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  • Susan Brown

Extreme Parenting — Missionary Style

On your mark. Get set. Go!!!

Crazy people doing extreme sports seem to be trend – at least it is on Thai tv. Turn it on and you see people skiing down impossible slopes, doing death-defying tricks on skateboards, and bicycling along mountain trails just inches wide. Insane.

I decided this week that my life could be defined as extreme parenting. Crazy, exhausting, and sometimes death-defying. And I’m in the “senior division” of this event. Beginning again in my sixties to raise kids – and young teenagers at that – ought to give me some sort of bonus points. It has certainly given me gray hair!

After a lovely break visiting family in America and then spending a couple of weeks as practically empty-nesters (we still had a child or two) life as usual started back this week with a bang. The bang of the starting gun.

       Monday we assembled our team for the extreme events. Our kids were back, except for Jan. By mutual agreement she stayed with her family this school term. That left an empty space, which is now occupied by a new Lisu girl. Her name in Thai means “sky” so that’s the English name we’ve given her. Sky. We also have a new 18-year-old named Moses – or Moe for short.

Tuesday the contest began. Would we survive extreme school shopping? The event tested stamina, dexterity, flexibility, and patience. The race started off at Wororot Market – the largest market in Northern Thailand. It’s like a giant flea market on steroids.

Pann earned points by leading us  through the maze of buildings to a uniform shop that was tiny, but not too densely populated with shoppers. There, in a closet-sized back room, cooled only by a fan, I whipped out my list. I had each boy’s size listed and the number of shirts and pants they required. The size list was a washout, because when they tried on shirts, they all insisted they needed the next bigger size. It’s a guy thing. Lots of trying on and mixing up of clothes. (“Whose pile is this? Who wears a 36 shirt? Danny? Hold on to your uniforms.”) The room got hotter and the kids who were not being fitted popped in with regularity. “Are you done yet?” “We’re hot.” “We’re bored.” “Are you done yet?” I almost regretted my zeal in teaching them English. Almost.

We emerged triumphant from the first shop and William led us through the teeming streets and up a busy alley to a large

building. The ground floor primarily had food venders The second and third floors were wide balconies surrounded by a low railing wall. More shops crowded together, leaving a narrow walkway by the railing.

Still going strong, we forged our way up to the third floor to a shop that sells school shoes. That’s where the dexterity comes in. There was no place to try on shoes in the shop. Instead customers sat on the floor to try on the shoes, working the whole time to avoid the feet of passers by.

The trickiest part was checking to see if the shoes fit. Crowds of other shoppers had to pass the shoe shop on the way to the stairs, so we had to dodge two-way traffic while bending over in the middle of the aisle to see if there was a thumb-width of growing room in the shoes. I regret to say that I did not do well on this dexterity test and bumped into numerous innocent people and blocked the way for many more. And I fell over once. Sorry, team. However, we did get six pairs of shoes.

After this exercise, it was time for lunch break in the food court. Afterwards, we split up to finish our course. Pann took the two informal school students to buy their uniforms while I took Molly to buy items we forgot and baby clothes for our baby ministry. Paul, meanwhile, shepherded the remaining kids through the packed streets to put the purchases in the truck. Little shops are set up on the sidewalk (why waste the space on a place for people to walk?) so traveling the streets in the market involves lots of dodging and jumping. You lose points if you shove someone in the process – particularly if they land in front of a car.

We had a slight lapse, as we all three had a different understanding of where we were to meet up again, but this was not a timed event, so it didn’t matter.

The last event of the day was perhaps the most challenging – getting out of the parking lot. Paul is a pro, though, and backed, angled, edged and squeezed past the obstacle course of cars in the parking lot to the crowded street outside. Then it was a simple matter of crazy traffic, enlivened with death-seeking motorcycles, and we were home.

Shopping was done for another school year. Except for school supplies. That, and the dreaded dental event, was scheduled for Thursday.

Pann was not feeling well, so Paul, William, and I headed up this heat of the tournament, which dealt mainly with mental attitude, courage, and endurance. The first few kids came out from the dental chair victorious with clean teeth and no cavities. Then came the bad news. One child required two fillings. Stern warning about brushing faithfully given as required.

Then came really bad news. The next child has bad enamel and needs multiple fillings and probably crowns. Pre-recorded lecture about brushing was cut short by the dentist who assured me that it was the fault of his enamel, not his brushing – although he needs to brush the backsides of his teeth. Two fillings today and come back in six months for more work. Bad attitude on the part of the child, who seemed to blame me for his tooth trouble, although I am not his biological mother and he didn’t get the bad enamel genes from me. After a short struggle I decided to have a positive attitude about it. The child would get over being mad at me and our dentist son-in-law will be here to visit in six months. We can get a trusted second opinion before deciding on his future dental care.

Then the course really got tough. Our new girl is 15, but is timid and easily frightened. She is obviously overwhelmed by the very different life she is living at our home. This was her first dental visit, and the equipment terrified her. She dissolved into tears, refusing to open her mouth. After a pep talk, she agreed to have her teeth cleaned and checked. Extra points awarded for bravery from one who is naturally timid.

More bad news. She has a multitude of cavities and needs extensive work. More pep talk and more courage points as she endured two fillings. She, too, has to come back in six months for more repair work. We are certainly looking forward to the dental team’s arrival!

So we wound up the extreme dental visit with a total of six cavities and seven teeth cleanings. It was an expensive morning – but not as bad as the visit last year.

Then we marched on to buy school supplies. This was a fairly easy event in an air-conditioned store, similar to Walmart. We turned the kids loose on the school supply aisle and trusted they would know what they needed.

Molly told me she needed no supplies, just as she had assured me that her uniforms from last year would do another term. Being of a suspicious nature, I pinned her down and got the reason for her sweet attitude. If I didn’t waste money on boring stuff for school, I would have more to spend on important things, like clothes.

The guys took the supplies (and groceries and miscellaneous purchases) home while Sky and Molly and I did some clothes shopping. I had persuaded Molly to part with some of her outgrown clothes with the promise to buy her new ones, and she intended to see that I make good on my promise. Extra points awarded to the girls’ team for a reasonable attitude and a good shopping trip. Only half-hearted arguments ensued when I refused to buy inappropriate clothes. Molly was particularly helpful with Sky, suggesting items to fill in the gaps of the wardrobe with which she arrived.

“Grandma,” Molly said on the way home, “You are three percent. You need a charge.”

I agreed heartily and recharged with a lengthy nap as soon as we got home. That enabled me to get supper, oversee putting vitamin powder into capsules, and work with the kids on preparing the latest ripe jackfruit, which was a miserable, sticky business. A short English lesson with the new kids and I was basically done for another day of extreme parenting.

Lest you think I am wonder woman (I am certainly not!) let me tell you that days like I’ve had this week happen only at this time of year. There are other crazy extreme weeks – like March English camps and weeks of travel to the villages at festival times – but much of life follows a busy, but humdrum, sort of schedule. Fixing meals, hanging out clothes, overseeing chores, sorting out bad attitudes and settling arguments, teaching English – those are the non-extreme kind of parenting things I do every day. And I have help from Paul, Pann, and our two young workers in raising these young teens.

I also have the prayers of faithful friends who lift me and my needs before the Lord and wonderful supporters who provide the funds for school clothes, supplies, and dental visits. I can’t imagine caring for this many kids without the money to do it properly. Our supporters give generously so our children have the things they need. Thank you!

And the grace of our wonderful God is always sufficient for every situation and every trial. God is good – and I’m so thankful to be serving Him by serving these children here in Thailand!

Prayer requests from Paul:

Pray for Paul as he preaches and ministers in the villages and for preparations for preacher’s training. Thank you!

And here are a few pics from last Sunday’s travel to the remote village of Canaan.  It was a difficult journey, but we had a blessed service.

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