Only a few days left

Just shy of a month ago I started an adventure of my dreams – a trip around Asia with my husband and five – now soon to be six – month old baby boy. I’m now sat in the north of Vietnam, surrounded by beautiful rice fields and mountains with only a few days left of this trip and am reflecting on what this time has given me and my family.

I think that I’ve mostly enjoyed the space that these travels have given me. Time away from the normal humdrum rhythm of life where there is washing to do, cleaning to avoid and constantly things to do or fix around the house. With Gregg by my side, it has been lovely to co-parent our son instead of being chief in charge of his care, snatching minutes to do little things for me or my coaching business here and there when Gregg gets back from work.

It’s also given me a glimpse of the reality of going back to work as, even with his daddy showering him with love, Jenson constantly reaches towards me for comfort when he’s tired, restless, upset or feeling any difficult emotion. And it makes sense because I have solely fed him, spent 90% of his life with him, slept curled around him. So I’m aware that, as much as it’s right for me to go back to work in just over a week, it’s going to be brutally hard at times. For Jenson, for Gregg and for me.

The new reality of parenthood has firmly sunk in (even more than it had before – if that’s possible!). Our trip away has been wonderful, but it has been at Jenson’s pace. We’ve been tucked up in bed by 10:30 at the latest, I’ve only had a few sips of the delicious alcohol over here and there has been less time for personal reflection as I would have done before, no hours spent journaling in beautiful cafes or reading for hours on beautiful beaches. It’s not bad or lesser or not preferable. It’s just not the same. And even though life will go back to a more similar version of what was before as Jenson finds his independence and grows up, I firmly know that my life has been changed forever as a mum.

And the life change has been wonderful in ways as we have been welcomed by the Cambodians and Vietnamese people we have met so warmly all because of Jenson. We’ve been engaged with so much more, had Jenson spirited away into a person’s arms so we could eat a meal as a couple and at times couldn’t walk 10 meters without someone coming up to talk to us about Jenson. He’s been cherished, loved and has enthralled the people we’ve met and has opened peoples hearts to show us more of these countries than I could have ever hoped.

This time has also shown me all that is possible with a baby. How it is possible to travel with children. How it is possible to live life as a parent without being in constant state of fear about what might happen. How parenting is about trusting my instincts instead of some ‘how-to’ book. How I can write my own rules as a mum. And that has been refreshing and eye-opening.

Finally, this trip has shown me that I’m not finished adventuring. As I said when I left Cambodia, I’ve loved exploring this part of the world, seeing new things and learning about other people and myself. While Gregg has shared with me that he is ready to come home, I’ve got a few more countries in me still. I feel that I could continue onto Laos or spend another month going to China to explore different cultures and places. There is so much of this world to explore and I am keen to see more of it!

Oh how I could go on – there is so much more I could reflect on as this trip as brought so much richness into my life but for now, this is enough. I’m off for a final walk of the day around this beautiful area of the world.

It’s a reflex

I’ve just been reflecting on the three nights I spent in Hoi An on my month-long exploration of Cambodia and Vietnam. It was an interesting experience, although not my favourite place in Vietnam. Everything was so centred on selling and buying things.

The old town was full of shops with similar leather goods, tailoring shops and holiday nicknacks that I’d have wanted to buy once upon a time. But instead, probably fresh from my shopping ban, it made me feel a bit sad.

Sure, it was a beautiful place at night, strewn with lanterns and with lit-up rowboats gliding up and down the river, but it didn’t seem to have much of a soul as a city. It seemed like a huge marketplace when it was once a place of worship, of traditional Vietnamese life.

But it still didn’t stop me from feeling the reflex to buy. A beautiful lantern for our house, an inflatable toy for Jenson to use in the water, some new underwear because it’d be so much cheaper over here, some insect repellent just in case our near-full bottle was finished before the end of our holidays.

Each time I felt the urge, I would remind myself of all the reasons why I wanted to not buy stuff (there are so many reasons!) and the urge would slowly dissipate. I imagine over time that these urges will come and go, just like the tide.

And this experience made me think about the various other reflexes that I have which I hate but haven’t been able to shake off.

  • The way I instinctively turn sideways to look in the mirror daily for a view of how slim my stomach is
  • The judgement I make on myself based on how I look instead of all that I want to hold as important – my personality, my brain, my capacity to love, the inner strength I possess.
  • How I catch myself doing what I think I should do, even if it’s not what I really want to do

And part of me knows that the fact I’m conscious about these things is the tide changing in my life.

But I’ve taken heart from this shopping ban too that these areas in my life that I’m not satisfied with are the culmination of many different reflexes and daily actions.

And these are moveable, changeable, not who I am.

And with that I take heart. I believe that I can instead tell my stomach and body how glad I am for it’s strength and power, I can spend time appreciating all that I am, I can ask myself “what do you really want to do”.

They’re just reflexes that I have the ability to change.

Cambodia

We’re just preparing to leave for Siem Reap Airport to leave Cambodia and set off for three and a half weeks in Vietnam. This first week has flown by and I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve loved this country that we tacked onto our trip almost as an afterthought.

So I want to spend a few moments reflecting on this experience with you, dear friend.

What we’ve seen

We arrived in the capital, Phnom Penh, and spent 2 full days looking around it. As many visitors do, we went to visit S21, the school where thousands of people were tortured into giving false confessions about crimes they had committed and were subsequently executed. To think that humans are capable of such atrocities, such hateful acts of violence and cruelty, is unthinkable. I don’t understand the lure of power that pushes men and women to act in such ways and it’s difficult to imagine that similar things are taking place around the world today.

After this we went to the Killing Fields, where thousands of people were killed en masse under the Khmer Rouge. Some people survived the brutality of this regime and their stories were shared on the excellent audio guide. One of these stories has stayed with me. A lady had just had a baby when the Khmer Rouge came to power. She was put to work in the fields and, on no more than a few bowls of watered down rice soup a day and hours of toiling in the fields, was unable to produce enough milk for her baby and was only able to feed him at night after 12+ hours of gruelling work. And sadly, but not surprisingly, her baby died. I cried for her – the distress she must have felt at not being able to do enough for her child, how she’s still haunted by her past to this day – and it put my challenges breastfeeding Jenson into perspective. It’s been a bit of a struggle but I’ve had access to support, time to rest up, the ability to switch to formula if needed, a supply of supplements…everything I could wish for. I’m so very lucky and I have nothing to complain about.

Travelling with a baby

Jenson has been such a delight on this trip. Sure, it’s not like a trip without a baby – I watched one film during the 17 hour flight and was stretched beyond my means when we arrived in Cambodia having only had 10 hours sleep over 2 days and was faced with a baby who was wide awake.

But it’s been as I had hoped. Jenson loves being out and about in Asia. He has smiles for everyone we meet and is content to be in his baby carrier as we explore everything around us.

He’s also been happy to have naps on the go so we’ve been able to have dinner out each night and have been up at 4am to watch sunrise over the temple of Angkor Wat. He’s been a real dream.

It’s also been amazing to see him take his first bits of food over here. A bite of some watermelon, a nibble of some vegetables (all safe stuff, before you start worrying, mum!). Seeing him grow and develop and take more and more stuff in on our journey.

Highlights

There have been so many amazing things that we’ve been lucky to see. Here’s just a few of them:

  • Cycling around the red dirt roads of rural Cambodia
  • A visit to the houses on stilts and boat ride on the Tonlé Sap lake
  • $4 massages!
  • Delicious noodle soup for breakfast
  • Exploring the temples of Angkor

So many things that have opened my eyes and brought a smile to my face.

The people

Oh how I’ve loved the Cambodian people I’ve met. They’ve been through such atrocities less than a generation ago and yet they are truly warm, welcoming and always seem to have a smile of their faces.

And they have been beautiful with Jenson. I can’t count the number of people who have asked to take photos of him or have held him whilst we’ve eaten dinner or had a massage! They are such wonderful people and they have made this time here so special.

Right, got to dash to the airport so will stop here! It’s been an incredible start to a trip of a lifetime.