A little extra care.

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On Sunday I made community lunch, but first I had to shop. I bought 10 kgs of mountain rice, eight cabbages, a whole bunch of vegetables, and toor dal (to make sambar.) I need coconut, so after I bought everything else, I drove over to the coconut shop to pick up some fresh grated coconut.

Leaf told me about this shop when I thought there was no more fresh grated coconut in town, and I had despaired over it. The man who used to do it in the market shut his operation down. What to do? But then she told me about this place.

It’s a sort of warehouse-y home, with a collection of family members of all ages. I never know who belongs to whom. There are some babies, some women around my age who know everything about me (where I live, how many children I have, but they exaggerate how long I’ve been here—”10 years!” they say) and a few snoozing older men and women in cane reclining chairs.

On Sunday, however, only one person was there; one of the old men. I sat down to wait after I told him that I needed a kilo and a half of ground coconut. After a moment at the machine, he brought me a pot of coconut water and told me to drink it.

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“How should I drink it?” I asked, looking around for a cup or a straw.

“Just like that,” he said. “Out of the pot.”

So I did. I drank and drank and drank. It was from mature coconut, nearly like water, not as flavorful as young coconut. But I was thirsty, and it was good, and I drank about half the pot. When he was ready with my grated coconut, I stood to go, and he told me about the benefits of coconut water. “It’s good for your liver, your stomach, and all of your insides. It prevents cancer. It keeps you strong. (He popped his muscles for me.) It keeps you young. I am eighty-one years old!”

I told him that he looked remarkably young and strong. I went to pay and leave.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “Drink all of it.”

So I stood there and drank the rest while he watched, and when I was done, he nodded in approval.

It had been a more difficult kind of morning, one filled with self doubt and recrimination.

But God knew that I needed someone to extol the benefits of coconut water to me, and then make me drink a liter and a half of it, for my health. I needed some extra care, and that day, it came in the shape of a old man and a very large pot of coconut water. 

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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A beautiful gift.

Getting back to school at the beginning of our school season has taken my breath away, to say it in a somewhat dreamy way. I feel like I run from morning till night and sometimes we are doing spelling words or discussion questions at 9:30, right before bed. It is worth it, and I know that I just have a few years ahead of me that are very full, and I won’t wish them away.

They are full of the beauty of bad puns,

Cups of coffee under the white flowering tree,

Teens who sing me happy birthday (my own and others that I love)

Good discussion,

Endless discussion,

Discussion first thing in the morning when I’m still making smoothies,

Trips to the market,

Pencils and pens,

Being read to by a nine-year-old,

Love,

And fairy dust.

And sometimes I am very tired from it all. Even good gifts can make you tired. And sometimes good gifts take your breath away in even dreamier ways.

I just had a birthday and my beautiful, tall, kindhearted daughter gave me this as a present:

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I wish someone could have taken a picture of my face, because I couldn’t speak for several moments. I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at for a minute, because it was a print of Isika, a character that I made up in my own head, and how did that happen? But as it turns out, Kenya drew it, had it printed, and gave it to me, rendering me speechless. 

It bodes well for a magical year. I’m praying it is so. 

Long drives, lots of curves.

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We’re back and we just had our six year anniversary of living in Thailand. No wonder it feels so good to be home. Remember when I was searching for a home around the earth? My friend Winnie reminded me the other day, “You found it!”

I can be forgetful sometimes. It seems as though as soon as I leave my home I forget it. I start searching for it. "Where is it?" I panic. "Is it here? Is it there?" I am working lately on finding a home in my heart.

But here we are, back at our physical home. When we first got back to Thailand, we spent time with our friends who have a kids’ home here in the city. They are like family, hospitable and easy with their hospitality, and it’s a good place to land. Two large families live on the same property and when we arrive we bring the kid count up to 19! They all play together well, and I find it so soothing to be around big families and feel normal and not compare myself to single people’s time management skills. (I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone at all. I’m working on it.) 

The families flow effortlessly between English and Thai all day long and I love the music of it. I’ve borrowed a Thai story book and a Thai Bible from my friend to practice my reading. 

After we spent some time with the families—Chinua teaching some of the kids how to make a trumpet make a sound (you’re welcome, parents) and Leafy and Solo effortlessly absorbed into a group of eleven-year-old boys—we drove home. We dropped Kenya and Leafy off at camp first. (More on that later.)

We arrived home in Pai to rediscover the furniture that our dear friend gave us after she downsized from a family home to a condo. (All of her own kids grew up.) It was delivered on the day we left for India, so we had just put everything in the house and locked the door behind it. Arriving home to find it was like a very grown up Christmas. I’m most excited about the bigger dining room table and the dresser in my room. (No more pile of clothes to tear through when I’m looking for something to wear.)

In going through new stuff, Chinua and I thougt we should use our fresh eyes to do a whole spring cleaning and rearranging. So we moved the school stuff from the front room to the back, and made a table space outside under the tree. (Finally! I have been wanting a table under the tree forever. When we first moved in, there were a couple of falling-apart tables that I used to sit at till they truly fell apart. Now I have one again and we’ve been eating every meal out there. So happy.) 

After two days, I had to leave home again (what?) to pick up some Kenya and Leafy from camp and drop off Kai and our friend Vrinda for Senior High Camp. I left Solo and Isaac with their Superstar Dad and keep looking around to see if my kid is yelling, only to remember I left the yelling ones at home. The camp didn’t quite live up to Maple Springs fame, (nothing does) but it was fun and they had a great time. Leafy missed me, and today he seems a little like he needs to go home. To be fair, it was weird to land in the airport and then be dropped off at camp without even getting back to Pai. Yesterday we roamed the mall like a bunch of teenagers (well, they are teenagers and I'm sort of like one sometimes) and wandered through the art store and book store. We’re in a SPENDNOTHING month, so I restrained myself to buying two pens and an eraser, and a pour-over coffee filter. Which isn’t nothing, granted, but I’m out of pens and our coffee filter broke in the travels. 

My friend Prang and I went for a long walk around the neighborhood last night, and talked and talked and watched starlings darting around in the dusk. Leafy played Settlers of Catan with three of the girls, and Kai, Kenya, Leafy and I played Taboo with my friend Cindy and the other kids. We did away with points and competition and just yelled out guesses.

This morning I woke up to the sound of spotted doves, bulbuls, and koels, and soon kids were playing in the yard and I heard those sounds too. We may or may not be able to drive home after Kenya’s dentist appointment this evening (I’m not so great at making myself drive at night, not because I can’t but because I don’t want to, but this time I may do it, just because I want to be home so badly) and I can’t wait until Thursday, because it's art day and Kai and Kenya and I have plans. Right now four little girls in this house are preparing for a birthday party with scissors and tape and lots of paper folding, while listening to Zombie by the Cranberries. They're not so little anymore, these girls, but they are the same ones who told me they loved eating fish eyes, back when they were adorable five-year-olds in princess dresses. And I realized, I am in another country. And I realize I am now again, and all the little details of life—the shopping and chopping vegetables and cleaning out the old stuff— they all feel new and beautiful. Traveling does that, I guess, helps you to see your home through new eyes. Helps you to fall in love again.

I don't want to forget...

Mom and Dad at the National Children's Day festivities. Dad is holding Isaac's balloon. (Not his own.)

Mom and Dad at the National Children's Day festivities. Dad is holding Isaac's balloon. (Not his own.)

Bad jokes from my dad that Kai always laughs at. 

Sitting with my mom at the bamboo bridges over rice fields, laughing at water buffalo who escaped their pen after a woman gathered them up and locked them in.

Devotion circles with my parents attending, singing and sharing in the circle. Hearing their voices in such a familiar way, in such a familiar place, but after a long time of being apart.

Having a second cup of coffee together in the late mornings.

My dad helping Solo get his bike fixed, Leafy build a project, or Neil and Chinua build a work bench at the garden.

My sister, Becca, turning up yesterday, all beautiful and laughing, getting hugs in the street as the younger boys caught sight of her. 

Dinners at our house, around our too-small table, cozy and happy. Papaya salad and fried chicken, sticky rice and corn on the cob. 

Eating cake for Dad's birthday and talking about what we love about him.

Sitting on the porch outside my house every afternoon together. 

Making quesadillas together in the kitchen. Brendan and Dad bonding over jokes. 

Going for a motorbike ride with my mom on the back, through rice fields and on narrow streets, looking at cows and flowers. 

A special dinner with the four of us last night.

Seeing Dad and Chinua walking up to the garden together, ready to work on building the work bench. Talking and walking together. 

My landlords trying to convince my parents to move here, doing their very best. Welcoming and kind. 

All the tiny, lovely moments that are beautiful and rare. I am so thankful for this visit.