May 20, 2016

Moms beget moms

As a child I had a doll named James. He was one of those realistic baby dolls, if you know what I mean. Apparently they were something of a craze that Christmas, because when my parents went to buy one for me, the girl dolls were sold out. They had no choice but to bring home a boy. Foreshadowing, perhaps?

Well, I didn't play with that doll. I mothered that doll. James was a son of mine, as far as I was concerned. I remember a time when my friend came over to play and I sent her away, saying, "I can't play now. James is asleep. We'll come out when he wakes up from his nap."

Mother's Day 2016

And now I am mother to three little boys, and one little girl who's eyes disappear when she smiles.

Someday Jubilee will likely be living in another country - because she's a girl after my own heart - and she'll likely be sending me flowers on Mother's Day like the ones I sent to my mom this year. Aren't these gorgeous?! My mom took this pic when they were a couple of days old! Hats off to the florist.

My mom. Gosh I love her. This picture from summer '15, baking one of her famous blueberry pies in her kitchen at her condo in Zeeland MI, is one of my favorites. Everything about it. That smile-laugh of hers, which only a child can bring out (her grandkids are off camera). Her sleeves ever rolled-up on weathered arms saturated with freckles. Endearing arthritic hands, the bane of her adulthood, still gently rinsing berries, still pressing shortening into flour just enough, not too much, nor too little, for a perfectly flaky crust.

I'll never forget calling my mother from Kentucky the night I went into labor with my oldest. It was her birthday that night, her 53rd, and she didn't hesitate for a moment. Dad jumped in the driver's seat of the RV and drove my mom through the night so she could be with me when I became a mother. When the pain became too much for me, with my eyes squeezed shut, I could feel the warmth of my mom's hand resting lightly on top of mine. Her palm, worn smooth from the hot soapy water of domestic life, was a great comfort to me. She didn't have to say a word. I knew she was there, and I knew everything was going to be okay.

And now that wrinkly baby who made me a mother is an eleven-year-old boy, big enough to take me to the movies on Mother's Day for a 9:30 p.m. showing of Jungle Book in 3D. We screamed when the animals jumped out at us and marveled at the special effects, both of us appreciating a good movie when we see one. There is no other way I would have rather spent the last few hours of Mother's Day.

I am thankful beyond words for the kids who call me mom, and for the woman who showed me what it means to love children. To motherhood! What a gift.

May 09, 2016


The question came to my mind this week, as we said another tearful goodbye to another family we DEARLY love, Why do we say 'goodbye?' It isn't good, after all. It's quite terrible in fact. It should be called badbye, not goodbye.

A quick web searched proved helpful. Apparently, 'goodbye' can be traced back to the 1570's when the phrase, 'God be with you' was shortened to the contraction, 'godbwye.' It was later changed to 'goodbye' due to the influence of the common phrases, 'good day' and 'good evening' and such.

This came as a relief to me. Saying, 'God be with you!' I can do. But I don't think I can do any more goodbyes.

To whom did we bid godbwye this week? Tanya and Patrick and their five kids.  Five wonderful kids, who for the past three years have smiled, squeaked, sang, baked, and laughed their way into our hearts.

When we found out they would be leaving us this year, we knew it would be difficult for everyone. When you literally share the same wall as another family - something that my friend Darci in Arkansas knows about too - you form a special kind of bond. One that is built over leftover casseroles and coffee-cup conversations in slippers and robes. Middle of the night requests for infant tylenol, BBQs on the rooftop where the children play loudly, and the adults linger, in no hurry to retire to their prospective living spaces below.

Tanya is unlike any friend I've had. From her lovely Russian accent and pale eyes, endearing dimples, and waist-length chestnut hair, down to her sturdy shoes peeking out from under the hems of her flowing skirts, she is truly a special person to know. There is not a selfish bone in her tiny body. There is no pretense in her rugged ways. Always a baby in her arms, always a smile on her face. Only natural food for her brood. Only conservative curriculum for her treasured home pupils. I admire Tanya for so many reasons, and I will miss her very, very much.

And then there is my Eugene and her Emma. These two are cut from the same fabric. At times they quarreled because they are too much alike, but mostly they played together with great fondness and Emma will be missed dearly. And not just by Gene. I will miss my little baking partner. My reading buddy. My little friend.

Zion calls Sasha "Sash." I dare say she has been his best friend here.  She treats him with respect, something many little girls have lost the grace for in their dealings with little boys these days. The two of them played for hours and hours on the roof, in a world of make believe with their arms full of stuffed animals. Zion won't know what to do without "Sash."

And Tamara and Jubilee, well, these two girls were inseparable. They loved their tea parties and princess dresses just as much as making mud pies and turning over rocks in search of roly poly bugs. Jubilee hardly needed any other friend but Tamara.

So from the bottom of my heart I say, "God be with you, dear friends. Until we meet again!"
Dropping them off at the airport. Sasha giving me one last wave:(

April 23, 2016


They start out in a dark and quiet place. Soft and helpless. Unaware. 

And then they become mobile. Curious. Cute. And yet contained, confined to space and time; in my care. 

And you look at them in wonder, unable to imagine them becoming anything else.

And then, before your eyes, they do.

April 13, 2016

Episode XI

Dear Bright Eugene,

This weekend you turned 11. We celebrated with a pizza party, followed by a showing of The Force Awakens projected onto the wall of our roof room, and then a sleepover in the same roof room.  I don't think you boys got much sleep up there, as we heard you jumping on the trampoline over our heads at around midnight. But the rule in our house is no sleepovers until you are ten. And then we make up for it, I guess, by letting you stay up late and play.

Our Eugenious. You are one special kid, son. Always have been. You could point out almost any country on the world map before you were out of diapers, and nowadays you use words that I myself don't always know the meaning of.

You are steady and strong. You are urgent. You are precise.

You make me laugh. I love it that your humor is smart, too; you could cut-up with a room full of 50-year-old professors.

Gene, I am proud of you. I pray for you each day. I wonder about you, as I catch glimpses of the man that is coming.  To what corners of the earth will G0D call you? To what adventures are you to lay claim?

I smile to think about your wife, who will need to be a very tender person, and yet have the inner strength of rebar. She will learn how happy you can be with so little, so long as changes come slowly, and with plenty of notice. She'll learn how to coax you out of a blue mood by suggesting a shared task, or by asking for your opinion on a matter.

But for now I'm the lady in your life, and I couldn't possibly be any happier about it. HAPPY 11th BIRTHDAY, SON!

All my love forever,

April 08, 2016

Baby girl

One year ago last week, I was invited to spend the first night of this little girl's life holding her, changing her, and helping her mama (my dear friend, Alisa) at the local birthing hospital.

You can see, Brave is smitten with Addy, too.

During that night, I not only cared for Addy, but I got to massage Alisa's bum when it grew numb! If she tried to move, it hurt her stitches, you understand. Where was her husband? Getting a good night's sleep at home, of course. The hospital beds here are made for little guys, and John ain't no little guy.

So you might say I have a special place in my heart for Addy Greene. I think that night was made all the more special for me by the fact that I didn't get to hold my own daughter during her first night of life. Nor her second. Nor her 202nd.

I often wonder about the woman who did hold her that night. Where is she now? How many times a day does she think about Jubilee? How does she cope with what must be an insatiable curiosity, one that will never be satisfied?

Or at least not in this life. My prayer for Jubi's birth mom is that she will hear the Good News (if she hasn't already) and choose to believe, so that one day, when we have all gone to Heaven, I'll be able to introduce her to our beautiful daughter.

My own sweet, delightful, and truly amazing baby girl.

April 04, 2016

Holidays here

Holidays here are special, probably because we are the only ones celebrating them.
This woman is surrounded by young foreigners and their plastic eggs and she has no idea why.

Or maybe it's because all of us are missing our families, and so we band together, united by our suffering.

But whatever the reason, these East Asian Easters (and Christmases, and Thanksgivings) are precious to us all.
On the hunt for eggs!

Daniel is spouting out some sort of wisdom, and John is hanging on his every word.

We love our friends!

Happy Easter from East Asia! He is risen, indeed.

April 01, 2016

When else

I could complain about this place.

Such as the perpetually non-existent slow internet. And the perpetually life-sucking overcast weather. And the perpetually life-threatening hazardous pollution.

I could complain about the fact that our water gets cut off every afternoon between the hours of 1 and 6, so they can "fix" the pipes below our complex.

I could complain about the infuriating interesting driving habits, or how impossible challenging it is to learn the language. I could complain about the dirty public toilets, or the nose-picking in public (it's not rude to do that here, in their defense).

I could.

But I won't.

Because when else will I buy a coke between classes at the local university and exchange a few words with these two?

When else will we gather on Sundays with two other men named Bright? (All three of these handsome Brights live in East Asia for the same Reason)
The middle Bright is from Ghana. He brought the word last Sunday.

When else will my eldest son chit-chat over takeout with his best girl friend?

When else will I truly appreciate nature, stopping what I'm doing to watch as blossoms break through the drear and pollution as if to say, 'If we can do it, so can you.'

When else will I find myself in the Asian tropics from time to time, sipping curry?

Or stopping to get Daniel a late-night banana rotee?

When else will iced milk-tea come in a bag?

When else will Jubilee eat mango sticky rice in the mall?

When else will Brave cuddle with crumbling panda statues?

When else?

The truth is, never again. Because someday we will live back in America, and we will be eating Sunday potroast with our grandkids, and telling them stories of East Asia. Then I will be longing for this place, and I will be so glad I chose not to complain.