Having Children in Thailand, My Story So Far
There have been a few submissions recently on the subject of raising children in Thailand to which I have paid great attention as this now concerns me enormously.
I should apologiss for having no sage advice to offer on this subject, only my immediate and ongoing experiences.
In October last year (2010) my Tiny Teeruk (Tiny T) and I had a daughter (whom I shall refer to as “Micro T”) and I became a parent in my own right for the first time – at least to my knowledge anyway!
It has been an effort to restrain myself from blabbing away about the shock of the birth process and the wonders of my newborn to all and sundry, many of whom have raised several children of their own. I’m now sure that all the smiles and good wishes were of a slightly condescending nature. I would compare it to a guy coming home on the plane after his first trip to the flesh pots of Thailand and recalling his stories of conquest and wonder to a couple of veteran Thailand ex-pats or mongers. They will listen to the newbie stories with inward smirks and the occasional piece of advice while recalling to themselves their own first time.
Back to the relevant…
Micro T was born in Thailand. This was a purposeful decision by me based on future rights afforded to a Thai citizen. We are currently in the process of jumping through the flaming hoops required to gain Australian citizenship for Micro T. People who are granted Australian citizenship have all the same rights as those who are born in Australia. I believe this to also be the “in principle” case in Thailand but not necessarily the practice. Hence my decision.
There was also the enormous benefit of the close proximity of Tiny T’s family. When we returned to the village, from the big flashy private hospital, there were waiting arms a plenty all queuing up to hold the baby luuk-krung. I was determined to do a nappy change myself but to do so I almost had to poke away all the other willing volunteers with a stick. I was assisted left, right and centre with well meaning nappy change assistants which resulted in us all getting splattered with baby poo ! I never bothered again with the nappy change thing…until the world changed.
Following the birth of ‘Micro T’ I spent the next four weeks in Thailand, raising babies aint’ that hard when you have people to change nappies, relatives to leave baby with when we need to go out at a moments notice, what is all the fuss about? We bought Tiny Ts’ mum a mobile phone and she was thrilled to bits, I don’t know if she realized that the purpose of the phone was so that we could recall mum to the house at a moments notice to take care of our daughter any time we felt like going out. As far as domestic chores go, such as cleaning the house and washing all those nappies, well that is what Thai school girls are for. 20 Baht for the bathroom cleaned or a load of washing done, a trip up to the local shop, or any other domestic odd job you could think of, 20 Baht and its done. Do the school girls want the work? Oh hell yes! Tip, Cat, Nit, Nat, Pboo, Pha, Pee, Pa and Da are fighting over the 20 Baht, often job sharing and going 10 Baht each for cleaning the dunny (toilet). There is also the bonus of the magic fridge witch holds all the Coca-Cola you can drink and the occasional SPY-wine cooler that might disappear.
“These falang and Mia-falang must really have too mut money, they pay us to sit and gossip with our friends while cleaning their hong-naam and then we sit in their house and watch their TV, and we get to play with that cute little luuk-krung baby”
This all means that when baby was asleep – we could sleep, nothing needed doing
Yep….there was no problem.
When Micro T’s eyes first started to focus at four weeks of age,
and I was wishfully thinking she could recognize me, it was time to go back to work, in Australia, leaving my family behind in Thailand.
While I was back in Oz there were still no problems, the school girls kept doing their thing and everything was roses. Micro T had put on nearly a kilo per month since birth
Friends, family and neighbors back in Australia constantly enquired about ‘Tiny T’ and ‘Micro T’. How was Tiny T managing on her own? On Her Own? Hardly! Maybe there is no substitute for direct family support. When I explained to all the Mums back in Oz about the school girl assistance network and asked if they would like a high school girl to come and clean the bathroom or mop the floors for 60 cents their eyes would glaze over at the thought. Funny, it was the same glazy eyed look I get from their husbands when I explain that it is possible to spend the night with a 19 year old Pattaya bargirl for less than 50 bucks – may well cost more these days, its been a while since I have done that sort of thing.
I made it back to Thailand in late January 2011, Micro T was just over 3 months old now. She could roll herself over but otherwise not travel too far and did not require constant watching. Always people about to help out anyway and Micro T was happy being carried and cuddled by anybody but with an obvious preference for her mum.
On a trip into Bangkok to organize Australian visas I found myself caring for my daughter solo for a good deal of time. There must have been some kind of bonding thing occurring as after this Micro T realized that this strange looking long nosed, pail faced man held some kind of extra significance in her life.
Everything had gone well during my absence, mother and child still doing well. We even left Micro T with her grand parents for a night and we headed down to Pattaya for a Tiny Ts’ first night out in over a year. I did my best to spoil her, shopping for new clothes, beauty solon, lobster dinner and many drinks.
We got the visas and flew to Australia in early/mid February. Best flight ever, Tiny T was happy to let me have my daughter all to myself for the whole flight, the first time this had ever happened.
All the people have changed, they didn’t look like mummy anymore, and they all looked like daddy.
Micro T was now very particular in who she would let carry her without crying. It took 3 days before she got used to my mother.
This was Tiny Ts’ 3rd trip down under and she knew that she would experience isolation and loneliness. We had discussed this, and Tiny T was prepared for it. The thing that really helped was the return ticket that could be easily changed. If thing were becoming too difficult she could return home at any time, I would often say “this is not monkey house”
My family provided what support they could but we always knew this would be limited as they all have busy lives of their own.
The weather was very pleasant and we were able to spend time out doors which we all enjoyed. Life was busy but we were coping quiet well, I now got to change plenty of nappies all on my own. Tiny T spent a lot of time alone in the house with our daughter while I was at work. We had anticipated this and the good lady coped quite well. When I got home from work each day my daughter would be thrust into my arms and her mother would be off to get some “head rest”, read the Thai news online or go and have a beer with the Thai lady over the road. All fairly normal by western standards I suppose. No convenient school girls to help out.
During these months Micro T became quite mobile. It was time to start shutting doors and placing things out of reach, my computer was a favorite target with all of those fascinating cables that needed pulling on. Turned out to be not difficult at all to baby-proof the house, a quick 30 second whiz around to check for hazards and Micro T could be left to explore to her hearts content, within the confines of my centrally heated and cooled, secure, sterile house.
As we came towards the end of May, we said good-bye to pleasant weather and hello to a colder than usual Melbourne winter. Tiny T had done very well so far and Micro T had no problem with the cold weather, but now it was time to think about returning to Thailand. July 15th seemed like a good date. It was born home to me just how much my good lady was missing her homeland when I mentioned that I might not be able to meet the 15th July date. Well July 15th it was going to be, with or without me. Sometimes you know when someone is serious, her mind was made-up and her heart set.
Two weeks before our departure Micro T, who was by now a fast, inquisitive crawler, took her first unassisted steps at age 8 months.
All of the people have changed again, they all have brown skin and black hair like mummy.
Welcome to hell, Micro T is struggling with the heat. She has mosquito and ant bites all over her fair, soft baby skin. All last week she seemed to have a different illness everyday. One of the biggest problems we are having right now is that apart from us, (her parents), no other adult can pick her up or give her a cuddle without her crying. This initially reduced her grandmother to tears, the same grandmother who stayed with us at the hospital when Micro T was born, who had willingly and lovingly cared for my daughter whenever she was asked to do so.
This compounds the other major problem, Micro T is now 100% eyes on. Either Tiny T or myself must be within 2 meters of her at all times when she is awake. There is some respite when it is cool enough for her to sleep in the house, we only have to remain within ear shot or baby’s’ cry, much the same as back in Oz. Might have to fast track the installation of that air-con.
There are so many dangers around here that it scares me, and what disturbs me even more so, is that Tiny T is also scared. Maybe this is because Tiny T has spent about a year in Australia with 1st world infrastructure and that silly “rule of law” thing. Is it the case that one does not appreciate the danger they have been living with all lives until they have lived without it for a while? Those big-ass black scorpions that we get around here really do look a lot like a toy that you get in a McDonalds “happy meal”, I have no doubt that if Micro T were to see one she would try to pick it up and put it in her mouth. The multitude of other nasties such as rats, cats, lice, mice, snakes, ticks and toxic toads need go without mention, they are all available for a curios kid to put in their mouth.
Tiny T especially liked the idea of the Australian universal emergency number “000” thank dog we never needed it, but the good lady did witness what happens when someone else calls “000”. Paramedics, firemen, heavily armed uncorrupt police and even helicopters will attend very, very quickly if required. You don’t even need to be an Australian citizen to call “000”, just be present in the country. Tiny T found this very reassuring. Apparently the Thai “191” number is not worth wasting your phone battery on.
I started writing this submission a couple of days ago and since then things have been on the improve. Micro T is acclimatizing, we have had no new illnesses, and one big positive that I have not mentioned previously are all the kids, many being related to my daughter. Micro T may have problems with the strange adults but not so with other children, she loves them. We built a bamboo baby prison (play pen) and filled it with a heap of sand, this has allowed my Micro darling a bit of the safe, free roaming that she was used to back in Oz.
Micro T is the fair skinned girl in the pink top in case you did not guess.
In summery; I could have timed a few things better and next time if funds and opportunity permit, I will do as follows:
Baby remains in Thailand until self mobile – 5 to 6 months in our case, just so easy with all the help, and then;
Relocate to safe sterile Baan Yobbo in Melbourne until baby has gained some danger awareness (don’t ask me when this happens, ask someone who has been there done that) then;
Relocate back to Thailand for the walking talking pre-school years, possibly even the first couple of school years, and then;
Unless I have the serious coin for a decent education in Thailand it will be back to Oz with only holidays in Thailand.
I find the way that children are being raised in the west these days is bordering on the un-natural, kids need a bit of freedom. Ever heard of a thing called a “play-date”? This is when parents bring their children to a specified venue for a specified period of time where they are supposed to have free play. It does not work so well from what I have heard, should one child have a disagreement with another child it is embarrassing for everyone as the terms and conditions of the “play-date” have been settled weeks in advance.
For mine, I would be happy for my children to spend the years 3 to 6 (give or take 6 – 12 months) in Thailand.
As much as I like The Kingdom of Thailand, my life back in Australia is none too shabby either. Nice house, reasonable job and decent salary and conditions
Just a few short hours ago I heard from Tiny T something I thought I would never hear “I miss Australia, I miss your house and I miss the cold weather”