Welcome to my circus.

June 28, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

My Maybe Last Baby

My “baby” is really not much of a baby. While he isn’t yet three, he’s larger than any of my other kids at this age and just wants to be one of the big kids. He’s almost out of diapers (hallelujah), feeds himself at every meal and is even starting to put away his laundry just like his siblings. He’s taking steps towards independence and at each stage I don’t know whether to celebrate or cry. Or maybe both.

He’s my last baby. Maybe.

And this is what makes it so hard. After ten years of diapers and middle of the night feedings and “will this fever go down or should we go to the ER” questions, my baby days are coming to an end. I think.

If I knew this was the end, I would get rid of all the baby clothes and supplies. I would rest easy knowing the midnight feedings are never coming back to haunt me. I would stop reading up on new guidelines on infant feeding and sleep recommendations. I would feel secure that we could plan family vacations a year from now or know youth sport schedules aren’t going to conflict with morning nap times. I would grieve that that special stage of my life is over. I would shut the door on this baby time. I would celebrate a job well done. I would move on.

Continue Reading →

June 26, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

How Does She Do It? Norwex. (my “keep it clean, stay sane” secret)

My cleaning habits have gone through some distinct stages:

  • The “a bleach for every season” stage: When we were houseparents in a group home, I felt compelled to use some pretty harsh cleaning products to battle back against the germs and filth of raising a bunch of teenage boys. We had to have our home approved by the health department through random inspections (I’m not joking), so my goal was to be as clean as humanly possible at all times. The goal of the boys was to wipe peanut butter on the counters and pee indiscriminately AT the toilet instead of in the toilet. It was a war I felt I could only win with the help of major sanitizing products.
  • The “cleaning with ingredients you could also use to make a salad dressing” stage: When we left the group home (with just one toddler) I decided to only clean with vinegar, baking soda, salt and olive oil. I made my own detergent (both for the dishwasher and the washing machine) and felt great about having cleaning products that were eco friendly and safe for my little ones to be around if they wanted to help.

But the more kids we had, the more I found myself moving back into the bleach stage. As much as I wanted “safe” products, I didn’t feel like I could get the cleaning power I needed without harsh chemicals. If my lungs didn’t burn a little when I was done cleaning, I didn’t feel like I had done a thorough job. That’s bad, I know. I also found myself banishing my kids from the house while I cleaned because the chemicals were so strong, which means I wasn’t teaching them how to help or requiring they be involved in the process.

But then I discovered Norwex. I was a total skeptic/nonbeliever when a friend (THANK YOU!) first gave me an envirocloth and polishing cloth to try. In fact, they sat unused for weeks because somehow just cleaning with water seemed too complicated. When you’re used to burning the skin off your fingers tips or having the house wreak of vinegar, the idea of straight water and this cloth being enough to handle the tough jobs just seemed ridiculous. Cleaning is supposed to be hard, right? Isn’t that way they pay us the big bucks to do it. . . Oh, wait. Nobody is paying me the big bucks, so maybe simple is better.

I watched some videos about how the products worked and now I’ve been a fan of them for over a year. Here’s why:

-They save me money. I am no longer buying window/glass spray at all. No dusting spray. Less paper towels. No sink cleaner or counter products.

-They save me time. Just grab the rag, turn on the water, wipe the surface. Nothing to spray and then wipe off.

-My kids can use them. My oldest (age 10) is now responsible for cleaning the bathroom and he’s capable of doing a great job because the products are so simple to use. I never worry about him injuring himself or leaving dangerous products out where other kids could get to them.

-THEY WORK. My stainless steel appliances have never looked shinier, my glass looks great, my toilets are actually clean.

-My family is healthier. My lungs aren’t burning, which is nice. And totally anecdotally, I can say that we’ve been less sick since we started using Norwex. I can rub the envirocloth on my light switches, star rails, and doorknobs for a quick way to take care of germs. I don’t know if that’s why we’ve been healthier, but it sure could be.

Lots of people use Norwex because the products are “green” and they want to be more environmentally conscious. That’s great! But if that’s not your main motivation for looking for a change in your cleaning products, that’s fine, too. Norwex is much more than just good for the environment. It’s good for my wallet, my time, my kids and my sanity. My own experiences with that reality are why I decided to become a Norwex consultant. Continue Reading →

June 23, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

For The People Looking for Porn and Finding My Blog

Hey There,

I’m guessing you’re as surprised to find yourself here as I’m surprised to have you here. I didn’t realize because of the content of my site, at some point people looking for porn would find my blog instead. According to the information Google gives me, every few days somebody finds my blog by inputing some pretty explicit search terms that involve sex acts between adopted family members. I am both horrified you found me that way and hoping you’ll take a minute to let me talk to you. I feel like maybe you owe me that.

First of all, I’m pretty sure when you realized you ended up on some mom blog, you felt guilty. At least, I hope that’s how you felt. I hope realizing the very pure and committed love I have for my kids reminded you of how sad it is that you’re looking for a perversion of that kind of relationship. I don’t know what made you want to see those things acted out, but I promise you that’s not what my life is like or what our family is like. And by choosing to sexualize relationships like those in my family, you are contributing to society’s idea that there’s something unnatural about our family. Obviously, it can’t be that I love my children because they are my children, there must be something more, something sinister, something sexual. I hate that you want to see that portrayed, but I also want to tell you you don’t have to be stuck in that mindset.

I don’t know if you know how harmful porn is to you and you’re just too stuck in it to get out, or if you’re still trying to convince yourself this doesn’t hurt anybody. It does hurt people, both the people involved in porn and it hurts you (and if you’ve got a spouse, it hurts that person, too.) Your ideas of what relationships should be like have been corrupted by your porn consumption. I know that because that’s what porn does and because I know exactly what terms you searched. Women are being exploited both explicitly in porn (“Hot Girls Wanted” is an important perspective adjustment) and porn contributes to sex trafficking. I hope you heard me just now. Your simple clicks and searches fuel an industry that demeans and damages women and children. Maybe you don’t want to believe that or you don’t care. Both of those attitudes are outgrowths of dulling your conscience with porn. You can’t watch women be repeatedly violated and then expect it to not influence your perceptions of actual women.

Continue Reading →

June 22, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

“The NeverEnding Story” and How it Feels to Miscarry

I introduced my children to a favorite childhood movie of mine, “The NeverEnding Story.” It was less scary than I remembered and more of a rant against ever encroaching technology and the loss of imagination for kids (ahead of its time, I can now see) than I remembered. But of all the parts that had faded from my memory, this one was still firmly there:

As I watched it with my kids in my lap and all around me on the couch, I felt this sense of identification. Why does this feel so familiar? Why do I feel like I’ve had these feelings before. And that’s when it hit me– THIS is what it feels like to have a miscarriage.

I remember looking at my body during those days after our ectopic pregnancies and just marveling at how healthy it looked. It was a good, strong body. Because it had seemed so good and strong and healthy, I had never spent a minute worrying about what would happen if we could actually get pregnant. Getting pregnant was difficult, but I just KNEW if we could get pregnant, my body would know what to do.

Continue Reading →

June 20, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

To the Local Mom Whose Child got Locked in a Hot Car

Hi Mama,

I don’t know you and I don’t know anything more about you than what I read in the paper a few days ago. From that article I know your toddler got accidentally locked in the car when a gust of wind blew the door shut with the keys inside. I know you worked frantically for a few minutes to get her out before calling the police. I know the police broke the window and found her to be warm, but healthy.

And I know they gave you a ticket for suspected child abuse or neglect.

It could be there’s more to the story than what the newspaper reported, but if that is truly what happened, I am so sorry. I can only imagine the terror you felt at realizing your baby was stuck in that car. You did your best to get her out and then knew you needed help. You called who any of us should feel safe calling in that moment, and now here you are facing child abuse allegations and a potential investigation. Mama, this should bother all of us because this exact situation could happen to any parent.

What should you have done differently to avoid being considered abusive or neglectful? What actual abuse or harm did your child suffer if she was deemed to be entirely healthy and you were present with her the whole time? I can imagine this incident was traumatic for all of you (probably for you more than anyone), but how does adding the trauma of a child abuse investigation help? This was NOT a child left in a hot car on purpose or even on accident. You never left her at all. This was an emergency you did everything you could to solve.

Continue Reading →

June 15, 2017
by Maralee
3 Comments

For The World’s Most Okayest Dad

There are many Father’s Day cards out there for the perfect dad. There are public shout-outs and lengthy blog posts about the Most Amazing Dad and we all feel like maybe it’s not entirely honest when we think about our very real dads and the dads of our kids. So here’s to you, World’s Most Okayest Dad! You get all our love, too.

An Ode to The World’s Most Okayest Dads:

You sometimes move plates from one surface (the table) to a different surface (the counter) and for that, we are mildly grateful.

Sometimes your “supervising the kids” looks suspiciously like taking a nap. But how can we argue with that when everybody is safe and happy?

You have successfully avoided changing a diaper in months by handing us a child and saying, “Does he smell weird to you?” and then casually walking away. Skills.

You are capable of sort of playing Monopoly while also watching a basketball game and eating nachos. Your multitasking abilities are beyond explanation.

When Mom says, “Could you grab a loaf of bread from the store on your way home?” you always get ice-cream, too. You know what the family priorities are.

Continue Reading →

June 14, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

8 Things to Say Instead of “He’s so lucky to have you.”

When your friends and family hear you’ve added a foster child to your family, there is a wide range of typical reactions. There are those that are less than supportive (Are you crazy? I read about a foster kid that tried to stab his foster parent. Don’t you guys have enough going on? Are you sure your OWN kids are going to be okay?) and there’s a place for those tough conversations. We all need to have people in our community who can ask the hard questions and we need to be humble enough to listen. (For the love, DO NOT have these conversations IN FRONT OF the foster kids.)

But then there are the responses that intend to be supportive that can actually feel painful. At the top of that list is the classic, “He’s so lucky to have you.” We understand what you want to communicate is it’s good this child has ended up in a loving home, but the truth is nobody ends up in need of a family because they are “lucky.” We appreciate the support you’re expressing, but we’d love for you to find a way to communicate it that acknowledges both the good and hard of this situation.

We know to describe this child’s life as “lucky” is just inaccurate. They may have medical issues or mental health issues that make the word “lucky” the farthest thing from our mind. They may have experienced unspeakable abuse and neglect we can’t talk to you about (for confidentiality reasons). The child may have behaviors we’re spending tons of time and money trying to figure out. This is not a lucky child. This is a child who has survived and endured and we’re going to now be part of his team. This is an act of choice and commitment, not some issue of luck.

Continue Reading →

June 12, 2017
by Maralee
2 Comments

Book Review: “Dads Are Mighty, Dads are Strong” by Mt. Hamilton

Before Brian and I were even married and thinking about kids, I bought the book “Guess How Much I Love You” because I loved that it was about the love of a father for his child and I knew I wanted my future kids to feel secure in that. Nobody has ever accused me of not thinking ahead.

I think sometimes dads can struggle to verbally express their love, but a book makes it easy. A book gives you the words, you just get to read them. “Dads are Mighty, Dads are Strong” by Mt. Hamilton is a necessary addition to any dad’s library to help them claim their own dad superpowers AND express their love for their kids.

Book Review: "Dads are Mighty, Dads are Strong" www.amusingmaralee.com

The pictures are fun and I’ve found my kids enjoy monster dads or animal dads more than looking at pictures of human dads. Especially since we are a multiracial family, it’s hard to find books that look like us, but a monster dad (who has monster kids of different colors) was a perfect fit. There were some funny pictures that my kids really loved (Monster Dad is afraid of snakes, which is hilarious to toddlers, apparently.) Continue Reading →

June 9, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

My Kid’s Boredom is Not My Problem

So school is out and my kids are bored. Not just “bored” they are “BOOOOOOOOOORED” (said while flopping over the edge of the couch). I know this can be the cue for some parents to sign them up for robotics camp or ship them off to Grandma’s or hand them a screen of some kind. Resist, Moms. We can get through this summer slump together, but it requires repeating what has become my summer mantra:

Their boredom is not my problem.

Boredom is not a problem to be solved at all. It’s an accomplishment in and of itself. It is the step right before innovation and discovery. When we jump in to “rescue” our kids from boredom, we’ve taken away their ability to develop an important life skill– entertaining yourself.

Mothers are not cruise ship entertainment directors. We are not responsible for making our children’s lives into some enchanting Disney musical. We need to keep them safe, fed, loved and then back up and let them be people who learn how to deal with life and the challenges it throws at them. Even the challenge of boredom. So here’s what to do when your kid gives you the “I’m BOOOOOOOORED!” whine.

Continue Reading →

June 7, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

An Apology to the Moms Who Watched Me Do Too Much

I think it hit me when I was talking to a fellow mom about how she should feel free to take some time off from other commitments while adjusting to her newborn. I was giving her some sage words of wisdom about how fast those days go, how sleep deprivation can make you feel like a crazy person and how we need to push against this social pressure to keep going with our “normal” life as if we haven’t just had a total role change and priority shift thrust upon us.

And then I blushed and started stammering and had a hard time finishing my thought.

Because I knew this same woman had seen me birth and take in foster babies and keep going with my normal life as though nothing had happened. As I was talking to her about our dumb society, I realized I WAS PART OF THE PROBLEM.

357_bradley-2003web

I am not a Pinterest mom. Nobody would see the lunches I pack my kids and feel ashamed. Our birthday parties are delightfully lame, their Halloween costumes are whatever hand-me-downs were in the dress-up box, and their bedrooms are a mismatch of whatever they’ve been into over the last few years (Charlie Brown bedding with Pokemon pictures on the wall, and a Transformer nightlight). I am honest about the struggles of being a mom and I am a firm defender of non helicopter parenting, so I had a hard time seeing how I was contributing to the Parenting Olympics that seem to consume moms today.

But as I look back to those pivotal first few months of each baby’s life, I can see how the public face I put on did not match my private reality. I wanted people to think I was fine, or even better than fine. I wanted them to see me in my pre pregnancy clothes, with my hair done and a baby strapped to my chest while I did all the same stuff I did before. I wanted people to know that I was still competent and on top of things. I was terrified that people would think I was overwhelmed with this large family.

BUT WHY?

Who did I think I was impressing? Why did I feel like I couldn’t take some time to focus on just this child and taking care of myself? Why did it feel so important to jump right back into things? Why did it become an identity issue– that I had to be the kind of woman who just took it all in stride?

This is a picture of me with my two week-old baby. I had my husband snap this picture after we lead music for church that week. This means when I had a two week-old baby I got six kids dressed for church, got myself dressed and ready, fed everybody breakfast, breastfed the baby, got to church early to practice, wore the baby on my chest and supervised the other kids while we practiced, got my kids to the nursery or settled with other families, lead music, breastfed during the sermon, then finished leading music and all on the kind of interrupted sleep schedule typical of moms handling the newborn stage. I had my husband take this picture in the parking lot because I felt proud of myself for making it work, but underneath that pride there was frustration.

IMG_4941 copy

I was frustrated that this level of performance was expected of me and angry that I didn’t speak up for myself. And now I have regrets as I imagine the kind of pressure that puts on other mothers in my community who think I was some kind of superwoman to accomplish all that. I wasn’t. I was just somebody who didn’t feel like she could say “no” if there was an expectation she should say “yes.” I was not serving out of an abundance of joy, I was serving out of obligation. And this example of leading music was one small example of a host of areas where I felt like I couldn’t opt out of the expectations around me.

Of course, there is a time for serving out of obligation or duty. There is honor in that and so many times that’s a decision I choose to make and I know it was the right thing. And there are women who could have done the same things I was doing with absolute enjoyment and enthusiasm and it would have been life-giving for them. Our capacities are not all the same and I have no desire to determine what’s healthy for anybody else. But when we sacrifice what’s best for our kids, best for ourselves, when we tell ourselves we don’t have the right to rest or we don’t deserve to be protected, that’s when we’ve taken the good things about those duties and turned them into something unhealthy.

And when you make that choice, there’s a cost. My marriage was not in good shape (for other reasons, but this was part of it). If you pretend you’re capable of doing everything, you just might find you have a spouse who expects you to do everything. I had frustrations about my community because I felt like some people were able to make boundaries that were respected while those burdens fell over and over again to the few who didn’t say “no” even when they should have. I was exhausted and the stories I told myself about why I had to be exhausted were damaging. I had to keep doing all the things or what was my worth? If nobody cared how exhausted I was, why should I care?

And there was a cost to my community, too. I may have created an unhealthy standard for what was expected of moms. I served without joy. I focused on doing the same things I had been doing instead of thinking about what new ways I could serve or be served in this new season of my life. And the saddest reality is that maybe my community didn’t notice at all. I kept doing what I thought was so necessary at great cost, but nobody really noticed or cared.

It’s important for me to say there were women who helped and many more women I know would have been willing to help if I had asked for it. I’m not talking about people actually telling me I’m not doing enough, I’m talking about my own expectations and how I’ve tried to make myself a person of value. I see how I may have contributed to other women reading the unwritten rules I’ve been writing with my public choices and taking on more than they should have, too. And for that, I’m sorry.

At one point my mom (a mother of five) said something like, “Nobody will know what your boundaries are unless you tell them.” She encouraged me to make peace with the fact that people don’t generally know what it’s like to be the mom in a large family, so I can’t hold it against them if they think I’m fine because I’m acting fine. I have to be okay with saying I can’t do something and not worrying about what people think of me. I want to give that wisdom to all the other moms of littles– you have to know your boundaries, you have to be honest about them, you can’t be bitter when other people don’t anticipate your needs or limits.

If we want to see a society who values and protects mothers, then we have to be the mothers who stop pretending like it’s normal or expected for us to be back to pre pregnancy weight, activities, energy level and commitments as soon as we step out of the hospital with our baby (and if you’re one of the moms who WAS ready for all that, I support you, too!). We need to be protecting the new moms around us and offering to help pick up the slack while they adjust. We need to stop bragging about all the things we did when we had new babies and instead own the fact that maybe we wish we wouldn’t have had to. Forsaking the needs of our babies and of our healing bodies isn’t a badge of honor and admitting that may be a step towards freedom for the moms behind us.