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On the balcony in Bangkok
One year ago today your Dad and I walked in amongst teak houses in thick air to hear laughing, crying, and women giving instructions in Thai. We sat and had a cup of tea and talked about your first months and looked at baby photos of you. We wanted to jump up and find you, but we knew that this was our chance to get all the details we could about you. So we sat patiently and asked. When did you sleep? What did you like to eat? She told us you were a cheeky one, and she was aboslutely correct.
One year ago today we saw you getting your blue plastic shoes on to hop in the car with these two strangers that you now call Mummy and Daddy. You had little idea of what your new life would be. Later you took a nap in the air con and you must’ve felt that kind of cold for the first time. We wrapped you in a sarong and placed you in the wooden hotel cot. And when you woke up, you were wary but happy to eat rice porridge and fresh mango.
The next day you really started to understand that everything had changed, and you cried a lot. We finally put you in the carrier on Daddy’s chest and you immediately calmed down. You were enveloped in the warmth of Daddy on one side and Monsoonal breeze on the other, guarded from rain by the covered balcony. You both watched the tuk tuks drive along the road below.
Later we became busy with trips to embassies, consulates and hospitals. Document after document was gathered, stamped and turned in until the government authorities at the court told us they were happy for us to take you home. We went to a cafe, relieved. You still love going to cafes.
At the airport, Daddy and I were nervous. Would you cry the whole way to New Zealand? We had fun in the airport trolley, but then it was time to board. People tutted and rolled their eyes when they saw you and other children as if no children should ever be allowed on an aeroplane in case they cry, but we know that aeroplane trips are special for children, especially one like you. It was an aeroplane that brought you to our home in the Pacific. You had a one-way ticket. And you barely cried at all! You enjoyed your infant meal and had fun playing with the Thai Airlines flight attendants. But, most of the time you slept on either my chest or Daddy’s.
At home, we felt a bit guilty for bringing you from the warmth of Thailand to this cold place. The first time we bundled you up you just stood there as if you didn’t know how to move under the weight of all those clothes. We slept on the floor in your room so we could all stay warm and check on you if you woke up confused. You were much happier (as were we!) when the summer finally came and you got to discover sand, buckets and spades at the beach…and ice cream!
You’ve always loved the park even though you cried the first time you stood on grass. You were not so sure about the swing at first. You’d go back and forth a couple of times until you got a strange, greenish look on your face and we took you out. Then you’d ask to go back in. Eventually you fell in love with it and we spent a lot of time pushing you “Small” and “Big!”. You also started to climb. And even though you were intimidated at first, now you will climb on anything you can reach.
One year ago today I wondered what you’d think of your goofy parents. It turns out that you like to make silly jokes and be cheeky just like us. Three sanuk-ers in a pod!
One year ago today we all thought we loved each other, but it is nothing compared to what we have now. Every mountain we’ve climbed has woven us more tightly together. Even when you throw your best display of two year old rage in the supermarket or break your cup because you can’t have juice in it, you go for your nap and I sit and think about how much I love you. And when I can’t make the tea for you clinging to my leg after you’ve been ill, I just dial the pizza place so I can spend the time with you instead. One takeaway here and there can’t hurt, right?
And one year ago today, I was already planning your party. I knew you’d make friends (I could just tell) and I couldn’t wait to have them over to play and eat cake and celebrate your day. Happy One Year Day to all of us, but especially to you for making our lives so incredible.
Waiting for the bread dough to prove
Here are 7 frantically typed, unedited, things that my travelling life has gifted to my mothering life.
It’s not often possible on an aeroplane or when living with a toddler, but do it when you can.
Functioning during jet lag is like functioning with a sleepless toddler (see above).
You can’t speak every language in the world but it is polite to learn a few phrases when travelling somewhere new. Likewise, toddlers do not speak my language, but I have learnt how my son says milk, “moo”, and please, “peesh”, and thank you, “krap!”. Well, OK, technically that last one is Thai, but it is toddler Thai all the same. He also tends to get what I’m saying most of the time. We are multilingual like that.
4) Eating and Drinking
Another “Do it when you can just in case you don’t get another opportunity soon”.
Carrying your gear is like carrying a toddler. You get muscles in places you’ve never had them before.
Travel teaches you that you really don’t need much stuff to live and when you have a child, the first thing you have to do is clear out all the stuff you don’t want used as a toy (until you can train them up, anyway). Through this process, you start to realise how much of your stuff is not needed anyway. Less is more.
When I lived in the Japanese countryside, it was a treat to have cheese. In New Zealand I took this for granted, but to sit down with a hunk of cheddar and a few crackers in Japan was pure indulgence. Likewise, a really good mango with sticky rice is a treat in New Zealand. Treats for mothers include having a shower longer than 3 minutes alone and indulging in a coffee in a cafe that provides toys.
P.S. I could write about a million of these, but nap times are short and I need a cup of tea.
I’ve travelled to visit family and to move my life to a new country. I’ve travelled to build houses or present at conferences. And, I’ve travelled just for the sake of it. Travel to see what there is to see. But I’ve never travelled with such purpose before. Packing involved thinking ahead to what one person could carry in case the other one had occupied arms. It involved guessing what sized clothes I need to bring for a person of whom I had no idea how big he’d got. Does he need shoes?
Bangkok! We can get everything there. No worries.
Now that I am sitting in a taxi all of those preparatory thoughts fall behind. Driving through the big posh areas of Sukhumvit and Silom with all the trendy girls with nail polish and tourists taking photos of giant golden spirit houses only to enter the old towns in the West of the city. It’s like slipping into a comfortable blanket. People are doing normal things like bathing children in buckets, disassembling jackfruit and pounding som tam. The other Bangkok is fun, but I love this Bangkok. I feel comfortable and at home here and we usually stay out here in old teak houses cooled only by fans and sips of nam manao. But not this time because this time we are travelling with purpose. We’ve rented an “aparthotel” in Lumpini with a swimming pool downstairs and a kitchen and cot in the room. We wanted all three of us to be comfortable.
The taxi driver, my husband and I team up as we enter the narrow sois and try to spot the tiny, handpainted, sign for the orphanage. There it is! I tell him, “We can walk from here, kaaa” “No problem”, he says, “I can take you there”, and we finally stop at the end of the driveway. My husband told me in the taxi that he felt nervous, but I hadn’t felt that until now. Looking at old Bangkok calmed me, but now we have stopped moving and all I can hear is a bird and some clinking dishes as someone in the neighbourhood is washing up. We have to straighten our legs, stand on them, and go and meet our son.
I almost catch a glimpse of children playing as the director warmly greets us and takes us to her office. We are offered a drink and a biscuit as we talk about so much in so little time. We want to know what his routine has been so that we can keep that comfort going for him. She shows us a stack of photos and other little things and puts it all in a giant folder for us. 20 months of life summed up in a tiny parcel that we will carry home. We ask a million other questions and are happy that we have written down the answers because we already know that we are not taking anything in any more. It’s time to go and she wants us to leave quickly so that the children don’t confuse us with the volunteers who come and go. Our son has been prepped to know that we are forever…if forever is and understandable concept to an under two.
As we enter the sala one boy shouts out “Hello!” but they all seem to be moving in a blur as we try to spot the one who is coming home with us. The director jokes that we must identify him before we are allowed to take him home. As we haven’t had a photo since his first birthday this might seem impossible with all these little pairs of eyes looking at us, some children cosying up or showing us toys. But then I see a little boy sitting on the floor as his carer puts on his blue Crocs. He is looking and pointing at us. He knows it’s us and we know it’s him. He walks a little way, hand in hand with the carer, until someone picks him up and puts him in against my body. My mind switches locations and I am picturing those little kiwis we take to give to students in other countries, the ones that clip on to things and don’t let go. He is a limpet with eyes on me, so close. He’s just looking. We expected crying or pushing away but, no, just looking. Someone says “Mama, Mama!” and then points to my husband and says, “Daddy!” and his eyes flit to and fro until the director ushers us out to the taxi.
The taxi affords us a good amount of time to check each other out until he finally starts crying and then changing from one person to another. Holding* a biscuit calmed him but he never took a bite. He liked looking out the window, just like us, but in between spotting interesting things he started to cry more for what was missing. “Kaw thort” I apologise to the taxi drive for the noise. “Mai bpen rai”, no worries, he says back and I think about how lucky we have been with both drivers today. And then it dawns on me that we are about to get out of the taxi, at our hotel, as a family of three.
*He held on to that little biscuit until it finally fell apart in the bath at 7pm, and when we opened his hand half of it was still in there.
Yes, you’ve read that correctly! The reason I’ve been so absent here on Shantiwallah is that I have been away in Thailand collecting my 20 month old son.
It hasn’t been easy as we don’t have a very good system for adoption here in New Zealand. We tried to start the process back in 2007 when we were still in Japan but the NZ government won’t work with citizens abroad, so we came back. From January 2008 we have been working with the authorities to get a mound of paperwork the size of Mount Taranaki completed and verified by all the right people. It was finallly sent off to Thailand last year where things were set in motion for us to go and collect our wee lad. We left Auckland for Bangkok on the 10th of July and visited the orphanage, coming away with a special little package, on the 14th and have been getting to know Mr. Poom* ever since.
It’s been a long journey with lots of bumps, but we are so happy to have him home in New Zealand, even if he does resent the New Zealand cold as much as I do!
*Not his real name as we are not allowed to identify him on the internet. We only have guardianship for now until the adoption process is complete sometime next year.