The (Dreaded?) School Run

21 Nov

So my morning started with this post on Facebook:

A cultural misunderstanding of hand signals and general road etiquette led to a policeman scaring the hell out of me and my kids this morning at the school gate. Yikes! Won’t be doing that again.

A friend asked for “more details please” so here they are.

Ha ha! So about my being scared sh!tless by the Romanian police this morning…

I usually drop my kids off at school by 7:30 – the earliest parents can (or else my husband takes them). Today, we were running a little late so I had to take them in because husband had a 7:35am meeting.

I find Romanian drivers to be notoriously selfish. This morning was no different. As I was waiting in line to turn right into the school parking lot, I noticed that nobody was letting the folks trying to turn left into the parking lot in. So I flashed my lights, as is the custom here, to indicate that I’m willing to let the next car go in front of me. I thought that the policeman directing (and I use that term lightly) traffic must not have liked that I did that because he gestured for me to “stop”. So I did, and I let one or two more cars go in ahead of me. The policeman had walked away at this point. I’m sitting there thinking that I’ve done the polite thing – I’ve let cars in ahead of me – and that now it’s my turn to go in. WRONG!

Now keep in mind, I’m only going 5km an hour  or so when all of sudden there is this loud banging noise coming from the back of my car. I jumped and I screamed because I thought I’d hit, or been hit, by something. Turns out, that noise was the sound of a burly 6ft tall officer banging his knuckles on my rear window! My son is asking, “Mommy! What’s wrong!”

“I don’t know sweetie,” I said.

The officer motions for me to pull over outside of the gate (yeah, he’s not letting me onto school property) and starts berating me in Romanin. I smile politely say I don’t understand.

He says, “I told you to STOP!”

“Yes sir, and I did, but then it was my turn.”

“NO! You stop until I tell you to go!”

“Ok. I misunderstood. My mistake. I apologize. But you just scared me very much.” Turns out that last bit was the wrong thing to say. LOL

Must double up my efforts to get to school by 7:30am when there is no traffic.

So that’s my story. I’m sure that while it will one day make an interesting little scene in the screenplay of my life, today it was just plain embarrassing.



Cats – lost and found

5 Jan

Losing Lulu the cat was very hard on all of us, but maybe more so on our sons. Lulu, the cat, had been with us since before we had children. My youngest son’s first word was, “Lulu.”

It took me a year before I was ready to bring another cat into our lives. And, as fate would have it, we took in two ‘brothers’. We named them Albie (after Albus Dumbledore) and Montie (after Romeo Montague).
Unfortunately, we couldn’t bring them with us to Europe. 
Though I wasn’t really feeling ready to bring another animal into our lives – the loss of Albie and Montie was still too fresh – fate conspired to bring another cat into our home. We ended up adopting a 12 year old cat who desperately needed rehoming but whose prospects weren’t looking very promising.   
I brought my eldest (who was a few months short of his 7th birthday at the time) to pick up the cat with me. On the short drive home, he asked if we could give her a new name. Sidebar – I can’t for the life of me remember what her other name was. Anyway, I said, “I don’t see why not. Do you have a name in mind?” 
Without missing a beat, my son said, “I think we should name her Sawadeecat. Get it mom!? It’s like ‘sawadee ka’ but she’s a cat AND she’s a girl, so it makes sense!”
Sawadeecat is now an integral part of our family.

My toddler is wearing underpants. Sort of.

4 Aug

I came home today to find my two and a half year old, naked, in the front courtyard wielding a garden hose. I wish I’d gotten a picture!

The next time I saw him, he was wearing his older brother’s underpants…over his diaper. His nanny tells me that this fashion choice was his own insistence. Is this his way of telling me that he’s ready for potty training??  

I ask this because, well, for a variety of reasons, I’ve let potty training sort of slide this summer. This being my second trip around parenting, I’ve learnt to pick my battles. Potty training falls under that category for me. I mean, he’s not really even talking yet (and that’s a post for another day), how can I start potty training?

That being said, I was rather surprised at the reaction I got from the director of the Montessori preschool that I just enrolled my youngest in when I told him that my son wasn’t toilet trained yet. “You mean he still wears a diaper at night?”, he asked. “Um, no, he wears a diaper all day too”, was my response. It wouldn’t have taken an expert in body language to tell me that this man did NOT approve.

I took this up with another teacher mommy friend of mine with a child of similar age. I told her about how this school director responded and, that up until that moment, I’d thought I was doing well as a parent – or at least I didn’t realise that I was ‘failing’. She was predictably supportive and reminded me that we all learn at our own pace. 

So hopefully, soon, my youngest will be fully potty trained and I will gain the approval of his new school’s director. In the meantime, I’m happy to continue changing diapers. 

My annual ode to International Women’s Day

8 Mar

Why driving in Phnom Penh is not for the faint of heart.

19 Oct

Phnom Penh is dusty. REALLY dusty. So dusty that  I walk around most days feeling like I ate a dirt sandwich. There is grit and grim on everything and there is simply no escaping it.

And then it rains. And when it rains, the street outside our school turns into a river. I know that that is a somewhat overused metaphor but in this case it happens to be true. When there is a visible current in the water running down your street, I call that a river.

I drive a Yamaha Fino. I started driving scooters 13 years ago in Taiwan. I thought that if I could drive safely there (two years and not one fender bender), then I could drive anywhere. I love riding a scooter. In Bangkok, my eldest starting riding around the neighbourhood with by the time he was about 20 months old.

The boy and I on his first day of school this year.

The boy and I on his first day of school this year.

I have not yet done the same with my youngest (nearly 2 years old). A large part of the reason is that he still won’t keep a helmet on his head but that’s not the whole reason. The fact that NO ONE PAYS ANY ATTENTION TO THE COLOUR Of A TRAFFIC LIGHT isn’t even the real reason. It’s not the fact that people do not understand/obey/give a rat’s ass about such things as respect for one’s side of the road. And it’s not even the speed of traffic because that is actually not really a factor here. In the three months we’ve been in Phnom Penh I think I’ve only ever gotten up to 50km/hour on the bike once (no kids on board).

The roads in Cambodia are more dangerous than say…just about anywhere in the western world, but not for the reasons  I mentioned above. It’s the condition of the roads that make them dangerous.

Case in point, it rained a little last night and the road in front of school (the main artery into town) was once again flooded. We’re talking about roughly 2-6 inches of water. And I use the word “water” very loosely. A better term might be “liquid”. It is vile. During the big flooding last week, I was in a tuk-tuk and got splashed by the stuff. Not much, just a little. Any exposed skin that that ‘water’ touched developed a rash before bedtime.  But I digress.

The big crazy intersection.

The big crazy intersection.

Coming back from town this morning, I decided to by-pass the big crazy intersection and cut through the school campus instead. Well, what with the water and all, I didn’t see a rut in the road that nearly knocked us over.

In French there is an expression for pothole, un nid de poule, which translates literally to a ‘hen’s nest’. I would describe what is most commonly seen on the roads here as ‘dinosaur’s nests’. I saw a small delivery truck stuck in one of these potholes last week.  It couldn’t move because it’s rear right tire wasn’t even touching the ground, the nose of the truck pointed at a 45 degree angle into a pothole.

Come to find out, many of the roads around where I live are privately owned – which went a long way to explaining the toll booths. So there is really nowhere for motorists to direct their outrage. No angry letters to write or calls to be placed to a local council. Complain all you want, no one is listening. All folks can do is roll up their pant legs and power on through. Get on with their lives. Work around it.

Now that I think of it, that’s probably a very good allegory for the state of politics in this country.


5 Aug

That feels like the best word to describe my impressions of Phnom Penh so far – beige. 

It seems that everything is covered in a fine (or not so fine as the case may be) film of dust. One of the few clear memories that I have of my first visit here 5 years ago is that I found it dusty. That has not changed. Even my sense of smell seems to be dulled due to all this dust. 

It strikes me as somewhat silly sometimes to think that I gave up smoking in order to taste more, smell more and live longer. Everything I eat tastes a little like dirt and things don’t smell as they used to. I wonder too what inhaling all this dust is doing to my lungs. Image

A Sad First in my Teaching Career

21 May

I’ve been teaching now for 15 years. The law of averages says that at least one or more of the students that I’ve known has passed away in that time. But as an international teacher, I’m not connected to the communities that I teach in the same way that someone who spends their whole career in the same school (or school district) is. So there are surely some passings that I am not aware of.

That’s why this one is so hard. It’s a first.

This kid was in my French class for a couple of months. I remember that he was funny, athletic and personable. He was ready for a laugh and seemed to get along with just about everyone. He came from a good caring home and had all the material and societal advantages that one can think of. But ‘sit’ is just about all he did do in my class. He wasn’t terribly interested in French and he transferred to beginner’s Spanish before Christmas. Having a French language background made it easier for him, his new teacher told me. Even after he’d left my class, whenever I would see him on campus he would give me a smile and a cheery, “Bonjour!”

Having a French language background made it easier for him, his new teacher told me.

“Easier”. That is a word that keeps coming up for me when I think about this kid. From what I saw of him, he seemed to spend a considerable amount of energy seeking out the ‘easy’ option at school: be it class work, homework, projects or deadlines.

This afternoon his parents will host a service of remembrance for their son in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. It will no doubt be attended by many of his fellow students and former teachers.

As a teacher, as a parent, I feel that we need bigger, better, badder ways to talk to our kids about substance abuse.

We can’t keep allowing funerals for 17 year olds to be the final lesson on this subject.

An open letter to the ‘big boy’ at the playground

9 May

We live in a high-rise apartment building that has its own playground. There are perhaps two dozen kids living here that use that playground regularly – from teeny toddlers to teens.

My 4 year old son has a particular fondness for one of these boys. I’ll call him Adam.

Adam is a ‘tweenager’ : so he’s much older than my son. But he’s a sweet boy with a kind soul and he often goes out of his way to play with my son and to make him feel included. My son’s face literally lights up whenever he sees Adam.

The other day my son and I were down at the playground when Adam and a couple of friends came running in. They were obviously playing a game together and, naturally, my son wanted to join in. So off he ran. I started having a chat with some of the other parents there but very soon it dawned on me that the boys were gone.

And that’s when I saw it – my little boy’s head poking out from the spot he’d crawled into under the Little Tykes playground equipment.

He’d crawled in there so that no one would see him crying.

Apparently, as he tells the story, when he went up to Adam to ask if he could play too, he was told by another boy that, “Adam thinks you’re stupid.” just  before the boys ran off. And if that wasn’t enough to bring tears to my eyes and want to hug him for eternity, the next thing he said certainly did. “And Mommy, where was (sic) you? You’re supposed to come and give me hugs when people say bad things to me.”

So we had a great big cuddle right then and there on the playground floor, tears streaming down his face.

I did my best to reassure my son that he wasn’t stupid, that that was a mean thing for that boy to say and that people are sometimes going to say things to you that aren’t true. “I know it hurts but you have to learn to shake it off.” I told him.

If I could say anything to the boys in question, especially Adam, this is what it would be:

Dear Adam,

My son thinks that you are a pretty special person. But you probably know this already by the way that his face lights up, and the excitement in his voice when he calls your name, whenever he sees you. He looks up to you in probably the same way that you look up to the older kids at your school and your brothers. He doesn’t have an older brother so you are, in many ways, a role model to him. 

I realise that he’s a lot younger than you; and probably not your first choice in a playmate. I understand that. He can’t play the same games as you (or at least not as well) but you’ve always let him try. That is so important to him. You’ve shown patience and maturity with him that is beyond your years. And for that I would like to thank you. 

I would also like to remind you that my son is only 4 and a half years old. He’s just learning what the word ‘friend’ means. If you asked him to tell you what a ‘friend’ is, he would probably tell you that a friend is someone that you play with, share things with and who doesn’t fight with you. 

Can I ask you a favour? Please be careful what you say to him. He takes everything that you say to heart. Because he looks up to you, he’s likely going to do and say the same things that he sees you doing and saying because he wants to be like you: his ‘big’ friend. 

If he hears that someone that he thinks of as ‘friend’ thinks that he’s ‘stupid’, then I’m afraid that he’s going to think that that’s what friends do; put each other down.

His Dad and I understand that the world is not a perfect place. We understand that our son is going to get his feelings hurt from time to time and we are trying to teach him how to best deal with that. But if you could understand the influence that you have to set a positive example of what friendship is all about…well, we would be grateful. 

In response to ‘Dear Mom on the iPhone’

18 Mar

Today, via Facebook, I came across a retort to a posting of an article entitled “Dear mom on the iPhone: Let me tell you what you don’t see” The retort, entitled “In Defense of the iPhone Mom” really got me going. It got be going so much that I then went over and read the article that incited the retort. And all this began a realtime conversation with a fellow mom, whom I respect very much. Her beef was that people nowadays spend too much time documenting events rather than experiencing them. Think of the last concert you went to. How many people were holding up a digital device and recording the event rather than experiencing it? Probably too many.  And too many people, many of them parents, seem more engrossed with their phones than their children when you see them out in public. And, I agreed, this is a very real issue. A societal issue, in fact. So why did the original article specifically attack “mom”? There inlies my beef.

Here is what a fellow educator and mom had to say:

Hmmm, I do think that I see so many parents greet their kids at school with a phone in their face while dealing with their important messages. Not just mothers but fathers too. Everywhere I go I see people living their lives on i-products (or similar). I went to see Fat Boy Slim last year and no one was dancing, all except me and (my husband) were filming it. Sorry, I don’t actually think that’s ok. People need people. Face to face. I get her point about stop picking on parents and totally agree but really….in defense of the i-phone? Sorry, have just opened a can of worms there.

Open that can of worms my friend! For certain cans need to be opened if we are ever going to get to the bottom of this.

Here is my reply.

What I really connected with was the idea that no blogs ever go viral praising parents, especially mothers, for the countless little things they do day in and day out. And the sad fact that motherhood is a competitive contact sport with metaphorical blow after blow being levied on women for not putting their children first every minute of every living day. These attacks come from family, peers, strangers, the media and government. I recently saw a US study where 60% of respondents (all parents) said, when asked, that they put their children’s needs first and their needs second. Sixty percent also correlates roughly to the divorce rate in the US (and many other countries where this sort of mindset exists).
The iPhone issue is part of a wider societal issue. People are recording events rather than experiencing them -as you rightly point out. The larger issue, for me at least, in that post was that maybe, just maybe, we should stop for a moment when judging strangers. Perhaps giving people the benefit of the doubt once in a while wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
On the birth board that I belong to online, in the fall of last year, a woman posted about how she saw a couple with their maybe 6 month old on the bus. The baby was in a stroller wearing nothing but a diaper. The poster took a pic of the child and posted it online ranting about how these parents were unfit because they had their child out after dark wearing nothing but a diaper in 18 degree Celsius temperatures. I was livid when I read this. Livid at the poster – not this poor kids parents! How freakin’ dare she violate the right to privacy of this family that way. And by the way, all she did was snap a sneaky pic and post it online. She didn’t speak to the family at all! Who knows what was going on there? If she had honestly thought for one moment that this was a case of child neglect or endangerment then shame on her for not enquiring and offering assistance!
I remember a time last summer when my six month old had a massive diaper blowout in the car. We pulled into the rest area to change him only to realise that we’d forgotten to pack a spare change of clothes for him. All we had was a spare t-shirt for our eldest. So, one filthy infant onesie in a Ziplock bag later, there we were in the food court of the rest area with a 6 month old infant wearing nothing but a diaper and t-shirt that was 3 years too big for him. What must we have looked like? Thank the gods that no one whipped out their camera phone and posted that!
So all this to say that I just think that most people are living their lives with the best of intentions and ya know what? Sometimes you end up on a bus with a kid wearing nothing but his diaper because wearing nothing is more appropriate than being covered in your own poop. I just wish that everyone would stop judging. But also, I wish that more people would risk the embarrassment of being wrong and genuinely enquire when they see something that perhaps raises a red flag. All that that mother had to do was say something friendly to the family like, “Forgot to pack a spare change of clothes, eh? Man, I’ve been there, done that.” That would have probably been all she needed to do to ascertain whether this was an act of child cruelty or human fallibility. This woman in question also needs to learn the story about glasses houses, in my opinion, and keep her damn camera phone to herself. But that’s a whole other rant 

Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?

Next stop…Phnom Penh

24 Jan

I am very excited to announce that our little House of Commons will be starting its newest adventure in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh – starting sometime this summer.

When I told an old friend back home about our news, she replied, “… the school looks fantastic !! Is it a safe place to live ? I’ll be worried if you have a lot of unrest around you !”

In response, I sent her the following email.

You crack me up! In the 7 years that we’ve been in Bangkok we’ve experienced the following:

  • a coup d’etat (in our first two months!)
  • 6 Prime Ministers in 7 years
  • we were (unknowingly) roughly 600 meters as the crow flies away from a political assassination one night
  • after that, the riots got so bad that school was closed for a little over a week and we left town while the rioters randomly looted and then burnt down more than dozen key buildings around town. When little pieces of burnt tire started to literally drift in and fall in my backyard- that’s when I got Neil to hire a rental car and get out of town. The guy at the shop was so happy to have us take, what he told us was possibly the last rental car left in Bangkok, because he knew it would be safer to have his car out of town.
  • school was closed for nearly two weeks due to flooding in 2011 (when I was 7 months pregnant with Gabe) – again we had to leave town for ten days because we didn’t know when/if the flood waters were going to reach us and the “water” coming out of our faucets was toxic. It took weeks (in some cases months) for some common everyday products to find their way back to our grocery shelves
  • when my mom came over for Aidan’s birth, she had to stay an extra week because of protests that completely shut down the international airport. In the end, she had to fly out of an airport that was built as a US airbase during the Vietnam War
  • it’s easy for people to forget but there has effectively been a guerrilla style civil war going on the deep south of Thailand for virtually a decade that has claimed the lives of thousands of people. Monks and teachers/schools are the preferred targets. To date, over 150 teachers have been killed.

And yet, despite all that, living in Thailand is actually quite safe and peaceful. Violent crime is relatively low. We have access to world class healthcare (something that I know I will miss in Cambodia). We live in, what I think anyway, is one of the world’s truly global cities. It is teeming with a vibrant social fabric, culture and history. It’s my sons’ hometown and I will miss it.