I sit in the house-dim of a summer evening, waiting the moments out till it is not too early to start our bedtime routine. In theory the littles bedtime is at 8. In practice, this summer, it is usually 9. On evenings like this, when I am tired, I wait a little longer than I think I can, to start the evening routine. I want them to go to bed early but not feel cheated.
Like most of mothering, it is an art, but science enters into it.
My new planner, sits, happy, on the counter, it’s golden polka dots and pretty script beckon. I take a moment to grab my pencil, the one that was sharp yesterday, with it’s yellow eraser of a hat, and record the food I ate this evening. I am doing my best to work on health.
There are contented sounds from the living room. The crinkle and whoosh of lego play along with a soft chattering in Mandarin. The two littles ones, immersed in their creative world. The deep buzz of Quinn’s voice as he talks, via headphone, to a friend across town who is his partner in online warfare. The cats murmur to me, isn’t it almost their dinner time?
I check the dryer one more time for the day and fold the comforter I find inside into perfect right angles and lay it flat in the still-clean linen cabinet. A comforting activity. The house is not clean but it is neat for now, and that neatness lets me feel ready to rest, ready to settle in for an episode of Gray’s Anatomy, a perusal of instagram or a slow deep fall into my latest library novel.
The air conditioner roars it’s quiet roar and I step back into the hallway where the coolness congregates. I wipe my forehead and light a candle in the bathroom. The pure white of the new shower curtain with it’s scatter of golden confetti releases peace. I breath in deeply.
A life is found in it’s particulars. These are mine, this evening.
Summer so far has been a long slow death, punctuated by some brief moments of glory. The glory found has been of the most mundane kinds: soaking up sun in a new bikini while children play nearby, a good book in my hands. Mid day naps, on occasion, with my teacher-husband, who’s work load is lighter this time of year.
More often, summer so far has been a series of endless questions with the wrong answers. “Can I eat an ice cream bar now?” (No, not at ten in the morning.) “Can I play more ipad?” (No, you played an hour, that is more than plenty.) “Can you buy me more toys?” (No, you do not play with the ones you have.)
I AM saying yes. I just can only say it so many times in so many circumstances.
Summer is not about the endless possibilities as much as it is about a narrowing of focus towards home and lake and library and in and out. The fact that some of my children still do not know this is understandable (it IS his first summer home) but still, a sort of slow wearing down of my life forces.
I sometimes wait for quiet time, ACHE for quiet time.
I know it will only take a certain amount of the same kind of whining each day, for me to get him there. “Quiet time? Why we do quiet time? I don’t want quiet time! Today you say we don’t do quiet time! I don’t LIKE quiet time! How long is quiet time? Why you make me do quiet time! We do quiet time yesterday! We do quiet time EVERYday! I don’t like it quiet time. I don’t like it quiet time. I don’t like it quiet time.”
All of these statements can most helpfully be responded to with holding, a kiss and the response “I know” or “I love you, bud.”
Quiet time lasts only 30, 45 or 60 minutes, depending on how hard I’m having to try to hold it together on any given day. Never more.
This is a great testimony to my strong will and kind spirit.
I buy Tin Tin books in Chinese and we stock up the bedroom with marbles and legos and cards to play poker or solitaire and warm cats.
This does not change his acceptance of his daily fate. But it means that by the time quiet time ends, he is usually mellow and relaxed, ready for hours of swimming in our home pool. Happy, even.
Narrowing of choices is sometimes just what we need. Possibilities sometimes are best born from impossibilities.
Right now my world is small too, son. I too face the daily challenge of a kind of quiet time that I don’t long for or embrace.
And like you, it’s shaping me, molding me, growing me, changing me.
Summer, so far.
Is what a summer should be.
A quiet revolution against our ordinary.
And a quiet acceptance too.
The old chandelier sways ever so gently in the spring breeze and the wild air plant just beneath it spreads out spidery arms across its wire brass bowl home.
The wild haired redhead behind the counter holds a sharp swiss army knife in her right hand, it’s blade merely an extension of herself. Her eyes never ceased moving, shifting and drifting their way across the sea of flowers all around her as she cuts each bloom.
She calls it organized chaos but I think it’s just chaos. It will become organized later. When the weddings and funerals eventually take shape.
And oh the profusion of glory all around. The peonies of a pink that defies naming, the ranunculous that was supposed to arrive in all pink-tinged white but instead came in an array of oranges, pinks and yellows. The poppy pods in all their bulbous silver green beauty.
I sit in the old rounded yellow armchairs in front of the faux fireplace that serves mostly as a mantle to house a massing of brass ware of all kinds.
The wide-open garage door allows sun to fill the space from cement floors to high ceilings. It lets in an abundance of visitors, coming and going in an endless stream of companionship. To each one she shows off her bursting walk in refrigerator filled with blooms. Each murmurs with appreciation and leans in to breath deep.
I breath deep here too.
This is Floranthropist Market.
He is all spin and wander. His eyes follow the ground. His world is not our world. We don’t know where he goes when we all gather. We don’t know what he thinks. What he sees. What he wishes. But it only takes one bright, curious event to bring him back. For those little boy eyes to waken wide, their long lashes to frame his face again. Then he is all full lips and inquisitive energy. Then he stares long and hard. Then he calls my name, “MAMA!” hard and sharp, calling me to join his world, and, in the process, joining mine.
Then we can be, for this moment, ONE, to explore this new phenomenon that has captured him.
Sometimes I am already too angry, too worried, too distracted, too overwhelmed. Sometimes I only murmur, distractedly, “wow.” Sometimes I am passive, reserved. Sometimes I just nod briefly. It is difficult to only be allowed in on another’s terms. The desire for connection is strong. The need for mutual connection, great. I, like most of us, long to share more of life. More of daily glory. More of ourselves.
Shall I agree to take what I can get? Will I ask for more? What does it look like to be vulnerable AND strong. How do I be the alpha mom and the nurturer? How do I let him sense how much I long to touch his heart, while teaching him that I am stronger than his need to control me? The questions of every mama are magnified for those who parent the hurting child. As healers to the wounded we become more than simple mothers. As if being a mother was simple at all.
“MAMA!” He is at `my arm now, shaking me, dragging me, showing me. His deep brown eyes, the ones that have seen the unspeakable, that hold the unsayable, that mirror the unknowable, they fix on me, just long enough to command me. “COME.”
And I do. Somehow, despite all the pain, and the grief, and the anger, and the sadness, and the frustration. I just keeping coming.
Coming back for you, sweet boy.
to ordinary glory
it’s only just begun
This haiku is dedicated to the amazing women I’m running this life with.
Your ordinary glory astounds me.
Here’s to 1,000 more adventures.
Holding each others hands all the way.
When the river
rages through me
I rest, silent
as the waves whip by
My heart and spirit
are the banks,
for this angry, sad, lost
And I can only hope
that more of me
will not wash away
in this bright-hot, ice-cold
We were in our emerging front yard, home for three years to a giant angry stump and some haphazard grass, when she said it. Our entire home group had gathered to help us install drought tolerant plants. She was handing me some cilantro and parsley from her own yard and I was dreading, just a little, that I might place it wrong and kill it from lack of shade or poor access to water. And that’s when she told me:
“If you’re going to grow things, sometimes some of them are going to die. That’s just how the process works.” – Lisa Alvord
And it was like my entire being just took a huge breath.
If you’re going to grow things, sometimes parts of them are going to die. It’s just how it works.
And that moment, in the full sun of my bare front yard, might just have saved me.
You see, I’m growing four beautiful humans right now. And they’re very full of complicated parts. As much as I try to be Superwoman, I ultimately fail regularly at providing just the right amounts of sun, shade, water and fertilizer for each of their hearts, spirits, minds and bodies. None of them came with their instruction manuals. Some were left neglected for too long in places without much sun. Others have been moved from climate to climate far too many times. They come to me now, with such unique needs, how could I possibly know what’s best all the time?
If I’m supposed to be God, holding all things together by the might of my power, I’m failing. If I’m supposed to be a superhero, saving the day through my incredible talents, I’m falling short there too.
But what if decided to let myself be human? To accept the limitations of the growth process? To remind myself that the very way creation has been designed is that there are seasons of life and death, cycles of growth and falling back. That when seeds fall into the ground that’s where new life comes from?
What if I let God be God? What if I let myself off the hook? What if I accepted the limitations of growing things? What if I breathed again? What if I trusted that there will always be some death (to dreams, hopes, wishes and plans) involved in this business of nurturing life? And that it might not be just my dying to myself. It might be my sweet little ones experiencing their own cycles of growth, dying back and regrowth.
Taking deep breaths today, as Jesus waits, silent in the grave. From death comes life.
It happened once. Cyclically, it happens again in our lives too.
Two teens and two pre-teens. One learning to drive, one learning English, two learning to read and write. Three schools with their associated paperwork, schedules, and service hours. Two with assisted and accommodated homework requiring parental translation and transcription EVERY DAY. One with a full honors course load requiring extra math and chemistry help, always late at night when we are gasping our way towards bed time. One not caring too much about grades for the first time ever, winging his way through his final year and requiring ongoing talks, ongoing support – let’s do this. We can do this. We see you. You matter too. One with a job but no license to get herself there yet. The other working hard at volunteering to raise money for a class missions trip. Yet another selling Girl Scout cookies every weekend to raise money for camp.
We swore off sports for this spring – we just Can. Not. Do. It.
And then the multiple abscessed teeth, pneumonia, the carpal tunnel, the surprise cardio issues, the lice, the scabies, the intestinal upsets, a rough flu season. We add in boundary testing and the first six months of crossing culture; always the hardest. We get used to constant, vigilant supervision. On top of that we pile language: every. single. thing. we say, translated and re-translated, explained and re-explained for a child/children that are not only culturally Chinese but post-institutional. We work hard on learning to make friends – a skill never needed before and very slow to come.
We add a special education process – absolutely essential, absolutely wonderful, and with a steep learning curve and lots of extra meetings and decisions. We add in a full time aide and follow up meetings to ensure safety and well being. We juggle therapy sessions and doctor visits and catch up immunizations and dental care long neglected.
And we feed them. Feed and feed and feed. One has grown about three inches so far this year. Another has put on ten pounds in six months, a full fifth of his body weight. Three in some stage of puberty. One eats everything in sight but prefers high protein and high fat – most filling. Two wish for Chinese everything; noodles, seaweed, rice and more rice, steamed buns, and all kinds of dishes requiring special trips to Asian food markets and new cooking skills. The other longs for fresh fruits, vegetables and carbs.
I wring my hands.
“Calm and Kind”, I tell myself. “Calm and Kind.” We order a lot of take out. We don’t worry too much about the instant noodles that bring joy. We pray for extra grace
David puts in long sixty hour weeks for a few months as we chase a couple of dreams. We somehow fit in two home groups meeting at our place.
These are the crazy days that wrap themselves around us right now. This season full to the brim with simply holding together four rapidly evolving young human beings. With simply hugging them tight, feeding them well, helping them learn and watching them grow.
We find our way, day by day, through new rituals and new routines. The very essence of what has always made us family must shift and evolve in new ways; ways harder than even moves overseas required. For now, the nations come to us and call us to be different people than we ever expected.
We breath deep. We write. We kiss and hold each other. We eat too much chocolate and drink wine as a habit and start reading the same fiction books and talking about them at bedtime. We spend time in the darkness just breathing next to each other.
We birth family together. And when people ask us how it’s going we just glance into their eyes and nod. There are no words right now for this sacred painful beauty. It just is.
And I’ll tell you what makes these crazy days a little brighter, a little surer, a little smoother. It’s the magic of kindness. The flowers dropped by the front door, the surprise gifts and words given with such great love, the meals, delivered and the phone calls made. It’s the people who love us when we don’t have the words to say how much we need to be held; when we can’t seem to tell them how hard it’s really been.
And when I hear people talk about “orphan care” I want to tell them these are not orphans they are people. And it’s not enough to be the called. We must be committed. Stick-to-it-ive-ness is a virtue. We stand strong, we hug and hold again, we forgive the little one who will never ask us to. We embrace their complaint and breathe through their dissatisfaction and the sometimes revisionistic history and the compulsive lying that trauma brings.
This is the love of the Divinity – a love that perseveres.
A love that is stronger than the greatest fear. And let me tell you that the last two years have brought us fears we never knew before.
We manage it poorly, at times. Falteringly. Hesitatingly. We release this love, sometimes, through clenched fists and with stiff arms.
For we too are the orphans. Complainers. Fighting for what we most want and need. Unsure, sometimes, if the love of the Father will be enough.
But love wins. Through these crazy days, we find time for walks in the woods and we gather armfuls of spring buds and blossoms. The grays, silvers and greens blend on our wooden dining table – gesturing hope with their outstretched arms.
And we receive.
I am the tree, you are the monkey.
Daily you ascend my branches. Daily I bend under your enthusiastic clambering. You pick the fruit, and I sustain you. My body aches from the days of carrying your 65 pounds and my heart from the ten years we spent apart.
I ache with loving you.
I ache with hurting for you, with you, near you, by you.
There are those magic moments.
The after-school one when you run to me, throwing all the weight of your body forward, full of delight to be back in my arms.
The before-school one when I lean down to kiss your head and you don’t smell like a stranger anymore, you smell like my baby. Can I ever explain how much that one smell means to me? I tell you “Oh, you smell like my baby! My baby Leo.” And you chirp in my arms, a small animal completely at the mercy of my devastating love – a love that could destroy you in only one moment should I choose the wrong way. This is the terrible power I hold as your second mother.
There are dreadful moments too. You know them, I know them, sometimes another person knows them if we speak, in a moment of great strength. But no one shares the pain like we two do. Your pain, bleeding slowly into my heart; me soaking it all up. And this too is the job of a mother, to suffer your sufferings, to feel your deepest grief, to allow myself to be hurt with your hurting.
Those stories, too deep to be ever properly told. They make scars in my heart that echo the scars on your skin, the many little marks I will never know the stories of. The ones that make me cry at night.
Oh my precious Leo. How much you have been made to bear. How deep your loss, your pain, your grief. How full my heart with loving you.
My baby, Leo.