Author

Meghan Lynch

Photos by Louise O’Brien Stafford 

It wasn’t just another manic Monday. It wasn’t the kind of Monday we’d have someday when we are back in our home countries. It wasn’t a Monday that I’d had in a while, between Covid and a routine way of life. It wasn’t just another manic Monday.  

The invitation to join two photographer friends on a trip to Maeklong Railway market, 1.5 hours outside of Bangkok (78km from Central Bangkok) and to write about it drew me in, making the commitment and release of the Monday morning routine for the boys easier to let go of – because this was for more than just myself. Everything else – the companionship, the memory, the experience, the laughs – were the icing on the cake. 

The six of us set our plans two days before to meet at 7am at the kid’s school parking lot. How does one know they’ve lived here so long as many of us have, the 7am meet turned into a few minutes past, this is Bangkok after all, we know exactly at 7am is basically a few minutes past. Yet even with 14 – 4 years of living in Bangkok none of us thought through how tight our timing might actually be. There we were, it was 8:32am arriving as we watched the first train pass us by as we sat in traffic.  Luckily, we are veterans at this feeling, we had a laugh and a “we should have known better than to meet a bit earlier.” None of us really took it too seriously, no one placing blame as the sightseeing sensation was in our veins once we stepped out of the vehicle.

It was a bright, sunny April (during the pandemic) morning, motorbikes and cars whizzed by us as we approached Talat Rom Hup, which means, “the umbrella pulldown market”. A pack of tuk tuk drivers sat near their idle cars, no tourists in sight other than a few groups of us. Each driver looking at my friends and I with nothing more in their eyes but a wish to allow them to take us on a drive around the area. This spot too, feeling the pain of Covid-19 and Thailand’s lack of tourism.  

This area became a hot spot when the railway became famous for its route through the Maeklong railway market that runs 100km through Bangkok to Central Thailand. It is one of the largest fresh seafood markets in Thailand, right there in the centre of the track. We walked along the wooden railways that are 100 years old, each step carefully decided upon. The further we walked the smell of fish, raw meat and Thai spices filled our noses. This time, a mask for some helped the feeling of nausea flowing through their bodies.  

The noise grew louder, as we had just missed the train arriving, they were back to business as usual, chopping fish heads off, cutting pork meat to bite size pieces, squeezing eel that was trying to swim away in their buckets. They were arranging their fruit into luscious arrangements that will make any person be tempted to stop and buy a few. There are seventeen trains that run daily in each direction between Samut Sakhon and Wongwian and four trains run daily between Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram.  

The track is not known for its speed running as one of the slowest in Thailand with an average speed for the whole line at 30km/hr. Does this help lure us tourists in with safety and concern in our minds? Absolutely.

While we waited for the next train to arrive at 11:10am we found a trusted Cafe Amazon a 5 minute walk from the train station. We ordered our drinks, took in the relief of the air con, drank our preferred beverages and shared a croissant from 7-Eleven that I ran to get for my low blood sugar level pals. After our coffee break we journeyed back a different way and took in some more of the town. Magazine stalls, fresh fruit, lottery ticket and flowery Songkran gear lining the roads.  

As the clock was ticking upon the arrival of the train my photographer friends were snapping away at the sights surrounding the train station. I slid down the small isles just off from the train tracks and peeped into the stalls in search of tie dye Songkran tees for a friend and I bought a romper for an upcoming beach trip. To do lists can be managed in the most unexpected times living in Thailand. I love that there’s options to buy batteries, bananas and a tee shirt all within 50 feet.  

I got the call from a friend. It was time, back to what we’d come for. A walk along the tracks and we met at the spot, so few tourists, just us and 5 others. For years I’d only seen photos jammed with people, the workers and the merchandise all packed on top of each other while the train passed by. Our experience was very different. A nod to the quiet and peaceful experience Covid-19 was giving us this past year. We had our own space and I let the professionals go to where they needed to to get the shot. They moved, they turned, they watched and waited, then they snapped away. I think you’ll agree the photos speak for themselves. 

Over the loudspeaker in Thai a woman alerts you the train is coming. The staff stand by, holding their metal poles, with comfort and ease, pushing the awnings back, the chopping, shifting and preparations have stopped.  Most slide back their products and keeping what they know and have learned can stay put and not be run over by the trains wheels and still be securely sold that day.  

As the train passes by the sensation of what is passing through amongst the space and what it means, the fumes and excitement and suddenly as quick as that, the awnings are back up and it is back to business on their very own manic Monday.  



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A second lockdown was looming, Covid cases were ramping up and somehow our already downsized holiday plans seemed to be on the cusp of being broken. As Thailand braced for its second wave the timing seems less than desirable with a holiday already, heartbreakingly, adjusted to stay in Bangkok, safe and assured we knew we couldn’t complain at the least with all that is going on in the world, for we have had a life so close to normal at times. 

With the 3 week duration of school holiday time we knew this was our opportunity to complete a visit to Chiang Mai, a long awaited and highly anticipated trip it was. Pete and I keeping it on our travel list for years for the “right time”. There never is a right time we know and even amidst talk of a lockdown and massive outbreak we decided to be optimistic. The cool weather was calling us, strawberries and culture and history alike.

We researched and organised our very first Thailand road trip, the boys overjoyed with the idea. We had hashed over the pros and cons of taking the train or a plane, the final decision based on the idea of something we had not done before. The Lazada packages containing a new organisational holder for the back seat, a crisp new map of Thailand to unfold and mark and the roof rack on the car caused more uproar than Santa’s impending arrival.  

Each day closer we had adjustments in place if travel with ease and safety due to the second wave of outbreaks strained us. We had a roll with the punches approach, one we have come to know and love and decided to focus on our first stop only and make the next move from there.

The car was packed, seat assignments in place and the adrenaline was pumping as we took our first road trip selfie, how could we not? We drove 7.5 hours to Khao Kho straight on Day 1. I won’t share every detail, but let’s say during those 7.5 hours I lost my title as copilot, due to a little hiccup with Google Maps. We stopped for a roadside lunch that was packed the morning of, an American family staple of Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, fruit and veggies and leftover Christmas cookies was on the menu.  

The further away from Bangkok we drove the further away from reality we felt. It was a different vibe than driving through the city streets or island towns in Thailand, the landscape shades of brown that stretched for miles and miles, the cars drove faster and buses and lorries were dodged more than motorbikes. The farther we got from home, the closer I felt our family becoming, less reliant on others and more on each other. While I had worries it would be stressful (and at times it was) it became more peaceful each kilometre we drove away.  

At dusk we arrived at the mountain house in Khao Kho, after driving on an incline for quite some time we found a little house set out in the middle of nowhere, with views our eyes had never set upon in Thailand. The connection to nature and smell and sight overtook our bodies and the view alone offered us hope, in a time when we needed it the most. A glance into Pete’s eyes, showing relief and pride that we had made it to stop 1 and our journey was safe thus far.  

Khao Kho is an area near Phetchabun, it is nicknamed “The Thailand Alps”. The comparison is the hilly, windy roads with little campsites and lodging along the road with cafes and landmarks. It is quaint and picturesque. We swerved around each corner to find strawberry fields and stands selling the biggest, juiciest berries, which soon brought on a challenge of finding the best strawberries roadside, red stained fingers and sweet mouths agreed they were all delicious in the end.

The tourist attractions were slightly grim with very few tourists in sight, the harsh reality again as to the pandemics impact. Temples, waterfalls, markets and top rated cafe’s empty and yearning for much more than a few cars and visitors.  

Once settled in at the “mountain house” and the sense of how close we were to Chaing Mai was felt. We decided to forge on. On day 3, we packed the car, organised our spaces, shifted some seating arrangements; which offered me in particular a new view and a little more interaction with the boys whose company I was missing as copilot. The drive to Chaing Mai was different, intense at times. The roads and turns and fast driving cars gave me the understanding of the accident prone area and how quickly one can happen. We use the term “white knuckling” and Pete behind the wheel for that many hours has my utmost respect and trust, it was not easy roads to navigate or feel safe on.  

We arrived to Chiang Mai, just after 4pm, the old town and history instantly felt, smallish buildings, old lettering, as we drove up the hotel driveway there was a little holiday charm and relaxation in store for the afternoon, a swim, poolside smoothie and room service and we called it a day. 

The art of travelling with young boys who have opinions and interests too is important to Pete and I to nourish and pay attention to. The balance of making them happy and enjoying the sightseeing of historical sights and temples was matched with a day at the Grand Canyon Water Park. They enjoyed 8 hours of jumping, sliding, zip lining on aqua inflatables and rope swings. It was empty, normally 400 people, today just 20 guests on our visit. That lack of people making it safer for our young children and no queues to have a tantrum in.  

During our days in Chiang Mai, we toured the Arts District and took in the history of the town square. The New Year’s Eve celebrations were cancelled and we decided on a Game Night to mix things up and were awoken to fireworks lighting the night sky at midnight, as not one little boy, made it past 10:30pm.

On January 1st we drove to DoI Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. A quest we were all excited to take on. After much research and preparation we felt safest driving in sunlight and even though we’d miss the sunrise, our comfort level eventually won the matter. Dressed in two layers with one more to don once we arrived, the view from the top was breathtaking. To breath in, at the highest point in Thailand on New Year’s Day in a year like no other brought tears to my eyes, as I watched the boys marvel as they were standing above the clouds.  

With cool air in our lungs, new experiences had, visions of Northern Thailand and history in our minds, and a bond unexpected by taking to the roads of The Land of Smiles, our ‘roady’, (as my Australian friend calls it) was drawing to an end. The lockdown getting closer and our obligations to home calling us. The journey back to Bangkok made a little easier by the practice we had gotten on the way out, and the stories we know had tucked inside our seats, keeping us entertained and full, along with 4 boxes of roadside strawberries to keep us sweet and satisfied.  



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When I was little I was laid down to sleep by hands that have felt darkness and light, eyes that have seen grief and pain, yet never allowing us to see it in their gaze. My pancakes were made extra doughy by a woman who has cared for children from third world countries and children from all over the New England states who needed specialised care. My body was hugged and felt safe by a man who rushed to houses in the middle of a cold dark night to save someone’s dream home that was up in flames.  

I grew up playing inside of a funeral home, my siblings and I played hide-and-go-seek behind caskets and thought nothing of the body laying in the room waiting for their family to come see him or her dressed and made up for their final goodbye. In my teenage years I would happily join my Dad on a ride to – pardon the harshness – “go pick up a body” at the airport.  The quiet ride together and the reality of life and death so profound at that age. 

I was raised by The helpers. These helpers are my parents. Helen and Russ. When my father returned from the Vietnam War to find a ‘new normal’ way of life, he worked as a contractor and then later was hired as a funeral assistant at a funeral home, close to where he was raised.  

Years later he went to school to become an EMT and then a full time firefighter. He worked at the funeral home and as a firefighter for 32 and 34 years, respectively.  

My mother and her eldest sister became the first two of three sisters to become nurses. In her career she worked in a children’s hospital, nursing homes and her favourite – which ended her nursing career on paper – a school nurse to elementary school aged children.

Our lives were filled with shift schedules. My Dad entered home in one uniform, to the “station” as it was said in our house. My mom left once he arrived – to work the nightshift to help make ends meet. We heard beepers ring in the night, we were left staring at my father’s empty chair where his Thanksgiving meal was sat, covered in aluminium foil awaiting his safe return from the massive warehouse fire he was helping the neighbouring  city put out.  

Our house did not have a study with a computer, or framed diplomas with their degrees and accolades lining our hallways. Our house was not large, modern or trendy. It was cozy, filled with warm blankets for cuddling up, the smell of cookies and bread being baked in the oven. It was an open door, welcoming, loving, and healing you. It was filled with the noises that alarmed us, let us know something was happening, that there was an emergency, or someone had passed through to the gates of heaven.  

This was my childhood. Early dinners we shared before Dad headed off to his shift just to simply be together. Secret “free” car washes in the back of the station garage that Dad would allow when we had our first car. I can still smell the soap they used. Mom was called on by neighbours, hurt children, ill parents needing home care – could she help? Did she have time to spare?     

Each corner I turned I was praised for their goodness. Teachers, coaches, my friends’ parents acknowledging how my mom or dad had helped them through a death, a tough time, or a moment where they didn’t know where to turn and when they found them they were saved. A gentle word said by my Dad to comfort someone’s loss at a viewing. My Mom’s support and referral to a hospital she knew someone working at, to help connect them to a Doctor and speed up a pending diagnosis. There would be late summer evening knocks at the door to see if she could clean boo-boos from boys who fell off their bikes or out of the tree. She’d greet them with warmness and a tender touch, making you feel instantly better and safe with her voice and hands alone.  

It meant something then, it was a feeling, undefinable until I was older. The feeling would run deep, even at six years old when I was watching my Dad in his fire gear teach my classmates how to “Stop, drop, and roll.” Lessons scheduled each month in our home to make sure we knew our escape route and how to execute. It wasn’t paranoia, it wasn’t overdone. It was simply natural – as if a chef would teach their child to sear a steak or a hairdresser teaching their daughter how to cut her fringe.

Right or wrong, too much or too little, this was how my older sister,  younger brother and I were raised. It was a childhood with caution, awareness, stories of triumph and sadness, and exciting outcomes after heartbreak and fear.  

We learned how to accept disappointment – if my dad made it to our field hockey game we were lucky that day and never took it for granted. Understanding on that day he planned to drive an hour to see our championship game, he never arrived. I’d look for his face, his uniform perhaps to flash on the side of my eye as I dribbled down the sideline – when it didn’t come, I knew he tried. It was just that he had to help and that support he’d be giving may be to someone suffering their  greatest pain.  

My parents have been retired for years.  They’ve been able to have a huge hand in supporting my sister, Heather and her husband Sean raising their three children, Caitlin, Cara and Connor. They’ve made their home into my family’s only home in the USA for the past six years as we’ve lived in Bangkok. Reverting movie rooms back to play rooms, and reconverting bedrooms that had long ago been turned to storage rooms back into bedrooms with Star Wars adorned beds and closets filled with boys shorts and tee shirts from the house we sold. 

Even though their careers ended, The helping did not and it far exceeds my immediate family. When COVID started to become more prevalent in March, I asked my parents while on a FaceTime call what it felt to be them right now. How were they coping, being the helpers of the past and now, unable to due to age and ability? They were quiet, they looked at each other while finding the words. After some time Mom spoke and said “I wish I could do more, I wish I could help, I want to help.” Dad nodded, and said “I agree, it is difficult to sit here and not be doing.”  

We talked more, sharing how the pandemic was impacting healthcare, essential workers, and funeral homes overrun so much so that bodies were placed in refrigerated trucks in parking lots. Both of my parents couldn’t fathom what was happening and how to overcome it. 

If you looked at them and peered into their souls, you would see all they’ve done for others has just made sense and has never been a compromise. There is a world full of these humans and they are to be treasured and appreciated. This pandemic is showing the amount of these selfless beings and in some way I hope we can look at that as a light, that we were able to see what the helpers are dedicated to and how many there are. If I can sure say anything myself, they are capable of a whole heck of a lot.  

“Don’t be hard on yourself, or others. None of us have done this before, none of us know what we are doing. We weren’t trained for this.” Russell F. McKenna Sr. My dad’s first words of encouragement when we went into lockdown in Bangkok and we talked about what it felt like.

Meghan Lynch 

December 9, 2020

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There’s this place, there’s actually at the most recent count 1,682 of them. You can see them, smell them and hear about them throughout Thailand. They are a means of transportation, floating markets and sewage disposal. They may appeal to you, interest you or make your stomach turn. They are a part of Thailand’s history, their economy, their life, their tourism. You can take a ride any time of day to see what they look and feel like, see what is along them and in them.

They are Thailand’s khlongs. On most of the khlongs, especially the smaller ones, there are houses, communities, families and little convenience stores. You can travel on them by water and see them from there or access them by foot, where there are concrete footpaths with railings for walking, bicycle riding, a motorbike can even pass through. You can stop and walk into a little convenience store and buy water, or order and sit and eat a bowl of noodles under a covered area that someone has worked hard to create their home and business, on the house’s front steps. 

I’ve come to know a few of the khlongs in my neighbourhood by being gifted ‘that friend’.  She’s the kind of friend everyone needs. She’s honest, helpful, supportive and kind. She is the one that has a solution to a problem you didn’t even know you had. The one who knows someone, who knows someone who can fix this or that or take you to the place that no one knows about. Anytime I’d find myself in a space with her, at the pool, having a coffee, she’d ask me how things were going, we’d find a natural rhythm of conversation, full of ease and genuine nature.   

I met this friend when I first arrived in Thailand, six years ago. One day, I found myself telling her how running in the Mu Baan at 5:30 in the morning was lovely, it was also getting boring, I was feeling like a hamster running around the wheel, same view, same steps, same feel, over and over even with a change in music genre. She asked me if I’d run along the khlong yet? The khlong, what is a khlong I answered? With that she was off, sharing the way to get there, why it was just outside our village down the street. She informed me of the other’s she knew who ran it in the village and how it was an experience in itself to see the community, built around the paved, uneven, at times unsteady paths.  

My first few jogs along the khlong were with a friend who ran there most mornings, she was faster than I, realising that quite quickly, I decided to learn her routes and ended up going out on my own because as runner’s code goes, if you hold someone back and can’t keep up, it might not be a match, no hard feelings.

Over the last 6 years (with some breaks for a pregnancy and newborn baby phase) I have found myself on the paved, uneven and busy walkways that lean up against the khlong. I duck under bridges, slide left or right to dodge a motorbike, slow down for a family walking to work or school and politely say ‘hello’ in Thai as my signal to let them know I am there and may I pass them, ever so politely. I have jumped over snakes and rooster poo. All too often I’ve just missed kicking a cute little duck or two that jumps out in front of me.  

I enter the khlong and it feels alive, even on the days when everyone is still asleep. With sounds of boats and bikes, I wake a monitor lizard who then slithers scared, down off the wall and into the water. I watch fishing poles cast into the dirty water to serve as breakfast.  The community is warm and kind. They smile, throw up a peace sign or a thumbs up. They clap for us and say good job in Thai. Sometimes they laugh at the crazy farang lady running in such heat while they are sitting relaxing on their makeshift front porch.  

There is a hussle on certain days during specific times. It is busier on the waterway, with all types of boats passing through, empty long tail boats, the trash collection boat, the grocery delivery boat, that stops and beeps and the locals come to the edge and he delivers their weekly order or sudden need. There is the boat packed with melting ice stopping off to deliver and load the pickup truck that waits to spend their morning on the busy roads delivering ice to local stores before it melts.

When Bangkok began talking about a lockdown I found myself running along the khlong one morning, thinking what this would mean for them. What would they be preparing for, how would a lockdown impact them. The one thing I knew those early days in March was they wouldn’t be out shopping for toilet paper and most likely not worrying if there were enough devices for their kids to learn online. But what would they be worried for?  

I learned quickly. As COVID-19 was still undetermined in Thailand and cases were rising a bit. I took my last run on a Sunday afternoon along the khlong in March. The walkways were busier than usual, I was dodging more men fishing, and there were more babies in Daddy’s strong arms than I had ever seen. I suddenly realised it meant parents would be home, living in those small and cosy, tight and warm houses along the water because their work had sent them back, by no choice of theirs. They were now parenting, protecting and entertaining their families. A lot like the scene in our village as well, Dad’s playing basketball, Dad’s riding bikes and holding babies and toddler’s hands. It was the same, yet it wasn’t. 

For months we stayed in our village, determined to follow the rules and show our son’s what that actually looked like. My mind wandered to the families on the khlong often, the families who lived, on our nicknamed “Breakfast Ally” where breakfast was sold and men sat out and drank coffee on a picnic table. To my widowed pal with well spoken English at the far end of the khlong, he was busy working to renovate his home when we last spoke (as I caught my breath), was he able to, did he have the materials coming to him from his friend’s who had boats? 

When restrictions eased in Thailand Pete and I agreed it was potentially ok to head back out and run the streets of Bangkok and our beloved khlong. My first run was filled with emotion, I was alone, it was early. It had been such a long time since I had taken in the environment and smell that is not always refreshing yet invigorating somehow. As I ran, the focus less on pace and distance, more on checking in and looking at the houses and the community. It’s not as if I was able to see that everyone was still safe and happy, honestly it left me with more wonderment than before. As I continued on and saw the fishermen, the babies back in their Mama’s arms, telling me Dad was back at work that was all I needed to see.  

A few weeks and runs later I ran into my pal at the far end of the khlong and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest and my belly bounced to the sky. He was there, talking to a man selling something from his boat. They were deep in conversation, I stood patiently and waited for them to finish. We greeted each other and he told me how happy he was because today was the first day in three months that his friend was able to come and sell his fruit along the khlong. He had been genuinely worried for his friend and unable to contact him during lockdown. After he finished the purchase they exchanged a heartfelt “see you soon.” Then it was my turn and my friend and I caught up over what the last three months had been like for him and his community over a delicious, just purchased, piece of Thai fruit called Longan. He told me that all of this was hard but losing his wife 10 years ago was harder and that he tried his very best every day to be positive and make her proud. 

Before I left him and told him how thrilled I was to see him, we took a selfie because I honestly never want to forget that moment we shared. While I’ve been writing this article for weeks it suddenly helped me bring it to its closing paragraphs and utmost meaning, which was clearly the universe’s doing. A story of what the khlong has brought to me as a previously bored runner, to a girl living amongst culture and communities that offer richness and kindness at every bumpy, uneven and lively step.  

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We did it. I’ll be honest. I won’t lie. That experience, you think it’s right, you think it’s what you might be meant to do. It’s not, you learn quickly, some of us too late, some of us early on.

Riding elephants. Riding elephants that are tortured to carry roughly 2-3 people with a bamboo seat, made for their back, set to keep you safe as he or she takes you up and down hills, through water, down streets that are hot and polluted. Elephants that are poked and hit with hooks, elephants that are made to move when they don’t want to, when they almost can’t.

Summer 2020, has us here in Bangkok and spending time on the beautiful, quiet and currently desolate island of Koh Samui, where it’s lacking and craving 90% of its population of tourists that drive this usually bustling place. 

On one of our many adventures on the island we spent an afternoon at the Ko Samui Elephant Sanctuary. It is the first elephant sanctuary established on Koh Samui. They have since opened one more, where as they say ‘the elephants can live with dignity and respect’. 

The day of our visit, they were on week three of opening back up since lockdown and with new restrictions. We were the only people there that day. They had just brought back some of the 11 employees they had to let go, just months before. You see, they had to decide whose mouth they would feed, the 7 female elephants they have in their care, who eat 20 hours out of the day or keep their full staff on that wasn’t running tours. Our hearts sank, imagining having to make that decision as the person in charge. 

I called in the morning to ask about the programme and if there was space for later that day. A few hours later we were sitting, watching and learning about their initiative, how to be safe while walking amidst 7 wild, unchained beautiful creatures and feeding them bags of bananas. These bananas were made possible by our entry fee, with money left, to feed their staff and their families, (and some cats too) they were eternally grateful and were not shy to thank us throughout the day.

Yet, in us, there was a mutual feeling of gratitude. We were walking in a forest, with little hesitation and some unknowingness to find 7 beautiful elephants that we learned about one by one as we stepped through long grass, sandy pathways. Some of us stood or sat in a covered area while the staff held the elephants gently back until we were allowed to approach them and fill their bellies with Thailand’s natural candy; bananas.  

For every elephant there was one boy, ages 10 years to 3.5, four of them mine, the other three our friends from Bangkok. The boys listened and carefully fed them, touched their trunks, giggled when they saw the size of mouths and screamed when one or two was sprayed with elephant saliva, as big as most raindrops. I looked at the children in awe, all safe and secure, I smiled in admiration for the way the experience was run, the passion in our tour guide’s voice as she told the tales of their tortured life. Each boy observing, totally switched on, attentive as she spoke, searching for the pain and scars left on the elephants bodies that were put there by someone else in order to follow their rotten rules. 

The tour, just 1.5 hours was enough time and information seeking for our lot. The material, and message clear for all, even the littlest tyke. Each of them able to share and feel what they learned and what a life of animal cruelty can do to anyone or thing with a beating heart. They witnessed what saving and putting effort into looked like and how standing up for what you believe in can bring.

This is a sanctuary, at its purest. In a forest that is filled with peace and security, with a team working to keep safe some of the largest creatures in the world, to feed them, and watch them roam free. To let these magnificent beings lay in a playpen-like area to rest for those quick 4 hours a day, and hopefully continue to be able to be fed them enough and allow themselves the stability in a job they love doing. 

When we set out to have our visit to Koh Samui Elephant sanctuary we had an open mind, not sure what we would see or experience. In each step was everything a sanctuary for saved animals can and will display. Yet, all the while, seeing and offering additional proof that COVID-19 is having a worldwide effect. That even size and environment and dedication to keep you safe and cared for is not giving you immunity from this beast.

‘When an elephant becomes your friend, it is your friend for life’ 

Photos taken by Louise O’Brien

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Kids

A few years ago, I could be heard saying I would never, ever, and I mean ever, fly with the kids without another adult beside me. Pardon the fixed mindset statement, judge or not there are some things in life that feel too far from reach, be it from a safety perspective or a ‘that’s way too far from my comfort zone’ to even consider it. Now, I have friend’s taking their son’s to chemotherapy, I have friend’s facing challenges that the one I share below would seem like a challenge they would happily trade theirs for. I don’t see this as anything extraordinary or that difficult, it’s a part of our journey and as our life has its ups and downs to, we cherish the success of each one we face no matter what it looks like. OK, where was I… Right! I’ve also said I would stop eating so much sugar, try lifting more weights and I did say I would never ski, but it looks like this winter my son’s are getting me on the slopes. There’s that, see you later, fixed mindset again!

4 LadyThis summer I flew from London to Boston, 6.5 hours in the air with the 4 boys, ages 9 – 2.5 years. It felt like it was time and I honestly yearned for the challenge. Pete flew us to London where we met with some of our dear Bangkok Bestie’s who now live in and around the area. The days shared was another reminder of how deep the bond of friendship goes and the years that have passed between us mean so very little. The children picked up where they left off and the women were laughing with glasses in hand just like old times. After two days, Pete flew to Ireland for work. The boys and I stayed another 2 days and enjoyed our friends, the beautiful weather and fresh, fresh, fresh air. Late nights and early mornings with jet lag were embraced and welcomed. The night before our departure reality began to set in. I would wake and have to tidy the Airbnb alone with the kids asking for toast and berries. Then, I’d wait for the driver to collect the 5 suitcases, 5 backpacks and 4 energetic boys to get to Boston in time for a swim. Luckily, my friend Elyssa is one of those friends you can share anything with and while she’ll tell me it’s going to be OK she”ll also remind me it won’t be easy but that it is possible. We had a teary goodbye with 7 boys between us and squeezed each other’s shoulders hard enough to know that we were always supporting one another, no matter the span of miles between us.

fieldRestless sleep followed with a message before I put my phone down from the owner of the house saying he’d likely be by in the morning before we left at 8am as his next guests were arriving earlier than planned. Nothing like adding more sugar to an already sugary drink. Panic and ‘Oh my gosh’ what if the house is a mess when he arrives, the trash system alone had me dreaming of colours and bins and recyclables galore. Morning came, the trash was in its respective bins, the suitcases were outside in the driveway and I had only lost my patience twice that morning. (Considering it was only 8am, I’m not sure if that’s something to be proud of). Pete was sending positive and encouraging texts knowing that was the best approach for that day. The owner of the house came and we shook hands and had a lovely chat and the last thing he said to me was “I can’t believe you are going to do this flight alone with them.”  The game was on. The challenge was in motion. If I stayed in a mindset of competition, it helped. The flight was the game, landing in Boston was the victory dance, the trophy was the hug from my Dad and brother who would collect us.

Once we arrived at Heathrow, the driver unloaded the luggage, helped me put them on the trolley and lingered even after I handed him the cash and a tip. He said “Are you going to be OK to get inside with all of this?” I nodded, and smiled and a wave of emotion hit me.  He cared about the boys and I, but how? I gulped down a few tears and said we’d be just fine, I had lots of helpers today. For a few months I had envisioned the journey and most of those visions were of us on the actual flight. I failed on that aspect because what ensued threw me off track a bit. This day and age, service staff are becoming less and less in places like grocery stores and airports. Self check in is the name of the game. I quickly realised that this would be a bit of a struggle, but I gave it a go. After scanning in all 5 passports and seat selection I received an error message! Only 4.5 minutes in, Brody and Parker were playing bumper cars with the trollies, Ryker was licking the floor and Cam was the chosen helper and rule ‘obeyer’ for that task. It was then, I asked the one person I could find if there was a place I could do the check in with an actual person. She replied, “Yes, at that counter there, but only if you are elderly or with a group.” Immediately I categorised the 4 energetic and lively boys and I “a group”.

Playing

We stood in line, stood, as in, someone was climbing up the suitcases, one of them was chasing the other and the last one was still licking the floor. There were 15 of us at that stage all waiting in line for one, patient, lovely woman who had the job of handling all of “us” who couldn’t get through on the self-check in machines. An 82 year old woman put her hand on my shoulder and asked me if I was travelling alone with “all of them”. I smiled and said, yes, I was. She told me I was brave and I told her she was brave when she said she was travelling to Amsterdam alone to visit her friend. We are all brave, we agreed and exchanged a smile I’ll hold onto forever. Once we got through with our tickets will you believe this comedy skit when I tell you we then had to then self-check in our luggage? I honestly thought this was a practical joke!  There we were, setting each bag on the belt, holding our breath while we waited for the weight to register and get clearance, then the receipt came through and the luggage was gone.  We did that 5 times, only two went smoothly, the others with complications and the possibility of me sending the entire system off kilter when I stepped on the belt with all my weight.  Twenty minutes of  sweating and jumping around and asking the only person for help to help us, while everyone was avoiding getting in line/queue behind us.Play

Thankfully, security was a breeze, although that’s when the onlookers and whispers began. If they were curious enough to ask if I was flying alone with them, they would. I began to laugh after being asked 4 times in a row. Was I alone with them, I thought in my head? Weren’t we all in this together? I couldn’t feel any less alone with 4, energetic, loud, playful and chatty boys. I was with them, they were with me, we were and are a team, alone didn’t even make sense anymore. Our seating plan meant one of the boys had to “take one for the team.” I didn’t doubt who it would be, Parker is the family caretaker and these types of roles and situations he thrives in. He sat on the isle opposite me with a 70 year old man who shifted his head, helped him with his food tray and picked up his blanket when it fell. Our guardian angels were all around us this day… sending help in any possible way to remind us that we weren’t alone.

boysThe flight attendants in our section were a mix of all business and fun, which is just my style. They jokingly told me I couldn’t indulge in the free flowing wine and I came back with “I’m saving myself for a nice cold beer with my Dad by the pool at 5pm.” Each hour he came by and reminded me how close I was to that moment. The time in the air was one of ease, even with it being Ryker’s first flight being toilet trained. Once we landed, due to the timing of the flight everyone was wide awake and full of energy. Immigration in Boston is also a self-check in kiosk station with a photo taking process that just yourself will make your head spin. This caused more sweat to rise from my brow and more people avoiding getting in line with us. After we collected our baggage our sights were set on the traditional stop at Dunkin Donuts. This year though, only Brody ordered up his favourite, the others choosing a drink from the shop and their sights on the final stretch, finding Poppie and Uncle Russy.

While I waited in line to pay for our treats, the boys were running around, they picked back up with the trolley bumper car game and this time Ryker was heading for the exit. I looked up and saw people staring, looks of annoyance and shock. Four boys running unattended while a Mom stood in line to get them a treat they greatly deserved. While it stung and I wished for one minute I could explain our journey and that they were celebrating a victory!  I took the learning for myself, to never judge anyone for what their children might be doing or how they are misbehaving. To remember this as the boys grow older how obvious the challenges with little ones are seen. I was trying my best, we are all trying our best, taking each adventure and journey as it comes, the good and the bad and crossing that finish line no matter what it took you to get there, to place that medal around your neck, grab that trophy or feel the long awaited embrace of the people you love.

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The Road to khe sanh

I’m sitting in an SUV, driving through the rain, flooded roads, tunnels that travel through mountains that seem to never end. I look out the window, I see rice paddies and cemeteries and I wonder just how old they are. I see children sitting on the curb by their homes, that look more to me like store fronts than living rooms, but they are in fact, living rooms. We stop at our version of a gas station, I am use to adapting to whatever those versions are in every country I have visited in the last few years. This one though has a limited selection, three choices of drinks and a Vietnamese snack I wouldn’t ordinarily dare try but this is what severe hunger and no options does to a person, pushes them, stretches them not knowing it was preparing me for the next stop, prawn wrapped in a banana leaf inside of a jelly like substance. Any way, that first snack, well I wish I had bought more.

Meghan Lynch

We woke early this morning, our second full day in Da Nang. Today is the day of our tour. The tour we booked to see where my Dad was based for a good amount of his time here in Vietnam during the war, as a Combat Marine. My brother and I, feeling like today was the day we had come here for. Today was the day we could see, and feel and experience just a sliver of what is the backbone of my Father’s existence.

It was raining when we woke. I am, I must say use to Bangkok rainy season. I didn’t think too much into it, crazy right, I just assumed it would be a quick shower. So much to learn…still so much to learn. As I ate breakfast and the rain was pouring down I was still assuming (yep, you know what they say about that) that the car was waiting outside to take us on our 3 to 4 hour journey, that the rain would have no impact on. That thought erased as a hotel staff came over to our table and said “Your tour guide called, they have canceled the tour today due to flooding. There will be no tours in that area today.”

My heart sank as I took in this in. I looked up at my little brother Russ, in mid conversation with a Vietnam Vet, an American from Tennessee, on this fifth trip here. He was praising my brother and I for honoring our Dad and his experience in this way. He asked us to friend him on Facebook and if he could take a photo with us, we obliged. He shared a part of his story, where he went to Boot Camp, seeing if he and our father had crossed paths, they hadn’t, although the paths were different, they were similar. He shared his plan this trip, to plant a Christmas tree over the ridge, just nearby the hotel we were standing in. He was in combat on that ridge and lost a friend and fellow soldier there due to enemy fire. We said goodbye, me with tears in my eyes, and in Russ’s admiration.

Our new friend left us and Russ and I looked at eachother. He also has the talent of being able to hear two conversations at once. Immediately we got on our phones and tried to come up with Plan B. We looked at flights to Hue, not possible with the days we had left of our trip and flight times. We looked at extending only Russ’s stay, knowing I had a better chance of returning one day more than he did. We then went to Guest Services and pleaded with them to offer us another solution. We are sorry, no tours. It’s not safe for our guests. Russ handled the outcome better than I did. I was in shock at his peace and understanding. The hours he’d sat with my Dad, listening, embracing and supporting him as he opened up to his son over the years of the challenges, the comradery, the life lessons he took in during his time in the Corps and time in Vietnam.

I’ve lived in Thailand for nearly 5 years. Vietnam is a popular destination for those living here or on holiday in Bangkok. For years, when people asked me if we visited yet or planned to, I’d say no, continue with my prepared elevator speech…”my Dad was there when he was 19, he fought in the Vietnam War…it doesn’t feel like somewhere I want to take the boys or go on a relaxing beach holiday.” That was until my brother came to visit in November last year, on a last minute trip, this is where he chose to escape Bangkok for. I believe in the power of the universe, signs being sent our way, and paths taken when they didn’t seem clear before. Suddenly the idea of going with Russ made perfect sense, albeit missing our fearless leader, our older sister Heather, the path looked attainable, and a supportive and shocking “I am overwhelmed you would want to go there,” from our Dad, and “I support you.” This was divinely meant to be.

Bunker

Now, how? How could I possible take NO for an answer due to rain and some flooding on our tour day? Russ and I went back to our hotel room and sat in silence. He laid back down and again I was wishing I had his peace and acceptance. I did what I do most days to cope with decisions to make, emotions I want to sort out or move past, I run. During the run, as it usually does, a light bulb flashes on, an idea. I decided to text the woman at the airport who so kindly arranged a car to take us to the hotel a few days earlier. She said if we needed anything to let her know. I messaged her, mid stride and shared what was going on. Her reply was the weather was poor and the area was flooded, and if we did go, there was no guarantee any of the sites would have staff there to show us around. My reply, “I don’t mind, we are here for this tour and only have one day to try, we want to try.” She replied “20 minutes, someone will pick you up.”

This all sounds a little irrational and extreme. I had this realization that all the traveling I’ve done before this, the language barriers, food and health concerns, traveling on sides of mountains for hours that shoot straight down to nothing…a boat taken over by wild monkeys with a Captain who didn’t speak English, a remote island where it was just our family and natives and their machetes? This, was within my boundaries, I felt safe with the elements of the wind and rain and the random driver they were sending us to drive 10 hours in total, that oddly felt safe too. And I was brought up to never give up.

When we got into the car the driver spoke little to no English and he had no idea where he was taking us. This is when I got nervous for the first and only time, thinking, does he not know what he said yes to? It would be 10 hours of driving us today! Through Google maps and Google translator we worked through it and showed him where we wanted to go. He said “I go get my brother, we share the drive.” Russ and I glanced at each other, with mixed emotions, fear, anxiety and nervous laughter.

With his brother now in the car, the rain pouring down we were on our way. Russ put on his ear buds and kept quiet for most of the journey. He was more nervous than I, and I respected how he had to work himself through it. I’ve coped listening to music, taking in the landscape and thinking of my Father and writing when the windy roads and my belly would allowed.

We spoke on and off to our brother team of drivers. They asked us why we wanted to go where we were headed. Russ took the phone and spoke and shared that our Father had been here, during the War. We both held our breath not knowing what they’d say. They both smiled and laughed and said their Father had fought too, and they called us in Vietnamese, brothers bonded by Fathers who fought in the Vietnam War. That universe again…tears and an overwhelming feeling that these two boys who had no experience as tour guides were maybe just what we were meant to have guiding us. As we drove through Hue along Rt 9, to Khe Sanh where the lovely lady at the airport said we could absolutely try to get to today. That was where my Dad was served with his brother Marines, for a brief period, Khe Sanh, and other Marine outposts along the DMZ, initially set up to stop infiltration from North Vietnam along Rt. 9. It became a massive battleground over many years.
It was rainy and windy, we took our umbrellas and set feet down again where we knew our Dad’s had been. A museum was there now, filled with photographs and maps hanging on the wall. There were cases filled with old weapons and bombs, uniforms, radios. The photos captioned in Vietnamese and English easy to read, and yet not, as it was graphic and one sided and yet captivating. Russ and I quietly walked through and when finished went outside to meet our poncho covered tour guides.

They told us what certain places were on the land had there years ago…now full of green grass, re-dug trenches and to my surprise tiny flowers. There was a piece of the air strip and rebuilt bunkers that we stood in to give the tourists the “feeling” of what the Marines were facing. I don’t think any type of rebuilt anything can help us understand and feel what they felt. I hung back, let Russ and the guides go on. I turned my phone onto video mode, I began talking to my Dad. It felt natural, if he wasn’t able to be by my side then this was the next best option. I showed him where we were, put Russ in view as he looked around.
I panned to Tiger Hill and let him see the planes they dropped in from Saigon years ago for the purpose of sightseeing the battle ground. I told him how I loved him and how brave he was, I swallowed my tears as I spoke, still not knowing all of the knowing he knew. After the tour was over we sat down and Russ had a coffee, now to me, that was crazy. A shop setup to buy souvenirs and have a snack. Our mouths quiet and our minds racing to take in what we’d seen and the emotions we were hiding inside. I know my brother all too well and again let him sit in silence and process, he like my Father speaks with only meaning and purpose.

Air Plane

The Road to Khe Sanh was that. A road, bumpy, windy, flooded, with horns beeping, dark tunnels and no real understanding of where we would get to, how long it would take and if we could see what we came to see and feel in respect and honor for not only our Dad but the other soldiers fighting a battle that remains in history as one of the most deadly and controversial wars.

My Dad’s 19 year old feet landed in Da Nang airport and his shiny boots went onto a helicopter and landed him in “living hell,” as he says. Those boots lost their shine and he took everything they had prepared him for and used it, along with his inner strength that carried him home to safety, 13 months later. Our journeys, although impossible to really compare, were filled in their own way with struggles, worry, defeat and defying the odds against us.

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid, one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory. Douglas MacArthur

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Last June, I wrote about the boys back to school journey and what it looked like, how they did with the long journey, little sleep and entered into another school year with more ease and comfort than I could have ever imagined. The piece I wrote was published right before we were heading back for the start of school this year. I decided then I would make this a yearly tradition and I certainly wouldn’t wait 10 months to write about it.   The table was set differently this year. Pete came over to the USA with me, spent a couple weeks and then left to travel Europe and some parts of Asia for work. In between the trips, he managed to move us into a new house, same village, just a house further into the neighbourhood with more outdoor space. Seems like a lot to ask for such small changes, but let me just say, these boys love a grassy area and freedom to run and nothing makes this Mama more delighted than to see that.   The boys and I spent in total 8 weeks in the area that Pete and I grew up in. 

We flip flopped between my parents home and Pete’s parent’s home. We drove miles and miles, stopped in our favourite drive through for coffee and a sandwich (doughnuts for some…) more times than I’d like to admit. We saw old friends, made new friends, spent time with cousins and Aunties and Uncles who spoil them like their own. Beach days, and lake days, rainy day activities and baseball and soccer camp, completed. Our skin got darker, hair lighter and longer. Our bodies changed shape, a little rounder in the belly as we took on way too many American favourites, those bellies now back to their normal size a distant memory as I sit here, just days shy of October.  

By the end of the holiday the kids had caught on to some American expressions, our stomach linings adjusted to the milk and water and fresh berries. The boys and their cousins, deeper in love, in a new level of mischief and the bond even stronger than the summer before. They had a chance to really play with their cousin Finn who was a newborn baby last summer when they met him. The boys began reciting things my Dad says and Ryker began really talking for the first time. The ability to hear one language all day long was a break from the four he is use to taking in his daily life in Bangkok. Making him a superstar English speaker in a few weeks.

Typically, mid way through summer Camden shouts, “I want to go back home!” Which is Thailand for this boy who moved here when he was 7 months old. The change is he became emotionally attached to my Dad and Pete’s Dad when he was in town. Who doesn’t love a Grandfather’s love? Who doesn’t love a good chore or a project, that your Grandpa put you in charge of? 

We drove out of my parents driveway on that cloudy Sunday in August, having had our traditional send off by my parents, brother and sister and her family with tears dripping from our eyelids and broken, choked up words of “I love you, thank you for everything…” being said. It was the kids and I. Alone. Going away from Wifi and any connection to our village. A brief moment of solitude with them and yet aching for the reality of how sharing them with others for most of every day for the past two months gets comfortable. How much joy that brings to me and an obvious joy to those I get to share them with. While I quietly wiped away my tears I was thinking of how much I love the village we were driving away from and the one that stretched through many states and towns.

On the other hand I was thinking about the man waiting 8,500 miles for us and the village in Bangkok waiting for us there. Messages of “are you ready to come back, are you OK? Are you ready?” coming in from my Bangkok girlfriends. I was ready to go to our second home and see Pete, five weeks apart was wearing on us all and I knew the friends would be there to scoop us up, as they know this feeling too.    The moment of quiet ended. Parker spoke first “Mama, do you have your phone?” I replied, “Yes, I do.” “Do you have your charger? He said. “Yes, I do honey, thanks for asking!” “Mama, do you have your keys?” “I don’t need my car keys anymore” I said, “I gave them back to Poppie.” 

I chuckled to myself he sounded just like my Dad, who stands by my car each time I leave and asks me if I have the 10 items I need the most. Parker went on, “So this means we can’t turn around and go back? This means we won’t see them again?” No words could come out, i just shook my head, no. He cried. Then Cam cried, big shoulder shaking sobs. I rubbed their backs while keeping the goldfish parade en route to Ryker. Brody put his headphones on, turned on his music and for the first time in months, napped. There were no plans to make, no ball to kick, no sleepover to plan.   By the time we hit the highway, Parker and Cam’s sobs had turned into a calm, in and out breaths of sleep. Ryker and I left with each other, the goldfish stock already out. I turned my thoughts to the future. The flight, keeping the boys calm and happy. 

I set my emotions aside, pulled out the deep and inner strength I was given from my parents. My Dad’s last words to me, “You can do this. Be strong. You are strong.”  To get back to Bangkok this year looked different. A relaxed conversation the summer before with Pete’s Aunt and her youngest daughter had her, booked in to fly back with us and stay for 2 weeks and take all Bangkok had to offer, or all I could get her out to see while managing coming back after the holiday, getting the kids settled into school and always, always, preparing for sick children sprinkled throughout.   I have known Pete’s cousin since she was a little girl. 

Having known her for 17 years but never being able to really get to know her as our phases of life were opposite, the 7 year age gap can really throw that off, especially if you move around a bit. I was thankful she agreed to come and help me on the flight and yet nervous too. The flight from the US to Thailand is not an easy task. One that takes patience and the ability to adapt to anything that may come up along the way, especially with 4 boys. I often say its like a competition, a challenge, well at least that is how my former athlete brain works.

The finish line is customs at the airport, you’ve done it. You may look ragged, and disheveled, your nerves shot. You and your team having competed in their own way too. Medals go out to all participants, no matter what.     Alyssa is a teacher and I knew if times got tough she’d turn on your teacher tone of voice and maybe, just maybe things would be OK. I was right. She ran into a couple of issues on the journey but nothing major and mainly I was able to pipe in and use the scary Mom voice and end things. I believe her attitude, her airplane themed leggings and her excitement to come to see Thailand was what made us through this trip back. I am forever grateful.  We arrived home to our new house and things slowly, and yet quickly went back to our Bangkok life.

They met up with their friends in the village, prepared for school the next day and adapted back to their second home. Favourite Thai dishes consumed by lunch and berries replaced with guava, pomelo and the best bananas in the world.   For me, it takes time, the battle with being an adult. I often think how in a flash I was just sitting with Pete’s Mom, laughing over the kids crazy behaviour in the checkout line at Target. How quickly my “can you meet us on this day” texts end to friends.

The faces of our families and daily hugs, not there. That morning coffee with my Dad, how it fills my veins with caffeine and my soul with a comparable reaction.   The boys woke for school the next day, no jet lag, just squinty eyes from having not woken up at 6am for sometime. This year, all three donning the same uniform. We helped Camden button his shirt that he so proudly slipped into. A forced, quick photo session and at 6:30am we waved and jumped and smiled as they all happily got on the bus.   There we were. Pete, Ryker, Alyssa and I. We did it. The journey back to Bangkok for the beginning of school over and a new journey set to begin. Another year, growing up in Bangkok, sports, new hobbies, friends and adventures.   With that pause, Alyssa and I set off, Bangkok was ours to see and her visit not only put a bandaid on my summer ending mourning but rejuvenated my love for sightseeing this amazing country and all the culture and love it holds within it.

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Back to School

by Meghan Lynch

Mum to four boys Brody, Camden, Parker and Ryke

It’s how this year has been, my writing has taken a back seat. Again. Other things take the front line, little pinky finger walks with my newest walker, three older children going to school full time, Mom duties here and there, a new volunteer opportunity… I’ll stop there, excuses… we all have them, and NO one wants to hear them. Thank you Nick, for the push…

We left last Summer (the Summer of 2017) a week before school got out. Judge me as you will, we pulled the kids out early, 5 days early for Brody and Parker, two weeks for Camden. Their young ages and understanding by teachers for our journey ahead made the decision easy and supported. Plus, it meant more time to get settled into routine, through jet lag and get Brody, our eldest home for his first summer of Baseball Camp in my hometown. Placing him with children he didn’t know, coaches he had never met. Naturally, with his confidence and embarrassment to get rid of me, he took his baseball glove, said goodbye and went on his way. The week was a hit, literally, a home run. (I could keep going… I’ll stop there.)

In total, we spent 9 weeks away from Thailand last summer. My husband came for the end of the trip to join us for the birth of his brother’s son, Finn and for my cousin’s Alex’s wedding in Canada, which extended the trip a bit longer because the older boys were all a part of it. It caused them to miss the first few days of school… but being in the US and so close to the wedding, we decided, this was one wedding over the past few years we might be able to make.

The summer was lovely, as it always is. Full of adventure and visits and arms wrapped around them that adore and miss them and at times, to keep them warm. It’s hard to believe but now, 4 years into living in this extremely hot climate it seems that is all our bodies can tolerate and for the youngest two, Ryker and Camden, this is the only climate they really know… as I sit here now, reflecting on last summer I am headed into the Summer of 2018, packing our suitcases again with long pants, sweatshirts and long sleeved shirts.

“Oh, the places you’ll go! You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights. You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”
– Dr Suess

As July turned into August, I was cringing with the thoughts that the goodbye and the back to school would be harder for the kids than the past two summers. We hadn’t ever spent this amount of time at home since we moved, and by “home” I mean our makeshift home while we live in Thailand. As in, my parents home is our base and we touch down throughout the summer at Pete’s Mom’s house an hour away. They have cousins and summer friends that they enjoy and look forward to seeing. They have traditions, and favourite ice cream shops. As each year has come and passed they have grown with that and most of it now, is ingrained in their thoughts, these tiny desires now in their souls.

Sprinkled on top of our goodbyes was a new element into the “Back to School” this year. Camden. Our third son was going to be enrolled with Brody and Parker at Bangkok Patana. This meant only a little change, (as he had been attending a school near our home for the past year and a half) 6am wake up, an early morning bus ride with his brothers and a longer day of school. If there was anyone that can handle it, I knew it would be the one we call “The Mighty One.” (With an earned nickname like that, how could he not?)

Early on in my expat days my friend Elina from Argentina, who has an even longer journey than us, suggested that planning my flight back right up to the day before school helps the children get back onto the time zone and through the jet lag. She shared that the school would be understanding if any of the children were tired during the day. I trusted her and took her advice and since 2014, I learned that she is right, it does help them, in an almost hard to believe sort of way. Until you do it.

The journey back to Bangkok after the wedding in Canada had them arriving the night before the 4th day of the school year. Our 3 flight trip home had us landing at 11am and arriving into our beds at 1am. Pete and I decided if we could actually wake them up at 6am, then we would try to send them into school, but there was no pressure, if it didn’t work, we understood. We were a mess ourselves! Plus we had to think of the newest player in the game, our nearly 4 year old, Camden would be joining the seasoned veterans on what seemed like an impossible task.

After 38 hours of travel, 5 hours of sleep, I crept in their rooms to wake them. One by one by two by three, they woke, went downstairs and ate their breakfast, dressed and with no pre planning by me (shocking I know) I asked if I could take the obligatory first day of school photo. They all, quietly and serenely agreed. Minutes later, the bus arrived and again, one, by two, by three they got on the bus and buckled up. They peered out of the bus with their bright smiles, not tears. They offered me a wave, not a plea to come give one more hug. Then they rode away.

I stood there, blinking back tears, in awe and carrying indescribable amount of pride for them. What courage they have, what support they offer each other, my dearest Camden what strength, what understanding without even speaking they carry within them. The emotions over the past few days, the goodbyes, the see you soon’s the conversations of it’s back to Bangkok now boys, played over in over in my mind.

In reality, they know no different, their lives, almost now, living most of it in Bangkok, most of it arriving at school on the first day back from a trip to the USA. Most of it being tired, yet brave, happy even if they’ve just cried to leave the ones they love the most. This journey abroad continues to make us grow as individuals and as a family. Although the pain of living so far never leaves us and we experience frequent of ups and downs, we have each other and we are capable of doing so much with the bond that has allowed us to create here.

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spartan ft

I felt him touch my arm. I turned away. Surely it was not time yet. He said my name. I said “No it’s not time.” “Yes it is, let’s go buddy,” Pete said. I replied, “I can’t do it, I didn’t sleep babe, not a wink.” He said, “You are going to do it. Imagine what your Dad did when he was in boot camp or fighting in the war. You can do this.” I opened my eyes, looked at him and said, ” OK, OK.” He left the room. I laid there for 10 more seconds and thought … why does it always go back to my Dad when I need a reminder I can do something?

This is how I woke from my one hour of sleep Ryker granted me on the night before my first Spartan Race. My first Spartan Race, Thailand’s first ever Spartan Race, Brody and Parker’s first kids Spartan Race.

A few months back, Pete called me and was screaming on the other end of the phone. He told me he had the best news ever. Best news ever? I couldn’t even grasp what that might be. So what was it, I asked? The, The Spartan Race is coming to Thailand in September. And guess what, Brody and Parks can do it too!

You know what these races are, right? It’s become a craze in the US and it’s leaking into many other parts of the world; 14 other countries including Australia, South Korea and Canada to name just a few. They have different distances; 3 miles to marathon distances with 20 some odd obstacles to conquer. Now they even different franchises with a little of this or a little of that. Pick your poison I say, or your choice of self  torture.

Pete said I had to do it! I had to! We did our typical dance. I say no, he says yes. I say I can’t, he says you can, you can! I use the kids as the excuse, throw in I’ll still be nursing the baby. Then he gets emotional with me, touches on my feeling heart and says, “This, this is going to be your comeback race, this is going to be your achievement after having Ryker and getting back into shape; this is going to be your race.”

Well, fair enough. Sign me up. And sign those big boys up too.

I don’t do dirt. I don’t do swims in water I can’t see the bottom of. I don’t lift heavy things, only heavy children. I don’t swing on monkey bars and I do not climb up walls and jump down off of them.

I run. By run I mean I jog and some times I run. It’s my happy place that will someday hit me hard and make my knees weak and my hips ache. But for now it’s my thing. I strength train when I am in Bangkok with a trainer who is the best but I haven’t gotten back into it with him in over a year with pregnancy and all.

Over the next few months if anyone asked Pete or I about the race we would share we were doing it. They would ask if I was training for it and I’d reply no. I’m going into as I am. I am not going to over think it and I am not going to look online at what it’s like. I am going to show up and do my best.

There were two other couples doing it with us. The husbands all chatting about it and getting amped. Us women laughed and said let’s just have fun. We will do our best.

A week before the race I got an email from Spartan Race stating what I needed to wear and what the children would need. I got organised, made a list which I “lost” the next day after I clicked on the videos of Spartan Races. After that I couldn’t focus on who needed what and why and when. OMG! That’s all I thought. What the heck had I gotten myself into?

I spoke to Pete and said I was starting to freak out and not in the way he did when he found out this race was coming to Thailand. I meant freak out like I might vomit because I am scared. He shrugged me off as he knows to do. You don’t add gas to someone in this state, you let the fire simmer and hope it goes out.

We left a day early to head to the area the race was. We set up in an Airbnb house and the kids began to enjoy the luxury of a pool in their backyard again. They are certainly missing this from their life in the USA in the summer months.

Ryker had been fighting a cold since we got back from our summer holidays. When he gets a cold it isn’t an easy task to get rid of it or work through his system. I was starting to see signs that it was improving until I put him to bed on Friday night and around 11pm he began coughing, and wheezing. I’ll spare the details, but this went on until 4:30am. After I crawled out of bed I showered. While in there I felt a twinge of sorrow and pity for myself, something I know Pete wouldn’t have wanted to hear me say. I somehow just imagined I would wake up feeling great and ready for the race, after all this was my comeback, right? I washed my hair letting the water wash away the long night nasties and did what I know best, choosing to make it not break it with my attitude.

We met our friends and their children and got in line to let the race day events begin. The energy at the race site was contagious. The music was blaring and soon an American accent hit the airwaves with race times, time delays and many, many Aroo’s!

My nerves were pumping and I tried to settle the kids and prepare them for our departure for an hour or so, or so I thought. The kids were eager to begin their race too but they had to wait until noon. They were able to do some obstacles to keep them busy which they really enjoyed.We set off at about 8:30am.

7km, 20 obstacles, almost two hours of running, walking, swimming, climbing, carrying, crawling, pushing and screaming Arooooo! It was insane. We completed all but 4, the 4 we missed left us doing 20-30 burpees each time.Our friends that we did the race with, Morten and Annemette, are now a part of the story of the scars we will have on our bodies for evermore. We pushed each other, laughed at each other and supported each other. For the team player that lives within me each day, my soul is full with those things alone.

Our children, cheered us on while we failed at the climbing rope, crawled under barbed wire (not my choice of obstacles for my sweet boys to watch and worry their Mama would get cut). They watched us climb up one more rope wall and then together, Pete and I jumped the fire together, hand in hand with a hug and a tear stained, filthy kiss to seal it off.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically in my life. It pushed me in ways I probably never had before or never would have, if someone hadn’t pushed me to do it. There were times Pete tried to help and I said no, I can do this one. There were times I had to accept help, be it a push,or a back to step on for extra inches to climb up over that wall. I carried 20kg of sandbags and imagined it as one of my children. “I won’t drop you, I won’t,” I said to myself merely just keep my mind distracted from the agony of carrying it. I imagined my Dad, in full military gear with boots on and no socks in the exact heat I was burning under running for safety, for his wellbeing, for his life. No amount of weakness would allow me to break when I went to that place.

While we cooled down and hydrated, Pete did what he does. He complimented me, and said “You did this all with no sleep. Just look what you are capable of Meghan.” He hugged me again, which is gross when I think of it now because of the filth factor, but lovely just the same. And in that hug I cried for the second time that day.

After a shower and 8 bottles of water we prepared for the Kid’s Spartan Race. Brody and Park needed no preparation. They were ready. Camden hadn’t realised he wasn’t old enough to participate in the race. Being given a tee shirt and a headband kept him feeling a part of the team. When the race began he happily took his place next to Pete and I to watch his brother’s perform.

I just realised. I cried three times that day.Watching the boys climb walls, and pull themselves up ropes and climb up and down ladders was just awesome. They were in their element. And Cam in his, cheering them on by their respected nicknames, “Come on Brod, Come on Park!!!”

On the way home they asked us when the next Spartan race was. Brody asked when he’d be old enough to do the race Pete and I did. We made a promise we’d Spartan race with them for as long as we could. I looked back at the three of them and smiled. I turned around and peaked at Ryker next to me. Then the reoccurring thought I’ve had over the past year came to me once again. These boys, they are brave and strong and capable of conquering anything.In my quiet space since the race, the journey home, an hour alone today while the baby napped and the kids were at school I did what I do and reflected.

The last 13 months of my life have been beyond measure. Beyond anything I could have ever imagined. There are months that have I’ve experienced pain and suffering and worry and fears in the deepest depths of my soul. They are months that have shown me understanding and forgiveness and disbelief. They have fostered friendships I never knew I could have. They have taught me things I never thought I would ever have to learn.

 

They have given me the ability to connect with people on levels of life experiences I never thought I possibly could. They have brought me strength and healing and forward movement. I have pushed myself physically, ploughed through limits I thought were always going to be there. I’ve found acceptance and peace and a determination to survive with the strongest mental strength I can. These months, well they have changed me and changed the shape of my heart and I can see now they turned me into what I had no idea I was headed into becoming.A Spartan.

The Spartan code
Words to live by
• Spartans push their minds and bodies to their limits.
• Spartans master their emotions.
• Spartans learn continuously.
• Spartans give generously.
• Spartans lead.
• Spartans stand up for their beliefs, no matter the cost.
• Spartans know their flaws as well as their strengths.
• Spartans prove themselves through actions, not words. (This one, I might not follow … but, hey! I’m a writer … that’s my thing, words!)
• Spartans live every day as if it were their last.

The mission
– We are Spartans.
– On and off the course.
– We believe in changing your frame of reference and transforming your life.
– Spartans laugh in the face of failure and continue forward.
– We welcome challenges and embrace discomfort.
– Be active. Be curious. Be human.
– We are unbreakable.
– We are strong.
– We are Spartan.

Meghan is mum to four happy boys and a loving wife to her husband. She embraces life in Thailand and tries to fit in with the Thai lifestyle and community as much as she can. We are grateful for her contribution to the magazine as with four boys time is a precious commodity.

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