Welcome to my circus.

March 1, 2015
by Maralee

When You Hate Hope

When we lived in Tennessee the winters were much milder than the midwestern ones I grew up with. Sometimes this felt like a strange gift to live in a place where the wind didn’t bite your cheeks the moment you stepped outside. And sometimes it felt kind of disorienting for this Nebraska girl. The seasons were missing some of their punch.

Each year I would be surprised the first time I saw the tips of daffodils poking out of the ground. The start of spring happened earlier in Tennessee than I was used to and even with the mild winters, it always seemed like the daffodils came up before the last snow of the year had fallen. It makes for a beautiful picture to see the green tips of new life bursting through the hard dirt and cold snow. I probably should have been more excited about the promise of warmer weather and the mountains in bloom.

But I wasn’t.

I was mad.

I wasn’t ready to have hope that winter was over. Every year I would see those plants poking up through the ground and I would yell at them. “You dumb plants! What is the matter with you? Don’t you know it’s still winter? Don’t you know you’re going to freeze to death? Stay in the ground where you belong until it’s warm enough!”

Turns out, I hate hope.

 But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

-Micah 7:7 

I had a beautiful childhood where hopes were often fulfilled. God smiled on us because we did what he wanted (or so I thought). My life was mostly painless. Adulthood has not been so kind to me.

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February 24, 2015
by Maralee

I have 6 kids. You do what works.

I have six children.

Parenting Large Families

Photo by Love Equals

2 are biologically related to me. 4 were adopted.

2 were c-sections. 2 were vaginal births. 2 I don’t know how they were born.

2 were breastfed. 1 was breastfed and bottle-fed. 3 were bottle-fed.

2 co slept with me until they learned to sleep through the night. 2 naturally slept through the night on their own by 6 weeks. 2 needed some degree of sleep training.

2 had great prenatal care. 1 had some prenatal care. 2 had no prenatal care. 1 I don’t know how much prenatal care happened.

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February 17, 2015
by Maralee

Talk to Your Young Kids about Porn

Hey Parents,

Have you talked to your kids about porn yet? I know that’s awkward and uncomfortable. Maybe we even have junk in our own history that makes it hard for us to have that talk. We just want to hope maybe we can shelter them enough that they won’t ever come across it. But statistics say that they will. And it will happen much earlier than the age we may think they’re ready to have a conversation about it. I have a parenting mentor who said, “When I was young, you had to go looking for that kind of stuff. Now it comes looking for you.” It will come looking for our kids and how do we want them to respond when it finds them? How will they know what to do?

I read this article today and it was really encouraging to me. It sounds like the talks we’re having with our kids may actually be helpful. Having had a lot of chances to perfect this talk through our group home work with boys (ages 6-18) and now our own kids, I thought I’d share with you how I handle it and give you a bit of a script in case it feels overwhelming. Please remember— YOU know your kids best. If something about what I’m saying doesn’t sound like it would work for your kids, tweak it. Just don’t talk yourself out of talking about it. (There are also some great resources out there. Do some homework. Find what works for you.)

The first time I introduce the topic of pornography (without using the word “pornography”) is when I am teaching kids about modesty and privacy. I start this around the time I potty-train my kids at age 2. Spending that much time with your naked child discussing their bathroom habits gives you a great opportunity to talk about privacy. We talk about who is allowed to see them naked. We talk about what they should do if someone asks to see them naked or touches them somewhere they shouldn’t. We also talk about what they should do if they see someone naked. I say, “You aren’t allowed to see anyone else’s private parts. If someone tries to show you their private parts, you need to run and tell Mom or another safe adult. If someone tries to show you a picture of private parts, you need to tell Mom. If you accidentally see someone’s private parts or a picture of someone’s private parts, you need to tell Mom. Those parts of our body aren’t bad, they’re special and we need to treat them with special care. They aren’t for just anybody to see.” So by 2 years old we have already started the beginnings of an ongoing conversation about porn. I like doing it when they are this young because if you totally mess up, you have lots of years to figure out how to talk about these things and it won’t ever come as a shock to your child.

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February 12, 2015
by Maralee

So you want to adopt from foster care

When people tell me they are considering adoption as a way to grow their family, I encourage them to consider adopting from foster care. There are a lot of benefits to adopting from foster care. It is essentially free and there are many kids in need of loving families. You can have access to lots of information about their medical history, in many states you live with them for six months before your adoption can actually be made legal (so you know them pretty well), and there are options for both open adoptions or adoptions that are more closed (“open” and “closed” are terms that refer to how much information is shared between adoptive parents and biological parents).

There are two ways to adopt from foster care. You can either adopt a waiting child or you can invest yourself in fostering a child who is not legally free for adoption, but may become so over the course of the months or years you are involved (you need to be committed to the primary goal of reunification with the biological family until that is no longer the case goal). Neither of these options are as easy as I imagine people think they are. I sometimes get the impression people think you go to the foster child pound and pick out the one who looks cute to you, fill out some paperwork and Boom! You’re a family! The actual process is a lot more nuanced and unpredictable.

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February 6, 2015
by Maralee
1 Comment

Children of Network TV

Here in the midwest it is that time of year when going outside becomes a little less fun and a little more risky as the snow is high enough to lose a two year-old and the temperature is low enough to get a free Runza. . . long story. So all my lovely ideas about children exploring their world and spending time in the fresh air and learning independence and problem solving skills go out the window as I say for the millionth time, “Why don’t you go watch something.” and shoo them out of the kitchen (WHY are they ALWAYS in the KITCHEN?!).

A couple years ago we added Netflix to our lives and now I can’t quite imagine life without it. The word itself has taken the place of the word “tv” in our home. “Why don’t you see what’s on Netflix?” The other day my five year-old took a look at me all dressed up for church and wearing jewelry and said, “Mom, that’s a nice Netflix.” (translation: necklace) Netflix gets rid of some of my qualms with regular TV usage. I don’t like commercials. They are loud and sometimes vulgar and make my kids want stuff they didn’t previously know existed. Netflix means I can pick a show that’s appropriate and not worry that when it’s over something inappropriate will come on. It has made my job as a mom easier in some ways, but I can’t help but think back to my own days as a child of network television. Here’s what I think my kids are missing:

Network television taught me to tell time. Sesame Street was on at ten o’clock. If it wasn’t ten o’clock, there was no Sesame Street. Punky Brewster was on at 3:30. If it was 4, then my brothers got to pick and we’d all watch Transformers. I learned to associate different hours of the day with different TV shows. I also learned the days of the week thanks to TV. If I wanted to see what zany antics Balki Bartokomous (don’t act like you don’t know who I’m talking about) was up to, I’d have to wait for Friday. In fact, if I wanted to watch any programing aimed at me during the evening hours, I’d have to wait for Friday. TGIF, indeed.

Network television taught me to go outside or read a book. There were hours where the TV was useless— the hours when every channel had the nightly news (we didn’t get cable until I was in middle school), or soap operas, or game shows, or infomercials, or at night when every station was just fuzz. My parents weren’t always having to tell us to turn it off or “just one more episode” because we legitimately weren’t interested in what was on the TV for many hours of the day.

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January 28, 2015
by Maralee

The first six years of Danny

My Dear Danny,

You entered the world with a bang. Not breathing and hardly alive, you gave the team in that delivery room quite a shock as you came to life and immediately peed on the doctor that revived you. Typical Danny. You love creating a scene and if it has to do with bodily fluids, all the better.

It’s hard for me to imagine that on the day you entered the world, I was totally unaware of the major change about to happen to my life and my heart. It wasn’t until you were a few days old that we got the call that you needed a family–maybe for a little while, maybe forever. By the time we met you, you had already managed to charm a slew of nurses and doctors that were tending to your daily needs. As I have told you a thousand times, I loved you the minute I saw you. I didn’t know how long I’d be able to be a mother to you, but I knew that if you needed me, I would love you and be your mother forever.


Photo by Rebecca Tredway Photography

Because I loved you so much, so fully and totally, I loved your first mother, too. How could I not? She gave you life. You have her eyes, her tan skin, her jet-black straight hair. She wanted you to have a good life, she just needed some time to figure out if she’d be able to provide that for you. I admire her for the way she’s been able to support what was best for you, even if it’s painful for her to watch you grow up in a different family. I hope when there are questions you need answers to, she is there to talk to you about those things. I promise to do what I can to keep that door open for you. And I do it not out of duty or obligation, but out of love for you and her.

I didn’t know I could love your family and care about your story and become passionate about your people the way I have. There was a lot I didn’t know before I became your mom. There was a lot no one could teach me. No one but you.

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January 27, 2015
by Maralee

To the Mom Doubting her Vaccine Doubts

There are a lot of loud, angry voices in the vaccine debate. If you are fully convinced that vaccines do more harm than good, this post isn’t for you (and I have zero desire to engage in a debate on this issue). This is for the parent out there who is struggling with a little shadow of doubt. I have chosen to share my perspective on the issue and my story is one of a changed mind. I had concerns and fears and delayed vaccinations for one of my kids, but eventually my concerns were answered thoroughly enough that I have become an advocate for vaccinations. I know what it’s like to be a skeptic, to doubt my doctor and worry about what would happen to my child if I followed the conventional recommendations. And I know what it’s like to sheepishly come to the conclusion that I was listening to the wrong voices and that it was time to do what was best not only for my kids, but for the many kids who didn’t have the ability to make a vaccination decision.

In light of the Disneyland measles situation, I just want to say that it’s okay to change your mind.

I want to be a quiet voice that says it’s okay to rethink your original conclusions when you see the reality of measles in your town (like it is in mine). It doesn’t mean you have to turn in your Natural Mom card if you decide to take your kids in for their shots. You can still eat organic, be vegetarians, cloth diaper, baby wear, and shun the microwave and dishwasher for your plastics, but get your children fully vaccinated. Don’t let shame or embarrassment keep you from taking in your older kids to get the MMR shot you originally feared would give them autism. You waited, you weighed the risks and now you see that a long dead disease actually isn’t dead. The information has changed. It is okay for you to respond differently now than you did before.

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January 25, 2015
by Maralee
1 Comment

A Life in Status- November #2, 2014

Come join the fun (and the occasional controversy) over on Facebook or Twitter.

It’s a marshmallows in your coffee kind of morning.

I’m not sure if each baby has actually been easier than the last or if I’m just getting more chill about this whole raising a baby thing.

We were guest speakers about foster care at a church this morning. So obviously yesterday was the perfect time for one of our children to eat gum he found outside, then get it in his hair, then cut it out of his hair with the craft scissors. . .

You know the scene from “I Love Lucy” where Lucy and Ethel are packaging chocolate from a conveyor belt? That’s exactly how I feel cleaning my house. And when I’ve finally got a handle on things some unknown force yells, “Speed it up a little!” and it looks like a tornado hit whatever room I swear I JUST had clean and by the end I’m stuffing chocolate in my face. . . I guess the analogy breaks down at some point and just becomes literal.

Burp rags for catching spit up are nice and all, but I think I’d be better served by some sort of burp poncho situation.

My five week-old baby belly laughs in his sleep. He’s clearly in the right family.

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January 21, 2015
by Maralee

The struggle of moms and community

Being a mom can be a terribly isolating experience. It seems counterintuitive on some level— you now have a person (or two or six) around you all the time, so how can you feel isolated? But moms know that devoting yourself to your children can make it incredibly difficult to get your relational needs met by peers or to have accountability from other women or to invest in your marriage or or or or. . . You get the idea. That was the subject of my radio interview this month. As always, you can listen to it at the link below and also read some additional thoughts that we may not have covered during the interview. Readers, thanks for being part of my community. Some of my desire to write was born out of that loneliness. It was a reaching out to see if there was anyone else like me out there. I’m glad you’ve joined me for the ride.

-Churches and Pastors— Do you want to grow community in your church? Facilitate support meetings for women. Be vocal about the importance of people meeting in small groups. Don’t underestimate the value of women meeting to deal with the struggles of their lives. Even if that isn’t your scene or your passion, know that it can have incredible value especially for women who are hurting from the pain of loss or who are looking for support during a difficult time. We attend the church we do specifically because it was a place where women with infertility and pregnancy loss were openly sharing about their struggles and the church was actively supporting them.

-There is a long “um” in my response to the question about when a mom pursued me for spiritual growth. For the record, that is my real “um”, not a radio friendly noise and I kind of hoped it would be edited out. It is the thinking sound you’d hear me make when I’m kind of stumped, which is not something I like doing in a radio interview. The reality is that it wasn’t hard for me to think of a time a mom had reached out to me, it was just hard for me to think of a time when that was related to some kind of spiritual growth focus. That long pause (and they did edit out about half of the long pause. . . it was really long) haunted me a bit after we finished our interview because I think it exposed a problem in my compartmentalizing of relationships. Spiritual community is what happens at Bible study. A mom telling me she’s exhausted and needs some help or wants to get together for a playdate— I don’t see that as “spiritual” but I think I’m wrong. The opportunity for spiritual interactions, accountability, encouragement, fellowship, and community are always present when we are together. I need to think more about that reality and stop compartmentalizing the spiritual away from the emotional and relational.

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January 19, 2015
by Maralee

Spite Brownies and Parenting Philosophies

I made Spite Brownies the other day. Apparently, this was horrifying to some people. They were aghast at the fact that I made brownies with the sole intention of denying them to a child. This child had previously eaten a donut that belonged to another child so this consequence made sense to me as a way to be sure that he didn’t have more sugar than he needed and as a way to communicate to his sibling that he wasn’t allowed to eat her food without some kind of response from me. But this strategy (passed around via Facebook) was deemed “wildly inappropriate.” Sigh. . . Public parenting is an unwinnable game. No wonder people are so gun-shy about expressing any picture other than total rosiness when it comes to how parenting is going.

I probably should make some clarifications. I like the word “spite” as an adjective. Sometimes when things are frustrating, funny language choices make me a little less frustrated. Have you ever had a child pee their pants because they were mad at you? Yes, this really does happen. And when it does, I call it a Spite Pee. Have you ever done a really awesome job at cleaning the living room because your husband made some smart remark about how you can’t even walk through there anymore? That is called a Spite Cleaning. And so I make Spite Brownies because sometimes you want to give a child a consequence by taking away dessert except you weren’t planning on making dessert, so now you have to make it just for the sake of taking it away.

This has been a discipline tactic of mine for years, since we were dealing with teenagers in a group home environment. When you’ve worked with kids from difficult homes there are a lot of discipline options that aren’t available to you— no physical punishment (no spanking for obvious reasons), no denying them necessities (can’t send them to bed without supper or something), no using physical labor as punishment (don’t want them to have a negative correlation with chores), no time-out (abandonment issues), no school work type punishments (no negative associations with writing or reading), and no yelling (very triggering for kids from abusive homes). One of the few options we had left was to take away privileges. You could lose TV or video game time or be denied sweets. Now, we are a pretty health conscious family when it comes to the diets of our kids, so there were many times when we didn’t have sweets available and I would have to purposefully get them or make them just so we would have a consequence.

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