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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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



A Trip to the Aquarium, Siam Ocean World

In Siam Paragon, Bangkok

Part of our trip to Bangkok was all about doing fun kid stuff with Cy, getting out of routine and around to see some new things. I had known there was an aquarium in Siam Paragon, but I hadn’t expected much because…well, hello, it’s the basement of a mall. But it was such a great surprise to see how well done the aquarium was!

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Cy was absolutely riveted by the very first little tank. We kept telling him there was a whole slew of other fish tanks to look at, but he was captivated by the one just inside the door. He stood there for at least 15-20 minutes staring at those fish.

Then when we went through the rest of the tanks, he was like, “Yeah, I’ve seen fish.”
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There were cool tunnels to walk under the fish – and even a glass bottom floor on top of a shark tank. Cy walked out on top of the glass and saw one shark swimming underneath him and decided he did not belong on top of a glass tank full of sharks._1070724

So many fun and funny creatures!_1070726 _1070727

The exhibit is really well curated.

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If you ever get a chance, it’s worth a visit.

Little by Little



An Escape to Bangkok

Sometimes you just need to run away for a little while. Deal with a different milieu so that, even if it takes up all kinds of energy, it’s a different kind of energy than your every day, so you have renewed energy to deal with what’s in front of you.

That’s what we did. We desperately needed a reprieve from our every day here in northern Thailand. What is usually an escape destination to legions of travelers had become oppressive to us. So we escaped to Bangkok instead.

A city that can be intense and overwhelming to the uninitiated has become a haven for us. (Mainly because of the food. Oh, the food!)

But there’s a lot of beauty in Bangkok too, if you can look past the traffic and the power lines, see past the grit and find the orchids.

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Spirit house

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Street food vendor

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We had a trip to the aquarium…I could dedicate a whole post to that. I probably will…

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Ice cream tuk tuk! Best idea ever.

Little by Little



Momma Chat: Just a Little Rosy

photo-5Things got a little crazy last week. I was laying in bed with Cy when I noticed he seemed to be running a fever. I texted Toby about it and he responded with something like, “He always sleeps hot.” But I was quite sure it was a fever. It happened to be just a couple of hours after I had started a course of meds for myself that weren’t really supposed to be taken while breastfeeding but my doctor had recommended because I’m allergic to penicillin. I was worried that Cy might be allergic to this new medicine, and Google told me I should get Cy to the doctor at signs of fever. So the next day we went to see his pediatrician, who wasn’t available until the afternoon, and I stopped taking my meds in the meantime just in case. The doctor said it was not the meds, but it might be dengue.

– Let me just interject here because this is the part where my stomach bottoms out and my face turns white because dengue is known as “break bone fever” because it makes you feel like your bones are breaking. And it can be comparatively mild in children, but if you get it again later, any subsequent infections can lead to a hemorrhagic fever. It’s passed by mosquitos. There are lots and lots of mosquitos in Thailand. –

The doctor gave us meds to treat the fever and said it was a little too early to tell. Come back in two days and we’ll test for dengue.

Those were among the more anxiety-ridden two days I have experienced in recent memory. Was it dengue? Was it wrong and still related to something I was doing (my meds, which I had resumed taking)? And what would I do if it were dengue? (Moving to another country had indeed crossed my mind.) Cy needs to run outside and play, live his life in fresh air. How can I protect Cy from every mosquito to cross his path?

We went back to do blood tests. We had to swaddle the poor boy and he watched and cried–not thrashing, or angry-complaining…just totally submitting himself to this new torture–as they inserted the needle, drew blood, switched it out for an IV, and then bandaged it on. The whole thing probably took 5 minutes, but all I could do was sit there and talk to him, stroke his hair, and wish to God there was any other way. I hate needles. I once,as a full adult in college, had a nurse give me a Daffy Duck bandaid after getting blood drawn because I hate needles so much. I hate them even more when they’re any where near my boy.

After two hours of waiting, the results for dengue came back negative. Talk about relief! But we still didn’t know what the problem was. The doctor still insisted it wasn’t my meds, and predicted we would soon see a rash.

The rash came, and thus we learned it was roseola. A common childhood disease, relatively mild, and the rash only lasted a couple of days and then it was all done.

photo-4And I still called pest control to come rid our yard of mosquitos. Because dengue.

All in all, it was probably a relatively minor episode and it’s just my mama-bear brain that blew fears out of proportion, but part of what made this experience so hard was feeling so trapped. I have already been feeling tired and run-down, and a little homesick (mostly just because I’m tired of it being so hot here all the time and tired of worrying about mosquitos when Cy wants to play outside all the time). I wanted to move home. I wanted to go back to Santa Barbara where the weather is always perfect, there’s tons of fabulous play groups Cy could join, there’s mountains he could roam, and gorgeous parks and beaches to explore.

I told Toby that if we lived in Santa Barbara, I’d take Cy to the beach all the time.

“No you wouldn’t,” he said. “You’d be at work and Cy would be in daycare and we’d spend the weekends scrambling around trying to get stuff done.”

He’s right. In Thailand, we can afford for me to take a career hiatus and focus on raising Cy with both of us at home. In the U.S., I would have to work. And while I’m battling heat and mosquitos, I can also get fantastic healthcare for Cy at $15 a visit (without insurance), have a maid come once a week, and be there for all the important and unimportant things in Cy’s life. I feel trapped. And it’s easy to view a different situation with rose-colored glasses, but the truth is, there’s lots of ways to feel trapped.

photo-8And I realize now too, that while I love being able to be home for Cy, it’s a challenge because I’ve never been a routine kind of person and children live in routine. I’ve never lived in any place longer than 4 years since I was 13 (And we’re bumping up on the 4-year mark now–we HAD said we’d come for a year, maybe two, and then we’d see. Well we’re still here.) Except for when I worked at a magazine publishing company, I’d never lived the same daily routine longer than a 10-week quarter since I graduated high school. I live by whims and caprice. I’m disciplined about getting stuff done, but on my own clock, not the one ticking on the wall.

So. This is my opportunity to grow. To realize this about myself and see how I can approach it mindfully. I can’t escape the trappings of this life, but I take advantage of its advantages and I think maybe a change of scenery will help. So we’re going to Bangkok for a week. There will be a big aquarium, and parks, a children’s playground, good food, shopping, and maybe even a boat ride or two on the Chao Praya.

Who can complain? Not I, said the spider to the fly.

Thing I Love About Cy: He loves tipping himself over backwards. When he’s on the bed, or on grass, he’ll slowly lean back with this look of great anticipation on his face, until gravity wins and he falls over and giggles like a fiend.

Little by Little



A Momentous Week! 09.10.14

cover-a My book, The Yellow Suitcase, is now on sale on Amazon, starting Sept 10! Here is the back cover copy:

In a sleepy riverside town in the heart of Thailand, Ae Lin, a former Bangkok bar girl determined to put a painful history behind her, pours her passions into her new coffee shop and her resolve to create a life of her own making. But the past comes to find her in the form of an estranged and angry sister who insists she fulfill one remaining family obligation: to visit and pay respect to their dying father – which is the last thing she wants to do. As Ae Lin grapples with the desire to flee and the pressures to return, she meets Sai Kyin, a refugee from Burma, who had no choice but to leave home and all he loved behind. Prompted by the guidance of Luang Paw, a rather unconventional Buddhist monk, the stories of Ae Lin’s and Sai Kyin’s traumas converge as their memories unfold, in a tale about what happens to the fallen and what it takes to heal.

The Yellow Suitcase is an exploration of the devastating effects of dark family secrets where the lines between victim and perpetrator, and innocence and guilt, become increasingly blurred. The novel offers a poignant and heartbreaking portrait of the deepest kinds of betrayal, and a thoughtful rumination on forgiveness, healing, and the power of truth.

Click on the link above (the book’s title), or the button in the sidebar at right to order your copy today!

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In other big news, Cy became a one-year-old today! We of course celebrate a person’s birthday, but now I kind of feel like parents need to be celebrated on birthdays too–for managing to keep their kid alive that long! Haha, I’m kidding of course, but it sure does feel like a personal milestone.

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Speaking of milestones, Cy just took his first real unassisted steps yesterday, the day before he turned one! He had taken a couple at my mom’s house a few days before, but he was really for real walking yesterday. I’m excited and also trepidatious as I’m sure now I’ll really have to start running after him, with all the new kinds of trouble he’ll find to get into. He’s also started clapping his hands, putting them together in a wai (the Thai way of greeting) when we say, “Sawatdee krap,” and dancing when he hears music or any kind of beat. His dancing is so cute, especially when he adds a little extra butt wiggle.

To celebrate his birthday, we took him for his first trip to the zoo. His eyes were saucer-wide. I think his favorite part was feeding the animals.

We fed sheep:

sheepAnd a giraffe:

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An elephant:

elephunkAnd….a jaguar, ’cause why not.

jaguarHis eyes were so big and serious when he was feeding the elephant in particular. I’m not sure he even processed seeing the whole elephant; I think he might have only been aware of this long hairy trunk coming at him. But he was undaunted.

I can’t wait to take him again!

Thanks for stopping by this week and sharing in our celebrations! Join in for more fun around the world at Communal Global and Little Things Thursday!

Little by Little



Scenes From My Week 08.06.14

I’d like you all to meet Lian._1070232

His mama is my neighbor, and she so graciously let me take pictures of this precious little angel baby.

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This is his guardian protector. He does a good job.

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I’m so thankful to have a mama friend so close by too! It makes such a difference; so much less lonely. I just can’t wait to get to know little Lian too.

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He’s got some big footsteps to grow into.

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But loving hands to hold him.

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And toes just begging to be nibbled.

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They sure do make a beautiful couple, don’t they?

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned I had some big (for me) news to share…Well, I just want to say: I will be making my announcement THIS WEEK! Check back here on FRIDAY and I will let you know what bee’s been buzzing around in my bonnet! I can’t wait–hope you’ll be half as excited as me!

In the meantime, join the party at Communal Global & Little Things Thursday!

Little by Little



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