Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I’d rather have the stomach flu in Thailand

I spent the past three repulsive days on the bathroom floor.

Turns out that a stomach bug can waylay even the most ambitious packing plans. Prior to our trip, I created a To-Do list that looked more like a Pinterest board than reality. I would be SuperMom. In addition to packing and planning a 6-week adventure with a third-grader and a kindergartener to Thailand, I would wondrously clean my closets and assemble my clothes by color. And, as long as I was at it, I would systematize my kids’ closets and sort their cars and airplanes into multi-colored bins. I would magically purge our lives of all non-necessities. I would even organize and sweep my chockablock garage, perhaps with bikes hanging from new hooks and hoses tightly coiled on the wall. I would vacuum the wilted fruit snacks and crushed autumn leaves from the backseat of my truck. I even bought inspirational cards to write and mail, despite the fact that I haven’t sent a real card in a real envelope to anyone besides my grandmother in the past decade.

Well, the stomach flu stopped all of that ridiculousness.

And, as I curled on the cold tile of the bathroom at 4:00 in the morning, my stomach cramping and my vulnerable self quietly bent on the floor – I started to cry.

Not the sweet, movie-star tears with gentle, wafting sighs. But the raw, open ragged sobs that exist on the bitter tile when the sky is inky black.

And, as I lay there moaning - I decided that I couldn’t go to Thailand. No way. How could I take my boys to the other side of the world single-handedly? What would happen if I had the stomach flu while we were traveling? After all, stomach issues are a given while traveling in Asia. Who would take care of them? I pictured myself on the warm tile of a thatch bungalow on the other side of the planet with the boys giving me sips of bottled water as I vomited. I was awash with fear. Who was I to take my small children out into the world?

Minutes... and then hours passed as I lay bowed over the toilet. My chattering monkey-brain spun with every worse-case scenario that could befall us during our travels. I saw us weaving our way through a crowded market. I saw me stopping to look at some ripe mangoes. I saw myself looking around and the boys were gone. I saw us in a tsunami. I saw us in a plane crash.

Fear sucks.

Fear is the tiny voice in the dark of night that tells our vulnerable selves to stop. To not go on. To stay safe. It is what compels us to stay home. Fear is what keeps us mindlessly completing daily tasks, and shelving the big wishes for a better time. Fear is what makes us say to friends, “I know that I could do better, but…”

And the more I’ve talked about this trip, the more people have expressed their fear. Not just fear FOR me, but fear for themselves wrapped up as a polite sentence such as, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

And as I lay on the bathroom floor, it didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.

But, then the sun came up. As it always does.

And although I spent the last three days in bed, I left the fear about this trip in the dark of night on the bathroom floor.

This journey is scary as hell. And, I’ve always told people if they aren’t scared of their adventures, then they aren’t really paying attention. Because, if you are paying attention – you should be scared.  It’s big.

But, my fears of this adventure are not going to keep me paralyzed on the bathroom floor. I want this adventure for me, for my boys. I want them to persevere after days of sweaty and confusing travel. I want their tongues to burn with foreign spices. I want for them to carefully sing a phrase in Thai.

Because, truth be told, I could get the stomach flu in Thailand. Or, I could get it at home. Life has hard moments no matter where we are.

And, if that is the case, I’d rather have the stomach flu in Thailand.   

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thailand. Six weeks. One mom. Two boys. One duffle bag.

I have never been able to keep stuff.

And, I love stuff.

Every time I start to accumulate possessions, something dramatic happens.

It started in my teens the first time I left home to travel abroad. I was an exchange student for a year in the Netherlands, and while I was gone, I packed all of my belongings into a closet and my mom rented out my bedroom to an industrious med student. Before I returned home, the foundation of the house cracked in the night, and the porch fell off its beams and crushed my stuff.


It happened again in college. I left my stuff in a friend’s basement. Their basement filled with water after an Oregon storm, but strangely, only the corner with all of my boxes flooded. Another time, I drove across Eugene with a pre-assembled pressboard desk in the back of my pick-up. The light turned red, and as I pressed the brake, the desk flipped into traffic and splintered on the pavement. It got so that friends started making excuses not to house my boxes between semesters because of the strange events that would destroy my belongings, and simultaneously, theirs.

Eventually, I found myself in my late twenties calling my mom from the North Island of New Zealand after my backpack, my passport, and my money belt had been stolen and I was left with only a toothbrush, the clothes I was wearing, and a credit card. “Apparently,” she said, without an element of surprise at my predicament, “not only are you supposed to wander the world, but you are supposed to do it naked and walking, as well.”

And, so, I've spent decades wandering.

And, decades trying to collect stuff.

After leading groups of teenagers and adults around the world for 18 years, I now have a house that looks like a market in a developing country. My walls glitter with masks from Africa, my shelves are crammed with Thai headdresses and Nepali dolls, and my closets are filled with traditional Peruvian sweaters and woven scarves from Mozambique.

I finally have stuff.

And Legos. Did I mention the Legos?

During this semi-nomadic journey, I managed to have two beautiful sons. And despite the chaos of babies and diapers and strollers and STUFF – I still have wanted them to go to the other side of the world. To cross international borders.

Because, the real “stuff” that I've managed to accumulate in the past decade has been more than material. I've collected a marriage, a business, a family, and a community. And, since I’m still apparently not supposed to have any stuff, some of that has crumbled right now, as well.

And, again, I find myself without much stuff.  

And, as hard as it is to be without stuff again, I've found that being without stuff seems to be when the world reminds me of what really matters.


And, what really matters right now are eight and six years old. And they are my world.

So, I want to show them mine.

Thailand. Six weeks. One mom. Two boys. One duffle bag. Maybe we’ll get some stuff.