My Life Lately Via Instagram

My efforts as a kindergarten mum (or year one here) tend to be hit or miss. Sometimes I am supermom, the one all his classmates know by name, and exclaim with glee "Here comes Miss Heather!" when I'm around. Other times I miss the mark, like on Sports Day when we arrived to find our son was the only one not wearing the requisite t-shirt. I did NOT get that memo. Or Christmas, where the classmate gifts just kept rolling in.

Well, if all the tots exchanged valentines and candy on Valentine's Day in day care back in the US, I assumed they would celebrate it here in Y1. Uh, nope. Bought these cool wands that light up, printed a catchy valentine message, tied with a sweet ribbon.  Philip was the ONLY kid in his class who handed out valentines. I should have known better. But with my luck, Easter will be HUGE. Go figure..

Nate got a special bike. It doesn't have pedals and it doesn't go too fast, but he loves it.

He also loves face-painting. Which is done here at nearly every party and celebration. This is him patiently waiting to be a puppy. Which he carefully selected.

 Philip is trying out Tae Kwon Do. Its nothing too serious. Just some good old fashioned throwing punches and tumbling. We'll have to balance it out with some music lessons or something...

Maori performers from the New Zealand Gala. There was a life-size cardboard sheep in the backdrop, but I think he was on the dance floor by this time.

We accompanied Daddy on a working weekend to Pattaya. The beach was not to my liking, but the hotel was fantastic. Nate and I had smoothies at the pool bar, which the boys both thought was wicked cool.

I got some rest, relaxation, and knitting. Daddy got food-poisoning.

Of Belief, Danger, and Throwing Caution to the Wind

I have written this post several times in my head, yet wasn't sure if I was going to share after all. But after considering how much I love what we have done, and how much it means to me, I think I should. Some fifteen years ago I decided to rebel against who knows what, and strode into a dirty tattoo shop somewhere in Pittsburgh and asked for a grinning cat from Through the Looking Glass, C.S. Lewis. And somehow I ended up, twenty minutes later, with a horrible little salamander.
Chock that up to immaturity. So when my husband brought up the subject of getting his first ink, which he does every few months or so, I would quickly try to deter him from it. And before you tell me what an awful wife I am, if you had heard what he wanted you would have done the same. But one day I started showing him photos of gorgeous Sak Yant work, which I had spotted on the backs and necks of people everywhere here, and we began to look into the subject.
Briefly, Sak Yant are spiritual tattoos, usually applied by a Buddhist monk and then chanted over to give them special powers. Powers of love, beauty, power or protection-you name it. But essentially, you can tell the Sak Yant master what you do for work, or what you feel you need, and they will find the right design to enhance your life, or protect you. And all the designs are absolutely beautiful. HOWEVER. However, you have to follow certain rules or they will lose their power. These rules differ from place to place, but in general they all outline that the recipient shouldn't lie, steal, cheat, disrespect their Ajarn and his other students, and not consume alcohol.
That's the good part. Basically, you are promising to be a good person from that moment forward. The "throwing caution to the wind" part is more problematic. To receive a real Sak Yant, with all its powers, you have to find a monk or former monk who has trained under a true master, then sit in line with perhaps 20 people to get inked with the same barbed piece of bamboo and ink pot. For me, I would have to find an Ajarn that would even be able to touch women, because monks of course cannot. Oh, and lets add that some of these places have become a circus ever since Ms. Jolie received her Ha Taew from Ajarn Noo when visiting Thailand.
But I digress.
Its a true Heather-trait to get my heart set on something, regardless of the risk, and given the dangerous and risky nature of my husband's occupation I wanted these. BAD. So, after several months of frustrating and fruitless research, I shyly mentioned my wish to our nanny. Instead of shaking her head, she was absolutely thrilled and flattered that we would want to participate in this. A phone call later to her husband, and she informed me that Ajarn Kob of Ayuttaya was lesser known to the tourist set, but was well-reknown among local Thais for his work and the strength of his Sal Yants. Better yet, he was the grandson and student of the great monk Ajarn Phu Nie who was so revered that his image was worn frequently on amulets all around Thailand.
And even better yet, he tattooed women. And better yet! He used a sharpened steel rod instead of the bamboo, so if we came in the first of the day we would have that added bit of security. I was so delighted, and apparently her husband was too because he wanted to go as soon as possible, and wished to be our translator.
So early one sunday morning we found ourselves, along with several members of our nanny's family, wandering around trying to find Ajarn Kob's studio on the backroads of Ayuttaya. Nervously, we paid our respects to him and asked for his permission, and his smiling face was so calming and kind that the rest of the ordeal was quite amazing.
I went first, and received the Gao Yord sak yant, which is usually the first one anyone receives because it signifies you are a student of a particular ajarn and covers a lot of the basis for personal protection. I assume after the Gao Yord students return for more specific designs and needs. But for me, this was perfect-beautiful and purposeful. The nine spires reaching upward are symbolic of the pinnacles of Mt. Meru, each topped with three circles which, in sak yant, signify the seated Buddha. Arrows straight upward and the beautiful whorls rising up indicate the path to enlightenment, which is why this tattoo is usually given at the nape close to the head, the most sacred part of our bodies.
Being particular to Ajarn Kob, with his own flourishes, this is supposed to be one of the strongest sak yant, so both my husband and I had it done. Its also called the Yant Kroo, or master yant, because it identifies our Ajarn thereafter. In addition, the marks made in Sanskrit are supposed to provide the bearer with protection from violence, outside magic, and other things because, you see, most Thais are very superstitious and believe in bad magic and the strength of bad words.
My husband received the additional "Singh" or lions, on each side that are very important for people in positions of power and danger. In light of all he has been through, every little bit helps.
Interestingly, our nanny's husband jumped right in and received his first as well, and then sat back down a second time to have the name of Master Phu Nie, a great teacher, inscribed on each shoulder, his name alone able to provide additional protection and guidance! (Just an FYI, we offered to cover the cost in appreciation for his help, but this only made him uncomfortable because as it turns out the "thai price" is in effect here as it is all over the country, and his sak yant cost significantly less than ours. Awkward.)
The finished tattoos were perfect in their symmetry even though they were done freehand. And the lines, due to his frequent sharpening of the rod, were so tiny and intricate that I was blown away by the artfulness of my husband's finished back.
But what we have discussed most in this house in the days preceding our rites and in the weeks afterwards is the power of belief, and how these marks are given their strength because the bearer is devoted to the idea that they have power. To receive them just as a fashion statement is worthless.

Until I have a better photo, here is the fuzzy result. Note the awful salamander in the lower corner...

Operation Dharma Drop

So it appears that life has taken an unexpected, pleasant turn for me. After a little wait period where my history and misdeeds get carefully examined, I will be going back to work. Just part time, mind you, but that is quite alright by me. Being able to spend the last three years nurturing and educating our two boys has been a great gift. But now its time. I've always been a worker bee.

Which means its time to pay it forward again. Being selected for  position over so many other qualified people is also a great gift. I'm glad the powers that be have faith in me. And for the past few weeks I've been coasting along on that great feeling that comes with accomplishing something you thought you could never do. So here I go back to sending some love and appreciation to the folks who have helped us along. Like the wonderful gem of a preschool that never complained that I was one of the first to drop off and one of the last to pick up. The people that understood I was going it alone a lot of the time. The people whose time I felt was precious, for the care they supplied my boys, and the foundation they provided them before we whisked them away.

Once upon a time we searched carefully for the right day care for our first child. Some were too cold and sterile, others too wishy-washy, one was downright dangerous. But we set foot in Tiny Town and knew we had found the place. Its one of the things we knew we would miss, and we certainly do. Last week I packed up and shipped off a Dharma Drop to them, including some cultural items and a long looong letter describing what it has been like here for the boys.  Just to let them know they were too good, too kind to be forgotten.