Mission Control

August 11, 2016 at 11:18 am | Posted in Malaysia, Me | 16 Comments

Six weeks ago, not-so-fresh from 30-some-odd hours of travel, we landed in Malaysia, collected our five giant bags, and wheeled our way through the long, hot customs line. We were home … sort of.

Well, we were definitely home — the envelope binder-clipped to the inside of my carry-on contained stamped, sealed letters written in officialese from governments on both sides of the world granting us permission to call this city home for two years — but nothing about it felt familiar or comfortable or at all home-like.

I expected that. We’d done this before — new cultures, new climates, new foods, new routines. But I didn’t expect to feel like a complete interloper, even now, 44 days later. Most days, I wage an internal battle between staying in the condo — safe, air-conditioned, stocked with peanut butter — and venturing out. Even the most mundane things are an actual, honest-to-goodness, frequently terrifying adventure.

Whether we need laundry detergent or a pizza margherita from the cafe .3 kilometers away according to Google Maps, it goes like this. Put on sunscreen. Deet up. Pack water, hats, and an umbrella. Pee. (Yes, you. Pee, even if you don’t have to. Because it’s pee in the toilet now or squat in that porcelain-lined hole later.) Get in the elevator. Cluster around the center to avoid getting limbs sucked into elevator doors (learned from experience on day 12). Launch into reminders. Dear children: do not fall in open sewer channels. Remember that cars are coming from the opposite direction than you expect — and scooters are everywhere, following absolutely zero traffic protocols. Remember that people — the strangers you’ve been taught your entire lives to be wary of — will stare at you, strike up conversations, and take your picture without asking because, well,  we obviously aren’t from around here. And talking to these more-or-less strangers is okay … Sort of. Mostly. Don’t pet cats or dogs (or monkeys) even though we all got three rabies shots so we could potentially pet cats and dogs (and monkeys). Remember: the “scrambled” part of scrambled eggs is a relative term and that packet of ketchup is probably going to be spicy. Or sweet. And please, oh, please, try not to whine loudly and incessantly about it. And, last, remember that 9-1-1 is now 9-9-9. You need to know this if one of us should happen to get walloped by a scooter and knocked into that open sewer and you can find my phone and a modicum of calm to call for help. I, myself, will be catatonic. And possibly covered in other people’s poop.

And that’s the crux of it for me, I think. The last time we did this, I could buckle my boys into the double-stroller, hold the hand of the other child — the one least likely to bolt into traffic or eat something brown and vaguely cracker-shaped off the sidewalk — and be off. They demanded less autonomy, and I was mostly in control. Mostly. In. Control. And even still, this happened. And this.

Here, now, I am even less in control. There is more I don’t understand or know how to accomplish. I spend my days wondering if that mosquito carries dengue or Zika, if that earthquake 400 miles away is going to spawn a tsunami (and what in the world I should do if that happens), or if that chicken was cooked to an internal temperature of 73.9°C. And in this exotic and chaotic city, I want to be able to singlehandedly haul us all across the busy road with no discernible sidewalk or shoulder while scooters come at us from every direction. I want to keep us safe. I long to be in control. I’d even settle for mostly in control.

Yes, I’m a rational adult able to assess risks and weigh costs and benefits. Believe me, I know this. It is my mantra right now. You are smart and capable. You can figure this out. It will be all right. Breathe, repeat, breathe, repeat. But I’m also a mother, and I am mothering in the unknown. I do not know this place yet. And I do not love it, despite the whopping sunsets, enchanting azan that floats across the city, and the uber-cheap Uber cars. But I’m hopeful, with time (and deet), I will.

How do handle parenting in the unknown? What’s your mantra right now? And do you prefer your ketchup spicy or sweet?



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  1. Happy you are sharing Fluffy Bunnies again. Yes – time, deet, and new friends will help smooth out daily trials; but mostly because you are a wonderful mother.

  2. Your journey is not an easy one to understand unless you are living it, and you are. I have faith that you will breathe and that you will find a way to make the best of your expierance. Xox

    • Thanks for the kind words (and for still being out there), Ayala. There’s a fine line between challenges and opportunities, and I’m trying to remember that!

      On Thu, Aug 11, 2016 at 7:01 PM, Fluffy Bunnies wrote:


  3. I am so thrilled that you are writing again! Hopefully writing about your time in a foreign country will be cathartic for you. I will enjoy reading your updates and will certainly be praying for you and your family in this very uncertain time for you.

  4. I was so happy to see a Fluffy Bunnies email show up in my inbox! I have missed reading your updates and seeing your fabulous photos! 6 weeks is not enough to feel “at home” in such a foreign place. I know you, of all people, will get there in time. Keep writing, keep smiling, and keep telling yourself you ARE in control! You’ve got this!

  5. Fluffy Bunnies are back!!!
    So proud of my brave friend for taking on this adventure. Your kids are getting an amazing experience. You’ve got this.

    • Can’t even begin to tell you how nice it is to hear (see?) your voice here. Thanks for the kind words and vote of confidence. ❤

  6. Once school starts and you can experience some things where you only have to keep yourself safe…your breathing will be easier.

  7. You have such a way it’s words, Stacia. Thinking of you and praying all will be well!

  8. Yeah…an update about your travels and I don’t have to keep asking your mom about you and your family.
    I agree…posting about your experience will help with all the adjustments of living abroad.
    I admire you & J as parents who are undertaking a big task by raising your kids in other countries!
    I look forward to more posts and info about this fasinating county. -Andre

  9. It’s wonderful to see your words again, Stacia, and I love this post! I hear you (and feel your anxiety and uncertainty). Becoming a mother overseas was such a mountain of an experience for me, and that was in Japan, where things are (extremely) clean and structured and systemized. I didn’t worry about safety (except for traffic – pedestrians, the elderly on canes, people on bikes, mothers with strollers and two rows of cars would all share a single-lane-sized road) but I am familiar with that constant feeling of going about life with your non-dominant hand. I don’t know if I coped well…I had a lot of anxiety that my first year of motherhood and mainly because I was isolated and had no friends. I also realized that you are 6 weeks in, so you might be right in the middle of your culture shock. I forget the “usual” time line but there will come a day – not too far from now – when this will start to feel second hand, and your sense of “normalcy” will be restored (that is, when venturing out won’t leave you swallowing back tears). Is it easy to meet like-minded others? Is there a mom’s group you could join, whether local or expats? The more social connections I had in Japan, the more grounded and at peace I felt. Hugs, Stacia! And hope to continue reading your story here.

    • Yes, I’m hoping the near-daily tears subside soon, too … Still very much in the thick of that phase. I have started to meet some other expat wives, and school starts soon, both of which will help speed up our adjustment, I think. Knowing you’re out there reading and sending good vibes (and knowing you’ve been through this, too) is a tremendous help! ❤

      On Sat, Aug 13, 2016 at 10:26 AM, Fluffy Bunnies wrote:


  10. great to see you posting again. Good luck on your adventure.

  11. I always loved your blog. I’m so happy to see a new post to it. Hoping to read more in the future. Sending good thoughts as you adjust to another new place.

  12. I loved seeing this post pop up on my reader. I hope to hear more about your adventures, Stacia. xo

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