Mission ControlAugust 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?