the tender warrior

You’ve only grown a foot or more in the last year.

Shrugged out of the preteen angst that you’ve worn for longer than I enjoyed it.

Stepped into a new tenderness, a new strength, a new depth.

Become a young man.

Somewhere in this thirteenth year.

You’ve reached deep into my heart and made me love more than I’ve loved before.

And become a man I’m proud of.

One who thinks deeply, who loves well, who’s not afraid to be sad, or angry, or heartbroken.

Who honors women and gazes adoringly at dogs, cats, babies and the elderly.

You’re becoming a man I’d be proud to trust a woman to.

A man who’d father with excellence and heart.  Who’d show kindness to the most broken, to the least deserving.

You help break the judgment off my heart, my mind, my life.

And I’m learning to trust your process.

To allow you to be a child, while shepherding you into manhood.

I’m learning that though you are bigger than ever, inside you aren’t ready to grow up quite yet.

You’re teaching me, slowly, to listen.  To seek to understand.

You are not afraid to rebuke me, to  hold my feet to the fire, to tell me when I am dishonest or unkind.

And I am thankful.

Thank you for being a truth teller with the most loving of hearts.

Thank you, Quinn, for being you.

Happy 14th, my son.

I am the luckiest of women, to be your mom.



A few years ago it was pancakes-as-big-as-your-face-Saturdays.  Now it’s noodle-soup-Sundays.  And just like we did with the pancakes, we go all out with the noodle soup.  Bok choy, chicken, green onions, cilantro, asian-style fried onions, hoisin and garlic chili sauces, rice noodles.  The works.  And Daddy cooks.  Every Sunday.  At least until we choose something else.

This is the thing with our traditions.  We have them . . . they just keep changing.  And the part of me that is always fighting to establish safety, security, and FAMILY, feels weird about that.

But that’s our life.  I read a post from my bestie Amy yesterday and realized that she’s found a positive and affirming way to capture this lifestyle that happens to be the same as the one we’ve chosen. She used the word “nimble” to describe their family’s way of life – which means to move quickly, easily or lightly.

Our lives center around this. We bought a house, conscious that it would be easy to rent or resell, and every change we make to it we make from that same consciousness.  We’ve settled our kids into schools but we consider new placements for them each year, making sure they’re still in the best place for this time in their life. We took jobs but we reevaluate them several times a year, always ready to pivot into what suits God’s plans and our hearts better.  We don’t mind taking in new stuff but we’re always letting go of the old.  Two cross-continental moves have made me eager to live lightly.  I always want to be able to easily move/liquidate my house in a day.   We are expectant and eager. We are flexible and forward thinking.  We are nomads.  But not the kind who spend only a day or a week in one place. We’re the kind who stretch out our tent pegs and settled in for a few years. But we don’t lose the nomad heart-set.  We’ve settled ourselves lightly on this ground.  Breathing in it’s best for however long we are called to.  Ready to walk away when a new wind blows.

So this is a step forward for me today.  Owning the truth that we’re really not fickle or flaky. That our ever changing lives, homes, and directions aren’t a result of a lack of direction or a failure to stay focused.  Because I know the truth about us.  We’re committed to being nimble.

We’ve learned to eat sombe and g-nut sauce for Thanksgiving.  And this year we’ll invite a whole bunch of Chinese friends over and eat dumplings and duck. And in between we’ve eaten microwave hostess meals and traditional turkey and whatever else.  Because we’re nimble.  Because we choose adventure over routine, people over things, passion over practicality.

*This title was shamelessly stolen from Amy’s blog post by the same name on the same topic. See link in post.

fifteen years ago today

It was fifteen years ago today that David, and I woke up in a little town home in Northern Virginia. Our chubby little Naomi was almost eighteen months and pure joy.  We had moved into the furnished town home just a few nights before and on this glorious fall morning in Virginia, David headed off for his first day of a three month training.  His site was not far from the Pentagon.

Since I had no TV, radio  and no cell phone, it took a little while for the news to reach me.  David called from a restaurant where he and his new colleagues had holed up, watching TV. Training was cancelled. After I hung up, I used my desk top to pull up a few still pictures that were already reaching the internet.  I remember sitting with little Naomi as she played, her tiny self completely innocent and unaware.  My whole body a prayer,  we waited to see what would come next.  And the news kept getting worse.

Later that day David arrived home with a new friend, Karl, who had come from New York for the training, and whose hotel was right next to the Pentagon and thus inaccessible.  Karl slept on our rented couch after an evening filled with spurts of words and long heavy silences.  By the next day his hotel was open again and he slept there.  But it was the start of an unbreakable friendship.

We got through those three months, three months when so many suffered and when the future looked so uncertain.  It was in that little house that I first saw visions of children I felt called to adopt.  I spent many hours there searching the internet for pictures of little ones Haiti that might be our second and third children. Those three months were really long, but very good.  Me, at home in an unfamiliar neighborhood, without a car, and with a busy toddler.  Each day we took long walks and spent hours playing with sink water. We made up the best fun, waiting for our pile of junk mail each day and creating epic picture journals with the ad clippings.

Many years later, Karl and his family would become some of our steady supporters as we launched into a calling in the jungle of Africa.  We would eventually visit them and spend a night in their home outside of New York City.  Karl still has us on his Wednesday prayer list.

This year, Quinn’s freshman high school class will be the first to learn about 9/11 as a historical event, not one that they lived through. No one has to remind me of that. We returned to sunny San Diego in December and decided to have one more bio baby before pursuing adoption.  Quinn swam into our lives just a little while later, full of such joy and fun that he took our breath away.  Oblivious to the troubled world he had entered.  I remember how it felt precarious to bring a baby into the world at such a time.  I remember that love won anyway.




Restored by a razor

Clean freshly shaven legs.  One imagines the very world can be conquered when the weight of a thousand tiny stubbles is lifted from our feminine lower limbs.  Energetic, we stride, smooth-legged into our worlds again.  Restored by a razor.  Only lotion can give us a further edge up on the world.  We are invincible.  We do not walk, we glide, we float. In the early morning light – post shower, suddenly we feel eager to fill planners and mark off to-do lists.  We pick up each extra dust bunny we pass as we stride the halls, readying young progeny for school.  We type quickly into our phones and computers, multi-tasking our way through breakfasts and the mundane packing of lunches.

On these mornings, our ideas are golden.  Our bodies tireless.

We do not shave our legs to meet the world’s standards of beauty.  It’s not meant to please our husbands or assorted other men in our lives.

No, we do it because the very act renders us goddesses.  Untouchable and inspired.

I save my shekels for laser hair removal.  Oh to feel that powerful each and every day.  Or would I?  Without the feeling of the slow build up of prickles, the darkening of small hairs across shins and ankles, perhaps I would not experience the effervescent magic of it’s removal.

I think I’ll take my chances.

And brave the laser.



And again, our little world swings

It’s just the normal orbiting of life, this slow swing into the school year.  You’d think we’d all be ready with the way it happens annually, but transition is always a little jarring, even the happy jolt of a new school year.
We have a second one in high school now, our bear of a freshman, Quinn, who is only 13 and has feet as big as his father’s and only a few inches to go to catch him in height.  Quinn is still the tender warrior, tough enough to withstand anything yet soft enough to love anyone.  He will thrive in high school, I am certain, as he takes on a full slate of honors without a second thought, and is friends with all the juniors already.  I hug him hard and let him go, my heart, out walking around in the cruel, wonderful world.
His sister, Naomi, has broken the way for him.  As first borns must do.  She enters her junior year strong.  Driving herself and her brother in to classes each day. Taking another full honors load and excited for it.  On track to study genetics in college.  Coaching junior cheerleaders.  Working as a supervisor in her part time job.   Most of all, more centered, more stable, after our world rocked last year with our family’s fourth child. We are so proud of how she has centered herself, how she has reached deep and found strength inside of herself, and found her way.
Meanwhile, our two littles will be back at the Mandarin Arts School, where they will both do shortened days, designed to give them extra time building connections with me and layering language learning in the way only mothers and children can do.   They are two brave fifth graders, re-entering American school, with all it’s cultural complexity.  I will let them go with my breath held after more meetings with teachers, administrators and support staff, all of whom know their needs and work hard to meet them. Praying all the way.  And they will shine.  We’re so grateful for the Asian school community around them. After all, it takes all of us, a village, to raise our children.


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

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.



at 36

slow awakening

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.