Love Trumps SCUBA

During a celebratory dinner last night for the successful conclusion of a conference I was working on, it came up that I used to SCUBA dive. While I would prefer not to use the verb phrase “used to”, the last time I went SCUBA diving was when I visited Belize in 2003. It is really hard to say that I still dive when it has been eleven years since my last sub-aquatic experience. There are multiple reasons for this, but the primary cause of my lack of diving is that my wife does not dive.

So when it came out that I do not dive any longer because my wife does not dive, that was met with a bit of derision from a few of those that I was celebrating with. “How could you stop doing something you love just because your wife does not do that? You should always do what you enjoy regardless of your partner.” Now, this is not the first time I have been met with such a reaction; and most often this seems to come from women. And despite me efforts, I feel that I fail to ever adequately explain why my lack of diving, or any other activity that I once enjoyed as a single male, is okay.

If I had to boil it down to be as clear as I can make it, I would say that I love my wife, and being with my wife, more than anything else. While the joy and wonder of experiencing an underwater realm of continuous mystery, movement, and magic is great…it does not compare to the joy and wonder I get from being with Momma S. The thought of going on a tropical vacation and choosing to spend an entire day separate from her (regardless of the reason) is not worth it. Add to that the fact that we have two all encompassing boys, there is just no chance. Not only do I not want to be apart from Momma S; but, to do so would mean that I am then leaving her with both boys. For those of you who may not have children, trust me when I say being left alone with the kids while your partner goes out to do something fun is not exactly a “great time had by all”. Not that we are not willing to do this. I know that Momma S would support my diving, and that I would support her should she want to adventure off on her own to do some photography or visit the spa…but the reality is, we prefer to do it all together.

I don’t SCUBA dive now; but I will. There are years ahead of us, and once K and M are old enough to join me on those mysterious and magical sub-aquatic adventures, Momma S is going to love the time alone at the spa or wandering around a new town taking pictures and reading travel magazines at a quite outdoor café. But until that time, we are going to be together. And you know what, it is really not a sacrifice at all; cause there is nowhere I would rather be than with my wife…kids and all.

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Burma Bound

It’s May 24th, the day before Mother’s Day in Sweden and here I sit in an airport lounge in Stockholm waiting to board a flight to Bangkok…and I am flying solo. I can’t say that the prospect of taking a 16-hour flight by myself does not appeal; in fact it feels like a well needed vacation from life. On one side of the flight, I leave behind two loving, demanding, self-centered, caring, tender, temper-tantruming, moody, funny, and sweet boys. And I leave them with my wonderful, amazing, beautiful, supportive, and uber-nice wife who has agreed to let me venture off on a new adventure…leaving her solo with the afore-mentioned children of Jekyll & Hyde proportions. On the other side of the flight awaits a country in the grips of a coup and martial law, a painful visit to the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, and then three weeks working with some great people to pull off a pretty monstrous national forum on disabilities, and a chance to reconnect with friends and colleagues from yesteryear.

So, for the next few hours I will allow my self to nap, read WIRED magazine (of which I am only 11 issues behind the most recent edition), and enjoy the silence of loneliness. It is a guilty pleasure, and one for which I seriously owe Momma S a huge debt of thanks…a debt I am sure she will cash in.

Thank You Momma S. I love you very much…and the boys too!!

Sweden: The Arrival

On July 31st we departed Boston for Copenhagen via Reykjavic on Icelandic Air.  Good price, great onboard staff plus the option of an extended layover in Iceland at no additional charge will definitely bring us back to them.  From Copenhagen to Almhult, Sweden we had two choices to get there; we could take the train that runs between Copenhagen and Stockholm or rent a car.  Traveling with two young boys and way too much luggage, we opted to rent a car.

Fully loaded Ford S-Max

There are many options for renting a car at the Copenhagen International Airport, but we decided to use Budget Rent a Car, as they were the cheapest.  Though their office opened 30 minutes late and then the attendant disappeared for an additional 20 minutes, the wait was still offset by the low fare.  For our family of 4 and plethora of luggage, we got a Ford S-Max, which just managed to squeeze us all in.  Budget was able to provide both an infant and toddler car seat for an additional charge, and the rear luggage space was able to handle most of our six 50lbs bags plus additional baby stuff and carry-ons.  We did have to stuff a few items in the backseat with the kids, but it all fit and I was still able to see out of the rear view mirror.  (Note:  it was possible to rent a car with only a US valid license.  In Sweden, I am able to drive up to one year on a non-EU license, but after a year I have to procure a Swedish license if I want to continue to drive.)

With only the on-board navigation computer to guide us we departed Copenhagen and made our way across the Oresund Bridge and The Öresund Bridge from underneathbegan the very pleasant drive to Almhult, Sweden.  The diesel Ford S-Max handled well and got decent gas mileage.  We rented the car for three days and drove it from Copenhagen to Almhult to Vaxjo to Copenhagen and only used a half tank of diesel, which cost us nearly $100USD to refill.  (Note:  taking the train is much much much cheaper.  After returning our car, we took the train back and the cost for all four of us from Copenhagen to Almhult was the same as the toll for the Oresund Bridge.)

Quaint countryside church somewhere between Almhult and Copenhagen.

Moving away from the coast near Helsingborg, we took the 120 east and soon found ourselves moving out of picture perfect farmland and into slightly more rugged forest terrain.  It seems that Almhlut, located in the greater Smaland region, is within a large swath of forest in southern Sweden.  The forest around Almhult has a distinct fairytale feel to them.  They do not feel much like the forests we are familiar with in the US, but really feel like they come out of a Hans-Christian Anderson or Brothers Grimm storybook.

We passed through a number of small villages before entering Almhult proper.  Almhult is the epicenter for IKEA and is serviced by a number of railways and a strong industrial core, though the town’s layout makes it very easy to miss the industrial side of the town.  With a population of approximately 10000, the town is able to deliver a surprising small-town feel.  Almhult Centrum, the downtown section, is very walkable and is surrounded by a number of neighborhoods that all roll out in different directions, each having their own unique feel.  The town is in fact bifurcated by the rail system and on the east side you will find Centrum, Haganas, Elmiers, and Gemon.  On the west side of the tracks there are Mossastan, Maskrosen, Kloxhult, Ormakulla, Norregard, Majtorp, and Paradiset.  There are walking and bike paths connecting everything together and a few very nice forest parks present to hike through, as well as access to Lake Mockeln.  It also appears that the Kommun, the administrative entity that runs the town, is very committed to play areas.  We live in a Kommun run apartment in the Centrum area, just adjacent to the Haganas neighborhood and it seems that on every other block there is a play structure and sandpit.  Thus far, we have only done a limited amount of exploration of the west side neighborhoods; but it seems to be much less apartment and Kommun run housing versus private homes and subdivisions with a strong suburbia feel.

Arriving to an apartment/house is a very stressful event.  S and I are pretty familiar to the routines of transitioning to new countries and communities, and luckily we are experienced in this and had a bit of savings for this relocation.  In most of the transitions we have gone through the organizations bringing us to that country/town were able to meet us at the airport and show us around town.  Most often, a decent temporary housing with be provided if a long-term home is not immediately available, which comes fully furnished and ready to live in.  Arriving in Almhult, this was not the case.  After 45 minutes trying to figure out how to get the keys, of which my wife and two children slept in the car in the nearby parking lot of a grocery store, we had the keys and made it into our new home.  When we opened the door, we were greeted by nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  The apartment was completely empty, even of light fixtures.  There was a light for the bathroom and kitchen and that was all.  I have since learned that this is the norm for Sweden, but came as an unexpected reality for us.

Welcome to IKEA Land

Here we were, a very tired jet-lagged family in a new apartment with absolutely nothing in terms of furniture, lighting, or food and with not a soul to assist us on how to get setup.  Not to worry though, we were in the town of IKEA.  Less than four hours in Almhult we found ourselves perusing the aisles and display rooms of the very first IKEA store.  By the end of that day, we had purchased a bed for K and S and I, and a brand new couch; as well as having filled ourselves up on Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and lingonberries from the IKEA cafeteria.  For the next few nights we all slept on the floor on top of some mattress padding we purchased as we waited for our real bed and couch to be delivered.  The delivery took a little extra time as we needed to travel to Vaxjo to get apply for our residency cards and we had to drive back to Copenhagen to return our rental.

If any of you have relocation stories that you would like to share, please feel free.  If you are interested in hearing something more specific about arriving to Sweden, please ask and I will try to accommodate.

And thank you for reading.

Poop

Squat toilet found in Chiang Dao, Thailand.

Squat toilet found in Chiang Dao, Thailand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As both a traveler and a parent, poop is something always on my mind.  As a traveler in a new land there is the perpetual threat of “travelers diahorrea”; quickly followed by the following three questions:

  1. Where is the nearest bathroom?  (Just in case.)
  2. Will it be a western commode or an eastern squatter?
  3. Will there be toilet paper?

As a parent with one child just starting the potty training process and one still firmly in diapers thoughts of poop are quickly followed by these four questions:

  1. Did I pack the diapers?  (Did I pack the wipes?)
  2. Will he tell me he needs to poop before proceeding with said activity?
  3. Where is the closest baby changing station?
  4. Do we have a change of clothes?  (Just in case.)

Traveling by myself, or just with my wife, we really don’t get too concerned with the poop questions.  We are very adjusted to going with the flow so to speak.  There was even a time in the not so distant past where I hoped for an eastern squatter, or at least a bide`.  However, traveling with un-potty trained children is a whole other matter.

The use of diapers as a method of managing your child’s waste products, I have realized, is a cultural choice.  I had my first encounter with this while working in Bangladesh as a Peace Corps Volunteer and noticing that most of the children ran around without any pants or undergarments of any type.  This allowed for quick and clean “potty breaks” anywhere out on the side of the road.  Later, while traveling by train in northern Myanmar prior to having my own kids.  My wife and I had boarded a local train running from Mandalay to Lashio.  We got on outside of the town of Pyin Oo Lwin, a lovely old British hill station in the Eastern Shan Mountains making our way to the village of Hsipaw to explore some nearby waterfalls.  The train was crowded, dark, dirty, and full of the rustic charm that young backpackers crave.  We shared a small wooden slate bench with a young Shan couple and their baby boy.  Like Bangladesh, the majority of babies go about sans undergarments or pants of any nature; however, being on a train and not wanting their baby to poop right there on the other passengers, the parents wrapped their child up in a longi.  (A skirt-like garment used on the lower part of the body of both men and women.  Similar to a sarong.)  The baby was very cute with inquisitive brown eyes that would stare at you in such avid concentration, which also coincided with the release of waste products from both the front and rear.

The father was holding the baby in his left arm with the little boy’s head resting on his shoulder, a mere four inches from my own head.  That inquisitive look with avid concentration was then followed by a few grunts of effort and it seemed to me that icky yellow goo exploded out of the child.  As the boy was in the longi, it definitely didn’t explode on me; but it began to ooze down the leg and out of the longi.  His mother was there to use extra fabric from the longi to help “manage” the mess and keep it all clean and tidy…right next to me.  As a parent now, I can look back at this and laugh and feel real empathy for those young traveling parents.  But, at the time I was trying really hard not to get sick.  The heat and smell of the train was already wearing on me, and now the possibility of being contaminated by this yellowish ooze was pushing me slowly over the edge.  Luckily, for both my weak stomach and fellow passengers, the family got up and stood in between two of the train cars.  There they took the longi off, put it into a bag, and began to poor water over the little boy’s bottom as he hung over the edge of the moving train.

Diapers please!!  And no, I am not looking for a nice set of environmentally friendly diapers where I will have to clean them out of their poop content.  No, I will take the trusty old disposable diapers any day.  So, for my youngest son, that is what he has; but, now I am moving into potty training phase with K.  The questions I now ask are:  ‘Do I put him into a diaper or trust him with underpants?’ or ‘Will he tell me that he needs to poop or just let me know after the fact?’  As we are in the first couple of weeks of this process, one that he has fought every step of the way, I still opt for the diapers.  I will send him to his half day of pre-school in underwear.  The teachers are trained professionals and can handle any accidents that might come their way; but, I am an inexperienced stay-at-home dad that has a proven track record that clearly demonstrates that diapers make the poop much less messy.

But on this point I will need to change very soon.  So, if you have any tips or thoughts on how to effectively transition a reluctant and strong willed boy from diapers into underwear successfully, please respond and share your wisdom.  Or, if you have a humorous poop story (either child or travel related) please feel free to share.

And thank you for reading.