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.

Shopping.

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Yesterday was a day of many tasks. This and that, all around the town. It was hot all day, the rain always threatening but never breaking. My poor husband had a migraine all day, so he was lying in a dark room, trying to keep the pain to a dull roar. Poor guy.

Here’s what I did:

I dropped Isaac off to play at a new friend’s house for a few hours. That was a drive on the motorbike up into the rice fields, which are nearly ready for harvest. The grains hang now, heavy on the stalks. Cows in the field nearby. He went happily, which was a good sign, because he is starting at a Montessori school next week. (Egad! My heart might not take it!)

Leafy and Solo were at our house having their Thai lesson with their teacher at the same time. As I came and went, Solo kept trying to get me to tell him what eleven is in Thai. He knows it, but always forgets. I laughed with his teacher (also my teacher) and drove off for more errands.

I bought a new gas bottle for the stove, since ours ran out when I was baking bread the night before. That means heaving the gas bottle into the chariot and driving down to the gas shop. Easy enough, thanks to the chariot.  

I came home and helped with math and did read alouds with my kids and our Russian friend Vrinda. We’re reading Number the Stars right now, as well as poems by Robert Browning. And the book of Ephesians. It’s maybe my favorite time of the day.  

I printed and shipped a painting. I love our post office and the people who work there. I bought bus tickets for the weekend. I’m heading to Chiang Mai for book group, which is reading my book this month, a fact that is exciting and nerve-wracking, both. We’re reading A Traveler’s Guide to Belonging, and the food for the evening matches the book, so I’m looking forward to eating Indian food. I‘m taking an extra day to finish all the details around my upcoming book launch, and things have been so busy around here lately that I’m happy and excited to take the time.

Today at Shekina Garden, Brendan, Chinua, and I are hosting a little English camp for eighteen Thai kids from a local church, so some of my errands were in preparation for that. I went to a local restaurant to order food for lunch. We settled on three trays of curries and we’ll make our own rice. I left a 500 baht deposit, and when the lady saw that it was the last of the money I had in my change purse, she kindly asked if I needed to buy more things, and if it was an imposition to ask for a deposit. I told her it was fine, and there was much arm-grabbing and laughing on both sides. As I left, I heard my name called and saw that my kids’ art teacher, Fo, was finishing with his move across the street. I went and visited with him and his wife, and we talked about the expense of camping in Europe, and hot nights in the tent. (An aside, camping is still very affordable in America, and especially for a seven person family.) Later, I showed Leafy where the new shop is, so he and Solo can ride their bikes there for class today.

I bought art supplies for English camp. I think we’ll make little books with favorites. My favorite color, my favorite food, and stuff like that. I ran into Brendan on the street, and I went to talk with my friend at a local café. When I got home, my elderly neighbor was walking back and asked what I bought. So much! She said. She didn’t really want to know, it was just a way of saying hello. She’s the best.

I went to the plant shop and bought yellow marigold plants so I can put them outside my gate for the King’s funeral. We’re coming up to the last of our mourning period, and there are yellow and orange marigolds everywhere, in remembrance. We’re also wearing black or white or dull colors. By the end of October, mourning will be over. 

Then I went to the afternoon market and bought papaya, bananas, peanuts, and broad beans for snacks for the English camp. I bought tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumbers for dinner, but we ended up eating rice, greens, and fried eggs, (easiest and best Thai food ever) so the tomatoes will be for Persian food tonight. We ate a little of my lethal kimchi (so spicy, so so so spicy) with the rice and greens, and it was perfect. 

Then cuddling in bed with Solo and Isaac, helping Kai with his math work, goodnight goodnight to everyone. Collapsing in bed. Errands days are fun here.

 

***

Support me with as little as a dollar a month on Patreon.  Patrons get extra question and answer posts and other content. Thanks so much to new patrons: Sue Kauffman, Elizabeth Jolley, Tj and Mark, Ro Keyzer, and Erin Smith. Your support keeps this writer going! 

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.” 

Close.

(I wrote this post a few days ago. It's a bit hard to get wifi on the road!)

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Today is gorgeous. Sunshine and blue sky. Hay fever. Trees everywhere, rosemary, sage growing where I can pluck it and smell it. There are birds we have never seen before. Family and all its messy spilling over of love, misunderstanding and stretching, growing. When we are traveling like this we don’t have the normal rhythms of separating and coming back together. It puts pressure on us and builds lasting memories in us.

Since the family arrived, we have been traveling from place to place. We started at Christy’s house in Santa Cruz, as they recovered from jet lag and adjusted to the chilly weather with groans and expressions of disbelief. “This is summer?” Kenya kept asking. “Are you sure?” Christy took us to Wilder Ranch, a beautiful spot where the kids climbed an enormous, sprawling spruce tree and ran through the root systems of gigantic aloe plants.

Then we drove to Nevada City, where we spent an intense and very cold three days at a campground for a gathering of communities like ours (Christ-centered, created for travelers). Chinua has helped to focalize these gatherings for the last few years along with our friends Heather and Gabe, but this is the first I was able to attend.

I loved it. Every minute. We set up our tents for the first time on this trip, and huddled by the fire. There was another family that we’ve known for a long time but haven’t seen in forever, with kids who are the same ages as ours, and my kids were in bliss. Board games, movies, drawing time, even a wildly mismatched game of Red Rover… the big kids watched the little ones and I was able to attend nearly all the seminars.

Then we went to Claire’s house, Innerchange Outer Circle in San Francisco, one of the most love-soaked houses I’ve ever been in. I’m often effected by the feel of a place, and that place was heavenly to me. Outer Circle in an order that reaches out to homeless and disenfranchised people in San Francisco, so it is mercy-soaked, and also familiar, as we spent years in San Francisco doing the same.

And then we spent time in Mill Valley, spending time with Cate and our other friends, hiking along Muir Beach Overlook, and driving out to see the elephant seals in Point Reyes, as well as the carcass of a beached blue whale. (Very large, very amazing, very stinky.)

And now we are in Yosemite, living in our tents, cooking oatmeal on a little camping stove in the forest. It feels like the land, except for the tents part. We drew close to the park on the first night, but stopped at a place called Moccasin for the night, as it was getting dark. We set up our tents right next to Don Pedro lake, and the kids swam while I cooked dinner. Later that night, after everyone was in bed and the dishes were done, the food in the bear locker, the valuable stuff locked away, I swam. I waded into the water in the sight of thousands of stars, and the only thing I could see, other than the stars, was a cross on the hill, outlined in white twinkle lights. The water rippled out from me, black and silky and quiet. Bats winged over the surface.

It has not been easy, in some ways, to re enter my life. My beliefs on the sanctity of motherhood are challenged as I move from morning till night, taking care of the needs of many other people. They are the most beautiful, joyous creatures, leggy and hilarious. They make me laugh more than I have ever laughed, I forgot how much I laugh when I’m with them. 

But it is a road trip with five kids in a van, ages four to fourteen, you can fill in the blanks. I am floating in a pool of people and it is sometimes hard to remember the closeness I felt to God on my pilgrimage. My life lesson is to bring my solitude-starved self to God at the end of the day, allow him to smooth the creases, correct the false identities, soothe the indignity I feel at being a servant, and bring me back to the center. I am his and he is mine and look at this beautiful life. I swim and I swim, the night is all around me. The stars are everywhere. The cross on the hill reminds me that this is a suffering kind of joy and that is right, that is good. I’m in the right place.