One Thing: Contentment

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About a week and a half ago, my friend Josh and I drove out to a Karen village for a visit. I knew I wanted to take some of my kids, but not all of them. I picked Kenya, Solo, and Isaac, and we went to meet our friend Sarah and her husband and baby, following their truck out to the village. They had told us about a little family who needs a new house, since theirs is falling down: just a simple bamboo hut with a leaf roof. We at Shekina get to help with it, and this was the initial trip, time to meet the couple and the elders of the village.

We drove for an hour and a half on roads that disappeared and reappeared at will, switching back, becoming dirt, then inexplicably concrete for a few meters. Up steep, teak tree-covered hills and down. Josh played music that I didn't know I had on my phone, snapping photos out of the window. The kids bounced around in the back seat and we all gaped at the views that we could barely see from the haze.

There were so many things from that day, the meeting with elders that we were privileged to attend, the way that I really made an error in judgement, picking Isaac to come, but then it didn't turn out to be such an error after all, since he eventually settled in and decided to enjoy himself. (He's at an age of strange, inappropriate announcements, and I'm often glad the people around me can't speak English: "I don't want to be in this horrible place! I don't like this house!" Ack. Kill me! It was a day of bribes.)

There were even tiny pigs, but the one thing, just this one moment, happened after we went to a surprise church service (I have been in situations like this before, where I don't really understand what is going to happen, and then we walk into a place and I realize that we're going to Karen church and also that I'm going to pray at the front. Oh! We're doing this now! It is the spice of life. They also asked Josh to sing several times, and he tried to throw me on the bus by telling them I was a good singer, which is not even true.) So we had finished with that and then we ate together, mixing the food we brought with the food Sarah's parents made, in a loose grouping on the floor, which we sat around, filling our plates with rice and bites of other deliciousness.

And then Sarah said, "I think we'll take a rest before we go out to the other village and see the house. You can sleep downstairs if you like." 

Josh went for a walk to photograph the village, but I knew what I wanted to do. I used to be a snob about naps. Now I love them. I lay down on a mattress on the floor, downstairs, and after a while Sarah's mom came and offered to take my kids out to feed the fish and go to the store for snacks. And that was when it happened. This moment.

I lay there, downstairs in the wooden house, and looked at the afternoon light streaming in the windows. A fan oscillated, and little breezes came through the open windows (no glass, just wooden shutters). I heard koel birds and roosters, and thousands of cicadas. There was about 45 minutes where I was the only one there. I don't know what it was, maybe just being invited to lie down in this simple wooden village house, the cool of the underneath of the house on a hot day, or the mother who had fed me and taken my kids for a walk. I could hear murmuring, those cicadas, and distant birds, and I felt a contentment that seemed to soak into every molecule I had. I drifted in and out of awareness, and I smiled every time I realized I was still there, in that room, in that village. Content. 

One Thing: Daughter

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Suddenly, swiftly, it seems, we are in the midst of giants. Tall, lanky people who stride through the world, rather than toddling after us. We are blessed. One of our giants is Kenya, the girl of our family, the one with four brothers who draws and designs her own world. Our artist girl. And she has turned thirteen. She is lovely, as she has been since she was a baby and held her hands up like a princess when she was carried from room to room.  

She has climbed, cycled, wrestled, drawn, and sculpted her way through her days. She is the whisperer of animals and babies. She is no stranger to the wild emotions of life, and yet she handles them with trust, emerging back into joy. I love my girl. 

One Thing: Traveling Home

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What is it about the road? I have always loved it. It is beautiful to be in between leaving and arriving. All the trees call out in bloom, standing on either side of the long, long road. We drove back from Koh Chang and it took two days and a morning. 

When we drive we listen to podcasts and audio books (on this trip we listened to A Short History of Nearly Everything, a big ol' science book by Bill Bryson) and we pause and talk and talk about them. The kids love this. I love it. Chinua loves it. And so time passes as we listen to our favorites (This American Life, of course, and TED Radio Hour and Tim Keller and Radiolab.) 

And there is tussling and fighting. And sometimes the teen in the car goes crazy a bit because everything is so loud and people are so annoying. And one time, after eleven hours of travel and a mistake where we drove twenty minutes in the wrong direction and my neck was hurting, it was me who went crazy. And it's always time to stop and eat. But how I love being in this space together, all of us in one place, in a car that moves from here to there. Because I know, as we drive, that we will get there eventually. And when we do, we'll break apart from this cluster and there will be more space between us, in our rooms. One of us in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, one off on a bike ride. It's beautiful in its own way, but so is the road, and being together. 

One Thing: Ocean

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We went snorkeling yesterday and it was glorious. Even Isaac got into it, floating along on the top of the water, staring down at the fish underneath. We went out on a big wooden boat with a bunch of other people and hilarious boat guides who sang "My heart will go on" at the front of the boat for laughs. It was the first time I've gone snorkeling since Chinua and I went, just after we got engaged on the Andaman Islands. And it was beautiful to take the kids, to see their delight and watch them diving down to get closer to the coral, narrowly avoiding urchins. 

On the boat, I was reminded of the sea. How it seems to stretch without limit, taking the curve of the earth. A gentle hand. I remembered fish striped or blooming like flowers, unaware, as they swim, of my grocery lists or unanswered emails. Unaware of heat, smoke, or forest fire. They swim closed in a quiet so true it is like a dream. 

This always exists here, at the bottom of the world. In full color, cool and lost to itself, light filtering down through jeweled blue. The fish swim, dreaming of food and tiny crevices in the rock, unaware of my longing.

One Thing: Be like Isaac.

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We're on a vacation down south in Thailand for a break from the smoke in Pai. A short break. We drove for two days to get to Koh Chang, and will drive for two days to get back, and it's so worth it. We have five days of restful bliss in an Airbnb on this lovely island. There are mangroves in front of our house, and a rocky quiet beach. Birds everywhere. Lanky teenagers and big kids. And one little four-year-old guy. 

Now that I have all these big kids (which I love) I find I have all this nostalgia for the little ones. And I still have one little one, so he gets a bucketful of nostalgia mixed in with his parenting. I think four might be the perfect age. He's whimsical, perpetually delighted, bubbling over with energy, and overwhelmingly cute. On the way home yesterday, Chinua and I agreed that we should be more like Isaac.  

For example. He ate pad see ew for dinner yesterday (fried wide noodles with vegetables and soy sauce) and he looked up after his dinner came and said, "Oh! I got corn in my pad see ew! I'm getting so much corn in all my pad see ews!" (Delight, awe, a feeling of being bountifully blessed with corn.) 

Or, halfway through the meal, he discovered his plastic wrapped chopsticks. "Oh! It's so good that I have these sticks! I'm going to open them!" (Delight, discovery, a feeling of being entrusted with big kid things like chopsticks.) 

Or, also during the same dinner, when a beach dog made its way over to him as a potential dropper of food (smart dog). "I'm so lucky. I'm always so lucky because this dog came and sat by me again!" (Joy, and a feeling of being chosen.)  

Or earlier in the day, eating an apple. "Mama! Mama! Apples have apple juice in them!" (Delight, discovery, culinary bliss.) 

But my favorite moment yesterday was when we went to a waterfall, and he was mulling it over as we left to hike out. "That wasn't very fun for me," he said. "I didn't swim much, there weren't very many animals, and it wasn't very fun."  (He was afraid of the fish, so didn't get in the water.)

"Well," I said. "Some things we do because they're beautiful, not because they're fun." 

But his fun meter needed some help, so on the way back through the forest, he jumped off a big rock. "I have half a fun point," he said. Then he jumped off another rock. "Now I have a full fun point." And all the way back to the car, he jumped off rocks to fill up his fun. 

That's why we want to be more like Isaac.