Five Things

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1. Wow, it's been a while. Let's blame bronchitis, shall we? Bronchitis, you are to blame!

After a rather long while where I didn't feel well at all, Chinua, my most beloved friend and soulmate, also my Superstar Husband, went to Australia on a little two week trip. That very night, the sickness that had been threatening began pouring buckets; I had such a scratchy throat that I couldn't sleep. It got progressively worse until it reached my bronchial tubes and turned them into a kind of wheezy flute. Seriously, there were at least six different notes harmonizing when I tried to lie down at night. It was beautiful. And scary. I considered recording it, but I was too busy trying to breathe. 

Did I mention that my husband is in Australia? Is this a rerun of some other part of my life? It wouldn't be hard to find out, it's all written down here. 

I'm doing much better, thanks to friends who took my kids and let me rest for a couple of afternoons, and thanks to ginger, holy basil, lemon, and honey. I have some very sexy phlegm hacking that I routinely have to get out of the way in the morning, and then I can get on with my day. 

2. The fruit lady has been looking rather smug lately.  

There is a lady who walks around our neighborhood with a little pink plastic basket of fruit that she sells. We often buy fruit from her because my rule in Asia is that if you can buy something (something you actually want) from someone wandering by hawking it, you are really living! This is as good as it gets! Baskets! Flowers! Brooms! So we buy fruit from this lady.

For years, (years ) she has been trying to get me to buy peanuts from her. But I pass them by every time. If I see that she only has a basket of bags of roasted peanuts in the shell, I say, "No, thanks! I don't want peanuts." 

But then I got a whiff of the truth. These peanuts are not roasted peanuts in the shell. They are BOILED peanuts in the shell. I tried some that belonged to someone else and I was instantly enamored with the beany, soft, edamame-like goodness of boiled peanuts.

So the fruit lady came back the other day and had bags of peanuts, I was a little wiser than I had been in my foolish, non-peanut-buying youth. "Are they boiled?" I asked. She didn't roll her eyes, bless her. "Yes," she told me. 

So I bought two kilos. And then next day I bought another kilo. And she said, "Good, aren't they?" And I said, "Yes! They are very very good, and I will eat them in a boat and with a goat and on a train and in the rain. .." and she didn't say "I told you so," but her smile was very satisfied and smug and now she gets a little glint in her eye whenever she sees me because she knows I am addicted to her boiled peanut line of work.

3.  October is my favorite month here, with a hint of coolness in the air, green everything everywhere, and skies so blue they could hypnotize you. I've been caught up in kids and sickness, but I'm looking forward to Chinua coming home so I can go on scooter rides past rice paddies, into hills, through huge stands of bamboo. 

We drove to clay day at homeschool co-op the other day and had to take the long way round because of some road work we got stuck in. The long way round is ridiculously scenic, and at one spot I looked out at the whole valley. Light, a million different shades of green and blue, rice and coconut trees and distant hills.  

"I can't believe that's real," I said to the kids, who were crowded into the chariot. They agreed. It makes the smoke season, the heat, the floods all worth it. I love where I live.

4. Isaac has new levels of imagination and silliness spouting from every pore. Everything is pretend, everything is a game. 

"I pretended I was teeny tiny," he says, "and I could get in the egg game and be teeny tiny in all the eggs and they were all big around me." He's my constant companion. He comes to the market and the fruit lady (a different fruit lady) hugs him with her elbows and gives him a rambutan to eat. He works on being polite. He is all boy, all fun and running and shouting and getting kind of angry when he doesn't get his way. He's my little bear.  

5. Since I started writing this, we've had a really sad event in Thailand. I can't write too much about it because of the laws here, but the beloved King of Thailand has passed away. We are wearing black and entering a period of one month of mourning. It feels sad and the future is a bit unknown. We go from day to day, and I am praying with all my heart for the people of Thailand.

 

Dear Isaac, (A Letter to my 3-year-old son.)

Dear Isaac,

You are three years and three months old, and you are the funniest little boy I know. People often say that it is right that your name means laughter. How can I describe you? You are tough, soft, dancing, stubborn, you love beauty and fruit, you insist on your own way. You are excited by life, you sometimes confide in strangers and sometimes scowl at them.

You were bitten by a dog in a bus station the other day. None of us saw you walk toward it, thinking it was another dog, and getting a bite on the cheek for trying to pet it. A sudden scream and you ran toward me with blood on your face. We taped you up, got you on the bus, and six hours later, we went to the hospital in Chiang Mai. You were very brave. You got two shots, one in each arm, before they injected your face and you decided that you had had enough. It was hard to watch you being sad and getting injections, but mostly I was proud of you, because you were so courageous, so fun, so interested in everything, (you sat up on your gurney at one point and asked, “Mama, why do these neighbors have medicine?” and I really had no idea how to respond to that) and so full of life and sweetness. You told me that coconut is better than any chocolate. And then we walked out and caught a red truck to get back to our hotel and go to sleep.

You are very quirky. You get places mixed up. You get the words, Hospital, Hotel, and Hotsprings mixed up. So sometimes I say, “We’re going to the hospital,” and you jump up and down and cheer. Because you think we’re going to the pool and hot springs and you’re going to get to swim. 

You get bigger places mixed up too. 

A while ago you said, “In America, there are a lot of chickens and dinosaurs, and the road is broken.” I blinked at you. “Are you talking about India?”

“No! America!” 

“Are you talking about Chiang Mai?” I pushed.

“No, America!”

Okay.

Or people, and relationships.

“What’s a wife?” you asked me.

“A wife is…” 

“No! Kenya said a wife is… Uncle Neil’s wife is about… Auntie Ro. Uncle Brendan’s wife is about… Auntie Leaf. Uncle Josh’s wife is about… Auntie Omi.” 

“That’s true.” I said.

Kenya filled in, “And then he asked, is Jazzy’s wife Elkie?” 

We laughed and said, “Elkie is Jazzy’s sister. Jazzy doesn’t have a wife, just like you don’t have a wife.” 

“I do have a wife!” he said. “My wife is in America.”

Hmm. 

Practical life with you can be an exercise in patience.

“I will brush my teeth by myself.” 

“Okay.”

“After I do my breathing.” 

And then you proceed to do some very interesting breathing exercises, as though you are going to give a speech or try to make your way through a difficult childbirth.

Time is also a bit difficult. Everything in the past for you is Yesterday. “Yesterday I was a tiny baby.” “Yesterday I was in India.” 

You are learning letters, and can tell us the letters on packages you find. “Why does this say K-L-I-M?” you asked the other day, about a box of soy milk that you found. 

You have learned to swim. You taught yourself. You kick your feet and dive down, learning to love the feel of your body moving through water, the way the water holds you up and surrounds you. And I watch you swimming, and you come grinning toward me with your face wide open in smiles, your dimples, your little fish body, and I feel so much love for you. We have a favorite game, one we play when you are being "a trial." 

"I love you when you're happy and when you're sad," I say.

"And what else?" you ask.

"When you're sleepy and when you're excited."

"And what else?" 

"When you're mad and you're sweet. I love you all the time."

"And what else?"

The game goes on, and it will always go on.

I love you Isaac, my little bear,

 

Love,

Mama

Why you should just put out the katydid (and it will not eat you).

The other day Isaac and I were in the bathroom while he was using the toilet. It was just about time for his nap and he was doing one last pee. As we left, we noticed that there was a little water in the bottom of the bucket that he uses for baths, and there was a dead katydid floating in the water. This was infinitely fascinating. 

“Is it dead?”

“Yes.”

“And it will not eat you?”

“No.” 

Isaac could have talked about the katydid endlessly. I, however, was focused on nap time because I had school I wanted to work on with the older kids. I got him ready and put him in his bed. 

“You should put it out and it will not eat you,” he said.

“I will.”

By this time he was all cozy, ready for sleep. 

“I want to watch,” he said. 

“Okay. Well, I’ll wait for you. I’ll put it out when you get up from your nap.” 

“Okay,” he said. 

So I left the room and walked toward my room to get something, my footsteps loud as always on our teak floors. This was when Isaac lost his mind and I heard sudden screaming.

“You’re not going to!” he wailed. “You’re going to put it out and I want to watch!” 

I went back to the room. “Isaac, I promise I’m not going to get the dead katydid out of the water until you get up and you can watch me. But you need to go to sleep. I promise to let you watch, okay?” 

He calmed down a little and I went downstairs. Our floors are completely uninsulated, with cracks, and they resonate so much that we can just call up to one another and hear perfectly. And the boys’ bedroom is directly over the table where we do our school work. So as I was helping Kenya with math, I could hear Isaac yelling down to me every few minutes, “Did you put it out?”

“No, Isaac, I’m going to wait for you, remember?” I called back. “Go to sleep.”

After about the fourth time, I realized that this was very, very important to him. And the back and forth was heartfelt and about promises and trust and the difficulty of going to sleep when you are worried that something exciting will happen without you. And it was also a big, tearful drama about a dead insect. And this is life when you are two-and-three-quarters. The substance might be lighter than what I feel, but the emotions are no less real. 

I wonder if God sees my life like this, when I worry about my little things. Is it like the katydid in the water? Am I fretting that God will not live up to his promise of letting me watch him flush a dead bug away? He has told me and told me, but I just don’t believe him, and he says, “Rest, child. I’m not going anywhere without you.” The things seem important to me, in my own small world. His view is so much more expansive, maybe it encompasses so much that my books and plans and dreams are like katydids. And yet he listens, and promises, and waits. He shouts up through the floor that of course he’s going to wait, no he didn’t forget. 

When I went to get Isaac up from his nap, (I have to wake him these days because the boy will sleep for three hours and then not sleep at night) he opened his eyes and said, in the sleepiest voice ever, “Did you put it out?”

“No, I didn’t,” I said. “I was waiting for you. Should we go do it?” 

 

And that is why, when you first see it, you should just put the katydid out (and it will not eat you).

Driving with a two-year-old.

Sometimes when I drive to Shekina Garden by myself, I notice the cows that graze at the bottom of the hill that leads there. I almost always notice if the baby blue-eyed buffalo is there, but sometimes I’m in a hurry, or I’m sad, or I’m thinking of other things I need to do and I don’t really see the cows. If Isaac is with me, on the other hand, the issue is settled. I will notice the cows, or I will notice the fact that there are no cows, like the other day. We drove down while the three oldest kids were in Thai class. Isaac was on his kid’s seat on the Pegasus, (our motorbike that is not the chariot,) and Solo sat on the back, and as we drove our conversation went something like this: 

“I’m going to see cows! No cows! Where are the cows Mama?”

“It looks like they didn’t come today.”

“They didn’t come today! Where are they Mama?”

“I don’t know, they’re somewhere else.”

“I will call them. Cows… where are you cows? I’m calling them, now they will come! Where are you cows, come hee-re!”

And it went on like that, and I was thankful for Isaac, because no interesting thing escapes him and he never frets. He never frets about big life issues, anyway. He frets about plenty of things like whether or not I allow him to look at the dog’s poo before I throw it in the toilet. 

We went to the garden to retrieve the three bottles of kombucha that I had left in the fridge there, and when we arrived, I said hello to the workers who are building our new workshop, the amazing new place that will allow us to separate garden and building tools from kitchen stuff, as all such things should be. Separate, that is, and in their own happy buildings. And any building looks better if it has a grass roof, so it was nice to see the builders building, piling brick on brick, getting the window frames ready. It's nice to see these things progress.

Solo turned seven last week and Kai turns thirteen on the first, and suddenly I’m this kind of Mom, the kind that has all these big kids with long legs. Kai is man-sized now, not nearly as tall as he will be, but as tall as many men around here, and he is still learning about holding himself back, not playing with full strength when he’s wrestling with a nine-year-old. I’m feeling stirrings of unrest as I wonder if I am skilled enough to parent teens, but the truth is that I wondered the same thing when we strapped Kai into our community’s shared car and left the hospital the first time. Why does anyone trust me with this? I thought then, but somehow we stumbled along together until I’m staring next week in the face, and my beautiful firstborn is nearly thirteen.

Like Isaac, he has his own way of pointing things out to me. Mostly ironies or silliness or grammatical errors made by his siblings. New buildings, differences between countries, the hilarity of being asked in his school book to try to imagine spending a week in India, the things we sometimes miss out on, the perfect additions to pasta (pepper), moments in books we have both read, new kids fantasy that I should read (because he knows I love it.) Soon he'll be beta reading my new book, and I can't wait to hear what he says, because he's so perceptive about literature. ("Villains always make two mistakes. They brag about what they're going to do when anyone can hear them, and they monologue.") And, like with Isaac, I am thankful for what he helps me see. 

 

Fire and earth.

1. The burning season has begun. Last night a line of fire glowed off a nearby mountain as local villages began their yearly burning of the forest undergrowth. It looked volcanic, or ancient. It looked like something out of the ordinary, a dragon maybe, or a fire flood. It looked like a burning wave, cresting on the mountains. I drove up and watched and could nearly hear it crackle. This morning the sunrise is very smoky.

2. Chinua and I are running together now, aiming for three times a week. We ran together for the first time on Sunday, up to the Buddha statue because of its amazing stairs. "I don't know why I believed you when you said it was close," I gasped as we ran. "It is close," he said. "It's high though." I walked the stairs of course. "How many do you think there are?" I asked. "Around 400 or so," he said. "One day I'll be able to run all of them." 

It reminded me of when we used to do Kung Fu together on rooftops in Nepal, back when we were really young (I was nineteen.) He had this one exercise that involved holding a bucket of water with arms outstretched and alternately pouring from one bucket to the other. How I cursed him as my arm muscles trembled and burned. I felt the same way about those stairs. But I'd run anywhere with him, any moments alone together are precious.

3. The big wall is nearly finished. We have to add the highest part, and I have to make the niches for candles, and then we have to make a slurry to cover all the walls. This has been the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken. It's a bit like those stairs, but stretched out over a month or more. And more beautiful than stairs. Shaping the walls with our hands has been wonderful. My house is falling apart slowly, though, and I am ready to be done with building. 

4. Isaac is a belly-greeter. You know belly laughs? Well, Isaac greets with his belly. Everyone who comes to our house gets a huge hello, the most excited, over the top "Hi!" he can muster. Even me, after just twenty minutes of shopping. I pull up on the scooter and he skids out of the house and shouts, "Hi Mama!" It's pretty wonderful. 

5. We are finishing with the cold season and coming into the heat. The cold has been hanging on longer than usual, and I am ready for the heat. I realized recently that I love this season, with its muted colors and hot, dusty breezes. Everything is gold and pale brown, dry leaves gust along the streets, dust devils briefly rise into the air, carrying a swirl of detritus with them. The sounds are clatters and dry wheezing. The spaces between things widen, as jungle falls back and dries up. The heat is a desert heat, not so hard to take. I love it because it is seasonal, and in three months or so, the rains will come back and the shells of things will burst open again to become their vibrant selves. I hope the same for me.