When your daily activities are in concert with your highest priorities, you have a credible claim to inner peace. – Hyrum Smith


12/14/16

Ko Samui

We visited Ko Samui (which is Thailand's second largest island) in August of 2015.
Arriving at the airport

Tongsai Bay entrance (looking out)



 When we arrived, the first thing the kids noticed was the fleet of golf carts.  After looking at the map of the property, we understood why there were so many...




The Tongsai Bay is a collection of properties, mostly separate, villa-type structures, built into the mountainside rainforest.  While there were many lovely footpaths, the quickest way to travel was via the golf carts.  The kids were immediately in love with the place.

We hopped onto a cart and travelled up, up, up for what seemed like ages, arriving at the base of a steep staircase.  The steps branched off to the left and to the right, zig zagging back toward the center.    We had two villas separated by a wall.  Again, the kids loved it because they felt like they had their own place (the older ones anyway - Caleb stayed with us).  When it was nighttime, Aaron and I split up to make sure an adult was in each room, but during a day, when we were taking a break from the sun, the kids were allowed to stay in their own space and watch movies.  What a life!
I'm not kidding when I say there were a lot of steep stairs leading to our room!  Someone got a little tired.

View of the bay from our front porch/balcony

The very, very best things about the rooms were the outdoor bathtubs.  They sat on the front porches facing the ocean.  "Porch" might be the wrong word.  It was more like a room missing the wall that faced the ocean, and because we were so high up the mountain, we couldn't be seen from the road.  We filled them with warm water and sprinkled flowers on top.  There were also huge clay jars containing bubble bath on the ledge by the towels.  Can you say paradise??




We settled in and journeyed down the mountain all the way to the bay.






The "beach" consisted of small, very smooth pebbles (somewhere between the size of a pea and a bb pellet - can you tell I'm from Kentucky?).  It was an amazing sensory experience just to walk through the tiny balls and hear the click, click as they moved around our toes.  There was a two-seater sea kayak pulled ashore, and Aaron and I took turns paddling the kids around the bay.


On one side of the bay, there was a really neat rock structure we explored, looking for fossils and pirate caves.


Just beyond the beach was a paved area with a bridge separating two pools.  In the shallow pool, a tall, hut-like structure sat in the middle of the water, providing shade from the white-hot sun.  I sat under there watching Caleb paddle around in his flotation vest while the big kids made friends, hanging from the bridge and venturing into the deeper waters.





In the morning, the kids got a big kick out of calling for our ride and zipping down the hill to the main cabin for breakfast.  My what a spread!  Every food imaginable: pancakes and eggs, and rice and noodles, and vegetables and exotic fruits, smoothies and soups, you name it, they had it.  We ate and ate and ate!



Aaron had a chance to take a Thai cooking class.  He gathered the ingredients from the on-site gardens and created some absolutely delicious dishes.  







Meanwhile the kids and I hung out at the pool providing a public service announcement for any passers-by about the long-term effects of intimacy. We built forts out of lounge chair cushions, swam,  ran and ran and ran, and finally had lunch.



Our trip was not very long, but we did manage a few outings.  We visited the Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai) which is a 39 foot-tall, gold-painted Buddha.  It was surrounded by a marketplace (where Maddie purchased her favorite "rainbow" dress).  I think the most interesting feature was the staircase leading up the the statue.  The rails were giant colorful snakes!  I don't know how to describe this place except to say that it was vibrant.  The statues, if not painted gold, were painted other bright, bold colors.  We saw tiles of every hue, smelled fragrant incense floating in the air, and of course, the kids couldn't wait to leave.  Why do we have to visit another temple?




Oh great, mom, more steps!




Snake rails



One evening we had dinner at an Italian place called Pepenero (because when in Thailand...)  I was wondering about the selection.  Silly me!  Of course, Aaron had done his homework, and this place was incredible.  The building itself was tiny (we sat out on the porch at the only table big enough to seat our family), but the food was to die for.  We chatted with the Italian owner while his son and Parker headed down the road to an empty lot to play soccer.  I swear that kid's never met a stranger.






We spent most of our time on the beach or at the pool or in the tub.  It was an all-around fabulous trip, and we were blessed to have gone there.  So long, Ko Samui!

12/12/16

Unrecorded travels 2015-2016

It's time I get caught up on recording our Asian travels.  It's something I have put off for various reasons, and now, as this year draws to a close, I feel the unwritten posts looming over my head.  Aaron has gone to great lengths to plan amazing adventures.  He researches, tracks pricing trends, reads countless hotel reviews, organizes reliable transportation, hires travel guides, and secures safe, clean, beautiful accommodations.  And we have a great time!  So why haven't I written about it already?

Time certainly plays a factor.  My free time has definitely become more scarce in the last six months, since we decided to let our domestic helper go.  Live-in domestic helpers are very common in Asia, and when we moved here 2+ years ago, in the throws of my nervous breakdown (um, I mean seamless transition into overseas living), I decided I needed one.  And to be honest, I think I did...for a time.  As months turned into years, I learned the ropes, made friends, and had an emergency support system (a necessity when your husband travels a lot).  It soon became clear to me that my own laziness was the primary reason for our helper's employment.  Uh-oh.  Good-bye help, hello laundry, my old friend.

But that's not the whole story.  I didn't have a helper in the States and managed to blog there.  (Granted, living in the States is easier on many levels, but still...)  I think part of my writer's block regarding travel is that I can't wrap my head around our lives here.  It still feels surreal, especially when we take exotic trips.  I like to have neat little blog posts with tidy little endings, pretending my life makes sense sometimes.  Here, not so much.  And then there's that little nagging voice in my head that says, Who do you think you are, writing about all these trips?  No one cares, show-off.  Meet my inner-critic.  She's a peach.

But I am going to write about the trips.  Not for benefit of some big audience.  I am going to record these special events in the life of my kids, in the hopes that if they read it one day, it will spark a fond memory.  I am going to record the details to honor Aaron's hard work and sacrifice that makes the trips possible.  I am going to accept this undeserved gift God has chosen to bestow on us for this season and enjoy this crazy life, zig-zagging across a foreign land, and exploring its wonders.  So buckle, up...Here we go!

Here's the list, and I'll be adding more detailed posts, as I go:

August 2015:  Ko Samui, Thailand
Novermber 2015: Boracay, Philippines
December 2015: Hong Kong & Louisville

March 2016: Phuket, Thailand
April 2016: Kathmandu, Nepal
June 2016: Las Vegas & Louisville
July 2016: Cambodia mission trip
September 2016: New Delhi & Agra, India





12/7/16

Lessons learned from strollers and blankets

I think there is a very good reason we are called "children of God."  I see so many parallels in my relationship with God and my relationship with my kids.  I want to record a few, just as a reminder to myself the importance of staying in my role...

Several months ago, Caleb, Jack and I were walking to church.  (Parker and Maddie were in school.)  We brought the small, lightweight umbrella stroller in case Caleb got tired.  I was pushing it along, as the boys ran ahead of me.  They were looking forward their class.  We'd walked this way many times, so they were familiar with the twists and turns.  At one point, Caleb asked if he may push the stroller. Though he was not yet tall enough to reach the handles or see over the top, I allowed him to get behind it and push.

He bumped into curbs.  He walked into walls.  It turned in directions he did not intend.  He began to get frustrated.  I explained that he wasn't big enough to steer yet and offered to help him.  He declined and continued to shove it himself, making little progress toward his goal.  Finally he agreed I could hold the handles above his head to help steer.  Eventually his legs grew tired, and he agree to climb inside and allow me to steer and carry him, and we quickly arrived at our desitnation.

My, how this makes me think of me and God!  How often do I demand control over things only to realize I have run into a brick wall?  When I insist on doing things "my way" I end up losing so much time and wasting so much energy.  I can't see the path ahead, but God can.  When I allow God to not only lead but also to carry me, we get to great places, and I enjoy the ride!

⛴〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰

Today at lunchtime, Caleb asked for a blanket.  I noticed a chill in the air and his hair ruffling in the breeze of the air conditioner.

"Are you cold?" I asked (knowing the answer).  This is where I will pause the story.  This scenario could have gone south very quickly.  Caleb (like his momma) has a tendency to be impatient.  When he makes a request, he doesn't necessarily want to answer a bunch of questions.  He wants what he wants when he wants it.  He might have scowled and insisted, "I jus want a bwanket!"

Thankfully, today, he simply answered my question: "Yeah."

"I can take care of that," I responded and pressed the button to turn off the air conditioning unit.

"Fanks, mom."

I see myself in that strong-willed little guy.  How many times have I asked God for something specific, expecting an immediate, positive response?  Am I willing to listen to His questions?  If I am, and if I trust Him to provide, He can effectively remove the source of my troubles instead of just covering them up.

⛴〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰〰

Lord, today I thank You so much for using my kids to teach me.  Let me never forget these lessons to trust in You, that You will provide, and that You are in complete control.


And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19


In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:6


12/3/16

Silver Lining

If you had told me years ago, when Maddie had croup, that it was a blessing, I might have punched you in the throat (or at least, fantasized about it).  But the truth is, it was a blessing.

It was a blessing that I was in the States, in my comfort zone.  It was a blessing that I had access to a 24 hour pediatric nurse and lived just minutes from an urgent care center.  It was a blessing Aaron was at home and could care for the other kids.  It was within this very safe, comforting environment, I was given a taste of a crisis.  My baby couldn't breathe.  While it was scary, I learned that if I took the proper steps, I could care for her at home.

Fast forward to last night.  We live in a foreign country.  Aaron is traveling.  There is a hospital down the road, but a trip there means loading up four sleepy kids for a super-fun, germy field trip.  I hear the familiar barking cough in the middle of the night.  The gasping.  The hoarse cries for mommy.  My baby can't breathe.

"I'm coming."  I pad down the stairs, flipping on the hot water heater switch as I go.  Scooping Caleb into my arms, I whisper, "It's okay.  It's okay."  We step into the shower.  As steam fills the room, Caleb is sweaty and disoriented, but it moments, his head is resting on my shoulder.  The coughs subside, and I settle him in the living room with the air-conditioning off.  I know we'll be up again in a few hours, but it's okay.  It's okay.  

The truth is, it is okay.  All of it.  The crisis from yesterday and the one I'll face tomorrow.  God equips us along the way, never once leaving our sides.  Each new crisis is just training for the next.

Thank you Lord, for letting me see the silver lining today.  Please help me to view all my situations, past and present though the filter of Your love.


"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1







11/9/16

What was I thinking?

I arrived at school at 1:45.  Perfect!  Plenty of time to find parking, go to the office, collect the kids, and be on our way.  Our dentist appointment wasn't until 2:40.  Caleb woke up happily from his nap in the backseat and sat right in the stroller.  (Will wonders never cease?)

We wheeled into the office by 1:50 and were watching the fish in the tank in the waiting room when we suddenly heard a harsh alarm and a robotic voice announcing: "Attention!  Attention!  The school is now on lockdown mode.  The school is now on lockdown mode.  Please proceed to..." Are you kidding me?  We were ushered up some stairs and locked into a darkened office where we were told to be quiet and silence our cellphones.  Why yes, yes, of course.  Asking a 3 year old to be silent is completely reasonable.

I sat there holding a squirming Caleb, while trying to text the dentist office that we would now be late.  It saddened me to think that this was now a drill as common as a tornado drill had been in my day.  Thanks to lunatics with guns, our kids were now adept at hiding in the dark, waiting for the signal that it was safe to emerge again.

After about 10 minutes we were back in the main office, waiting for the kids.  By the time we all ran to the van, it was clear we would be nearly half an hour late to our appointment.  The best laid plans...

When we arrived, the kids immediately found a partially glassed-in play area.  Apparently this semi-enclosed area triggered some sort of animal instinct in them because over the course of the next hour, they transformed into wild [possibly rabid] beastly creatures who did not appear to comprehend the English language.

I am no stranger to this bizarre, wait-room phenomenon.  In fact, a few short weeks ago, when I had some extra time in my schedule, I had actually visited this very office to fill out the pages of paperwork required for each child.  Of course, when I reminded the staff of this, the forms were nowhere to be found.  Grrrrr.

As the dentist took the children back, one by one, I accompanied the patient, leaving the eldest child in charge of the rest, and briefly explained my concerns/observations, before hearing the first inevitable screams from the waiting room.  Then I would dash back and deal with whatever crisis had arisen within the 1.5 minutes I had been gone.

Fill out a box on the form.  "We don't stand on furniture." Look up a policy number.  "Do not poke your brother with the keys." Check the box. "I said, 'Get down.'" Sign. "Do not put your feet on the wall." Flip form.  "I don't  care who started it.  I saw you push him down." Fill out another line.  "He had that first.  Give it back." Enter dentist.  "So-and-so's teeth look fine.  Do you happen to know when he last had x-" "Mommy!  I'm hungry!" "The dentist is speaking to me.  Please don't interrupt.  Please go on..."

Repeat.  Over and over and over and over.

Meanwhile, I found myself grumbling aloud about having to fill out the forms again.  Apparently I was loud enough for Parker to ask "What's 'a waste of time?'"  Which meant I was loud enough for the staff just on the other side of the partition to hear.  Ugh.  Me and my big, fat, complaining mouth.

By the time I sank into the receptionist's chair to present the insurance cards, I was toast.  I had been pulled in so many directions at once, I thought I might literally explode.  At least then everyone could have a piece of me simultaneously.  I had tears in my eyes as I looked up at the three women behind the desk.

"I'm sorry I was so grumpy about the lost paperwork."  They nodded.  There was a long pause [during which there was plenty of background noise provided by my kids].  "What were we thinking?" I asked quietly.

I find I ask this question of strangers a lot.  I usually do it to break the tension when things are particularly chaotic.  I'm saying what they are thinking, poking fun at our decision to have such a large family.  I'm usually grinning.  Tonight, I was not.  I'm certain I looked just as overwhelmed as I felt.  And when the kids began to incessantly push the button that opened the door between the wait area and the treatment rooms, one of the women jumped up and said curtly, "I'll take care of it."

She was clearly annoyed, and I was mortified.  I had lost all control over my brood.  And I was at a loss.  The creative tools in my parenting kit were so far buried under distractions and exhaustion, one might assumed I never had any at all.  I barely made it to the elevator before the tears started to flow.  I had just played the longest, most pointless game of whack-a-mole in history.

Tonight I am trying to make sense of it all.  I'm trying to tease apart the emotions wrapped around my heart that are strangling the love I usually feel for the kids.  Of course I love them, I just don't feel loving right now.  I find myself glaring at them.  And that is a problem.

So I'll start with what I know:  I know I am the mom God chose for the kids.  I know He will equip me for any position He gives me.  I know I have a lot of great parenting skills but I don't always put them to use.  I know there are factors outside of my control that played a part in today's scenario.  I know that pride and worry about others' opinions played no small part in my frayed emotions at the end.  I know I love the kids and always will, regardless of their behavior.  I know that my Savior forgave me before I asked, offered me grace when I didn't deserve it, and treats me tenderly when I act out.

I suspect I'm not the only parent tonight who had a rough day with the kids.  Maybe yours were absolute terrors.  I feel your pain.  Maybe you are shaking your head, wondering where it all went wrong.  Maybe you are questioning your parenting abilities.  May I humbly suggest that you offer your kids and yourself a nice, big, heaping pile of grace?  You don't have to condone their behavior.  You can continue to work on it (and on your own), but don't be discouraged.  Each failure (yours and theirs) is a learning experience.  This was not a wasted day.  This is an opportunity for growth.

I'm off to hug the kids.

10/29/16

Happy birthday...3 months late



Dear Jack,

I hope one day you will read these posts.  I hope you will get past the title of this blog and past the fact that I chose to write it three months after your actual birthday.  There is a method to my madness (and if not a method, then at least a sort of twisted reasoning).

A few months ago, one of your siblings was observing you.  Said sibling pulled me aside and murmured in low tones, "Mom, Parker is special because he was your first baby, and Maddie is special because she is your only pretty princess, and Caleb is special because he's your last baby, but Jack..." the voice trailed off uncertainly, seemingly sad and concerned that you might not be all that special.  HA!  It made me want to laugh and cry in the same instant.

That assessment, the placing of value on birth order or gender above my love for you and your worth as a person, couldn't be more wrong.  If anything, I have put off writing this post because I'm afraid others will read it one day and assume you are my favorite (which is also not true because, God, in His mercy, somehow made me incapable of having a favorite child).

What that sibling didn't realize is that you are oh-so-dear to my heart and very special, indeed.  You are the first newborn baby I was able to hold without fear.  With Parker I feared for his little, infant life when he stopped growing and was considered "failure to thrive" (until we sorted out his feeding issues).  With Maddie, I feared for her safety from her jealous, 18 month old brother.  With you, I sat in the big green chair, nursing you, smelling your hair, relishing the quiet moments, and reveling in motherhood.  I knew what you would bring.  I knew the sleepless nights ahead.  I was already in the habit of changing diapers and constant chaos.  I was welcoming more with open arms.  We were also living in Kentucky for the first time since starting our family.  We had an array of helpful, doting grandparents who offered respite and [perhaps more importantly] food.  You were and are special in your own right because of who you are and because of the mother you allowed me to become.

But babyhood aside, you continue to be my darling little boy.  You are always surprising me with your crazy antics (e.g. your tendency to cover your appendages and head in underwear and announce the arrival of "Underpants man").   You love to be tickled and have a wonderful sense of humor.  You are always trying to play tricks on daddy.  You love to be held and carried, and I will continue to do so until my back gives out.  You are kind to a fault, often genuinely confused if others are mean to you.  You try so hard at everything - pouring milk, writing, even speaking Chinese.

And you are still little.  And sometimes you mess up.  Sometimes you spill the milk (okay, most times).  Sometimes your marker misses the sheet and makes lines on the floor.  You do your best to make it right.  But sometimes, I am not as patient a parent as you deserve.   It is in those dark moments, the best part of you shines through...

I think every mother who has ever yelled at a child or squeezed that tiny hand just a little too hard and cried tears of agony later wants nothing more than for her child to know deep down in his little soul that his momma loves him.  That no amount of marker on the wall, poop smeared on the toilet seat, or milk spilled on the floor will ever change that fact.  And that's what's best about you, Jacky.  You know.  I am not giving myself permission to mistreat you; I will do my best to do better every day.  But when I do mess up (which is way more often than you), you are quick to forgive.  And when I say, "I love you, Jack."  You say the words I long to hear even more than "I love you, too."  

You say, "I know."

I thank the Lord I was chosen to be your momma.  Thank you, sweet five year (and three month) old boy.  Thank you for knowing how much I love you and for loving me right back.

Love,
Mommy







10/11/16

Just a night in the life

We are still living in Asia.  We've been here for just over 2 years.  It is hot and sticky tonight.  The air con (that's what they call it here) is on the fritz again, so I am sweating as I type.  Maddie is humming to herself in the room across the hall.  Jack is up in my bed, Caleb is in the boys' room, Parker is at a sleepover, and Aaron is traveling [as he does quite frequently in this role].  My only company is the  giant [4 inch], tailless lizard making his rounds, presumably living off the plethora of insects hiding out in one of our million cupboards.  Seriously, the designer of this place was obsessed with cupboards.  But back to tonight...

Tonight we arrived home late after a play date where we left Parker for his sleepover.  As I locked the front door, Caleb whipped around, his little brow furrowed.  "Hey mom!  We fo-got Pahkuh!" he shouted, in a panic.  I assured him it was all part of the plan, and though he cried, he managed to console himself in a bowl of chocolate chip ice-cream.  Why, yes, sugary, fat-laden foods do help to ease the pain of those troubling emotions.  Stuff it down some more, my boy.  (I know what you're thinking, "What an awesome mom!")

Once everyone had a small bowl of ice-cream (the consolation prize for not getting to be at a sleepover themselves), I marched them up the stairs, brushed teeth, said our prayers, and raced for my room without looking back.  I couldn't wait to get into my bed!  So why am I blogging about it and not actually in bed right now?  Because they followed me.

Not at first.  At first, I was congratulating myself on my resolve.  I activated my selective listening skills when Jack started to whine about his toe hurting.  You know, that toe he dropped the glass bowl on this afternoon?  You know, that glass bowl he wasn't supposed to be using?  The one that rolled off his toe and broke?  My compassion levels might have been a little bit low at the moment...Anyway, he tried to convince me he needed to sleep in my "comfy" bed to get rest.
Nope.  Next?  
Caleb chimes in, crying that he wants to join in the [nonexistent] pajama party.
Not tonight.  Love you.  Buh-Bye!
I engaged in the ugliest of sprints as I tripped over all manner of toys and junk on my way out of their room and eeked out just enough self-control to not slam the door.  It was like a horror movie scene where the person in distress has to get away quickly but somewhat quietly, eyes wild, desperate to escape.

What did I need?  Quiet.  In a day filled to the brim with noise, I knew what awaited me in my room...And there it was.  Quiet!  I changed into pajamas, thought for a second about how lame it was to go to bed at 8:30, shrugged, and hopped in bed.  Ahhh.

Then I heard the first sob.  Then the next.  Maddie or Jack?  Oh man.  Scowling, I swung my feet off the bed and ripped open my door, the very picture of motherly concern.  Maddie was at the bottom of the steps, her eyes filled with tears.  "I can't find Dot Blankie."  I know that given it's wildly imaginative name, it might be hard to tell what Dot Blankie is, but let me ruin the surprise: it's a blanket with a dot design.  And at that moment, I didn't care much about it's location.  I cared that Maddie's location was outside of her bed.  We found it in my bed and I sent her back to hers.  I settled back into my pillows.

Then I heard the next cry.  You have got to be kidding me.  Jack entered the room.  "Mommy, my toe rea-wee hurts.  I need to sweep in your bed tonight."  Whatever.  There was plenty of room since Aaron was gone.  "Just get in," I mumbled.

Quiet...

"Mmph....ugh....mmm....mmph."

"Jack?  Are you making those noises because your toe still hurts?"

"Yes, I fink I need an icepack."  At this point my conscience kicks in and I remember the pain of losing a toenail when a heavy item was dropped on my toe.

"Jack, how would you like some medicine that will help with that?"  I get up to get the Tylenol.

As I head down the stairs, I hear a voice, "Daddy...please...(inaudible mumbling)...please...(crying).  I pop my head in Maddie's room.  Her eyes are shut tight, tears shining on her cheeks.  I placed my hand on her head.
"Maddie?"

Her eyes flew open.  "Oh mom, I was just trying to send a message to dad, and then I was praying to God that he would hear it."

"What was the message?"

"That I miss him and want him to come home."

"Mommeeeeeeee??" shouts a voice from above.

"I'm coming with the medicine, Jack!" I call up the stairs.  "Maddie, why don't you try to actually call daddy rather than send him a thought message?  That way he can talk back to you."

I could keep writing because this night goes on and on.  In fact, as I was typing, Caleb awoke to find Parker missing (darn those tricky sleepovers) and began sobbing.  I stopped to pat him back to sleep.  Maddie talked to Aaron, Jack took his medicine, and it is finally QUIET.  Though I know it won't last, that's okay.  This is just a night in the life of our family right now.  Now I'm off to enjoy this [temporary] quiet.  Good night!






9/22/16

A belated birthday wish for my baby boy

Dear Caleb,

I know, I know.  Your birthday was months ago.  Believe me, I have attempted to write this post more than once.  I don't want you to imagine for a second that I think it a chore.  It's not.  It's just that I would prefer to be the proverbial ostrich, with my head stuck in the sands of time.  "What?  A birthday?  My baby?  Surely you can't mean my little blond haired baby!  Well, yes, I know....He's not technically a baby anymore.  Yes, he is potty-trained.  Yes, he can dress himself.  Yes, he can feed himself.  Yes, yes, YES!  I get it.  He's not a baby.  I have no babies!"

I never really understood those parents who babied their youngest.  Until now.  Until you realize that your youngest, your baby, your last baby, is just that.  Your last.  [Gulp!]  Suddenly, you are savoring every moment of babyish behavior.  You stop correcting the grammatical mistakes, because they're just so cute.  You tilt your head and say, "Aw!" when you notice that little thumb slipping into his mouth.  You turn your head away to hide the laughter when he throws a tantrum about something ridiculous.  That same tantrum, had it been thrown by your first child, would have been nipped in the bud.

And herein lies the problem.  There is no good way to keep you a baby, son.  Three year old babies aren't cute.  Four year old babies are even less so.  They morph into annoying, entitled, self-important jerks.  And we just can't have that.

So, we'll start with the sweet birthday post (and we'll deal with the smack down when the online audience is gone)...

Oh, sweet Caleb.  You are the baby that completed our family.  You are smiles and giggles, and devious sideways grins.  You are a thumb-sucking, foot-stomping, belly-laughing, ball of energy.  You are the most tactile of all of our children, constantly seeking a cheek to rub, an elbow to mush, a belly to squish.  You are effusive in your declarations of love..."I LOVE this truck!  I LOVE this house!  I LOVE you!"  You are the darling of Asia with your bright blond hair and easy smile.  People absolutely fawn over you.  I no longer freak out when strangers pick you up.  I am not surprised or offended when crowds ask to take pictures with you.  I fear that when we return to the States you we be confounded at your lack of celebrity status.  Enjoy it now, son.

This year you are my daily side-kick, as all of your older siblings have gone off to school.  We drive dad to work, stopping for coffee on the way.  Then we come home and start the chores.  You help me hang the laundry.  You love to clip the socks and underwear on the line.  When we are finished, it's nothing but play time together.  I delight in our long bike rides.  You sit silently in your seat, watching the world go by, getting out at the quiet park.  It's not quiet for long with you there!  At home, you love books and cars and books about cars and cartoons.  You love to swim and will be starting your first solo swim class soon.  I can't imagine not having to get into the pool for a swim lesson.  It's been nearly 10 years...

You are full of confidence, often introducing yourself to strangers, then informing them, "I'm free years ole."  Your dad and I like to say you "walk around like you own the place."  I love your swagger.  You don't seem to know you are the smallest.  You launch your little body into any fray, tumbling around with your older brothers and their friends like a puppy dog.

I cannot wait to watch you grow, son.  I know I love having you as a baby, but I am truly excited to see what God does with this life of yours.  I'm so excited He's placed us in Asia, where your world view can just explode!  I love that you are in such a diverse environment.  I love that you were surrounded by a bunch of Cambodian kids on your actual birthday and didn't bat an eye when they broke out in song to wish you a happy birthday.  You love riding in the back of tuk tuks and eating hummus [which you call tummus] and watching the traditional Lion dances.  You are leading an amazing little life, sweet boy.  I'm so glad I'm along for the ride!

Love,
Momma




7/19/16

Howdy Neighbors

"If you want a show before bedtime, you have to take a shower first."

I was certain that statement would buy me enough time to clean up the dinner dishes.  Wrong.

They began to shed their clothes like snake skin as they raced up the stairs.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.

A few moments of blessed silence, and then the yelling began.  "Mom, is this green stuff soap?"  "Mom, which is the shampoo?"  Ugh!  The older two kids had it down and were finished in no time (thanks to the multiple bathrooms in this place).  However, I guess it's a bit much to ask a three and almost five year old to bathe themselves.  Go figure.  I assumed I would be finished cleaning and able to help before they would actually need me.  Wishful thinking.

After helping Jack determine which products to use and helping Caleb take his shirt off, I headed back to the kitchen to finish up.  That's when the screaming began.

"Mom, I think something's wrong with Jack," Parker said worriedly.

My compassion meter seemed to be broken today.  Maybe it just ran out at about hour 4 at the theme park where I was barraged with questions about buying junk food when I'd spent half the morning packing healthy snacks, or maybe it was when I learned Aaron had to work late, or maybe when I'd burned the chicken while tending a crying child.  Whenever I lost my mommy mojo, it was just GONE.

"Tell him to come down," I said tiredly.  (I was in the basement/walkout level, and the boys were up on the 4th level of our split level home.)

Jack came rushing into the kitchen, naked, of course.  "Mommy, somefings wong wif Cawub...He keeps trying to grab my penis!"

Maddie and Parker started giggling at this point.  My mommy eyes were shooting daggers at them.  "And what did you do?" I asked.

"I shouted 'No!' and ran away."

Parker and Maddie began smiling and marching, "Shout 'No!', Run Away!  Tell Someone today!  Shout 'No!', Run Away!  Tell Someone today!"

Gosh, I hope the new neighbors are listening in.  I promise we're not freaks...at least, not all the time! *sigh*

"That's right, Jack, but remember, Caleb is still really little, and your penis is right in his face.  I'll talk to him."

Maddie chimed in, "Well, it's good he didn't grab a girl's private part.  That would be really bad, right mom."

"Yes, that would be bad."

Jack looked perplexed.  "Why?  Girls have penises."

Maddie burst out laughing.  "No they don't!  Girls have vaginas!"

"No, big girls have giant ones," Jack corrected her.

"No, Jack, she didn't say 'giant ones,' she said, 'VAGINAS!'"

Seriously, I am sure my new neighbors, on their back porch, smelling our burnt chicken, watching my kids running around naked, and hearing me shouting about vaginas just can't wait to come over and spend some quality time at our house.




5/7/16

Happy 9th birthday, Parker

Dear Parker,

As the years rush past, it becomes more and more difficult to write this annual birthday post.  Not for lack of material, mind you.  I am no longer simply recording physical milestones and cute anecdotes.  You are such a complex little/big guy these days.  Your heart and thoughts run deep.  Your questions are thoughtful and hard to answer.  

You are changing every day.  It seems the bend in my elbow when I rest my hand on your head is a little more pronounced each day.  Your legs nearly touch the floor when you sit on my lap.  How is that possible?  You can run and play and sweat in this Singapore heat and humidity for hours on end, launching Nerf attacks, swimming, and exploring with your friends.  

You are into music and video games which we strictly monitor.  There is plenty of junk out there that you will hear and see soon enough.  You've been exposed to bits of it here and there, but for the most part, you maintain a sweet innocence that brings tears to my eyes.

You are a humble leader.  You love to lead a little gang of "troops" around at school and in the neighborhood and are quick to make sure everyone feels included.  You are still my sensitive guy who can be wounded by the unkind words of a peer.  

It is hard being the oldest in the house.  There are times you want to watch shows that your siblings find boring because they aren't animated.  You often have one or two brothers begging to tag along in your war games.  Your Lego creations are unintentionally destroyed by tiny, playful hands when you are at school (and mom is busy).

You are a master negotiator, an experienced fort builder, a young seeker of truth and God, a cunning business man, a loyal friend, a Lego master, a terrible liar, a kind brother, and the best 9 year old son a mom could ask for.   It is my joy and my privilege to be called your momma.

All my love,
Mom

Your last night as an 8 year old 



Your family birthday picture.  Sorry.

5/5/16

Keeping my phone a phone

Hello, my name is Jessie, and I'm addicted to my iPhone.

I resisted smartphones for many years.  I am not technologically savvy.  I didn't want apps.  I didn't need bells and whistles.  However, when it took me twenty minutes to return a text because I had to press the number 7 four times to get to the letter "s," I relented.

I naively thought I would simply use the phone, texting, and maybe the camera, only on special occasions, of course.  Ha!  Four million pictures (and Facebook posts) later, I find myself jumping at every "ding," as texts come through confirming or canceling playdates, doctor appointments pop up, and field trip notifications blare.

Enough, iPhone!  Enough!  Uncle!  I cringe when you are dropped.  My heart skips a beat when you are caught in the rain.  I have lost you more than once, and the panic that ensues may very well be the cause of at least some of my white hairs.  You have been my constant companion for too long.  You follow me on dates (so I can be available if the sitter needs to reach us), and then tempt me with you Facebook notifications while I order.  How many times have I mumbled, "Uh huh," while a sweet little voice prattles on beside me, meanwhile my eyes are trained on a tiny screen and my fingers are tapping to reply to that Evite invitation for so-and-so's birthday party?

I say it again, ''Enough!"  You were designed for me.  Not the other way around.  Somehow in my fear that I would miss something, that the balls I'm juggling would fall, that I would offend someone by not responding quickly enough, I allowed myself to become your slave.  I can no longer justify my continual state of distraction.  No more!  I will be present - with my God, my husband, my kids, and my friends.

And you, iPhone?  You are on probation.  You can stick around for now.  Your new place will be on my desk with the ringer turned up high.  If someone needs me, they can CALL.  If someone texts me, they can WAIT.  (I will take a set amount of time each night to read and respond to texts and emails.)  I'm going old school.  I'm going to carry around a little notebook, and as I think of things I need to do throughout the day (emails to return, gifts to mail, play dates to plan), I will *gasp* WRITE IT DOWN.  It can be entered later.  That calendar hanging on the wall in the kitchen is about to get a lot more attention.

You can join me when I'm out and about...in case the school (or someone else) CALLS.  You can be my camera from time to time, but you can't be my friend anymore.  And if I can't stick to my new rules, who knows?  I may just need to get a flip phone again...







4/30/16

My Beef with Caillou's Mom

I used to watch the same show with Parker every night when he was little.  It's a cartoon on PBS featuring a four year old boy named Caillou (KI-you) who had an unusually high-pitched, whiny voice.  The story lines were simple and positive, and the shows were short.  Parker was allowed only 15 minutes of TV a day because, you know, he was the first child, and I strictly adhered to the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations.  (These days our fourth child watches 7+ hours of PG-13 rated shows a day...not really - just 6 1/2....)   

But back to Caillou...For at least one solid year, this was my daily allotment of television.  I didn't have the time or energy for adult shows.  I fell into bed every night, utterly exhausted.  Each day I watched Caillou, I became a bit more bitter.

"Why?" you ask.  It wasn't the annoying boy who was the problem.  It was his mother!  Apparently her name is "Doris."  Well, Dolly, you're on my list.  I'm just going to call a spade a spade and say, "You're a fraud!"  

For years I watched you deal with your whiny son and care for his baby sister all Mary Poppins-like.  Not once did your eyelids droop from exhaustion or annoyance.  Not once did you snap at the kids.  Nope, you bebopped along with a spring in your step and the patience of a saint.   




Doris a.k.a. The Fraud


I think the problem was that I used to buy it.  I used to think I should be Doris.  I should always be cheerful and energetic and sunny.  The problem is, that's just not realistic.  It's great to be positive, but even the most positive mom has a bad day.  

Now, 9 years and a million cartoons and books later, I have a larger sample of fictional moms with whom I can compare myself (because I'm sure that's super-healthy and productive, right?).  I can relate to these ladies.  Why?  Because they look haggard.  They have young kids, and they are tired.  Isn't that what all momma's really have in common?  We love our kids, but we are T.I.R.E.D.  Allow me to share some illustrations of more realistic cartoon moms...


The Family Circus mom...



 

Llama, Llama Red Pajama's Mom...






Arthur's mom...







Phineas and Ferb's mom...




I'm not saying I want all moms to be miserable.  I'm just saying, let's keep it real, people.  No one, but no one can be as chipper as Doris all the time.  So mommas out there, struggling to do everything just right, to keep a smile on your face, to just keep your eyes open, give yourself some grace.  Turn off Caillou, dump some blocks on the floor, and curl up on the rug for a nap next to your little one.  

[End bizarre cartoon rant.]


2/3/16

Dear Kids

It's funny how exhaustion makes me all weepy and sentimental.  Daddy has been gone for about 4 days, and he won't get back until after bedtime tomorrow.  Our poor helper, who was sick in bed before he left, is finally on the mend today.

But despite my tiredness, despite the endless logistics whirling around my brain, despite my sadness over missing your dad, I want you all to know how much joy you brought me tonight.

Most of the evening was actually pretty crummy.  You did not sit in your chairs at dinner.  You fought over the television.  You got soap in your eyes at bath time, and refused to put on your pajamas.  You made snippy comments to each other resulting in the loss of story time.  But...

God is gracious.  I prayed for patience, and He answered me in a big way.  I stayed in your rooms.  Waaay past bedtime.  We talked and prayed and talked some more.  This exhaustion is totally worth it, kids.  I want to hear your silly songs.  I want to hear your fears about the social scene at school.  I want your snuggles.  I love that you followed me into my room to ask me if you could eat with a special spoon in the morning, to tell me "G'nigh mom," to give me that last hug.  As grueling as it feels, I love this season of life.  And I love you more than the words in this blog could ever express.

Each time when I write love notes to you late at night, my chest tightens a bit.  I feel a desperate need to capture, commemorate, savor a sweet little slice of life.  I suppose that on some level I fear life could never again be this good.

But that's a pretty foolish way to look at life (and one I hope you won't adopt).  Because if I look at previous posts, though your behavior hasn't necessarily improved (just look at paragraph 3 above), my love for you has only grown deeper.  I trust that it will continue to increase as you grow, allowing us to face our struggles together, with God's help.  I love you to pieces dear ones!  Sweetest dreams!


May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  1 Thessalonians 3:12

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  1Peter 4:8



1/21/16

Perspective

I find myself looking down.  A lot.  I see the top of your blond head, bent low to examine the sidewalk.  What will fit through this hole?


I bend low, too.  I watch your tiny fingers grasp even tinier bits of twigs and leaves, only to release them into the grate.  This can go on for hours.  And it's ok.  I love watching you discover.  I love your focus.  I love that little round head.


I want you to always share your discoveries and treasures with me.  I want to see them through your eyes.  Sand is a treat, not a nuisance.  Today we will lose our shoes, and I'll enjoy the sand, too.
Thank you!

You beg to go home.  I am frustrated with your screaming until I realize that you are really begging for a soft bed and a place to lay that sleepy head.  I lie beside you.  Will anyone ever love you as much as your momma?

Oh sweet little boy, you are still my baby.  See how your tiny hand curls as you sleep?  Yes, you are growing, but you are still my baby.  Thank you for sharing your day with me.