Now, Part 1.

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I don’t want to let a single thing go.

When Isaac wakes up, he smiles and starts talking immediately. Sometimes he starts talking before his eyes are open, or sometimes even while he is asleep at night. “Badababadajajamaja?” we hear from the bedroom, and we wait for more, but he goes back to sleep. He wanders around grabbing things and trying to put them into other things, a piece of bread into someone’s water glass, a baby book into a bucket of water. Yesterday I went to pay my bill at a café and found a half-eaten piece of watermelon in my purse. He is extremely good natured and only gets angered by barriers, like the closed bathroom door when I’m trying to use the toilet for five minutes please just let me use the bathroom without screaming, Isaac.

At the beach the kids are transformed into shining wet sea people. They shake their wet hair and the droplets fly off and gleam in the sun, and they laugh and dive under the waves. They are tall and healthy, heat and crankiness forgotten. The sand is in its proper place, rather than under our feet in the house. Solo rolls and dives, he is a sea creature. Isaac is a sand creature, covering himself in it before crawling head first into the surf. He stands up and runs back, getting knocked down, grabbing my legs and putting his cool face against me for safety. I follow him as he toddles around the beach, chubby and brown, naked and adorable. A strawberry vendor walks up and offers me strawberries. When I shake my head no, he opens one of his boxes and takes a strawberry out, putting it into Isaac’s mouth. Isaac chews it, toddling after the strawberry man as he begins to walk away. The man turns around and sees Isaac still following him. Isaac signs “please” at him, and the man stops and squats down again, putting another strawberry into Isaac’s mouth and then walking off down the beach with boxes of strawberries balanced on top of his head, looking for someone who will buy them.

Kenya spends her time feeding Viktor Krum or drawing, reading and writing comics or stories. Solo and Leafy work on their fort in the yard, mixing red earth with water to make paint. They use the paint to cover the  broken marble pieces they have found to make a tiny table. Solo picks up half a coconut on the way home from the beach to hold his collection of stones. They have about a dozen sticks, each one spoken for, fiercely protected. I walk out one morning to find that Kai has used the red earth paint to paint half of his face, warrior style. He looks fierce and beautiful, up for air from the books he dives into for half the day.

We live simply here. We guide meditation and meditate, write, read, sing worship on the beach, and swim. Chinua is doing a lot of filming, to make a video. He's also playing a lot of concerts. We make food for people to share with us on our rooftop. We have a full schedule of meditation, devotion circles, community lunches, dinners.  It is a very good life.

The villagers are paving a new road in front of our house and I take Isaac out to see the tractor (Tractor! And India moves along into the 21st century) while half the village stands and watches as well. I tell Isaac all about what the tractor is doing and he points at it, saying his words in his language and looking at me as if wondering whether he got it right. All of these people are so familiar, the families with children we’ve known for years. This home in India is the longest home I’ve ever known—I moved so much as a kid growing up and afterward too. In our hearts we are travelers, travelers with a history in many places, our kids forming their earliest memories in a place that smells like sunlight and burning coconut fronds, cashew flowers and incense. Now we live in another beautiful place, and we all grow together, learning who we are in the different places of our lives. I don't want to forget a thing.

 

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.

Adventures in portraiture.

This picture would be so perfect if only, well, if only Solo's head was visible.

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Here it's visible. But... oh, dear.

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The following is an example of how forced perspective can turn your average eleven-year-old into a half-giant like Hagrid.

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And here is an example of how a shutter closing at the wrong second can give the same eleven-year-old an unfortunately Mr. Bean-like face.

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I don't get it. WHY is it so hard to get a normal shot of everyone?

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Or a normal face from anyone?

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Ah, we'll try again. And I'll use the good camera next time.

As much as they are all gorgeous, it's hard to tear my eyes away from that one in the middle.

And yes, that IS a dog with muddy paws in our family portrait. That's a whole story in itself, complete with danger, angst, and impulsiveness. I'll tell you all about it. (Her name is Wookie.)

A third of the way across the bridge.

Parenting is so hard sometimes, isn't it? More than ever before in life, I want to be at my best, but I'm so often not at my best. There is a lot of love in this house and perhaps it will cover all the times I get annoyed because I'm the only one in my house who is taking her chores seriously.

It's just a little too much work and no play for me lately, that's why I'm dull and noodle-like. We did read together tonight. We stopped when we realized Kenya was already asleep. Tomorrow is supposed to be devotion day and also boardgames day, and I'm trying to figure out how to fit in all the work I also need to do. I do well with one or two things that I need to focus on, but stack them up like this and I'm flailing.

Kids can be frustrating. They ask for a lot and they can't give all that much back yet. Mothers can be overwhelmed. They give a lot and they can sometimes get bogged in giving.

I've been writing the same post for three days and I still haven't finished it, so this is what you get-- some late night regret tossed with a bit of hope for the morning. What do I hope for the morning? I hope that I will feel creative again, that the birds will wake me up, that the coffee will be perfect, that pink clouds will fill the sky. I hope that I will be lighthearted rather than weighed down, that I will not be annoyed by annoyances, but that I will laugh them off. I hope that I will play, that I will get the work done, but that I will find time to play.

I hope you will, too.

In the universe

Thank you beautiful people for your love and concern for me. Chinua left a couple of evenings ago, sent off with kisses and prayer and a few tears (mostly from Leafy) and we are settling into a month of waiting for him. Money things shockingly went from bad to worse when Chinua found out he had visa fees that he didn’t know about, and I was again given cause to be so, so thankful for the gifts that you have given over the last week. We feel your care, thank you.
I have a lot of peace and I feel ready for this challenge. I spent so long looking for a home somewhere, and we have one here. Now I can really be in my home, enjoy it and love it and be happy to be here at a time when Chinua is away.
*
Last night I was cuddling with the two little boys, and Solo was being a little proprietary, telling me I can’t snuggle with two boys, but only one.
“Leafy doesn’t love you,” he said.
“Me?” Leafy said, flabbergasted.
“Leafy loves me more than there are stars in the galaxy,” I said.
“More than there are stars in the universe,” Leafy said.
“He doesn’t love you as much as I do,” Solo said.
“I love Mama more than I love having pants,” Leafy said.
“I love Mama more than I love being a minja," said Solo. (A ninja.)
*
The kids all read before sleeping, these days, and Kai and Kenya are supposed to have their light out by 9:30. But last night Kenya got stuck in a book. I was in my room and didn’t notice until she came in at 10:45, just as I was getting ready to go to sleep, and asked me to come and pray for her. She had tears on her cheeks.
“Why are you crying?” I asked as I got into bed beside her.
“I finished my book,” she said.
“Oh. Was it sad?”
“Yes,” she said, crying more.
So I held her and prayed for her and told her about what a gift she is, and we listened to Kai’s soft breathing as he slept. She snuggled into me and drifted off to sleep. As tired as I can be during late night parenting, I know that I will never, ever regret these snuggles.
*
The other day I went out with Isaac, to meet a friend who was in town. She was with two women that I hadn’t met before and they were sitting in a nearby restaurant, waiting for their food. We all had a nice talk, all together, but I’m such an awkward girl and during the conversation I managed to 1) eat someone’s half-eaten pita sandwich, and 2) put bread in my baby’s ear.
The pita sandwich belonged to my friend, and she was stuffed. But it wasn’t the pita sandwich of my husband, or one of my kids, and in retrospect I regretted my decision to grab her sandwich and start scarfing it down when she was done with it. And then, trying to feed my baby bird pieces of bread and track a conversation at the same time, I looked down when something felt off and realized that Isaac had a piece of bread in his ear, and that I had put it there, thinking his ear was his mouth. There it sat, resting securely. I pulled it out and apologized to him, and my friend collapsed in laughter. I’m busy impressing everyone I meet with my social and mothering skills.

 

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.

5 Things Day Seven: Snake Headaches and Pirates

1. This morning I woke up with an iron snake headache. There was an iron snake curled all the way around my brain and it was squeezing me up. Normally I don’t like to even acknowledge headaches, I don’t like anything that stops me for any length of time. But this was something I couldn’t see through, like a too small grey sweater that you can’t get over your head. I went back to bed.

2. I proceeded to sleep all morning, pausing my sleeping to drag myself back to the surface of the day and nurse my baby wallaby (he likes to kick and punch, lately, while nursing. I hold his little hands and coach him in gentleness, but he smiles and waves his wallaby paws around) and then be dragged back to sleep. At lunchtime, Chinua brought me this.

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He loves to make food beautiful (especially when it's for me) and I find that very romantic, but also very inspiring. (I tend to be more of a "throw it on a plate" girl myself.)

3. I’m feeling marginally better this evening, which is good because I’m trying to keep a rhythm going, don’t you know, headache, you usurper? I blame today’s sickness for yesterday’s fits of fear and lack of belief in myself. It could be today’s sickness or it could be the ant bites. I stepped in yet ANOTHER red ant nest the other day, trying to hang laundry behind the kitchen building. They were the type that climb on your legs and then somehow all bite at once. Not that my legs were ever all that beautiful, but lately they’re all covered in bites and it’s painfully evident on their pale white moon-brightness. Also, mosquitoes love me best of all. I don’t even have to spray Isaac with bug repellent, I only have to stay close to him. I am the perfect bug repellent— where I am, mosquitoes want no one else. It’s a reason you want to have me at your party, even if I’m not the best at small talk.

4. I think there are pirates that live in this neighborhood, because sometimes I’m scootering down the street and I swear I see pirates sitting at tables and talking to each other. Or maybe they are only my idea of pirates and I shouldn't judge people and say, “You look like a pirate” anymore, but if you have a peg leg and your nose is smushed all to one side, I might think you’re a pirate. Except I don’t know if this guy had a peg leg because his legs were under the table, but his arms made him look like the kind of guy who has a peg leg.

And there is at least ONE pirate in the neighborhood, and his name is Captain Jack Sparrow, and every night he sets up a little stand at the end of my street and sometimes even poses for pictures. One day when I was scootering by he winked at me. (Have I told you that before? It was an exciting day.) Perhaps I’ll see if he’ll take a picture with me, one of these days.

5. Speaking of peg legs, there was a rat with a peg leg in my ceiling the other night and it was keeping me awake at the 3:00 hour, which enraged me. Tap tap tap echoed the rat on the teak ceiling. Our house is made of the same material that drums are made of. We live in a large drum. We caught one of the rats in our live trap and Leafy got incredibly worried about setting it free in the jungle. “That’s basically sending it out to get killed,” he said, and I had to assert that there is only so far that our charity goes- we can’t set him free in a house rat retirement community or something. The kids fetched him food and water while we waited for Chinua to get up and take him out to the jungle, because that’s how it goes when we catch pests in the Ford home. We also don’t kill flies or spiders. We kill ants and mosquitoes, and sometimes Leafy and Kenya even get upset about that. But later Leafy cheered up and said that it would be more like the rat was Bear Grylls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome home breakfast from my Superstar Husband.

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

Another morning look.

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

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

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

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

We hang out like this a lot.

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

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

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

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

Affection tyrant.

YaYa's shot of me.

I love it now that the kids are sometimes taking photos. The photos they take of me are almost always candid. I empty the card reader and find a dozen shots of me with my mouth hanging open as someone tells me a story, my chin receding into my neck at my least favorite angle. I love the unpreparedness of it- the fact that they think I'm beautiful, so they never try to make me look beautiful. How often the camera points up, because they are small, and I loom, tenderly, fiercely, absently.

YaYa took these shots when we were getting the roof ready for a devotion circle together.

"I want to take thousands of photos of you!" she said. And she meant it.

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*

We're all so excited about this baby, but YaYa and I are especially thrilled, almost giddy at times. We catch sight of a baby or even a photo of a baby, and we say, "I can't believe it! We get to have a baby soon!" A baby to kiss and smother with affection.

Our current "baby" is WAY over being smothered with affection. If you kiss him, he wipes the kiss away and says, "I don't like KISSES!" He'll only permit what he calls "Love hugs," a type of hug that he and YaYa made up. In a love hug, you smile sweetly at each other and move in slowly, making nice MMmmmm sounds to underscore how nice you're being. How loving.

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There are a lot of rules involved in hugging or kissing Solo these days. Only nose kisses and butterfly kisses allowed. And something called finger kisses. (Stroking one finger along someone's nose.)

But who am I to complain? There are also a lot of rules involved in showing me love these days.

"No elbows!" I yelp.

"It's too hot for long hugs."

"Don't lean against my belly."

"Who's stepping on my foot?"

"Why are you so sandy?"

"Just a little less around the neck, please, Solo."

"Don't breathe on my face."

I'm a super physically affectionate Mama. Usually I'm holding or sitting close to or hugging some child or another, at any moment of the day. But pregnant? And at the end of a long, hot day? I'm better in the morning, when my senses haven't been fully overloaded. Lately Solo wants to snuggle before bed every night, and it's a bit like torture in the most loving way. I lie in bed with him and inch away from his hot breath and try to uncinch his dominating arm from my neck (just to breathe a little better) I stare at his beautiful face and try to memorize it.

He won't be the baby for much longer.

Catching Up.

Lotus

I'm sick, sitting in bed with a mound of scrunched up pieces of toilet paper beside me, a little dizzy from sleep deprivation due to the sick kids in and out of my room all night. There is a tiny angry man pounding on the inside of my left sinus cavity, the one behind my cheekbone. Perhaps it is a good time to write a little about what we've been up to in the last week.

YaYa in the restaurant.

On the weekend we took a little trip to Chiang Mai for computer repair, dental work and brie. Well, no, we didn't take a three hour sick-making bus ride for brie, but it was handy that it was there because my Superstar Husband and I happened upon the eleventh anniversary of our wedding day. We're in those lovely mid decades, not newlyweds by any stretch. We know each other well, we're still learning about each other, and we're in a season of life I never could have predicted, living in Thailand, married for eleven years with a ten-year-old, a few other kids, and a pregnancy that is halfway through. I think my twenty-one-year-old self would have been a little afraid, had she known the future, but as it turns out, this isn't scary at all. ( Well, maybe a little.) I can say now that Chinua has been a husband who has exceeded all of my expectations. He's ridiculously wonderful. On our anniversary, we didn't have a babysitter, so we had an after-the-kid's-bedtime picnic date, cross-legged on the guesthouse bed with the kids sleeping in the next room, warm brie and crackers, a few tiny sips of red wine for me. It was perfect.

Very relaxed cat in a market in Chiang Mai

In Chiang Mai I was already run down. I had expected a day out with some of our new friends but I ended up staying at the guesthouse by myself. It was wonderful rest, I slept for hours and then woke up and read a whole book. By the time I was finished with the book, though, I was ready to not be alone anymore. It was an emotional book, and that thing happened, that sometimes happens to me, where I felt like I was the girl in the book, with all her sorrow and tragedy and failure at being a parent. Some tears happened, but then Chinua called and wondered if I felt up to going to a family's house for dinner. I did!

What people here eat for breakfast.

I hopped in a tuk tuk and guided the driver with my broken Thai. Speaking broken Thai is such a milestone in my whole language learning journey, after arriving knowing nothing except a few numbers and Hello and Thank you. I vacillate, in this journey, between feeling elated that I can brokenly communicate, and feeling like I'll never, not ever, get it right. In what order do the words go, again? It is not like English, French, Spanish, or Hindi. It's not like any language I've ever had a rudimentary grasp at. (Don't get the wrong idea- I'm not fluent in anything but English, but I understand the grammar of French and Spanish and a little bit of Hindi grammar.) In Thai, I feel like words are repeated several times in a sentence and I don't know why.

 

Just keep studying.

Cycle rickshaws and pigeons

Anyhow, we had a nice dinner (or a lovely supper, as I might say if I was in Canada) with the family we recently met. They were sweet and made us pizza, and after it all, when we were ready to go, they drove us out to a good spot to catch a songtao- a type of Thai taxi which is a truck with benches in the back- to the city. (The family lives in a nearby suburb.) After we were dropped off we stood on the side of the highway for a while, a little worried with one feverish, sleepy boy (Solo was just starting to get sick) and waiting for the yellow songtao to come by, like it should, every fifteen minutes. There were a couple of angry barking dogs who were near us, protecting their property, and I wanted to get some children's ibuprofen into Solo, but no songtao came. A couple of ladies kept poking wandering out of their house and having a look at us, until one lady approached. "Pai nai?" she asked. Where are you going?

I whipped out my broken Thai and told her we were waiting for the yellow songtao to take us to Chiang Mai. "Mai mi!" she said. It's not there. It was a holiday, apparently. And that's when she told us her sister would take us to the city in her car. I protested, she insisted, I protested (not very hard, just to be polite) she insisted.

Her sister, a perfect stranger, drove us all the way to the city, and wouldn't take any money from us. It was one of those moments when I wonder what country we've come to. How is it that people are so kind?

So the weekend went on and there were dentist appointments and a computer appointment and I ended up coming back to Pai with Kid A and Solo, a day earlier than the rest of the family. When I got to the bus station, the last van had just left for Pai, so they set up a special van for us. It was only the three of us, with one other lady. Another act of grace for us. The driver was lovely and careful on all the curves into the mountains, so I didn't get car sick like I have been on that drive ever since I've been pregnant.

Mor Paeng waterfall with the boys

We got home late, and the next day Chinua ended up being a lot later than he thought he'd be. I had the boys who were both moping a bit because being split up from the rest of the family, (tears! And it was only one day!) so we took a drive to the waterfall. I thought we could look around and walk and let the waterfall breathe on us, but as soon as we got there, Solo waded in.

Mor Paeng waterfall with the boys

I was kind of hoping not to get him wet, but it was too late. Ahhh.

Mor Paeng waterfall with the boys

We stayed for a while, until I felt that we should really get back and get Solo dry. But the drive out to the waterfall, and the drive back as well, was filled with such grace and beauty that I felt like I would float off the motorbike. It was the fresh (not humid for once) air and the sun on my back. Feeling the sun on your back is so different from merely being hot. The smell of the trees and the grasses and the road, warm in the sun... everything felt summery and light. We're coming to the end of the rainy season, after a couple of months of mostly clouds, the sun is so welcome. There were fluffy clouds and I had two sons that I love on the bike with me and it was amazing.

View on the way to Mor Paeng Waterfall, Pai, Thailand

It was a high moment.

Since then I've been doing one thing at a time, trying to do things like cleaning and writing in short chunks, saving energy, sneezing and coughing. Everything is a blessing, I'm reminded that I am beloved, and even silly colds and coughs and sinus infections only remind me of our usual good health.

Let's just hope that everyone sleeps all the way through the night tonight. That would be nice, considering that everyone is over four years old. I'm not always as sarcastic as I sound there, I actually prefer having feverish little ones in bed with me because I worry about them and have to keep getting up to check them anyways. But the middle of the night restlessness from the ten-year-old and the eight-year-old? Wha???

The gravity of pancakes.

I'm so shiny with validity now, and so glad that the words and pictures and thoughts that spin around my head resound with you. The comments here always support, encourage, understand. Thank you so much for that. You are all radiant. I would be a guarantor for all of you, too, if I could.

And now... pancakes!

Looking at this picture, I first of all notice that Leafy's hands are huge! Sigh. They are all so big. Why is it so surprising? Like my new freckles and wrinkles always surprise me when I look in the mirror.

Speaking of surprises, I'm always taken aback by how simple pleasing my kids can be. I mean, sometimes they feel like little endless wells of need, pushing for the next fun thing, the next treat. Kids aren't notorious for being frugal. But in some ways, their pleasure in family things, in tradition, is so, so simple.

We started doing pancakes on Sunday mornings years ago. The way I work in the kitchen is that I need to be well prepared, thinking about things ahead of time. Fully aware of how much time I'm going to spend standing over the stove. And everyone loves pancakes, so it was simple to make a pancake day.

And they LOVE it. It means the world to them. It stays the same, whether or not our location changes. It is the same, it is constant. It means a lot more than food on Sunday to them. It means, This is our family. This is the way we do things. This is what our mom made.

I hear all of this in their voices when they tell people about it.

We have a few things like this. All simple. All cherished more than I would have imagined when I began them.

~Nutella on pancakes for birthday breakfasts. Nutella is ubiquitous worldwide. It's one thing I know I'll always be able to find. If I wanted to, I'm pretty sure I could find Pringles anywhere, also.

~Scavenger hunts for birthday presents. This one is a big one, because we often can't predict where birthdays will take place. A scavenger hunt takes me twenty minutes or so to set up- they get clues, they hunt for presents, they bring them back and open them. Older kids help younger kids read the clues. Clues are easy for little ones, harder for big ones. And they LOVE it. I couldn't stop if I wanted to. I'm stuck now, I'll be making clues until they're thirty.

~Speaking of birthdays, there are certain games we always play. Stop dancing when the music stops, musical chairs- always to our live Chinua music, which can be anything you want. Blues, gospel, turkish music, celtic, country. Whatever, really.

There were so many things I couldn't fathom when I first became a mother. The wilderness of family life seemed overwhelming to me. But I love tradition myself, it helps me to know what to expect, to know what is expected of me. How can I give them something special? Sometimes it's just by doing the same simple thing, over and over again. The repetition means I love you. I remembered. I always remember and I think of you every Sunday morning, when I'm mixing the batter, or you're mixing the batter, and I'm flipping the pancakes or you are.

This is so much of what practice is. I see it in all areas of my life: spiritual, family, friends, art-- how doing the same thing again and again doesn't need to be stagnant. It gives weight to love, especially when you show up with your whole heart, but even sometimes when you can't quite bring all of you. The part of you that remembers not to forget is still there, still in motion, still building something that will be lovely in the end.

Protein

The other day I burned a bunch of old coconut fronds as well as some other bits and pieces of old plants that weren't the best for composting. Burning on a hot day. Fun! But the smell was nice. I had a bucket of water nearby, just in case.

I did it behind the back house, near the field where the neighbors grow rice in the monsoon. There was a bull back there, but they sold it this year. My neighbor, the husband, cried. All of this information was passed to me in the way that such things are passed in the village. From mouth to mouth. Jaya in the morning makes chai and says, "Did you know that Maria and Rosario sold their bull?" And I say, "No! Really? Why?" "One of the brothers wanted to sell it. Rosario was very sad. He cried."

Rosario is a very passionate person who cries easily, but the fact that the brother wanted to sell Rosario's prize bull doesn't surprise me. Rosario was constantly leaping around that bull, trying to keep it under control. He's small, and the bull was large and very mean. A large brahmin bull with a large hump and a mean eye.

But no worries, we still have a bull in our life. I was doing some cleaning in the kid's room yesterday and caught some motion outside the window, like someone was watching me. When I looked up, I found myself staring directly into a large, red, bull eye. The bull is tied up under the tree just past the fence, only about three feet away. Why are there bulls? Sometimes for work, for plowing fields. And also, I just learned this year that they have bullfights. Often, on the beach, you will see two men taking a bull for a swift walk, very, very carefully, because these are dangerous animals, after all.

It is part of the bundle of contradictions that makes up India. Here is this small state that was colonized by the Portuguese, and while a huge population of India reveres cows as sacred, Goan Catholics hold bullfights on feast days. It happens everywhere, though. Muslims slaughter goats for Eid in a Hindu holy city, Hindu's have temples with statuary of gods strewn throughout just blocks away from a mosque which has no images, no shrines, no altars. Like my friend told me, each religion practices something abhorrent to the other.

Sometimes it makes you wonder why there aren't MORE violent outbursts. Instead, Jaya walks through the Catholic part of our village, averting her eyes when they are butchering pigs in the street, or refusing to go into our neighbor's house when it is a feast day and they are preparing beef and pork. Meanwhile, Maria and Rosario have practically arranged a marriage for her. I've seen first hand in this little traditional village, how people put differences aside for friendship.

And then at other times the religious conflict in India is so great that friends turn against friends.

Anyways. I really got off track there, distracted by village gossip.

So I was burning the pile of branches, and when it burned down I turned to go back to my house, through the little corridor that runs between the back house and the house next door. When I came around the corner, I saw my kids on the back steps of our house.

"Mama!" YaYa called. "We're eating ants! And one just bit Kid A on the tongue!"

They were all sitting on the back step eating fire ants. Which is questionable in multiple ways.

"They're really good for you!" Kid A said.

I guess I have Man Vs. Wild to thank for that. But I've been trying to convince them for years. Sometimes ants used to end up in the muesli box, and inevitably a few would be a part of breakfast. "Just eat them," I said, if anyone complained. "They're good for you!" Even I would have drawn the line at eating live fire ants.

But the fire ants have been so prolific this year that they've kept every other species of ant away. This is the first year that we haven't had ants in the sugar, or ants in the cereal, and the kids have taken to eating fire ants.

Our friend M tried to convince them that they can get their nutrition in other ways.

"Listen," I said. "Don't eat ants. That will do if you are stranded in the wild and you need to survive, but you can get your protein from, you know, all the beans and lentils we eat."

They sighed big sighs. I'm no fun at all.

No, no. Rewind, please.

Today we were eating lunch when YaYa said, "I wish I wasn't so funny looking."

My jaw landed in my palak paneer.

"What?" I said. I sputtered. She smiled, knowing where I was going with it. "You're probably the most beautiful person I've ever met. How can you say that?" (I can tell her that, since I'm her mother and she KNOWS I'm all about her brains and love and talent.)

She laughed. She's in between. I can sway her. I can convince her.

"I think my voice sounds weird on my body," Kid A offered.

"REALLY?" I squeaked. "I think you have an amazing voice." He shrugged, gave YaYa a little embarrassed smile.

"But," I said, tearing off a piece of chapatti. "I get it. I felt like that when I was a kid, too. I didn't like stuff about how I looked."

"Really?" YaYa said. "What stuff?"

"I think my voice sounds CUTE," Leafy said, and we all laughed.

"But Mama," YaYa said. "What didn't you like about how you looked?"

I hesitated, not wanting to run through the laundry list of complaints I used to have about young Rae Rae. I didn't want to tell about the way I hid my large nose behind my hand on the bus, the way I tried to hide my big feet. The kids in school mocking my profile, how I was ALL nose, until my face caught up. Too skinny, too tall. Weird hair. I didn't even want to say it out loud in front of my innocent kids.

"Um, well. I didn't want to have such curly hair," I said.

"Me too!" YaYa said. "That's what it is for me too!"

She's crazy, I thought. Her hair is gorgeous. People can't stop staring. But I think of how I used to tell my mother that I wanted a nose job, and my mother wisely told me that she'd help me get one when I turned eighteen, if I still wanted one. Of course, by the time I turned eighteen, thoughts of a nose job had evaporated into the same ether that took my concerns about having big feet floating off. Now the idea is laughable to me.

But still... my darling lovelies, wondering if they're good enough, if they're too weird. Self consciousness. It's beautiful and unforgiving, isn't it? It's the very tool that is helping them assess the world, figure things out, make beautiful art. But it shakes them in its teeth.

"Actually, that's why it's silly to think too much about how we look," I said. "If you feel like that, you should just look at the sky, the coconut trees, all the beautiful stuff around you."

And YaYa started laughing hysterically, and "I don't know why I'm laughing," she said, and I remember that too. Fits of giggles and giddiness. I love my bigger kids, how they're changing.

But I wish that I could blow self doubt right out into the ether. I can't. They'll have to learn how to do it themselves.

Circles of Dreamers

 

This is a strange picture of me, taken by the YaYa sister one sunny day when we were in the park. The sun seems long gone, which is not entirely terrible, because it has taken the intense heat with it. But also our view of the mountains. I think we've barely seen them this month, and they're RIGHT THERE.

Why do I show you this strange photo? Because that look on my face? I think it's on my face a lot. And especially, especially when Chinua is away. I stare off into the sky, I dwell, I dream, I pine. And then I hop up to take Solo to the bathroom, or help Leafy clean himself of mango stickiness without just wiping his face and hands on the WHITE towel. I do an okay job of being here.

But that's okay, because Leafy's actually almost never here. And Kid A has been having a hard time being here. In Leafy's case, it's because his imagination never stops going. Never. Tonight we were having a little cuddle and he was whispering under his breath about riding on a turtle. The turtle told him he was too heavy. Leafy disagreed. And that's all I heard.

For Kid A, it's because he really, really misses his dad. For YaYa, it's because she loves the color yellow so much. If she's coloring with yellow, she's kinda lost. And we all know that Solo is just out there. VERY loosely tied to reality.

My point is, we're all dreamers. We land again and find each other. We interrupt each other's dreams, or reading, or drawing, and that's annoying, and maybe we snap at each other or, for those of us less socially developed, give a pesky brother a shove, but then we touch down again and find each other again, and so it goes.

I heard a lot that my thought life would disappear once I had more kids, or once my kids talked, or once they were older and could monologue about all and sundry. That all of them would crowd the life of the mind out. And it's true that I have to be present, that I love being present, that it's wonderful when we are all sitting around the table engaging each other with eyes and words and thoughts.

But it's also wonderful when we sit around the table and doodle, or read, or write, or dream. When the stuffed animals join us (not during mealtime) and have tiny conversations with their tiny voices. When Leafy hums and mutters with his eyes way off in the distance. When Kid A can't be retrieved from his book until the third time I say his name. When Solo insists that a picture of a sheep is a fish. When Chinua plays music, his fingers flying, his mind all wrapped up and focused.

I think there is a lot of time for thinking and dreaming, even with a big family. It's true that I am called back more often, and often to the tune of shrieking, which is my least favorite way, but I know that if we sit down and find each other right now, sit right down on the ground and play, we'll settle down again. We can be together really hard, tickle and wrestle, or put the world's most annoying 3D puzzle together. We paint, we laugh, we tell each other stories.

And then later, we drift off to our own corners of our little house. I wash the dishes with my eyes out the window, Kid A finds a book or stares into space. YaYa draws and draws and draws, Solo takes his shirt off and runs back and forth with his chest muscles flexed, and Leafy walks in circles in our living room, with walls that cease to be walls, that turn into forests, into oceans, into endless worlds.

It is possible to have a life of the mind with a family. You just have to do it together.

(And get away occasionally, which you know I do. But that's another story.)

Snippets in Photos and Captions: Part One

I was going through some of our photos from the last month or so and found a bunch that didn't make it up here.

There's nothing like a pile of random photos to show what life is like (somewhat).

Baby fern fronds. They're what's for dinner. (Grammar! Grammar!) Seriously, I don't know why we don't eat these in Canada, in BC, where ferns are taking over the woods. Someone needs to do something about those ferns, like EAT THEM. I bet the Haida ate baby fern fronds.

Wait a minute. Let me google it. What the? Answers.com did not help. Somebody said they ate roots and berries and now junk food. Stupid answer. Let's try again.

Okay! That's better. Wow, I had no idea. Not only did the Haida eat baby fern fronds, or fiddlehead ferns, as the more knowledgable call them, apparently they're a hot ticket in parts of modern Canada and the US. Well, we love them. But you have to get them when they're really young, or they taste like wood.

Sweet little house with goats and a cat.

Man herding cows. It always seems like the grandpas and grandmas get this job, here.

Kid A drawing from observation. That day we headed out with sketch books to find something to draw. The kids sat down and started sketching the tents of the lake constructions workers that were set up in a field. They live in those tents for months while they work, little more than tarps draped over sticks.

I love this kid. He is so smart and witty, he tells terrible punny jokes, and he memorizes everything about geography or science that he hears. But try to get him to draw something and he dashes it off in two seconds and says, "Done!" He and YaYa are opposites in schooling. When we learn about science, she gives me this blank stare that means, "My brain. Has shut down Now," while Kid A tenderly and lovingly traces the photos of cells. But they are both excellent at math. And they both love to write.

Here's the YaYa sister making her much more detailed drawing. She just loves to draw. Always has. Kid A never has. It's so funny, how kids are so different. But still, you never know what will develop. I didn't much like drawing when I was a kid, for some of the same reasons that Kid A has. I wanted it to be perfect, and it didn't turn out looking like I wanted it to, so I would quit. And yet I still ended up painting when I was older.

Yum. A BIG pile of litchis. I love how Solo begs for them, calling them Wee chees.

Crowded Nepali town.

Out the back door. They are so beautiful. And so hard to photograph.

Ooooh. Baby fern fronds. They're what's for dinner again!

World's cutest garlic peeler and chopper.

And the world's most incredible, handsome, beautiful, wonderful person. I love him! Currently, he's up to his knees in mud with his banjo at Glastonbury Festival. Only two more weeks... sigh.

YaYa making a tipi. When she got done she stood back and said (with huge satisfaction) "It's a house made of all natural things!"

Oh, look! It's that guy again! The one I LOOOOOOVE. He looks awesome rowing a boat.

And sanctuary. The forest across the lake is SO beautiful.

I'll continue this on Monday. But for now, here's a list of things that I never photograph:

1. Solo refusing to walk every time we try to get out of the house.

2. Me carrying Solo who is far too heavy to be carried.

3. Solo sitting down in the middle of the path, or sidewalk, or street, shrieking because I don't want to carry him.

4. Solo running off because he suddenly changed his mind.

5. Me chasing Solo because now he's too far away.

Supervisors

Overseers.

Managers.

Obviously the work wouldn't go well without them.

Nothing this exciting has gone on for a long time.

And the workers need their careful attention.

And encouragement.

It's an art; critique of this form.

One that these kids take seriously.

In India, this would all be done by people. I haven't seen an earth-mover in a long time.

This girl takes a moment to play with YaYa's hair.

Leafy sticks close.

At the end, the kids are so thankful for the hole the workers dug for them! They spill into it like ants.

Just another day of close supervision, complete.

Ten things I love about my kids

1. They have nice heads. Heads you can nibble on, steer them by if necessary, cover with kisses. Solo's is so great (probably just because he has less hair) that we can't stop grabbing it and saying, "I love your head!" to which he says, "I'm not! I'm Solomon!" Okay.

2. They put up with a lot. THIS CANNOT BE SAID ENOUGH. They have fluidly adjusted to having power for only ten hours a day, FOR EXAMPLE. We do a lot by candlelight. They love to light candles, (the big kids) they love using flashlights. They make everything more fun. Better.

3. Extension of 2: Recently Kid A and YaYa have become incredibly polite about people talking to them. They say Namaste in response politely, and YaYa even lets people touch her hair. If we are out, it can be twenty times a day. She wants to be so nice, suddenly. She doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I've explained to her that just reaching out and touching her hair is okay, but if they keep on playing with it, she can ease herself away or just ask people to stop. Anyways, it is the sweetest thing to see them becoming these polite people. It can be overwhelming; the amount of people who want to know our names or where we are from or whether our hair is "original" or "duplicate," but they handle it with grace.

4. They love to dance. The dancing that was going on with our Geography Songs when we were doing school the other day was just ridiculously fun. Singing and dancing about Equatorial Africa and the Middle East. How can I not have the best time teaching these kids? Listen. We have rough school days, too. YaYa has a panic button that keeps her from learning sometimes. And Kid A has focus issues. But schooling is like any practice (like meditation or prayer); you have good days and bad days and our good days are like diamonds. But beyond school even, the dancing is hysterical. Imagine walking past a club on the street and having all four of your children break out their best moves. It's awesome.

5. They love each other. With violence, at times. I admit, I sometimes feel that I have a pack of wrestling lemurs, crawling all over each other and tearing the peace and quiet to bits. But I have seen such genuine acts of love from each of them, as they struggle through all the giving that needs to go on with siblings, especially siblings so close in age. I don't think I realized how much giving they do until I went on that trip with only YaYa and saw how different it was for her to have ALL my attention.

6. They love beans. I love having kids who love beans. YaYa loves beans so much that she would write poetry about them, if she could. Lentils, pintos, garbanzos. They love them.

7. Imagination! If you could harness it, it could change the world. They always have something they are pretending. It doesn't stop. The hardest part about it is getting their attention during the midst of a crazy game of pretend. I have to stand there and holler, because they literally can't hear me. It can be dicey, at times, trying to decide whether Leafy's robots are allowed in the animal games. Each person's imagining is so strong that it doesn't leave a ton of room for the other's. I find myself embroiled in these debates about the positioning of pretend lands on pretend maps, whether a certain kind of animal is allowed on a certain kind of island. I enter in enthusiastically, but have to retreat with my arms over my head. The details are too much for me. (You'll be happy to know that in Leafyland, there is a Coffee Island, for grownups.)

8. They are kind to animals. And they know it. They often say, "This dog loves us because we're nice to him and other people aren't." YaYa is kind to everything. She gets heartbroken over a crushed snail, lets ants crawl over her arms (I know!), becomes furious about fly killing.

9. They have a lot of faith in us. It makes us better.

10. They make our games better. If we watch TV, Chinua likes to pretend that he is speaking for the characters, whether they are sharks on Animal Planet, or soccer players, or people on commercials. It's hilarious, and the kids play along and make us laugh. YaYa and Kid A are playing rummy now (yes! rummy players!) and well, I guess I just really want to say that they make life more fun.

 

Note: People are always mentioning that our kids must be a lot of work. ALL THE TIME. People on the street. "Four kids! You must be tired! A lot of work!" The other day, YaYa asked me, "Are we too much work? Is it hard to have kids if it's such a lot of work?"

Goodness. She's been listening. Well, this is my response. Life is so much richer with them. They make traveling richer for us, fun is better, and the quiet moments? They are a lot more precious.

Reverb 10 ~ Moment

 

December 3 – Moment.

Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).
(Author: Ali Edwards)

 

I have to say, this one is tough for me, and not because of a lack of alive moments. It's one thing about living in Asia: nothing ever stops. Life is brilliant, colorful, smelly and loud. I feel very alive here, and in the last year I have felt alive everywhere because nothing ever got old or over-familiar.

So I'll focus on one recent moment. One week ago exactly, I took all of the kids (there are eight altogether in our community) to the coconut grove near our house. It was time for our Saturday Devotion Circle on our rooftop, and the kids sang with us and shared thankfulness stories, but then I gathered them and took them out. 

The coconut grove is a long expanse of nothing but coconut trees that separates the beach from the houses. It's sort of like a coconut orchard, with evenly spaced rows of trees. There is one banyan tree in the whole thing; a little guy by banyan tree standards. The banyan tree, being one of the only sources of shade (the coconut grove can be unbelievably hot in the middle of the day) is a popular spot. It was about 5:00 in the evening when we settled under it on a straw mat that one of the kids carried and spread out for me. 

We talked about Jesus and the lepers, how only one came back to thank him, and we made a paper chain of thankfulness. The local young guys came out to play volleyball under the tree, and we scooted ourselves over. The light was that soft amber that comes at the end of the day. The kids finished their chain and ran off to climb another close by tree. I sat and watched them, Solo coloring beside me. I watched the colors changing, saw the laundry on a clothesline farther down in the grove. The kids laughed and quarreled in the tree. The ball escaped the volleyball players and one boy on the ground threw it back. Cheers and yells came from the makeshift volleyball court as the guys yelled to one another in Konkani. Birds flew overhead and we found an old shoe under the leaves. It smelled like the burning at the end of the day, and the sun kept moving down and I was so full of peace I could have floated away.