from around here

Welcome to crazy town

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So you know it’s been a non-stop crazy train ever since Hayley was born. Adjusting to 5 kids has been an adventure, and by adventure, I mean the kind where you get attacked by giant spiders only to escape into a snake pit and barely make it out alive then eventually get ambushed by a tribe of angry cannibals. Basically the kind of adventure where even Indiana Jones would be like “dude, no.

But guess what’s crazier than having to deal with 5 kids? Having to deal with 5 kids alone. All day.

Last week, my domestic helper went home for a 3 week vacation so it’s been just me with 5 kids and let me just say right now that I’ve never been more tired in my entire life. It’s been 16-hour days with zero downtime where every minute, it’s like somebody’s on fire or in mortal danger.

It’s made me question all my life choices up to this point.

My days are like playing a very elaborate game of “how can I do the most number of things at any given moment?” Like if I activate the play doh corner for Finn and Theo, I can buy 20 minutes of quiet to put the baby to sleep. Tru and Kirsten can keep an eye on the boys while working on their homework. Then I’ll put baby Theo to bed and hope Hayley doesn’t wake up and cry.

If by some miracle both babies are napping, I’ll blitz clean the house, clear laundry and prep dinner in advance while going through the big kids’ 听写. In between, we’ll ride out the mayhem one insane minute at a time with toys, books, coloring pages, playground time, and intermittent mommy-curling-up-on-the-floor-rocking-back-and-forth-time. And that’s the plan for a good day.

On the slightly less good days (which is everyday), I’d be feeding the baby and just as she’s falling asleep, someone would scream because someone else was breathing too near to him and by the time I break up the fight, the baby would announce with her wakey eyes that sleeping time was over. Which makes for a tired, grouchy baby for the next 3 hours. Play doh corner would turn into an exercise in let’s see who can smear sticky stuff in tiny crevices around the house and dear God, I can’t even look at this mess right now. I’d try to cook and the baby would cry so now I’ve managed to add cooking to the list of things I can do with one hand.

One time, I took a quick shower (with the baby in her bumbo next to me in the bathroom) and when I came out, Theo was covered in Pokémon temporary body tattoos, even his face. It’s when I discovered that temporary tattoo is a poor name because this stuff lasts forever unless you scrub it out with rubbing alcohol. Do I have rubbing alcohol lying around for such contingencies? Sadly, I do not.

Another time, we couldn’t find Theo in the house and we were all on a panicked manhunt for the missing baby, only to discover that he decided to take his scooter out for a spin without telling anyone. When we finally found him, he was all like “don’t worry mom, I just went for a walk. I’ll come back later ok.

Maybe I’m going about this all wrong. Just look at hamsters. Hamsters have 12-20 babies at one time and hamster mommies don’t get all flustered about handling all the babies alone. They just lie down for a nap as and when they wish like it’s no big deal. And hamster babies don’t mess around because they know that those who don’t fall in line get eaten. If the kids are flinging food around during dinnertime or being all whiny about how this food is gross and can they not eat this for dinner, they end up being dinner. Mom will be like “Remember your 11th brother, the one who ran out of the house without asking? Of course you don’t. He doesn’t exist on this earth anymore.” Boom, problem solved.

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But then in the midst of the madness, I’ve discovered that kids will rise to the occasion if you just give them a chance to. Tru and Kirsten have been a tremendous help, watching the babies in between doing their homework. They would make up fun imaginary games for the boys to play and take turns carrying Hayley while I cleaned stuff. Finn would come up to me and ask if there’s anything he can help me with because he wants to “make my day better”. Even Theo would take toys for his baby sister and sing to her.

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I’ve also got a husband who comes home to do the dishes and clean up the house so while it’s been crazy, its the kind of crazy I’m thankful for.

I just need to survive the next 10 days COME ONNNN!!!

travel

The one about the onsen

One of the experiences we really enjoyed at Niseko was the onsen, otherwise known as the hot springs.

I didn’t start out being a fan of the onsen. Quite the opposite, in fact. The first time I went to an onsen was way back in 2000. The memory of this is hazy because I might have blocked it out of my mind a little too successfully. I was 18 and it was a family trip to Japan with my folks. There was a lot of excitement about how relaxing it would be to soak in the natural hot springs that was filled with awesome minerals but being 18, I was understandably self conscious and I couldn’t think of anything more mortifying than having to bathe out in the open next to my mom, my sister and a whole bunch of strangers. It could have been holy water hand-scooped by virgins in the himalayas and I still would not have wanted to bathe in it publicly. After some persuasion, I eventually did give it a go but it was an extremely awkward affair (so many boobs that I cannot unsee!) that I have since locked away in my mind.

Having borne the scars of that traumatic onsen experience, I was prepared to sit out on it this time around. I was like “you guys go ahead, I’ll just watch the baby here in the room.

But then I thought, I’m here in Niseko at a gorgeous resort with an open air onsen out in the snow and I’m not experiencing it because I’m self conscious? Don’t be such a baby.

So I put on my brave face, changed into my onsen robe, and made my way to the very public bath.

It’s been 17 years since my last onsen visit so I was a little rusty on the specific rules of the onsen. I knew it was a no clothes allowed situation but that was about it. How does one go about doing this? Where should I disrobe? Why are there different towel sizes?? Do I take a towel into the onsen area? If I had just showered in the room, can I just rinse or is it rude to not have another full shower before entering the onsen? Do I have to explain my pre-shower so everyone else doesn’t think I’m being unhygienic??

SO MANY QUESTIONS.

Normally, I’d just ask someone for help or observe someone else do it but when you’re butt naked next to another butt naked person, the two rules to observe is to not stare or start a conversation. I had to be discreet about this.

I walked into the onsen and saw a shelf with a couple of sandals. Ok, self explanatory. Put my shoes on the shelf before entering. So far, so good.

Once I was in the changing area, I almost made an abrupt U-turn to leave because it was packed with undressed women of all ages. There were like 8-10 ladies just doing their own thing but without clothes. So distracting. Having made my grand entrance, I could feel many pairs of eyes on me. Clearly, this was the time to undress but where do I put my robe and stuff?? Do I grab a towel? Should I casually drape towel on my arm like it’s nbd or use it to cover up?

Thankfully, there was a lady who was a step ahead of me and I was able to steal quick glances so that I could do exactly as she did.

At the shower area, I found a stool at the furthest end of the row and began my shower. After the initial awkwardness, I was starting to feel less weird about the whole experience. It’s fine, I’m just showering out in the open next to all these exposed boobs and bottoms, this is completely normal.

On this note, I discovered that showering on a stool? Total game changer. I mean, why is this not the default showering protocol? I’ve showered standing all my life and I suddenly felt so cheated because I was doing it wrong all this time. It is so comfortable to be sitting down for a shower. There’s also zero risk of slipping when I’m trying to lather the soles of my feet. I don’t have statistics but I’m willing to wager that far less Japanese people slip in the shower because they’re like “you morons can stand and shower, I’ll be sitting here all safe and comfy on my little stool.

See, I would not have learnt this incredible life hack if I had been too chicken to try the onsen.

Eventually, I was ready for the onsen and it was glorious. It was hot but I love my showers almost unbearably hot so I didn’t mind the temperature. The faint smell of sulphur was strangely therapeutic and I could feel the aches from my snowboarding falls wash away. Just sitting there breathing in the crisp, cold air and watching the snow fall around me as I soaked in the hot springs made the sacrifice of modesty worth it.

Kind of.

**Pro tip: Depending on how squeamish you are about public nudity, you can go really early (it’s usually empty), or in the middle of the day (maybe a handful of elderly ladies, which is far less threatening), or during prime evening time (super crowded but crowded can work in your favour because with so many naked people, nobody’s got time to look at you).

**Super pro tip: If you’re travelling with family or friends, you might want to consider staggering your onsen visits because naked strangers is one thing, but having to see someone you know naked, that’s just a mental image you don’t want to have seared into your retinas.

travel

Hokkaido 2017

As much as we loved Tokyo, I think the real star this trip was Hokkaido.

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To be honest, I wasn’t sure about Hokkaido at first because I always thought of it as a destination for elderly people and skiiers, of which I was neither. I’m a classic city girl who will take the bright lights and big cities any day. Besides, who brings a baby to Hokkaido in the dead of winter where it’s -5 degrees out on a warm day?

Turns out, me, that’s who.

And we loved it. I found Hokkaido to be breathtakingly beautiful, with her powdery slopes and laid back charm. In fact, we loved our time there so much that we’re in the midst of planning next year’s trip back, possibly with all 5 kids.

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Our introduction to Hokkaido was exciting. So we knew that it was going to be cold and we were layered up all ready for the subzero temp. What we weren’t prepared for was a full on blizzard that welcomed us the moment we arrived in Sapporo.

We had taken a bus to Susukino from Chitose airport, dropping off at the bus stop 2 streets away from our hotel, the Mercure Sapporo. Normally, that would be an easy walk (even with the suitcases, kids and baby) but with the blizzard, it felt like we were getting punched in the face with a block of ice, then being mercilessly pelted with a torrent of snowballs. To make things worse, the road was icy and slippery so we had to take delicate geisha steps to keep from falling.

For a moment, we just stood at the side of the road looking at all the luggage and the kids and the baby and the snowstorm and the icy road and started laughing because it was nuts. Should we wait it out? Should we make a dash for it? How were we going to get across in the blizzard with all of this stuff??

There was only one thing to do, which was to gather our resolve together with our belongings/offspring and make the impossible trek towards the hotel in the snow. It took a while but we managed to make it across the first street unscathed; so far so good. At the second crossing, we were halfway across doing our unglamorous geisha shuffle when the pedestrian traffic light turned red. In an effort to hustle, Truett slipped and fell spectacularly on his bottom in the middle of the road. He tried getting up, took one step, and slipped again on the ice. The cars were getting ready to move and my son was flailing in the middle of the road like one of them three stooges. So there I was, with a baby in my arms trying to hold up traffic by gesturing to the drivers not to run over my child while the husband tried to help Tru to safety.

The kids were like “MOMMMM DID YOU BRING US HERE TO DIE??? WE DIDN’T SIGN UP FOR THIS!!”

But I really like these kids, they just took it all in stride. Truett’s pants were covered in icy slush but he just got right back up again and even helped with the suitcases without complaining. I think they’re a large part of the reason why we do the crazy things we do.

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After that exciting first night in Hokkaido, the rest of our time turned out to be excellent. If Tokyo is the flamboyant, party-it-up fashionista, Hokkaido is the suburban mom who wore sensible shoes. I do like me a good party but I feel like Hokkaido and I could really get along.

Over the two days we were in Sapporo, we enjoyed delicious kaisendon and crabs at Noji fish market, shopped a bit at Odori, explored the Shiroi Koibito chocolate factory (so gorgeous!!), and had a lovely time at Sapporo beer garden. It was all exactly my kind of charming.

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From Sapporo, we hopped on a train to Otaru for a night before heading on to Niseko where we spent the last 4 days.

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Niseko is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. The kids took one look at all the soft, powdery snow and thought they were in heaven. And they were probably right, it was pretty close.

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They had such a grand time building an ice fort, making so many snowballs, rolling around in the snow, and even managed to pick up snowboarding. Yes, snowboarding!!

Okay, back up a little. Snowboarding is one of those skills I never thought I’d be able to learn because a) it’s hard! and b) no, seriously, it’s ridiculously hard. I took lessons that one time at Mt Buller and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve tried to learn. It’s like the physical equivalent of learning Mandarin.

But it is also very cool. Every time I’d see snowboarders blitzing down the mountain on their boards, I’d stop and ogle, I can’t help it. It’s the kind of life skill that makes you instantly more awesome.

So since we had 4 days up in the mountains, this was the perfect opportunity to finally master snowboarding. We arranged for lessons with a private instructor, rented the gear, suited up and got ready to level up our awesome. Within 2 hours, Truett and Kirsten were already cruising down the beginner slope like it was nothing. Especially Kirsten, who was a natural at it. Every time she got on her board, it was like BEAST MODE activated. Even the Japanese instructor was all “you’re a monster girl!!” approvingly when she nailed it. She made it look so easy it was annoying.

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Meanwhile, I took several days to finally get the hang of it. I fell so many times and so badly that my body was covered in huge bruises. By day 3, everywhere hurt so much. Like one time, I picked up too much speed and panicked so I went in for a toe brake and fell so hard I flipped over 3 times before ending up with my face in the snow. I don’t know what a concussion feels like but it was the only time I thought I got one so I just lay there with so much pain everywhere, afraid to even move. It’s discouraging to try so hard and fail so many times. I contemplated giving up because this is too hard and maybe I’m never going to learn this at the advanced age of 35, but if there’s one thing I have, it’s determination. Also, there’s a lot of pressure now that my kids are zipping down the mountain without breaking a sweat, I’m going to have to learn this one way or another. I checked to make sure nothing was broken, took a deep breath, got up and tried again.

It’s funny, when you’re learning something, it’s hard until suddenly, it’s not. After 3 days of bad falls, I got it. I could come down the mountain without falling, I could heel brake, I could toe brake, I could do the turns, it was like my body finally understood how this works.

And it was exhilarating. I can’t quite describe the feeling of boarding down a mountain on soft, powdery snow. It’s everything I imagined it to be, even better.

**The kids made this video on their own – they took most of the pictures/videos themselves and stitched them together. :)