Welcome to my circus.

August 18, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- February #2, 2017

Come join the community and watch it unfold in realtime on Facebook and Twitter.

(watching “Lassie”)
Teddy (2): Lisa! Look! It Lisa!
Carrie (3): It not called LISA. It called Glassy! GLASSY!

Men of the Internet,
If you want to convince me that mass amounts of porn consumption have not corrupted you, made you weird, or influenced your ideas on the value of women, you may want to stop posting comments on my anti porn posts about what explicit things you like and would like to see me do. You’re really just making my point for me.
A Woman Who is Tired of Deleting Your Comments

My Mom: Anything exciting coming up this week?
Me: We’ve got a TV reporter coming out to do a story about that sibling bill we’re testifying for, and then we’ll be down at the capitol to testify on Friday.
My Sister:. . . I’m not even surprised by this stuff anymore.
#ourlifeisweird #fosteradvocacy #siblingsmatter

Everyone we know is sick right now and we are not sick yet. So I feel compelled to share with you our magic formula for not getting sick. It is a multistep process that involves being pretty bad at hand washing, not keeping a super clean home, hanging out where many germs may be present (most public school buildings, library, church), not taking vitamins or using essential oils. But we DO get lots of sleep, eat pretty well, drink water, I use Norwex towels to wipe down surfaces, and a couple of us got flu shots. So what I’m really trying to say is, I don’t think there’s a magic prevention strategy. . . and we’ll probably all be sick by next week. Wish us luck.

“but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.” -Acts 18:15. . . and also me when my kids try to get me to mediate Pokemon battles. . .

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August 11, 2017
by Maralee

Questions to Ask Before You Post About Your Kids

I was a bedwetter. For a long time. I can say that now with no sense of shame because I am an adult. My bedwetting days have long since passed and now I can see with an adult perspective that I was in no way responsible for my bedwetting. I felt shame about it as a child, even though my parents did everything possible to reassure me that it wasn’t my fault. But there were ways bedwetting impacted my life that made me feel defective. I couldn’t do sleepovers and I was always terrified somebody would find out.

I often think about the experience of growing up as a bedwetter when I’m reading “mommy blogs” or watching what gets posted on social media. I think about it when I’m writing this little “mommy blog” here. I often try to imagine what it would have been like if my mom was a blogger and had decided her mission in life was to dispel the shame around bedwetting or to try and create a community of support for moms of bedwetters. My mom is a great writer and I bet she could have sensitively and beautifully brought a lot of wisdom to the topic, but at what cost to her relationship with me?

This is the question we sometimes forget to ask ourselves when we’re writing about our kids. There’s such a high value placed on “honesty” and “transparency” and “community” that I think we don’t stop to ask ourselves if we have the right to be sharing information that essentially belongs to someone else. My child’s story is not just mine to tell.

It is a very delicate balance to walk and I’m sure there are posts you could point to where I have crossed that line. I have tried very hard NOT to do that– I’m vague where I can be, don’t mention names when I don’t need to, focus on MY part of the story rather than on my child. Sometimes I read what other mothers are writing about their children and my heart breaks because I can’t help but wonder how that child will feel when they see how they were talked about, what private medical issues were shared, how their parents broke trust with them by publicly “outing” them in whatever context.

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August 7, 2017
by Maralee

My Kids did not Have a Magical Summer

My husband and I were doing back and forth messages, trying to figure out when we could get the kids to the zoo. We have an amazing zoo not far from us and we have a family membership so this seems like a no-brainer family adventure. Except we’re running out of time.

School starts again soon and as I looked at the calendar and realized all the things we DIDN’T do this summer, I’m just feeling like a pretty terrible mom. In May I imagined all these evening walks to the park, trips out for ice-cream, pool parties and special outings to explore the natural wonders around us. What we’ve ended up doing is mostly just trying to survive the mass chaos of having a gaggle of kids (and neighbor kids) in and out of the house on a daily basis. I knew I was okay with the kids being bored, but I thought maybe that would happen in between all the WONDER and FUN and MAGIC that it turns out we forget to make happen.

It’s hard to plan for fun outings when you’re up to your eyeballs in laundry (WHY IS EVERYTHING WET ALL THE TIME) and granola bar wrappers. I spend so much time mediating arguments and explaining why you can’t just take the full bag of pretzel sticks to your room that I haven’t had time to think about what exciting activities we could be doing.

What we’ve actually ended up doing this summer has been a lot of hanging around the house, exploring the neighborhood and avoiding going to bed at a reasonable hour. Even when I’ve tried to get the kids excited about an outing, I’ve been inundated with whining because what they really want to do is finish the game of baseball they started in the cul-de-sac or jump on the trampoline with their friend.

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August 4, 2017
by Maralee

Sex Education Resource Round-Up

I’ve written a lot about how we should be talking to our kids about sex and sexuality. Here’s where you can find it all (I think. . . ) in one place. I hope this is a helpful resource as you speak with your own kids about this important issue.

Having The Sex Talks:

Summer Sex Education

Kids become curious about these things at different rates. Some kids won’t have any interest in this conversation while others will make you blush long before you thought you were ready. Be attuned to where your kids are at. If they ask you a question that makes you concerned or uncomfortable, ask them to clarify. Answer what they are actually asking, not the adult version of what you think they may be asking.

Why “The Sex Talk” Doesn’t Work

Here’s my terrible analogy– sex education should not be like skydiving, but like passing your driver’s test. We are not aiming for a one time event that ends in us all just surviving. We are trying to give them the rules of the road, the information they need to make safe and wise decisions for the rest of their lives. That’s going to require HOURS of guided education, not just a one time investment.

Having the Sex Talk with Your Foster or Adopted Kids

What I learned during those conversations was that kids from trauma often have a very disjointed understanding of sex and sexuality. A child can have little to no knowledge about the actual biological process of reproduction, but can have shockingly detailed questions about particular sex acts. This is what happens when sexual abuse and/or porn (and I fully believe introducing a child to porn IS sexual abuse) are your introduction to the mechanics of sex.

Talk to Your Kids About Sex. Today. 

I get so very concerned when a parent tells me they have not talked to their child about sex because they believe that will keep the child from having an awareness of sex. It’s just not possible. It only means that the child won’t come to you with questions, so they will get their information somewhere else. A neighbor, a friend from church, their cousin, your computer, their own exploration of their body– these are all potential sources of information if you decide not to talk to them about it. Is that what you want? Continue Reading →

August 3, 2017
by Maralee

The Sexual Abuse Fire Drill

Remember that moment when you were sitting in class and the fire alarm went off? You’d have a brief second of panic, then remember to get up and follow your class out to your designated spot. You never knew if it was a drill or the real thing, but you knew what to do because it was something you’d been practicing since Kindergarten.

That’s how we want our kids to respond if they ever feel like they’re in an uncomfortable situation. We work to prevent and deal with sexual abuse by doing “fire drill” conversations  to help them practice how they should respond to those kinds of difficult situations. The hope is that if they should ever encounter one of those situations in real life, they know exactly what to do.

My parents did an excellent job of handling this for me and my siblings. We had a book in our home (I remember having it in a bookcase in my room, so it was not something reserved for special occasions) that addressed different scenarios where a child might find themselves in a shady situation and what they should do. I remember pulling it from the shelf to read along with my favorite “Frog and Toad” books and the classic “Bedtime for Frances.” My mom was entirely unfazed by me adding a book about potential exposure to sexual abuse to our regular bedtime stories. She’d read it, we’d talk through it, and we moved on to the next thing.

I mean, it’s quite possible she was SUPER FAZED by it, but she never let us know. Which is exactly how we want to be responding to this topic with our kids. We want to be calm and act like this is something we could help our kids work through and want to teach them how to handle. I remember my mom talking through different scenarios to ask us what we would do and walking us through appropriate responses.

I recently checked and there is an updated version of the book my parents read to me 30 years ago. I still read the original one to my kids, but I bet the updated version is even more helpful:

The worry is that we’ll scar our kids or they’ll become terrified to interact with the outside world if we talk to them about sexual abuse. It turns out, the opposite is true. When we practice what our kids should do, we’re empowering them. We’re telling them, “When you hear the fire alarm, just walk calmly to your designated spot.” We practice it over and over until they know exactly what they should do. Just having a plan helps them and we hope they never have to use it. Sometimes when we’re driving across town I’ll ask, “If someone wanted to see your private parts, what would you say?” and let my kids answer. Sometimes it’s while we’re having popsicles on the porch I’ll ask, “If a friend tried to touch you in a private area, how would you handle that?”

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July 30, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- February #1, 2017

Be my friend! Find me on Facebook or Twitter.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who save extra ketchup/hot sauce/soy sauce/Chick-fil-A sauce packets, and money wasting heathens.

Adult: Here’s a ballon for you!
Josh: Can I have one for my brothers and sisters?
Adult: Sure! How many do you need?
Josh: You’re going to need a bag. . .
#largefamilylogistics #garbagebagfullofballoons

Tonight I am remembering the time my mom was trying to reference Lady Gaga and said, “That singer. . . you know. . . what’s her name. . . Madam Yahoo?” I am remembering that and I am laughing.

Lady: How old are you? Are you two?

Teddy: NO I TEDDY!

You know what sounds like fun? Reading a complex 15 minute tongue-twister at 8:30 at night when I am mentally and physically exhausted and just trying to GET THESE KIDS TO SLEEP ALREADY. So thanks for that, Dr. Seuss.

The three year-old thinks I see a “Crack-a-practor.”
#soclose #chiropractor #makessense

I’ve been a little quiet here recently. There’s a good reason for that. About a decade ago we left our group home work with tears and love for our boys and a promise that if they needed us, we would always want to do what we could to be a support for them. Which is how Thursday I found myself frantically scrubbing the guest bathroom, rearranging furniture, and then late that night running across my front yard to hug a young man who was once a boy I carried on my hip and tucked into bed each night. The ending to this story has yet to be written, but I’ve learned to trust God with how these things play out and just be thankful for every day I get to have a part to play in His good work of loving the people he brings into my home. So I’ve been a little busy rearranging my world to accommodate this new normal (for however long it is our new normal), but I couldn’t be happier about it. And it’s made me want to encourage all of you involved in the world of foster care to remember that goodbyes aren’t always goodbyes. When we promise to love kids “forever” it should actually mean forever even if we don’t get to raise them. Being kind to biological families can help keep the door open for relationships even years down the line. And no matter how tall you are, how deep your voice, how independent you may be, you never NEVER outgrow the need for support, love, acceptance, for family.

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July 27, 2017
by Maralee

5 Rules for Surviving Awkward Conversations with Kids

I am a big fan of having awkward conversations with your kids. My goal is if they have a question, I am going to answer it honestly. That means we have talked about sex, porn, racismdrugs, curse words and just about anything else you can imagine. My kids know it is safe for them to ask and that I will answer them. This is how we build trust and how I know I am the one giving them the right kind of information on the important topics. Because by this point I’ve had A LOT of practice on having the awkward conversations (9 years of parenting, plus 5 years before that of group home work with mostly teen boys. . . yeah, those were some REALLY awkward conversations), there are some tips I’ve learned for handling them, no matter what the content might be.

Be calm. I know there are questions that just automatically raise your blood pressure. You can be doing the dishes, hands submerged in warm, lavender scented water, humming “Amazing Grace” and then your son asks if it’s illegal to have sex if you aren’t married and all of the sudden your heart rate skyrockets. Take a breath. You’ve got this. It can be tempting to try and assume we know why they’re asking this question or start in on some kind of accusations, but we need to just wait a minute before we get rolling. Don’t let your own uncomfortable feelings dictate how the conversation goes. If you don’t feel calm, stall for a minute until you do. The more amped up you are, the more likely you are to give bad information or give even good information in a way that is harmful. Sometimes I say, “That is a really good question, but I’m not sure I have a really good answer yet. Can I have a minute to think about it?”

Admit what you don’t know. There are times my kids have asked me questions I didn’t know the answer to. One time a neighbor kid made a gesture I knew was obscene, so I said we weren’t going to be doing that. Of course, the kids wanted to know what it meant and I felt super awkward about the fact that I knew it was obscene, but I didn’t know why. This is a great time to role model humility for your child. We can’t be expected to know everything about everything. Our kids need to know that sometimes things will make you feel uncomfortable and you don’t know why. It’s okay to say “no” to those things until you can figure out why they make you uncomfortable. We can model for our kids how to err on the side of caution or avoid the appearance of evil by not doing something until we have more information. We can tell them that we don’t know the answer to their question, but we are going to look for the answer together.

Research together. The other day one of my kids asked me if “turnt” was a bad word. I honestly had no clue. So I did some googling and we looked at the results together, which ultimately culminated in watching this Lecrae video that opened up the door for lots more good conversations about party culture. This is not the first time this has happened. They often ask me questions I’m not sure about (Is this song okay to listen to? Is this video game appropriate? What does that word mean?) and I have to do some digging. My kids know if I don’t know the answer, I will find out and I will give them the truth and we’ll talk about it. That’s my agreement with them. We regularly google song lyrics and talk through them. I have a couple times had to look at lyrics before showing them to the kids and then just given a general overview because of how raunchy they were (“I’m not going to have you look at those lyrics because they are very disrespectful of women and use a lot of bad language. That’s why we won’t be listening to that song. You don’t need that in your brain and I’m bummed that now it’s in mine.”). If it isn’t quite to that level, then I’m happy for us to sit down and look them over together. I want to give my kids the tools for making those decisions on their own someday without having to go through me.  Continue Reading →

July 24, 2017
by Maralee

I Don’t Argue with Toddlers

I have been parenting toddlers constantly for about a decade now. And I am still of sound mind and body. It’s kind of a minor miracle.

There’s a lot I’ve learned in interacting with the 2-4 year-old crowd that has made my life easier and less stressful than it used to be. There were hard lines I used to draw with my first toddler that now seem so much less important with my sixth. Schedules have had to become more flexible, the list of fun/educational/goofy songs I have memorized has increased exponentially. I have learned to let go of some things and hold fast to others. And through it all, there is one phrase that has become my mantra:

I don’t argue with toddlers.

I have seen way too many adults get trapped in this kind of frustrating interaction with their toddlers:

Child: Mommy, that horse green!

Mom: The horse we saw yesterday? No, Sweetie. That horse was white. Remember?

Child: It GREEN. That horse GREEN! 

Mom: NO. IT. WAS. WHITE. Horses can’t be green so it wasn’t green!

And then much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues.

I’m just over it. I do not have to be the fact police for my toddler. And frustratingly enough, there are many times when I’ve picked a fight with a toddler only to realize I didn’t understand them clearly and they WERE right in the first place (“Oh! You mean his LEGS were green from the wet grass. . . “). That is a humbling experience I have come to dread. So I just don’t argue with toddlers. I’ve developed lots of go-to phrases to help me avoid arguments:

“A green horse? That would be funny!”

“I didn’t see a green horse! Did you see one? The one I saw was white.”

“Have you seen a green horse before or was this your first one?”

“You saw a green one? I want to see a purple one!” 

I’m just not going to waste my breath trying to “win” an argument with someone who has nothing better to do today than start arguments about nonsense. When I do that, I’ve just dropped down to the toddler level and that makes me feel like a crazy person. My frustration will ultimately do more damage to our relationship than it’s worth to try and win that argument.

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July 20, 2017
by Maralee

To Maralee on her Wedding Day

Hey Beautiful!

Today is a big day for you. I wish I could give you the lessons I’ve learned in 15 years of marriage, all packaged up pretty like the china and mixing bowls you’re getting today. I wish I could be there to assure you everybody will like the cake and your mom won’t cry too much and none of the groomsmen will pass out and nobody will step on your dress and you won’t have to use the bathroom in the middle of the ceremony. The wedding is going to be beautiful and it will all run smoothly, although you’ll hardly even notice.

You’ve been weeping your way through TLC’s wedding themed shows for years, dreaming about this day. You have bought into the hype that this is supposed to be the most important/beautiful/special day of your life and I wish I could just relieve you of that pressure. This day is actually about a legal and spiritual process that connects you to your husband, come what may. It is also a day your parents spend a lot of money to throw a party for their friends and relatives and a handful of your friends, too. As much as TV tells you this day is about celebrating your love, that’s only partially true. Sure, everyone is there to witness your commitment to each other,  but they’re also there because weddings are essentially a family reunion where people give you toasters. I know that’s not what anybody talks about when they’re planning their “dream wedding,” but it’s just true. Someday you’ll be at the wedding of a relative you just barely know, but you came because it was one of the few chances you get to see Aunt SoAndSo and you pay for that opportunity by buying a tablecloth and in return you also get cake. It all works out.

(15 years later. Still choosing each other.)

So try not to stress out about the whole thing too much. The wedding matters way less than you imagine it will. Nobody is actually looking at the table decorations and judging you. And if they are, why in the world did you invite those people? It will be happy and it will be beautiful, but the emotions you feel right now won’t hold a candle to the love you’ll feel for that man beside you the day someone hands you your son. There are bigger days coming for you guys. Days that are much more about YOU and your love. And you won’t have to worry about how you look, if everybody else is having a good time, and how much the cake cost during those days. In as many ways as you can, let your parents have this one. After all, they’re paying for it.

But here’s what nobody else can tell you– there are going to be days you’re tempted to regret what happened here, and it won’t have anything to do with how you wore your hair. This marriage commitment is no small thing. This is not just a party to show the world your love. This is not just a moment to legitimize your relationship. This isn’t about getting tax benefits. This is about joining yourself to this man you’ve chosen.

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July 17, 2017
by Maralee

When I am in my Thirties, I Will Wear Red Lipstick

I wore red lipstick yesterday. It was an accident. A friend gave me a bag of make-up and lotions she didn’t want (in every group of friends there’s always the one who will be happy to take your unwanted things and in every group of friends I AM that person) and I didn’t realize the shade of lipstick I was applying was a true, bright red. And I was on my way to pick-up my older kids from Vacation Bible School. It was not exactly the moment for aggressive make-up experimentation, but I was running late enough that I didn’t have enough time to undo what I had done.

I walked out of the bathroom and my three-year-old said, “You look so beau’full, Mommy.” That helped me work past the nerves I felt about being THAT mom, leaving bright red lipstick kisses on her future Kindergartener’s cheeks while picking him up. Something about the decision to wear red lipstick felt ostentatious. It felt extravagant. And these are not words that typically define me.

As you would imagine, outside of my toddler, nobody noticed or cared. Or if they did, I didn’t notice or care. And I will likely wear that lipstick again because it did something to my soul.

When I caught sight of myself in the mirror, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems I first read in high school. I remember reading “Warning” which starts, “When I am old, I will wear purple.” and with line after line, I felt this strong sense of identification. (Here you can watched the author read it herself.) When God was handing out “wild oats” for people to sow, he skipped me. I knew even in high school what she meant by “the sobriety of youth.” I have been a rule follower for as long as I can remember. I love a good rule. I love conformity and duty and doing what’s expected. But I have also always longed for the day when what’s expected of me would become a little less conventional.

I thought maybe that would happen with motherhood. When I became a mom, could I start wearing oversized puffy painted sweatshirts and bulky, highwaisted jeans? And I don’t mean ironically. Could I sometimes do school drop-off with curlers in my hair, hidden under a plastic cap? Could I be proud of my killer cupcake recipe and stop worrying about ridiculous things like “thigh gaps?”

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