Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring Weekends.

I haven't been posting on Mondays lately and here's why:

1. The SUN has been shining and shining and shining!

2. It's simultaneously baseball, socccer and track season.

3. I'm pitching and polishing the new book (yes, I'm aware these things should be done in reverse order, but after all, pressure makes diamonds and/or earthquake-created sinkholes). The jury's out on which category this new book will fall into.

4. Child #2 is dancing in a MayPole celebration that required me to spend way too much time searching for all white canvas Keds. Thanks be to Zappos. I should have started with you in the first place.

5. My garden looks like it could devour small children.

6. I was overwhelmed by a need to make chocolate almond cookies.

7. I'm slightly sleep-deprived because a renegade hamster escaped her cage and woke me in the middle of the night by clawing at my door. Screams were involved. No one woke up but me and the hamster.

8. Too many Hello Kitties on Saturday night, which is an oxymoron because if you've ever tasted Hello Kitties you know there's no such thing as too many.

9. My house phone rings every 2.5 minutes. All of the calls are for my daughter.

10. And the top reason I'm not doing a thoughtful blog post with proper paragraphs and prose is because spring weekends are a limited resource and I can't bear to squander them inside.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The slow, slow train to Cambodia

During the month of January my husband and I posed a question to our kids. "Would you rather travel to Cambodia by train, bus or airplane?"

We were having dinner and it was raining outside. The thermometer hadn't budged from the thirty-five degree mark in over three weeks.

"Train," said the kids. It was an instant, unanimous decision.

"The only train is third class. It takes six hours and there's no air-conditioning. It'll be really, really hot," my husband warned.

They looked out the window at the drizzling rain and assured us they'd be fine.

It started out as a fun, five o'clock in the morning adventure. We claimed our hard wooden bench seats and settled in with our bags of snacks.

Before the train had left the main terminal in Bangkok, vendors were walking up and down the aisle with baskets full of food.

The train rollicked us out of the city through the slums. We peered out the windows, wide open and unscreened, directly into people's homes built only a few feet from the tracks.

We saw children bathing in canals. "They're swimming," said Child #2.

"Do you think they have water in their homes?" I asked. My kids considered this foreign concept for a minute before they got the answer right.

We did what travelers do on trains all over the world. We read our books, looked at scenery, and explored the different cars.

There was an elderly woman on the floor of the dining car using a cleaver to chop up tropical fruit. Her hand was steady, seemingly immune to the bumps, rolls and jerks of the train. The finished product floated in a bath of cloudy water.

"Can I get some fruit?" Child #2 asked.

"How about a Fanta?" I suggested, envisioning multiple emergency trips to the train bathroom.

After five hours, the initial romance of the train lost its bloom. That last hour was hot and, well, that's kinda all I remember about it.

We disembarked into an eastern border town where we dragged our luggage to a checkpoint and stood in line with backpackers (none of them American) as we waited to cross the border into Cambodia.

"I want to go first so I can tell my friends I was in a different country than my family," said my daughter, but her enthusiasm waned when she saw the serious-faced, gun-toting border patrol guards.

"Can we still take a picture when we cross?" she asked.

"It says no pictures," my son pointed out.

"Yes, but what happens if we take them?"

"Do we really want to find out?" I asked. They both shook their heads no.

After we crossed into Cambodia we still had a two hour drive to get to our destination which made for a painfully long travel day. But sometimes going new places is about more than the destination.

If we'd magically popped into Cambodia via airplane, we might have arrived fresh and air-conditioned cool, but we wouldn't know the length of Thailand, the smell of unidentified meats being offered in bamboo baskets or the relief at crossing unscathed through an armed border between countries.

I'm not sure if any of the above are important life lessons, but I think they all add up to memorable experiences. If nothing else, we've taught our kids to appreciate air travel. My daughter has informed us that, in the event the choice is presented again, she'd prefer to take a flight, direct, if possible.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Faking It

Every now and then parenthood and/or life requires you to do something terrifying. In life you can usually groan and angst about it with your friends, husband and family until you've worked up the necessary courage.
In direct contrast, parenting often throws you into a situation with little to no warning. Sometimes the only option is to paste a big smile on your face and charge forward.

At least that's what I told myself as I clung to a miniscule platform built around a jungle tree 100 feet up in the air. In front of me was the thin tightrope I had to traverse to get to the next platform way, way off in the distance.

When my daughter told me she wanted to go ziplining I was all like, "Yeah, great idea. So fun!" I've been ziplining before and am familiar with the procedure.

Ordinarily, you're strapped into a harness, climb a tree with a 'ziplining professional' who makes sure you're connected to an industrial strength cable in compliance with all applicable safety regulations. They show you how to push off, you take a deep breath and zip to the other platform where you're caught by another 'ziplining professional' who hooks you up to the next cable.

It's a lot like riding a roller coaster. You might be a little scared at first, but you do it and then you want to go again.

The name Adventure Challenge Ziplining didn't clue me in that this experience would be different.

Neither did the intense tutorial we got on the ground about safety precautions. I did start to get an inkling when our instructor insisted both my daughter and I complete a practice course on the ground two times before we could go up to the trees. But it wasn't until we were on that first platform and I realized we were all alone that panic set in.

"Aren't you coming up with us?" I called down to our instructor. "I notice no one's there to meet us on the second platform."

"Yes, very good. You go first, Lady!" he called giving me two thumbs up.

Did I mention his command of English was... well, I can't really complain because it was better than my command of Thai which is limited to 'Hello' and 'Thank you'.

I looked back at the tightrope I had to walk.

"Mom, are you scared?" asked my daughter from behind me. Her face was serious and I could tell this whole Adventure Ziplining thing had the potential to go either way. It could be an embarrassing defeat or a challenge we both overcame.

"No, not at all," I said, despite the fact my knees were literally shaking. "We're going to be like Indiana Jones swinging through the jungle. Remember, you've got a harness on so if you fall off the tightrope it'll be fun, kind of like a swing."

I hooked my crampons to the cable and then, in contradiction of Adventure Ziplining policy I hooked her up right behind me because, while there are many things I trust my daughter to do,
standing alone while she transfers the crampons designed to keep her from crashing 100 feet down to the jungle floor is not one of them. Since it was just the two of us up in the trees, there was no one there to stop me.

Although I'm not certain, it's possible that watching my daughter inch across that first tightrope  was harder than crossing it myself. "You're halfway there," I told her. "Just look at me and keep coming." And she did! We hugged and did a (subdued) victory dance way up high on our platform in the trees.

Adventure Ziplining, it turns out, is one treacherous passage after another with the occasional zips thrown in for fun.

We leaped through the air landing on boards that swung and teetered under our weight. We inched across bouncy rubberbands and we balanced on round logs. We bounded. We flew. Despite the fact we were always safely harnessed, we still felt incredibly brave.

By the time we got to the zipping it felt like the easiest part of the course."Can I go first on the second half?" my daughter asked and of course I said yes.

It took us close to three hours to finish our tour of duty in the tree tops. By the time we climbed back to the ground our preliminary trepidations had disappeared. We were drenched with sweat, victory and an important mother/daughter life lesson. Sometimes the only thing standing between you and what you want to do is irrational fear. And in those instances, the best thing to do is pretend you're Indiana Jones until you actually believe it.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Choices, Choices

You drag your kids clear across the world. You eagerly anticipate conversations about architecture, culture, language, food and somehow you find yourself engaged in a neverending conversation about a t-shirt.

Of course, it wasn't just any old t-shirt that inspired this kind of passion in my children. It was, in fact, a uniquely foul t-shirt.

"Mom," my daughter whispered while we were waiting to board the boat to "James Bond" Island. "Did you see that woman's shirt?"

The shirt in question was all black with the word 'FUCK' emblazoned across it in white. Underneath, in smaller print were the words 'Off', 'You', and 'Me' with a little box in front of each one. Below that bit of verbal fun the t-shirt read 'Choices Choices'.

"What does it mean?" she asked. Her eyes were alight with a fire that our visit to the Emerald Buddha had failed to ignite.

"I think it points out how that particular word can be used in a variety of contexts," I said and turned to rescue my son from the various elderly Thai women who were petting him like a dog and pinching his cheeks.

She followed up with more questions. "If you checked the 'Me' box what would that mean?"

"Hmm, I suppose it would be like asking someone to have sex. Or in some contexts I've heard it used to mean 'oops'."

The word sex was all it took to get Child #2's attention. "What? Where? What are you guys talking about??"

It was just the beginning.

We talked about that t-shirt at lunchtime and while we dug a giant hole in the sand on the beach. We talked about it the next morning at breakfast and on and off the whole way to Cambodia.

We talked about what it might mean if you selected the 'Off' or 'You' boxes. We discussed how the F-bomb plays multiple grammatical roles and how some people have limited vocabularies.

Child #1 posited that since the girl wearing the shirt was Russian, it was possible she had no idea what the words meant. We Googled pictures of the Russian alphabet to confirm it is, in fact, different than ours. We discussed the worldwide ubiquity of certain words in the English language.

It became a catchphrase of sorts; an off-color, inside joke and my children took delicious pleasure about being in the know.

At night, in restaurants, when we were confronted with long and confusing menus filled with unfamiliar foods, the kids would meet my eyes and say "Choices Choices!"

And of course, we'd all collapse in giggles, which, as it turns out, was every bit as enchanting as all the erudite conversation I'd been eagerly anticipating.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hide and Go Seek

I'm home!

After three weeks journeying through Southeast Asia, home feels like the most miraculous place in the world. Flowers are blooming, the sun is, well, this is Oregon so not exactly shining, but still it's home.

My world will be complete as soon as I can find all the items I took it upon myself to hide before I left.

Let me explain.

We live in a neighborhood that burglars treat like a box of chocolates. Yes, we have an alarm system and yes, I stopped the mail, but still, three weeks is a long time. Right before we were scheduled to leave a house across the street was burgled. Two weeks before that I'd listened to the laundry list of things stolen from another friend's house. And so, like any other not entirely rational person, I went on a hiding rampage.

Which is all well and good, except the problem with hiding things is when you come home you have to remember where you hid them.

Some things, the bigger items I snatched and grabbed in my initial hiding frenzy, were easy to find. Some things I didn't realize I was missing until I went to use them. My check book, for example was discovered underneath a pile of old Easter grass in the attic.

My jewelry was not at the bottom of the Costco-sized box of cereal bars where I thought I'd left it. Nor was it behind the books in my daughter's room or underneath the dumbwaiter. I finally located it at the bottom of a pile of sleeping bags.

I know you're thinking I'm giving away my best hiding places, but don't worry. I like to keep my nonexistent (knock-on-wood) burglars on their toes so I hide things in different places every time we go away.

Fortunately, I was able to uncover my laptop (underneath the long neglected Disney princess dress-up gowns in the dress-up box which reminds me I need to weed through those).

The location of my spare car key is still a mystery. I may give up looking for it for awhile and let it be a surprise/reminder of our vacation....which of course, I can't wait to write about.

And I will!

But first I need to download my pictures and in order to do that I have to find the camera cable. It was nonsensically hidden because you've heard of the thriving black market for outdated USB camera cables, right? No??

I think it's back to the attic for me. There are some boxes of uninvestigated kid art that seem like prime hiding places.