They are teaching me.

Lately there is an occasional person who asks me how I’m handling all my freedom now that my kids are at school. And I laugh and laugh, because I am still homeschooling three kids. Which is only a small amount of kids to homeschool if you have been teaching more than three. I’ve been doing this four about thirteen years. It’s a commitment.

We’re having fun, just the four of us at home during the day. It’s a quiet bunch. They like to draw and create things on the computer. They need to be nudged back into study sometimes. Sometimes other friends come and learn with us. Another friend comes and gets a guitar lesson with Chinua. The house flows with learning.

Wookie is always around, cuddling with someone while they read or work. Often she’s with Solo. Those two love each other. I started a new English class so that I can really use the time wisely. After yesterday’s class, where we started the book “Elijah of Buxton,” and talked about the first chapter, which offered us a glimpse at our protagonist, Leafy started thinking about protagonists.

He came to me at 9:30, just before I fell asleep, to tell me what he had discovered. 

“I realized that almost all protagonists have more than one syllable in their name,” he said. “I've been counting them up and I would say nine out of ten.” 

I think I’m teaching them, but they are teaching me. 

“What is this chapter doing?” I ask. “What is it settling for us, right off the bat?” The family is warm, funny. Loves each other.

The family is warm and funny. Loves each other.

I cried, yesterday, missing Kai. It’s starting to sink in that he’s far away. I'm so, so happy for him, and I think he's thriving. but I am still his mother, and I miss him.

***

A few years ago,  I brought a few sticks of curry leaf tree home with me from India. One of them seemed to take, and I brought it to Devotion Circle to illustrate the concept of hope. 

“It doesn’t look like much,” I said. “It’s just a stick. But look at these tiny leaves. There is the hope.” 

Then I brought it home and killed it by forgetting about it. It wasn’t the most auspicious thing to do. I’ve been looking for a curry plant ever since. Leaf successfully transplanted a couple from India, but they are small and not mine to harvest, so though I have enjoyed watching them grow, I haven’t used their leaves more than once.

Yesterday, on my way back from driving Isaac to school on the motorbike, I saw a couple driving in front of me. The lady on the back was holding a big tree, and the leaves looked like curry leaf, but I’ve seen other similar plants that have fooled me here. Then the smell wafted back to me and I realized it was curry. I sped up so I could drive beside the couple and called out to them. 

“What is that?” I asked in Thai.

“It’s a curry tree!” the woman called.

“Are you selling it?”

They pulled over and I bought myself a giant curry leaf tree. 

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Leaf saw me and stopped to share the excitement. I put the tree in my basket and brought it home.

It’s as though God is telling me something. I am quick to lose (kill) hope. I despair over small set backs and slights. I grow disappointed, worried that God doesn’t see what is going on, what’s happening with my kids, what we need. But then the thing I need falls into my lap, and it’s almost as though that little hope tree has been growing the whole time. I didn’t lose it after all.

Dear Solomon, (A letter to my ten-year-old son)

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My love, you are ten. Ten years ago, you were born during the monsoon in India, during stormy, dark, wet rain. A long labor and then there you were, a little piece of sunshine. 

This has been a good year for you. Friendships are deepening, your confidence is growing, and you’ve grown stronger in reading and writing. You started gymnastics and we were all a little shocked by your headstands and ability to do the worm all the way across the floor. Or fall back into a bridge. 

You’ve grown so tall. You’re all arms and legs and knees and elbows. You’re most often moving. Whirling, jumping, climbing, hopping.

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You love to cook, to dream, to listen to music. You love to dance wildly. You love playing the piano and drawing. The way to your truest heart is through beauty. You are transformed by a sunset or a perfect music score. Your favorite movie is Song of the Sea, and you are a little heartbroken that you will never be a Selkie. Or have a Night Fury like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. It hurts you that fantasy isn’t real. (It is, though we can’t see it in regular life.)

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You are very kind. From a rough little three year old, you turned into a boy who I couldn’t imagine purposely hurting another kid. (Besides perhaps your siblings because let’s be honest, siblings are like a pack of feral puppies.) You hate injustice and you are sensible and empathetic when it comes to treating people well. You have a longing to connect well with other people. It is beautiful to see.

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You climb into my lap at any opportunity. I keep you there as long as I can, and then I have to tip you out because you are gigantic and my legs fall asleep. I love that you love to cuddle. Part of your identity comes from being different from any other person, and I love that about you! Sometimes things get too conventional, and you handle it by shouting loud non-sequiteurs that help you feel the balance of weird with normal. We take them in short chunks, and then tell you to stop when it becomes too much. 

What would I do without your wild music running all through my life? You are a strand of something unconventional; pure art and dancing. You give me courage. You are most at home in a dreamy world, and it churns with life. I can’t wait to see what you will create.

I love you at ten. I’ve loved you all your life. I will love you forever,

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Love.

Mama

***

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How Isaac sees me.

Isaac kept me up half the night last night, sleepless and a little scared. I lay beside him and cuddled him, though my thoughts often strayed to today, and what it would be like to do it tired. I don’t do sleep deprivation anymore. It’s not good for the octopus in my brain. 

But I love him. And he loves me. And it’s the simplest, lovely thing. So I helped him get back to sleep.

It was Mother’s Day recently here in Thailand. Mother’s Day falls on the queen’s birthday here, and everyone wears the queen’s color (light blue) and some kids wash their mother’s feet to give honor, which is a new fact to me and so beautiful. 

We haven’t been great at Mother’s Day in my family, partly because Chinua isn’t such a holiday guy (more of a spontaneous amazing thing guy) and partly because it falls on or near my birthday, so I already feel quite celebrated and don’t really want to ask for more. But Isaac is in a little gentle learning school now, and they had a party for us on Saturday. It was really quite sweet, and the best possible part was the art of myself that I received. 

This is how Isaac sees me:

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I’m magical.

 

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I’m curvy and wonderful. (I'm the yellow one. Isaac is the pink one.)

I see love in every line. I almost wish I looked like that for real. Life would be so interesting. 

 

This and that.

Kai is doing well at school so far. Also school is really different now, right? We're in the future. He’s a brave kid, cycling around the city with a backpack, starting something completely new. It’s inspiring.

I’m hanging out in the city to be here for the first week, but staying in a guesthouse so I can also take a work retreat. I’m editing World Whisperer 4 and working on various projects. Missing my other kids, trying to make the most of my solitude. It’s the story of the mother-artist-person. At home, there is never enough time to get work done. Away, you miss the people who inspire you most. But both states are full of love and many many things to be thankful for. I am thankful for the space and time right now to edit. I am grateful for solitude, which fuels me.

Leafy Skyped me yesterday to ask me what how I would react if he came home one day and had turned into a superhero. I told him I would be stoked, obviously.

I think my superhero skill is tricking myself. Work for me is still a near constant state of trickery. If I set my goals harshly, I rebel against myself, so it has to be all little bits here and there. If I set a schedule I am liable to rebel against it. If I tell others what I am doing so I can be accountable, I am liable to sabotage it. So it’s all trickery folks. Sitting down for a few minutes which turn into hours. Ticking edited chapters off. Another cup of coffee. It’s how I get stuff done. And then I take breaks to read, crochet, or people watch.

People watching is fun. Students in Thailand often head out to study in public, and it makes every public space have a chummy, learn-y type of feeling. I write notes of what people around me are doing. For example, next to me a woman might be looking at lab reports on her iPad. Another girl has an enviable amount of colored pens and is making lists of some kind. She has cool colored tape that she uses to mark certain sheets (but not others!). I’d like to ask her what she is doing, but she is wearing cordless headphones and I don’t wish to disturb. 

And then there are the matching clothes. Matching is a trend on our side of the world, especially when people are traveling together. They buy matching elephant pants and walk around looking amazing. Everyone has the same bottom half, like magic! And then there is when people accidentally match. One day I saw a pregnant lady with a striped navy dress walk by a man who was wearing the exact same stripe pattern on his shirt. It was as though they were part of the same thing for one, brief moment, except that they had probably never met. One day I would like to make a short movie of people wearing matching clothes passing each other in crowds. Maybe their eyes will meet. Maybe not.

Chinua refuses to wear matching clothes with me, though, no matter how many times I point out other couples doing it. Even when they are wearing matching pants, shirts, and caps, it doesn't inspire him to follow suit. He's a good husband otherwise. Not-matching is just a sorrow I have to bear. 

A New Part of the Journey

All beginnings are also endings. And sometimes, to celebrate a beginning, you also need to grieve a bit for an ending, especially if you are a fairly melodramatic, questioning kind of a mother-person. The kind of mother person who still likes to lie on the floor when she is overwhelmed by life and documents.

But the beginnings still need to be celebrated. Change is beautiful, rich, full of life, a thing to be cherished, one of the aims of raising children. 

Kai is starting high school. This is a minor miracle. He came home from camp in April and told us (with a lot of excitement) that he would really, really like to go to high school. And so we began to pray about it and then miracles began rolling in. He has received a scholarship from a loving couple to attend an international school in Chiang Mai. Another beautiful family asked if he can live with them. He will come back on most weekends. And school starts on Monday.

The last months have been a flurry of filling out forms and figuring out details and I wasn’t really sure of anything, so I didn’t write about it. But everything is finalized and our oldest child is half-leaving the house, back on weekends and holidays, living in a city three hours away. 

This will be amazing for him. His brain and brilliance need more challenge, he needs peers and teachers and a good transition point between living in a tiny town in Northern Thailand and moving to Canada or the US when he starts university, three years from now. He will thrive, I’m sure of it. I’m incredibly proud of him and excited that more people get to see the coolness that is Kai.

And also it’s sooner than I thought it would be.

There is this very instinctual, instrinsic part of my mother self that feels like Wait! Watch the kid. Keep the kid close. That’s our job. That’s what we do. 

It doesn’t help that every time I look away from him I reimagine him looking like this:

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How can you send that out into the world? How can you give that away?

But I blink and look back and he looks like this:

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For scale:

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This is a healthy, normal change, but it is the ending of an era. We all lived in a house together for sixteen years. All the family. We had a lot of time together; Kai was always home. We traveled on trains and buses, planes, boats, one tractor, rickshaws, canoes, cars or vans, and even on foot. We did it together. We’ll do more things together, I know it. Kai will still be home a lot over the next three years. But a certain time of life, a quality of how we were as a family is coming to an end, and it brings with it great possibility and the sadness of things that can’t be forever. 

I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I am terrible at transition. Change often has me charging around dropping things, and stubbing my toes. I grow clumsy and vacant. I am overwhelmed. But I want to do this well. So I am writing, listening. We are in the city now, getting ready for school. Doing a bit of thrift shopping. Getting his bicycle fixed. Figuring out class schedule stuff. It’s all normal. I’m channeling my very best Molly Weasley. I’m pretending to be the mom who knows about school and grown up things, who totally has this. I totally have this. 

I mean really.

I do. 

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