My Rainbow

“Spinning,”  that’s how I describe those moments when I feel as though my plate is so full that I don’t know where to start so I end up doing nothing at all.  Most of the time I ride it out, but sometimes I call someone.  Usually that someone is one of my parents.

“Is it crazy that I am in my late 30’s, still emotionally lean on my parents, and still frequently call them for advice?”  I asked a wise person at my current school

“I called mine until they were gone.  I miss them, and I miss doing so all time.”  Just the words I needed to hear.

I called my Dad Sunday.  I was spinning, and decided to take a walk.  I talked with him the entire time.  Every once in a while I would tell him to “hold on” while I paused and took a picture of a flower.  Dad made me feel better.  He usually does.  He balanced his loving words with “suck it up” pep talks, guiding our conversation in a way that only someone who truly knows you can.  He put into perspective what felt overwhelming, yet comforted me and validated my feelings.

When I returned home, I looked back at my photos.  I had a rainbow.  A rainbow, a dispersion of light (hope) in water droplets (all of that heavy spinning stuff) resulting in a spectrum of light, a rainbow.

Thank you Dad for being my light.  You make rainbows at a time when the “water droplets” of life are lading a little harder in my world.

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Learning to Ride

She’s a great rollerblader, but biking has never been an interest of Eva’s.  Truthfully, she has resisted bike riding like crazy.  Maybe I took off her training wheels too early, or maybe she felt so very successful at rollerblading that she didn’t see the need to face the challenge of something new.  Now eight, and feeling a bit uncomfortable when the topic of biking come up, she has realized that riding a bike is inevitable.  Like it or not, she is going to have to do it.   

“I’ll get you a new bike for your birthday”…..”or Christmas” or, or, or.  Maybe it was the fact that there were princess on her bike that kept her from riding it?  There couldn’t be any more excuses, today was the day.  “What are we going to do Mom?”  “It’s a surprise, can’t tell ya!”  I gave a clenched-tooth smile, fearful that telling them the truth would result in some serious whining.  Loaded in the van, I used my most enthusiastic voice and revealed, “we’re going to go buy new bikes!”  Grunts.  That was a flop, but at least we were in the car.  “And we’re going to get really yummy snacks!”  Mediocre nods of approval came from the back seat–I’ll take it.  Stopping at the store, I got multiple beverages and “energy food” for our big day.  Stop two, the sporting good store.  Success.  We had the bikes, the helmets, the snacks, a coffee (I had a feeling this would take every ounce of my energy and positivity), and a wide open parking lot.  Not for the first time and certainly not for the last, Eva blew me away, she was incredible.  Once she started, she was determined.  In about 30 minutes, she was cruising.  Wobbly cruising, but she did it!     

Last week she woke early every day so that she could ride to school while I putted behind her on my scooter.  I would give her directional commands, words of encouragement, reminders of her strength and positioning, all the while keeping a lookout to see who was around us in order to keep her safe and not embarrass her with my mom-ish words.  On our way home Friday, I was squealing with pride.  I may have even let out a little “woo hoo!” but quickly gathered my composure.  “Mom?”  Eva glanced over her shoulder.  Oh man, I did it now.  She is going to want to do this on her own.  Did she hear me?  “Mom, I love you.”  What?  I know that she loves me, but that was the last thing I expected to hear at that moment.  I was shocked and oh so touched.  At that very moment, I believed that my goofy eight year old recognized the time and effort I put into being her mother.  I have no doubt that this realization will be short lived, but for that second I was able to make a connection with her.  One of strength and power and unconditional love.  

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Creepy Critters of Thailand

I was the kid who went scouting out tadpole ponds, lifting up rocks and capturing pill bugs and blue bellied lizards, finding the best milk weed in hopes to watch caterpillars morph into monarch butterflies.  I liked critters until they got a whole lot bigger and a whole lot creepier.

Snakes
Shortly after moving to Minburi, a suburb of Bangkok, I was informed that this area is known for snakes but that I would be okay because I have kids, kids are loud, and snakes don’t like loud noises.  Great security.  My children quickly joined in the neighborhood hunts of empty snake eggs and egg pieces, but where there is a snake egg shell there now is a……you get the idea.  To make it worse, I have found myself talking about the effect of snakes on other creatures, like color of dead frogs! “Is is black?”  “Um, no.  Why?”  “That’s good, the black ones have been bit and killed by cobras.”  As if a dead toad smashed in front of my driveway isn’t bad enough!?  There are also fast snakes, like the green one that dropped down in an s-curve from my neighbors rain gutter and caught a bat mid-air.  I didn’t actually see the snake, but I did see the dead bat in the middle of the street (do bats count as creepy critters?).  Then there are the big snakes, really big snakes.  Good news is I have not had one at my house, bad news is there was one down the street from my house last year.  As a cat-lover and kitty owner of two, I was not comforted by the sight of it’s belly.  Note to my cats, you have no hope of being outdoor animals.

Snake

Spiders
In my classroom
Oh crap that’s not a toy
Way too big
Get out of my space
Pose for a picture, son
Or maybe not
Please get rid of it
She just killed it with her hand
Spiderwoman is real

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Monitor Lizards
“Ms. Elissa, I want to share today. There was an alligator behind my washing machine!” Maybe not an alligator, but my son was pretty darn close.  The monitor lizard that decided to cozy up behind my outdoor washing machine (more than likely looking for a cat to snack on) was huge and might as well have been an alligator.  Being a Buddhist nation, the beast was not killed.  It was merely relocated to the pond down the street.  Not comforting, but at least it made for interesting show and tell.

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Paederus littoralis, Rove Beetle, Creechy Bug
Never heard of them?  I hadn’t either, until today.  In Pre K, the floor is frequently our laboratory.  Sitting criss cross, we were building and exploring when I asked my Thai friend Faa, what the red and black centimeter long bug was crawling across the mat?  “Don’t touch!”  She captured the critter in a plastic container, sliding a book underneath.  Quickly grabbing her phone, she confirmed that we had caught a paederus littoralis!  Little bug, no big deal.  Oh so wrong!  Googling this insect was a mistake.  You can’t kill them because doing so makes more come, and they don’t actually have to bite to hurt you.  The pain, blisters, and potential long-term damage caused by these little nasties had me packing up my students and evacuate my classroom for the morning while the school searched for any other insects.  None were found, but my eyes are pealed!bug

 

 

 

 

Fried Bananas Museums Markets Taxies

When I first moved abroad, I felt the newness and excitement of living in another country. I felt so for at least a year.  Like all new things, the shine wore off and being an expat is now our way of life.  Although it is our “normal”  my photographs capture moments in time, reminding me of the diversity in our days, reminding me that although messy at times, there are magical memories being made.

Cartoons were off, the kids were dressed.  I was flipping through TripAdvisor looking for inspiration of what to do with our Sunday.  The Contemporary Art Museum is was, and we were off.  Fried bananas from a woman we have come to know by face and smiles, started our day .  Similar to the barista who knows your drink at Starbucks, she began preparing our paper-wrapped, crisp, hot, goodness before I could so much as point to what we would like.  Who would have thought a Slurpie is the perfect beverage to accompany this Thai snack?  An eight and five year old, naturally–but then again, who doesn’t love frozen slushy drinks when it’s hot? 

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The museum.  Although contemporary, the artwork housed a stark contrast between new and old Thailand.  The kids were filled with wonder.  Tender questions and unexpected emotions for me, and them, surfaced as we paced the echoing halls.

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Last stop before heading home, Chatachuk Market–Asia’s largest outdoor market.  The kids ran up to the woman making popsicles on bamboo sticks in a metal barrel, five baht coin each in hand.  Lincoln oogled at Pokemon figures, while Eva ran ahead and came back with three streaks of colored hair.  Linc had to top her with a head full of colored spikes-well played little brother.

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Sunday
Fried bananas, don’t forget the Slurpie
Taxi
Museums, snuggles, questions, tears, holding hands
Taxi
Popsicles, colored hair, Pokemon, treasures, markets
Taxi
Sunday

More than a $6 massage

Massage, a luxury that I have quickly become accustom to while living in Asia.  An hour of pampering sets me back six dollars.  Amazing, right!?  Tonight as I enjoyed a pre-work week hour long foot massage, I did something I had never done before, I took a good look at my surroundings.  This is what I found in the 300 square foot space:

  1. Five orange foam lotus flowers
  2. A porcelain black and white striped cat  
  3. A red velvet couch with large diamond rhinestones tacking the back, two furry heart pillows, and a large red velvet bench alongside.
  4. A coffee table draped in a lace and rose grandmotherly runner
  5. A gold buddha with a yellow bow loosely tied around it’s neck and dried carnation offerings at its feet
  6. 20 partially filled pump bottles (at minimum) bottles of something massage-y…lotions, oils, soaps
  7. A Thai-style tapestry of Jesus watching another man’s feet
  8. Two selfies printed on paper taped at a diagonal on the wall
  9. Four large wood carvings, painted with gold, of traditional Thai musicians
  10. Two wash bins intended to wash feet pre-massage, each lined with river rock wall paper and a plastic plant inside the basin
  11. One very large silk orchid plant
  12. An empty can of Coke Zero and a long gone cup of bubble tea (no tea, but lots of remaining bubbles)
  13. A mural with waterfalls, and several winged Thai goddesses
  14. Two carved tusks of some sort
  15. Eight large bookcases (got to have some place to keep all of these goodies)
  16. Six dead roses balanced in a plastic cup
  17. The words “for sale,” painted on a piece of wood (still not quite sure what was for sale)
  18. A bronze sculpture of a monk
  19. Three clocks—each displaying a different time
  20. A four foot white porcelain sculpture of woman with a purple bikini, red hair down to her knees, holding an urn with an exceptional amount of black eyeliner on
  21. A table top chess set whose pieces are made of some kind of european soldiers
  22. A few lonely blocks of green florists foam
  23. Sliding glass doors that appear as though they have been inlayed with gold flecks
  24. A large wall decal of a nature scene in a gold frame with a big word in Thai
  25. Wires, lots of wires
  26. Three patterns of wall paper.
  27. Three unlit oil diffusers.
  28. An empty gallon of whole milk.
  29. Three large carvings of a buddhist symbol that I don’t know the name of, but reminds me of a flame.
  30. Rope light skirting the large yellow metal awning as you arrive
  31. And a whole lot of lovely, really lovely, Thai women.

I have been to this place a lot, as one should when a six dollar massage is available, but this was the first time I noticed the quirkiness of the decor.  Item number 31 created a veil between the tangible and intangible.  The people of Thailand are gracious, gentle, thoughtful and loving, making personal connection the primary focus of any interaction.  Taking the time to critique the outward shell of this establishment, and dissect the material surroundings, showed me just how powerful relationships are.  For a place that I often visit, that was a lot of chachkies to disregard.  The only explanation I can give is how special I felt.  Human connections and interactions are powerful.  Powerful enough to separate the superficial from the important.  I hope that when international guests visit the United States they are left with fond impressions of how Americans make them feel.  Even more so, I hope that all American’ connect a bit more and create a culture that is rooted in love.  Watching our countries current events from afar, I can undoubtedly say that there’s a whole lot of room for a whole lot more love.  

No Pants Friday

“No. Pants.” mouthed my big-eyed assistant, pointing to the space behind my easel.  His knees tucked into his shirt, my son waddled into my class of 15 four and five year olds.

“Lincoln, where are your pants?”  Reasonable question, for a pre-k teacher who was leading carpet time when her own five year old walks in pantsless.

“Luke is wearing them.”  He whispered and curled up at my feel.  “Okay.  Why is Luke wearing them?”  A window into my rough-and-tumble son’s heart opened as he, and later his teacher, described why my child walked across our campus (our big, big, campus) with no pants on.

Swimming is part of our P.E. curriculum.  The swimming part is great, but the getting 15 pre-kindergarteners into bathing suites before leaving the classroom and  the showering/dressing them after swim class, is a consistent “herding cats” experience.  Friday was a typical swim day.  Swimming was a blast, children were giggling and splashing in the showers, and teachers were encouraging them to “finish up!”  Showers off, the students wrestled their wet bodies into their school clothes, with the exception of one very sad red-headed boy.  Luke sat on the bench, feet dangling, wrapped in a towel crying.  His clothing bag failed to make it’s way from the classroom to the pool and the class was a good 10 minute walk away. “No big deal, you can walk back in your towel and we’ll dress there.”  The tears escalated.  This was clearly not an option.  Pants in hand, Lincoln comforted his best buddy.  “Here, wear my pants.  I’ll walk back like this.”  And so it was, Lincoln walked back in Batman briefs, while Luke dried his tears and returned to class in Lincoln’s pants.

I’m pretty sure that the reality of walking through school without pants–a childhood nightmare that my son experienced by choice–hit him when he saw the look on my face. I quickly shifted my wide eyes and massive grin to nods of approval and words of affirmation.  My heart was full.  Would I have given my pants to my friend?  I’d like to think that I would, but I’m not so sure.

What would you have done?

Far From Mommy

Her legs wrapped around my waist like a chimpanzee baby, the tearful four year old student waved goodbye to her mother.

“Ms. Lauren, I miss Mommy.  Do you miss your mommy?”  

I explained to her that my mom lives far, far away and that I miss her each and every day.

“Yeah, my grandparents live in America!” my son confirmed.  

“Why?”  She clearly could not understand why we would live so far from my mother (and the rest of my family).  

Good question, kid.  It’s one that I have asked myself many times, one I wrestle with frequently yet I always arrive at the same conclusion: I became involved with international teaching based on circumstance, but it is now something that I do by choice.  It is a way of life that immerses us in the global community, a life that teaches my two children to embrace diversity, where they look at the commonalities between their peers rather that the differences.  Where I can send them to a school with small class sizes, a diverse student body, and a meaningful curriculum.  Where teachers are provided with the resources and tools necessary to deliver a rich curriculum while being supported by personnel and administration.  It is a career path that has allowed me to pursue my passion of teaching, and provides me with a salary which allows this single mother to comfortably live a life that opens the eyes of my children, and hopefully doors in their future.

“I get to see my mommy every Christmas and summer,” I assured the teary girl.  She gave a nod of approval.  For today, this answer would do, and for now I have peace in the choices I am making to not see my mommy every day.  My life-story may not be the one I had once pictured but I am choosing to jump head first in the direction it has taken me.  

Too many adventures passed, time to capture the present.

I said I would start a blog shortly after my daughter was born.  She’s almost 9.  I’ve missed out on spontaneously writing the stories of living in two states (Oregon and Colorado), living in two countries (China and Thailand), the birth of my son (now 5) and nine years of happenings during my daughters life. I have resisted blogging with excuse-laden fear that I wouldn’t say things correctly, that I’m not a real writer, and with an ominous fear of not following through with frequent posts.   The unpredictable stream of events that have taken place over the past year have nudged me to do things that I wouldn’t typically do and to dig deep for strength that I had forgotten I had. And so it begins….I will give writing a go in an effort to help extract the daily moments where I have so very much to be thankful for, or at least a plate of junk to laugh about.

My thankful image today was a surprise left by my daughter.  Living in Thailand, we eat a lot of ice cream.  I mean a lot, a lot.  My children eat at least one ice cream, or at minimum a popsicle, every day.  This isn’t something that I am proud of, but it is the reality of living in one of the hottest places on the planet, and working at a school that conveniently sells ice cream in their cafeteria for all of 25 cents.  That is unless you splurge for a soft serve cone, a special treat that will run you close to a dollar.  Today, when returning to my classroom after dismissing my students to recess, I noticed a note on my desk.  “I love you Mom” was written neatly below the words “for you” with an arrow pointing to a cup.  Inside the cup, leaning forward and creating symmetrical drippings of chocolate, was an ice cream cone.  She went big, it was a soft serve chocolate ice cream cone…or at least what was left of one.  The majority of it sat puddled on my desk, and the remainder I quickly consumed.  A true act of love from my daughter, and for at least today I managed to have only half an ice cream.