Suddenly choreography.

 It's almost as impossible as photographing a group of kids. Someone is always making a face.

It's almost as impossible as photographing a group of kids. Someone is always making a face.

I woke up today and walked into my friend's kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Dreams of meeting with almost everyone I ever knew were still clustered behind my eyes. We were having some kind of gathering, and everyone was taller than I remembered. Taller and still alive, some of them. There was dancing. More than one person asked me to dance with them because they were too shy on their own. 

Waking up was a like climbing a mountain. The alarm annoyed me but the birdsong invited me to join the wakened world. All these birds! My friends live in the city, but their neighborhood must be some kind of bird sanctuary. I did once see a lovely older birding couple here, binoculars around their necks. I am thankful to have beings awake before me, to coax me along. It's right that they are birds, I have followed them around the world.

I'm on a last minute trip to Chiang Mai, as part of our on-going raising-kids-in-remote-places gig, we have begun sending or driving the teens (my two and two friends) to youth group every other week when we can. Sometimes we put them on a bus and a friend meets them there. Sometimes I bring them. Yesterday I had extra inspiration, as we wanted to see Thor Ragnarok.

It did not disappoint, and at one point, at the introduction of a new character, I nearly stood up and cheered, stopping only when I remembered that I had four teenagers sitting next to me. I was glad we were able to see the movie. It was iffy for a while. There was a power out five minutes into the opening scene, after we had already sat through the half hour of trailers and commercials, and stood for the King's song. We sat in darkness for a long time, and finally the power came back on and we watched our movie.

There is a special delight in driving a long distance with a car full of happy teenagers. I don't feel very old, but I have children who are taller than me or as tall as me, and are really very nearly full fledged grown ones. At least, they seem full grown until certain moments when I stare at them, wondering if they can really think the thing they just said. A teenager is like a grown person talking to you, telling you a story, then looping it into the logic of an eight-year-old. Flash, I'm an adult. Flash, I'm a kid. My brother loves to joke with Kai, patting him on the head and saying, "It's okay, you don't have a frontal lobe." It is still developing, one has to hope.

We talked about many things. We listened to Arcade Fire and Imagine Dragons. I started a silly dance to a song and Kai imitated my actions so it was suddenly choreography. I saw Kenya join in in the rearview mirror and I felt buoyed up by goodness, by the gift of these kids. A teenaged son dancing with his mother is very nearly a miracle of God. I am thankful for the miracles I receive. 

We talked about their generation and mine (the tiny 7 year group called X-ennials) and Generation X, and what it was like to grow up without the Internet, and how they can't imagine not having touch screens anymore. We talked about the Nintendo 64 I played at my friend's house when I was small. We talked about learning to speak a new language, and settled on the fact that it is easier to learn a new language if you have already learned a second one. Vrinda and Taran speak three languages each. 

All four are proficient little world travelers, used to buses and planes, to backpacks, to finding your way around places when you can't read the signs. Kai told us a story about a Youtuber who got stranded in Thailand after he lost his debit card and couldn't get a replacement. We talked about ways you could prevent that from happening. (By making sure that your bank mailing address has people who can forward you your card, for those who are interested. Travel tips.)

Increasingly I know that I cannot predict the future as a parent. And there are too many stories from those who have gone before me, of the ways our children can take unexpected forays into the deep, unrelenting strangeness of the world. But I pray and I pray, and I have every gift of each day. Moments of dancing and laughing. 

We ate at the Burmese restaurant. Taran was happy to find that it tasted better than he remembered, but Kai was sure it didn't. Vrinda was in heaven. So was I. And Kenya was too polite to complain either way. Taran told us a story about a joke he and his father have, that makes them laugh so hard when they are watching a series together that they can't focus on the show. They started to get a bit irritated with each other, as jokes became sharper, and I waded with all my Auntieness and Mommishness, asking them to be patient with one another. And then I dropped them off at youth group, sighing with relief at the silence after the precious, precious noise. 

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as a dollar a month, and get extra question and answer video posts and other content. Thanks so much to this month’s new patrons: Brittani Truby, Alicia Wiggin, Kathleen Anderson, and Timothy Silva. Your support keeps this writer going! 

Swimming through my gold.

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Leaf was at our house the other day, and asked Leafy what projects he has planned. (Is that too confusing? Leaf is my friend and Leafy is my eleven-year-old son.) 

"I'm back to my computer project," he said. "And if I can get a paraglider, I'm going to build a foot-powered airplane."

Both of our jaws dropped. 

Everyone needs a Leafy in his or her life, I think. Someone who is so completely unexpected, who doesn't see any limits to what he or she can do. Some of us are crocheting blankets, others are planning foot-powered airplanes.

I was having a hard night and my friend Winnie told Leafy he should do a crab dance every day (you open and close your hands like crab claws and shuffle from side to side) and chant "Mama is the best, Mama is the best!" So sometimes he does it. It always makes me laugh. He is pure gold.

When the things I love get broken, when I have only five minutes of time to myself in the morning, when the mess doesn't stop or it is a quarrel-filled day, I like to run through the things I love about my kids. It's my version of swimming through my money. 

I love Solo's wild interpretive dancing. On Facebook I saw this video of a bearded man doing a ridiculous dance in a woman's one piece bathing suit, and I commented that I won't be surprised if someone sends me a video of Solo doing that one day. When I told him this, he acted shocked and offended, but later in the evening, his dancing became so wild that he was rolling on the ground and leaping into the air. He loves to shake things up, and I love that about him.

Kai gives the best hugs. He has come back to himself in a beautiful way, after having a difficult couple of early-teen years. He is gracious and wise, and still has the biggest eyes and the widest smile.

Isaac is fuzzy and sweet. Now, when we lie together before he goes to sleep, he reaches out and rubs my back with his little hand. There's not much I love more than holding his hand, walking somewhere together. He is straightforward and funny. He dances with Solo. He waits for laughs. When he gets angry, it's hard not to find it cute. He has ridiculous dimples.

Leafy never says what you expect a person to say. He is always surprising, and I love it. When I work, he gets so excited by the act of creation that he has to jump up and walk around the room. He tells me he loves me when the love wells up so big, and that often happens when I'm working on something creative. He just loves to see people making things. 

And Kenya dances now with headphones on. She is shooting up, nearly as tall as me, but wants to be shorter, so she bends down to hug me with her head against my chest. She carries the posture of the responsible girl with a wildness all her own. She loves every creature. She is a living poem.

***

There are so many things I cannot do. Numbers and tasks elude me. I can be easily duped. My lists evade me. But I can see beauty, so much beauty. I can see fun and quirkiness. I find the ridiculous. I may be grumpy in the morning, but I can stop to listen to a bird. And I have made countless mistakes as a parent, but I see the beauty in my kids.

I think we all have these things. Maybe one of you can't put words together, but finds worlds in numbers. Maybe some of you know all the constellations. Maybe some of you are able to be even-keeled. (This is absolutely miraculous.) It's easy to be hard on ourselves. Make yourself a list, today, of all the little things you are good at. Muffins, kung fu, making beds? And make a list of the things you love in your people. Your spouses and kids, your uncles and aunts. None of us are quite whole, and we are far too ready to focus on what we can't do. Change it up today. Focus on what you can. And then tell me about it. I'd love to hear.

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as a dollar a month, and get extra question and answer video posts and other content. Thanks so much to this month’s new patrons: Brittani Truby, Alicia Wiggin, Kathleen Anderson, and Timothy Silva. Your support keeps this writer going!  

Patrons! The first Q and A video is up! I have a little monologue for you on friendship. I hope you like my rambling. It's my first vlog ever. Find it here.

The things we say.

My heart is hurting with the plight of the Rohingya people right now. If you would like to learn more and donate to their cause, click here.

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The rain washes the world at night. We lie under thin sheets and listen to it on the tin roof outside our window. 

“It’s really raining,” I say. The kind of thing you say without thinking, without meaning anything at all. Drawing attention to something that is happening, something that often happens, in a murmur. And then going on.

“Mom?” the kids ask, twenty times a day. Telling me little things like these… things that mean that we are here together, and they are checking on me, checking to see that I am still here. I realized, when I was away, that though my Leafy boy is often dreaming, he checks on me often. And when I wasn’t here, some pillar of security was gone. He missed me the loudest, sending me gifs and messages, and once, a video of himself telling me he missed me. 

All the kids do it.

Mom?

“Can I have a Wednesday market snack?” 

“I played the high D on my trumpet!

“Mom? Isn’t it interesting that some people live by their extended family all their lives?” My Mom radar tells me there is something different beneath the surface of this question, couched by laughter. I miss them. I would like to try that other kind of life, the question says.

Kenya and I have our own way of checking in with each other. A mother and daughter way. 

“Oh!” one of us says. “It’s you! I have a mother!” Or “Oh look, I have this person who is my daughter!” Hugs and kisses. We are a physically affectionate family, I realize, and I can always hug Kenya. She doesn’t wriggle away. I get hugs from Kai now too. Solo is squirrelly. Leafy I have to catch. With Isaac, we're led by his whims. He is either running away or all over me. 

I forgot how crazy my life here is. Normally it’s good crazy. I am teaching four or five different kids, riding the motorbike to the market, fielding emails and riding a unicycle. I have somewhere to be at 2:00 or 4:00. I am meeting a friend or the landlords drop in. I am launching a book. The wall fans are broken again. The lightbulb is out. Parts of the house are so dusty that Kai cannot go near them because of his allergies. The school drawers are a mess. I need to pick up my sewing machine. The garden is calling. The roses need to be trimmed. Are the kids on task? I should really bake some bread. 

And sometimes, it is a wild ride. It all depends on whether I am up for the challenge. 

I pin photos of artists in their studios. I follow people on Instagram who have space and time and paint. And I endeavor to love my life with every cell.

“Mom? Do you know where my superhero mask is?” 

“Do you think dorm living at UBC would be good?” 

“Can I make bread today?”

“I made you dessert, with bread and bananas and icing. Here you go. You have to share with Dad because a guest just turned up.”

The rain washes the world clean. I turn to Chinua in the evening and sigh. Remember not to complain about any of it. Remember that it is the best kind of love, the best kind of problem. A home that gets beyond me. A life that is very full. 

“It’s really raining out there,” I say.

He smiles. “It is.” 

"You should write about that." On quirky children and rocket activity.

 Going to Space: The Manically excited phase.

Going to Space: The Manically excited phase.

Often, when something interesting or funny or cute happens, someone will turn to me and say, “You should write that down.” 

Here are the times recently that someone has said that:

***

I drove home from the garden after community lunch, in the chariot, piled with the blender and food I brought to cook the lunch, early that morning. I had arrived at the garden at 10:00 in the morning, after shopping in the market for all the food I need to cook food for forty or so people. 4 kg of black beans. Seven onions. A bag of mangos, a bag of tomatoes, cilantro, a bag of rice, peppers and garlic and some chocolate for the journey. After it was all over and on its way to being cleaned, I left at around 5:30, with Isaac in the chariot beside me. His friend-from-birth, Jazzy, jumped in the chariot as well, and Isaac (who had been melting down after a long day) was so excited about this that I asked Jazzy’s dad Josh if he could swing by and pick Jazzy up from my house when he was done at the garden. Absolutely.

So I drove up the hill with my basket of boys. One of my favorite things in these last five years has been driving around in the chariot with a basket of kids, and though it has grown too heavy to do it with all my (very large) children, it is still just as much a pleasure to drive around with a basket filled with kitchen things and two little boys. 

They chatted away, and I caught a snippet of the story Jazzy was telling Isaac: 

“And a sock can eat it, the whole thing!”

“A sock?” Isaac asked, completely puzzled.

“Not a sock like you put on your foot,” explained Australian Jazzy. “A sark, that swims in the ocean.” He has trouble saying his ‘sh’ sounds. Together, the two of them have quite the speech variations.

Oh, the adorable conversations that have occurred in my basket of kids.

***

Last night we ate fried rice, which I promise was the best fried rice I’ve ever made. It was so good that when I felt snacky later in the evening, I ate another bowl of rice. It was that good. It was so good. I made sure the children understood what good rice they were eating by exclaiming, “This is so good! I can’t believe how good this is!” several times while we were eating. 

“It is good!” Kenya said, humoring me. The boys just blinked at me.

We talked about memories, and I asked if they remembered camping in Turkey. Kai and Kenya had some memories of it. Isaac asked, “Have I been to Turkey?” 

“No,” I said. 

“I’ve been to Thailand,” he said.

“You’re in Thailand,” we told him.

“I want to go to Thailand!” he said.

 “But you’re in Thailand! Our town is in Thailand!” 

And then he cried. So I pulled up Google Earth to try to get him to understand where we were, and how we can be in Thailand but still not be able to see all of Thailand, and that only made it worse. He sobbed and sobbed because he wanted to go to Thailand.

“You don’t understand what I’m talking about!” he wailed. “You don’t understand what I want!” He was inconsolable and we were completely confused. He was thankfully distracted when we discovered this amazing picture of Leafy and Solo waving at the Google car:

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***

While I did something or other in the kitchen (outdoors, remember) the other day, I could see and hear the three younger boys playing. Isaac ran over to me, clearly vibrating with excitement. 

“We’re going to Space!” he said.

What Leafy and Solo did was this: They set a wooden stool on the porch with a shorter bamboo stool in front of it, as though it was a chair and a desk. They put a broken electronic game and a toy walkie-talkie on the taller stool. Then they propped several large sheets of corrugated plastic around the two stools. Over this structure, they draped two Indian print bedsheets and a couple of fuzzy blankets. They told Isaac he needed to be the first one to go to Space. He put his helmet on, got inside, and prepared himself to go to Space.

“Can’t Solo go first?” he asked, sounding panicky. 

“No, it has to be you,” Leafy said, quickly pulling up rocket sounds on YouTube. 

“I’m scared!” Isaac said. 

“Don’t be scared, you’ll be fine,” Solo said. They counted down.

“T minus5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Blastoff!” And Leafy put the rocket sounds on the iPad close to the “rocket” so Isaac could hear them. 

And Isaac burst into tears. Loud, panicky tears. Shrieks, really. Because he thought he was going to Space. He thought he was in Space! 

You guys. He thought he was in Space. He had that much faith in Leafy and Solo’s rocket-making abilities. I went and pulled him out. He was all sweaty after being in a blanket tent in our tropical weather. I kissed him and he cried. 

“Was that scary?” I asked. 

“Yes!” he said. 

“It was pretend,” I said. 

He stared at me for a minute, then hopped off of my lap. “Leafy! Solo! It was pretend!” he yelled, running to find them. 

So, when you are sad, or overwhelmed, or burdened by too many scattered thoughts, too much disaster, fear of the future, unraveling dreams, just remember Isaac, who believed a blanket fort could take him to Space.

 

PS: Oh how close we are getting to the launch of Shaper's Daughter, World Whisperer Book 3! I'm so excited to share this book with you!

PPS: I'm a few days away from launching my Patreon page. Have you heard of Patreon? It's a beautiful thing in the Internet age: a way for artists and writers to be supported by fans and readers. It's not easy to make money from writing these days, so this little tip jar of sorts feels like a great partnership. I'll let you know when my page is up.

More thoughts from the road, posted from a campground.

 Grand Tetons National Park

Grand Tetons National Park

(Following are some thoughts, written as I've had time, posted now!)

And onward we go.

We’ve had a few starts and stops but we’re on our way again. Our dear van was beyond repair, and we spent five days that we didn’t plan on spending waiting for a solution with Joy, one of our crazy dear friends, and her wonderful parents. Spendthrift with days, that’s us. There were a couple of days when we didn’t know how we were going to get through this one. But our lovely friends cared for us and helped us think it through and we ended up buying a newish van (with financing) that we’ll sell at the end of our trip. Thus ends more than a decade of life with our dear Previa. We were thankful to have it, and we’re thankful for good credit and a way out of a breakdown at an inopportune time.

After a few days at the ranch, we’re on our way, moving a little quicker than we were planning to make up for lost time, driving across the country to get to our family reunion in Detroit. 

The ranch was what it always is, a refuge and place of love. I don’t have a lot of words for what it has meant to me over the years. It has been an anchor, as Kai put it. We are so blessed to know TJ and Mark and to spend time with them. 

I feel sad, as I always do, leaving California. I always want to do everything and see everyone, and it’s just not possible in the amount of time allotted in a visit. I have to content myself with what we have, the time we have, the energy we have for visiting. 

What I want to remember is waterfalls, birds in the morning, Isaac identifying a Stellar’s Jay, the red-tailed hawks that soar over canyons, waking to birdsong, hummingbirds. I want to remember the sweetness of getting acquainted after a long while, the quiet of the mornings, driving long hours, breaking down and finding a way through, good conversations in the car, being together, blue lakes on the side of the road, mountains in the distance, walking through a mission, sitting by fountains, singing together. 

Lakes are amazing, aren’t they? What a gift, a body of water inland, just when you were missing the sea. 

I’m happy to say that I’m 86% of the way through my World Whisperer 3 edit. Soon it will be off to my editor and then out to my Amazing Unicorn Readers’ Group. And then I’ll be writing the fourth. Life is good.

***

I’ve been in wildflower heaven on this trip. I was already very pleased with a month of driving in May, wildflowers on the sides of the road in California. And then we went to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks and it was three days of driving through mountain ranges and forests with flowers scattered in every direction. Fields of color, whole hillsides; lupine and Indian paintbrush, balsamroot and Jacob's ladder.

We swam in a lake that reflected the peaks of the Grand Tetons. We collected stones and the kids caught garter snakes. Solomon, who is an incredible extrovert, brought his snake, curled around his neck, to the picnic tables of unsuspecting people who didn’t love snakes quite as much as he does. 

We hiked along a lupine trail. We saw Old Faithful, the geyser that can mostly be counted on to erupt every hour and a quarter or so. We saw rainbow pools that looked like they came from another world. Now we drive across Montana and Wyoming and into South Dakota, still on our way, on our way. 

I don’t ever mean to communicate that everything is easy, when I talk about our life. If you have teenagers, you will know what I mean by “flashes of harmonious living,” or “moments of peace.” It is these moments of peace, of being in wilderness together, that make it worth it. But traveling and camping is not exactly restful, though it is restful for the mind. My mind is always happy to have a break from billboards and price tags. But we are cooking our food and breaking down and setting up camp every day, as well as driving for hours in between. We are navigating the questions of why we can’t live in a country where we all speak the language as a first language. We are doing the work of raising young people who are wrestling with big questions. Sometimes I feel that I never stop moving, relating, packing things in and out of bags, cooking. 

But it is worth it. We want to form a family culture of wonder and talking about all the things, even the hard things. One thing we’ve talked about lately is that every kid gets the family they get, and it is what kids do with what they’re given that makes the difference. We also talk about keeping their choices open, learning as much as they can so they can grow up and choose where they want to live, what they want to do. I believe some of my kids will choose to live in North America. Some of them may choose to live in Asia. Some of them, who feel very certain of their future, may change their minds when they get older. 

Some practical notes: 

- We’re traveling with a two man tent that was a wedding gift and is still in great shape, and a six man tent that Christy gave us. Kai and Kenya are in charge of the big tent, where the kids sleep. When we stop, they set it up and Chinua sets ours up. They inflate the two air mattresses I bought. Chinua and I got Hiker Thermarests, and they are my new favorite thing in the world- just enough padding to keep the stones from breaking through. But we are already used to a hard bed in Thailand. We have two kids on one double mattress and three on the other. While they set up, I set out snacks and start cooking dinner.

- Egg tortillas with salsa (crack an egg in a hot, oiled pan and smash a corn tortilla on it, flip it after the egg is mostly cooked), egg burritos, macaroni and cheese with tuna, and canned soup, are our quick foods. I make oatmeal in the morning and we drink tea and coffee. I have a pour-over filter which is my best friend. We have a cooler and buy ice daily. We eat a lot of sandwiches, Clif bars (which the kids think are the most amazing things ever made) and drink mostly water. I feel like I’ve discovered an antidote to the slow leak of money from buying coffee on the road. I buy a big bottle of concentrated cold brew coffee and milk and keep them in the cooler- at that afternoon need coffee moment, I pour some of each into a thermos and am content.

- We sleep in state parks, national forests, or national parks, which are all still very cheap. The best deal we got was $15/night. The best moment we had was stopping at a campground that said ‘FULL’ in the evening in Yellowstone, ready to ask if they knew of any campground in the park that had space. “I’m not full,” the lady told me. “I just had a cancellation.” I cheered. 

- I have a moment each day when I think I might not get through the day. An afternoon of driving, needing to find a campsite, and do dinner and clean up and all that stuff feels like too much. I may meltdown. Mostly I don't though, and the moment always passes. 

 

This seems to be true of life. 

Pleasures:

  • Isaac singing in the car
  • Leafy telling stories in the next tent- “There were three magical rainbow chickens. They had waffles for eyes.”
  • Solomon weaving rope out of grasses, asking, in the middle of a sage field, “can’t you just leave me here for the night, and come back and get me in the morning? I’m making a pillow out of sage.”
  • Kai spotting a mother black bear and her cub, twenty feet away from us.
  • Kenya’s dreamy eyes and her excitement when she hears about ranger work.
  • Birding together; osprey, orioles, bald eagles in the morning, red-tailed hawks, trumpeter swans and their babies.
  • Every flower, every single one, calling to me.