“Mom, what can I do?” Roam whined as he pulled on my shoulder.
“What do you mean What can I do?” I asked in exasperation. The day was hot and sticky from the jungle and I needed to drink more water. “Watch the show.” In front of us was an arena the size of my front yard filled with water and fifteen fully-grown male crocodiles.
“Blah, blah, blah,” he said, lisping through his missing front teeth. “So what? That guy has his head in a crocodile’s mouth. Who cares?”
No one ever talks about the days of travel when, frankly, you’ve had one-too-many bowls of rice and looked at one-too-many wooden carvings, and despite the fact that everything has the potential to be rich and cool and inspiring – for the moment, you don’t actually want to be there.
And I had apparently dragged Roam to one-too-many events that day.
Saturation point reached.
In the age of selfies that can be altered into skin-flattering snapshots and status updates that tell the world how marvelous life is – it can be hard to find a voice that sometimes says, blah, blah, blah. So what?
On this journey, there are plenty of moments that won’t make the hall of fame. The breakfast when we were served boiled eggs so raw and clear the boys called them booger eggs.
The sink loads of dirty T-shirts I have scrubbed in every hostel sink that have been dipped in mud and sandy beaches, pressed on the floors of ferry terminals, and coated in slick layers of melted chocolate ice cream.
The six-hour bus ride when we drank huge fruit shakes beforehand, and then the bathroom on the bus was closed because the driver didn’t want to bother with cleaning it. We would frantically leap from the running bus at each new city and sprint to the station bathroom in hopes the bus wouldn’t leave before we were done. And rushing while hovering over a squat toilet in a bus station can be disastrous.
The evening when we ate deep-fried banana fritters for dessert and I woke up four hours later when Roam vomited strawberry-Fanta and half-digested bananas on my pillow.
The afternoon spent weaving through the jungle-y hills in the open back of a noisy tuk-tuk. After the open air, we returned to the city in full rush-hour with smog so thick the driver pulled over on the side of the road and washed his face with a bottle of water before taking us back to the guesthouse.
The way that well-intentioned and kind Thais have touched and pinched and photographed the boys to the point where the boys have started to scowl at any group of teenagers in fear they will be forced to pose for another unwanted picture.
But, those are the details between the lines, and when we get home, we’ll download our pictures and look at New Year’s Eve in Lampang, when we went to the main plaza and lit paper lanterns to join the thousands of other orange lights bobbing in the night sky. The gentleness of bringing in the New Year with Thai families who adopted us and, at midnight, we tried to countdown from ten in Thai with circles of new friends. They told us we got a wish for each lantern, and after 25 lanterns that we lit together in group after group, I feel lucky to have my wishes scattered with the thousands of other wishes and lanterns filling the night sky with dreams for 2014.
We’ll look at the pictures of Roam and Zane standing (yes, standing) on that same crocodile that bored Roam so much and wonder when life had allowed us to have such adventures.
We’ll remember the walking tour we did around the Old City in Chiang Mai, visiting Wat Chedi Luang and the temple complex, weaving ruins dating from 1441 with another modern temple festooned with gilded flags to celebrate the Chinese New Year. We walked through the grounds and saw a banner that read, “Monk Chat. Don’t just stand and look, come and talk with us!”
We sat with a 19-year old monk who practiced his English while we shyly asked him questions. The table next to ours had two American girls asking another monk dressed in saffron robes, “You really can’t like, even, date?” and “How often do you shave your head?”
Roam whispered in my ear a question to ask our monk, too bashful to ask for himself. I had talked with the boys about the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, and Roam wanted to know whether the monk considered himself pious enough to have earned another life, or whether he thought he would come back as a mosquito.
I delicately rephrased the question, and the diminutive monk with deep brown eyes spoke softly about mindfulness. About being attentive to each extraordinary moment. Paying exceptional attention to each breath. To not get mired in thoughts about the future. To not stress about the past.
Do you understand? I asked the boys, as if I could honestly follow such a profound and full reflection. Zane rolled his eyes at me and muttered quietly that he wanted to go.
Saturation point reached.
We thanked the monk and continued walking.
And as I wondered pithily about the practical applications of mindfulness within my western life, and the romantic notions of monastic life, I watched the boys take off across the grounds of the monastery at a full sprint.
Mindfulness. In action. Completely in the moment.
No wonder they didn’t get it. They are it.
Active in each moment right in the center of their lives.
And, as our days in Thailand are filled with colors and strange smells, hot breezes and the sound of mopeds – it is sometimes too much to take it all in. The good and the bad. The hard and the easy.
The booger eggs and the banana fritters.
Saturation point reached.