"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.

Muscle memory.

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* My heart goes out to all those affected by the hurricanes, floods, and fires this season. I’m so sorry. *

I’m home after a long journey. 

“Hello, house,” I say, unsure of whether she will be angry that I was gone so long. The house says hello, stretches her doors open to me. Beautiful wood, mess for me to clean up, smelling of mildew, a jumble of love and work. She missed me, I’m the careful one. The mother. Organizing, reorganizing, getting rid of the detritus. It will take some time to get this place back in order, and it will always be a tropical order; slightly chaotic, moldering on the edges, a little damp.

It’s been raining, to put it mildly. We have arrived at the tail end of an abundant rainy season and everything is green, exploding with life, growing with mold and spores. This town goes through an amazing transformation every year. When I left, it was brown and brittle under a hot wind. But now… how do I describe how this tropical air feels? The clouds drape around the mountains closely, white against deep green. And the air is wet, close to the face, hot in the middle of the day. Vines trail over everything, flowers heap themselves against the fences on the sides of the road. The world is heavy with growth.

I’ve lived here for five years, but the air and the smells somehow still bring me back to India at first glimpse. I’m snapping back into life her, muscle memory crackling as I take the motorbike to the market. But in those first two days when I arrived, I kept being drawn back into the first months in India, into every monsoon. And the flashes of memory brought deep love, reminders of young children, arms and legs and nursing babies. So it is a comforting feeling, this wet air. And the smells of mildew remind me of coming home.

As I am. I’m coming home. Over the next few days I have to scrub and organize my kitchen and sort through all the clothing in the house (somehow it is all on the wrong shelves). I have a house helper, a partner in crime, and I am very thankful for her right now, as it all threatens to overwhelm me. I’ve never been so great at housework. So much of life is managing things, it seems, figuring out the kids’ schedules and homeschool season, helping friends in town, hours in markets finding good things for us to eat. I have learned to love it, to lean into it. I’m waking the muscle memory for this now. I’m excited to get back into community rhythms at Shekina Garden, and I’ve signed myself up to cook the next two weeks of community lunches. Home.

The kids seem very settled and happy. Especially Isaac, who had lost his mind a bit there, at the end. He keeps spotting me in the house and running over to hug me out of pure happiness. I’m working on habits, all the good ones (writing and exercising) and bad ones (despair and panic) are all in the muscle memory as well. But I have changed, in these months away, and I’m reaching to the light places. Clearing the mold away. Saying hello to my neighbors and friends. Hearing the little bits about what's been going on here and there.

***

A couple of practical things: I wrote a post for The Charis Project after spending a day with them. The post is up! If you are looking for a place for your giving dollars, I can’t recommend Charis enough—they are an organization that works to support marginalized families in order to keep them together. 

“This is the vision I caught so clearly as I went with Charis staff from hut to hut, watching and joining in as they greeted, chatted, answered questions and sat for hours together with women in the lower margins of society. This is the kind of support that allows a mother with a special child to keep him.” Read it here.

Also, I’m soooo close to finished with my final edit on Shaper’s Daughter, World Whisperer Book 3. I’ll be sending review copies out to my Amazing Unicorn Readers’ Group for proofreading and reviews soon. The whole series will be getting a makeover too. (Yes, another one! We haven’t quite hit the genre expectations for covers yet something something, so I hired a professional book cover Artist.) 

And… I’m working on a fourth Journey Mama Writings book. So that's exciting! There are always new days to write, new days to make things. 

A stream of healing.

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The morning light is glowing on the trees outside my parents’ house. We’ve been on an island in our last days here, and it has been a welcome island. Forested and lovely, with parents/grandparents. It’s nearly time to go home to Thailand after our epic, beautiful adventure, filled with love and kindness. 

The world has grown strange and sometimes cold. White supremacists have marched and that is deeply horrifying. We are all robbed by the lack of love for people of color. Being black in the world should be a cause of celebration, not a reason for people to hold themselves carefully, or need to push through prejudice. I pray for fountains of healing. I don’t know how we can change, but I will keep writing with that hope in mind.

Water has washed away homes. Fire has threatened us. Across the sea, children are scarred by war. My heart hurts for the world.

I have been very brave, on this trip. I have stayed in 46 different places in the last four months, meaning 46 different homes or campsites. (!) That is also how many times I packed up my things, or our things, after the first month, when the other six people in my family joined me. We camped all along the road, stopping in the evening to throw up our tents, and pulling them down the next morning to drive again. We spent time in Detroit with Chinua’s family. We camped with my family in BC. We played charades. We swam. 

Everyone has done well, although I feel that Isaac has gotten a little confused about what he can and cannot expect from life. When everything is epic, it can be confusing for a four-year-old. He can’t figure out the way days are supposed to go. Are they supposed to always contain treats and ice cream? Maybe a roller coaster or an epic playground? He’s a bit demanding these days. I think he’ll do well with a return to our simple life and schedule. 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and growing as we’ve journeyed here. The whole thing has been a long experiment in the sufficiency of each day, and of pushing myself and believing I have what it takes. A lot of my anxiety comes from fear that more will be expected of me than I can handle, so I have found peace and safety in the reassurance that I have what I need for right now. God is always there, always with me. He is now. I cannot feel his peace four days from now. I feel it now.

And somewhere along one of the roads, I found a stream of healing, and I went down to it and let it run over me. My heart feels different. It feels as though it has found a place of belonging. I feel ready for life to come, despite ten million child conflicts per day, despite dust and cleaning, despite the toll life takes. 

More beautiful things: we spent my mom’s birthday with her, which was a gift to us. Chinua made cheesecake and sweet potato pie. We sang happy birthday off key and off time. We have walked on the beach and watched the kids play on playgrounds. We spent one epic day in the car in which my parents showed again their patience and tenacity. We have talked and played and made food together every day. I cherish this.

Solo has been dropping and doing push-ups multiple times a day. I also love this. His quirky joy makes my heart happy. All my kids do, in a hundred ways. I have also discovered more joy in having quirky nieces, on this trip. Oh, how I love them.

I can’t sum it all up, and I won’t even try. It is very, very hard to leave. But this time has been a gift. I am very thankful for every minute, every person who opened their home to us. I am thankful for every mile we drove, for every minute Chinua and I talked in the front seat, being together, just being. I am thankful to go home to Thailand now, to be in my house and with my community. I am thankful.

What we can see.

We are in British Columbia. Beloved place, mountain covered, more trees than can be counted. A few days ago, Chinua played a small concert. It had been smoky for weeks, with wildfires raging across hectares of land. I have been a bit disappointed, because we haven’t been able to see what is around us and the sun has been a red ball in the sky. Beautiful in an eerie way, but still, looking out, I knew the lake was there, and the mountains, but we couldn’t see them. 

But as we were setting up for Chinua’s concert, winds began to blow. The trees whipped back and forth, and clouds rolled in. It was delightful, but, thinking of the equipment, we set up inside rather than outside like we planned. The music was beautiful. Our friend Andrew Smith opened, and it was an intimate living room concert, including a couple Duke Ellington songs where Chinua joined Andrew, jazz soloing on the mandolin. (He’s creative, my Superstar husband.)

And then I could smell rain coming in through the windows. A long, smoky few months had dried out the ground, and the drops of water reacted like magic. That compressed-dust-meets-rain smell is one of my oldest memories. In the morning, there were puddles on the ground. Rain like this in a time of fire is no small thing. The skies cleared. We can see for miles. We can see all the layers of hills, one behind the other, ringing out. The dry bluffs with scatterings of trees. The orchards. A sliver of lake in the distance.

I keep coming out of jungles and looking around, happy to be in a spacious place, but then finding another jungle to press into. The heat under these trees can be oppressive. I think, “Now I’ve got this family thing down. I know how to mother these people,” but then someone ages a year, or goes through grief, or shifts in a way that changes the air in our family. We have ripples and currents, and these things aren’t things I can control.

Out of control. Perhaps my whole life has been one long exercise in giving up control. When you are a mother of small children, you can’t control their emotions, or whether the jam jar will slip out of their hands and smash in a wondrous pile of glass and goo on the floor. But you can decide on a fun thing, you can smooth over feelings and change the tone. 

I’m finding it harder to do that with teenagers. What wondrous things they are. A full spectrum of mind and emotion, teetering between hope and fear, full of energy and chaos. This is a more challenging tone to change. To bring peace in these storms is no easy feat. 

I love my oldest more than he can ever know. And in a few short years I will help him walk away from me. Giving up control. It turns out that I don’t hold the world together. I can’t answer all his questions or sweep everything from his path to make sure it is clear for him. I can’t even always get along with him. How we are humbled by our children.

 

Things I love: 

Mornings.

Fast-moving clouds.

Eyes filled with love.

Every kind of tree and bird.

Grass.

Mountain textures. 

Notebooks and pens.

Books.

Days that stretch in front of me, ready for ideas, play, love.

 

Is love the strongest thing? Is the love of God enough? Yes and yes. My dear friend recently traveled to be near to someone close to her, someone who had suffered violence against herself. My friend carried love of God with her and it couldn’t answer every question, it couldn’t alleviate every fear, but it came into the room and curled up beside them and brought the goodness back. 

That is what I want. The goodness back. Not the hate or offense. Not the complications, the misunderstandings, the resistance. The goodness, thrown like a sheet over a soft bed, ready for you to sink in. Love that swirls around, filling the hurt places. To wake up and be ready to be surprised.

 

The other day we sat out on the patio, and as night fell, the crickets started chirping. Well, one cricket, and something else that might have been a cricket or might have been a frog. As we discussed whether it was a cricket or a frog at length(simple pleasures, at heart I live in a village), Isaac piped up.

“No, it’s a star.”

Quiet. 

“Did you say it’s a star?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s the way the stars sound. The night sounds.” 

“Oh, back in Pai? When you hear these sounds? That’s the way the stars sound?”

“Yes. And the way the night sounds,” he said. 

And that, my friends, is when I realized that Isaac has grown up hearing crickets and frogs, and assumed that is is the sound of the stars or the night sky. 

 

Star sounds.

 

We can’t know, really, what’s going on. For now we see in a mirror dimly. We may see a sky full of smoke, and just beyond is the view of mountains, city, lake in the distance. Unless the smoke is washed away, we might never know the mountains are there. 

I often see through the haze of my anxiety. Every once in a while it blows away and I look around, astounded by how bright everything is. But the smoke settles again, the way the smoke has settled here again, a few days after the rain. I’ve been hoping for years that the smoke would clear permanently, but I’m starting to believe that I will always be looking for glimpses. Times when the whole thing emerges, the whole huge picture of love and goodness, what it can all be, and I nearly fall down from the beauty of it.

 

And then we may hear crickets rubbing their legs together and think the sky is singing. So on days when the sky is hidden by smoke, and it seems that there are no stars, we know we can still hear them. They are still there. 

Music and hugs and long summer nights.

Detroit is brick and green grass, people mowing lawns, oak and maple trees, late summer evenings. It is cousins and uncles and aunts, babies and grandparents. Detroit is suburbs and sidewalks, as well as downtown with its blocks of empty, grass grown fields where stately houses once stood. Detroit is autos and engineers, late nights, sleeping in, Belle Isle, museums, huge breakfasts, and drumming. Detroit is pool tables and laughter. 

We got into Detroit late on the night of the 13th, after leaving the house of a very kind reader, Sandwich, who opened her home to us when she found that we were driving through her state. It was already about 8:00 but the sky was very light, and Quran, one of our kids’ cousins, was already at Chinua’s parents’ house. We gave Roxanne, Chinua’s stepmother, a big hug, and then there was his father, and we all hugged him. Then sisters, more nieces and nephews, brother, sister in law. We ate mediterranean food and talked for hours. We felt as though we had stepped straight into a huge circle of love.

The next day was the start of the Bragg family reunion. It is the family of Chinua’s father’s mother’s parents. Their reunions began forty years ago and included all of the remaining siblings (I think there were ten or so) of Chinua’s father’s mother. Now there are three of the siblings that are still alive, and many descendants. Aunt Hattie and Uncle Bo, two of the three, were at this reunion, looking fit and amazing. We haven’t been to a reunion since Kenya was a baby. Can I say we were over the moon to attend this one? We planned our trip around it, actually, deciding to be in Detroit in July so we could go. 

Chinua's very well-dressed Great Uncle Bo, one of the elders of the Bragg family.

Chinua's very well-dressed Great Uncle Bo, one of the elders of the Bragg family.

It started with a bone-crushing hug from Chinua’s cousin Derek, and all the family exclaiming over how grown up our kids are now. (They are!) We ate, danced, walked around downtown Detroit, we went to museums and one park. We talked a lot and hugged a lot. I have always felt privileged to be brought into Chinua’s huge, welcoming family, and I felt it all again. There is something about a family, especially one like this, who have had reunions every year for forty years straight. 

One night I babysat my nieces and nephew in the hotel while all the others went out for karaoke. The girls began calling me Auntie Rainbow, because they forgot Rachel a few times and I told them they could call me Auntie Rainbow. To be honest, I don’t know why this is the first time I thought of it. There’s something so sweet about a little niece saying, “Auntie Rainbow? I can’t sleep.”

Other highlights included 

* Many games of pool, which Solomon discovered he both loves and has a lot of talent for. Some of it might be his Granddad’s gentle encouragement. 

* A trip to Belle Isle for drumming, swimming, a giant slide, and a picnic

* A campout at our brother and sister-in-law’s house: more drumming, roasted marshmallows, dominoes.

* A grandchildren photo session too cute for words

* Long talks with sisters

* Seeing more of Chinua’s childhood spaces

* A walk with one of our auntie’s, hearing her talk about her childhood in Alabama

* A visit with our friend Amy.

Detroit is beautiful and full of family and good things. We’re in Canada now, making slow progress across a land of a hundred thousand lakes. But that is a story for another day.