Welcome to my circus.

May 30, 2016
by Maralee

Moms, Stay Out of the Pool

I know we’ve heard the beautiful wisdom to stop holding ourselves back from enjoying our lives and just dive in: get in the pool with our kids (regardless of how we feel about our bodies in swimsuits), jump in the game, have fun and not feel self-conscious. But I’m here to tell you something different. Moms, it’s okay to stay out of the madness and the mayhem of your kid’s activities. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your kids is to let them be kids and just go be an adult.

If you want to be a beach blanket mom, go for it. Porch mom? I love it. Bleacher mom? Have at it. There are times when the best thing we can do for our kids is to let them do kid stuff without an adult yelling things like, “I don’t want to get splashed! My mascara will run.” or “You’re not doing it right! Those aren’t the real rules.” or “You’re getting filthy in that mud.” Maybe you guys are more chill than I am, but those are the kinds of things I’m tempted to say when I get involved in activities with my kids and I know they aren’t terribly conducive to the playful atmosphere my kids need.

When adults don’t get involved, kids get to learn valuable skills. They figure out how to resolve conflicts. They find out if they act like a jerk, the other kids don’t want to play with them. They learn that if you give the 5 year-old about 15 chances to swing at a ball, she’ll finally make contact and it will be THE BEST THING EVER. They try to figure out if they pump their legs REALLY hard, can they make the swing go all the way around and over the swing set? They develop new rules to make games more interesting, they find fascinating bugs, and realize that sometimes climbing down from somewhere is a lot more complicated than climbing up. They pretend to be moms or police officers or mermaids or bad guys without being self-conscious. They have fun and they don’t need us to tell them how to do it.

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May 27, 2016
by Maralee
1 Comment

12 Tips for Handling Kid Conflict

If you were tempted to think your kids were mastering the fine art of working out their differences without needing adult mediation, summer is a great time for being proved wrong. We are reentering a time when there is near constant unstructured play time with siblings and neighbors, which has been a good reminder for me about the importance of conflict resolution skills. If you’re feeling the stress of kid conflict at your house too, I wanted to share some tips with you:

-If they can work it out on their own, let them. My first goal is that kids figure out how to make peace without having to come to an adult. I will incentivize that outcome by saying things like, “If I need to come help you resolve that, I might need your help with making dinner after I’m done.” I want them to understand that my time matters too and if I have to come deal with every little disagreement, they’re going to have to help me make up for that lost time. I have also been known to give a little treat to kids who worked out a compromise without adult intervention.

-Empathize before intervening. Sometimes a child just needs to be heard. If I can say, “I’m so sorry you got your feelings hurt.” that may be enough validation for them to be able to run back and play. I can’t control the neighbor kids or make everything go my child’s way, so helping them know they are loved and valued even if they can’t get the resolution they’d like from somebody else may help heal their heart.

-Don’t keep them from relational consequences. There are times when my child is left out of a game because my child was being a jerk. I’m not going to keep my child from learning a valuable lesson– if you aren’t being a friend, people don’t want to play with you. If a kid comes to me with a complaint about other kids being mean, I like to start by asking them if there’s anything they contributed to the problem. It often turns out that if they can go apologize for their own actions, they are welcomed back. If I run in and demand other kids play nice with them, I’ve just enabled a bully. This means sometimes kids have to play alone for a little while until they can figure out how to function in a group or play as a team. This kind of peer justice can teach them more than I ever could. Continue Reading →

May 23, 2016
by Maralee

If You Think Your Kids Don’t Notice Race

Last night my 6 year-old came back from a birthday party and said, “It was a good party! There were a lot of black people!” At another time in my life I probably would have scolded a child for mentioning race that way, but at this point we go with it. I asked her if these were kids she already knew or if they were new friends and what they did together at the party. It no longer makes me uncomfortable for my kids to talk about race, although there are plenty of uncomfortable moments as we talk about racism or encounter children from other families who aren’t quite as used to this conversation.

This idea that kids don’t see race is so pervasive and it’s surprisingly harmful. We idealize their “innocence” without realizing their inability to talk about race has little to do with their inability to recognize that people are different and has much more to do with the socialization they receive that says it’s shameful to talk about race. In the absence of educational conversations with the adults they trust about the topic of race, they are left to draw their own conclusions or learn from the playground behavior of others. It becomes much more difficult to eventually talk to your kids about the realities of racism if you’ve spent their formative years telling them it’s impolite to talk about race or acting like race doesn’t exist.

My West African son started to verbalize his awareness of racial differences when he was about three years-old. We had a choice at that point– tell him that wasn’t a polite thing to say and remind him that we’re all the same on the inside, or affirm that God made us each beautifully unique and that part of how God made him was to be black, just like his birth family. (At three years-old, that’s obviously just the starting point of a much more nuanced conversation that will continue for years to come.)

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May 18, 2016
by Maralee

Some Points of Clarification for my Children

Dear Children,

There seems to be some fundamental confusion about the purpose and limitations of some common household objects. To help clear all this up, here is a list you may find useful.

Things That Are Not a Trashcan:
My hand
My pants pocket
Under your seat in the van
Between the couch cushions
Your pillowcase
The hamper
Your socks or underwear
My coffee mug (full or empty)
The sink
The dresser or bookshelf or potted plant
Under your bed or under the couch
Your mother’s purse
Your pillowcase
The toilet

Things That Are Not a Hamper:
The bookshelf
The top of your dresser
Your backpack
The front porch, front yard, sandbox or bushes
My bed
Behind the bed, in the bed, next to the bed, under your pillow, your pillowcase
Between the couch cushions, under the couch
The trashcan
The toy bin
The van
The dining room table, kitchen table, kitchen counter
My purse
Under the sink
The toilet
The stairs
Your parent’s bed or bedroom floor

Things That are Not Food:
The stick from your corndog
A gum wrapper
Your favorite blanket
A rubber bracelet
Your shirt sleeve
The paper from your cupcake
Books (yours or anyone else’s)
Hair (yours or anyone else’s)
Crayons, pen caps, erasers, sidewalk chalk or any other art supplies
Your necklace
MY necklace
Rubber bands or hair elastics
The soap, washcloth or anything else found in the bathtub
The dog’s food (while it is food, it is not meant for you)
Fingernails or toenails (yours or anyone else’s)
Toothpaste (no matter how fruity it is flavored)
Leaves, rocks, sticks, garden snails or dirt
Legos, Barbie shoes, bouncy balls, any other toys (even if they are play food)
Body parts (your own or anyone else’s)
Anything found on the ground (even if at one point it may have been food)
Poop (yours or anyone/anything else’s)
Pre chewed gum of unknown origin
Socks (either on your feet or off)
Anything found in a diaper (even if it looks like food or clearly used to be food)
Lipstick or chapstick Continue Reading →

May 16, 2016
by Maralee
1 Comment

A Life in Status- January #2, 2016

I love the community over on my Facebook page and on Twitter. Come join!

Sign you are a cheap family: Your kids refer to their favorite cereal by the off-brand name.
‪#‎largefamilylogistics‬ ‪#‎marshmallowmateys‬ ‪#‎fruitrings‬ ‪#‎crispyrice‬

It’s only AFTER the photographer for the local paper leaves that you realize your son had his pants on backwards.

“We don’t put Play-Doh in our underwear.”

Sometimes when I leave a child in the church nursery I make the same mistake as Lot’s wife leaving Sodom and Gomorrah.
‪#‎dontlookback‬ ‪#‎eyecontactmakesthemcry‬

Anybody else’s kid request the old Batman TV theme song as a bedtime lullaby? No? Just mine? Figures

“We don’t scratch our butts with the stick from our corndog.”

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May 13, 2016
by Maralee

Foster Kids Don’t Have Birthparents

Yesterday I was driving my six kids to a foster parent training class when one of my children said, “I want to see that Kung Fu Panda movie. The one where he finds his REAL dad.” I felt my stomach tighten and I locked eyes with my oldest child in the rearview mirror and I heard him mumble, “Oh boy” because he knew exactly what speech was coming and what questions the child who said “real dad” would have to answer. I know it’s just a movie and these are just pretend panda relationships, but in our family we have had to intentionally address these language issues. Because we are a family formed by foster care and adoption.

It’s important to me to be specific and intentional with my language when it comes to the relationships involved in foster care and adoption. In adoption we get to use words like adoptive parents, biological parents, birth parents and first parents to help someone understand our relationships. It can be hurtful and offensive when people ask about my child’s REAL mom. Both adoptive parents and biological parents are equally “real” so that word doesn’t do much to accurately express our role in this child’s life. And when people ask, “What do you know about his Dad?” I want to play dumb and say, “My husband?” when I know they’re looking for information on my child’s biological family. But in foster care things are a little bit different.

My foster kids didn’t have birthparents, they had parents. They didn’t have a “biological mother,” they just had a mother. When I talked about her to the foster child, I said, “Your mom loves you so much.” If someone asked me where my foster child was I would say, “She’s on a visit with her mom.” Mother was her legal role and she needed no qualifiers to define her identity in her child’s life.

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May 10, 2016
by Maralee
1 Comment

The Hard and Holy Work of Hair

I have a little daughter who loves her curls. She is just two and each morning she sits on the bathroom counter and I put product on her hair and comb through it. I tell her how beautiful her curls are and ask her how she wants her hair done today. Headband? Pigtails? Ponytail? Most days she asks for “princess hair” which is how she describes the style with the front of her hair pulled up and the back left a mass of curls. She picks out a bow or flower for the top and declares herself, “So pretty!” as she looks in the mirror.

I love this time together. Her beautiful black curls have been a learning experience as I seek to style her hair in a way that communicates how we embrace who she is. Just like with my Liberian son, my goal is that if my children were out in public without me, people wouldn’t necessarily know they are being raised by white parents.

At times this has been a stress for me. It’s not that her hair is stressful, it’s that I realize my own inadequacies in those moments of trying to straddle all worlds for her. I feel guilty that her hair doesn’t hold a braid the way I think it should. Somehow it makes me question my ability to raise her well, which is a lot of weight to put on a braid. One morning I had painstakingly put a little braid along the front of her hair, but when I went to put in the elastic, the band snapped and the braid fell all apart. Without even being aware of it, I groaned and my little toddler looked up at me with sadness and said, “I sorry, Mommy.”

It broke my heart.

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May 5, 2016
by Maralee

Infertility Radio Interview

It meant a lot to me when I was contacted by My Bridge Radio to do an interview for Mother’s Day and they told me the topic was infertility. Yes. Thank you.

This can be such a hard topic to address and I love that they wanted to tackle it head-on, especially in anticipation of what can be a hard day for women wrestling with an infertility diagnosis. It can be incredibly isolating and as I prepped for this interview, I thought through what it would have meant to me to have heard someone share openly about the struggles of infertility back when I was newly diagnosed. To know I wasn’t alone would have been huge. So I hope this was helpful for the men and women who needed to hear it when it aired, and I hope it’s a help to you as you listen to it either as someone wrestling with infertility or as someone walking with a friend who is.

I have the link directly below to the audio of the interview and beneath that I have some additional thoughts that always come to me as soon as I hang up the phone (of course).



-Yes, literally two minutes before they called me for the interview, Teddy dumped a bunch of shredded mini wheats on the floor, sat in the pile and started eating them. This is my actual life. Brain walked in the door shortly after that so I could do this interview, but my mind was so focused on the infertility stuff as I watched Teddy sitting there, I couldn’t even be upset at him. When you spent a lot of time waiting for motherhood, sometimes it’s easier to let stuff roll off your back. . . sometimes. . .

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May 2, 2016
by Maralee
1 Comment

If You Can’t Be Content

I always knew God created me to mother children. I knew it the same way I knew I had blue eyes. It was just a fact about the way I was made. So our infertility diagnosis left me with questions and doubts that weren’t easily answered. I wrestled with many heavy emotions, and in all of that, I had this guilt. I felt guilty that I wasn’t able to be content the way I thought a good Christian girl was supposed to be.

There were moments during those years that just felt like survival. There were dark nights of weeping. There were baby showers that left me shaky and angry. There were date nights with my husband that were supposed to be fun and ended up being lonely as we grieved our losses in our own ways. I wanted so badly to fix my infertility. I didn’t feel peace about not being a mother. I couldn’t abandon the desire for children God had placed in my heart for as long as I could remember. I felt this weight that maybe if I just achieved some state of holy contentment with our childlessness, then God would be proud of me and give me what I wanted. But instead, it seemed like he withheld both things from me– contentment and children.

This battle with contentment has continued to be a struggle for me (long after I’ve experienced some healing of my infertility pain) as I’ve navigated foster care, adoption, and even in things like my marriage, and friendships. When I’ve felt guilty for not being more content as I’ve faced struggles in my life, I have found myself wrestling to understand how to live in this tension. How do I make peace with the lack of peace I feel?

I don’t think I’ve arrived at the perfect answer. This aspect of my faith is something I’m continuing to mull over and wrestle through. But I want to share with you where I’ve landed on the subject.

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April 29, 2016
by Maralee

A Life in Status- January #1, 2016

Be part of the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Josh (9): Mom, will you carry me to bed? Like when I was a baby?
Me: Ummmmm, sure. Do you know I love you, Josh? Do you know I’d fight dragons for you?
Josh: I’d fight dragons for you, Mom. I’d die for you.

The 9 year-old got a magic set for Christmas. I have now perfected my amazed face.

For people who like getting rid of clutter, the day you take down the Christmas decorations is truly the most wonderful time of the year.

Instead of calling it the “guest bathroom”, I’m going to start calling it what it really is: The Bathroom of No Accountability.
‪#‎WHODIDTHAT‬ ‪#‎somanyboys‬

Joel (4): I’m ready for bed. Mom, smell my teeth!
Me: Oh yeah? Did you do a great job brushing? (takes a big sniff of his mouth)
Joel: No. I haven’t brushed yet. I just thought you’d want to smell my teeth.

I took two kids to the pediatrician today: the one who needed stitches and the one who caused him to need stitches.
‪#‎brothers‬ ‪#‎empathylessons‬

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