Sunday, January 29, 2012

Highlights From America

Whenever I think of winter, it will look like this.
As I've mentioned, Jabiz and I took our two kids on a 30-hour plane ride to visit family in the U.S. during the Winter Break holiday.

And as much as I'd love to regale you with a minute-by-minute recap of our trip, I just don't have the energy after dealing with my kids all day, so I am going to give you the highlights instead. And the lowlights. Let's just say I'll give you ALLLLLLLL the necessary lights, OK?

Because truthfully? They ran the spectrum.

So, here they are:

1.) Perspective. I got a lot of it, and it was good.

When we arrived in Hong Kong at 6:00 a.m. for our 5-hour layover,  I was feeling sorry for myself. I'm not going to lie, I was throwing myself one HELL of a pity party in my mind. We'd left Jakarta at midnight, so the kids were all out of sorts, and we had a loooooooong couple of hours (or five!) ahead of us. I'd not slept at all on the plane and was looking around frantically for the nearest Starbucks.

I found it, we found the kids play area, and Jabiz and I settled in for the wait. Then we noticed a woman by herself with two kids in the same play area. Her son looked about 8 or 9, and her little girl was less then 2. The woman was lying down on the floor of the play area, napping.

I know, right? That's what I thought. Until a bit later when she woke up.

Given the fact that we were the only ones in the play area, we started chatting, and it turned out that this  woman had been trying to fly from Australia to Italy with her two kids. By herself. Apparently, it's a trip that she makes all the time because she has family in Italy.

She told me that her son gets bad motion sickness, and I totally related, seeing as how just going too high on the swings can send me running for the nearest bathroom. Don't even get me started on airplane turbulence.

Anyway, her son had felt sick because of the turbulence on the their flight to Hong Kong, and so he threw up on the plane right before the flight to Italy took off. Not all over the place, just in a barf bag, but still, he threw up. In Asia. I don't know how much you know about Asia, but they take getting sick VERY seriously, my friends.

Well, obviously, that didn't go over well with the airplane crew, who threw the whole family off the plane, even though the son was checked by a medic who said that he had no fever or other signs of illness.

Sounds bad, right? Well, it gets worse. Turns out the airport security wouldn't let the woman and her kids leave the airport until they'd gotten checked out and cleared by a doctor, which they had to find on their own. Keep in mind that they WEREN'T ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE AIRPORT, so this poor woman had to somehow find a doctor in a strange country on her own and over the phone. A doctor who would then come to the airport and check them out.

And it still gets worse. The woman wasn't allowed to leave the terminal and go to the airport hotel with her kids, and so they had to spend the night sleeping in the terminal. She said that she was too freaked out to sleep since she wanted to be able to keep an eye on her kids all night, especially her little girl who was young and therefore likely to go wandering off if unsupervised.

You can now question the logic of making a family who was suspected of illness remain in the terminal around ALL of the other passengers versus being sequestered in their own hotel room, but I'm afraid that I'll have no response.

Hence the napping on the floor of the play area. Now it all made sense. The woman was completely exhausted. When we left her to go meet our flight, she was getting ready to have a meeting with airport officials to see if she would be able to leave the airport before Monday. Keep in mind that this was all happening on SATURDAY.

As I walked to the plane with my two healthy kids and husband, all I could think was: Perspective. I was OOZING it.

2.) New York, New York.

Because a 30-hour flight wasn't quite disruptive enough to our family, we'd also decided that a trip to New York at Christmas was too awesome NOT to do. So, the DAY AFTER we landed in Chicago and drove the two hours to Milwaukee, we then got BACK on a plane and headed for New York.

Don't even say it.

But it was awesome, it was SO awesome! Awesome enough to be worth all of the jet-lag and crankiness that it caused the kids. Because when they weren't jet-lagged and cranky, they had a great time.

If there is a touristy thing that can be done in New York with kids that we DIDN'T do, then I don't know what it is. OK, well, skating in Rockefeller Center. We didn't do that. But we did everything else: Santaland at Macy's, FAO Schwartz, Toys R Us in Times Square, The Natural History Museum, a carriage ride in Central Park, we did it ALL. And we WALKED to all of it.

And we loved it!

3.) Driving

I DROVE, you all! Drove! By myself! And it was easy! Because there are rules and laws and people actually follow them! Not only that, but I KNOW what the rules and laws are! There are lanes! And people stay IN them! And there are blinkers, and turn signals and people USE them!

Enough said.

4.) Wine. Lots of it. Lots of it and CHEAP.

I don't know if you all are fully aware of this, but you can buy wine just about anywhere in the US. This is something that you might take for granted, but for me, being able to go to the grocery store and get a decent bottle of white wine for $5.99 pretty much anytime I liked was akin to being blind and suddenly discovering that I could see again.

OK, maybe that's a bit too dramatic. And insensitive to blind people. But you get the idea. Going from having to order a case of wine at a time (at $20 a bottle) because I don't know when the next time it will be available to popping into the store and grabbing a $6 bottle just WHENEVER allows for a certain degree of drama, I think.

5.) Grocery stores

I am going to be honest and tell you that the first time we went to an American grocery store, Jabiz actually got so overwhelmed that he had to leave. LEAVE. As in leave the store.

OK, now granted, it was December 23rd and the store was PACKED, the lines were LONG and we were in a bit of a hurry because I was convinced that we were going to miss The Nutcracker. Not exactly the best time to go out for a weekly shop. Throw in the fact that we'd gone in cold and not even bothered to make a list, and anybody would have had a near-breakdown. I'll admit that I was a bit shaken up, as well. How could I have come in so UNPREPARED?

 Jabiz stared at all of the aisles of EVERYTHING and just couldn't handle it, poor guy. Too many choices. Too many aisles. Too many different flavors.  Just too many. He refused to go back to the grocery store for the remainder of our trip.

However, I got the hang of it on my next visit. And I loved it. Everything about it. Every. Single. Thing.

6.) Independent Movie Theaters

I admit it, I LOVE independent films. I love independent movie theaters. I cannot describe to you the happiness that I felt when Jabiz and I got to go out on a Date Night and saw "Young Adult", or the sheer joy with which I watched all of the previews for other independent films...which I would not be able to see because they opened after we left.


7.) Holiday candy on SALE after the holidays!

Imagine that! What a novel idea, right? You'd think so, but grocery stores overseas seem to be of the mind that it is better to NEVER mark down the prices on holiday candy in hopes of getting the full price for one or two items rather than sell it for less...the result is that you go to the grocery store in April and still find the Christmas chocolates on the shelf with the same ridiculously marked-up price tag that you MIGHT overlook and give into in December, but not in April.

I'll tell you, when I saw snowflaked-shaped peppermint patties on sale for $.30 each, I grabbed them! And ate them. I ate them all.

And along the same thread, peppermint/chocolate coffee bought from the clearance bin because it had a holiday theme? This is what I'm talking about.

8.) Jet Lag

I made the cardinal mistake of parents who fly overseas with their children: I got cocky. I was SO prepared, I'd planned everything SO well, I'd timed everything PERFECTLY so that when we arrived, our kids would be awake for 7 hours, then sleep all night and be fine.

Yep, that was what I'd thought, all right.

And it worked...for one night. It's true, the kids DID go to sleep our first night in the US, and they stayed asleep all night. I woke up, patting myself on the back for keeping my kids in their normal routine, thus eliminating any chance that their little bodies would be out of whack and result in sleepless nights.

I didn't think that maybe- JUST MAYBE- the reason why they'd slept all night was because they were just completely worn out from the flight, and not because I was the awesomest, most well-planned mom in the world.

I did think that a few nights later, though, when I was up from 11:00 p.m until 3:00 a.m. with Skye, watching some of the worst television ever produced. I was introduced to the world of Reality Television. And it was not pretty. Within four hours, I learned that I was supremely happy not to be raising sextuplets with some jackass husband, that I would never, EVER expose my children to the world of children's beauty pageants, and that some dance teachers are just scary-ass bitches.

All because of Jet Lag. Though, to be honest? I already knew most of those things.

9.) Target

I don't think I really need to say anything more about this one. I mean, you've BEEN to Target, right?

10.) Doorbells and mailboxes and hot water, oh my!

There are things that are missing when you live overseas, things in the daily life of most Americans that they take for granted. I am aware of them, but I don't really pay much attention to the fact that we are missing them until we go back to the US and my five-year-old stares in amazement at a mailbox and asks, "What is THAT?"

I swear to God. When she asked me that, I was deeply confused and answered, "What is what, honey?"


"The mailbox?"

"What's a mailbox?"

And then it hit me: we have not lived anywhere that had a mailbox or neighborhood mail delivery service while overseas. Her whole little life, we've had our mail either delivered to the school, slipped under our door, or sent to a post office box.

Another night, we were waiting for pizza delivery and when the doorbell rang, our kids looked at us with bewilderment and screamed, "What is that noise?!"

Again, no doorbells in any of our homes overseas. Well, our house here in Jakarta KIND OF has a doorbell, but it's more of a quiet clicking sound that you can only hear if you are standing within two feet of it. Clearly, it is very effective, especially when it is followed by loud pounding on the door.

Don't even get me started on hot water. One night, Kaia almost scalded herself when she turned on the tap in the bathroom and HOT water came out. The poor girl did not realize that bathroom sinks could HAVE hot water!

Except for Doha, where for the 4 months of the year when no tap in the house ran anything BUT scalding hot water (due to the fact that for some reason, the water tanks outside the houses are all left uncovered in the Middle Eastern summer sun all day long), the only part of any of our homes that have actually had hot water have been the showers. Because they have the hot water heaters. Obviously.

Yes, up until now, our kids have known no world where sinks have more than one knob.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? If you are thinking that our kids had better prepare themselves for the day when they move to the US for university and realize that they are now the freaky Third Culture Kids who don't understand why the toilets don't all have bidet hoses attached, or know what that noisy machine that washes dishes is called, then yep- we're on the same wavelength!

Oh, well. Maybe they can live in the same dorm as the foreign exchange students.

11.) Children's Theater!

Within two days, we took Kaia to see The Nutcracker and "Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells", and it was amazing!

Arts! Theater! All that good stuff! In fact, there was an actual CHILDREN'S THEATER! I'd forgotten that such things existed.

Yes, we live overseas and so our kids experience a lot of culture in the sense of travel and seeing new places, but so far in our lives, there hasn't been much in the way of arts, music and theater for kids. That is truly one of the things that I appreciate whenever I go back to the US.

Our kids may be learning three different languages in school and meeting friends from all over the world, but they aren't going to the ballet on the weekends. They aren't listening to music concerts in the park. They aren't watching other kids bring their favorite books to life through drama. I'm not saying that these things don't exist ANYWHERE overseas, just not in the countries in which we've lived.

It's a trade-off that we make, but I must say that whenever we go back to the US from now on, I am going to make DAMN SURE that by the time we leave, our kids are so full of theater, drama and music that they'll be burping it up all the way on the plane ride home.

12.) Family

Obviously, this should be #1, but I am saving the best for last.  Even though we'd seen my parents twice since June, Skye is only 2, and so sometimes needs a reminder that Grandma and Grandpa aren't just those people who live in the computer. This is evidenced by the fact that she often stands in front of my computer, looking confused and asking, "Where did Grandpa go? Where is Grandma's picture?"

It is also nice to have the kids spend more time with my brother and sister-in-law, as well as their son, Sam. Now, I feel confident that whenever we talk about Uncle Liam and Aunt Pam, Kaia won't look at me with an expression that says, "I know you CLAIM that these people are real, but I'm not sure that I'm buying it!"

The downside to this being that Skye became completely fixated on my brother's cat, Pumpkin. Pumpkin is...challenged in social skills, let's say. I'm saying it that way because I am trying to be kind to animals. A person who was LESS kind to animals might describe Pumpkin with words that I am not entirely comfortable printing here, but since I AM kind to animals, I am giving Pumpkin the benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, whenever I talk about Aunt Pam and Uncle Liam, Skye just looks at me and says, "No, no Pumpkin...Hssssssssssss!" and makes a noise that no 2-year-old should ever make. At least no 2-year-old who is not possessed by an evil spirit, which I'm pretty sure she isn't, though on some days I am not 100% sure.

So, there it is: one three-week trip condensed down into 12 bullet points. And I'm exhausted just from writing it. If you're still reading this, then you have a longer attention span than I do and I applaud you.

Anyone got any highlights from YOUR winter holidays?


  1. I still have flashback nightmares about that grocery story. The horror....oh the horror.

    But yeah the indie theater and NYC were great and the family too.

  2. I am also frightened by large supermarkets....who needs the crowds and 648 different types of pasta sauces right?

  3. Mairin, I love your posts. I really laughed thinking about Jabiz in the grocery store!! I totally know the feeling -- I was overwhelmed to the point of paralysis when I first moved to NYC.

    And that poor woman in Hong Kong... :( It also goes to show you that really there is a story behind everything you see. Reading that story reminded me not to be quick to judge... which is easier said than done, especially while travelling!

    Re: hot water -- you reminded me that in Doha during summers, I used to turn the hot water heater off completely and then "switch" my two faucets -- so when you turned on the "cold" tap, hot water came out, and when you turned on the "hot," cold (ish) water came out. It worked like a charm.

  4. Mairin, I so love to read your blog, I can relate on so many levels. When Brad, the kids and I went to the states, I went to Target almost everyday, just because I could. Everything else you say is so true. One day if we are ever on the same continent we should hook up.

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  6. Kaia was also amazed by the clothes chute. She had me sending clothes down in it while she stood by the one in the kitchen and saw the clothes go to the basement.