It's on me

He took me out for ice cream for my birthday, trying on phrases in the same way he’s trying on manhood for the first time this year. “It’s on me,” he says in the card. He’ll pay, with money he earned.

“What can I get?” I ask him in the DQ line. I don’t know how much he has stashed in his pockets.

“Oh, anything for 40baht or less,” he sort of drawls, trying to be casual. I suspect that if I do order something for 40 baht that he will not have much left for him. His daddy slips him another 20 from behind, where he and the other kids wait to get ice cream too, but try not to intrude on our ice cream “date”, even though we’re all at the mall together. His quick smile and quiet, “Thanks” confirms my suspicions.

So I order the blizzard in a waffle cone, and he orders the same, in a different flavor, and we wander over to a corner of the food court and sit down. I am picturing his first date in my head. I think he’ll be remarkably similar to the way he is right now, trying to act casual, but proud of being able to buy me something on his own, and talking mostly of how cool the thing that he purchased for her is. Not because he’s trying to impress, but because he truly thinks it’s cool. Waffle cones are not an everyday occurrence in this family, and it’s to be savored. And why do they give you spoons with ice cream cones here in Thailand? It’s like they don’t understand how you’re supposed to eat an ice cream cone.

I catch glimpses every day now of this kid growing up, in the ways that matter. The way he prays for me to be able to adapt and be strong and at peace in this strange new place that he’s already at home in. He’s still a kid, chronically forgetful, often needing me to nag him to remember his chores, sometimes foolish, sometimes mean, almost always loud and silly. But there is this growing shadow of maturity looming under of all of that, and it cautions me to tread softly, to begin to forge a new way of relating and communicating that acknowledges his encroaching adulthood.

I feel like there is some urgency to my listening to him this year, while he still talks in a stream of consciousness, to keep this pattern of talking open for as long as possible. The time approaches when he will have deeper things to discuss, and more adult things to wonder over. I want to be privy to those thoughts too, and those struggles. I hope I can be worthy of his trust and confidence for many years to come.

I look forward to the day he tells me about his first date, where they went, what they said. It will be overlaid by my memories of today and how he looked as he bought me ice cream.


Of Beggars and Boys, and Becoming Men

Sunday night on our way home from the market the clutch went on our car. We pulled over at the first place that seemed like it might have some of the things we needed for a repair. We hadn't eaten dinner yet, and it was getting late, and the car wasn't going anywhere anytime soon, so I ran into 7/11 to get some food type things to tide hungry children through the wait for a ride.

There was a little boy sitting outside the door, filthy, with a ragged scrap of cloth tied up to help him hold a little girl with pigtails who was passed out in his arms. He had a little cup and was asking for money for food. I didn't give him any money, but I did buy him some food and take it to him, looking him in the eye and making sure he understood that I wanted him to make sure the little girl got some to eat too. (I know the money he gets he won't keep, but i thought he could at least eat.)

I turned around after getting back to the car and watched a little girl in a pretty pink dress run around the side of the building with the food I had just given the boy and show it to two ladies, and a man, sitting on a bench. They were talking and singing and this filthy little boy working the parking lot for money with the limp little girl in his arms was taking all of it over to them.

That's when I started to feel a bit sick to my stomach.

The Boy asked me if he could go into the store to get something with his own money and I said yes, not realizing that he planned to give whatever he bought to the beggar boy. Just as we were loading our things in our friends vehicle in order to get home he told me, "I didn't find any snacks mama, so I gave that little boy my money."

"Oh no! Don't give him money." I blurted out with dismay. "He doesn't get to keep it."

I told him what I had seen around the corner and how I suspected that the little girl was probably drugged in order for her to keep sleeping like she was. (It had been an hour and she hadn't stirred, not even when her dropped her head by accident when reaching for something.)

"I don't know if that's his family over there, because there are families in this town who make their living begging, or if those people are just using him to make money."

When we got home the Boy asked me, "Is there anything we don't need that I can destroy?"

I could see he was struggling with some emotions, but I didn't put it all together at first. My answer was along the lines of, "Why do you need to destroy something? What are you angry about?"

He didn't answer, and I went into the flurry that is preparing a late dinner and getting everything put away once we got in the door.

It was Little who said to Aaron, "He's angry about those people and what they're doing to that little boy."

So Aaron and he talked about it for a while a little later. The Boy talked about how he didn't like the feeling that he couldn't do anything about it to help that boy. He was angry at the injustice, and angry about the helplessness he also felt.

I'm not sure I've ever been prouder of my son. Just so you know.

"You sure ended up in the right family," Aaron told him. "This sort of thing is the reason we moved here to Thailand, and the reason I've been away so much going back and forth all the time. That's why mommy and daddy spend so much time working and doing stuff on the computer. It's to help kids like that little boy. The kids up the hill that live at the Charis home, they would be in situations like that little boy if we weren't taking care of them."

As the Boy nodded, comprehension dawning on his face Aaron smiled and added, "Your responses tonight show that you are well cut out to participate in the family business. Helping kids like that, that's what we do."

And then I watched my boy as he smiled really, really big, tucking that piece of information away somewhere inside where it can give him strength for the work to come.

Fortunately, we have friends here who also care about this sort of thing. One organization in particular, Compassio, looks out for street kids and works with the government social workers to help kids and families who need it, either to get kids into safer situations, or to help the whole family get into a better situation. We talked to them, and their community engagement team, all Burmese speakers, are going to find out about this boy if they can, and get the whole story. I'll update if possible.


Little is 7!!!

Seven!!! No way.

You are too tiny and little to be 7. What happened to my little girl?

I'm sorry. I always do this. It's milestones like birthdays that suddenly show me how quickly the individual days are passing me by and how quickly childhood, which seems to take forever when you are lost in the blur of the day to day effort that it takes to care for children, flies past us, like the view of the ground out the window of a jet plane.

So this year, you moved to Thailand. That was hard. You are finally adjusting to being here and making plans for the future in Thailand, rather than constantly talking about what you are going to do when you get back to America. You have friends here now, and things you like to do, and places you like to play.

You are still very young in the way you understand things like time. And delayed gratification is not your forte. You understand very well that something comes after something else. But you think you can speed along the thing you want by making all the things in front of it go more quickly. If I tell you that you can do something fun after school and lunch, you will start doing your school work at 7 am, make your lunch and eat it at 10am, and then cry bitter tears of grief when I still make you wait until everyone else has eaten their lunch at noon. I have learned to be more specific. And to tell you times on the clock, rather than times in the schedule like I used to.

Your baby brother is one of your favorite things. He is so cute. You can't stop looking at him. You want to play and snuggle with him even when he is content just sitting and looking at a toy. Sometimes he doesn't like your attention. But you are such a lovely little mother, the first to run to him when he cries, the most diligent to try and keep him happy. You are a little mother to all the little babies and toddlers that you see. Taking care of people and nurturing is just in you and part of who you are.

You love to cook. Your favorite gifts are recipe books, and cooking equipment. (This is probably due, in part, to the fact that you are constantly hungry and I get tired of cooking for you so taught you to help.) Play kitchen things are also really, really fun because you can do that anytime, not just when mommy says that you can make real food. You discovered you like the meatballs they make up in the village, with lemon grass.

Tasting the food at Lahu New Year

You even tasted fried bamboo worms.

You watch how people cook and then try it at home. Sometimes you think you know how something is made just from looking at it, and you will go back to the kitchen and try it. Often it doesn't turn out as you had hoped, but you are learning by trial and error and one day you will be a fantastic cook of everything. You discovered the food network at your Beema's house, just before we left the US this spring, and for 2 whole weeks you were in a frenzy of learning and making and big,big ideas in the kitchen.

I love the way you get an image in your mind of an event, or a dish, or a place, and then you work tirelessly to realize that vision. You can see it, and then you make it happen. Your arrangements are always so artistic and beautiful. (You care little, at this point, for the parts that aren't visible, or the process. So it doesn't matter to you if you shove everything under the bed, as long as the room looks pretty. But I'm confident that will come in time.)

Sometimes your vision of what will be, and the reality that you are able to execute, don't line up, like when you are drawing something and can't quite make it look as you want. Those are such frustrating times for you. When you get frustrated you yell and cry and sometimes throw pencils and then huddle in a ball under a blanket.

This year I pray for you to be better able to deal with disappointment, to adapt, to find a way around or through, rather than getting upset so quickly when facing obstacles. I pray for you to be able to pause, and listen, and try to understand, before getting upset.

You are our resident hot head, passionate, affectionate, and quick to every single emotion, the entire spectrum of emotions in 5 minutes or less.

It's going to be a bit of a wild ride, you trying to get your grip on those powerful bits of information.

But remember, one day you will understand that they are just information, and don't usually tell the whole story. That day you will gain a lot more perspective than you have now. I just hope and pray it happens before you become a teenager or we may be in for a bit of drama.

I love you. I love the kindness that motivates you to rub my neck, or bring a sibling a cup of water, or to work hard to clean up the house just to do something helpful for me. I love the sympathy with which you feel others sadness and try to help and make it better. I'm in awe of your energy and efficiency when you set out to do something. I love how silly you can be, and your little giggle when you're tickled, and the way you still dance in anticipation of something good. Seven is going to be a year of new things, and saying goodbye to some old things as well. It's going to be good.

I'm glad I get to be your mama.

****This is, of course, a month late. I'm no good at throwing parties, baking cakes, making birthday dinners, for you and your sister, doing advent and Christmas AND getting a birthday post up all at the same time.


Happy New Year From Thailand!!!

We were privileged to celebrate the New Year with the children at the nearby Grace Home, run by our good friends at Compassio.

They had Mukake, Thai BBQ, and movies and sugar so all the kids had a lot of fun. (Some of the sugar was our fault because we had a giant Christmas party the night before and people brought so many khanome (Thai for snacks) and bottles of sweet drinks that we had a huge surplus. The New Year's party was a perfect chance to get it out of my house so Bam Bam would stop yelling like a sugar addict, "But I want nacks mama, I want them.")

It was really fun.

My feed is full of New Years Wishes and resolutions. There's a lot of hope for a happy, healthy and prosperous year to come, and to stay safe while partying. There were a lot of resolutions as well. A lot of them beautiful and difficult to fulfill, but possible.

It got me thinking about what I wish for the people I love, for you reading this, for me, and my family in this coming year.

I pray for you...

That you choose kindness whenever possible, and extend yourself to provide comfort for at least one other person this year.

That you have hope in the face of the darkness yet in the world, that would cause us to despair.

That you hold a candle of love and kindness up in that night and see how quickly it is dispelled when you do.

That you will be brave, and try something hard that will make you stronger.

That you have the courage to forgive someone who hurt you, and set yourself free from the prison of bitterness you have been keeping yourself in.

That you realize how powerful you really are.

That you know how deeply you yourself are loved.

That you grow in strength, and knowledge, and character.


That you have some stories worth telling at the end of it.
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