I recently returned from what I would call a mission, helping my cousin—a single mother of twin 11-month-olds—while she covered a UN Climate Change Conference in Bangkok.
Her initial request was for a conference in Slovenia—that sounded doable—l envisioned lovely stroller walks along the Adriatic. Then quickly the interest shifted to Bogota or Quito. I thought the altitude might be an issue, but was up for the adventure. Ultimately, my cousin’s passion lay in Climate Change, and she really wanted to cover the Bangkok conference, despite the distance and topsy turvy time change effects I warned her about.
Despite my many travels and confidence with babies, before leaving I was suddenly panicked that I wouldn’t have the stamina. What had I gotten myself into?
The trip was challenging, long flights, little sleep, relentless wrangling and tremendous upheaval because of the death of the Thai king, but you know what? It was uplifting and in a way transformative. To be in Thailand, a colorful and unusual land with the singular purpose of caring for these two beings, was somehow cathartic. I left the toxic chaos of the election, San Francisco 2.0, my own son’s college application process and myriad other commitments and expectations, knowing that financially this was a big ask as well.
With little prep and absolutely no presumption of a vacation, each day when I was solo with the dynamic duo—I googled a temple in a 10-block radius. The double stroller trek, navigating insane traffic, menacing stray dogs and drenching heat and humidity, felt Herculean. When we made it, an oasis, where the twins could have crawling time in the peaceful and often cool marble temples, awaited. The babies were stars and folks flocked to our orbit like paparazzi. Soldiers stopped traffic and monks helped us cross chaotic streets. Taxi drivers, locals and hotel staff helped juggle the babies.
I had never been to Asia before and it certainly was a unique way to visit this magnificent country, particularly because twins—one of each gender—are considered to be tremendously fortuitous in Buddhist culture.
We visited a number of temples, each with their own unique flavor. Some were touristy like Wat Sommanat (the Marble Temple), Wat Saket (the Golden Mountain Temple), Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) and others were more intimate and quirky.
The most amazing experience was one day when we went to a floating market, not popular with tourists, and took a canal boat trip—quite a feat with two wriggling babies. One stop on the boat trip was at this small market and temple which turned out to be one of the most extraordinary moments of the trip. Barefoot, I was carrying one twin around this colorful but seemingly ramshackle small temple devoted to roosters. I saw a Buddha-like robed monk, sitting on a riser above some tatami mats. The baby was squirming and wanted to crawl, but I was unsure if this was appropriate given the monk’s presence. He motioned to me to let the baby down and Moses crawled toward the imposing monk, who had a beaming smile and proceeded to bless him in an unscripted moment I will never forget. We quickly put Etia down next to her brother and tried valiantly to get a moment preserving photo worthy of the occasion.
There was tremendous activity at most of the temples—due to the passing of the king—and we got to see and hear deeply soulful mourning rituals and celebrations. At each temple, I was amazed by how welcoming the workers and worshipers were. Many helped me hoist the stroller, watched our gear and never batted an eye when the babies were crawling around the sacred space.
At the Golden Mountain Temple, there were giant fans strategically placed around the worship areas and the babies napped in front of one for an hour in the stroller. I can’t think of a time when I felt more at peace. One soldier/monk team guided me to a secret area to change an explosive diaper, when it was clear it was NOT ok to do so under the shade of a magnificent and sacred Banyan tree.
It was extraordinary how helpful, warm and genuinely interested in the twins the crowds were. My command of the Thai language was nil, but I had a few schticks to converse and amuse. Etia, more placid than her brother, has deliciously chunky thighs that my own sons have called “croissants.” When I saw mini croissants every day at the grand hotel buffet I decided to use that word and image to connect with the admirers. Ladies giggled and riffed on the thought that her thighs looked like croissants and it never seemed to disappoint as an ice-breaker.
I can’t say I really got to explore the temples as one might expect when traveling to a foreign land, as I was constantly fishing for snacks, making bottles—to keep the twins hydrated in the heat—or changing diapers, but in some ways it was the most remarkable way to explore a culture.
I returned home feeling younger, fitter, and more ebullient than I had in a long time. Here I thought I was doing a mitzvah (good deed) and I got so much tangible and intangible from the experience.