Dear Kai, (A letter to my fourteen-year-old son)


Fourteen is tall, brilliant, handsome, and strong. You love reading, YouTube, roaming town looking for good smoothies, time with your friends, and playing pool. We play board games, and recently, while we were watching Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie, you paused it and asked with concern, "Are you sure you want to watch this? It seems a bit scary for you." (The answer was no, actually I didn't want to watch it. I left you and your sister to it.)

You tell the younger kids to give me a break sometimes, if they're all whining at me at the same time. You make lunch, or play with Isaac, or run out to get food from a street stall for us. You are right in the curve between kid and man. Playing, reading, lounging, then jumping up to help. You are thoughtful and sometimes oblivious. In the circle at Shekina Garden, where we ask questions, I always love your answers. One day, the question was "what was something you really, really looked forward to?" You told everyone that it was Isaac being born. (Melt.)

The other night we were buying street food for dinner. Isaac and Kenya and I went to a noodle stall and you and the other boys went to buy shawarma. When you came back, you realized the man hadn't understood your order and had only given you two. You didn't even hesitate, you gave the shawarma to your brothers and went to make yourself an omelette. It's like this, one minute I'm wondering whether you really see outside yourself, the next, you're doing something so effortlessly thoughtful that I'm certain you do. 


Because it's not always easy these days.  It begins. You test, I push back, you prod, I snap. I know you deserve a mother ten times as good, ten times as patient as you figure out your frame, your outlines, the things that make you, you and me, me. I know it! I wish you had someone without any ego at all, as you push at the boundaries of this relationship.

 But you have me, and I guess this is what it means anyway, because none of us find ourselves in a perfect landscape photo, empty of conflict or other people. We learn to navigate by bumping into things, and sometimes it feels like we are in the dark. (But I love you, this dark is full of love for you.)

 We circle around one another, finding ways to connect. I'm learning when to cut conversation off and when to listen harder. (Both are important parts of this.) Why we do the things we do is not up for discussion every single day. It can't be, if we're going to stay sane. But I'm happy to discuss the world, God, science, why art is important, your favorite movies, your latest blended milk drink concoction.

 The tapestry of my parenting feels more full of holes than ever, and I have never been more thankful for your father. We are doing this together and in many ways he is more suited for your questions, your pushing. You have other adults in your life, and you need them.

And God fills the holes, he breathes in them and you grow and grow and your mind amazes me even as it infuriates me with its wild logic. You are boy, you are becoming man. You were my baby and you will always be my son.


Love, Mama

PS: If any readers are interested, here is the first letter I wrote to Kai on this blog, ten years ago, when he was four.  

Five Things


1. Wow, it's been a while. Let's blame bronchitis, shall we? Bronchitis, you are to blame!

After a rather long while where I didn't feel well at all, Chinua, my most beloved friend and soulmate, also my Superstar Husband, went to Australia on a little two week trip. That very night, the sickness that had been threatening began pouring buckets; I had such a scratchy throat that I couldn't sleep. It got progressively worse until it reached my bronchial tubes and turned them into a kind of wheezy flute. Seriously, there were at least six different notes harmonizing when I tried to lie down at night. It was beautiful. And scary. I considered recording it, but I was too busy trying to breathe. 

Did I mention that my husband is in Australia? Is this a rerun of some other part of my life? It wouldn't be hard to find out, it's all written down here. 

I'm doing much better, thanks to friends who took my kids and let me rest for a couple of afternoons, and thanks to ginger, holy basil, lemon, and honey. I have some very sexy phlegm hacking that I routinely have to get out of the way in the morning, and then I can get on with my day. 

2. The fruit lady has been looking rather smug lately.  

There is a lady who walks around our neighborhood with a little pink plastic basket of fruit that she sells. We often buy fruit from her because my rule in Asia is that if you can buy something (something you actually want) from someone wandering by hawking it, you are really living! This is as good as it gets! Baskets! Flowers! Brooms! So we buy fruit from this lady.

For years, (years ) she has been trying to get me to buy peanuts from her. But I pass them by every time. If I see that she only has a basket of bags of roasted peanuts in the shell, I say, "No, thanks! I don't want peanuts." 

But then I got a whiff of the truth. These peanuts are not roasted peanuts in the shell. They are BOILED peanuts in the shell. I tried some that belonged to someone else and I was instantly enamored with the beany, soft, edamame-like goodness of boiled peanuts.

So the fruit lady came back the other day and had bags of peanuts, I was a little wiser than I had been in my foolish, non-peanut-buying youth. "Are they boiled?" I asked. She didn't roll her eyes, bless her. "Yes," she told me. 

So I bought two kilos. And then next day I bought another kilo. And she said, "Good, aren't they?" And I said, "Yes! They are very very good, and I will eat them in a boat and with a goat and on a train and in the rain. .." and she didn't say "I told you so," but her smile was very satisfied and smug and now she gets a little glint in her eye whenever she sees me because she knows I am addicted to her boiled peanut line of work.

3.  October is my favorite month here, with a hint of coolness in the air, green everything everywhere, and skies so blue they could hypnotize you. I've been caught up in kids and sickness, but I'm looking forward to Chinua coming home so I can go on scooter rides past rice paddies, into hills, through huge stands of bamboo. 

We drove to clay day at homeschool co-op the other day and had to take the long way round because of some road work we got stuck in. The long way round is ridiculously scenic, and at one spot I looked out at the whole valley. Light, a million different shades of green and blue, rice and coconut trees and distant hills.  

"I can't believe that's real," I said to the kids, who were crowded into the chariot. They agreed. It makes the smoke season, the heat, the floods all worth it. I love where I live.

4. Isaac has new levels of imagination and silliness spouting from every pore. Everything is pretend, everything is a game. 

"I pretended I was teeny tiny," he says, "and I could get in the egg game and be teeny tiny in all the eggs and they were all big around me." He's my constant companion. He comes to the market and the fruit lady (a different fruit lady) hugs him with her elbows and gives him a rambutan to eat. He works on being polite. He is all boy, all fun and running and shouting and getting kind of angry when he doesn't get his way. He's my little bear.  

5. Since I started writing this, we've had a really sad event in Thailand. I can't write too much about it because of the laws here, but the beloved King of Thailand has passed away. We are wearing black and entering a period of one month of mourning. It feels sad and the future is a bit unknown. We go from day to day, and I am praying with all my heart for the people of Thailand.


Written on a bus journey

So much water. It rains and rains and the streets run with water.

The other day, I saw a monk sitting and enjoying a foot massage at the bus station. It seemed rude to ask for a photo, so I kept it in my mind, and I'm writing it down here. I'll forget it eventually, and then one day I'll read this post and t will bring to mind the monk sitting and smiling while his feet were being shaken back and forth by a machine in the grimy bus station.

I remember the sun, how it illuminates everything the way love does, bringing out all the color and texture. I am finding a way through, in being small. It has always been the best way.

The lights shine on the wet black road and I remember being a girl in the back of our minivan, my brother and sister beside me. We pretended the cars behind us were dogs and we were riding a large dog that ran away from them. My kids pretend something similar now, though we are rarely in a car these days, always a chariot, open to the wind. We drive down the village road, then the tree road, then the chicken road, then the flower road. Kenya has named all the roads. 

There are days when I grow weary of serving. And there are days when it seems like the most intense of blessings. Both are true; serving is tiring, and a blessing. My model is the giver of all life; Jesus also grew weary. There is that story where he went to look for a quiet place and the crowd followed him. I think of that when I'm just falling asleep for a short nap after lunch, when I've been up working since 5:30, and I hear the door open and Isaac comes padding into the room. He wants to take a nap with me. He lies beside me and tells me he loves me when I'm just about to drift off and I think of Jesus' compassion on that crowd and how I have such a small crowd in comparison. Just my family, my community, my circles of people. Mostly Isaac. He's the most needy of my crowd; a leper who needs to be healed again and again. A leper who throws food even though he's well past the age of throwing food.

An intense blessing: to be someone who can offer hope and comfort, even in the smallest ways. What a life giving thing, to be that person in the life of someone else. Even when they wake you up from the most lovely of sleeps, shoving their cute face into yours and saying loudly, "I'll be very quiet, Mama!" 

When you truly love other people, it is like loving yourself. You are affirming that the kingdom of heaven is a place that shines with love. It is radiant with kindness and grace, it is a place anyone would want to live, including you. A place where faulty, flawed people are accepted and cared for, not only tolerated. When you give that out, you are offering it to yourself as well. The more you truly love, the more you grow able to receive love, to offer it to yourself as well, in a square of chocolate, a nap (even interrupted), a walk on a busy day. Love without judgment softens your heart to receive that most intense stream of love, the one you can barely handle if you truly open yourself to it, straight from the heart of God. Love without judgment stops the cycle of love. Your first response becomes love. Whether it is your beloved, who can be irritable and short-tempered, a monk getting a foot massage, or your own tiny leper butting his way into your quiet moment, you look with eyes of love. 

This is the way to let the love in. Because "they" becomes "we." We are all loved, you think. We are all radiant with it.

Dear Solo, A Letter to my Eight-Year-Old Son.

Dear Solo,

Now you are eight. Let me just say that if I had known that the person who was the wildest baby/toddler of the family would become the most sensible one day… well, I wouldn’t have done anything different, because I’ve enjoyed you in all your different forms. Even walking the coconut grove at night with you when you were an infant. 

You are such a wonder, my son. Your dad and I marvel over you at night, when you are asleep. Your sweetness, your handsome face, your love for your siblings. We have to be careful with what we tell you, as you’ll take it very seriously. Suggest that as Isaac’s older brother you can gently guide him? YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF HIM ALL THE TIME FOR INFINITY DAYS, NO MOM, DAD SAID HE HAS TO LISTEN TO ME. With ideas, you’re like a dog who gets a bone in his teeth. Not a flattering image? Okay, you’re like Einstein, or any once misunderstood genius who pressed on forever until he finally found the perfect way to express himself.

We’ve always known that you prefer to teach yourself, ever since you were three and we first tried to teach you your colors and you were so certain that yellow was actually blue. And maybe that’s why the whole world seems to be breaking open for you, fourth, beloved child. Because you can teach yourself music, you can teach yourself to cook things, you can climb anything, you can watch videos to teach yourself contact juggling. You don’t have to wait for people to tell you things you wish you already knew.

Let’s talk about music for a second. You love music, and the best thing is, you love making music. As soon as you saw your dad’s new trumpet, you said, “I want a trumpet!” And then you tried it, and you could play it. So we got you one for your birthday, and you picked it up after you unwrapped it and played everyone Happy Birthday. Like a little trumpet genius. (I know, I know, I’m your mom, but it's true!)

I’m just so proud of the way you persevere, Solomon, my monsoon baby. You laugh off being the only one on your own team, you fight back when you’re feeling stepped on, you get up in the morning and pull out your school books to work because you prefer to do things without being told. I can see it taking you far, kid. You dance with crazy abandon, you make little kids laugh with your crazy sense of humor, and your mind is full of intricate, wonderful things. 

I have this one memory of you from your birthday party. Well, many, including each time you had pure delight in your face with each present that people gave you… unedited delight. But then you opened the present that was the big teddy bear your dad for you. I’d had words with him earlier. I knew you asked for it but I wasn’t sure whether you would be embarrassed to open it in front of everyone. He didn’t think so, and he was right, because you said, “Yes!!” and then you turned to the room at large and said, “Leafy’s not very snuggly, so I need something to snuggle with at night.” 

I love you, kid. Never stop being you. 

Love, Mama


In Ten Years

I wrote the following a few days ago:

"The rain is coming down hard, straight to the ground without wind, and I’m baking bread because it just needs to be baked, on a day like this. A man just walked by holding a large leaf over his head. And a few minutes ago Isaac sat in my lap, wiggled around a bit to get comfortable, and said, “I have a little nest. I’m a chicken.”

“Are you?” I asked, squeezing him tight. 

He turned his head to look up at me. “You’re my nest. Nests don’t talk.”


I sat quietly, still rocking a bit, until he turned around again and said, “Nests don’t move, either.”

Days like this, I thought. I want some like this."


I was reading an article recently about crafting a writing career and it was asking about what I want in ten years. And I thought it was a good question, but in a totally different way from maybe the way the question was meant. I think the original writer meant you should figure out how many books you want to write, how you want to publish them, and how often. These are good questions.

But I have this driving question lately, about what makes a good life. And since I have finished and published a few books, what I know about finishing and publishing books is that it doesn’t really do anything. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s AWESOME and I get a little thrill every single time someone tells me that they read my book. (Every time. Like a dork.) But accomplishments don’t seem to have an effect on how you feel about life and yourself. You don’t keep them, if that makes any sense. As though your brain can’t store them. They’re not everyday things, not the things that get you through August 12th and February 2nd and June 10th. (Those are just random dates.) They slide on by and you’re already feeling like you need to accomplish something else, and the days keep coming.

So what are the everyday things that matter? When I think of myself in 10 years, I think of the practices and rhythms of life. What are the values, the patterns and points of light that I want my life to include in 10 years? And if I know that, can I reverse engineer the next ten years? If something won’t matter then, can I drop it now? (The answer is sometimes.)

Here are some of mine. 

* I want a writing practice that includes both fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction to record, understand, reframe, and treasure my life, and share that with others, and fiction because I have to. (Also to share, always to share.)

* I want a rhythm of visual art in my life that grows and changes.

* In ten years I will have one child under eighteen. (I’m about to start crying right now.) I want them to be well loved and well launched, with bright futures, meaningful relationships with God and people, and long-lasting relationships with Chinua and I. I also want Isaac to be a good sailor, so he can sail Chinua and I around the world when we feel like a little jaunt to Turkey. (Little joke. Sort of.)

* I want a home that is bright with creativity and hospitality—in my mind these have emerged as themes of our family. You are welcome come over for dinner and there will also be an eight-year-old playing a trumpet. I want to help people on their path toward God and do that often and well in my home.

* I want to help foster a thriving community that encourages love, devotion, learning, and experience of Jesus for people on every point of the path that ultimately leads to oneness with Him. 

* I want to be a good friend. I want this so bad. To live in love in my community every day. To pursue God and be strong in love through suffering. To be an encourager.

* I want to have the means to help my kids, help the people in my family who may need it in the future, to travel, to give, to live well but simply.

* I want love and friendship and adventure and romance in my marriage.

* I want health, strength, flexibility and the ability to run or climb mountains.


That’s about it. 

But when I think of it this way, I see that the future is actually now. These are all things I can immerse myself in now. Developing good habits, working through issues so I can be a good friend, writing, painting, walking, praying, continuing to ask God to form humility and love in me. It’s also interesting to me to note that I want to launch the kids well, and that means a lot of time with them during this next season. But it’s a huge part of what I want to see in ten years! So every little paper that I have to push them to write, or the moments I spend reading to them, or the time I take teaching them to cook? They all matter. 

Here I have this day in front of me and the rain is coming down again. I can be open to this day now, and all that it is growing in me. And that is good, and that is enough.