This summer, for the first time in 9 years as an international teacher, I did not travel. It was a strange feeling to bid farewell to my friends, colleagues and neighbors as they all departed for various destinations, knowing that I would be here in our teacher housing compound all summer. One of the things that makes it possible for many of us to happily teach internationally is the comfortable respite offered by an annual trip back to the land of our birth (or the land of our passport). However, in the best interest of our newly-formed family of four, Corbet and I chose to station ourselves here in the largely deserted Samakee Gardens for the summer. In doing so, we elected for a “normal” summer, reminiscent of the summers of our childhood. After all, when I was a kid my family wasn’t traipsing off to distant countries and continents. Apart from the occasional road trip or camping expedition, we stayed home. We went swimming, we played outside, we rode our bikes to friends’ houses, and we read books. I’m certain we got bored, and I’m certain that our parents were completely unsympathetic. We were forced to be creative to combat our boredom. All this to say, it was lovely to experience a summer that was a tad bit more “normal” than years past.
Not only did we choose to stay home, we also chose to preserve our summer for the four of us, without visitors. Understandably, this was a hard thing for a few of our loved ones to grasp. After all, we had just welcomed the beautiful Maiko Rose into the world! Of course our loved ones wanted to meet her! If they hadn’t been slightly put off by our decision, I’d have been offended! However, Corbet and I wanted to have a different experience than the one we had when Dorian was born. When Dorian was born, we were in transit, living in a basement Airbnb apartment in Billings, Montana, for 4 months, between our former life in Tunisia and our future life in Bangkok. We were brand new parents dealing with a newborn who had a rough start (he wouldn’t eat for 5 days) and a new mama who had a long and difficult recovery from the birth. We were scrambling to get a passport for Dorian, visas for ourselves, squeeze in as much family time as possible while simultaneously trying to create a routine and give that new mama adequate time with her new baby before she had to start work at a new, busy, high-energy school when that baby was 10 weeks old. Then there was the nursing. Looking back, I can’t believe that I was able to nurse Dorian for a full year, considering all the stress that I was under with a big move and a new job in an extremely busy school. I remember the feeling I would get when I thought about having to leave my brand new baby to go to work. It was physically painful, and though I’m better prepared for those feelings this time around, I still sometimes resent the societal norms that require us to leave our loved ones (teeny tiny loved ones!) in order to provide for our loved ones. Anyhow, I digress. My point is, that summer spent in Montana and with our families was a beautiful summer, but it was very busy and fairly stressful. This time around we wanted to try something different. I’m eternally grateful to our families for understanding this and not feeling any resentment. This summer was about the four of us finding our groove, and find our groove we did. This was a summer of…
- …welcoming a new little Wong into our nest. Dorian loves her dearly, and now, when she fusses, he says “It’s ok Maiko Rose. Dori here!”. The time and space we created for our family this summer allowed Dorian to adjust to his new role and to his new little teammate.
- …learning to sleep. Maiko Rose is now consistently sleeping 8 hours at night! Her naps are not great, and she fights them with a strong spirit, but her nights are solid, and for this I’m desperately grateful.
- …physical pain. As Maiko Rose stretched out her nights, I was naive enough to think that I could too, since I was able to do so with Dorian with no repercussions. I ended up in the hospital with a case of mastitis and a fever of 104. I had to spend the night with an IV of antibiotics, away from my sweet babes and my man. I’m all better now, but the result is that, while Maiko Rose is sleeping through the night, I am not. Let’s hope that changes soon.
- …potty training! Our big boy quit (daytime) diapers cold-turkey and never looked back! This would have been hard to accomplish while on the road.
- …new love. My heart grew exponentially in capacity this summer. My love for my new daughter is profound, and takes my breath away and brings tears to my eyes. These two sweet little people have changed me, have made me better, and have made me desperate to make each moment last as long as possible.
- …new experiences. Dorian started attending a nursery school in our neighborhood. Our sweet guy is easily overwhelmed by new experiences and groups. We want him to spend more time around other kids in the hopes that he’ll gradually feel more at ease in groups, so we thought we’d try this nursery school. On his first day I was terrified that we were doing the wrong thing for him, certain that he’d be an emotional mess. I was so wrong! He loves his new little school! Hurray for taking risks and occasionally getting it right!
- …grappling with the new balancing act. This will be a lifelong process. I now have four relationships to foster (self, husband, daughter, son) as well as extended family and friends. Of course, people do this every day. That doesn’t make it any easier when it’s my turn. If anyone has any tips on how to manage this in a guilt-free fashion, I’m all ears.
- …routine. Wake up at 7, feed the baby, wake up the toddler, feed the toddler, put the baby down for a nap, play with the toddler, squeeze in some breakfast for myself, feed the baby, give the baby tummy time, put the baby down for a nap, play with the toddler, fix lunch, feed the baby, feed me, feed the toddler, play some more, put baby and toddler down for a nap, sit on couch for 30 minutes, feed baby, bathe baby, wake up toddler, put baby down for nap, take toddler swimming, fix dinner, feed baby, toddler, play some more, bathe toddler, put baby and toddler down for bed, hang out with husband, hit wall at 8 pm, wake up from collision with wall to feed baby, put baby down, sleep for 1 hour, wake up baby to feed again, put baby down, sleep for 3 hours, wake up to pump, sleep for 3 hours, repeat. Oh, and change some diapers. Sorry if you dozed off while reading that. I’m just keeping it real. Now, to squeeze a full-time job into that routine…Thankfully, I’ve got an AMAZING stay-at-home dad/husband/partner who never complains. How did I get so lucky?
This post seems to be getting pretty lengthy, and that last part wore me out, so I’ll wrap things up. The bottom line: while it was a bit hard seeing all the adventures we were missing (beaches, tubing on Flathead Lake, hikes, cousin time), I will always look back on this summer as a gift. Who knows when the four of us will have this much time alone together again? As I head back to work in less than a week, I pledge to hold in my head and my heart all the sweet hugs and kisses and laughter and silliness that I enjoyed with my little family over the last months. Dorian and Maiko Rose, when you read this in 20 years, I want your takeaway to be that your mom and dad would happily prefer time with you over the most exciting travel adventure. Of course, we also look forward to having those adventures with you in a few years!