Finding the time and the money to mother.

Since last November when I started working two jobs to make the ends meet, it’s been almost as hard on my 13-year-old daughter as it has been on me. The long hours and the inattention when I am home make her feel a bit neglected: “You always say ‘Sorry, but I have to work.'”

She’s right; these days I spend most of my time working. On top of the PR job and the school job, I also head up a twice-monthly writing group and a monthly brunch club with friends. I’m still working intermittently on my book about our adventures in Vietnam. Add in friends and blog and laundry and, God forbid, sleep and there’s no time for anything, especially the mothering that I had so prided myself in.

All the work will, in the end, provide for me to return to the orphanages in Vietnam and my kids to have summer vacations with family afar. There’s a pay-off in the end, but in the meanwhile our trio isn’t as tight as it used to be. I don’t have the time to sit and watch movies, go for a walk or hang out at the mall. But sometimes I just have to have a break.

So that’s what we did.

Audrey and Lily watching the pendulum swing

On Saturday, we invited Audrey’s friend along to join us at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, a celebration of all that is cocoa-based. We tasted all sorts of chocolates and caramels and truffles, drank a bit of sipping chocolate and just sat around enjoying the serenity that can happen in a crowded plaza. The girls went their way for a while and I went mine, finding our way together again before too long and pleased to be together.

There was something lovely about being out of the house, away from work and just enjoying being with my daughter and her friend. Something that I haven’t had in what seems like a very, very long time. Being an attentive mother has taken a back seat and I don’t like it. I find myself stressed out too often, frustrated by the tiniest things, frustrated by myself.

I don’t know what to do to fix it though. If I quit a job, we’re back to not being able to make ends meet, but I’ll get to be the mother I want to be. My daughter will be happy to only see me at home, not in the halls at her school. And yet, for so long we’ve struggled that I don’t want to do it again.

Decision-making is never easy; either is parenting.

Travel is for the Wealthy

And the definition of wealthy changes wherever you go. In Vietnam, I make enough money to afford us to spend our weekends in Ha Noi, traipsing around the city eating expensive Western food and taking taxis to museums. I come back to Thanh Hoa and gripe about the insanity of prices in the northern capitol, glad to be back in a small city with prices I’m more than happy to pay. Less than a dollar for three bowls of ice cream. Dinner for four costs less than four dollars. I am happy to drop a few thousand VND in the upturned cone hat of the beggar woman at the market; she clearly can use the help as she scoots across the wet fish market floor. I feel like I’m spending my money wisely; I’m thrifty like that.

Then a student tells me how if life had a do-over, she’d be a doctor. She could make a lot of money. She could be rich. She could make, she paused for effect, more than 5million VND a month. She’d be rich!

I made that much in the first few days of the month.

She imagines being so rich and I complain that it cost me 300,000VND for a pizza dinner in Ha Noi. Or that it will cost me more than 3million VND to get to Tam Ky so I can deliver these clothes for the orphanages, help Me Ba get a new ao dai, visit orphans who’ve no doubt forgotten us in the repeated comings-and-goings of volunteers.

But I can. If I want, I can spend those millions. And I will spend that and more, taking the kids down south…to Nha Trang, Da Lat, Hue? I don’t know, but our biggest constraint is time, not money.

In this life of juxtaposed wealth, I forget how lucky we truly are. And I’m afraid the kids will never know. In a month, we’ll be back in America, scraping by month to month on a salary that puts us a few grand below the poverty level. I’ll continue making rice dishes and eating little meat simply because I can’t afford it if I have to buy milk and fresh fruit, too.

It’s a strange place to be–this temporary wealth, where I look for hotels at the beach and far-away attractions knowing that I’ll be there before long. We’ll be off to Bangkok soon, then through Thailand and Malaysia before heading home. I’m researching budget hotels and how to buy train tickets online. Thrift is in my nature. But the realization that this life of extra is something that those I care for most here in Viet Nam can never have and it stings. It fights with my maternal drive. I want to show my kids all that I possibly can, yet in my rush to give my family a wider vantage of the world, we remain blind to so much.


How is it that no matter where you are life does not go according to plans?

Our time has been cut short by more than a week; a week that we were going to spend traveling around the country. Unfortunately when our visas were renewed, they only gave us until the 12th. I will finish work on the 1oth, head to Hanoi, then leave the country. I’m so frustrated I could scream. Not only for the limited time, but for the lack of travel we’ve been able to do. Each time we’ve planned to go to Ha Long bay, a storm has rolled in, cancelling our plans. Then there’s the surprise vacation, mid-week. I will have Tuesday-Thursday off this week, just enough to not really go anywhere. We’ll head to the beach and hope for some fun, but I’m fighting a cold and grumpy as all get out.

I was given no warning of the days off, the money lost. And I’ve got three kids who’ve seen more of the inside of a dorm building that they’ve seen of Vietnam. Quite frustrating.

Hopefully on Saturday we will be able to get to Tam Coc, but I’m afraid that Ha Long Bay and Sa Pa will not be seen this time. And my plans for Da Lat are sinking fast. I have obligations to get to Tam Ky and we may just have to do that instead.