Diary of a Globetrotting Family
Kid changes, our travel talisman, and a big family decision
Our last days in Hua Hin. During this final week in a beachside Thai town, we highlight kid changes, reflect on a travel talisman, and work on a big family decision that will shape all of our future travels.
Six teeth in six months
After Connor’s loose tooth came out, he set it on the shelf near the TV in our Hua Hin apartment. A little later, Jodie saw the tooth there.
“Why is that weird popcorn kernel here?” said Jodie.
“Don’t eat that!” Aster called out. “It’s Connor’s tooth!”
Before it got mistaken for anything else, such as something that should be lost, I gathered up the tooth. I cleaned it, put the shiny tooth into a baggie in my money belt, and then realized the time had come for the six teeth inside to find a new home.
In our six months of full-time family travel, Connor has lost as many teeth in Mexico, Thailand, and Vietnam. Under his pillow in the morning, he’s found tooth fairy money in pesos, baht, and dong. Now, a 20-baht note would head his way again, for the tooth fairy always tries to balance leaving one currency note with keeping a decent exchange rate to the US dollar.
The geography of Connor’s smile is the least of his changes over the past half a year. Some mornings we’re certain he grew overnight. He asks questions about social issues, current events, and news stories we encounter as we travel. He’ll go to the store on his own and buy eggs. When he and Aster are at the beach in Hua Hin, they study shells and sand with a little microscope. Or he’ll see a photo, say of Himeji Castle in Japan, and tell me his eyebrows are on the ceiling.
There are things he’s not necessarily interested in, such as spicy food, but when he talks about them, there’s a look in his eye. It says that even if he can’t imagine himself at that destination yet, he can see the path.
In short, Connor is heading quickly toward major growth.
Perhaps it’s silly that I, as his dad, tuck away his lost teeth in a baggie that I store in my money belt. I’ve kept every tooth he’s lost (except for his first loose tooth, which he swallowed). The rest of them are in a little jar in our storage room back in Eugene.
Reaching into my money belt, one of the six teeth scratched me, even through the thin plastic shield of the baggie. It was time for them to go somewhere else. Too much crowding, in a small space not meant for such an overbite. Now the teeth are in a baggie in my travel backpack, still in a secure spot, but not one that’ll tear my hand—or money belt—to tatters.
Just as these baby teeth don’t need to be on Connor’s person anymore, they don’t need to be on mine, either.
As we look ahead to our last days in Thailand, a month and a half in Japan, and then a few months in the US, I keep thinking of all the changes soon to be in store for Connor, in body, mind, and heart. He’s always been my brilliant, beautiful boy. Now, he is starting to change, from the questions he asks to the way his teeth look when he smiles—or scowls, depending on the moment. I can’t see the man he will be. That’s for him to decide. But I can see the path.
Aster is eight years old, loves to sleep in her own bed, loves to hang out with her brother and read together at night and, above all, loves to discuss with me and Jodie why any given night she chooses should be a snuggle night.
Now, we are all for Aster sleeping on her own. We also generally limit her to one snuggle night a week. However, Jodie and I have no illusions that the time is ticking on how many chances we’ll get to snuggle either of our children. So when Aster asks for a snuggle night, there’s a decent chance she might get it. When she does, she typically snuggles up with me for most of the night, then switches over to snuggle with Jodie in the morning.
Until, that is, I have a really terrible night’s sleep.
“You were really wiggly last time,” I told her when she asked about a snuggle night. “I couldn’t sleep well, and I was really tired. You are too busy flapping, flopping, flipping, and flupping.”
There was a time where being told no about a snuggle night might have made Aster whiny. But six months of full-time travel have kindled a new confidence in my growing girl. Now, she switched her voice to its assertively adamant mode, and put her hands on her hips. “We need to discuss this, Daddy,” she said. “You’ve had many nights of good sleep.”
“So I should be okay with a night of terrible sleep?” I shook my head. “I had plenty of those when you and your brother were babies and toddlers. Why should you get another chance?”
She sat up straight and locked her eyes on mine. Then, in a voice of simple, serious earnestness, she replied, “Daughter perks.”
I am a dad who believes in setting firm boundaries and communicating them clearly. I’m also a father who will always, always give credit where it was due, especially when a snappy retort is involved.
So I immediately doubled over laughing.
“You win,” I said. “You can have a snuggle night. As long as I can sleep.”
She is changing too
As I look back over the past six months, I can see that while Connor has bigger changes on the way, some of Aster’s have been the more momentous. Eight for her has been a time of newfound confidence, finding her voice, standing her ground, and pushing her creativity. As we wrapped up our last few days in Hua Hin, Aster started breaking—and making—codes. One morning, I even found myself on a scavenger hunt throughout the apartment. It culminated in a coded message I had to decode, based on a code she had devised and written up.
The final message? She has a Minecraft bakery challenge for me.
And now she’s working on building out that world, the bakery, and how the challenge will work.
She also faces her own challenges. One afternoon, Jodie sat next to Aster while our second-grader pushed through some really difficult math exercises. At times, Aster felt uncertain and frustrated, but she kept going and got through it well.
My daughter knows how to persevere.
Powered by motor
A couple of days before we were leaving Hua Hin for Bangkok, Connor and I went to the shop across the street to get a few gifts for the ladies who had been cleaning the apartment once a week. As we came to the edge of the street, we saw a gray car parked in front of the hotel. On the front, in black bold letters, were the words, “POWERED BY MOTOR.”
I turned to Connor. “As opposed to what?” I said. “Hamsters?”
We laughed all the way across the street. And again on the way back. Even after leaving Hua Hin, I still don’t understand what it was supposed to mean. Though I wish I had lowered my ear to the hood and listened for the squeak of a turning wheel—or perhaps of an overworked rodent.
We are getting a Class C RV
In April, we are going to be back in the US for a few months. But we don’t have a car. Our house is rented out to a tenant. And we are working on various contracts and business initiatives.
What to do, though, for transportation and lodging?
Get an RV.
So, along with all the travel, school, and business tasks we tend to during our world travels, Jodie and I have been doing our homework while we’ve been in Hua Hin. We don’t have an RV lined up yet, but we’re working on it. And we thought we’d put it out there in the world, because, well, that’s just always a good idea. Here’s what we’re interested in getting:
- A used Class C RV
- The newer the better (2015 or newer)
- Under 26 feet in length
- Gas engine, preferably Ford
We’re looking at dealerships throughout Western Oregon, pretty much from Portland to Medford. We hope to have things lined up so we can finish up the purchase and drive off in our new RV after we return to the US in mid-April.
From there, throughout the spring and summer, we’ll be RVing in the US, going west to east and to various points in between.
Are we a little scared? Sure. But it’s the good kind of scared.
As you might know from some of our earlier travels, we loved traveling with our pop-up camper. Shifting to a Class C RV makes a bunch of sense for our style of travel, and we love the idea of how an RV can help us travel more throughout the US.
If you have advice, a lead, or any perspective you’d like to offer, please drop us a line or a comment. Thanks for your support and encouragement as we work on this!
The friend stone
The little oval rock has a color like green tea, fits in the palm of my hand, and serves absolutely no practical purpose whatsoever. Yet for over twenty years, it has been in my backpack on every trip.
As we packed up and prepared to leave Hua Hin for Bangkok, the kids reset a shelf in the front room. We did dishes, made sure we’d packed up all the power charger bricks, and chose the snacks we’d take on the bus. The kids took down the recycling.
When it was time to finish packing up my travel backpack, I took a small stone out of its pocket in the top compartment. I ran my right thumb over the smooth side of the stone, then turned it over, where it was not smooth at all. Carved into this side is a Japanese character. The channels of the character originally were a deep, rick black, but time, trips, and wear have lightened up the color significantly.
Prior to moving to Oregon, I came out to visit my best friend and her parents, who at the time lived in Bend. During a wee trip to Portland, we took in the Japanese Gardens. As we finished, my best friend’s dad went into the gift shop while we waited outside. When he came back, he put the little stone into my hand. I stared at the Japanese character on the front.
“Turn it over,” he told me.
On the back, a little sticker said that the character represented the word “friend.”
“Wherever you go, whatever you do,” he told me, “I hope you can always find friends, and that you remember that you have friends who care about you.”
From that moment on, I’ve always carried that rock. I quickly came to think of it as my “friend stone.” Whether Ireland, India, Australia, Thailand, or Japan, that friend stone has gone with me. Do I make friends everywhere I go? Not necessarily. And while I don’t think of this wee rock as a talisman or magic charm, I do think of it when I need to remember that many people are kind, welcoming, and helpful.
Someday, my own children will be adults. They will live their own lives, go to their own places, travel their own travels. Someday, I will get each of them a stone of their own. So they remember that wherever they go, they will find friends. And that others who love them will always be at home, ready to welcome them whenever they come back.