There is a milestone moment in the life of a parent when your child realises that the act of giving a gift can be (almost) as rewarding as receiving one. For my eldest daughter, Monkey, that happened last month and I was the lucky recipient. The gift she thoughtfully chose, sourced, bought, wrapped and tentatively gave me on the birthday morning brought tears to my eyes.
In fact, every time the bloody thing goes off in our lounge room, it still does!!
It was this….
and to fill it, this…
Apparently, the idea came to her during our stay in the serviced apartment in Brisbane. You see, growing up in Asia, our kids have never really been exposed to commercial TV. At the temporary accommodation we had cable, in English. Yay and funness! I freely admit that I used the television as somewhat of a ‘babysitter’ in those first few hectic weeks here in Australia. I also admit that I was not entirely immune to the charms of the 40-odd-channels, indulging in quite a lot of food and lifestyle porn!
It was probably during one of mummies ‘house’ shows that Monkey saw an advertisement for the above objet d’art.
According to the website – Air Wick Freshmatic Automatic Spray has been carefully created to ensure continuous fragrancing that will keep the air fresh and lovely for you and your family and ensure a brighter, happier home.’
Not only that, it comes in several unique fragrances, including ‘Frangapani’, a scent that would surely remind mummy of out home in Lao (The Frangapani is the National flower of Lao)
What’s more, it is available at your local supermarket!
Monkey, accompanied me grocery shopping, secretly located the aisle and item and later dragged Daddy on a special mission to buy mummy a present that would make our new home smell like Lao.
Honestly, it was most beautiful, thoughtful gesture and, despite that fact the our home has started to smell like a cheap brothel, every time I hear the psst of the fragrance dispenser my heart swells!
Monkey quietly approached me a week or so after my birthday, ‘Mumma’, she said, ‘It is OK if you turn the machine off sometimes.’
‘Why would I want to do that?’
She leaned in close, looking me straight in the eyes. ‘Because we both know it doesn’t smell very nice, does it? I don’t think the TV was right!’
I love you my beautiful, smart, baby girl. You are FABULOUS!
Please accept this, my resignation, from the position of mother-of-three. I know that you were hoping I would apply for tenure but after much consideration I have realised that I am unsuited for the role. It would be remiss of me to continue.
Let me start by saying, in case there is any confusion, that according to the role description I have been given, there are three young children in my care. Are we clear on that point? Three little life forms all relying on me to keep them safe, fed, healthy and stimulated. Three little people who look to me for guidance, support, love. Three VERY DIFFERENT personalities who all NEED me, ALL THE TIME.
The fact is that I should never have taken on the role in the first place. I will admit to having been quite the advocate for having a child. A CHILD. Single. I was actually rather good at the making and baking part.
What I failed to do, this is entirely my fault, was read the safety instructions and follow the precautions which were clearly indicated, though in rather fine print I must say, at the back of the document.
The fact that I failed in my duty of care a third time should really be grounds for instant dismissal. I am obviously completely incompetent.
That not withstanding, I would like to list a number of other reasons why I am unsuitable for this job in the hope that you will accept, with haste, this request for clemency.
I like to be organised.
I like to be in control.
I like to be punctual.
I like clean.
I am rational.
I like to finish something I start, be it a task, cup of coffee or even a thought.
I like sleep. (Seriously, I really, really like sleep)
Given the above, I hope you see why I cannot possibly continue in this role. There is really very little job satisfaction!
If you are still not convinced, please let me make one final point. I wanted to do this job well. I really wanted to nail it. With every fiber of my being I wanted to be the best mother I could possibly be. But I just don’t have the capacity or the resources to give ALL THREE CHILDREN the time, support, sensitivity and understanding they need.
The only thing I have enough of is love.
The only thing I seem to be good at is shouting.
Thank you for your time. I wait anxiously for your response.
‘Summer’ holidays continue. Three point five weeks down and five and a half to go. Week two and three were great. Why? Because I took my two eldest girls back to Australia for 10 days.
IT WAS FABULOUS!
The decision to go back was last minute. I had decided not to return to Australia because I couldn’t face the thought of flying, on my own, with the three girls. I, realistically, figured that a holiday with a 19-month-old and two kids in tow might not be that much of a holiday at all. So we shelved the idea.
But I miss home, I really miss home. So G suggested I leave Chilli behind and take a short-break. Our nanny agreed to pick up the extra hours, G adjusted his work schedule slightly, I pushed my ‘mother guilt’ aside and we booked the flights to Brisbane.
Monkey and Pigeon are such seasoned travellers. They handled the long flights and the transits off a break. They were also, for the most part, wonderful companions. We had a really nice time.
From the moment we landed, I felt like I was home – the colour of the sky, the sound of thick Australian accents, the trees, the Brisbane River… the ordered and predictable traffic, the supermarket, the sidewalks, the parks and public spaces, the winter fruit, the cool weather, the cinema, the underwear and clothing that fit me… so easy, so convenient – OH GOD, IT WAS GOOD TO BE BACK!
Ultimately though, the best thing about going home, what made it so hard to leave, what makes my heart ache now as I sit in a cafe in uptown Vientiane and write, is the people I saw so briefly and have now, once again, farewelled… and the people I didn’t have time to see and have once again missed.
I have been living abroad for almost 8 years now but I still have a place I call home. My home is not a building. My home is the friends and family who I love and leave behind.
Here in Lao, as in many parts of the World, it is Summer Holidays. Coming from Australia, I find this hard to digest. Summer, as far as I am concerned, is December/ January. It is soaring temperatures and expeditions to the beach, Christmas, New Year!
July/August should be cold and wet, I should be accessorising with an assortment of fabulous scarves and battling chilling winds. Instead, Laos is giving me ferocious storms, 100% humidity and hot, hot, heat!
‘Summer Holidays’ meant nothing to me until I had children… and those children started going to school… and school- decided that for 8 weeks, ‘over summer’, I would be responsible for my offspring 24hrs-a-day, 7-days-a-week.
For fucks sake! SERIOUSLY!
So here I am, almost one week into the ‘Summer’… again! What a strange time. What a pot-luck of highs and lows.
The best part has been waking up in the morning and not having to cajole, humour, threaten, bribe and yell to get us all out the door – preferably fed, cleaned and dressed – before 7:45am each morning. Instead, there have been long morning cuddles and leisurely showers, albeit with a toddler and two little people sharing the bathroom with me.
Watching Monkey and Pigeon play with their little sister, chasing her around the house as she squeals with delight, dancing together, smashing the poor keys on our keyboard to create a sisterly symphony of tuneless noise, more squeals of delight… I find myself clutching my chest as it bursts with love and pride.
What’s more, for the most part, I find myself enjoying the company of my older daughters.
This week we have had our hair cut, our nails done, we have seen a contemporary dance performance. There have been several play dates, a shopping expedition across the boarder into Thailand. They have crafted and painted and made cookies and swum. There has been a trip to the Dentist and several trips to the clinic for a variety of ailments. We have even had a wart removed (I won’t say who or from where!!). We have been really busy and it has been fun.
But by this afternoon, we were all exhausted. Chilli was doing circle work and walking into walls well before 6pm. Pigeon, who had nothing left to give, lay on her bed in the fetal position weeping because, “My eyes are too tired and my nose won’t let me sleep!”.
But it was my eldest who was the most impressive. Around 4pm this afternoon, Monkey morphed into Demonspawn. Two award-winning tantrums in as many hours. She bulls-eyed just about every button she chose to push. She fell asleep, wailing even until her final moments of consciousness, I practically sculled three-quarters of a bottle of red wine and sat in the dark for over an hour before the call of nature dragged me out of my catatonic stupor.
… and this is only week one… fabulous!
Thanks for reading… I make no promises about writing again until the “Summer” ends, but it is good to know you are here if I need you.
I could give away (almost) all my stuff tomorrow and likely find a deeper happiness.
But that does not change the fact that a thing of beauty makes me smile. Like my eldest daughter, I have a strong visual compass. Like my middle child, I am a sentimental fool and will cherish an item because it reminds me of a person I love or a moment of great joy.
Last weekend we introduced Monkey and Pigeon to the the fabulous Julie Andrews and the pure unadulterated kitsch that is The Sound of Music. It is rainy season here in Laos and ‘These are a few of my Favourite Things’, has since been sung, repeatedly, during the many recent thunder storms.
So in celebration of Julie and Stuff and Love…here are a few of MY favourite things… (forthis week anyway!)
I bought this vintage bag a few weeks ago at a market stall in Bangkok during a very special weekend with a fabulous yummy mummy friend of mine. I love everything about it. It sparkles. It is fringed. It is a little bit OTT and a big bit glam. Though it has not yet been out for a spin in public yet, I have been guilty of carefully taking it out of its tissue wrapping and wearing it around the house, just to catch a glimpse of it in the bathroom mirror… soon my pretty, soon!
YOU ARE MY FAVOURITE WORK OF ART
I saw this beautiful painting at H Gallery in Bangkok in 2009 and fell in love with it. The painting evokes in me a sense of serenity and belonging. In 2011 we visited H again and coincidentally the Artist, Khun Therdkiat, was having another exhibition. His style had evolved quite a bit but I was still enthralled by his work. I commented, in passing, about the pigeon series and the painting that had captured my heart all those years ago. H rushed into the warehouse and 10 minutes later he and his assistant emerged with the very painting I was talking about. At 2.5 metres wide it had been difficult to find a buyer. The artist, on hearing our little love story, sold it to us for a substantial discount.
We checked the bloody thing in as oversized baggage and carried it, frame and all, back to Laos where it now lives.
It will one day be left to our Pigeon, for obvious reasons.
MOTHER’S LITTLE HELPER
I heart my expresso machine. With children who think pre-dawn is an acceptable time to start the day, I NEED this mechanised medicine machine. Perfect with Lao local beans (remarkably good if you haven’t tried them). G and I take it in turns to crank out thick, black shot’s for eachother in the morning, a simple act of devotion and caring.
THE BEST CHAIR IN THE WORLD
My grandfather died when I was 7 (or maybe 8). This was his chair. Bossy’s Chair. This was the chair he sat and smoked his pipe in. Watched the news in. Read the paper in. There was just room enough in this chair for me to wriggle my way onto his lap for hugs and tickles and silly stories…’Get away you scallywag!”
This chair used to be dark red vinyl (God bless the 70’s). Thirty years ago my Grandmother had it recovered in a more subtle shade. I’m not sure how I was lucky enough to end up with the chair but since it has been my possession it has travelled with me from house to house, state to state, and now country to country. It is battered and beaten and badly in need of repair. Soon it will be restored… in dark red (leather if possible). There is just enough room in this chair for my girls for snuggle up with their dad, or mum, or grandpa for tickles and cuddles and silly stories.
This is Bossy’s Chair.
THE PERFECT SHADE OF RED
For years I have envied those women who could pull off daring, red lipstick without looking like they rented by the hour. I have never had any success with the scarlet shades, though my mother would likely say I spent much of the 80’s dressing like a streetwalker!
I stumbled across RoxyVintageStyle.com when I was in Bangkok recovering after my surgery. That girl OWNS her Ruby Red’s. Inspired, I made it my personal mission to find just just the right rouge. Shopping for cosmetics in Bangkok’s large department stores is a lot of fun. The sales assistants are all passionate about their product… and mostly men… dressed as women! Ever so helpful and as excited as I was by the task at hand, ‘the girls’ and I had a lovely time finding the perfect shade for me. Obviously, such a hue is not for the everyday but I can’t deny I do love my little red pout.
The winning shade, (for those who are interested)… Channel Rouge Allure no.104 Passion
There you have it, five of my favourite fabulous things!
It would make my day if you wanted to share your favourite stuff.
I have to admit to having some strange and conflicting emotions as I packed my bags to return home on Friday. I was nervous and a little reluctant. That made me feel guilty, of course!
I was nervous because sometimes expectations can be out of touch with reality. I knew the Princesses had missed me and we had been counting down the days during our nightly Skype calls. They were really looking forward to my return but what if the reality of having mummy back was not all it was cracked up to be. After all, mummy makes them eat their vegetables, go to bed early and sleep in their own beds.
I was reluctant because, still recovering from surgery, I really am unable to lift and carry or run after the children in any real way. I can’t even drive a car just yet. I worried that I would overdo things or become frustrated by my uselessness.
I was guilty. Despite the surgery and being an invalid for most of my two weeks away, I LOVED my time to myself. I am very extroverted and usually get quite bored and lonely after a couple of days on my own but this time I had revelled in my isolation. For the last few days, at least, I had spoilt myself rotten. A pedicure one day. A facial the next. A massage. I even took myself to the cinema to see Iron Man 3… in 3D. A little shopping. Reading. Catching up on TV…. and here is the kicker, eight (or more) uninterrupted hours of blissful slumber every night for 10 days (I don’t count the days I was in hospital – though there is also something very special about that morphine induced haze).
I arrived at Vientiane airport just after lunch, cleared immigration and organised some assistance to heave my excess baggage (I did mention the shopping didn’t I) onto a trolley. I could see my mother waiting just beyond the automatic doors. We waved and I turned away to search the carousel for my suitcase. I heard mum call my name again, turned to peek through the doors and this time I saw my baby girl.
My heart skipped a beat. I had to catch my breath and blink back unexpected tears.
Suddenly, everything was taking too long and the ten metres between me and my precious daughter seemed like an ocean. I practically bounced out of baggage collection, I was so excited to see her.
For a moment when she saw me Chilli was confused, then recognition, a smile and a squeal. She held out her arms. I couldn’t help myself. Despite the medical advice, I took hold of my baby. She laid her head on my shoulder and I hugged her tight….
When I picked up Pigeon from school she rushed into my open arms:
“How many days were you away, mama?”
“Well, I will hug you for 14 days until I let you go.”
“Works for me Pigeon”, her arms wrapped tightly around my neck.
Monkey was a little more pragmatic.
“Can I see your scar!”
Then all afternoon, gentle kisses, tender moments, reassuring hugs or a quick squeeze of the hand…” just making sure you’re OK mum” … just making sure you’re still here.
Way to make a girl feel special!
I was unexpectedly taken aback when daddy got home too, found a lump in my throat when I first saw him.
So now I am home. I am frustrated by the short-term physical limitations but they are liberating too. It is a rare joy to just sit and be while the chaos whirls around me. When the skies darkened and the rains fell on Saturday morning, the girls danced and I sat and soaked up my family…
It won’t be long before things are back to normal and I am back to being a full-time, full-on parent but for now it is nice relinquishing some responsibility, being the passenger rather than the driver (literally).
I am a pretty jaded expat. I have lived in South East Asia for almost 8 years and the things that once captivated and intrigued me are now commonplace. I am guilty of avoiding the very cross-cultural exchanges that I once actively sought out.
When G and I arrived in the region, armed with 6 weeks of language training and a love of Thai food, we embraced every opportunity to be part of the local community. Weddings, funerals, festivals, religious celebrations, blessing ceremonies – as the local ‘farang’ (white, western) celebrities we were lucky enough to be invited to, participate in and enjoy many such occasions (not the funerals so much, though I find it fascinating to observe how different cultures deal with death).
However, over time, and with the arrival of the children, our genuine enthusiasm gave way to reluctant cynicism. These days G is often invited simply to facilitate a financial windfall (donations are expected and gratefully accepted) rather than because there is any genuine connection.
But every now and then I am reminded why I fell in love with this region and humbled by the people who live here.
Bau, our nanny, was recently involved in a motorbike accident (you can read more about that here). According to the village traditions/laws the individual who was responsible for the accident must pay for the repairs on the vehicle and also for a ‘Baci’ ceremony. (Interestingly, medical expenses were not considered important! Though we are making sure she receives follow up treatment and rehabilitation on her injured knee).
A ‘Baci’ is a distinctly Lao ceremony that is used to celebrate a special event. A ‘Baci’ is held at a marriage, annual festivals, to celebrate a birth, a homecoming, to bless a new home, to welcome officials… any excuse will do. A senior member of the community usually performs the blessing itself. Afterwards there is always food and usually lots and lots of Beer Lao and Johnny Walker!
Based in the animistic traditions prevalent in the region, the ceremony is meant to realign the vital forces or components of the soul, restoring equilibrium, therefore, a ‘Baci’ after an illness, accident or injury is very important. (For more information about the traditions of the ‘Baci’ ceremony read this)
Bau returned to work a few days before her ‘Baci’ and asked if our family was free to attend. I have to admit that I brushed her off the first time she asked, figuring she just felt she should ask. But she mentioned it again the following day and offered to come and pick us up so we could find our way to her sister’s house. I realized that it was important to her that we come. So we graciously accepted.
Let me digress for a moment:
Bau came to work for us when baby Chilli was eight weeks old. I had never had a nanny before but with the arrival of number three, I determined to take advantage of that little expat luxury for the sake of my own sanity and, quite possibly, the lives of my family… providing I could find the right person.
I interviewed a few people, some lovely, some not so much. A friend told me she had a friend (isn’t that always how it works) whose sister was looking for work. Bau was Hmong, an ethnic minority here, so her opportunities for education had been limited but she was smart and capable and looking for a job now that her own young children had both started school.
She spoke no English (then, though in 12 months her progress is remarkable) and had no references as she had not worked before but I liked her… and so did the eight week old bundle in my arms.
It was love at first sight between Bau and Chilli. If not for the fact that my boobs were providing that child sustenance, Chilli could not have cared less if I was around or not when Bau was in the room.
Monkey and Pigeon and I soon fell in love with her too. It is impossible not to love her. She is gentle and kind, firm yet loving, smart and intuitive, fun and funny. She puts up with me and genuinely adores my crazy daughters. She radiates love.
Bau’s ‘Baci’ was presided over by her father on a Saturday morning and followed by a feast of traditional food. G, Monkey, Pigeon, Chilli and I were guests of honour. Everyone else there was family.
I find it difficult to explain how special it was to be there.
I can describe the facts: Bau is one of twelve children. All available siblings were there along with their spouses and children. Her husband’s, equally large, family were there, including her parents-in-law. Bau’s elderly mum and dad traveled almost 12 hours to attend. The house was overflowing with food, chaos, love and laughter.
I can show you some photos:
We were made to feel so welcome.
With united purpose, we all shared our love and concern for Bau.
I do not come from a large family, or a close extended family, we have no strong traditional ties. That isn’t wrong or bad, it just is. To experience, if only for a moment, what it is like to be part of such an enormous, embracing family unit was…well… fabulous.