Swan dives on shark slides.

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Yesterday we all sat around the table and ate stir-fried vegetables and rice, with fried eggs and kimchi on top. Taran and Vrinda, our teenaged friends, were over, and my dad (Mom has been sick, poor thing, so she was resting) and of course my own kids and Chinua (the very best Superstar husband in the universe, according to myself). 

Our table is small (it seemed huge when we bought it five and a half years ago) so it makes for an intimate dinner. Discussions varied from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Sublime:

Kenya mentioned that she had taken a closer look at the word chocolate, and noticed that it sorta-kinda contains the word “latte.” Maybe that’s where it came from? Cocoa and milk, since it was always a drink at first? I thought it was a pretty good theory. But then Leafy spoke up.

“No,” he said, gesturing with his hand the way he does when he’s explaining something. “It comes from an Aztec word, I’m not sure how to pronounce it—it has a lot of ‘x’s’ in it—xoxocatl? But they mispronounced it “choclat,” so that’s where chocolate came from.” 

(?!?)

Leafy is turning into this sort of genius encyclopedia that I can ask anything. He was explaining tesla coils to us the other evening. I am constantly asking him, “How do you know that?” This is a cool thing about homeschooling. You begin by plugging in the right skills (reading, research, an understanding of numbers) and eventually they outrun you. We are not perfect homeschoolers by any means. I’m sure I let any number of opportunities race straight by me. I have two other jobs, it doesn’t capture all my focus. But then Leafy knows the Aztec root to a word and I figure that despite all my failures, despite the fact that I can’t claim any credit, the kids are all right. 

(“Isaac’s reading is excellent!” his teacher told me when he started school. “I didn’t teach him a thing,” I said. “That was all Kenya.” Homeschool tends to trickle down after a while.)

Ridiculous:

First of all, the above egg was hanging out in the egg flat this morning. No one knew who created him. Of course I assumed Kenya, but it turned out to be a combined effort from Kai and Chinua. Kai drew the face, and Chinua came along and taped on the onion skin hair.

Then, in the afternoon, my mom and I took the kids to the local “water park,” which is their newest, beloved discovery. We had three extra kids with us, but all of the bigger kids rode their bikes to get there, so it was just Isaac, Solo, Mom and I in the car. The water park is a pool with those inflatable climbing things on them, and one giant inflatable slide. After I was there for a while, I figured that I was mainly there to call an ambulance if needed, with the way the kids jump from the top of the slide to the bottom. It’s very soft, but Solo did a head first leap that made me shriek for five minutes. I have these brave and athletic kids, and their friends are the same, and I’m always flapping my arms on the edges: “Careful! Oh! Careful!” Anyway, no injuries yesterday.

Mom and I sat in chairs and watched the light change on the mountains around the valley, and the cows and egrets in a nearby field. (Sublime.)

Then we got home and had the aforementioned dinner, and found out that when my dad, Chinua, and our friend Neil had been building a work table at Shekina Garden, Dad had hammered his thumb. Only Chinua made it sound like his thumb had been cut off, and Vrinda’s eyes got wider and wider. “We taped it back on,” Chinua said. “They reattach well if you get to them in time.”

“Cut off?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, “and it will grow two heads when it heals.” 

Realization dawned, and she smacked Kai, who was in a fit of laughter beside her.  

I also thought the picture of Neil, my dad, and Chinua riding around in Hot Daniel was a nice one. Hot Daniel is our community truck, a tiny little thing with stars painted all over it. Chinua rode in the back, and at the hardware store they had to push it to get it started again. “Also,” my dad said, “we had to pass the handle back and forth to roll the windows down.” 

Oh Hot Daniel. Such a cute mess. 

Such beautiful days. Sublime and ridiculous.

***

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December musings: Abundance

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It is getting colder and the forecast says we will have a low of 8˚ C. That’s cold for us, riding our motorbikes in the morning, making food in our outdoor kitchen, wind coming in our uninsulated wooden house with no heat. I’m excited. I’ll work more on my ripple blanket, light candles, hold my cold hands around my coffee mug.

Isn’t this a busy time of year? We’re preparing for a thanksgiving/blessing for a friend’s baby tomorrow at Shekina Garden, and for our big Christmas preparation next week. I’m trying to fix the mud walls which are still damaged from the flood and from the overuse they get as large people vault over them. (Frowny face.) All of this requires lists of food to be bought and made, poems to be found or written, prayers to be researched. It’s the best kind of busy work, though I am running from morning till night. Running to guide meditation is not to a hard destination. I am abundant with good work.

Because I knew these weeks would be so busy, I needed to remove an element of work from my life, so I gave my kids an extra week off school. They’ve been playing Monopoly (a.k.a. The world’s worst game about losing your house because you can’t pay your bills) and Dixit in the mornings. The four oldest came with me to Shekina Garden to help me sift the red dirt for the walls. It needs to be sifted because we are doing the fine top layer. My kids saved me hours of work by helping me with an assembly line of dirt sifters, bucket fillers, bucket pourers, and pebble emptiers. They also immediately made names for everything. “Plebble me,” meant “add dirt to my sieve,” and “this needs to be plebbled” meant, “dump the rocks from the bottom of my sieve.” I am abundant with help.

They are all fun and memes and silly videos and laughter these days. Kai has come through some rough years of mind-altering natural substances in the form of his own teenage hormones, and has emerged with a lot of common sense and easy-going humor. It is amazing. And now Leafy is heading into that dark land, but with his Leafy-ness intact. I love these sunshiny days when we can work together. It makes all the difficult mind-wrangling fade into the distance. I am abundant with fun.

I’m working more with Leafy on bringing his mind back to the present. He’s nearly twelve, and I feel that he needs to learn the skill. He’s so often away, deep in his mind of invention or the Marvel Universe, doing his laps around the yard. With our learning environment he has had the gift of space, lots of space to walk and think and talk things over with himself. But I want to teach him skills of focus when it’s necessary. He can do it, he can be a vivid and sparkling part of conversations, but not always when I’m asking him to do something. (Do any of you with non neuro-typical children have advice for me?) I am abundant with quirk. 

And always there is Isaac dancing to make us laugh. He has always idolized Solomon (and fought with Solomon) and Solo went through a phase of trying to make ridiculous phrases with the word “chicken” in them. (Which is an inheritance from his father. And on down the line it goes.) Example: “How are you doing?” “Chickeny! With lots and lots of chickeny chickens!” 

Isaac is going to a bilingual gentle learning school now, which has about 24 students, and English and Thai teachers, and when I dropped him off at the gate the other day, one of the Thai kids shouted, “Isaac! Chicken chicken!” And they both squawked at each other like chickens. I gave of teachers, Kruu Lucy, big eyes and said, “So that has spread, has it?” And she said, “Oh, it has!” Oops. Poor teachers. Later I asked Isaac if he had taught everyone to talk about chickens, and he told me not everyone, then listed about half the school kids. Agh. We are abundant with silliness.

Whenever I can, which is a few times a week, I take a drive on my motorbike, into the light of the hills around me. It is so golden, so slanted and perfect in the afternoons, highlighting the falling teak leaves and the ripples and dips of the hills. I can drive all the way around the valley, stopping to talk with farmers along the way. There are clouds and more trees than I know the names for. How could I ever feel poor when I can find these views? How could I ever doubt the sustenance and joy that comes straight from the heart of God? I am abundant with beauty.

I am not lost, and either are you. We are held in his heart, very found, very safe. The road is unknown before us. Sickness undoubtedly waits for us, even if there are many years of wellness before it comes. There will be loss, and there will be more sad days. But today there is some window of beauty, something that gives rest and comes from God himself, who is always surprising and full of light. We are abundant with light.

***

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Dear Leafy (A letter to my eleven-year-old son.)

And now you are eleven.

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Not possible.

But, somehow possible. Funny how time is like that, hm? Inexorable, I believe they call it. Or just real, a real thing that ticks along until babies are tall and wide shouldered, grinning and creative.

Every morning you come into the studio to say hi to me. I've been working for a couple hours and you have some questions for me. You might ask:

"Can I work on Omega 9?" (the video game you are designing with a friend)

Answer: "No, have breakfast first."

Or: "Can you make oatmeal?"

Answer: "In a minute, when I'm done with this scene."

Or you may tell me about your dream, or ask me a question about writing, publishing, designing, or whether we have milk and if you can have your friend Caelen over later.

Almost always, you are the first person I see in the morning. I love it.

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You are an eleven-year-old version of the sweet, kind, hilarious Leafy boy you've always been. You are handsome, giving, goofy, punny, and you are working on what seems to be stand up delivery. You are always surprising us with what you think of, what you say. The quirk bubbles out of you, and spills over onto the rest of us and makes our life more like an adventure. An adventure where we sometimes travel in Leafy's mind, which has a lot of superheroes and jokes that don't miss a beat.

You are inspired. The minute you wake up every day, you are thinking of what you will do that day: writing, reading, creating. You dream in class, you dream while asleep, you dream while walking, eating,  and when you are supposed to be doing other things.

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You are currently working on writing a book, creating a video game (the aforementioned Omega 9), a YouTube channel for gameplay, and a YouTube channel for animation. You never feel that you to be perfect at something before doing it, or making it public, and I think nothing will carry you farther in life than that; the ability to make something and pass it along, getting better as you go, without perfectionism.

You are kind, generous, and mostly easy-going. In the last year we've seen more of your temper than ever before, which is to be expected, I suppose. You're learning to control it, I think. It takes a lot, and a very certain type of thing, to rile you up. You have no tolerance for injustice, and you don't like being interrupted when you are deep in your thought world. (This one is hard in a big family.) You're amazing at drawing people in, making sure they feel included. You have no strict perimeters about who gets to be your friend. You're kind to young kids and sweet with adults. You have a bad habit of laughing while we're scolding you. But you are mostly a laughing boy, so I guess it makes sense. 

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You're a bit of a secret, I think. We don't know yet just how wonderful you are. We see glimpses all the time, but I believe some day we'll all be dazzled. There will be a flash and we'll be sitting there saying, "Did you see that? That was Leafy!" And we'll be telling everywhere we knew you when you were a baby.

I'll be the most proud of all. I love you and I have always loved you so much,

Mama.

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Five Things

The world has been a bit disappointing all around lately. But the birds are still praising God, and so are many people, and many people give their lives to help people who are oppressed in the world, people who are different from them. And the people who are oppressed forgive and forgive, and much love can overcome anything. I believe this. I believe it and I try not to despair. But I feel quiet. I don’t know how to speak into the maelstrom. So here are five things. 

1. I sent World Whisperer Two off to my editor the other day, and I'm working on plotting the third. I'm doing it! I'm writing a series, and the characters have me completely captivated. I really love Isika, Ben, Jabari and Gavi. And the others. And now there are even more. Gosh it's fun to write about pretend people.

2. I’m making the change from being a morning person to being a night person. You might be tempted to tell me about studies that show that this is not possible. But I’m determined, because for all of our marriage, my Superstar Husband and I have been living on nearly opposite schedules and enough is enough. Normally I wake up at 5:00 or 5:30 so I can write before the kids get up. Now I’m trying to write after they’re in bed, and even though I’m often working, Chinny and I are in the same room, and sometimes we distract each other with funny videos or kisses. But it’s still hard to get my mind around “work” happening after “kids in bed” time. I’m tricking myself with all sorts of tricky tricks. Like calling it “creative alone time.” Also, I’ve started lighting a candle and some incense as a sort of signal that it’s time to start. And I’m trying out reading to the boys downstairs to I don’t go upstairs to where the bedrooms and the beds are, all beautiful and smooth and inviting and sleepy-making. We’ll see. I’m giving it another week or two while I try to adjust.

3. I went to Chiang Mai a couple weeks ago, and on the way home I rode in the front seat next to a bus driver who was a little intense. He was nearly riding on the top of other people’s bumpers. Also, he had a police siren installed as his horn, and whenever someone was taking too long to let him pass, out came the siren. Like a pull over siren. The police don’t use sirens very often over here, and I guess it’s not illegal to imitate American-sounding sirens. It made me smile every time, even as I clutched at the door handle.

4. Isaac is taking a turn for the delightful and sometimes sings a song that has lyrics something like: “I love my mama, because she is so beautiful…” and then I attack him with kisses. We had a lice day the other day (it’s been a while, a record for us) and his head is shaved and gorgeous. I kiss it and lead him around by the handle on the back, the way I used to do with Solomon.

 

5. I took Leafy to the local tailor the other day. He gave her a sketch he had made of a superhero costume he designed. It’s going to be made with navy blue spandex. He’s the navy knight. I’m so thankful we live here right at this moment, because as his project got more and more complicated, and then we bought spandex and I realized I have no idea how to sew spandex, and much of it was going to be me making the costume, I got a little panicky. I wasn’t sure I had the ability to withstand the thread tension issues I was sure I would come up against. And then it hit me! The tailor! She can do anything. She gave Leafy an apple to eat, which he was inordinately happy about. He’s making a superhero team. They’re going to do nice things for people in the neighborhood, like pick up litter and clean things. And this is why I love being a mother.

Dear Leafy, (A Letter to my ten-year-old son.)

 You are ten years old! TEN YEARS OLD! Somehow, despite the fact that your brother is thirteen and your sister is nearly twelve, you are the one that I can’t believe is still growing. What happened to the Leaf Baby? What happened to the little boy who used to rub mango all over his face like it was some sort of facial mask? The boy who fell face-first into a cow pie or who used to wear a cape 24/7? 

Wait—he’s still in there. Yes, he’s there, the little crazy Leafy boy.

“Oh, Leafy.” We say it a lot, dear one. Because you are always surprising us. Your mind is a wild jungle that has amazing fruit, and occasionally you bring it to us as a little gift, as though to say, “Here is something odd and delightful.”

You love to cook, and you especially love to come up with sauces and concoctions that you call SIM. (Stuff I Made.) You come to me every day to ask me if you can make some SIM, which at the moment is something made with milk and yogurt and jam, which you freeze and eat like ice cream. You have made your own, crepe-like, pancake recipe. You make salad dressing and something we call Leafy sauce, which is a pancake topping so delicious that I’ve seen your dad eating it out of the bowl. (Butter and honey and lemon.) If I tell you that I don’t want you in the kitchen at that moment, it is a little bit as though your life is coming to an end, that’s how much it means to you. 

You’ve also started to make movies, recently. I watch them and am in awe, though they are still very simple. But they come out of you, someone I MADE, so you can understand my feelings about them. I especially like one you made recently, called, Dinosaur Chase which involved many creative shots of you leaping over things and coming to the camera all shaky, running from an unseen foe, and also a shot of you journaling about it with a voiceover at the end. SO GOOD. It’s as though you have no limits. You look at what you have and then you start to make something with it. You come up with your ideas on your own and figure out what you need. You volunteer to go to the store to buy things if we have run out of something you need. You’re a starter, kid. It’s a good way to be.

You read voraciously. You are kind. I might come out of the studio and into the kitchen to find you making breakfast on a tray. “I’m bringing Kenya breakfast in bed,” you will say. Just because.

And funny. Oh my goodness. Nothing can knock your dad out of his chair with laughter like a Leafy statement. You are hilarious. 

Here’s a tiny example of a very normal interaction between you and me. The only thing I can’t insert is your timing, your incredible intonation and the way you tilt your head and move a little jerkily, in your own way, all your own.

Leafy: (As we are eating nachos with salsa.) “I see you made your old fluffy salsa.”

Mama: “Yeah, I didn’t mean to. I think I ran the blender too long.”

Leafy: “I like your old fluffy salsa just the same as I like your other salsa.” 

Mama: “Oh. Thanks!”

Leafy: “It’s just like how I like Kai and Kenya the same, but different. I wouldn’t want to only have one of them for a really long time and never seethe other one for a really long time or ever again.”

Mama: “…”

Here’s another from the other day. I was dealing with a tantruming Isaac in my room and you came in, threw your hands up, and announced, “I don’t know if this is a good time, but I have diarrhea!” And then you left. And dear one, for the rest of my days, I will treasure you at ten. And I hope your belly feels better soon.

You were a Tauntaun from Star Wars for a parade down the beach recently. :)

You were a Tauntaun from Star Wars for a parade down the beach recently. :)


Love,

Mama