A wise friend doing the Battambang life with kids recommended we get outta town regularly. With school holidays limping into their third month, it was definitely time.
We packed ourselves into the back of a taxi for the 3 hour drive to Siem Reap with 2 hyper boys practicing head stands on the back seat. This city is a cultural mecca being the home of the Mighty Angkor Wat and many lesser known cousins. A must see on anyone’s bucket’s list. Its ancient architecture whispers of a forgotten kingdom, patriotically kept alive in the minds of the Khmer as a time of strength and power. Even today a pulipal energy radiates as Buddhist monks still visit shrines daily keeping the spiritual fires lit.
We left the boys poolside in an innocent housekeeper’s care. All went surprisingly well, except for receiving 6 missed calls to say the kids were ravenous and needed to order pizza. Ce La Vie.
We so enjoyed the quiet togetherness. Moving away from family, you rarely get time to relax with one another, rather we tag team our breaks. And try not to bicker over who gets more sanity savers.
We are still adjusting to our new life. From other expats I’ve heard it takes up to three months to acclimatise, but from Battambang locals, who have lived the high and lows that occur on a daily basis, it is more like six months. So whatever the magical figure may be, it is where we are at right now.
The boys still in the throws of missing their friends keenly, and without school or routine AND living in a strange new world, they are emotional. Their sibling relationship showing the strain of being only friend, brother, sparking partner and side kick. Beau has regressed in his toilet training big time which may be influenced by the size of the cockroaches in our bathroom or never knowing what kind of squat, pit, hole or seatless throne may be on offer. Quinn has retreated into this fantasy world of fighting and weapons…whereby he is slaying ninjas in our street every night, and by day hitting plastic swords on a pole, or punching clothes hanging on the line.
Having two boys I’ve witnessed some aggression but it is definitely magnified at the moment. A coping mechanism?
So when Quinn got wind of the War Museum, he came alive so I acquiesced. The word was that it was a government rip off who bullied the more informative Land Mine Museum into moving premises out of town. We arrived to an open field of rusty tanks ready to attack if only they had wheels.
With no conservation signage, safety measures dependent on how adventurous you are, the boys clambered over the tanks like monkeys. That was until they spotted the gun exhibit- a bungalow with rows of rifles that you could freely touch.
Quinn yells with characteristic Elvis thrusts as he strokes an AK-47, affectionately known from then as ”Gun-ji”.
I was reminded of the gun racks in my Uncle’s bedroom at my Grandma’s farm. And how I never wanted to sleep in that room, let alone touch them.
Tim and I had the whole gun conversation early on, our consensus being no toy guns in the house. But like water wears away at stone, a wooden handcrafted (that makes a difference, right?) toy rifle slipped into Quinn’s clutches at aged 4. I can only describe the whole process as seeing an avalanche coming towards you, and deciding to calmly step out of the way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said things about war, and what it means, and how hurting people is bad. They kinda listened the first time but now it is like trying to get your kids attention when they are glued to a screen.
So the boys were in army heaven fondling all the paraphernalia, one of the guides wanders by, I smile and say:
‘My boys love guns. I tell them war is bad’, looking defeated.
As the sky changes to yellow, the same guide returns beer in hand. We are still in the hut, hours gone. I’m scrawling in my notebook, snatching precious time, the boys still enthralled.
He gestures to the boys and tells me I’m a good mother for letting my sons go.
‘Your boys ok, they come from you, they will be good, you must believe that. ‘
Maybe I’m easily flattered, or enjoy validation whenever I can get it, but I was touched by his words. With linguistic limitations and a traditionally patrilocal culture, you don’t get too many conversations with blokes on any deep level.
‘I loved guns as a boy. I play with his father’s gun and make him worry. Then at 13, I join the Khmer Rouge, for 14 years’
As a boy soldier for a notoriously brutal regime, he saw what no person, let alone child should ever have to witness.
I lose everything. All my family dead. I see war. Not good. You tell your children that.’
Do you have kids I ask?
’After war, I want for nothing. I become drunk guy’.
With that he’s gone, raising his bottle in a quick salute. And I’m left in that space where someone’s shared a part of themselves that leaves a mark.
As the sky turns to pink, I touch the sleek cold metal of a M-16, feel its secrets and know its been used for real, not just in boys’ war games. And I promise to keep sowing the seeds for love and peace in my little soldiers’ hearts. Teaching compassion for all things, and dropping those crumbs hoping that my boys will always know that it is wrong to hurt others. Maybe it was unwise to let them covet these weapons. But watching Quinn I get a sense of his own dad as a child, who wanted to join the army but has never been in a fight.
I can’t change where their present passions lie, only trust that by allowing them to explore them, they will tire of them and move on, hopefully with equal zeal but less violence. I’ve seen those kids deprived of television, who once they see one, have no self control or discretion, they watch shopping channels verbatim.
I don’t vouch to know what I’m doing most of the time, but raising boys is like a biology lesson. Neither Tim nor I encourage violence. I teach yoga and enjoy Buddhist philosophy. What I’ve been working on is acceptance of my self, no matter what to stay soft and listening. And I’m realising this extends to my kids.