory, her mind a non-stop story, a delightful one, full of animals and animal families and quirky cartoons and beautiful dreams and poems. If she can find actual clay in the earth she will form pots, bake them in the sun, and then paint them. No one showed her how to do that. She's amazing.

We planted some arugula seeds in a pot this week and will replant them soon, to give them more space. First I have to get some compost from my compost pile because the little bit of soil I have in my square inch of garden space is not very good, and needs a healthy dose of compost. The globe amaranth flower seeds we planted did nothing at all. They were duds. I need to find some good ones, because I need some globe amaranth in my eyeballs.

This is the basil and marigolds we planted a few weeks ago. We have some in the garden bed too, but it's not doing as well, see soil complaints above. Soil is everything, guys. Everything.

I managed to get a little bit of painting in as well. First I asked my friend Naomi to model some striding for me for a painting I'm working on (not pictured here). I take so much joy from directing photos that I sometimes think I need more of that in my life- putting photoshoots together. Of course, I think that about a lot of things. 

I've had some ideas about paintings I want to work on, featuring animals in watercolor and ink. So I played around a bit and had a lot of fun. Watch this space for paintings going into my shop. Cows or water buffalos with egrets are beautiful images that have been all over the place in my life for years now, so I started with them. The gentle cow, the cheeky bird, the relationship between the two. I love them. I also think brahman cows are gorgeous.

Finally, we unboxed our next year's curriculum. Details: Kai and Kenya will be doing Sonlight's Core F, while Leafy and Solo are working on Core B, but Leafy actually flip flops between the two. Sonlight is made up of read-aloud books, and he listens to both. Solo, Leafy, and Kenya are working on Singapore Math, while I just switched Kai over to Teaching Textbooks and will switch the others over in seventh grade too. After Singapore 6, I was able to put him directly into pre-algebra, since Singapore is a little ahead. 

And with that, I'm off to prepare for the school day! 

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 here 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

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

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.