Welcome to my circus.

September 21, 2017
by Maralee

The Power of Showing Up (The Bridal Shower Speech I Would Give if You Asked)

I have never been asked to be the one who gives the little talk during a bridal shower. Maybe it’s because of my tendency to say things that border on slightly inappropriate when stressed or because I can be a wee bit too honest about the hard times in marriage. For whatever reason, no one has asked for my wisdom on the subject. But I’m not waiting for an invitation anymore. I’m just going to give this speech. So put on your favorite sundress, grab one of those little cucumber sandwiches you are legally required to eat at bridal showers and let’s do this. Bride-to-Be, I’m ready to tell you what it is I think you need to hear.

My friend Sarah has my favorite Most Embarrassing Moment story. It’s so good, I’ve started telling it at random times without her even being present. It’s my happy thought when I’m at the dentist and feeling stressed. It isn’t about marriage, but I’ve found that it does seem to apply.

When Sarah was in high school she was in the Future Business Leaders of America club. I don’t know how exactly she ended up in this position of honor, but it was her job to deliver a speech at the statewide meeting of FBLA leaders from across Nebraska. Sarah had a carefully planned speech and she was going to start it with a famous quote. So she walked confidently across the stage (I think she was wearing some kind of pantsuit. . . at least that’s how it happened in my mind) and started her speech by saying, “Woody Allen has said that 80% of success is just showing up.” Except that isn’t what she ended up saying. She walked confidently across that stage and opened her speech by fumbling over her words and saying, “Woody Allen has said that 80% of sex is just showing up.” Because Sarah is a class act, she just kept on rolling like she didn’t just say the most embarrassing thing possible in front of a bunch of teenagers. I love her. And I will never stop laughing at this story.

But I love this story for one other big reason. I think her version of that quote is one of the most important things I would want a new bride to know. So much of having the kind of intimacy that will grow your relationship is just about showing up. Showing up when maybe you’d rather be absent—physically or emotionally. Showing up with energy to expend and forgiveness for however the day has gone wrong. Showing up with compassion for your tired body and your husband’s lack of charm by this point in the evening (and this point in your life. . . someday you’ll know what I mean). Just show up with expectations low, feeling free to be yourself and let the moment happen. Show up ready to laugh and love and accept your husband for who he is.

But contrary to what Sarah might have implied (accidentally), this showing up thing isn’t just about sex. It’s a great way to think about marriage in general.

Show up to his work with lunch sometimes. Surprise him with cupcakes and embarrass him in front of his coworkers. Show up and cheer at his pick-up soccer game. Show up to his favorite superhero movies even when then the plots are all the same and you can’t remember which are the good guys and which are the villains.

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September 18, 2017
by Maralee

Becoming Pinecone People in a World of Fire

Last year there was a fire in an area of the country that is precious to me. We spent five years working in a group home that bordered the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I was glued to my computer last November, watching for updates from friends, checking on the situation at the group home, and keeping tabs on the local news where I heard the names of beloved hiking spots and areas of the park that held precious memories for me. . . all burned and burning.

As I watched it all unfold at a distance, I remembered driving through Yellowstone National Park on a family vacation when I was a kid. We drove through a part of the park that had been recently devastated by wildfire. I was upset to see the black earth and dead trees. I remember telling my dad this didn’t seem right. Why didn’t firefighters stop the fire? My dad patiently explained to me that sometimes the best thing was to let a fire burn, that a fire could be part of God’s plan for keeping the forest healthy by burning out the overgrowth and letting it start fresh. My dad pointed out areas where you could see new trees returning and new growth coming up through the charred remains.

Now, sitting in front of my computer, agonizing about the fire that had put so many homes and lives in danger and was ravaging a beautiful place I loved, I needed some tangible sign of hope. I wanted to remember that fire can be a cleansing thing. I needed to know it not just because of this literal act of fire in front of me, but because I’ve seen too much devastation and pain. I found myself reading article after article about how a forest rebuilds after a fire and I stumbled upon an image I couldn’t forget. An image of a pinecone burned and charred, still glowing red from the heat. But a pinecone that was open with possibilities for new life.

There are pinecones that will not open to release their seeds unless they are heated to extreme temperatures. They sit high up in pine trees, potentially for decades, entirely closed. They are the forest’s “in case of emergency, break glass” plan for regrowth in the aftermath of a fire. When a fire rips through, the pinecones are heated up to the exact right temperature to cause them to slowly open so they can release their seeds. After the fire has stopped, these pine trees are one of the first things to repopulate the forest. As I looked at that image, I knew it was something I needed around to remind me of how disasters, suffering, and pain are not surprises to God. He has already looked at the devastation of the world and he planned for ways that new life could take root. He planned for growth to come from situations that seem entirely like death.

My talented friend Maddie took the image I came across and painted it for me. It now hangs in my home as a daily reminder to my family and me of how God takes what was meant for evil and uses it to bring good into the world. The beauty of my life and family would not be possible without a whole lot of fires. I don’t think God takes joy in the fires of infertility, of family break-down, of marriage struggles and miscarriage. But I think he sifts through the ashes of the pain the world throws at us and shows us where he’s hidden the seeds that will bring joy and hope again.

Painting by Maddie Hinrichs. Photo by Rebecca Tredway.

I wish this world had never burned me. I wish these were lessons I didn’t need to know. But I have seen this frustratingly consistent theme in my life over the last 15 years. God took a girl who had a sweet, protected, mostly carefree upbringing and he has brought her through the fire. Things have been taken from her and she has experienced grief and loss she didn’t know were possible. Which is precisely why it was necessary.

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September 14, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

Raising Kids Who are Close in Age is Easier Than You Think

I have six kids. Those six kids came to me over the course of 7 years through a mix of birth and adoption. When my youngest was born my kids were 8, 6, 5, 3, 1, and 0. For a couple weeks a year, I have two sets of kids who say they are “twins” (they’re the same age until one has a birthday). I know a thing or two about having kids close in age. And I have zero regrets. If you’re just leaving the newborn fog and wondering if it’s too early to consider adding to your family, I’ve got a list of reasons to give it a try:

You’re already slicing all the grapes and hot dogs. There are a lot of safety precautions that come with having a tiny kid. Might has well have two tiny kids while the outlets are all covered, you bought the van with carseat space, you’ve outlawed marbles and button batteries, and you’re already slicing any foods that are potential choking hazards. At some point, it hardly seems like two is any more work than one when they’re spaced close enough that you’re prepared for their needs.

Potty-training two isn’t as bad as it sounds. When you’re cleaning up accidents, it’s really not that bad to clean up twice as many. What’s worse is getting out of the diaper and potty-training stage, getting used to not seeing someone’s bodily fluids on a regular basis and then having to get back into the habit. It’s a kind of deja-vu nobody wants to experience. Continue Reading →

September 11, 2017
by Maralee

The Day My Children will Lead Me by the Hand

We attend a small, but incredibly social church. Sometimes, this means before and after the service the aisles are crowded with people. This is a charming feature of our church, unless you’re actually in a hurry to get somewhere. You know, for instance, if you were supposed to be leading music, but you couldn’t get to the stage and you were holding a thirty pound toddler who was supposed to be in the nursery, but decided he wanted to sing with you instead and your arm was already sore from hauling him up and down the church stairs and now you’re going to have to hold him the whole time you’re singing and you can’t even get to the stage because THESE PEOPLE WON’T MOVE. . . hypothetically speaking.

So the other week I was stuck in the “clogged artery” (as my husband has affectionately named the main aisle of our church) and happened to be right in front of a grandpa. He looked down at me, lugging my giant toddler and said something sweet about my son and patted his head. I said something vaguely annoyed about how big he was and how hard it is to lug him around, but that he was a good boy. This grandpa looked me straight in the eye and said, “Be kind to him. Some day he will take YOU by the hand.” I saw a gentleness in that grandpa’s eyes that brought a tear to mine as I looked at my baby boy and imagined the day I will no longer be sighing at his slowness as I’m rushing to get where I need to go, but he is sighing at mine. It was a dose of reality I desperately needed.

Parenting little ones is exhausting. The temptation to be short or cross or sarcastic is strong. I want them to fall inline with my agenda, make me proud, and give my life purpose. When they make my life complicated, even when it is unintentional, I’m irritable. The phrase, “Are you serious right now?” is my all-too-frequent response to their entirely predictable inability to be miniature adults. It is easy for me to feel entitled to peace, freedom, and control and to feel angry when that doesn’t happen. There are days I misunderstand the goal of parenting and assume it’s about making my life rewarding instead of about raising adults. . . adults who may someday care for me.

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September 9, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- March #2, 2017

Be my friend! Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

You. Guys. The phone rang at 7 a.m. and I was dead asleep. It’s spring break week, the kids were up until like 10 last night and Brian and I were up talking until literally 1 a.m. about some different stuff. So the phone rings and I jump out of bed, positive it’s an emergency and it is GORDON AND STAN from our statewide Christian radio station and I can tell from Gordon’s voice that we’re live on the air. My first thought is that I forgot I had scheduled something with them, but I can’t think of ANYTHING. So Stan starts doing this intro for me- who I am, my qualifications for giving advice to moms and then he says something about how they’re just calling me to see if I’d be willing to share the best piece of advice I’d been given or I’d want to give to other moms. I think I said something about self-care (which YES I am hugely passionate about and if I’d had a week to prep, I think I would have come up with the same answer), but I was so panicked I’m not even totally sure what I said. And Brian is “shhhhh”ing me the whole time because he can’t figure out what’s going on and he’s trying to keep me from waking up the kids. I hung up the phone and he says, “Why were you doing your radio voice in the bathroom?” I explained and then we just sat there and laughed for a long time.

(overheard outside the exam room)
Dental Hygienest: And how old are you?
Bethany: I’m 7. And I’m adopted.

People Who Are Trying to Make St. Patrick’s Day A THING,
Please stop. I didn’t want your Elf-on-the-Shelf, I don’t want your Leprechaun-in-the-Pantry (or whatever it is you’re proposing). I will put green on my kids, eat some corned beef, talk about the actual St. Patrick and MOVE ON. Stop trying to make this happen.

I’ve been talking to my agency about how hard it is to find homes for older kids in foster care. Something about that conversation struck a nerve, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Today it hit me- what I wouldn’t give to have been able to spend all those teenage years with the 19 year-old currently in my home. Those formative years, hard years, teaching him how to drive, how to talk to girls, how to have good boundaries, how to deal with pain, to celebrate his successes. . . I loved my years with him as a little kid, but what a gift it would have been to get to be with him for all those adolescent years, too. While in my heart he’s one in a million, I know there are lots of other kids out there who need the love and support of a solid family. And what they give in return? I don’t even have words. Loving and being loved by a teen who needs you is a beautiful thing. More of you need to experience it.

You know that moment when something great or terrible or challenging or exciting happens to you and the first thing you want to do is call your mom? The next time that happens, I want you to imagine you aged out of foster care without a solid family base of support. Who shares your sorrows and your joys? You NEVER outgrow the need for a family. Could you be that family for somebody who needs you?

Me: (Puts on lipstick)
#everytime #theyknowme

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September 7, 2017
by Maralee

Quit Trying to Preserve Your Corpse

I can’t quite remember what the context was. I think we might have been talking about one of my parents trying out a medication that might lengthen their life, but would reduce their quality of life in some way. Or maybe we were talking about cutting back on sugar? Or some pros/cons list about taking a risk? I really can’t remember. I just remember my dad saying something like, “I don’t think the point of life is just trying to preserve the corpse.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about that line when it comes to making hard decisions in life. Preserve the corpse. Is that what I’m doing when I choose my own self-preservation over hard or uncomfortable work I think God is calling me to do? Is that what my friends and family are encouraging me to do when they tell me how a decision has the potential to hurt me or my family?

I want to listen to wisdom. There are people who can see things I can’t see when it comes to the potential implications of a decision. I want to hear what they have to say and weigh out their reasoning. I’m not interested in seeking out pain for pain’s sake or being a martyr if I don’t have to be. But I think somehow we’ve got our priorities all wonky if we look at our life as our one chance to have all the fun we can or be as safe as possible, but miss out on doing all the good we can.

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September 5, 2017
by Maralee

12 Reasons Large Family Moms Pretty Much Always Feel Like They’re Winning

In a fit of large family frustration, I wrote something the other day about why I always feel like I’m failing. It’s just true—there is always a reason to feel guilty when you’re raising a bunch of kids. But the opposite is also true!

Pretty much every night I can go to bed thinking about some sweet success of the day. With so many kids, surely somebody is doing well and there was a moment where I knew I was being the mom I was meant to be. Large family moms may have double the reasons to feel like failures, but they may also have double the sweet times. So here’s why that large family mom is strutting around like she owns the place everywhere she goes:

We look like superheroes for just showing up. If you’ve got a bunch of kids, people start mentally lowering the bar. If you just arrive at school with all your children, they will give you grace if your kids forgot their library books. Most people can’t quite comprehend what it takes to get a gaggle of children ready for the day and will look at you with admiration for just doing your normal life. I like to imagine that when the old lady at the grocery store says, “My, you have your hands full!” what she’s really saying is, “I have so much respect for how you’re handling all those children in this grocery store.” Maybe she’s not actually saying that, but in my self-talk I’m just going to keep repeating it.

We have perfected our baby rocking, grape slicing, tantrum calming skills. It took me a long time to figure out just the right sway to calm a baby—not too jerky, but aggressive enough to settle them down. When you’ve had a bunch of kids, you’ve had a bunch of opportunities to learn (especially when your kids are not all biologically related to each other or you and have varying degrees of needs). You stop feeling insecure about how you parent and you start feeling like a boss.

We’ve got a system and we own it. Maybe your little kids don’t need to take a mid afternoon nap. Mine do. And I know the consequences if I don’t. I’m done apologizing for the system that keeps our life sane and our rhythm predictable. It works for us and it keeps this large family running like a well-oiled machine. And in this machine, Mom is the motor.

Teachers love us. We are so thankful for the help of good teachers in investing in our children. We express that thankfulness and work to partner with the teacher instead of looking for flaws. If our kids are being ridiculous, we are not surprised (we live with them, we know) and we support our teachers. Our kids come into school knowing how to share, how to take turns, to look out for smaller people, to respect the system, and to clean up after themselves. (They also know how to be bossy, overly protective of “their” stuff, and major class clowns, but that’s the subject for a different post.) Continue Reading →

September 1, 2017
by Maralee

The Importance of Support in the Fostering and Adoption Journey (and some retreat info)

When we became foster parents about 9 years ago, we had a very small circle of support. We had a group of people who loved us and encouraged us, but the amount of people we knew who had been down this road that we could vent to or ask questions. . . I can think of two families who might have fit that description, but we weren’t really close to either of them. It was lonely and hard sometimes. The people who loved us wanted us to not get our hearts broken. The people who knew foster care well, knew we would and they were pretty resigned to it. It was hard to feel understood, heard or safe to struggle in either environment.

So when we adopted our first two foster placements and had a bit of a breather, we decided to become advocates for the kind of support we needed. We wanted to encourage a community of honesty and safety for people who loved foster care, but sometimes kind of wanted to burn it down and walk away. We knew creating that kind of climate required being honest ourselves and pushing in a bit even when people acted like they didn’t need support.

It may take a foster parent to create that kind of community, but it’s hard for foster parents in the trenches to even get their head up far enough to see what kind of help would be beneficial. This is where those of us who are taking that breather can be useful. We can talk to our churches about what kind of help we needed. We can talk to our agencies about what would have communicated support to us. We can volunteer with advocacy groups or coordinate our own efforts to be the help we needed but didn’t get. We can complain about what doesn’t exist, or we can go out and create it.

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August 30, 2017
by Maralee

GIVEAWAY from The Family Seal

It’s been too long since we did a giveaway! I’m excited to be back at it with YOUR CHOICE of an item from The Family Seal. I’ll give you a quick rundown of the giveaway below and you can read more if you want:

-Enter by commenting on this post with what product you’d like if you win: mug, t-shirt, or tote.

-Like their Facebook page and write on there that you were sent by A Musing Maralee.

Those are the two ways to enter and you can get a total of two entries. I will do the drawing tomorrow (Thursday) at noon (CST).

They let me have free range of their products and I was excited to get the Love is a Craft mug. It’s always fun when you can pick something you and your kids are equally excited about you getting. My Minecraft obsessed boys just lit up when they saw me pull it out of the box. It was a great moment to stop and talk about how love doesn’t always just happen, it’s something we’ve worked to create as a family. That’s a reminder I can use daily.

Adoption isn’t all hearts and rainbows and chocolate chip cookies. It can be brutally bittersweet. Just like all of parenting. And coffee is one of my secret weapons in helping me handle the challenges with empathy. I love being able to go through my day with this message as my reminder on the kitchen counter. Love is something we build. Love is something we create together. Love is a craft.

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August 28, 2017
by Maralee

12 Reasons Large Family Moms Pretty Much Always Feel Like They’re Failing

Sometimes I’ll be mindlessly going about my day when I start to feel it—the slow simmer of failure. It’s like it’s always on the back burner, humming along as I go about my usual activities. Sometimes it burns and boils over and other times it’s just sitting here, humming away. But as a mom in a large family, I pretty much always feel like I’m failing.

If you saw me out in public, you probably wouldn’t know. The woman with a baby balanced on her hip, holding the hand of a toddler with an adorable parade of children following behind may look like anything but a failure (except when those children are punching each other, which they often are). Making dinner WHILE helping with homework WHILE soothing a cranky/hungry toddler WHILE on the phone with a friend may make me seem like the ideal multitasker, competently handling my life.

But that is NOT how I feel. And I think lots of large family moms feel the same. Here’s why:

I can’t get to all my kids’ events. If a basketball game conflicts with the baby’s nap, then we have to divide and conquer. Nobody wants a grumpy, screaming baby in a middle school gym. When two kids have basketball games at the same time, it’s not possible to be at both of them. When THREE kids have basketball games at the same time, you’ve got to figure out a carpool and trust that one kid won’t be eternally scarred by having no parent in attendance. Sometimes I hear parents talk about all their parenting failures and end it with, “But I was there for all his games/musicals/chess tournaments/etc.” Yeah, I can’t comfort myself with that one. If my kid needs therapy for all the times he felt unsupported by my lack of attendance, I’ll help him get the therapy. But there’s no physical way I can be at everything.

I have no idea how much milk they drank today. When I go to the pediatrician’s office they have me fill out this form. Part of the form asks questions I honesty have zero answers for. How many servings of meat daily? How many fruits and vegetables? How much milk they drink, in ounces. OUNCES. I fill it out with educated guesses, but I have no clue how much of what I served them actually went into their stomaches and how much they fed to the dog, slipped onto their sister’s plate, or put in their pockets. I can’t stay on top of all that. I can get good food on their plate, but micromanaging the number of ounces of milk they drink went out the window about three kids ago. Same for just about any issue your average parent is stressing over. I don’t even know to be stressed about it, but there’s always this feeling of failure that I can’t micromanage their lives.

You can’t co-sleep with six kids. When you have a first child you get a lot of adorable parenting advice about being the perfect parent for your one child. And then you have four or five more kids and that parenting advice is useless. Maybe this kid does “need” to co-sleep with me, but in order to do that he’d have to crawl over the three other kids already co-sleeping with me. It would be great if I could do extensive bedtime stories alone with each child before they went to sleep, but that is not physically possible unless the last kid wants to go to sleep at midnight (which he does, but that doesn’t seem wise). How sweet would it be to rock each precious child as long as they needed? But it’s not happening.

One-on-one time is a joke. I love the idea of spending alone time with each child. I take opportunities to do that where I can. But it often looks less like adorable lunch dates and more like grocery shopping or a trip into the public restroom alone together while we’re all at the zoo. If I wanted to feel guilty for not spending daily one-on-one time with each of my kids, I would NEVER STOP FEELING GUILTY. Continue Reading →