Happy Birthday to Q

Dear JQ,

Somehow you’re three now. Three years of life, and so far you’ve lived on three different continents and visited eleven different countries. Occasionally you’ll say things like “I want to go back to Singapore and feed the turtles” or “When I was in Singapore I saw a crab,” but I don’t think you remember much about all your travels other than that.

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Your main obsession right now is kitties: every morning you wake up with a happy “meow!” and you ask, “Why you not a sleepy kitty anymore, mommy kitty?” If I call you JQ too many times you say, “I’m not JQ! I’m kitty.”

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You’ve loved coming back to America and getting to know all your family: aunts and uncles and cousins galore. You’ve done so well at living in all kinds of different houses for the past 9 months and adapting to the different requirements at all of them, even learning how to be quiet so Great Grandpa can nap.

But you were still awfully excited to get a new house for your birthday and get your own room and even some of your own toys. Your childhood hasn’t been typical–you haven’t had the stability or the stuff that most of your peers have–but I’ve loved watching you grow up and learn how to give what you have to others.

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You’re the king of “why” questions right now, wondering about everyone’s internal motivations and reasons for existence and why airplanes fly. And yes, you’re three so the questions really are that random. Sometimes I get frustrated trying to explain why the neighbors have Halloween decorations in their yard (But why they do?) or why cement mixers have six wheels or why you can’t find your other monkey glove, but I know you’re just trying to make sense of how the world works.

Happy birthday, JQ kitty! We love you lots.

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In Defense of Play

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When was the last time you moved your body for fun, because it felt good or you were doing something productive (but still a little bit useless)?  It’s been harder for me since moving (I know, it’s been eight months, but we’re still kind of moving. Hopefully soon.), not least because we’re still on other people’s schedules a lot of the time, and thus there’s just a lot more work to do!

But in Singapore, one of my favorite parts of our routine was getting to take JQ outside every day to play at one of the many playgrounds within walking distance.  (That was almost the only perk of living in Singapore, but at least it was a good one!) He would climb on the playground, and so would I. We would swing, climb, walk, run and jump together. When we missed our daily outside time, both of us felt it.
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So for the last few weeks, since I now have a little extra time since quitting one of my five-ish jobs, JQ and I have gone outside and just played. Sometimes its just picking up freshly-mown grass to make “hay bales,” other times it’s throwing windfall apples to see what we can hit, and sometimes it’s chasing “baby kitty” (his name of choice these days) around the yard meowing. I’m not a planner (on Wednesdays we play with grass. On Thursdays we throw apples…shoot me now!), but I like to plan some time just to be outside, without distractions. I don’t know about you, but when it’s just me and JQ, I often succumb to that itch in my brain telling me to disconnect from what’s going on around me and distract myself for a bit.

And of course it’s hard being a parent to a small child who often won’t let you have two consecutive thoughts without answering why they’re cutting the corn and why crane trucks are not called “accidents.” Which is why giving myself some time just to be with him–to connect–while at the same time doing something that helps my mind and my body feel good is so important to me.

Sitting while looking at my smartphone? Easy, repetitive, and mindless. It takes 0% willpower to open up the phone and poke at an app.

Getting up and moving, especially if it involves creativity or connecting with an annoying toddler? 100% not so easy. But I know in the long run I’ll value this time spent with my child far more than the time I’ve spent cradling my smartphone.

So now, I’m going to make that conscious effort to get up and go outside now to enjoy this lovely fall weather. How about you?

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Babysplaining

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Now that he’s nearly three, JQ is constantly trying to explain the world to us. He’s confident he’s figured it out–and really, he’s got a pretty good handle on things for a two-year-old. But sometimes, he’s wrong. And confident about it. We call this babysplaining.

For example, I was complaining to JQ the other night as he piled on animal after animal  into our bed. First a penguin, then a sheep, then another sheep, then a puppy, then (finally) a bear.

“I didn’t sign up to sleep in a zoo,” I muttered.

“Yeah you did!” he asserted. “You like sleeping in zoo!”

What do I know? Babies know best!


We went on a walk yesterday in a high mountain forest, and on our way back down, JQ spotted a tree that had fallen down. “Oh no, daddy, why did the tree fall down?”

“I don’t know,” Jared said. “Maybe they cut it down.”

“No, probably hail got it.”
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He’s also become quite the backseat driver. Jared had to make a u-turn yesterday, and as he was preparing to turn,  he said, “It’s pretty tight–I don’t know if I can make it.”

“You can make it, Daddy!” JQ assured him.

In the end, Jared decided to pull into a driveway to turn around: apparently he lacked confidence in JQ’s predictive abilities.


When going through a drawer yesterday, JQ found some batteries.

“It’s best not to play with batteries,” I said. “They might shock you.”

“It won’t shot me: it don’t have gun!”


What are some examples of babysplaining you’ve heard?

Another Year Older

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Me and my handsome hippie husband

Someone asked me the other day if I felt like I was as old as my age. Thinking about it, I had to say yes. Maybe even older.

That’s new for me. When I was sixteen, I wondered how you could tell that you were no longer a girl but a woman? Standing on the edge of womanhood, I felt far more like a girl and not at all like an adult.

Even once I got married, moved away, and moved farther away, I still wasn’t sure how to tell if I were this mythical thing called an adult. Students in China would say to me “But you look so young, teacher!”

I would reply, “Well, I’m not very old!”

But somewhere in between getting married, moving to four different countries and back, having a baby (just after moving to a new country, of course), and getting fat, I grew up. And ten years after I turned sixteen, I can now tell myself–I think I know what it feels like to be an adult. And I have the under-eye circles to prove it.

I’m not where I thought I’d be at twenty-six–I thought I’d have a few more kids, be a little thinner, have moved countries a little less. I thought I’d be more normal.

It looks glamorous, adventurous, exciting, fun to move every year to a different country.  And it is all those things: for a couple of days. Weeks or months, if you’re lucky. But after a while, reality sets in: moving all the time is hard. Going to a place where you know no one–no one to watch your kids, be your friend, bring you food after you had a baby. If you’ve always lived places where you have a support system, it’s hard to suddenly have your little family be the only people you know.

I haven’t had the same realities as those who’ve had the luxury of staying put–but I can definitely tell you exactly how to set up a kitchen with the bare minimum (so as not to have to throw away more than necessary). I can tell you how to try to make friends in a new place even when you’re socially anxious, or how to get around on public transport.

I’m not so good at decorating (little money and moving every year are not a good combination there), being a social butterfly, or popping out a new baby every year, but I can figure out how to grocery shop in a strange place or how to find good deals on household items. Don’t ask me about finding clothes in a new place, though, and DEFINITELY don’t ask if I can find shoes for me in Asia (size 11 feet don’t exist there).

I may not be rich in worldly goods, but I’m certainly rich in experiences. And I’ll just hope the next few years come with a little more putting down roots and a little less tearing them up again!

 

 

To Spank or Not to Spank? That Is the Question.

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It appears the topic of spanking is by far the most popular topic I have ever written on. (No surprise, because it’s also quite controversial). Thank you all for your comments, and for the charitable way in which you approached a contested and emotionally-charged subject. Keeping them in mind, I thought it was best to write a more in-depth follow-up post.

The reason I felt it was an important topic to write on, despite being an extremely conflict-averse person, is that the Christian community has taught for a long time that spanking (defined for the purposes of this post as striking a child for the purpose of changing or correcting their behavior on the hand or the buttocks, with a hand or other small implement designed to inflict pain) is the only/best way to raise a child. I know not all Christians believe this, but in the circles I was raised, this was the prevailing belief.

So when I got married, moved away, and had a kid, I was of course going to spank my child(ren). After all, everyone’s seen the bratty little kid at the supermarket who tells his mother what kind of cereal to buy and screams and cries when she says no and is given everything he wants. And no one wants to raise that kind of kid.

The obvious solution was to discipline him in the only right way to raise a kid, the way all good Christian parents raised their kids–by spanking.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, instead of working like a magic pill to solve all every problem I could ever have with JQ, spanking made both him and me lose control. “Tell your child not to hit!” the books and blogs proclaimed. “Give him a slap on the wrist when he hits you.” But it didn’t work that way. Following my example, JQ started hitting more, going around proclaiming “I JQ ‘pank Mommy! I JQ ‘pank Daddy!”

Having thus exhausted the only tool in my repertoire and fallen back defeated (and yes, there were many other similar situations), I began to question my paradigm. Maybe spanking was not the only way to raise a child. Maybe I could still have a child whom I liked to be around without spanking him.

Perhaps these ideas are common sense to you, but I had never even met–to the best of my knowledge–another person who practiced gentle parenting. Before I published my post a few days ago, I figured they were few and far between. (Not spanking your child is hip now, my mom assured me, and it’s really those who do spank who are the odd ones out.)

So I published my post not only to share my personal story and some of the reasons behind my making that decision (which are far too many to enumerate in a blog post), but also to tell others who may be struggling with discipline: there are other ways and other tools you can use to discipline your kids. Spanking is not necessarily illegitimate, but everyone should agree that it’s easy to abuse it, overuse it, and use it as a crutch to keep you from really connecting with your child.

Every author who writes about how to spank generally adds the caveat that spanking should never be done in anger, if only for the sake of the one doing the spanking. The problem with this is, we’re humans, not Vulcans. At least from my own experience, the people who know you best (like your children) are also the people who are the best at eliciting an emotional response (like anger). Add in misbehavior and disobedience to that mix, and you have the perfect storm for frequently spanking in anger, in spite of your best intentions. Perhaps some of you are more Vulcan-like than others and are sure you never spank in anger. The rest of us, however, should take heed. Indeed, studies indicate that most child abuse begins as a well-intentioned spanking!

To rationalize this abuse of spanking, then, what often happens is that people find “the rod verses” in Proverbs  (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15), and use them to reassure themselves that spanking is the way to discipline children. The Bible says your kid won’t die if you beat them with a rod. Great–what’s there to worry about?

Aside from the obvious fact that a child CAN die if you beat him with a rod, rationalizing with “the Bible says so” doesn’t make your sin any less sinful. Taking a text out of its context to prove one tiny point is a well-known hermeneutical error (and it happens all the time). And the context of Proverbs is a huge one. Solomon reigned in ancient Israel from 970-931 BC (basically a really long time ago, and his culture would have been extremely different from ours), and, while he was gifted with supernatural wisdom to govern his kingdom (1 Kings 3), he was, to all accounts, a terrible father. Rehoboam, after all, had no time for the advice of the “old men” in his life–a symptom, one might guess, of the sort of relationship he had with his father–and instead chose the advice of the “young men” with whom he had “grown up” (1 Kings 12). Solomon, for all his wisdom, apparently didn’t impart much of it to his own son and heir: the result was the division of Israel and nearly civil war, prevented only by a last minute message from God (1 Kings 12:22).

Solomon’s own father, King David, was perhaps even worse. Scripture is rife with accounts of David’s terrible parenting decisions: his idolization of his children, his refusal to allow them to suffer any consequences for their misdeeds, and his willingness to allow his own emotions to govern his parenting choices (see the story of Tamar and Amnon in 2 Samuel 13). Solomon himself had so many women in his life he probably couldn’t even remember all of their names, and that’s not even counting the children he fathered by them. It’s not hard to imagine that, at the end of his life, Solomon looked back with regret on his poor parenting decisions and the poor parenting of his own father, and wrote these proverbs as a warning to other parents that they might not neglect the discipline of their children, which he says–presumably from experience–is the same thing as hating them (Proverbs 13:24). Anyone who has read the shocking story of Tamar and Amnon cannot disagree.

At any rate, if Solomon was indeed telling people not to neglect their children like he did his own, it would be a shame if we used his wisdom to keep from connecting with our children’s heart. “Oh, little Mary disobeyed again? It’s the rod for her!” without ever taking the time to figure out why she disobeyed or how to effect change at the heart level. I know many good parents who spank who do not do this, but when you believe that spanking is the only way to correct a child’s heart, it’s easy to forget that human connection and love is really the best way to show to a child that you do have their best interests at heart and you want to help them change. And all of this isn’t just my ‘feelings’ on the topic.

The ways in which spanking is abused and overused can and does actually lead to the neglect and even abuse of children, and often. The most reliable numbers I can find suggest 4 out of 5 American children get spanked (more or less regularly)–so, in other words, despite the suggestion that spankers are an endangered minority today, they don’t seem to be; most kids get spanked. So how does this affect these children?

First, multiple studies have found that corporal punishment (such as spanking) makes children more violent, even though nearly all parents spank to try to reduce aggression. In fact, the more parents spanked, the more their children also used violence to try to solve their own problems.

Second, spanking can cause other problems, like depression and anxiety. It should be no surprise that spanking has an emotional effect, since that’s the main reason people spank their children anyways. But it should be sobering that instead of producing model citizens, spanking produces children who perhaps can’t cope as well with the stresses of adulthood.

Third, spanking works no better than other, gentler, methods of discipline, such as using natural consequences or even utilizing redirection. It does work better for shaping children’s consciences and helping them learn self-control than doing nothing at all (no surprise there), but it’s not any better than any other method of discipline (and, given that it often makes children more violent and aggressive, arguably works worse than other methods).

With these harms, how is it that Christians–and those in the fundamentalist community especially–can seem so blissfully unaware of the pernicious effects of spanking? Given all the evidence (for a somewhat contrary view, see here), it should be something we talk about.

There may be certain situations where an extreme punishment–like spanking–is called for. Having a serious view of spanking is precisely what could allow it to be effective in these circumstances. So while spanking may not be always wrong for everyone–some people really are Vulcans (my dad being one of them)–what I do know is it doesn’t work for me. I’m not a Vulcan, and if the evidence amassed by social scientists is right, lots of other people aren’t either.

 

 

Why I’ve Stopped Spanking

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It’s a decision that’s caused a lot of discussion. Of course everyone has an opinion on how you should raise your kids: everyone’s an expert on child psychology, especially if they don’t know your kid well. Family members declare, “That kid just needs some discipline!” as if “discipline” will magically transform a kid who’s having a hard day into a quiet mouse who does everything an older person says, while other people just look disapprovingly if, heaven forbid, a two-year-old acts his age.

Thing is, discipline can take many forms. Our culture has unfortunately changed the meaning of the word into “physical punishment,” but I have enough Latin floating around in my head to know that a “disciplus” was, originally, just a student, and that “discipline” originally meant training or teaching. I know very little about Roman methods of education, but I can bet that Jesus wasn’t beating his “disciples” as a method of getting them to follow what he said. Instead, he treated them like people, people who could learn by relationship and example.

I’ve been blessed with a soft and sensitive little boy, who already has a fast channel into understand others’ emotions and who wants to please people. Of course he has his naughty days (every time we move he goes around pushing boundaries right and left to make sure he’s still secure), and of course, like all of us, he does things wrong.

With such a sensitive child, though, his behavior is almost always a direct mirror of mine. If I’m having a bad day, he has a bad day. If I get irritated and tell him to shut up, he will often respond, “No, you shut up, mommy!” And yes, that makes you second-guess yourself all the time. It also shows you that even as an adult, you are not, in fact, the ultimate authority who always does things right. It’s not like adulthood is some magical place you reach where wrong behavior suddenly has no consequences just because there’s no one there to hit you. It just means our brains are formed, we have better impulse control, and we know the kind of behavior that’s socially acceptable.

In the end, it comes down to this: I’m not in control of his behavior. Yes, I would often like the illusion of control, of being able to flick a switch and make him do or not do something (especially going to sleep at night!). But as my parents were fond of asking: “who is the only person you can change?” The answer, of course, is me. I can’t change JQ’s behavior. I can only change my own.

As much as I hate to admit it, even with better impulse control as an adult, I have a quick temper and a tendency to take my feelings out in violence if hurt or angry. My brothers would happily tell you many stories of when I threatened to break a cucumber over their head or kicked them.

Of course, you say, punishment should only be carried out when the parent is calm, not angry. But if I give myself permission to hit JQ, ever, I assure you I can rationalize hitting him when I’m angry. “He deserves it.” “It’s good for him.” “I’m helping him.”

Problem is, these are lies. JQ is two. I am an adult. This is as much about my behavior as about his! My purpose as JQ’s mother is not to hurt him, to manipulate him, or to make him suffer for making me look bad in public. My calling as a mother is to teach him and train him. I have an eternal soul to raise. Why would I not treat it as a precious gift to safeguard?

Of course that doesn’t mean we don’t talk to him about his behavior, teach him what he should do, and try to model good behavior for him. It just means we don’t subscribe to ideas based on faulty Pavlovian psychology to get “results” from our child.

Instead, we focus on teaching him that actions have consequences. If he can’t be kind to other people, he doesn’t get to be around those people. If he screams for something, he doesn’t get whatever he screamed for. If he’s terribly sad/mad and allowing his emotions to impact everyone around him, he has to take his emotions somewhere else or ask nicely for something that will help him cope with them (like a hug or his blanket).

And for those worried that this goes against what the Bible says: the message of the gospel is that we don’t get punished for everything we do wrong. It’s not about making sure we know exactly what evil wicked people we were in telling God “no”, but rather that God responds with infinite patience and love: “I’ll carry this burden of your sin so you don’t have to.” God first shows us that our actions do have consequences–and terrible consequences at that–and then He says, “By the way, I’ve taken these consequences for you.” And this is the message I want my child to internalize. Not that he can never measure up to impossible standards, but that God has covered the standards for him.

If Christ died for me, can’t I show his patience, kindness, and love to others? That’s tough love, in my opinion.

What’s Shakin’ Around Here

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Somehow, this year seems to be our season for waiting. Even though we’ve been in Colorado for 3 months, we still don’t have a house to live in. Everything has seemed to go as slowly as it possibly could go, and just when it seems something is working out and we’ll have a house, there’s a setback. Untitled As in, our house is being renovated so it’s not exactly livable at the moment!

One thing I’ve learned from this process is: take any date by which you’re expecting things to get done (the plumber is coming at the end of the week, for instance), and add at least two weeks on to it. Something MAY happen in those two weeks, but is highly unlikely to happen by the end of the week. And if the plumber does come, then you can be pleasantly surprised.

And when the weeks are stretching out unpleasantly long, we just go over and take in the view to remind ourselves what’s to come.

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2.

Large family life is a lot more exhausting than I remembered.

Every time I try to sit down for a minute and think of something to write for a blog post, someone will come and find me and start talking. If, by some miracle, they don’t immediately launch into an update of why everyone in the family should love oatmeal, or tell me 342 reasons why I should really be the one doing the dishes and not them, they’ll stare stupidly at me like I have two heads and then ask “What are you doing?” Somehow, when there’s 10+ people under one roof, you find yourself asking “Where can I flee from your presence?” a lot more than you would have thought.

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On the other hand, never being able to get away from people is great for two-year-olds. JQ thinks all his aunts and uncles are there simply to do his bidding, and they think it’s great fun to make him scream.
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He still definitely needs his mommy time every day, though, and is still fond of petting me and exclaiming rapturously “My mommy!” when he sees me. Jared might be getting a bit jealous.

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JQ is still a little sponge soaking up every word you say. There’s a new kitten living on the farm, and yesterday it kept climbing up my chair (and digging its claws into me) while I ate lunch. Finally I’d had enough of trying to eat while being clawed (JQ kept saying “The kitty wants mommy!”) and took the kitty off and put it on JQ’s chair, saying “Here, take the stupid kitty.” Of course he remembered only two words of that: “stupid kitty,” and chanted them the rest of the afternoon. “Look, stupid kitty!” #momfail
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Jared has succumbed to farm life this week and got a short-term job shearing alpacas last week. Other than feeling totally wiped as shearers seem to survive on little sleep or downtime, dreaming of alpacas when he finally does get to bed, and getting various cuts and bruises when trying to restrain the alpacas, it’s been wonderful. (As in, he’s wondering why he signed up for it!)
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JQ is awfully proud of his daddy “pulling cheep!” though and demands to look at all the pictures of the “sheep” “hopping.”

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Jared and I went bowling together for our fifth anniversary last week, and of course it was after my fifth gutter ball in a row (I’ve never really been bowling at all) and his fifth strike in a row that he confessed he’d been part of a bowling league when he was a kid. I’m filing this under things I really should know before I go bowling with someone again!

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Anyways, if you marry a man who can write a PhD thesis, be part of a bowling league, and shear alpacas, you won’t ever need to worry about having nothing to do together. I’m sure for our sixth anniversary we’ll go find some alpacas to shear!

From Mundane to Extraordinary

I’ve learned a lot from traveling for the last five years. But the lessons I’ve learned haven’t been the exotic ones I expected, full of mystery and history.

When you grow up in a place, every other place in the world seems magical, full of amazing sights, ancient history, and of course unique plants and animals. Living next to mountains and fields, cats and coyotes just doesn’t hold a candle to seeing the Tower of London or feeding an elephant.

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Of course home has its benefits–it’s home, after all–but everywhere else in the world just seems so much more magical. Adventures seem more likely to happen when you’re in an unfamiliar place; strange languages, unknown roads, and new sights  lend a touch of the exotic to all you see.

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But really? All these foreign places and amazing sights–cobras,
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beaches,
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are homes to regular, ordinary people. People who have lives, and families, friends, and jobs. People who worry about money, or have lost a loved one, or have relationship struggles, or health problems. It’s easy to romanticize the unknown; much harder to realize that life is much the same no matter where you end up living it.

Flying back in to Colorado a month ago, seeing the mountains and the spreading plains again, all I could think of was how impressed Singaporeans, who only know a tiny, hot, tropical island, would be. Snow-covered mountains, vast plains, and a sky that meets the ground instead of a building. You never get sunrises like this, where you can see for miles, in Singapore.
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In fact, all you can see there is HDB buildings for miles.DSC_0824.jpg

I never used to think of where I grew up as anywhere someone would ever want to visit–unless they were into skiing. It was just home, and there was nothing extraordinary about it.

And then I moved away. Suddenly, with the clarity of distance, the familiar seemed a lot more desirable. It’s hard to live in a place where you don’t speak the language, the food in the grocery stores is all strange (fishballs and bean curd, anyone?), and even the trees and roads look different.

What’s familiar to you is strange and extraordinary to someone else. Maybe your life seems boring and pointless right now as you change diapers and make food all day every day and you’re longing to go travel the world, or perhaps you spend all your waking moments in school and doing homework and you want to go out and start real life, or maybe you really want to be married so you can be happy like all the married people you see.

But the grass isn’t always greener. Travel–especially being away from familiar things for a long time–is difficult and can be lonely. Starting real life–finding a job, paying bills, fixing things–is a lot more work than it sounds like when you’re in college. Being married is not an automatic recipe for happiness.

All of these can be good things, just like living in another country can be a good thing. But don’t expect them to give more zest to an otherwise bland life.

It’s not where you live that makes life extraordinary–it’s who you are.

 

Incompetence as Comedy: or, American Airlines Flight 82 from Auckland

The travel industry has a bad reputation in general. It has this reputation because it deserves it. Take, for example, our recent attempt at leaving Auckland, New Zealand on a flight to Los Angeles (Flight number AA82).

You all know what it’s like to fly somewhere: wait in a line here, another line there, have your passport inspected, your face scrutinized, and if you’re lucky, you’re patted down and felt up and herded around like a bunch of sheep for a few hours before finally getting to the gate, where you’re left to sit on some of the most uncomfortable chairs you’ve ever seen. Oh, and you do all this while carrying a toddler and your bag that felt quite light the day before when you packed it, but now feels like it weighs about ten tons.

Well, we made it through all the indignities of airports without losing our dignity, and settled in to our uncomfortable seats with all our baggage strewn around us at about 1:30 pm, an hour before the plane was scheduled to board at 2:25 pm.

A portly British man wearing a bow tie (or papillon as he called it) and a large tag around his neck that loudly proclaimed “Press Pass” sat down across from us. He boasted some about his experience flying, the fact that he was flying business class, and that he’d been upgraded twice because of his press pass (the only reason he wore it as he was mainly retired).

“What language is he speaking?” he queried, pointing at JQ.

“Toddler,” I said.

Not sure where he lived all his life to never hear a toddler speaking, but he was certain he knew a lot about flying.

As the scheduled boarding time got closer, the boarding area started to fill up. People were doing exercises, taking naps, and generally preparing for a long intercontinental flight.

2:25 p.m. came and went, with no signs of boarding or of anything else happening other than the usual passenger paging over the intercom. Mr. Hoping-for-an-upgrade assured us that the airline was probably just waiting for a few important passengers or perhaps a large group, and that we would be sure to board soon.

Then, at 3:00, they finally made an announcement. “We regret to inform you that American Airlines Flight 82 has been delayed due to mechanical engineering difficulties. We will inform you of our progress in 45 minutes.” Everyone rolled their eyes; JQ demanded to be taken back to the vending machines to “Beep beep” them, and, of course, Mr. Hoping-for-an-upgrade pointed out the pilot and copilot in the cockpit. “You see,” he said, “if anything were seriously wrong with the airplane, the pilot wouldn’t be on board playing cards!”

Alas, Mr. Hoping-for-an-upgrade was wrong. Fifteen minutes later, American Airlines sent emails and text messages to all the passengers, alerting them that the flight was canceled. Of course, the people at the desk made no announcement until thirty minutes after that, just to keep everyone in suspense. Or perhaps they didn’t even know themselves!

Then the announcement came: “We regret to inform you that American Airlines flight 82 to Los Angeles has been canceled due to mechanical difficulties. Your baggage will be found at bag claim five. Please go to the arrivals area and pick up your bags, then go American Airlines check-in at departure area D to rebook a flight and be given a lodging voucher. Also, make sure to return any duty-free items you may have purchased.”

And that was it. That was all the instructions we were given for what to do now that we had no flight to go on.

So we all got up, picked up all our luggage, and began the arduous journey back through the terminal, trying to figure out how to get to arrivals from the departure area (spoiler alert: you can’t). Groups of twenty or thirty people stood around looking confused, while one man wandered around asking everyone in sight, “Do you know how to get to customs?”

After trudging nearly halfway back, we spotted an airport help desk, who pointed back where we came from and said, “Oh, arrivals is just down the stairs over that way.” Back we trudged—only to find all the stairs we knew about only went up! After a lot more back and forth, we learned that actually, passengers from the canceled flight needed to go back to their gate so they could be funneled into arrivals. So we went back yet again.

By now, it was nearly 4:30 and all we had accomplished with our lives in this time was standing in queues and walking through hallways. Surely humans were meant for greater things than this?

After some more queueing and more walking through hallways and through the arrivals area (which we saw when we first actually arrived in Auckland), we arrived at passport control. To add to the pointlessness of this entire endeavor, we had to fill out an arrivals form, to give them very important information about what it’s like to sit at the gate in their airport for a few hours. “Where are you arriving from?” the form questioned. “Have you been hiking anywhere?” “Do you have any fruits?” “How long are you planning to stay in New Zealand?” “What is your address here?” All these questions in their varying iterations put JQ right to sleep.

Untitled After passport control, where they carefully examined our faces to make sure they still matched our passports, it was off to more walking through hallways and standing in queues (now with a sleeping baby in arms) to pick up our baggage. On the bright side, we all finally found bag claim 5. And our baggage was actually on it, which seemed to be the one feat that American Airlines could pull off. The customs officer questioned us closely again: “Did you buy any fruit while you were in the departure terminal?” Apparently the departure terminal of the Auckland airport is no longer New Zealand and the fruit there will contaminate ALL THE CROPS and they will all DIE! Or maybe he just had to ask—because when we replied in the negative, he let us just walk through and not put our baggage through the x-ray machines (which would entail—you guessed it!—more standing in queues).

After all that, it was 5:00, and we finally made it to check-in counter D for American Airlines—with about four hundred other people, all in the same position we were in. More queueing entailed, and Jared used the last 16% of battery on his phone to call the number on the little ticket they gave us. So we got a flight rebooked for the next evening, which would get us to Oregon a hair’s breadth before a very important person’s wedding.

Now just remained the knotty little problem of where we would stay. If our phones had worked (mine had no data, and Jared’s no battery), we might have just sucked up the cost and called the Airbnb we had stayed at the whole week. As it was, we stayed in the queue to try to find some lodging for the night. We waited…and waited…and waited…and then JQ, who had napped about thirty minutes and was starting to get hungry, started screaming, “Mommy, go out! Mommy, I go out!” It was a lightbulb moment for the staff, who hurriedly came and escorted us up front. “Oh, you have a child! Come wait up here and we’ll be with you in just a minute.” Everyone around us looked a little jealous, and a couple people jokingly called out, “Wait, I’m his sister! I’m the auntie!” Moral of the story: definitely try to travel with a two-year-old if possible.

But! The story’s still not over. We were given the name of our hotel—which was in Hamilton, two hours away from Auckland (the hotels in Auckland were all completely booked)—and told to go out door two, where a bus would be waiting for us. So we went and waited with the bus. The bus driver had a bad back and was a little out of shape, so Jared helped him load everyone’s luggage. And then we waited some more while I fed JQ all the snacks I had packed for the airplane. We waited an hour—the bus driver said he was waiting for confirmation—but in the end his bus was full, and he decided to just go. It was a lovely little drive through New Zealand’s farmland: the sun glinted off of rivers and mountains, green fields with cows pastorally grazing, and Maori cemeteries. Untitled

When we got to Hamilton (New Zealand’s fourth largest city, apparently), a new comedy of errors began. The forty people on the bus were in about eight different hotels, all in different parts of town. The bus driver wasn’t quite sure where all of them were and kept stopping to look them up on his map.

When we finally got to our hotel—called the Quest—we were dropped off with about 8 other people, including a little old lady and gentleman (in their seventies, or so) who had three or four large suitcases. It was well after 8:00 p.m. at this time, and there was a sign on the door of the hotel saying that hotel reception closed at 7 p.m. Somehow someone opened the door and everyone crowded into the small reception area, where there were four envelopes waiting with the names of those who had reservations. Two of the envelopes had correct names and room sizes on them, but one of them had been booked and was a single room for a French couple, and the other was for a name that nobody in our group had. So out of 8 people, there were rooms for four (as two of the rooms were single rooms). We tried calling the hotel management, but they were just as confused as everyone else—except they did mention that more rooms had been booked at their branch two blocks away—Quest on Ward. So eventually Jared made the executive decision that the couple in their 70s should just take the room that was under someone else’s name, and we and the French couple set off for the next hotel—walking, of course, as our bus had long since departed.

When we got to Quest on Ward, of course their reception was also closed and the door locked. We tried their intercom to get someone to open the door for us. The first time we called, a lady answered who said she couldn’t hear at all; eventually she hung up. Then someone else answered and said the same thing: “Your connection is terrible!” After about seven tries, we gave up on the intercom and called the number given. Just as we were finally getting someone to understand what we needed, a hotel resident came by and let us in. Once in, we discovered only one room had been reserved—and with us and the French couple, we needed two. So Jared called up the manager and asked what was going on, and he said he would be by shortly. In the end—apparently the manager had his own idea of “short”—the French couple wandered off and were never heard from again!

So—six hours after we learned our flight was canceled, we finally made it to a room and were able to rest. In the morning, the manager said that American Airlines hadn’t told him how many people were coming and had just sent random people an hour and a half away without booking them any rooms. There were still other, minor problems once we were in possession of our room, like our food allowance only being usable if we charged it to the hotel, ate at a select list of restaurants, and subtracted the 10% commission the hotel wanted, even though American Airlines staff insisted the hotel wasn’t entitled to any commission!

Was it all inevitable? After all, American Airlines didn’t know their plane would encounter a mechanical error, and surely it’s better to have a day of delay and queuing than to swim with the “baby sharks” (as JQ calls them) in the big blue Pacific? Jared, who happens to have helped edit a book on emergency response (which you could read, but it’s rather boring) says absolutely not. The basic planks of emergency management, he says, are prevent, prepare, respond, and recover. The first, obviously, is about stopping something bad from happening; the second is about planning what to do when something bad happens; the third is about enacting your plan and improvising when something happens; and the fourth is about restoring capacity and rebuilding systems even better after a disaster. American Airlines, we surmise, had invested almost everything in prevention—fixing the plane, which was rumored to have been on the ground since earlier that morning—and ignored preparation (which, this being one of the weeks of Chinese Spring Festival, was extra important). The result was a botched response, with the agents even unclear about how we were supposed to get to baggage claim, and the comedy of incompetence thereafter. One would think that a major international airline would have some sort of system in place for communicating with passengers and service providers like hotels, but apparently Auckland Airport’s American Airlines didn’t think it was worth their while. The problem, it seemed to us, was not simply that the person in charge didn’t know what they were doing, but that there was nobody in charge!

Resilience means being prepared for disasters, which are statistically inevitable: bad things, no matter what, will eventually happen. And when they do, laughing is always a healthier response to yelling or crying. If you make the wedding, that is—or maybe even if you don’t!

Camping: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous

DSC_0255.jpgWe made it. 3.5 weeks, 4,000+ kilometers across Australia, 60 meals cooked on a crummy stove, 24 nights of sleeping in a campervan, 12 mosquito bites per day, 3 blog posts, and 2 times driving on the wrong side of the road later, we made it to Melbourne.
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“So you’ve come to Darwin for therapy,” said one little old lady at the first Australian city we visited. We laughed, but in some ways it’s been true. As an escape from the never-ending city jungle of Singapore, Australia has been amazing. Seeing mountains and fields, breathing fresh country air, watching spectacular sunsets, admiring the stars at night (too much light pollution in Singapore to see any but the very brightest stars), and waking up with the sun have all been instrumental in cleaning away the dust of the city from our hearts. I didn’t know how much I missed the country until we were in it again.DSC_0334.jpg
Did you know the kookaburra’s call sounds a little like a crazy person laughing? It’s one of the strangest birds we heard in Australia. JQ goes around saying “Kookburra, mama! More Kookburra!”DSC_0440.jpg

We may have ruined JQ with all the Australian wildlife: now he’s fond of seeing “Nakes!” in everything–hoses, squiggles, bus seats–everything and anything has the potential to be a snake.
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and pet lizards. And now he’s asking if he can go see a “kangroo eat.”
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The other animal he got to feed was the “croc croc dile,” known to most normal people as a crocodile. Crocodiles now apparently lurk in any small space, such as under the coffee table or in holes in walls. And a beware any pair of tongs, because it will be quickly re-purposed as a croc croc dile.
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It’s kind of shocking how much JQ has grown up over the last month. Not only does he now eat like a horse and chatter non-stop, but he’s assigned himself duties too, and become our personal servant of the restrooms. Any time either one of us says we have to go, we hear an insistent “I day two (JQ) come with!” and an immediate putting on of shoes ensues.  While in the bathroom, he then proceeds to check every trashcan (perhaps for bombs or other hidden threats?), wash his hands multiple times or at least smear them with soap, lock (and unlock multiple times) the stall doors, make sure there’s enough toilet paper for general use, and flush the toilet when we’re all done. He takes great pride in carrying out all these duties faithfully. Though I have to admit, it will be nice to finally get home and have a closable bathroom door that NO TODDLERS can get through.
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Sometimes there was great lighting, so I tried to persuade my models to go for a family picture. They’re too impatient to go for more than one try, so apparently I only have half a picture of me in Australia. I assure you all of me was there, though!

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So it’s been four weeks of seeing sunsets, walking on the beach, taking photos, and spending time together as a family. Oh, as well as spending plenty of time being bitten by mosquitoes, getting annoyed with each other (definitely don’t try camping with people you can’t stand), alternately sweating or freezing at night, and having my ear talked off by a two-year old.

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And after four weeks of close quarters in a campervan, I’m ready to head home.

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