We’ve been together for over 700 straight hours now.
700 hours of meals, sleeping, travel, tears, sweat, fits, laughter and mayhem.
And this also means that Christmas didn’t contain the slightest element of surprise.
The boys knew I was going to get them an elephant for Christmas. We have been in Kanachanburi, a sleepy town on the River Kwai that edges the border of Myanmar. We stayed in a small house/ raft floating on the water, and we delicately followed a maze of wooden docks to get to our thatch-roofed house each night. Our room, in simple Asian-style, had several mattresses on the ground and the boys could fish out of the window. They made hand lines from a piece of bamboo, a fishing line,and a hook - and they caught beautiful river fish that they named when they caught them (river piranha!) using a piece of white bread.
The waves would slap lightly against the side of the house and we could see the famous Bridge Over the River Kwai from our dock. The stars were bright, except for when a massive karaoke boat laden with hundreds of singing Thais would blaze past, scattering lasers and techno beats in their wake.
I had two days to try to get Christmas together.
Roam asked, “I know we are getting an elephant for Christmas, but can’t we get a real present? Like Legos?”
Panicked, I started to look for a few things for them to open Christmas morning.
And Thailand has the most beautiful items for sale – purses in thick silk with elegant gold braid, colorful sarongs with bright designs, dangly earrings made from coconut and silver. But, anything for 6 and 8 year old boys? Nothing.
We scoured the floating market, stopping at every stall with our boat, each proprietor calmly hooking our bow with a special tool designed to bring the shoppers closer. We bobbed on the river as the women gently sang in Thai, holding trinkets they thought the boys would enjoy. The pickings were slim. There were piles of handmade baby clothes with cute elephants stacked next to ornate carvings of Buddhas, but nothing interested the boys.
Instead, we bought trays of sweet mango sticky rice from another boat and enjoyed the afternoon.
And, as the boat bobbed up and down, the boys kind of forgot they wanted anything for Christmas.
By the time the big day arrived, we had found a few options. They picked out their own T-shirts from a vendor on Ko San Road, and they picked out two silver robots made from old bolts and bike chain, that weighed a couple of pounds each. I tucked them away and made them promise to forget before Christmas.
Because, those 700 hours together haven’t left for a lot of time to go Christmas shopping without them.
And, with the exception of a few beers I had after bedtime with a Czech scuba instructor last week and our solo forays into the gent’s and ladies’ rooms, we’ve been in each other’s eye sight for quite awhile.
In our guesthouses, we usually pile into one queen-sized bed, and because they both want to be next to me, I am squished ad sweating in the middle. Zane usually has his hand knotted in the back of my hair and his leg thrown over my back, and Roam snores loudly in my ear. I often awake because someone has rolled over and kicked me in the kidneys in the process, or slapped me with a heavy, sleeping hand across the face. There is usually only one sheet, and I have to unroll Roam from the nest he’s created, and rearrange everyone’s sleeping limbs in a row, before sandwiching myself back in the middle and spreading the sheet above.
The night before Christmas, our hair was still wet from the river. Ten elephants had lumbered through the dust and happily submerged themselves in the gentle current of the water to cool down, their trunks spraying and their heads bobbing up and down. There was a mahout on each elephant’s back, the single person who is the full-time care-giver for an elephant, and they beckoned us forth.
“Come! Swim!” They laughed, as an elephant would dive down and a mahout would slide off its back, frolicking and bobbling and bathing.
All three of us swam out to a huge, quiet elephant named Rom Sai. He ducked underwater and the mahout helped us scramble to the place where the elephant would re-emerge. Rom Sai’s back breached and we all slipped off both sides – Roam tumbling to the side and Zane falling off Rom’s head. From the river, Zane laughed and used Rom Sai’s ear as a climbing rope to get back on.
It was ridiculously fun.
Elephants bobbing everywhere, swimming in the warm water, switching from one elephant back to another, the sunshine bright…
We have a tradition that we always open one gift on Christmas Eve. This year, I gave them a pack of gummy bears each.
If those gummy bears could talk, they were probably the most loved, happiest gummy bears ever produced. We played games with them, shared them, ate them, and made them last as long as possible in the dimly lit bungalow on the river in the jungle, with the elephants trumpeting in the background.
We wrote a note to Santa and left him a package of coconut cookies and a bottle of water.
Then, under the mosquito net, we sang Christmas songs. We tried to remember the 12 days of Christmas while we chewed off a gummy bear head. We made the bears dance to Deck the Halls. We melded the sticky bears together for one colossal bear who sang Jingle Bells.
And, in the morning, the boys opened their T-shirts and the bolt robots and played for an hour. I had found a small Lego set at the local 7-11 and they put it together. I surprised them with two tooth necklaces and they decorated them with shells I had collected from Ko Yao Noi.
They gave me a pair of silver elephant earrings and a bracelet with bells and elephants.
And we went back to the elephants.
Only 450 hours to go.