Mother at Sixteen

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Sitting with the slight, sixteen-year-old girl on tattered bamboo mats in her family’s modest home, we compared our babies: their age and weight, their entrance into the world, how well they sleep at night, yes we’re both breastfeeding, how easy and hard they are to take care of, how much support there is, how your worldview changes from carefree to constant worry.

We are at a similar stage in life and had a lot to share.

And yet I was struck by the difference. Her baby slept in a bamboo crib on a dirt floor with only shade and a breeze to protect them against the tropical heat; mine shares our king-sized bed in our fully air-conditioned house. Hers will find a place in the same Thai educational system she went through herself; mine has access to Gymboree and Montessori classes and will learn from a mother who completed a PhD from an American research university. I’m turning 35 next month. She is a mother at 16. We are almost 20 years apart and I have almost 20 years’ worth more of education and life experience, maturity and stability. At 16, she still has all her struggles in front of her. I know who I am, what I want, and what I’m capable of. She has yet to discover who she will be.

I approached my time with her trying to answer the question: why did she make these choices? She had to have known the risk she was taking with unprotected sex. What was her underlying motivation? She said no one ever taught her about protection (I remember her deciding not to stay for the sex health workshop I taught). She talked about the desire to experience new things—a typical teenager response. But I suspected the roots are deeper than that; that it may have even something to do with deeper psychological and emotional needs regarding her bond with her own mother, even if she doesn’t consciously read it that way yet. From what I know of her background, I suspected she never got enough consistent display of love from her own mother, and made these choices out of feelings of neglect, subconsciously trying to find a way to stay close to home rather than to leave.

But do I have the right to judge her choices? I may be disappointed. I may want to continue to present her with the chance to turn things around because her story (and now her child’s story) has still only just begun. I may want to learn from her example to see how we can prevent others from going the same way. I can expect her to take responsibility for her choices and urge her to continue to make better ones. I do not absolve her of that because it is true that others in same—or worse—circumstances make different choices. But I cannot be judgmental about it. I had parents who never gave me cause to doubt their love and commitment. With an absentee father and a mother who is a former prostitute now mostly gone away at work, she has no experience of a strong nuclear family and has no idea what that would look like. I came from a life of opportunity; she came from a life of poverty and risk. For me, being a mother at sixteen would have represented catastrophic failure and disappointment. For her, young, single motherhood is the norm. From two different worlds, we both forged two very different paths.

Perhaps the question of why isn’t really the root of the matter. Maybe the question we must grapple with honestly is: how much of our life is a forgone conclusion? How much can we change by choice?

Island Escape: Koh Chang

* I tried to post this last week, but the internet here is beyond slow and I couldn’t upload any of the pictures. I had to find a bar to get the pictures to upload–which I suppose isn’t such a travesty! (wink, wink)

It’s that time of year again: when the mountains of Chiang Mai can no longer be seen, when everyone starts coughing and the eyes start burning, and when we are finally motivated to get out of town. It’s smoky season. The local farmers start burning the brush because it helps cultivate the soil for mushrooms to pop up that they can then go collect and sell. It’s an important part of their yearly income, but it means bad health for everyone in the region.

Because we now have a baby’s health to consider, when the air starts getting bad, we make the effort to get out of town and go somewhere safer. This is our second year that we’ve taken the opportunity to get down to the islands.

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It’s funny that it takes the prospect of sore lungs to get us to head down south. Every year we wonder why we don’t do this sooner.

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In the meantime, if you need us, we’ll be busy being beach bums!

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The internet is kind of crap down here, so if you want to follow along, join me on Instagram!

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A Trip to a Favorite Temple: Wat Pa Laad

IMG_0583There’s a famous temple on a hilltop here in Chiang Mai called Doi Suthep. It’s where all the tourists go, climbing innumberable steps to the summit to look down on the city below, bypassing peddlers and tourist traps, scammers, and stray dogs all along the way. It’s a temple, and about as commercial as it gets.

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What most people don’t know is that just a few kilometers below Doi Suthep is another temple: Wat Palad. It’s as serene and tranquil as you’d expect of a serious meditation retreat.

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You can hike up to it, and encounter the beautiful waterfall at the summit, or you can drive straight to it (as we like to do because we are lazy).

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Almost no one but monks is ever there, so you’re free to traipse over the ancient grounds and explore the hidden treasures without anyone accosting you and asking for money.

A well for drawing water

A well for drawing water

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Cy traipsing after his grand aunt, Yai Nee

Cy traipsing after his grand aunt, Yai Nee

It’s worth a visit if you’re ever in the area!

Little by Little



Suddenly Mom

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When I make a connection with an individual student at SOLD and know we have a shared hobby or that I can expose them to more wide and varied experiences related to their interests, I like to try to invite them to spend a weekend with us in Chiang Mai, where I can encourage their passion and give them a glimpse into the wider world out there. There is one such boy I’ve known since he was about 13, who has always had the biggest heart, loves to eat and loves to make people laugh, but who has also had a very hard family life. He seemed to be falling by the way side over the past year, so I extended an invite to him to come visit us for a weekend and we would go do fun things together.

I didn’t hear anything for a while. Then I got an email on Wednesday night, followed by a phone call Thursday morning saying that yes, he wants to come, he’ll be here on Friday, and by the way, his family says I can keep him; they don’t want him to come back.

I literally started crying for him when I got off the phone. Of course he could come stay with us – but for how long? I wondered. My mama heart wanted to wrap him up and take him in immediately, but my brain that has seen the trials and burdens placed on at-risk kids knew this was no simple question. To really help him, we have to be all in. Otherwise, we’re just another source of instability and confusion in his life. Was I about to adopt a (now) 16-year-old boy with attachment issues, a smoking habit, and spotty school attendance record on little more than a days’ notice? Who also was raised in a different culture and speaks a different language? It was unlikely it would come to something so permanent, but I had to be prepared for the possibility that there would be at least an extended stay.

There were ups and downs, and there came a point at which, after taking him grocery shopping to make sure we had on hand whatever snacks, drinks, and breakfast items he preferred, and he immediately went upstairs and closed himself in his room while I boosted Cy on my hip and put the groceries away, where I really, really felt like a mom. More than anything I’ve ever encountered before, having a toddler on my hip and a moody teenager upstairs while I sorted groceries, made me suddenly feel like I have definitely become a capital M Mom.

There was a lot of uncertainty over the weekend, but mostly I just wanted to give him a respite from whatever was happening at home. At the end of the weekend, he decided to go back home with an invitation to return if he ever chooses to. I don’t know what the future holds for him, but I told him I thought he was brave for even coming to us in the first place. It’s a huge step to try to make a change in your life, when you have no idea where you’re headed or what the future will bring. He retreated from it in the end, but he did try.

An Impromptu Diversion

I invited my parents for coffee. We ended up in Lampang.

Lampang is a small historic town about an hour’s drive away from Chiang Mai. It’s a funky little river town, with old colonial style buildings, horse-drawn carriages, and rooster-adorned lampposts.

Sukothai style noodle soup

Sukothai style noodle soup

Me & the curry pots

Me & the curry pots

Wall decor

Wall decor

Apothecary, complete with abacus!

Apothecary, complete with abacus!

Old floors

Old floors

Cafe & curios

Cafe & curios

Colonial style architecture

Colonial style architecture

Sometimes a little get-together just isn’t enough. One thing turns into another and suddenly you find yourself riding a cow in a different city. Sometimes the best laid plans are the ones you never made.

moo cow::

So I kind of went of the grid there for a little while. What with moving to a new house, the holidays, taking care of bureaucratic chores, and what not, there just weren’t enough hours in the day. But I have lots to tell you and I can’t wait to show you our new neighborhood and home! Stay tuned for more…

In the meantime, check out some fun glimpses from around the world and other fun little things!

 

Little by Little



Super Secret Sale!

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Happy mid-winter celebrations! Hope your festivities have been cheerful and warm and that you got the best gifts ever!

In case you’re looking for a great read to cozy up to in the quiet and lull before New Year’s, I’m letting you in on a little secret: for my blog & photo fans only, I’m putting my book The Yellow Suitcase: A Novel on sale for .99 cents! That’s right. Less than a dollar. Because I love you. (Honestly, I would have given it away for free, as a holiday gift to my readers, but Amazon won’t let me.)

The Yellow Suitcase by Jade Keller

A Novel by Jade Keller

Because you’re amazing and I am totally grateful for all your support and encouragement, I’m keeping the book up at this low, low price from now until New Year’s. So grab your copy now, give it to friends who are into social justice or travel and exotic locales, or pass it on to anyone who loves Thai food.

Get the book here, by clicking on this link: The Yellow Suitcase: A Novel

Happy Holidays and I’ll see you in twenty-fifteen!

Kisses,
Jade

Through Another’s Eyes I See

_1050417We’ve lived in this house for four years, and for four years, I’ve waged battles in this kitchen, trying to make it a space I love to look at and be in. This kitchen, with its red walls and odd nooks and tendency to attract mold, has at times convinced me it’s a livable space and other times driven me mad with desire to tear it down and build anew.

_1050412I’ve added plants, installed pretty fabrics to hide the sordid details, and tried my best to make things look like they belong where they are, rather than sticking out like so many odd thumbs.

The motorcycle helmets are still there though.

But after four years my battle is done. We’re moving to a new home, in a much better location in the city, where I will have a new battle with a new rental kitchen! (more on that one later – that deserves its own story).

And then a friend comes to visit. Just as I’m giving up on this kitchen, she mentions she would like to do a tour of my kitchen for a major home & garden website (more on that in a few months) because it has such pretty morning light. She takes a photo from an angle I’ve never considered before, and suddenly I see my kitchen differently.

I'm totally ripping off the photo she took and copying the angle. Sorry L!

I’m totally ripping off the photo she took and copying the angle. Sorry L!

I see it through her eyes and, finally, suddenly, just before I’m about to move away, I learn to appreciate my kitchen.

Little by Little

Seen this week….

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The intrepid tomato  explorer…

He loves trucking through his grandmother’s garden. He especially loves pulling out her flowers.

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From my book, “The Yellow Suitcase”

For THREE DAYS ONLY (December 2, 3, & 4) my book goes on sale for $1.99! That’s 60% savings for you, so if you’ve been on the fence about giving it a shot, or would like to get it as a gift for someone else for the holidays, there’s no better time to buy!

Get The Yellow Suitcase: A Novel here.

The Yellow Suitcase by Jade Keller

A Novel by Jade Keller



Wishbone

ginger pumpkin pieThanksgiving has come to a close, the lamb eaten, the pie demolished. Even the dishes have all been put away.

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We eat lamb here because turkey isn’t easy to find in Thailand, but really we could get it if we want, but we don’t because we’re fans of lamb. In four years away from home, I haven’t once missed turkey.

Except this time I remembered there’s something I do miss: the wishbone tradition. Every year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, my dad would carve up the turkey and he would offer to break the wishbone with me. Whoever got the longer part of the forked bone would get their wish. I always loved this tradition, and as I got older I also got smarter about surreptitiously sneaking a look at which side of the bone was longer because I was a sore loser. (And I kept on doing it even when I was old enough to tell my dad wasn’t blind to my trick but let me do it anyway.)

I miss that tradition. So this year I’m going to extend that tradition and pretend I got the long end of the wishbone to say that my one wish is for all of you to have an inspired year next year. I hope 2015 is a year in which you get to grow, unfold, stretch, expand, see more of yourself than you knew was there before, and I hope it’s among the best of things ever.

And I just want to say I’m so grateful to you, my readers. You’ve supported and encouraged me so much the past few years. It’s because of you I had the courage to put out my book this year, and it has been one of my bucket list things. I know I haven’t been up to my usual standard about getting around to responding to comments and commenting on other blogs. I promise I do read them all (and think responses in my head), but I still haven’t managed to balance this life with parenthood–it’s something I’m working on, and hope to be better about in 2015. This community has been a wellspring of support and inspiration, and for that, I thank you, and wish I might return the favor.

Happy Holidays!

 

Friends to Inspire You

Do you have friends that ever inspire you to grow as a person, whether creatively, or as a moral character, or in some other dimension?

I have several such friends (I like to keep inspiring people around me) – and two of them recently came to visit.

_1070835Dave and Leela are such a fun and generous couple. They’re so expressive and are just bursting with artistic energy.

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They make me want to go out and do, and to try, to experiment, and to unfold more and more of myself where I didn’t even realize I was keeping in bud. And they do it simply by being just who they are.

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There’s kind of a trend I’ve noticed, where people jokingly confess how inadequate they feel when they see someone else doing something awesome. When I see someone doing something awesome, it just make me want to go out and do something awesome too.

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Do you have people in your life who make you want to do awesome things? They’re good people to share tea and scones with. If you have them, keep them around.

Little by Little



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