Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Impermanence

The river of yesterday is not the same as the river of today. The river of this moment is not going to be the same as the river of the next moment. So does life. It changes continuously, becomes something or the other from moment to moment. Urban Dharma

The other day, Kai, Eddie and I were wandering around downtown San Francisco. An unseasonably warm evening brought hordes of shoppers and weekend frolickers out to play on the Embarcadero ice rink. After enjoying dinner at Taylor's Automatic Refresher, we began our trek back home.

As the BART train approached, Kai handed me the new toy train he had been clutching since we scored it at Chloe's Closet that morning so I could carry him onto the train. Almost as if I were outside of my body, I watched Kai's toy spin and roll from my hand, to the floor, to the edge of the landing, teeter for a moment and then spill onto the tracks. Of course for my own memory's cinematic pleasure, the train rolled in at that exact moment.

To see the shock, realization, and terrible sadness wash over my child's face as that day's favorite toy disappeared beneath the "big loud choo choo" as he calls it was torture. My slippery finger caused this ache, these gigantic tears, the wailing. Yes, as we entered the toy crushing train to ride home, Kai cried a new cry I had never heard. One that reached inside and mourned something that no longer is. And there was nothing to distract him from this pain.

After my guilt stopped hogging the spotlight of this event, I saw that this lesson in impermanence wasn't all bad. Since I cannot shield Kai from the perils of existence for much longer, I feel relieved that his first major understanding of the flow of life wasn't a real trauma.

And of course his memory of that day's river has already flowed miraculously to a new waterway, with a fresh toy to adore. Until that one, like all other things, is lost.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Balanced Perspective: Why we Travel With Our Children

This morning we woke up--after a five day trip to visit family in LA--and Kai asked why we have a mini-house. He wanted to know why we didn't have a bigger house like his cousins Zach and Alec. After swallowing my tears, I scavenged through my brain to consider how to answer this innocent two year old question.

Of course it was easy to say that we didn't have as much stuff as his affluent cousins; or that we cannot afford a gigantic house in the San Fernando Valley; that we would rather spend our money on traveling and eating well and his college fund than on a mortgage that would leave us house poor.

But the real answer was harder to explain to a child. Why don't we have what other people have? Why don't we live in a house with a squat toilet like the people we saw in Thailand? Why don't we live with fifteen people in two bedrooms like some families in Mexico? Why don't we live in a mud hut and clean our floors with cow dung? And yes, why don't we live in a multimillion dollar abode with every toy known to man?

And this brings me to why we travel with our children. If all Kai saw was the million dollar houses in LA or San Francisco, he would compare himself to others and always search for something that may be unattainable. Not to say that we travel to third world countries to feel better about our relative affluence, but on some level if we do not show our children that we live a very luxurious life compared to the people around the globe, we will end up with children who believe they deserve everything-- possibly without appreciating what they already have.

All I could do this morning to answer Kai's query was hug him and remind him that we have all we need in our "mini" house, which is actually a rented flat in San Francisco. We have more than toys, more than fancy appliances and too many bathrooms; sure we have one bathroom, hand me down furniture, paint peeling off the walls, and loud upstairs neighbors, but we also have a world view.

I just hope that as Kai gets older and begins comparing himself to others with the vengeance typical of youth that he will have a balanced place of comparison. In the end, that is all I can afford to give him.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mommy and the Boobas

I never thought I would still be nursing my son, Kai when he could say, "I want boob-a." Of course, he is two and not say, seven, an age that some cultures nurse their children until. But still, as a toddler he no longer easily fits into my lap or is able to sleep spooning my breast. Rather, he curls up like a cat to get his fix, squirms and kicks, twists and kneads, until there are days when I understand why moms wean their children.

However, I have never been so glad to be nursing as when we recently traveled to Thailand. To write about the benefits of nursing a toddler on a 25 hour plane journey seems a little redundant. You can easily imagine how we were calmly able to deal with uncomfortable sleep, air pressure, boredom, and hunger (even kids hate airplane food). But the real benefits of nursing came from Kai having his favorite brand of comfort while we were in a new, often overwhelming, place.

I was able to nurse him through the mental Chatuchak Weekend Market as well as during a very bumpy speedboat ride to Ko Phi Phi. When jet lag had him turned upside down, he could have booba to help him fall back asleep at 3am. And when the overly friendly Thai ladies would grab him to say hello, or try to force him to eat all varieties of sweet fruits, he could instead latch on and feel more comfortable.

Sure, I got looks as I walked through the airport, with Kai in the Ergo, content to nurse. People laughed, pointed, and some even tried to touch my breasts. But to be frank, I get the same stares here in San Francisco, so that didn't bother me.

What really reinforced my ability to nurse was seeing how easily Kai can travel, adapt and take in a new frenetic culture. Surely it is not all because of the boobas, likely mommy and daddy play a part as well as Kai's nature. But I like to think that nursing has helped mold Kai into a good little traveler.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Who Says Airplanes and Toddlers Don't Mix?

OK, so maybe we are a little ambitious--a 25 hour travel day from San Francisco to Bangkok, not once, but twice, with our very active two year old--but how else were we supposed to get there? Well let me start by saying this: Toddlers and airplanes are a likely pair, you just have to be a little savvy.

Leading up to our trip, I stressed about how I could possibly keep Kai in his seat for that long, how he (or any of us for that matter) would be able to sleep; if we'd have enough food; and how Eddie and I would keep ourselves sane. It turns out that the excitement of the flight, coupled with an arsenal of tricks, are enough to entertain even the squirmiest two year old.

Here's what I ended up bringing: trains (including a few new ones), cars, about twenty soft cover books (a few of them new), stickers, play doh, plastic animals, snacks, a portable DVD player with a variety of short movies, crayons and plenty of diapers. Though I was thankful to have that arsenal of toys (and I used them all--even for a minute), it turned out that Kai didn't need that much.

He slept the majority of the red eye flights--both of them. Spent a good amount of time watching his DVDs, reading, eating and nursing (I do have to say how glad I am to still be nursing--more on that in another post). And aside from one impatient outburst on our first flight to Hong Kong, he was pretty content on the airplane.

So how do you get a toddler to be cool with an entire day of travel? Make it fun. Kai didn't care if he was watching another airplane take off from Bangkok or riding the Skytrain in the Singapore airport--it all was good fun. We laughed and sang songs; he was just happy to be in such close proximity to mommy and daddy for so long.

Plus, while normally we would have preferred to fly direct, we broke it up with two layovers, which worked out to our benefit, giving Kai plenty of space to run and explore. In Hong Kong they have this giant toy airplane set up for kids to play on while mom and dad slurp giant bowls of noodle soup. And in Singapore, which wins for best airport...ever, besides having gardens galore, plenty of delicious Indian food and laksa, they also have free movies, free video games, free internet, free drawing stations, and a small hotel that costs next to nothing and you can either sleep there or merely take a shower!

And much to my surprise, Kai woke up this morning after two straight days of travel, asking to go back on the airplane. I guess it wasn't worth the stress in the end.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Have we graduated?

As I stared at the collection of books, train toys, wipes, clothing and snacks overflowing from our backpacks, I had to ask the question: Have we, like most of our thirtysomething friends, graduated from traveling with backpacks? Most of my one-time-backpacker peers now sport those trendy black rolling suitcases, with cute little luggage tags. Eddie and I, however, have yet to ascent to those heights.

Often I find myself wishing for more space to bring more crap--I mean wouldn't my life in Bangkok be better with a cotton pantsuit scored at an Egyptian market??? But inevitably, I always end up piling heaps of clothing back in the closet and only bringing what fits in my trusty circa 1994 blue backpack.

You wouldn't know it by the looks of me, but my travel tastes have shifted. Take, for example, our upcoming trip to Thailand: We plan to stay in the luxe Dusit Thani hotel in Bangkok (a steal for under a hundred bones), and then fly to Phuket to enjoy a one-bedroom beachfront villa at the Indigo Pearl Hotel (another steal we found on Agoda) and finally,we'll wrap up the "adventure" with another plush villa at Railay Bay Resort. I always have this feeling of being the kid sneaking into a casino when I approach these lovely hotels wearing a dirty backpack that has seen better days.

Yet, I can't bring myself to retire the old gal. Sure, it can be said that I have long relationships with the various "things" that mean a lot to me. My first car "Me Amiga" lasted a decade; I tend to fashion the same clothes way longer than I should; and I have sported the same combat boots for longer than I will ever admit. But can I let go of my backpack? She and I have traveled to over thirty countries together, with her guarding my belongings from dusty deserts, torrential tropical storms, aggro baggage handlers--she even lived to tell of a small tear in her zipper during a month-long trek through Brazil (you've got to love Eagle Creek's lifetime warranty). She joined me on my first solo transcontinental trip, when I circumnavigated the globe on a ship, when I got married, and even when I gave birth.

But as I look at her now, bursting at the seams, carrying goods for myself and little Kai, I wonder if this will be her last major journey. And if so, does this mean I am all grown up?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

An adventure in vacationing

I have heard stories about children growing up to be different than their parents. I happen to be a Republican-raised brat turned tofu-eating liberal; which is why soon after giving birth, I wondered how Kai would be dramatically different than me. He’s two and I have already set up a plan with my dear high school friend TJ, who is now a union organizer/LGBT rights activist, that if Kai becomes a gun toting right winger, he would go to boot camp at TJ’s house until we convince him that Ronald Reagan was not the God of American politics. My vegan friends are ready to step in when he wants a Happy Meal. A mentor who lives off the grid is already schooling him on composting and living within his means. But I never imagined that I would squeeze out a homebody, who 24 hours into a trip, cries to return to “Kai’s house.”
Now for most people this would not be anything to lose sleep over, but I am a travel addict. A bratty J.A.P. who whines, No, I do not want to go to Mexico again and forces her husband to join her in garnering a new passport stamp at least twice a year. To make matters worse (or better, for me), I also happen to be a travel writer, who gets paid to explore the secret swimming holes of Northern California, surf spots in Kauai, the best elephant treks in Thailand and finest fish tacos in Mexico. In essence I have set myself up in a career that fuels my addiction. Making me a real happy camper. Yet, my kid can’t be bothered. Midway into an airplane ride, he is asking to get outside. When sleeping in a tent cabin in Yosemite, he tosses and turns like an achy-spine-having old coot. When presented with miles of Honolulu’s finest strands, he clings to my leg, uninspired by sandcastle building, waves or swimming. And it’s not for lack of practice. Kai has spent many a night in hotels—from Napa Valley’s celebrity hideout Auberge du Soleil to a paper-thinned walled party pad in San Diego’s Ocean Beach. Still, the little dude would rather be at home.
I am sure child psychologists would have a heyday with all this, citing stability and routine. But I prefer to cite the Wheelers (creators of the Lonely Planet travel series) who claimed in a San Francisco Chronicle article that though your toddler cannot remember his travels, lugging him into the jungles of Sri Lanka is sure to create a more flexible, patient young person. I would take this even further and say that it actually creates a more patient and flexible mom and dad.
And in this bendiness, I have had to alter the way I travel. I have been known to arrive in Tulum, Mexico at dusk on New Years Eve and walk the beach for hours searching for a place to sleep; and maybe it wasn’t the best idea to crash out in a drug dealer’s shed with another couple, sharing a very tattered hammock with my husband, but we survived. In the same vein, I have accepted the offer of Venezuelan villagers to stay in their house, share their arepas and dance late into the evening.
But both of these examples are moments I probably won’t encounter with my son. In preparing for an upcoming trip to Thailand, I have actually (gulp) made reservations. At hotels. Nice ones. With pools. And room service. Between patting myself on the back for my savvy travel research (fancy one bedroom beachfront suites for under a hundred bucks!), I have actually mourned the way I typically travel, wondering: how can I have adventure and spontaneity this way? But my very patient husband will quickly remind me that with a kid who doesn’t love to travel, we have to accommodate him on our adventures.
I often wonder if this is adios to Brazilian Carnivale, impromptu invitations to imbibe yak butter tea with a family in Lhasa, dune buggy trips on walls of sand, hitching a ride with a Kenyan safari group to camp in the bush, hopping in the back of a Bedouin’s flatbed truck to cross the Sahara, dancing on bars in Mykonos, motorbike trips in Vietnam, fire festivals in southern China, hitchhiking through Japan and all night dance parties.
Whenever I am feeling particularly morose, gazing all too long at my navel, I check myself. The reason I had a child is to experience all there is to living; and never before have I experienced such a blissful adventure. One that surely trumps scuba diving in Moorea, being blessed at Lhasa’s Potala Palace, experiencing eco-village living in India, showering while howler monkeys swung overhead in Costa Rica, swimming with dolphins in Praia di Pipa, Brazil, landing on a glacier in Alaska, or singing Beatles songs with kids from across the globe on the steps of the Duomo in Florence. Traveling with Kai is my new adventure. Call it an adventure in vacationing. And let’s hope I don’t like vacationing so much that I forget that travel is more than going to a place and living it up. It is experiencing the destination, the people, the food, language and culture. And returning home with altered eyes, not just a bag full of new clothes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pad See Ew There

As most of you know, we are getting ready to head off to Thailand for Kai's first Asian adventure. We leave on Monday night at 1am and get to enjoy a 25 hour travel day (UGH). But once we arrive, we are all stoked to see elephants, beaches, and of course, grub on Kai's favorite food pad see ew.

Since Kai is already a travel pro, I also wanted to post a link to some of our travel photos taken over the past 2 years. Just click Kai Travels to view them.

Please check on this blog as we will be updating it from Bangkok, Phuket and Railay.

Michele, Eddie and Kai