Welcome to my circus.

December 2, 2016
by Maralee
4 Comments

Large Family Logistics: Why we eat the same things every morning

I know sometimes people are curious about what life looks like when you’re raising a bunch of young kids. Every once in a while I get the, “How do you do it?” question. While most of the time I just laugh because the reality is I don’t feel like I generally do “it” very well (whatever “it” may be), there are some tricks I’ve learned along the way that have simplified our lives. Not all large families make these choices, but if you’re a mom who needs structure and organization to thrive you might find this helpful. Having lots of kids can seem like total chaos, but many of us find ways to create routines that help us make order out of the hectic crazy of our lives.

When we were houseparents at a group home I was responsible for meal planning for our home. We usually had 6-8 boys (mostly teens) and they could EAT. Some of them also struggled with some anxiety about food. If you haven’t had consistent meals at some point in your life, you can start to become a little obsessive about knowing what your next meal will be. In order to make my life simple and make life consistent and predictable for our kids, I decided we’d eat the same foods for breakfast each day of the week. So for the nearly five years we worked there we ate muffins on Mondays, cereal on Tuesdays, oatmeal on Wednesdays, cereal on Thursdays, waffles on Fridays, and cereal over the weekend.

025_bradley-113web

Having that level of predictability meant we weren’t forever answering the question, “What’s for breakfast tomorrow?” every night. The kids knew. We knew. I didn’t wake up and wonder what I had to make. I had an easy time making my grocery list every week because I knew exactly what I needed for breakfasts. Not every home is going to need that level of routine, but it really worked for us.

Continue Reading →

December 1, 2016
by Maralee
1 Comment

When Santa is Kind of a Jerk to Your Kids

I am by and large a “live and let live” kind of parent. You do what works for you, Moms. But today I’m just feeling fed up with the whole Santa game and the Santa-infused nonsense this time of year brings. For some reason it seems like each year it’s getting more and more complicated to try and keep up the Santa rouse. More is expected of parents as far as elaborate “storytelling” (I’m looking at you, Elf on the Shelf), more money is shelled out, more awkward conversations happening in the homes of nonbelievers as we try and prep our kids for how to walk the weird line of not lying to their friends while also not giving it away.

This year the newest trend seems to be “apology letters” from Santa. I’m not joking. Can’t find the exact toy your child requested? Obviously you can’t just tell them that, you now need to create a fictional response from Santa to appease your child. As much as that level of parental lying and child entitlement irritates me, I also understand it. How else to you explain to your kid that they weren’t “good enough” to get what they asked for? What kind of crushing blow is it to wake up Christmas morning and feel like not only did you not get the toy you were hoping for, but it’s your own fault for not being a good enough kid. No wonder parents are creating these apology notes, because what is the other alternative? Letting your kid believe if they would have just made their bed a few extra mornings maybe then the Elf would have told Santa that you were good enough for a Hatchimal?

Continue Reading →

November 28, 2016
by Maralee
0 comments

A Life in Status- June #2, 2016

Sometimes laughing about my life makes you feel better about yours. Come read along on Facebook and Twitter.

Dear NBA,
Thanks for having your final game tonight. You’ve just made my Father’s Day plans that much easier.
#gowatchthegame #Ivegotthekids #haveadonut #HappyFathersDay

Josh (9): Mom, when you die, can we look at your brain? Could somebody take it out so we could see it and I could hold it?
#supercreepy #kindofsweet

Joel (4): Do you have a brain?
Me: Yep! And you do, too.
Joel: I DO?! Where do I keep it? Is it in the house?
Me: It’s in your head. It’s right in there (pointing to his forehead).
Joel: WHAT? I HAVE THAT IN MY HEAD?
#mindblown

My favorite part of attending a women’s conference: 3 days of teaching, no sports analogies.

Just had a lengthy conversation about foster care, adoption, and Christianity with a door-to-door salesmen. And this surprises no one.
#advocacate #ringmydoorbellandbeready

It doesn’t surprise me when one kid pees on the floor, but I am continually surprised when another kid sees it happen, then decides to splash in the puddle.
#toddlerlife

Continue Reading →

November 18, 2016
by Maralee
2 Comments

How My Friends Taught Me to Grieve

I sat down to write something today, but then the doorbell rang. It was a delivery for my family of an edible bouquet. Seriously, is there anything better than something beautiful and also edible that comes as a total surprise from people who love you? So here I sit with tears about the sweet ways my friends have stepped up and loved my family well and instead of whatever it was I thought I might write today, this is what I want to tell you about.

My family has been through a tough time the last few months which culminated in some heartbreak about a week ago. The story isn’t just mine to tell, so I’m sorry for how cryptic this seems. I will say it involved intense advocacy on the part of our family (daily, for months) on behalf of a child and on behalf of one of our children, but ultimately things didn’t go the way we had hoped. We’re grieving for all the ways we can’t protect our kids. And yet, I’ve felt like I don’t have a right to grieve.

I put this shame on myself– I know the system, I should know better than to be hurt by it. I shouldn’t have let my heart get invested. Maybe I shouldn’t even have done the work I did since in the end it didn’t matter for my child. I never should have let anyone in on what we were doing, what our hopes were, what we were fighting for. Then my grief would all be quiet and tucked away in my heart and while it would be eating me from the inside, I wouldn’t have to deal with this thing that feels shameful to me. I failed. I failed my child. I was humiliated by a system that doesn’t value what I have to offer. I was hurt by people I trusted to value my family and my input.

As I’ve dealt with my own feelings of shame, guilt, failure and loss, my friends have spoken the exact opposite messages to me. They have validated this pain. They have told me my work matters. They’ve said I’m a good mom and that my child will be proud of me. They have grieved for me and with me and have never tried to put a band-aid on this. They made me get out of the house and they understood if I didn’t pick up the phone. They let me talk and they accepted my silence. They prayed for me and with me and for my children by name.

Continue Reading →

November 16, 2016
by Maralee
6 Comments

What You Might Not Know about Waiting Children

Everybody needs to see this map from Together We Rise. It details the number of waiting kids in your state, but I’ve come to realize to really understand this map, you need to understand the geography of foster care. You have to have an awareness of some of the underlying issues behind the numbers represented here. So I want you to see it through my eyes. If you and I were having coffee and you asked me what I thought about it, here’s what I’d want you to know:

10394802_657003941060753_934492169391657281_n

-Many of these kids are older, have special needs or are part of a sibling group. If you want to become a family for a child who needs one, educate yourself on the unique issues involved in raising a child who has experienced a level of trauma. By and large, these numbers represent kids who have spent years in the system and are harder to place, otherwise they would have been adopted by their extended families or foster parents.

-These kids were legally orphaned by the government. I just want to let that sink it for a minute. We as a society said that their parents were unfit to raise them, but we provided no alternative for a permanent family. What obligation do we have to be sure they don’t spend the rest of their lives as orphans when WE are the ones that orphaned them?

-Older kids (and adults!) still need families. Just because you turn 18 doesn’t mean you’re prepared to be alone in the world. I certain wasn’t. In my thirties I see how much I still need my mom, my dad, my siblings. They are where I go for advice and comfort. That’s where I spend holidays. Just because you have “aged out” of the system doesn’t mean you ever age out of the need for a family. If you don’t feel like you’re called to deal with all the issues of raising little kids, could you commit to being the support structure for an almost adult who is ready to go out into the world, but still needs a home base? Continue Reading →

November 14, 2016
by Maralee
0 comments

A Life in Status- June #1, 2016

I love my community over on Facebook and Twitter. Come join me.

The toddler just entertained herself for 30 minutes by “painting.” (putting water onto construction paper with a paintbrush)
#protip #yourewelcome

Me: Did you know one of The Property Brothers got into a bar fight in Fargo, North Dakota?
Husband: Was it Jonathan? I bet it was Jonathan.
#signyouvewatchedtoomuchpropertybrothers

The nice thing about flip flops is that when they’re abandoned and you run over them with your car, they stay relatively unchanged.
#summerdriveway

The four year-old is covered in sunburns, scars, scabs and band-aids. I go back and forth between feeling like he is having the best summer ever and feeling like I am the worst mom of all time.

Things Said By My Children While Helping Me Pick a Dress:
-That is too short. Everybody will see your butt. You need shorts under it.
-Why can you see through all these dresses? What’s wrong with them? I see your underwear RIGHT THERE.
-I like the red one, Mom. It reminds me of Jesus. How he died on the cross.
-I can see your strap thingies on your shoulder. Are you supposed to be able to see those?
-Why do they make dresses where you can see your boobs?
#shoppingwithchildren #salespeoplewerelaughing

Continue Reading →

November 11, 2016
by Maralee
1 Comment

Becoming The Old Lady I Want to Be

I can admit sometimes I have fantasies about being a grumpy old lady. I daydream about being the kind of old woman who goes out with the curlers still in my hair, running into people in my scooter and complaining about “kids these days.” Something about old age seems incredibly freeing to someone who often feels bound by the rules of polite society.

But I think about the women a generation or two older than me– the ones who influence my life and inspire me. They aren’t the women giving the stink eye to my noisy toddlers in church, but the women who seem charmed by these kids in spite of their ridiculous antics. They are the women who keep bringing the jello-salads to the church potlucks and send your kids 3 dollars on their birthdays and validate your address when you go vote.

My grandparents had all died by the time I was 10. I don’t feel like I’ve had a lot of good role modeling about what it means to be a good grandparent, except now I get to watch my parents do it so wonderfully well for my kids. Because I missed out on having grandparent relationships, I’ve felt more intentional about becoming the kind of old lady I wish I would have had around when I was a kid and even now as a mid-thirties woman. We women still need each other and I wish I had more older women in my life. So here’s my note to self about the kind of old lady I want to be.

-Have friends. I love watching old lady friendships. When the kids are gone and statistically speaking, we are likely to outlive our spouses, I think female friendships become even more important. I want to live my life today in a way that prioritizes having strong relationships with other women, pushing back against gossip or envy and embracing these women just the way God made them. When I see happy old ladies, they seem to be running in packs. I want to be the kind of old lady who is an active part of her community, which is often a community of fellow old ladies. Which may mean I need to take up quilting or something. . . Today’s Action Step: BE A GOOD FRIEND. I don’t want to lose touch with other women as I invest in my kids, work, and home.

-Be funny. Being real, being honest, being self-deprecating, being relatable no matter your age– I think all those things are more easily accomplished with a bit of humor. If I want to be the kind of old lady that younger women want to confide in, I think humor helps. I want kids to know I think they’re charming and I never want to stop being someone who makes funny faces at the toddlers who turn around and look my way during church. Life is hard and I know in many ways it’s just going to continue to get harder as I age. I want to embrace the fun and be funny as long as I can. Today’s Action Step: Enjoy my life. Learn to see the humor in my kids and the craziness of life. When the choice is laugh or cry, pick laugh.  Continue Reading →

November 4, 2016
by Maralee
0 comments

The 5 Unhelpful Ways we Talk about Porn

I strongly believe as parents we need to be talking to our kids about porn. I also believe as spouses we need to be having conversations about porn. I even think that friends should be talking about it. For too long porn has been a silent cancer in our society, devastating men, women, children and families. The best way to deal with it is to be able to acknowledge the harm it does. We have to move it from being totally ignored or being defended as just a harmless fantasy, and instead discuss the real life consequences of porn on the people it damages. (*If you think porn is no big deal, this post is not for you. I’d encourage you to read any of Gail Dines’s helpful work on this subject. This article is a good place to start.*)

But here’s the thing– not all conversations about porn are helpful. I often hear porn referenced or addressed in ways that end up making the issues involved worse instead of better. Just being comfortable talking about porn isn’t what’s helpful, it’s the desire to call it what it is and understand what it does. So here are some unhelpful ways we talk about porn:

We’re too casual. I watched back through reruns of “Friends” recently and was struck by how often porn was casually mentioned. Porn is not a punchline. It isn’t harmless. Those of us who are offended by porn are not prudes. How we feel about sex in our personal lives has NOTHING to do with how angry we feel about the marketing of sex, women and bodies that happens in our culture today. The frustration I feel about how porn hurts people means I am incapable of being casual about it, shrugging it off or just laughing about it. After working with the children of drug addicts, I’ve never been able to bring myself to say that something I like is “like crack” (because it’s so addictive) as a joke because I know the impact of actual cocaine. It’s just not funny anymore. This is exactly how I feel about porn. It’s not funny when you’ve seen the harm it causes.

We’re too shocked. There’s a way to be offended that is helpful and there’s a way that just shuts down any honest conversation. If we are offended because we are angry and informed, this is movement in the right direction. If we’re shocked and clutching our pearls and “how could they!” and we don’t want to discuss this because it offends our sensibilities, this is not helpful. It’s certainly not helpful to our kids who need to know they can come to us with their questions and concerns. Should they see porn (and they will), they need to know that we WANT to know about it, not that we’re too sensitive and delicate to be confronted with it. If all you tell your kids about porn is that that’s what serial killers and rapists like to do, you aren’t helping the situation. Be able to calmly have a conversation about porn without getting into hysterics or making generalizations about everybody who’s ever looked at porn or participated in it. Don’t put porn in some other category of “too horrifying for words” or those who depend on you to have these conversations with them won’t trust you when they need to have them. Continue Reading →

November 1, 2016
by Maralee
1 Comment

Large Family Logistics: The Emergency Backpack

To know me is to know that I’m a practical person. I’ve raised a lot of kids, made a lot of mistakes and now I’d love to share what I’ve learned, this time in the realm of being prepared for life’s unexpected emergencies. This idea is not revolutionary, but to the woman who hasn’t put together the emergency backpack yet, I hope it will be a helpful reminder about what might make her life a wee bit easier during the most frustrating of moments.

One too many times I have found myself at church with a child who has some kind of massive diaper blow-out situation. Once on a long car trip a child who had been potty-trained for years had a bathroom accident. For some reason my kids like to puke on themselves at grandma’s house where their clean clothes do NOT live. I once had a child that got an impressive and slightly terrifying nosebleed in the Lowe’s parking lot. Over the years I have gotten tired of being stranded in these types of disgusting (and sometimes health hazardous) situations without a back-up plan. So we decided to stock a backpack for such occasions.

Continue Reading →

October 26, 2016
by Maralee
0 comments

Today I Hate Foster Care

Can I be honest? Today I hate foster care. I hate what it has done to people I love– adults and children alike. I hate how hopeless it has made me about the government’s ability to do anything right. I hate how good people in the system get burned out by how impossible it seems to make any kind of positive change, but bad people (foster parents, caseworkers, lawyers, etc.) can do this for ages because they don’t really care. I hate that I encourage people into this hard work and then they get wounded and I feel in some way responsible. I hate that kids will suffer for the rest of their lives because of what happened to them while in foster care, as much as loving people try to prevent those wounds from happening. I hate the stigma that follows foster kids even after they’re out of the system. Today, I hate it all.

I try to give people honest answers when I talk to them about foster care. I will never tell you that it’s easy. I will never tell you you won’t be frustrated, angry and heartbroken when you see the inner workings of the system up close and personal. To see how the foster care “sausage gets made” is to feel helpless and frustrated in a hundred different ways. It’s maddening how much the actual children seem like an afterthought in the whole process.

Continue Reading →