Welcome to my circus.

June 5, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

Motherhood and The Way of the Peony

I can’t see a peony bush fully in bloom without feeling some sense of identification. I feel like that peony bush is a pretty great visualization of how it feels to be a mom, especially a mom in a large family.

Motherhood and The Way of the Peony www.amusingmaralee.com

I’ve watched those first tender shoots emerge from their winter sleep. They grow straight and strong and then beautiful globes of white or every shade of pink from blush to almost burgundy will appear. As they open up they release an amazing fragrance, but then something funny happens.

They just start to fall over.

At the height of their beauty, in their full bloom, they can’t hold up the weight of their own flower.

When we had peonies growing in our backyard, I couldn’t stand it. I would go and clip each bloom that started to lean down so we could enjoy their beauty in the house and I wouldn’t have to see the plant struggling under the weight of those heavy blooms. Now when I see peonies in other people’s yards I have to resist the urge to show up with some clippers and my gardening gloves. I hate to see those beautiful blooms touching the ground.

But when I drive past these weighed down bushes around town or see them on my walk to the park, I feel like they speak to my soul. If motherhood had a state flower, I think it would be the peony.

This work of raising children isn’t easy. It weighs us down. We worry and wonder about what the future will hold. Our finances cause us stress as we realize the burden of providing for children who never stop outgrowing shoes, eating endless snacks and popping bike tires. The carefree life we knew before we had kids has been traded in for one where we wake up panicked when we hear a small cry or a little cough in the night. We read cereal box labels and the ratings on all video games and about every potential side effects of that medication.

Continue Reading →

June 1, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

Before You Complain About Your Kids

First things first– this is not some guilt trip about how precious children are and how we should be thankful for and enjoy every moment. Parenting is hard and sometimes we need to vent to people we trust even when we are fully convinced of how wonderful and lovely our children are. I’m in support of being honest when the going gets tough and having a team of people who can support you. Getting the support you need requires honesty which can sometimes sound like complaining.

But here’s the thing– I’ve got to start correctly identifying when I’m venting about an actual problem with my kids and when I’m just revealing that I’m not doing a great job as a mom in helping to equip them to handle life.

It’s not that our children’s behaviors are always an indicator of how we’re parenting (as a foster mom, I KNOW this to be true), but there are definitely times when that’s exactly what they are. Their struggles may show our priorities much better than any family “mission statement” ever could. When I publicly complain about my kids, I might do better to first evaluate how I’m unintentionally promoting or allowing the very things I’m complaining about.

I wanted to whine about how the house is always a disaster, but whose fault is that really? The kids are messy because they are kids, but if they aren’t cleaning up after themselves, why does that make them bad kids? They will do what I expect of them and if I haven’t reinforced that they need to pick up their messes, that’s on me.

Do I spend most of my day making food? Yes. And it’s exhausting and I’d like to complain about that. BUT I have able-bodied kids around who are more than capable of frying an egg, making a sandwich, or even just setting the table. If I’m grumpy about how much time I spend doing meal prep, maybe I need to do more to enlist the help of my kids.

We can’t have it both ways– we can’t insist on doing everything ourselves AND complain that our kids don’t do more to help. Many of us don’t think we’re insisting on doing everything ourselves, but when our kids try and help, we end up shoving them out of the way (metaphorically speaking) because they’re doing it “wrong.” Spending the time to teach them how to do it correctly is a worthwhile investment, but it can seem overwhelming when you feel like you’re just barely keeping your head above water.

Continue Reading →

May 30, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

When it’s Time to Stop Being a Foster Mom

I’m still not okay with calling myself a “former foster mom.” It just doesn’t feel right. My heart is still so in the world of foster care as I support families in the trenches and continue to deal with post foster care issues with my own kids. After five years in group home work and 7 years as foster parents, I can’t imagine a time when foster care won’t be on my heart and in my mind, but for this season we are not active foster parents.

This has been a weird loss of identity that I’ve struggled to put words to. Foster care is hard, but at some point it does become your normal. Dealing with caseworkers and lawyers and team meetings and all the paperwork– it can be frustrating, but it also can become the rhythm that structures your days. When you’ve spent years investing in “the system” to try and make improvements for these kids and their families (which can sometimes feel like beating your head against a wall), it is just odd to step outside of it. At first, there’s relief. And then there are questions.

Is there more we should be doing? What about all the other kids who need families? What about the kids already in our home– are they going to resent us if we keep going or if we stop? Will we ever have time to relicense if we let our license go now? Will we even know if our former foster kids or siblings of our kids come into care? All those relationships we developed– how do we continue to encourage those people now that we’re outside of the system?

Now that I’ve sat with these questions for the last two years (since our license lapsed because our home was too full by the state’s standards), I’m finding a place of peace. I’m learning that there is a right time to step out for a season, but that doesn’t mean we stop caring about the kids in foster care or that we stop being a voice for them.

Continue Reading →

May 25, 2017
by Maralee
2 Comments

In Praise of Uncles

I’ve had uncles on my mind recently. One of my uncles has been in the hospital and my brother-in-law (and sister and nephews) moved several states away, so one of my kids’ uncles will now be less involved in their lives in the direct way he has been. Being an uncle is a unique role and I don’t think they get the credit they deserve.

Uncles are the guys who tease your parents and let you know that your mom and dad were once just big sisters and little brothers. They tell funny stories about your parents that make you laugh and remind you to give them grace because they’re people, too.

Uncles can play games with kids that parents don’t want to bother with. Since you don’t see uncles as often, they can be the human jungle gym without setting a precedent that this is normal behavior (True story– my brother-in-law’s name is Jim and when I once told my kids to quit climbing on me because, “I’m not a jungle gym” they asked in total sincerity, “But what about Uncle Jim? Is he a Jungle Jim?” That totally made sense to them.). They can teach you the obnoxious songs that your parents will be cursing under their breath for weeks later. They can show you how to do that armpit farting noise and parents can’t get mad because it was the uncle that did it.

13599610_10154285492537453_1970432878_n

Uncles can feed you ice-cream when your parents aren’t looking and will defend you when you accidentally spill it on your white Easter dress. They will tell you dumb jokes and pay you a quarter to repeat them to your parents. They find something about you charming that nobody else can see and they encourage you to chase dreams when your parents want to shield you from disappointment. So I’ve got a couple messages for The Uncles:

To My Uncles,

Thank you for loving me in your own unique ways. Thank you for praying for me and caring about the decisions I made. Since I lost my grandparents early in life, I know you have taken on some of that role of being invested in me and praying for me. That hasn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

Continue Reading →

May 23, 2017
by Maralee
2 Comments

Why #ILovePublicSchools

When my husband and I made the decision to have our first child attend public school, I was a nervous ball of guilt. I was sure a better mom would have taken in laundry to afford private school (do people still take in laundry? Is that a thing?) or would have sacrificed her sanity to homeschool her oldest while also having a 3 year-old, 2 year-old and infant in the house (I’m not saying other women couldn’t stay sane and do this, I’m just saying I know my limits.) In short, I felt like a bad mom.

Over the last 5 years of having kids in our local public schools, I have seen what a positive decision it has been for them and for us. Not just a neutral decision or a “worked out okay considering the circumstances” decision, but an honest to goodness positive in the lives of our family.

The transition from guilt-ridden skeptic to public school defender has made me realize that our public schools struggle with some major PR issues. But this makes sense– our schools serve EVERY child that needs them and sometimes there are going to be problems. In this day and age, “problems” often go viral as people try to one-up each other in the level of outrage they feel about how a teacher handled an issue or what school administration did. I see the value in this as sometimes public pressure needs to be exerted to help change a situation (I’m in favor of letting people know if a school has inherently racist dress code policies when it comes to policing how girls wear their natural hair), but I also see situations where a teacher is unnecessarily publicly humiliated for how she handled a situation.

I spent a wonderful year as a paraprofessional (i.e. teacher’s aid) in a public school resource classroom as I worked my way through college. I loved those kids, but I’m sure I made some dumb mistakes in how I handled things. And I can imagine how horrible I would have felt if instead of talking to me, a parent had decided to post their version of the story online, ruining my professional reputation and creating a PR crisis for the school.

When we’re mad, we post. When things are running smoothly, we tend to be silent. So this year when our school system celebrated “I Love Public Schools” day, I decided to remember all the great moments we’ve experienced and posted about them on my Facebook page. I wanted to counter some of that narrative about how dysfunctional, uncaring, and cold the public school system can be with our actual experiences of loving professionals who treat our kids like their own. I know that isn’t everyone’s experience and I am a strong proponent of advocating for your kids, but I don’t want to be silent when things are going well. Let’s praise these educators for the hard work they do and the ways they invest in our kids.

So here are my #ILovePublicSchools posts from earlier this year:

One day my child choked on his sandwich and his assistant principal helped him cough it up. Two years later and he still insists she saved his life, although I think that might be slightly more dramatic than what actually happened. Either way, #IlovePublicSchools

In order to have a physical moment of connection with my struggling child, some mornings his teacher would put her arm around him during The Pledge of Allegiance and hold her hand over his hand over his heart. She knew just what he needed, which is why #IlovePublicSchools

Two years after she was my son’s Kindergarten teacher, she brought her church group to Christmas carol at our house and they dropped off cookies. I mean seriously, #IlovePublicSchools because #Schoolsarewhereteacherslive

A year after we moved out of her school, our old principal called to tell me she still missed my kids and hoped we were doing well. #IlovePublicSchools because that’s where you find passionate administrators who value each student.

When my child found a picture he thought was inappropriate in a magazine during a “cut out a picture” activity, his teacher took it extremely seriously- threw the picture in the trash, thanked him for telling her and apologized to him for the fact that he saw it. That moment of honoring his conscience when she could have minimized or justified that picture. . . I can’t tell you how helpful that was in our ongoing discussions about how we honor women and don’t objectify them. For him to know that his teacher was on the same page as his parents, it’s just one more reason #IlovePublicSchools

Continue Reading →

May 19, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

A Life in Status- January #2, 2017

Facebook and Twitter are where it gets real. Come join our community there.

3 year-old thinks snowflakes are called “Frosted Flakes.”
#soclose #momfail #deliciouslymistaken

(thinking to myself)
That’s it! I’m disconnecting from these stupid screens and doing something real! Yes! (slams shut laptop) I know! I’m going to BAKE something!
(remembers all my recipes are on my computer. . . )

Joel (5): Under my skin, am I just meat?
Me: Umm, yes?
Joel: So I’m really just a PROTEIN?
#preschoolersarecreepy

Walked into the living room to find it covered with every blanket we own and all the chairs. The kids look up and say, “It’s Fort-topia, Mom.” and give me the pleading eyes. THIS is why my house will never be featured in Better Homes and Gardens. And I’m okay with that.

Sometimes I try and cover up a lack of showering with an overabundance of perfume and jewelry.
#protip #notfoolinganyone

Continue Reading →

May 17, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

Some Tips for Friends and Family of Kids with Sensory Issues

Friends and Family of Kids with Sensory Processing Issues,

We need your support! We know you love our kids, but sometimes they seem confusing to you or they respond to life in ways that don’t make sense. We know that’s tough. We live with them every day and we too struggle to know exactly how they might cope in a certain situation or how to best help them handle it. As we’re learning and working through these challenges, we’ve got some ideas for how you can help us:

It’s okay to admit what you don’t know. Even if you’ve successfully raised your own kids, we don’t expect you to be the expert on our child’s issues. Telling us you’re confused by a child’s particular sensory responses may actually be validating to us. We may be confused, too! When people tell us they know exactly how they’d handle that child’s issues, it’s a clue that they aren’t interested in understanding what we’re really dealing with. Admitting that you are confused by the mysteries of sensory processing issues is a great first step to letting us know you’re ready to learn.

Ask good questions. If you feel frustrated that this child is responding with tears to the meal you so lovingly prepared or wonder why they shrink away when you want to hug them, you can ask us! We’d love to help you know how to have positive interactions with him. Maybe they don’t do great with hugs, but they love high-fives. Maybe they cry when a meal is too hot, but they’ll be fine in a minute when it’s cooled down. And sometimes we have NO IDEA why they’re freaking out so maybe you can help us problem solve that. We are learning so much about our child and we want to include you in that circle of knowledge. Asking questions lets us know that you’re curious and you want to be a help.

Don’t tell us, “All kids do that.” or “He seems normal to me.” These phrases can communicate to us that you think we’re making this up or being hypersensitive. That tells us you are an unsafe person to talk about this. It feels incredibly invalidating. It’s great if our child seems to be a typical kid in public, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing a huge amount of work in private to make that happen or dealing with the meltdowns after the fact. When you tell us these issues aren’t real in your mind, we will stop talking to you about them. If you want to communicate that you think our child did a good job coping or you want to let us know our handwork is paying off, we’d love to hear, “He did great today!” rather than telling us he seems “normal” to you.  Continue Reading →

May 15, 2017
by Maralee
6 Comments

What to say to your wife other than “What did you do today?”

So it’s that magical time of the evening when your kids are cranky and whining for dinner, you’ve just managed to burn the rice (WHY DO I ALWAYS BURN RICE), the house looks like four separate mini tornadoes have been winding their way through and then your husband walks in the door and says, “So what did you do today?”

I’m going to admit that this question in and of itself is totally fine, but somehow in that end-of-the-day chaos, it feels like some kind of accusation. I’m wracking my brain to come up with a meaningful answer that explains my contribution to the family and makes me sound like an intelligent adult. I know this isn’t what my husband is asking me to do, but I feel the pressure all the same. So instead of snapping back, “Well, the house is still standing so that’s something, RIGHT?” I want to give my man (and yours) some ideas about questions that might help me open up. (A big thanks to my readers over on the Facebook page that inspired these categories with their feedback.)

Ask about her heart. We may not be able to tell you all the amazing things we accomplished, but we might have had a moment of Big Feelings that we really need to discuss. If you can be on our team and let us vent about whatever that was, we may just feel a huge weight lifted. We know this can sometimes seem risky to you because you don’t like to see us upset or you worry all those feelings will get directed at you, but by asking us what’s on our heart, we know you care about who we are and not just what we do.

Examples:

-Did something make you sad today?

-When were you most excited today?

-Did you have a moment of pride today?

Ask about her mind. I like to make sure I’ve had some time each day to read something that stretches my mind. Maybe it’s my Bible or a scientific article or something about politics or cultural events or a subject I’m passionate about. Whatever it is, I probably haven’t had anyone to discuss it with today and I’ve got thoughts brewing. I’d love to talk about something other than the bathroom habits of the toddler. When I’m asked what I did today, my brain goes to mush thinking about cutting grapes in half or helping with addition homework. I want to talk about all the things I’ve been contemplating while cutting sandwiches into triangles, but haven’t had anyone there to discuss with me.  Continue Reading →

May 13, 2017
by Maralee
3 Comments

To the Trauma Mama on Mother’s Day

Hey Ladies,

Mother’s Day can be rough. If you’re like me, you’ve probably known this for a long time since you navigated the minefield of Mother’s Day as an infertile woman. You may have opted out of the day altogether in silent protest of how hard it is to be a childless woman who desperately wants to be a mother on Mother’s Day.

But then you became a mom! It was amazing and precious and the child in your arms made it all worth it. I know our stories aren’t all the same, but maybe some of you had the kind of experiences I did where we went from pain and desperation on Mother’s Day to total joy and peace. The sleepy infant that only wanted to be with us. The toddler who brought us gifts of dandelions and sloppy kisses. The preschooler who drew us pictures and wrote us sweet notes with the help of a loving teacher. The breakfasts in bed that were usually dry cereal and toast with too much jelly. It was beautiful and redemptive.

But as our kids age, their understanding of adoption grows and changes, too. This year has been a bit of a reality check as the unquestioning delight my kids felt on Mother’s Day has turned into a season of angst for all of us.

Continue Reading →

May 11, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

Everything My Kids Know About Rape Culture they Learned from Maroon 5 (how to teach kids to thoughtfully engage with media)

People regularly ask me how to start conversations about healthy sexuality with their kids. I know it can seem daunting, but sometimes it’s as easy as just engaging with the culture around you. Some of us grew up in homes where there was a concerted effort to keep questionable things out of our environment. I am thankful for the ways my parents sheltered me from things that could have harmed me, but I also see how my kids are having to wrestle with more of that kind of content than I did at their age. I am realizing I can’t necessarily keep all negative content away from them (and I don’t even think I should), but I need to give them tools to exercise an age-appropriate level of discernment.

It can be confusing to figure out how to thoughtfully engage with content we find objectionable. There are absolutely times to turn the channel, turn the station, or shut the screen. In the “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” book series, the first step you teach kids when they run into something inappropriate is to turn. Turn your eyes, turn away, turn it off. I want my kids to know when they see something that makes them uncomfortable, they need to turn, but what about when they don’t understand what they’re seeing or they aren’t sure if it’s appropriate or not?

In our home, this happens most often around music. The kids hear songs on the bus or on the radio or from a friend’s phone and will then be singing them around the house. So what do we do when that song is something questionable?

Continue Reading →