Welcome to my circus.

September 11, 2017
by Maralee

The Day My Children will Lead Me by the Hand

We attend a small, but incredibly social church. Sometimes, this means before and after the service the aisles are crowded with people. This is a charming feature of our church, unless you’re actually in a hurry to get somewhere. You know, for instance, if you were supposed to be leading music, but you couldn’t get to the stage and you were holding a thirty pound toddler who was supposed to be in the nursery, but decided he wanted to sing with you instead and your arm was already sore from hauling him up and down the church stairs and now you’re going to have to hold him the whole time you’re singing and you can’t even get to the stage because THESE PEOPLE WON’T MOVE. . . hypothetically speaking.

So the other week I was stuck in the “clogged artery” (as my husband has affectionately named the main aisle of our church) and happened to be right in front of a grandpa. He looked down at me, lugging my giant toddler and said something sweet about my son and patted his head. I said something vaguely annoyed about how big he was and how hard it is to lug him around, but that he was a good boy. This grandpa looked me straight in the eye and said, “Be kind to him. Some day he will take YOU by the hand.” I saw a gentleness in that grandpa’s eyes that brought a tear to mine as I looked at my baby boy and imagined the day I will no longer be sighing at his slowness as I’m rushing to get where I need to go, but he is sighing at mine. It was a dose of reality I desperately needed.

Parenting little ones is exhausting. The temptation to be short or cross or sarcastic is strong. I want them to fall inline with my agenda, make me proud, and give my life purpose. When they make my life complicated, even when it is unintentional, I’m irritable. The phrase, “Are you serious right now?” is my all-too-frequent response to their entirely predictable inability to be miniature adults. It is easy for me to feel entitled to peace, freedom, and control and to feel angry when that doesn’t happen. There are days I misunderstand the goal of parenting and assume it’s about making my life rewarding instead of about raising adults. . . adults who may someday care for me.

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September 9, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- March #2, 2017

Be my friend! Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

You. Guys. The phone rang at 7 a.m. and I was dead asleep. It’s spring break week, the kids were up until like 10 last night and Brian and I were up talking until literally 1 a.m. about some different stuff. So the phone rings and I jump out of bed, positive it’s an emergency and it is GORDON AND STAN from our statewide Christian radio station and I can tell from Gordon’s voice that we’re live on the air. My first thought is that I forgot I had scheduled something with them, but I can’t think of ANYTHING. So Stan starts doing this intro for me- who I am, my qualifications for giving advice to moms and then he says something about how they’re just calling me to see if I’d be willing to share the best piece of advice I’d been given or I’d want to give to other moms. I think I said something about self-care (which YES I am hugely passionate about and if I’d had a week to prep, I think I would have come up with the same answer), but I was so panicked I’m not even totally sure what I said. And Brian is “shhhhh”ing me the whole time because he can’t figure out what’s going on and he’s trying to keep me from waking up the kids. I hung up the phone and he says, “Why were you doing your radio voice in the bathroom?” I explained and then we just sat there and laughed for a long time.

(overheard outside the exam room)
Dental Hygienest: And how old are you?
Bethany: I’m 7. And I’m adopted.

People Who Are Trying to Make St. Patrick’s Day A THING,
Please stop. I didn’t want your Elf-on-the-Shelf, I don’t want your Leprechaun-in-the-Pantry (or whatever it is you’re proposing). I will put green on my kids, eat some corned beef, talk about the actual St. Patrick and MOVE ON. Stop trying to make this happen.

I’ve been talking to my agency about how hard it is to find homes for older kids in foster care. Something about that conversation struck a nerve, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Today it hit me- what I wouldn’t give to have been able to spend all those teenage years with the 19 year-old currently in my home. Those formative years, hard years, teaching him how to drive, how to talk to girls, how to have good boundaries, how to deal with pain, to celebrate his successes. . . I loved my years with him as a little kid, but what a gift it would have been to get to be with him for all those adolescent years, too. While in my heart he’s one in a million, I know there are lots of other kids out there who need the love and support of a solid family. And what they give in return? I don’t even have words. Loving and being loved by a teen who needs you is a beautiful thing. More of you need to experience it.

You know that moment when something great or terrible or challenging or exciting happens to you and the first thing you want to do is call your mom? The next time that happens, I want you to imagine you aged out of foster care without a solid family base of support. Who shares your sorrows and your joys? You NEVER outgrow the need for a family. Could you be that family for somebody who needs you?

Me: (Puts on lipstick)
#everytime #theyknowme

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September 7, 2017
by Maralee

Quit Trying to Preserve Your Corpse

I can’t quite remember what the context was. I think we might have been talking about one of my parents trying out a medication that might lengthen their life, but would reduce their quality of life in some way. Or maybe we were talking about cutting back on sugar? Or some pros/cons list about taking a risk? I really can’t remember. I just remember my dad saying something like, “I don’t think the point of life is just trying to preserve the corpse.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about that line when it comes to making hard decisions in life. Preserve the corpse. Is that what I’m doing when I choose my own self-preservation over hard or uncomfortable work I think God is calling me to do? Is that what my friends and family are encouraging me to do when they tell me how a decision has the potential to hurt me or my family?

I want to listen to wisdom. There are people who can see things I can’t see when it comes to the potential implications of a decision. I want to hear what they have to say and weigh out their reasoning. I’m not interested in seeking out pain for pain’s sake or being a martyr if I don’t have to be. But I think somehow we’ve got our priorities all wonky if we look at our life as our one chance to have all the fun we can or be as safe as possible, but miss out on doing all the good we can.

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September 5, 2017
by Maralee

12 Reasons Large Family Moms Pretty Much Always Feel Like They’re Winning

In a fit of large family frustration, I wrote something the other day about why I always feel like I’m failing. It’s just true—there is always a reason to feel guilty when you’re raising a bunch of kids. But the opposite is also true!

Pretty much every night I can go to bed thinking about some sweet success of the day. With so many kids, surely somebody is doing well and there was a moment where I knew I was being the mom I was meant to be. Large family moms may have double the reasons to feel like failures, but they may also have double the sweet times. So here’s why that large family mom is strutting around like she owns the place everywhere she goes:

We look like superheroes for just showing up. If you’ve got a bunch of kids, people start mentally lowering the bar. If you just arrive at school with all your children, they will give you grace if your kids forgot their library books. Most people can’t quite comprehend what it takes to get a gaggle of children ready for the day and will look at you with admiration for just doing your normal life. I like to imagine that when the old lady at the grocery store says, “My, you have your hands full!” what she’s really saying is, “I have so much respect for how you’re handling all those children in this grocery store.” Maybe she’s not actually saying that, but in my self-talk I’m just going to keep repeating it.

We have perfected our baby rocking, grape slicing, tantrum calming skills. It took me a long time to figure out just the right sway to calm a baby—not too jerky, but aggressive enough to settle them down. When you’ve had a bunch of kids, you’ve had a bunch of opportunities to learn (especially when your kids are not all biologically related to each other or you and have varying degrees of needs). You stop feeling insecure about how you parent and you start feeling like a boss.

We’ve got a system and we own it. Maybe your little kids don’t need to take a mid afternoon nap. Mine do. And I know the consequences if I don’t. I’m done apologizing for the system that keeps our life sane and our rhythm predictable. It works for us and it keeps this large family running like a well-oiled machine. And in this machine, Mom is the motor.

Teachers love us. We are so thankful for the help of good teachers in investing in our children. We express that thankfulness and work to partner with the teacher instead of looking for flaws. If our kids are being ridiculous, we are not surprised (we live with them, we know) and we support our teachers. Our kids come into school knowing how to share, how to take turns, to look out for smaller people, to respect the system, and to clean up after themselves. (They also know how to be bossy, overly protective of “their” stuff, and major class clowns, but that’s the subject for a different post.) Continue Reading →

September 1, 2017
by Maralee

The Importance of Support in the Fostering and Adoption Journey (and some retreat info)

When we became foster parents about 9 years ago, we had a very small circle of support. We had a group of people who loved us and encouraged us, but the amount of people we knew who had been down this road that we could vent to or ask questions. . . I can think of two families who might have fit that description, but we weren’t really close to either of them. It was lonely and hard sometimes. The people who loved us wanted us to not get our hearts broken. The people who knew foster care well, knew we would and they were pretty resigned to it. It was hard to feel understood, heard or safe to struggle in either environment.

So when we adopted our first two foster placements and had a bit of a breather, we decided to become advocates for the kind of support we needed. We wanted to encourage a community of honesty and safety for people who loved foster care, but sometimes kind of wanted to burn it down and walk away. We knew creating that kind of climate required being honest ourselves and pushing in a bit even when people acted like they didn’t need support.

It may take a foster parent to create that kind of community, but it’s hard for foster parents in the trenches to even get their head up far enough to see what kind of help would be beneficial. This is where those of us who are taking that breather can be useful. We can talk to our churches about what kind of help we needed. We can talk to our agencies about what would have communicated support to us. We can volunteer with advocacy groups or coordinate our own efforts to be the help we needed but didn’t get. We can complain about what doesn’t exist, or we can go out and create it.

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August 30, 2017
by Maralee

GIVEAWAY from The Family Seal

It’s been too long since we did a giveaway! I’m excited to be back at it with YOUR CHOICE of an item from The Family Seal. I’ll give you a quick rundown of the giveaway below and you can read more if you want:

-Enter by commenting on this post with what product you’d like if you win: mug, t-shirt, or tote.

-Like their Facebook page and write on there that you were sent by A Musing Maralee.

Those are the two ways to enter and you can get a total of two entries. I will do the drawing tomorrow (Thursday) at noon (CST).

They let me have free range of their products and I was excited to get the Love is a Craft mug. It’s always fun when you can pick something you and your kids are equally excited about you getting. My Minecraft obsessed boys just lit up when they saw me pull it out of the box. It was a great moment to stop and talk about how love doesn’t always just happen, it’s something we’ve worked to create as a family. That’s a reminder I can use daily.

Adoption isn’t all hearts and rainbows and chocolate chip cookies. It can be brutally bittersweet. Just like all of parenting. And coffee is one of my secret weapons in helping me handle the challenges with empathy. I love being able to go through my day with this message as my reminder on the kitchen counter. Love is something we build. Love is something we create together. Love is a craft.

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August 28, 2017
by Maralee

12 Reasons Large Family Moms Pretty Much Always Feel Like They’re Failing

Sometimes I’ll be mindlessly going about my day when I start to feel it—the slow simmer of failure. It’s like it’s always on the back burner, humming along as I go about my usual activities. Sometimes it burns and boils over and other times it’s just sitting here, humming away. But as a mom in a large family, I pretty much always feel like I’m failing.

If you saw me out in public, you probably wouldn’t know. The woman with a baby balanced on her hip, holding the hand of a toddler with an adorable parade of children following behind may look like anything but a failure (except when those children are punching each other, which they often are). Making dinner WHILE helping with homework WHILE soothing a cranky/hungry toddler WHILE on the phone with a friend may make me seem like the ideal multitasker, competently handling my life.

But that is NOT how I feel. And I think lots of large family moms feel the same. Here’s why:

I can’t get to all my kids’ events. If a basketball game conflicts with the baby’s nap, then we have to divide and conquer. Nobody wants a grumpy, screaming baby in a middle school gym. When two kids have basketball games at the same time, it’s not possible to be at both of them. When THREE kids have basketball games at the same time, you’ve got to figure out a carpool and trust that one kid won’t be eternally scarred by having no parent in attendance. Sometimes I hear parents talk about all their parenting failures and end it with, “But I was there for all his games/musicals/chess tournaments/etc.” Yeah, I can’t comfort myself with that one. If my kid needs therapy for all the times he felt unsupported by my lack of attendance, I’ll help him get the therapy. But there’s no physical way I can be at everything.

I have no idea how much milk they drank today. When I go to the pediatrician’s office they have me fill out this form. Part of the form asks questions I honesty have zero answers for. How many servings of meat daily? How many fruits and vegetables? How much milk they drink, in ounces. OUNCES. I fill it out with educated guesses, but I have no clue how much of what I served them actually went into their stomaches and how much they fed to the dog, slipped onto their sister’s plate, or put in their pockets. I can’t stay on top of all that. I can get good food on their plate, but micromanaging the number of ounces of milk they drink went out the window about three kids ago. Same for just about any issue your average parent is stressing over. I don’t even know to be stressed about it, but there’s always this feeling of failure that I can’t micromanage their lives.

You can’t co-sleep with six kids. When you have a first child you get a lot of adorable parenting advice about being the perfect parent for your one child. And then you have four or five more kids and that parenting advice is useless. Maybe this kid does “need” to co-sleep with me, but in order to do that he’d have to crawl over the three other kids already co-sleeping with me. It would be great if I could do extensive bedtime stories alone with each child before they went to sleep, but that is not physically possible unless the last kid wants to go to sleep at midnight (which he does, but that doesn’t seem wise). How sweet would it be to rock each precious child as long as they needed? But it’s not happening.

One-on-one time is a joke. I love the idea of spending alone time with each child. I take opportunities to do that where I can. But it often looks less like adorable lunch dates and more like grocery shopping or a trip into the public restroom alone together while we’re all at the zoo. If I wanted to feel guilty for not spending daily one-on-one time with each of my kids, I would NEVER STOP FEELING GUILTY. Continue Reading →

August 27, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- March #1, 2017

Be part of the fun on Facebook and Twitter.

I was irritated that the toddler had burst in on me while I was in the bathroom, but then he cheered and declared me a “Big Boy!” and then I felt kind of awesome.

Danny: Mom, can we watch this video about a Paddle Puss.
Me: What’s a Paddle Puss?
Danny: You know- it’s like a beaver, but with a beak?
#soclose #platypus

When I asked him to explain this, he declared it with pride, “A perfect shot!”

Image may contain: indoor

Joel: What’s that lady doing?
Me: She’s jogging.
Joel: Why is she doing that, Mom?
Me: . . . I have no idea.
#Idontrun #canexplaindrugsandsextomykids #cantexplainjoggers

Sent my daughter up to get dressed. She came back down still in her pajamas, but with the addition of a magician-style top hat.

Because sometimes playing defense is boring and you’d rather be wiggling your loose tooth.
#secondgradeboysbasketball #proudmom #getyourhandsUP#oratleastoutofyourmouth

(Seeing Captain Hook’s ship in “Pan”)
Bethany (8): Oh! It’s the Jolly Rancher!
#soclose #JollyRoger #deliciousconfusion

In my adolescence I used to think it was a coincidence that this happened so regularly, but now I’m realizing there is a perverse parental pleasure in vacuuming while a teenager is sleeping way past the time normal people are up and around.

How to Entertain Your Neighbors:
1) Awkwardly wrestle your large, dirty area rug on to your back deck so you can finally mop underneath it. Rug falls on top of you several times in the process, spraying dirt and dust everywhere.
2) Decide you need to vacuum it before you can bring it back into your clean house, so you drag your vacuum out on the back deck.
3) Realize there isn’t enough room on the deck for it, so you drape it over the picnic table. . . and then you vacuum it on top of the picnic table. And then you vacuum the deck for awhile because it was really dirty.
4) Hear thunder. Start to panic. Feel rain drops. Realize the floor inside is still wet. Try to wad up giant area run underneath the overhang on the deck.
5) Area rug falls on top of your head and swallows you up multiple times while you are wrestling it.
6) Give up and just stand defeatedly outside in the rain guarding the rug and watching the wet floor inside start to dry.
#whyIdontcleanoften #poorplanning #yourewelcomeneighbors

Continue Reading →

August 23, 2017
by Maralee

I Love my Envirocloth- now what do I get?

A few things to know:

-I am a Norwex consultant and I love the products, but if you don’t, that’s fine with me. We can still be friends. I will NEVER try to recruit anybody to sell products and I don’t really want to host any parties for you. I am a consultant for introverts/ambiverts/exhausted extroverts.

-I sell these products because they have made my life EASIER. If they don’t make your life easier, then either you haven’t quite figured out how to use them (there can be a bit of a learning curve, but I’m here to help), or they just aren’t for you. WHICH IS FINE. I am not going to shame you for using bleach wipes. We’ve all got to figure out what works for us and for me, cleaning with water is a game-changer and I’d love to tell you how.

So last time I gave you some Norwex info, I told you about the Envirocloth. They are your all-purpose cloth that can replace a ridiculous chunk of the chemicals you’re currently spending money on. If you have a Envirocloth and a window cloth, you can clean your whole bathroom, wipe down your kitchen, get spots off your stainless appliances, etc. all with just water. It’s kind of amazing.

So if you’ve tried them and you love them, what’s next? It’s not terribly realistic to just buy everything Norwex makes at once and you can feel overwhelmed just looking at all the options, so my goal is to walk you through the essentials a couple products at a time. Today, we’re all about the dusting mitt and the dryer balls.

The Dusting Mitt

Why you need it: With this mitt, you no longer need dusting spray. It traps and holds the dust so it doesn’t go flying around the house. The true test of this product for me was climbing up on a chair to wipe down our ceiling fan blades. Normally this means spraying product onto the blades (which I’m always worried will go in my hair and my eyes) and then wiping the dust off, which always means dust chunks end up on me and on the floor. Maybe there’s a more graceful way to do this, but I never figured it out. With the mitt, I can just wipe the blade. The dust stays on the mitt, doesn’t fly into my eyes, and there’s no need for product (so I don’t have to get my kids out of the room for fear of dusting spray going in their faces). It’s also great for dusting around electronics, getting dust off of knick-knacks, dusting high shelves, dusting around books, etc. If you don’t want to get dusting spray residue on something, this is the route to go.

Why it makes your life easier: I have one night a week where my kids are responsible for cleaning their rooms. But before the mitt, I had to go in and dust the dressers because I didn’t want my kids wasting spray, getting it in their eyes, spraying until everything was coated, etc. Now that I’m only dusting with the mitt, I can just hand a child (A THREE-YEAR-OLD, no less) the mitt and let them handle their own dusting. This has made it so much easier (and safer) for me to delegate appropriate cleaning responsibilities to my kids.  Continue Reading →

August 22, 2017
by Maralee

Saying Goodbye to a Child you Love. Again.

Every baby that has come to us as a foster child, we’ve been able to adopt. That’s just how it’s worked for us. For people who only know that side of our story, I’ve seen some incredulity about how we can ask people to walk into the pain of potential love and loss of foster care when we haven’t experienced it ourselves. What people don’t know about us is that we loved and lost 17 young men prior to becoming foster parents.

We spent five years in group home work where we grew to love the boys in our home with all we had in us. We met them as strangers, grew to love them as our children, and then said goodbye. And today we did it all over again.

It’s been long enough (about nine years) since we left group home work that I almost forgot what this feels like. But today I wandered around my house and washed the last glass, threw away the last bits of trash, dusted the place where his computer used to be and felt that familiar feeling.

It’s loss. It’s grief that I can’t protect the people I love or help them make choices I think would be wise. It’s the sadness of the empty place at the table. It’s the avoidance of THAT room because if I don’t go into it, then maybe he’s still there. But he’s not there. He’s gone. Again.

We have been blessed to have one of our group home kids back in our world for a season (the last six months). It was beautiful and redemptive and hard and I’m sure I’ll write more about it at some point (with his blessing). But today I watched him drive away and there aren’t a lot of coherent thoughts I can put together. It all feels pretty raw.

His story doesn’t belong to me. I don’t get to tell it because I am not the main character. But I can tell you that he’s loved and that I know he knows it. I can tell you I have zero regrets about asking him to come live with us. My greatest fears didn’t end up being anything to worry about. My kids were safe and loved having this big brother back in their lives. But my greatest hopes weren’t realized either.

I am trying to make peace with the idea that I can’t create a happy ending to this story. But that’s good, because this isn’t the end. This story started about 14 years ago and as the years have gone by, there have been many new chapters. This last chapter has been precious. We’ve been able to have a front row seat to the life of someone we love, a person we influenced during a pivotal time, but a person we don’t get to control. We are thankful for this opportunity to once again be there for a season of his life, and we hope there are more seasons to come where we can be active participants and not just outside observers.

To love is to open ourselves up to pain. That’s the reality. They don’t tell you that when they hand you that precious bundle in the hospital. For a little while maybe you can control things and you think maybe your job is to avoid pain– theirs and yours. But you can’t avoid pain forever, and even if you could, it wouldn’t be a healthy way to live.

You get a little more of a heads-up when your introduction to parenting is through a courtroom or a social worker’s office or in an orphanage or through a stranger arriving at your doorstep. That person has already been through pain before you ever met. You may have walked through your own pain to get to this point, too. Parenting is not a journey of pain avoidance. It is often about learning to embrace pain, accept pain, and then heal pain.

Today was painful in the very best and worst ways. But this pain is not what defines my relationship with this young man. Today we watched the eclipse together and in the bizarre sunset of 1 p.m. I was reminded that sometimes what looks like an ending isn’t quite what it seems. While I see the sun setting on this chapter, there’s a lot of life left to live (Lord willing).

When children are granted to us for a season (maybe 18 years, maybe 18 months, maybe 18 days) we are not just committing to them for that season. That’s not how life works. Life is long even when this season is short. We are committing to love them in whatever capacity we are granted for the rest of our lives. We are opening ourselves up to pain and joy and uncertainty– whatever God has for us. There may not be a happy ending because the end hasn’t been written yet. As long as we’re here, there’s still a role for us to play in loving this child and these children. Having a door to your heart that is always propped open. . . it’s hard.

Risking loving again meant risking losing. Again. And yet we would do it all over again for the ability to pour love and hope and whatever answers we can give into this soul. And hopefully we will get the chance to do it all over again and again and again for as long as we get to be parents to the children God gave us for however long or short and in whatever capacity they need us.

Tonight, I don’t have the answers. I have lots of questions. I have doubts and grief and pride and hope. And I feel more strongly than ever that we need to offer what we have to give– our families, our homes, our love– to those who need it, without expectations (but with lots of healthy boundaries). We can’t control the outcomes, we can’t write the story, we can’t make the ending be what we most want. But we can give and trust that God will do something with that gift.