Welcome to my circus.

April 27, 2016
by Maralee

How I’m Getting My Body Back

First things first:  I am not an athlete. I’m not coordinated. I hate running. I have never exercised regularly outside of the requirements of parenting active kids. And also I hate diets and refuse to count calories. Refuse.

So what I want to talk to you about is not an exercise regime or diet plan or six easy steps to achieving your ideal weight. I just want to share with you how I’ve moved from having a contentious relationship with my body to achieving some sense of peace. For me, that has involved Refit.

I started attending Refit classes (it’s an exercise dance class in the same vein as Zumba or Jazzercise) a little over a year ago with a friend of mine. I was horrible. I still am horrible. My brain and my feet do not believe in communicating and if you want to get my arms involved. . . forget it. I’m a mess. But I persevered, not because I wanted to lose weight or because I wanted to become better at dancing, but because I was having fun and I knew it was good for me– body and soul. I wasn’t great at it, but there were other women who weren’t great at it either and we were in it together. People were laughing. And for one solid hour my brain wasn’t thinking about the needs of my kids or my husband or my friends or my job. I was just entirely focused on not falling down.

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April 21, 2016
by Maralee

Should childless people give parenting advice?

I wrote a piece recently about how to give parenting advice without being a jerk. In response to that post I got a really good question in the comments. You’re welcome to go read it, but here’s the short version: Is it ever appropriate for a childless person to give parenting advice?

Obviously there are a thousand ways parenting advice from someone who hasn’t parented could be obnoxious. I remember a friend of mine stopping in the middle of a conversation to look over at my toddler, look back at me and say, “So. . . when are you going to teach him about inside voices?” Ugh. As though I was oblivious to the fact that his natural volume was ALWAYS TURNED ALL THE WAY UP and all I needed was this reminder from an outsider that if I just taught him about “inside voices” all would be well. Now that this woman has her own kids, I doubt she would make that same comment and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t remember she ever made it in the first place.

If your parenting “advice” consists of how you’d do it better if you had kids, just don’t. If your parenting advice is based on your experience with your pet, that may not be helpful. Many of the tips in my original post apply no matter what your parenting experience:  be a friend, be humble, ask questions. So if you can do those things, is there a place for the parenting thoughts of a childless person?

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April 19, 2016
by Maralee

A Life in Status- December #2, 2015

Come join the fun on Facebook or Twitter.

My child told me he really enjoyed someone coming into his class to teach him about “Junior A-cheese-ment.”
‪#‎soclose‬ ‪#‎sodelicious‬

My husband was telling me fan theories about the new Star Wars movie and I was half listening until he said something about, “maybe Han Solo dies” and things started getting serious.
Dear Star Wars writers- Do not kill Han Solo. Or Chewie. You can do what you want with everyone else.

“Hey! Who ate Josh’s diorama?”

Puking into a toilet or at least a bucket is a very underrated developmental milestone. It is also a developmental milestone that had not yet been achieved by the two sick kids in my house last night.
‪#‎laundryfordays‬  ‪#‎pukeinmyhair‬

My mom told me I should probably try taking a nap this afternoon.
‪#‎listentoyourmother‬ ‪#‎adulting‬

That awkward moment where you think you’re introducing your kids to a fun, classic family film, but end up having to explain Hitler and Naziism.

Joel (3): Are THOSE guys the Nazis?
Me: No. NUNS and NAZIS are very different.
‪#‎soundofmusic‬ ‪#‎newvocabproblems‬

(Watching “Return of the Jedi” last night)
Han: Luke! Where’s Leia?
Luke: What? She didn’t come back?
Han: I thought she was with you.
Luke: We got separated.
Josh (age 9): Just like when they were babies, Mom.

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April 14, 2016
by Maralee

Mary Poppins was a Foster Mom

I watched Mary Poppins the other night the way I watch most movies these days:  a kid in my lap, a kid on either side of me, and a kid laying on the back of the couch behind my head. We are a snuggly bunch. It was so much fun to introduce them to the songs, the dancing, the imaginative story of this favorite childhood movie. I’m not sure how many times I’ve watched this movie in my lifetime, but this was the first time I realized it:

Mary Poppins was basically a foster mom.

She swoops down and steps in during a very difficult time for the family. The parents are not attending to the needs of their children and the children are acting out. Apparently, Mary Poppins has a lot of experience dealing with kids who need that healthy balance of structure  and grace. She includes them in fun new activities. She has standards of behavior for them. She introduces them to members of the community who can serve as a support system after she’s gone. She teaches them to have compassion for others, even for their struggling parents. She helps the parents see their role in a new light. And she does it all with a song.

As outside observers to the Mary Poppins story, it is easy to see Jane and Michael as the victims. We see their disinterested parents. We see their running away, problems with authority, involvement with the police as childish and unhealthy ways to try and get the attention they crave. Sadly, the Janes and Michaels of the foster care world don’t often get that same empathy expressed to them. Their own failings or attempts to find love and attention can be seen as the out of control behavior of wild and rebellious troublemakers. They can be hard to place in a good foster home because of their juvenile record or history of acting out. It can be tough to see past the behavior to the root causes which make their behavior understandable even if it is still problematic.

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April 11, 2016
by Maralee

How to Give Parenting Advice (without being a jerk)

Many of us take our mothering role pretty seriously. We look at it as our profession and our calling. We love being parents and should probably have some masters level degree based on how much reading we’ve done, the classes/conferences/seminars we’ve attended and the hours we’ve invested in perfecting our craft. When you are this passionate about something, you want to share what you’ve learned with others.

I am incredibly thankful for the women who have helped me along in my parenting journey. I’m glad there have been mothers who offered me wisdom, recommended a great book, or flat-out questioned what I was doing. I have learned by watching these women navigate the tricky relational waters of offering parenting wisdom in a way that doesn’t feel shaming, but encouraging.

There have also been times when a relationship was altered or severed because of unfriendly, unhelpful, judgmental parenting “advice” given at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Along with all the regular parenting issues and conversations, when you become a parent first through adoption (or especially through group home work), some people feel compelled to offer you tips or they feel entitled to question you because those kids obviously aren’t “yours” and you are perceived as not knowing what you’re doing the way a biological parent would. It’s hurtful and frustrating to try and explain to others why you may have to parent the unique way you do.

If you want to have your parenting advice heard and you want to still be friends with the parent you’re talking to, here are some tips based on what I’ve seen work, what I’ve seen flop and my own successes and failures in “talking shop” with other parents:

Be a friend first. It’s the old “nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” If your parenting philosophy is about grace for your child’s mistakes or about building love and attachment and trust or about treating your child with respect and kindness, people will find that a lot more believable if you approach your friendships that way, too. There are few things more head scratching to me than women who advocate gentle parenting tactics with ferociousness and hostility. I hate to break it to you ladies, but nobody is buying that. If you can’t treat your friends with love, respect, and grace for their choices, then nobody is going to be interested in your parenting wisdom.

Keep the main thing the main thing. Is this parent abusing their child? If they are, then it’s time to make a report. If they aren’t, then let’s not get too worked up about feeding, sleeping, potty training, flash card usage, etc. Having been a foster and adoptive parent for over a decade, I have seen ACTUAL abuse and neglect so it’s kind of hard to get me rattled about different parenting styles from women who love their kids and are seeking to do right by them. If a parent is really struggling, help connect them to good resources or offer to watch their kids for an afternoon so they can decompress. Giving them a lecture on what they’re doing wrong is not likely to be helpful.
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April 7, 2016
by Maralee

Giveaway from Cole & Dainer *CLOSED*

It’s time for a giveaway! I love doing giveaways and I especially love doing them when they feature the work of women I like who make beautiful things. So lucky you guys- today’s is just such a giveaway. Today we’re giving away a crib sheet (you get to pick the one you like best from her shop) from my friend Nicole at Cole & Dainer. (Long story short– comment below with your favorite fabric from her collection to be entered.)

My first introduction to Cole & Dainer was via a burp cloth I got as a gift. Up until then I had been using the burp cloths that look like old timey cloth diapers. Not super classy. The burp cloths from Cole & Dainer were amazing. They were like soft, baby friendly, fashion accessories. They became my “fancy burp cloths” or “church burp cloths.” When I received them, I had no idea that Nicole was the one behind Cole & Dainer, so it has been fun to get to know her as a creative person and see her passion for her work. She describes her business this way:  Cole & Dainer brings modern sophistication to baby and home essentials. Our handcrafted items (blankets, crib sheets, burp cloths, headwraps and more!) combine timeless designs with inspiring, high-quality fabrics for a unique product, bringing a touch of luxury to your daily routine.

Um, yes. Yes they do.

When we decided to do a giveaway together, I wanted to try out one of her crib sheets. Crib sheets and I are not friends. This love/hate relationship began in the days of bumper pads and matching crib sets. I had many times I channeled my best Steve Irwin, to try and wrestle those crib sheets onto the bed, but they always seem to be a size too small. And after six kids, all the crib sheets I had were pretty threadbare and just kind of gross. So Nicole created this beauty for me and for my littlest, Teddy:

Yes, it says “Hello, Bear” on it, which is what our little Teddy is often called (obviously). The cuteness just about killed me, especially when I saw how much Teddy loved it. There are forrest animals all over it and each night when we put him to bed he points at the animals and we say goodnight to them while he pets them. We say each animal is one of his siblings, which makes him laugh (“Goodnight, Bethany Deer! Goodnight, Carrie Fox! Goodnight Teddy Bear!”). And THE SHEET GOES SO SMOOTHLY ON THE BED WITH NO WRESTLING. It’s like magic, people. You’re going to love this.

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April 4, 2016
by Maralee

Before You Give up on Hospitality

I stink at hostessing. It is not my gift. This has been clear to me for a long time because I grew up in the home of an incredible hostess. My mom loves hospitality and takes such joy in entertaining. She sets a beautiful table, handles all the details and makes it seem effortless. She is the kind of woman who has a mini coffee maker and flavored coffees in the guest bathroom for when company comes to spend the night. These are things that would never occur to me. This last Thanksgiving we hosted friends and while I did manage to make a ham, I didn’t remember to slice it, so I just set the giant hunk of meat on the table in front of our guests and let them figure it out. Not my finest hour.

For a long time I have been able to hide my terrible hostessing skills because people would invite us over instead of me having to have them. But now having six kids means we don’t get invited places very often. I don’t blame people. We are kind of a circus and nobody is quite sure how to handle us (bless you, people who are brave enough to invite large families over for dinner, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. . . or something like that). This means we now have two options: never socially interact with adults or learn how to have people in our home.

So because I am not ready to just give up on all adult interactions, I am trying to learn to reframe what hospitality looks like for me– a mom of young children. I am learning to accept my own limitations and embrace doing what I can do. I may not ever be the kind of hostess my mom is, but what is it that I can offer the people we want to share life with?

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April 1, 2016
by Maralee

Memories of Shelli

I was honored to speak at my friend Shelli’s funeral this last Wednesday. Her death was unexpected, although she’s had physical challenges for a long time. The pastor who performed the funeral had people who knew Shelli from different activities she was involved in come and speak about her character and dedication to the things she was passionate about. I got to talk about her involvement with foster families through her 20 years of work in child welfare. I wanted to share with you all what I was able to share at her funeral. I think there’s something beautiful about hearing the meaningful accomplishments of someone’s life and the way it can challenge you to live each day with purpose. Shelli was an inspiring person to know and I hope you feel that as you read about her life. I will miss her greatly.


(Kids playing in the church lobby and looking at pictures of Shelli while her funeral was happening in the sanctuary. It felt like a fitting tribute to a woman who devoted her life to these kids.)

For Shelli

8 years ago Brian and I met Shelli when she was the trainer in our foster parent class. We were impressed with her knowledge, experience and dedication to the challenging world of child welfare. She was honest, even when she knew the truth might scare potential foster parents away. She only wanted to work with people who were tough enough for this and when she knew you were up for the challenge, she would support you with all the fight she had in her.

And Shelli was a fighter. She had a sweet demeanor so her toughness sometimes caught you off guard. She fought for her kids and was always a diplomat. She built connections with so many people and she knew just how to use those connections to advocate for her kids. When we’d show up at court, she’d talk to every single person in the waiting area. Everybody knew Shelli and respected her.

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March 28, 2016
by Maralee
1 Comment

A Dessert Baby and The Ideal Family Size Dilemma

A friend of mine is pregnant again. She shared this news with an admission that this child was a surprise and now brings their total number of children to one more than the number she previously felt was acceptable for their family. The part of me that has struggled for years with infertility (or more accurately, Unpredictable Intermittent Fertility) can be irritated when people aren’t thankful enough for the gift of healthy pregnancies, but in this situation I felt a sense of understanding. I know what it feels like to realize you’re going to have more kids than you originally planned.

I think many of us have an idea in our mind about the appropriate number of children for our family. I hear some couples are even able to just decide how many kids they want, how far apart they think those children should be spaced and then they make it happen. Fertility issues, miscarriages, adoption and foster care have a way of taking your plans, ripping them into tiny shreds and then taping them back together in some new, unrecognizable (but amazing) formation, so I knew pretty early on in our parenting journey that that wasn’t the way it was going to be for us. For other parents it may just be the unexpected “whoopsies” baby that comes long after you sold the bassinet and gave away the baby clothes. Either way, there comes a moment when you realize your original plan is now out the window and you’ve got to adjust.

Maybe you think you can’t handle more children than you have. You feel really stretched as it is and the idea of ONE MORE feels totally overwhelming. Maybe it’s that you think one more child will push you out of society’s perception of “normal” and into some other category of Weirdos Who Don’t Know When Enough is Enough. Maybe you’re worried that you don’t have the financial resources to add to your family again or you’re worried about the toll another child will take on your body. All of these reasons can feel like a weight and can make it difficult to be as excited about this child as you were about your first.

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March 24, 2016
by Maralee

Fight The FOMO

The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) seems to be a big thing these days, but maybe the bigger thing is FOBLO (Fear of Being Left Out). FOBLO moves beyond not being able to be where the fun is and implies motives– that other people don’t want us. We desperately want to be included and feel included in whatever fun is happening in our circles and thanks to social media, we often know fun is happening without us in realtime. I know this can be a hurtful situation– to find out you weren’t invited or to see friends having fun without you. Now, I’m not much of a feeler and I know that uniquely impacts my ability to brush off some of these FOMO feels. But it has also been a conscious choice for me to find an upside to not being invited. Since I know lots of us struggle to know how to navigate relationships in the age of peeking in on all the fun others are having, I wanted to share with you how I’ve tried to reframe the issue. This has kept me from feeling resentment or anger when I find out people are spending relational time without me.

-Be happy your friends have friends. I do not want to be the only friend of my friends. I want them to have other people who can offer them something different so I’m not expected to be the end-all be-all of relationships. When my friends have friends, that frees me up to also have lots of friends without pressure. And the friends of my friends become my friends, too! If I know you had a great time with a friend last week, that makes me like them and want us to all spend time together. When my friends invest in other relationships, they are doing some relational groundwork on my behalf, too.

-Don’t make assumptions. Just because I see a picture of two mutual friends having coffee together, that doesn’t mean they are now best friends and neither of them want to hangout with me anymore. They were probably not talking about all my worst traits over their lattes. They did not post that picture to try and hurt my feelings because they’re passive/aggressive jerks (If they ARE passive/aggressive jerks, why are you friends with them? Walk away, Sister). Maybe they are meeting to work out a conflict. Maybe they’re planning my birthday party. Maybe one was going through a rough time and thought the other might have some wisdom. People’s friendship choices are rarely going to be specifically about hurting you. And if they are, those aren’t your friends anyway.

-Support the friendships of other women. Is there someone I see loving my friend well? Is there someone that makes her laugh and she feels totally at home with them? Is there somebody who enjoys a hobby she’s passionate about? Great! I want my friend to be loved well and enjoy the company of others. This is not some competition where only one of us can be the most treasured friend. Friends exist for different seasons and different purposes. If you’re looking for a running buddy, I am not that guy. If my friend finds a running buddy, I am happy for her and love that she’s got someone to share that passion with. This is good for all of us. . . mostly because it means I don’t have to take up running. Continue Reading →