Swapping Countries- Leaving our Thai son for Thailand.

24 05 2013

It was bittersweet when we met Lori and Elizabeth for dinner. This was the night that they would take our son. Though he had only been living with us for 3 months, he was as much a part of our family as our beloved animals, whom we were also worrying about leaving behind. Veerephat (Bank), was willing to go live with these two new moms, because we were preparing to embark on a journey back to his homeland, Thailand.

We had been planning this trip for some time now, almost longer than the actual wedding, and he was the final piece to the puzzle. Having Bank come into our lives allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of Thai culture. Seeing his reactions in broken English, gave us clues as to how real or serious certain lapses were.

Like the time he was seated and I walked by, giving him a familial tousle of his hair without even thinking about it. He immediately flinched like a battered child, as though the innocent touch was a sad reminder that he wasn’t good enough. To our knowledge, this was not the case, but in Thai culture it is incredibly disrespectful to touch anyone on their head- even a child. Once I realized what I had done, I apologized deeply, and explained the meaning behind it in US culture, but have been sure to never make that mistake again.laos kids

We needed time to pack and mentally prepare for our journey, without worrying about homework and school lunches, so Bank left our home a week early. This also gave us time to answer any questions and help with the transition, though it went smoothly despite our availability. I think Bank was a little bit sad that we were going to his home country, though he was to stay here in the U.S. Although he loves living here, in America, he does miss home a bit, occasionally.

As for us, we were not even going to make it to his part of the country. We never saw a beach the entire time we were in Asia. We were bound for Northern Thailand, Laos, and Siem Reap in Cambodia. The rest would have to wait for another time.

laos pak bang shorelaos pak bangThe entire time we were gone- over three weeks total- we were reminded of Bank. He taught us so much about not only Thai culture, but things that translated to Laotian and Cambodian as well. We felt like we adapted seamlessly into southeast Asia, and there was no culture shock at all. I resisted the desire to use chopsticks unless I found some off pocket where locals were using them (often transplants from Vietnam). We removed our shoes before entering a restaurant in the small village of Pak Bang in Laos. We never raised our voices, even if we were angry or suspected we were being scammed. We learned to tell locals that their woven fabrics are “beautiful” in Laos’ native tongue.

When our trip was coming to an end, I wasn’t sure if our son would even be interested in coming back to live with us. After all, we sent him to live with another couple in a household that has a warm wood-burning stove, and where they cook meat in their house. Surely, he would beg us to stay rather than reluctantly coming back to our cold, vegetarian household. The other ladies even lived closer to school so he could walk or bike less in the snow.

One day, as we were relishing in our final week in Asia, I got a message from Bank while connected to the internet. He asked, “When you come home? Do you think I can come back stay with you again? Will you still want me? I miss you.” Bethany and I looked at each other and I actually felt my eyes swell with tears. We love our boy, and we felt honestly surprised that he missed us, and thrilled that he was as excited to see us as we were to share all of our stories with him. We counted the days to our return, in between treats like freshly scraped coconut ice cream and chilled glasses of red wine.laos chilled red wine

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Mother’s Day

15 05 2013

I have always known that my chances of having a child are slim. While I believe that I am physically capable, I could never really picture myself in that role. Babies terrify me, for starters. And although I am fascinated by the miracle of pregnancy, and would actually LOVE to have that experience of carrying another life inside my body, I would rather hand the babe over to a partner until it is old enough to be potty trained, carry on short conversations, and run around with me. That’s what makes me a perfect “Auntie.”

With my first marriage, this was always something that was unresolved. We talked at great length about our theoretical children, and the things we would do differently if we had our own little people to mold. My husband wanted kids, but not bad enough to make an issue our of it. I kept stalling until we felt financially stable enough, and made him agree to take on the primary parental role until age three. Of course, our own moms were anxious to see us finally give them each a grand-baby, since we had been together for almost 15 years by that point. As I started approaching age 30, I realized that the countdown had begun. Age 35 is when risks start to noticeably increase for things like Downs Syndrome, and who knew whether or not we were very fertile.

My life changed dramatically right before I hit that decade trifecta. Just six months before my 30th birthday, I met my current spouse, my wife, and realized that I was gay. My high school sweetheart and I decided to get divorced, and my mother’s dreams of an accidental grandchild were flushed away. I honestly think she was more devastated at her loss of a grandchild than she was at my coming out.

This pretty much sealed the deal. My wife has no interest in having children, we can’t really afford to adopt, and I’m still not interested in babies. So, I was pretty sure that I would never experience Mother’s Day as anything other than an opportunity to thank my own mom for her love and support, and to cheer on my friends who are changing our society, one little person at a time. This year, however, was different.

Last week, our teenage Thai exchange student made me suspicious. He’s very independent, but he was more than aloof one afternoon. Bethany had a meeting to go to, so I told Bank that he and I would go out to dinner together, just the two of us. At first he said okay, but then when I told him we were going to Ann Arbor, he said he wasn’t interested and had too much homework to do. He happened to have stayed home from school that day because his sinuses kept him up all night and he was too exhausted to go. Since he’s a straight A student, we let him listen to his body and stay home. But, I asked him why he didn’t have time to do his homework during the day, so that he could come out to dinner with me. He made up excuses about new homework, and I let it go.

Without his company, I stayed home and just ate leftovers. It was a warm day and I was sitting outside at the patio table when he came out to ask for permission to walk to Faye’s house. He was supposed to meet another Thai student, and I knew the host family, so I said okay. It made me wonder, however, why he suddenly had an interest in going out when just an hour ago he felt too busy to go out with me. I decided to call in ‘back up.’ I texted Bethany and asked her to check in with Lori and Elizabeth to be sure that this was where Bank was going.

His story checked out, and I felt a twinge of guilt for being suspicious of his intentions. He and Faye met up to go to the Thai restaurant together. “I wish that he had just told me the truth originally,” I thought. But Thai culture makes it very hard to say no to others, so I understood that this was not really lying.

Saturday night before Mother’s Day, we were making plans to get up early in the morning to drive to Ohio. Bank casually asked me what time I would get up, and I responded, “Oh, I dunno. I only need 15 minutes to get ready, but I’ll probably wake up earlier.” He pressed me for a time, and I had none. I thought it was odd that he was so interested. I shrugged it off, we said goodnight, and then we all went to bed.

Bethany and I watched a show on the computer before brushing our teeth. I realized I had forgotten something downstairs, and walked back down into the dining room. There on the dark, mahogany table was a vase full of pink roses, with two envelopes in front. He had written each of us a Mother’s Day card and labeled them with our names written in Thai. He drew on the front, an elaborate decoration of the Thai flag and U.S. flag intertwining. He put them out early to be sure that they would be there when I got up early the next morning. It was so sweet, and I was so touched by the gesture, that when I returned upstairs Bethany immediately asked me what was wrong. I told her about our surprise, but that we should wait until the morning to open the cards.mothers day

Bank and Faye had been sneaking around to surprise us four moms for Mother’s Day. I was absolutely floored!

We had had conversations earlier about what Mother’s Day means in the U.S. I explained how I celebrated it differently when I was younger, and we would make breakfast in bed and homemade cards for my mom. As I got older, it became a day of service, where I would go back home to help my mom plant flowers or work on other projects. Now, it’s more of a promise to go out to spend time with her sometime in the weekends surrounding the day proper.

mother day bethanyIn Thailand, Mother’s Day is different. The day is the dame date every year, because it is celebrated on the Queen’s birthday. Everyone wears blue in honor of the Queen, but they also pay respect to their own mothers. When we got up early Sunday morning together to leave for Ohio, Bank was wearing bright blue jeans and a blue sweatshirt in honor of Mother’s Day, and I smiled.

It may be the only Mother’s Day that I ever get to celebrate from the receiving end, but it was the best Mother’s Day I’ve ever known. This year has been a true gift, and Bank will always be our Thai son.





Springtime Growth

5 05 2013

a href=”https://travelgrrrls.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/polar-bear.png”>polar bearLast weekend, as the polar bear cubs came out of hibernation, and the flowers began filling the air with sweet smells, I loaded up the car with my wife and our ‘son,’ and we headed down to the Toledo Zoo. It wasn’t exactly a warm spring day, but the sun shone strong enough to make it a pleasant day to be walking around outside in our warm coats and comfortable shoes.

On the way there, we passed by a magical scene on the side of the highway. “Bank,” I asked, “Do you know what tree buds are?” He did not, as I suspected. He had arrived in fall, and we watched him enjoy the wonders of the changing leaf colors, and the seasonal loss of foliage as winter grew near. We all suffered through the cold, dark months with barren trees displaying ghostly despair. Now, it is time for the rebirth.

I explained that this is one of the true pleasures of living someplace where there is winter. Although we suffer for a few months, the weather is warming and, much like the animals at the zoo, the plants and trees are coming to life once more.

We squinted our eyes at the distant branches, a blur along the side of the road. “See,” I exclaimed, “some of the trees look a little bit red now, because they are starting to grow buds of red maple leaves. Others look like they have green fuzz because they have tiny, baby leaves sprouting from the tips of the branches!” He sounded curious, but asked me to show him once we stopped and could get closer.

When we arrived at the zoo, there was nary a soul to be seen. It’s still too early in the season, and it was only 50 degrees that day. We loaded up with granola bars and water bottles and headed to the entrance. Along the way, I stopped to show Bank what I was talking about. There, on nearly every branch we passed, were tiny little buds, like parcels from the future. If you look closely, you can see the formations of microscopic leaf formations, curled up in a protective huddle, like a litter of kittens a few hours old. english oak tree bud<

It’s amazing to behold. As I watched through Bank’s eyes, I saw again the miracles before us. This seasonal emergence that will quickly grow and unfurl into complex, graceful photosynthesizers!

white blossom streetEach day after that, as we walk through our yard or down our streets, we look closely to see how quickly they change and develop. Our trees mature and strengthen. Delicate blossoms now appear everywhere- cherries, apples, redbuds- layering our barren streets with rich hues of pinks and whites and even yellows! Some streets are lined with nothing but white flowering trees, a comical homage to the (now distant) snow-laced landscape. I cherish each day that they grace us with their beauty, knowing that the blossoms will soon wither and disappear, an ephemeral wisp of springtime.

Knowing that the buds beget leaves, that the blossoms become delicious fruit for us to enjoy, these pieces of information make me appreciate the current state even more, and I was glad to share this insight with our Thai son. Where he comes from, there is no winter. The trees never lose their leaves. They do not celebrate a rebirth in spring, but instead enjoy water festivals, as the rainy season begins to replenish their hot, dry ‘winter.’ redbud

Our springtime is a special gift, and one that I am very proud to share with our son. He will soon leave us for Thailand, once the school year ends in June. He will return to Thailand in the heat of summer, a humid, 90+ degree daily norm. I hope that he cherishes this experience of spring, and that each new plant growth will remind him of Michigan.