Welcome to my circus.

November 16, 2017
by Maralee

Losing a Job. Finding my Worth.

Yesterday I mopped my floors. I read a few books to my preschoolers before their nap. I had a lengthy phone call with a friend in crisis. These are not remarkable moments, but they felt heavy with meaning.

The day before yesterday, I lost one of my jobs.

Like many women right now, I am a “work from home” mom. I have multiple jobs that I love that also help provide for my family. I find identity and meaning in my work and love being able to use my skills and education while still being home with my kids. But there are sacrifices and trade-offs. I was sad to realize it had been months since I’d taken the time to sit with my kids and read them that pre nap story. I’m a little ashamed of how long it had been since I mopped something other than spilled milk or jelly spots. The struggles and needs of people I love had begun to feel like impositions.

I’ve been running at a frantic pace that is unsustainable, but also seems totally normal when I look at the other women I know. We are all The Amazing Plate Spinning Lady, never letting one drop to the ground, always in full make-up, driven by a mix of adrenaline and duty. We can do what we’ve committed to doing, but if you try to throw one more plate into our act, it will all come crashing down. And be prepared for the rage and shame breakdown that will follow.

Continue Reading →

November 14, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

A Listening Mom’s Reflections on Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Awareness Month. I’ve written several half-finished pieces that just feel so incomplete as I try to say something about the importance of adoption in the life of my family. We are a decade into this adoptive parenting thing and I feel less certain than ever about how to portray it accurately and honestly, with its real joys and struggles.

The truth is, I have learned to write less, talk less, and listen more. As I’ve listened to my kids and their experiences of adoption, I’ve come to understand a few things the books didn’t prepare me for.

Adoption doesn’t define my kids. Sometimes it’s a fun fact they want to bring up when they’re making a new friend. Sometimes it’s intensely personal and private information they don’t want shared. Those are their decisions to make. I don’t talk to other people about their adoption stories. As crazy as it sounds, sometimes my kids’ peers even see us together (we are a very racially mismatched family) and don’t put the pieces together. This seems bizarre to me until I look back as an adult and realize I had transracially adopted friends and it never really occurred to me that was what was going on. Sometimes kids are less curious or more accepting than we imagine.

I used to see my kids’ hesitancy to talk about adoption as them feeling shameful and I tried to pushback against that. Now I realize they’re just careful about who deserves their story and I respect that. Outing themselves as adopted has different implications for them than it does for me as their mother. They need to be able to decide when and how they do that. If that isn’t something they want to explain during their turn as “Star of the Week” at school, that’s totally up to them. We practice how they can answer invasive questions in ways that feel empowering to them. Adoption may be something I’m proud of, but it doesn’t mean they have to define themselves that way before people know the other awesome things about them.

Adoption starts with loss, but it doesn’t end there. It seems like people have one of two extreme reactions when they find out someone is adopted. They are either overwhelmed with how tragic it is that they weren’t able to be raised in their birth homes, or they are super upbeat about how great it must be to be adopted. The truth is really somewhere in the middle. . . or both extremes at the same time. My kids have lots of complicated and complex feelings about adoption. They may be happy to be in our family while also being sad that they were denied the ability to be raised in their birth family. They are able to hold both of those feelings in tension together. Adoption is not all good or all bad, but a mix of loss and redemption.  Continue Reading →

November 10, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

The Connected Parenting Approach of Boynton Board Books

I love reading my kids the board books from Sandra Boynton. I didn’t read them in my own childhood, but they have come to be my treasured favorites for my children. As my kids have aged, I have purged their bookshelves of almost every other baby book, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of these. They are the books I plan to read to my grandchildren.

I read this fascinating piece in The New Yorker about the potential depth of the Boynton books and it made me look differently at the words and images that have become so familiar. Today I read one of my favorite books in the Pookie series and saw not just a mama pig putting her baby to bed, but a great example of connected parenting techniques in action.

If you aren’t familiar with connected parenting, there are lots of great resources out there. My favorite ones originate with Karin Purvis. In connected parenting you want to raise your children with a lot of empathy, consistency, nurture and structure. It’s a great approach for all kids, but especially kids who have come from trauma. The heart of connected parenting is about building a trusting relationship with your child. If you want a basic primer on connected parenting, maybe Night-Night, Little Pookie is the right place to start. I can find three core principles of connected parenting hiding in plain sight (just like Little Pookie does twice in the book).

Giving Your Child a Voice: As Mama Pig is helping Pookie get ready for bed, she gives him two choices for his pajamas. He chooses a mix and match option that is generally not a favorite with adults, but she just rolls with it. Mama Pig recognizes that this is a great way to let him use his voice and make a choice in an area that has no risk attached to it. We want our kids to feel empowered to use their voice and ask for compromises. This is part of creating an environment of safety for them where they know they are valued and loved. When we can respect their choices, we can earn trust with them that makes it easier for them to respect our choices when we are in a situation where compromises isn’t an option. Continue Reading →

November 4, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- April #1, 2017

Come join the fun on Facebook and Twitter!

Coffee makes everybody happy. Including the mug it stained, apparently. (Can you see the eyes, nose and mouth or is it just me?)

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We were just about ready to start leading music for this morning’s service when I heard the unmistakable sound of a recorder playing the classic, “Hot Cross Buns.” While I was busy wondering what irresponsible parent let their kid bring and then PLAY a recorder at church, I caught a glimpse of the offending child. And he was MY child. And he was in the balcony and I couldn’t reach him and he knew it.
#mykidskeepmehumble #whyweonlyleadmusiconceamonth#offeringnextmonthmayincludearecordersolo #hopeyoulikehotcrossbuns

I am often asked for gift ideas to celebrate an adoption. This one manages to combine sentimentality and practicality in a way I just love. My friend adopted her foster daughter this last week and she was given a “Too Big” dress. The note along with it explains that because of the uncertainties in foster care, we often don’t plan far enough ahead to own a dress for a child to grow into, but after the reality of adoption, we can begin to think in a new way- as a forever family. I don’t know where this idea originated, but my friend who just adopted her daughter got this gift from another foster/adoptive mom and when I asked her, she said got a “Too Big” dress from another mutual foster/adoptive mom friend when she adopted her daughter. I love that. We understand how hard, but necessary it is to live in the moment with our foster kids and a gift that embraces the beauty of getting to plan for the future is just perfect.

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Seems like only last week my son told me he couldn’t read the words to the songs and that’s why he couldn’t sing, but now his reading fluency has improved so much that he’s able to read all the words so he can run the powerpoint for the service. . . Oh wait, that WAS last Sunday that he told me he couldn’t read the words so he didn’t have to sing. . .
#Ivebeenhad #doesntwanttosing #doeswanttodoslides

Adult trying to move a piece of furniture = all children in the home come sit on that piece of furniture
#WHY #everytime

Danny: Mom! Feel how soft this is! (rubs something on my cheek)
Me (reading, not really listening): Mmmhmmmm. That’s really soft.
Danny: And it’s REAL. It’s a REAL raccoon tail! Mr. Eric said they boiled all the bugs off it, so it’s fine to touch it.
#whenyourneighborsarehunters #whatIgetfornotlistening#hesleepswitharacoontailnow #alsohasacanofdeerteeth#birdfeathercollection #antfarm #DannytheNaturalist

November 2, 2017
by Maralee

We Hired a Male Babysitter. Here’s How that Went.

Every year I put out the word that we’re looking for reliable, kind, fun babysitters. I work from home, so solid babysitters are a very important part of how our life runs. I’ve got two friends who are both connected with college students through ministries they work with, so they have been a great source of referrals. This last summer one friend told me she had a babysitter option for me, but how did I feel about hiring a guy?

We’ve never had a male babysitter for our kids (six kids, ages 2-10 this summer). When we worked in the children’s home for five years, we worked with a few male interns/mentors who were college graduates that wanted to spend a year investing in kids. Those guys were some of my favorite people to work with and showed me the great value of a solid man (other than just the “dad” figure) investing in the lives of children. I came to learn that some men are uniquely gifted at caring for kids—a skill set that often goes un-encouraged or unrecognized.

We can tend to be suspicious of guys who are great with kids. We assume they may be up to something. Statistically speaking, kids are most likely to be abused by someone they know and trust. I’ve just learned to be suspicious of everyone and talk to my kids as though sexual abuse is something they should be prepared to deal with. I wish that wasn’t the world we leave in, but it is. So I am not naive about leaving my kids with a man, but I also don’t think we’re solving that potential problem by only leaving them with women. My solution (as much as you can have a solution) is to talk openly with my kids about what they should do if they feel uncomfortable in a situation.

Before agreeing to hire a male babysitter, I talked with my kids about how they felt about it. I asked my girls, specifically. My girls are past the stage of needing diaper changes or bathroom help, which also made me feel more at ease. I would be in the home most of the time the babysitter was there and I would be available to deal with any diaper issues from the toddler. It seemed like a relatively low level of risk and I felt confident the people who were referring this guy were a good character reference. So we decided to move ahead.

And I’m so glad we did. Continue Reading →

October 26, 2017
by Maralee

I Let you Forget Your Backpack Today

It was a rough morning. Your dad was at an early morning meeting, so the breakfast routine was all on me. Six kids to feed, make sure they got dressed appropriately for the unpredictable fall weather, and then get them in the car for school drop-off for the oldest four. These mornings never go smoothly and I wake-up wondering what particular drama might unfold in the hour between when you all get up and when I drop you off.

Today that drama involved a series of wardrobe issues you were unhappy about. The shoes didn’t fit right without socks, but you didn’t want to wear socks. So you decided to wear the boots, but you could only find one of them. You wanted to wear the belted sweater, but you didn’t want it belted. You couldn’t find your hairbrush. Your brothers said something less than helpful about your pants. You were grumpy, stomping around the house, the last one in the van. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, if you know what I mean.

So we drove to school and as you all unpiled– clown-car style– out of the van, I saw the panic in your eyes.

“Mom, I forgot my backpack.”

I instantly did a mental checklist of what was in that backpack. You didn’t forget lunch. You didn’t have homework last night. No library books or permission slips. It was basically an empty bag, so I figured today would be a good day to learn some personal responsibility. I wasn’t going to fix your mistake.

I saw you walk up to the school with slumped shoulders. It was a rough morning. But sometimes it takes rough mornings for us to learn some of our most important lessons.

Can I tell you something, sweet girl of mine? I have no idea if I did the right thing.

Continue Reading →

October 24, 2017
by Maralee

Moms Aren’t Forgetful, We Just Have Mom Brain

Moms get a bad rap sometimes. When we show up late or forget that thing we were supposed to do or accidentally put the TV remote in the fridge, people assume we’re flighty or irresponsible. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are just trying to balance the competing needs of our homes, jobs, spouses, churches, kids, the Boy Scouts, our in-laws, friends, and oh yeah, ourselves. Who can remember where the TV remote goes when your brain is consumed with how to simultaneously be at two children’s band concerts at once? All this juggling can mean our brains feel like swiss cheese and things are constantly falling through the holes. Why is this, you ask?

First of all, there’s the longterm sleep deprivation. I know, I know—my kids sleep through the night, why should I be sleep deprived? Well, they sleep through the night, except when they don’t. Somebody has a bad cough, somebody gets a fever, one of them has a nightmare, somebody’s “feet are too hot.” The reasons are endless, but they all mean that even if a child is capable of sleeping through the night, that may not mean the parent is. And even when I sleep, I sleep like I imagine firefighters do—with one ear always waiting for the alarm. I wear pajamas that might be able to double as outerwear if I had to run someone to the ER in the middle of the night for reasons I cannot fathom during daylight hours, but always seem to become apparent around 2 a.m. I may stay up way too late trying to cram in “adult time” or read a book or take a shower. I may wait until the last child has been asleep for thirty minutes before even considering going to bed because I don’t want to be immediately woken up by a child who was just wondering why whales are so big. And then there’s the disrupted sleep of waking up at 3, remembering you didn’t sign the permission slip or imagining the letter you’re going to write to that mom whose child has been mean to yours, or overanalyzing that thing your friend said to you that made you think she didn’t approve of your parenting choice. Moms don’t sleep well. This means that our brains can be a little slow to process that complicated information you just gave us and a little quick to forget to do that thing we said we’d do.

Continue Reading →

October 19, 2017
by Maralee

I Almost Believed my Own Hype

I had a phenomenal weekend. It was a weekend I had been excited about/dreading for months. After making excuses basically whenever I’ve been asked to speak to strangers (I do a fair bit of speaking to our local community), I finally said yes to a speaking invite and felt the weight of it from the moment I agreed to it until it was finally done. I wanted to leave these women feeling encouraged and empowered. I wanted them to feel seen and cared for.

I spoke from my heart.

And it went well. Praise God.

Photo by Sharon Miles

After a 40 minute drive back to my family, I returned a conquering hero. . . at least in my own mind. I was relieved that it was over and proud of how my hard work had turned out. But my family? None of that mattered to them.

They were happy to have me home and I was immediately thrown back into the chaos and joy of raising six kids. They were not interested in how it had gone, they didn’t care about how many women appreciated it and they didn’t even give me a minute to get out of my fancy pants before they started asking me to help them unwrap their snacks. It was kind of a rough reentry.

Continue Reading →

October 17, 2017
by Maralee

If you Give a Foster Family a Chicken Dinner

If you give a foster family a chicken dinner,

They might have extra time to spend with their foster child.

When they have extra time to spend with their foster child,

They’ll spend it taking a walk, looking at flowers.

When they spend it on a walk looking at flowers,

They learn more about each other because they aren’t feeling stressed by dinner prep.

When they learn more about each other because they aren’t feeling stressed,

They are able to work on forming a healthy attachment.

If they’re able to work on forming a healthy attachment,

They’re creating a foundation for lifelong relational health.

If they’re creating a foundation for lifelong relational health,

Sometimes it feels too risky and the foster child will push them away.

When it feels too risky and the foster child pushes them away,

The foster parent will need to work through their own feelings of rejection and lovingly draw closer to the child.

When the foster parent can lovingly draw closer to the child, the child may realize they are committed even when things are tough.

If the foster child realizes the foster parent is committed, they may feel safe enough to open up.

When the foster child feels safe enough to open up, the foster parent can respond with empathy and can help meet their physical needs.

When a foster parent responds with empathy and offers to meet their physical needs, the child may feel ready to eat.

And when the foster child feels ready to eat, she may ask for a chicken dinner.

Being a foster parent is one way to help a foster child, but it isn’t the only way. This work takes a team approach and sometimes the best thing you can do is bring dinner. You may wonder how dinner helps, other than just the physical provision of food, but the time you invest in making that meal is time that foster parents can invest in relationship building with the child. There are so many other examples– bringing diapers, having groceries delivered, praying for the child and family, dropping off coffee for an exhausted mom, taking their bio or adopted kids on a fun adventure so the focus can be on the foster child, providing childcare so the family can go to court.

I think there is a wrong impression that doing something for foster kids requires actually being the one to invest in the foster kid. What many of us know is that when you invest in the foster FAMILY or the foster PARENTS you are actually doing the best thing possible for the foster child. They need to bond with those parents. They need to feel safe and loved by consistent adults who can provide nurture, structure and stability for them. They don’t need a rotating parade of adults in and out of their lives to say nice things to them. When you can build into the foster parents, the foster child will reap the rewards.

These kids need foster parents who don’t burnout. They need experienced foster parents who have learned how to work with the system, have successfully built relationships with biological families, and have gained parenting wisdom by working with kids from trauma. Having an involved and educated support structure is one way we can prevent burnout in our foster families. If you are part of that support structure, take pride in what you’re doing! Claim it. Tell other people how you are involved in the work of foster care by bringing meals, showing up with emergency pacifiers when the brand the family had on hand wasn’t working, and helping facilitate date nights for the foster parents (gift cards they can use for a date night in after the kids have gone to bed is a great way to handle it.).

We recently attended a picnic thrown by a local church for foster families with our agency. The dinner was great, but what was even better was being able to just sit with other families who understand what we’re going through. The foster, adopted and bio kids were able to play with other foster, adopted and bio kids. This is so beautifully normalizing for our kids. While the church who provided the food may have thought they were just providing a meal, it was SO MUCH MORE than that for the families involved. It was a rare opportunity to relax with people who know our struggles and joys.

We need everybody to show up for these kids. Think about your unique gifts and passions and how you can use them for foster kids (make a blanket! paint a nursery! take a family photo! give guitar lessons!). Everybody can do something and maybe what you can do is make a chicken dinner.

*This post was originally published at Her View From Home

October 12, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

The Baby that Comes in a Storm

My baby was born in a storm. I don’t know what the weather was like that day. I spent all day walking the halls of the hospital, protected from whatever elements were out there. But there was a storm brewing in my heart and my life. It was that kind of storm you can see miles off, green and eerie. I couldn’t keep it from coming towards me and I felt this intense protective drive to keep this baby safe. I felt helpless and desperate and I was longing for something better.

Being pregnant and knowing things are difficult is an incredibly vulnerable feeling. It would be great if all pregnancies happened when you were ready for them, when things were peaceful, when your circumstances were smooth. That’s just not the way of the world. Pregnancies happen in all circumstances. Situations that seemed fantastic 40 weeks ago can be devastating when the time comes for your baby to enter the world. Life changes and sometimes takes turns we didn’t anticipate. Pregnancy doesn’t protect us from pain or rejection or heartache or cancer or job loss or financial struggles or the death of a loved one or mental health issues (ours and other people’s). Pregnancy doesn’t cure our problems or prevent them, it just intensifies the emotional impact of them. It especially intensifies the fear.

But God is watching over the pregnant, the women in labor, the mothers of young. When we feel tossed about by unsafe winds, when we feel defenseless in the face of the storms raging around us, God is present. He is capable of stilling the storms, but sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he sits with us in the whipping wind and pounding rain as we cradle our newborns to our chests. He is with us as we weep in the rocking chair. He is there when we walk the halls at night, wondering how we can be good mothers in the face of all the hurt in the world and the hurt in our own hearts.

Three years ago my baby was born in a storm. While I don’t know that I’ll ever be thankful for the storm, I am incredibly thankful for my baby. He was the right gift at the right time. God knew what I didn’t know when I got pregnant and when he was born. He was a little light in my dark time. His warm body in my arms was a constant source of comfort. He was there and he needed me. He was a reason to take good care of myself because I needed to be the best mother I could be for him and my other kids. I would never ask or expect a child to do those things, but he did them just by being my son and I’m forever thankful.

It can be easy to think of pregnancy as a magical and empowering time. When I look back at my pregnancy experiences, that is not how they felt. They made me feel vulnerable. They made me look at the world through new eyes. I felt defenseless and incapable. There were moments I felt ashamed of bringing a child into a world where I couldn’t always protect them, where I knew the world could hurt them. Even in the most pleasant of circumstances, we know that the world is a hostile place and children are the most vulnerable among us. To bring new life into the world is to agree to all the possible calamities outside of your control that could befall someone you love more than your own life. I think this feels even more true to older mothers as we’ve seen enough of life to know exactly how much is outside of our control.

If you’re pregnant in a stormy time, know that you aren’t alone. Don’t be ashamed for daring to hope that this child will have a good life. Don’t let fear steal your joy. Whatever your circumstances, a child is a reason to celebrate. Ask for help if you need it. Let others see your storm and they may just help provide you with the encouragement and respite you need.

God has his hand on this little life and an ever-watchful eye on your stormy circumstances. He sees the chaos and threats even we can’t see and he cares deeply about the vulnerable and needy. You aren’t forgotten or on your own. Whatever the world may say to you, there is value and beauty in new life and you are the one tasked and gifted with the joy of bringing that new life into the world.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40:11