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A week in Melbourne

So we finally did it – we brought all 5 of our little ones on an adventure to Melbourne.

When I was planning this, I told the husband that it was nuts to even attempt it and he was like, “yeah it’s definitely nuts but it’s going to be so fun!” and the man has a point. In deciding if one should attempt something crazy in life, always consider how fun the endeavour would be and in this case, totally worth it level of fun.

If there’s one place to attempt a first trip with 5 kids, Melbourne would be it. It’s incredibly kid friendly and everything was very seamless and fuss free.

After a red eye flight in to the city (the two babies slept almost the entire way there), we picked up a minivan from the airport and drove to our Airbnb in Docklands. So far, so good.

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We spent our 6 days in Melbourne doing a lot of this.

Feeding sheep.

Feeding deer.

Holding a bag of food near the deer and making him wait because we know how important it is to take photos of food before eating it.

Walking next to what appears to be the hind legs of a deer.

Feeding camels.

Feeding guinea pigs.

Patting bunnies.

Patting crocodiles. Yeah, no, there’s no way this baby is patting the crocodile even though it’s clearly not a real crocodile. She was all “haha, I’m just going to pretend to want to touch it and then run away because eww so gross.

Patting more bunnies.

Okay why in the world is bunny fur so ridiculously soft?? These kids could pat bunnies all day.

And also just casually standing around looking all dapper next to bunnies; so dapper, in fact, that the dude at the back was shocked like “I had no idea one could look this dapper standing next to a bunny.

Talking to sheep.

Learning to count sheep.

Having to explain to the alpacas why the hay was all gone.

The alpacas weren’t pleased. They were like “there are three of us against the three of you and I like our odds” and the boys were smart enough to make a hasty retreat after a quick discussion. They know not to take on annoyed alpacas unless you’re prepared to get spit in the face. Nobody pfffttss like an alpaca pfffttsss, I mean, these guys know how to make their displeasure known.

Although alpacas are so adorable. Look at that fluffy, cuddly face. I’d risk getting spit on any day.

And this little fawn? It was totally giving me bambi eyes the whole time and I might have thought about bringing it home.

Looking at the kids having so much fun with all the animals was such a treat, and for a brief moment, I considered it. Maybe having a different life, one with wide open spaces and farm animals and bundles of hay and little bunnies. I told the husband about it and as the words were coming out of my mouth, I started to laugh because who am I kidding? I wouldn’t last a week as a farm girl.

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Apart from spending time with all the animals at the farm and the zoo and the parks, we also sat on our favourite steam train, dear old Puffing Billy.

This little daredevil baby loved having her head dangle out of the window as the train was rumbling down the tracks. For days after that, she was still talking about how “Hayley sit train and put the head outside SO FUN!!

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There were also some tree climbing adventures, some museum adventures, some penguin adventures, some playground action adventures, and a little bit of walking around the city but mom this is so boring adventures.

All in all, this trip went as well as we could have hoped, which is to say, very well indeed.

And my most favourite part of all was having a whole week just doing fun stuff together with all these babies and watching them love on each other.

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Part V: DISNEY WORLD!!

If life is a collection of memories, then some of the very best ones I’ve collected are from Disney World.

Being in Disney World is like walking into a bubble; every small part from the resorts to the theme parks to the classic Disney music to the aroma of freshly made waffle cones on main street to the characters who play their parts to perfection, it all comes together to create some incredible magic. Strictly on a fun per minute basis, Disney is so far ahead that any comparison just wouldn’t even be fair. It’s 24 hours of amazing experiences non-stop every single day that we’re there.

I know there’s a whole world out there to explore and hopefully one day we’ll get to it, but now while the kids are still little, there is no place that lights up their tiny faces with such delight as the happiest place on earth.

We typically do Disney at the end of the trip because no matter how fun all the other parts get, you always know that there’s something better waiting for you at the end. And man, those last 8 Disney days were some pretty epic days.

Okay I’m going to attempt to put it all into one post.

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#1. Oh hello, Beach Club!

Choosing a Disney resort depends on several factors: how much time will you be spending at the parks/rooms? what’s your favourite park? how many people are there in your party? are you going to be spending any time at the pool? what kind of theming do you like? what discounts are available?

This trip, it was a toss up between one of the monorail resorts (Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Contemporary) for easy access to Magic Kingdom or the Epcot resorts (Beach Club, Yacht Club, Boardwalk Inn) for a short walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

I’ve heard a lot about the legendary Beach Club pool but all our previous Disney trips were all commando style park touring, which left very little time for chilling out at the pool. I mean, look at all the roller coasters! carousels! train rides! character meet and greets! It was always rope drop at the parks all the way till they shut the doors on us.

After some extensive research and a ton of rave reviews, we decided to go for the Beach Club resort and turns out, it was the perfect choice because yeah, we ended up doing a lot of this.

So every morning, we would ask them if they wanted to hang out at the pool or head straight to the parks and it would be like the most difficult decision they’ve ever had to make. They would huddle up and discuss the merits of each option and grab their heads and take a poll and finally decide to do 2 hours swimming followed by roller coasters for the rest of the day.

I’ve never seen them change and get ready at double speed like this ever. The big kids would be hustling the boys and helping them put on floaties and goggles, the whole time being all, “We need to hurry, if not there won’t be enough time for rides!!

2. Lovely to meet you, Pandora – the world of Avatar!!

I’m not a huge Avatar fan, but I was really excited to experience the new addition to Animal Kingdom, which has always been sort of an underrated park for me. Compared to Magic Kingdom or Epcot or Hollywood Studios, it’s definitely more of a slow burner.

But that all changed with the opening of Pandora. This place is stunning; the Disney Imagineers hit a solid home run with this.

photo credit: Disney

Both the new rides at Pandora are insanely popular and the only way to not queue 2-3 hours for them are to book fastpasses 60 days out (these go fast!).

Na’vi River Journey is a slow boat ride that’s visually mind-blowing, but it’s probably not worth a 2-hour queue. Avatar Flight of Passage (a simulator where you get to fly a banshee in Pandora), on the other hand, is possibly the best ride in Disney World right now. It’s a very difficult choice to make because TEST TRACK!! and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad!! but okay, this one is nuts.

It’s been a while since I stepped off a ride feeling completely blown away and this ride? It was full on goosebumps, jaw hitting the floor insanity. This is Disney magic at its finest.

3. What’s up, Animal Kingdom?

Maybe because of Pandora, Animal Kingdom became one of my favourite parks (can all 4 parks be my favourite?).

The kids were very enthusiastic about side quests this trip and one of the best ones was making like Russel from Up and learning to be a Widnerness Explorer. It’s an interactive experience where they could collect badges at over 30 stations around the park. All the cast members at the different stations were excellent, they made it super fun for the kids to learn about spiders and flamingos and goats and dinosaur bones.

4. I really like you, Epcot.

Thinking of Epcot gives me some serious withdrawal. This place is everything I want in a theme park – solid rides, beautiful theming, the best shows, somewhere to sit by a bench and share an ice-cream brioche with my babies.

The new addition to Epcot since we last visited was the Frozen ride, which took the place of Maelstrom in Norway. It’s definitely a major upgrade because now the boat ride takes you around Arendelle to hang out with Elsa and Anna and Olaf and Sven and the poofy Marshmallow thing.

Here’s Finn trying really hard to be a viking in Norway. Poor boy is good at a lot of stuff but clearly, being a viking isn’t one of them. He’ll have to take lessons from baby Theo on how to muster a proper angry viking face.

5. You’ll always have my heart, Magic Kingdom. 

If what you’re looking for is a good time, then Magic Kingdom is the place to be. Nobody knows how to party like Magic Kingdom does. Street parties, dance parties, sing-a-long parties, parade parties, there’s always a party to be had when you’re here.

The bigger kids kind of knew what to expect but this was a first for Theo, who was in a bit of shock when he saw all the parties. He was quite stunned for a while as he tried to process all this information, and then suddenly he was all like, “WOOOO PARTYYYYY!!!” and started running around dancing everywhere.

6. You’ve got a friend in me.

I’m of the opinion that one can never be too old to have a good time meeting Disney characters, but I think the big kids were starting to feel a little self-conscious about the meet and greets. Truett was like “but those are real people inside, isn’t it a little weird to be queueing up to meet them?” which ok, point taken. Although I’m 35 and I would take a hug from dude-wearing-mickey costume any day.

The kid who enjoyed it the most was Theo, who was also in shock (in a good way!) at seeing all his favourite characters walking around.

This is the longest Minnie hug ever and also baby Theo’s “I cannot deal with this level of awesomeness” face. This face makes me swoon.

 

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TL;DR? Here’s a video instead.

Disney World 2017 from Daphne Ling on Vimeo.

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Part IV: Universal Orlando

Ever since our last visit to Universal Orlando, we were certain of two things: 1. that one day our kids would become proper potterheads and 2. we would be back to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with them.

We just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

To be honest, during our last trip to Universal, we had sort of decided that it would be the last visit for a while. It was a fab time for us adults but we were touring with two kids who were visibly bored while interacting with the animatronic goblins at Gringotts bank(?!) and having lunch at Three Broomsticks(??!!). But understandably so because the magic of Diagon Alley isn’t immediately clear if one hasn’t read Harry Potter 1 through 7.

The kids couldn’t understand why their parents were fascinated by pointy wooden sticks and boring train stations so we ended up rushing through the park instead of soaking it in like one is supposed to. Okay, they did enjoy Honeydukes but I suspect it was mostly because of the candy.

Turns out that 2017 was the year that Truett and Kirsten got acquainted with Hogwarts and they loved it. I had planned to ease them in with books 1-3, then let them pick up on books 4-7 when they got a little older, like maybe 12? When Tru finished book 3, he made it clear that it was impossible for him to wait 2 more years before reading the next book and he presented a pretty good case. I remember having to wait an entire year for the next book to drop and it was excruciating; I couldn’t be this cruel to my kids so he has since devoured the entire series.

Kirsten got up to book 4 before deciding that her brain couldn’t handle this amount of darkness and it was a good call because I was 18 when book 4 dropped and I was terrified by the opening Frank Bryce scene with Voldemort + Nagini. This kid is so mature it makes me incredibly proud.

The point is, Truett and Kirsten have been suitably introduced to the magic and they were ready for a visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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Universal Orlando is made up of 2 parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. There are some decent rides for older kids scattered around both parks but the headliners are clearly the Harry Potter sections (Hogsmeade in Universal Studios and Diagon Alley in Islands of Adventure).

As far as theming goes, both areas are amazing. The level of detail is staggering and there are enough easter eggs for any hardcore potterhead to go crazy over. Like meeting Stan Shunpike and the Knight Bus complete with interactive shrunken head was such a treat. The kids were so thrilled to have a hilarious conversation with the shrunken head even though Theo ran away once the head started talking back.

And what about the dragon on top of Gringott’s bank that breathes real fire periodically throughout the day? Let’s just say that it still takes my breath away.

 

First off, when you’re visiting Universal Orlando, you want to get the park-to-park pass that allows you to visit both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in the same day. That’s the only way to ride the Hogwarts Express, which is an actual train connecting both parks.

I’d recommend riding it in both directions because each experience is different, although if you only have time for one direction (haha!), do it from King’s Cross station at Universal Studios because that’s where you get to see platform 9 3/4.

The new addition since our last visit was the wand-activated side quests one could find at various corners marked with medallions on the pavement. One has to purchase a special interactive wand in order to perform spells at these designated areas but if you ask me, it is the one merch item in the whole park that is worth purchasing.

Some of the quests were straightforward, like using Wingardium Leviosa to levitate a quill or Silencio to make a bird stop chirping. Others were very elaborate and super fun, like one where you could activate a moving skeleton on a screen to mirror your movements.

Then there are the rides. There aren’t many rides at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter but it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into creating an excellent experience for each ride. Escape from Gringotts is easily the best ride in all of Universal Orlando, combining a thrilling track roller coaster with insane 4D effects. The queue for this is consistently 2 hours long but for good reason (because it’s magnificent!!) and there’s a single rider queue if you don’t mind riding alone (no, we do not mind at all!).

And as if all of that is not enough, the thing to top it off was the Christmas fireworks light show that lit up Hogwarts castle every evening.

Right, I think that about covers it. I’ll wrap it all up with this video. :)

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Part III: Legoland Florida

As usual, we saved the best for last and this next leg of the trip was all about the theme parks.

It was an easy flight in to Orlando from Buffalo airport and the kids were practically high from excitement the moment we landed; they were singing and dancing their way through TSA clearance, which I suppose is the best way one could clear TSA checks.

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Another first for this trip was a visit to Legoland Florida. We had considered checking it out during the past few visits but it’s about an hour’s drive out from the main Disney/Universal cluster and it was always a “let’s do it next time” sort of situation.

Well, this time was finally the next time and now we’re like, we totally should have done it earlier.

Legoland is a dream come true for any Lego fan because there’s Lego everywhere: Lego castles, Lego dragons, Lego trees, Lego coasters, Lego farm animals, hands on Lego building stations, Lego robotics, basically anything one could want to see made of Lego can be found there.

Incidentally, this was Theo’s first proper experience of a theme park and this boy was in absolute heaven. It was full on wide eyed wonder at everything, like “YOU MEAN I SPENT 3 YEARS OF MY LIFE NOT KNOWING SUCH AN AWESOME PLACE EXISTS??!!! Is this made of Lego?? How about this? And this??? And I can ride as many times as I want??!! NO WAY!!! 

He was dragging us everywhere making us go on every single ride multiple times, it was like experiencing a theme park for the first time all over again and I loved it. :)

If you’ve been to Legoland Malaysia, most of the areas + rides are pretty similar. It’s a very toddler friendly park with a handful of big kid type thrill coasters. Which is to say that it was perfect for these two boys, who were having the time of their lives.

And unlike the insane crowds that can be found in Legoland Malaysia, the one in Florida was so quiet it was like having the whole park to ourselves. It was such a treat to basically walk on for every ride.

Usually, after every ride, they’ll be like “That was awesome, let’s do it again!!” and we’ll look at the queue and be like “Ummm, maybe later” which is code for “OH HELL NO.” But with a quiet park, they rode all the rides again and again and again and it’s totally an obnoxious first world problem but by the afternoon, the husband and I were having to rock, paper, scissors to see who would get to go on the spinning ride with the kids one more time.

By unanimous agreement, the best ride in the whole park was Lego Ninjago The Ride.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the kids have been crazy about Lego Ninjago, such that Theo has been telling me not to call him by his actual name. Instead, the only name that he will henceforth be responding to is Green Ninja. I told him that Green Ninja is a ridiculous name for a boy and I will not be calling him that. He was adamant, like “Yes mom, you are calling me Green Ninja.” And ok yes, as of this morning, I’m still calling him Green Ninja.

Back to the ride. This ride is amazing, it’s so much fun. You get to be one of the Lego Ninjago characters to go on an interactive mission to defeat bad guys via some advanced motion detection technology. The way to activate your powers was to wave your hands around wildly and you can be sure that there was some nerd level hand waving going down while we were riding.

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Part II: Niagara Falls

From New York, we drove 8 hours up towards Niagara Falls where we spent the next 4 days.

Niagara Falls has been on my bucket list for a long time and I’m glad we finally did it because WOAH IT IS GORGEOUS.

We had initially planned to fly in to Buffalo airport but it was Thanksgiving weekend and the flight prices were out of control. It would have cost about $2,000 instead of the usual $450 to fly all 6 of us so we decided to make a road trip out of it. It only cost us $150 for a one-way minivan rental from La Guardia to Buffalo and as a bonus, we were able to make a nice stopover at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets for some shopping.

Pro tip: Instead of doing a one-way minivan rental from LGA to BUF for all 5 days (which would cost $800+), we split it into 2 separate rentals: a 1-day from LGA to BUF ($150), followed by 4 days in BUF ($330). This meant that we had to make a 20-minute pit stop in Buffalo Airport to do the paperwork but it was very painless and they let us keep the same car so we didn’t even need to swap it out.

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You guys, Niagara Falls is unreal.

I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. I know it’s just water and rocks but when you put them together like that, it’s nothing short of magnificent. It’s like standing in a huge cloud of mist and you hear the thundering roar of rushing water and you look out and there are all these rainbows all around and it’s beautiful and terrifying all at the same time.

Every time the kids got too close to the edge, my heart would drop and I’d be like “3 steps back, guys!! Don’t make me have to go in after you, I’m not that good a swimmer.” They thought it was hilarious to see me this nervous so they took turns to get as close to the edge as possible and after a while, the only way to make them stop was to be all “You know what, going in after you would be futile anyway so hey, it’s been nice knowing you!!

And did they buy it? Not for a second.

It’s impossible to not visibly flinch when a piece of your heart is a small barricade away from plunging down the Niagara Falls.

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Here are some of the highlights:

1. Looking at the falls

I’ve always been a city girl but this made me question everything I knew about myself. I loved standing next to the falls and looking out at the rushing water. We couldn’t get enough of it.

We looked at it from the top of Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Terrapin Point, from the boat at the bottom of the falls, from behind the falls, and I still can’t decide which view I liked best. They were all spectacular.

2. Niagara-on-the-Lake

I love me some small town charm and Niagara-on-the-Lake is as charming as they come. We spent a whole day browsing quaint bookstores and looking at trinkets and having coffee, it was delightful.

3. Hiking

Again, I’m not really the hiking sort and unless you count the one time I walked around Coney Island, I don’t think I’ve gone on a proper hike in my life. I certainly didn’t think I’d enjoy it this much.

The weather was beautiful and we kind of just took a leisurely walk into some woods for a bit to hang out with some dogs and squirrels and ducks. It was an excellent way to spend an afternoon.

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4 days turned out to be the perfect amount of time to spend at Niagara Falls and those turned out to be some of my favourite memories of the trip; we could take things slow and I woke up to the best mornings ever.

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6 days in New York

It’s been over a month since we got back from the trip but it has taken me a while to finally sort through the obnoxious amount of photos so yeah, this is the time where we’re gonna talk about it.

Right off the bat, I’ll tell you that New York with 4 kids was challenging. I’ll always have love for the city, but when you’re hoisting 4 jet-lagged kids around everywhere, NYC isn’t the easiest place to navigate.

And I knew this, so when I was putting the itinerary together, we had already planned for a laid back touring style but even then, these guys were seriously slowing down our travel game. I think we eventually managed to cover like half of what we intended to, but it still made for a very enjoyable trip with some pretty rad moments.

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We spent 6 days in New York and these are some of the highlights:

1. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

One of the things we really wanted to do was go for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We were prepared that it was going to be crazy (6 million people along the sidewalks level of crazy), but it was Thanksgiving, and we were in New York City, and we had to at least try. So try we did.

The plan was to reach Columbus Circle by 6.30am to stake out a front-row spot along the curb, so we set our alarms for 5am. Amazingly, everyone was up at 5 on the dot (yay jet lag!!), but we had to put on 17 articles of clothing per child (x4 kids) and re-clothe them after enforced toilet breaks (because it was going to be a 4 hour wait at least) so despite our best efforts at making all the kids hustle, we only managed to leave the room at 6.45. Columbus Circle was buzzing with crowds by the time we got there.

If we get to do this again, everyone’s getting up at 4.

We didn’t get to be as close to the action as we wanted and it was way too cold to be sitting by the sidewalk for so many hours, but the vibe was so full of happy it made the long wait worth it.

2. Parks + Playgrounds

These kids have not met a park/playground they didn’t like so we spent a lot of time exploring playgrounds around the city.

It might seem like a waste of time to hang out at playgrounds when we were in New York City, where there’s so much else to do, but as we discovered, NYC has some of the best playgrounds.

Their favourites in order of preference was heckscher playground, brooklyn bridge park, and east river state park.

3. Christmas markets

This was mostly for me. I love Christmas markets so I dragged everyone along with me to the markets at Bryant Park and Union Square. And it was lovely. We had hot chocolate and chocolate truffles and cookies and churros and pork buns and hot dogs and cheesesteaks under the lights and chilly wintery air.

4. American Museum of Natural History

We had planned to visit more museums but after dropping rest from the itinerary, the only one we managed to spend time at was the one at the top of the list, the American Museum of Natural History.

Why? Two words: Dinosaur bones.

I can totally understand their fascination with dinosaurs because it’s quite something to be up close with all these magnificent fossils. We spent half a day there and only managed to cover a fraction of the exhibits so I guess this means we’ve got to come back again to explore the rest of it.

5. Ice skating

Ice skating in New York is a special kind of dreamy. Maybe it’s the view of the city in the background, or too many rewatches of Serendipity or just something in the air, but it’s probably my favourite place in the world to go ice skating.

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Bangkok without the kids!

So after four years of not traveling without the kids, we finally decided to go for a no-kids getaway to Bangkok for 4 days.

Before we get to how the trip was (pretty great!), let me tell you about getting to the trip. Remember that time when we left all the kids at my mom’s house and went for Coldplay? It’s when I discovered that my threshold for not seeing the kids is like half a day max. Anything more than 6 hours makes me all antsy and twitchy.

I think it’s because I’m spoiled after being a stay home mom for so many years, having access to all the baby cuddles anytime I want. Like when I’m having a rough day, I can just stop and go hug my babies until I feel better. Anxiety coming on? Closing my eyes and inhaling some of that delicious baby smell makes it go away. My default stress coping mechanism is a rabid munching of chubby baby rolls, it always works.

This condition makes traveling without babies such a dilemma. I mean, I want to do it – I know that I’ll enjoy it when I’m there – but my baby withdrawal symptoms are severe. My brain is all “Just go! You need a break, no, you deserve a break so just take it, the babies will be ok.” but then my everything else will be like “84 hours without baby kisses and thigh roll munches? The babies will be fine but you won’t.” Underneath all the bravado, I’m just a huge pile of mushy baby-needing mess.

The night before we left, I was putting the kids to bed and smothering them with extra kisses to make up for my mom guilt when the realisation of my impending departure started to sink in for Finn and Theo. Truett and Kirsten were very cool, like “Have fun, mom! We’ll miss you so much!!“, but then the two boys were like “Wait, what?? You’re going to Bangkok tomorrow morning??? I did not agree to this!! Can I go to Bangkok too? I like Bangkok I will go wherever you go…

Both of them started tearing up with great big sad tears. “Please mommy please please please can I go??

I almost went online to buy 2 more tickets for the flight right then because I have no resolve. Just look at this face.

And this face.

Okay wait, I actually did go online with every intention of buying 2 more tickets but I discovered that the price for the extra 2 seats were 3 times what I paid for our original tickets so ummm, that’s a hard no. What am I, some kind of oil tycoon? They will just have to learn to deal with disappointment like us normal humans, with giant hugs and sobby whispers of “I’ll miss you so much!

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Bangkok was excellent for a quick getaway. We went shopping, we ate Thai food, we went for massages, we sat in coffeeshops to read. I had time to finish two books while we were there: Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, both of which I enjoyed thoroughly. We took walks around the city like two people who didn’t have five kids. **Here’s where I should put up some pictures but we took a total of zero selfies. Sorry, zero points for blogging effort.

It’s a strange feeling to not be in mom mode for four whole days. There’s the silence, which I didn’t realise how much I had missed. We were on the plane and I turned to the husband to start a conversation only to see him enjoying this rare moment of silence with such bliss that I decided to enjoy some of it myself. Over the four days, we had fun conversations, but we also had long, glorious extended periods of silence and it was really nice.

There was also a constant sense that I forgot something. I’d be walking along Chatuchak market and there would be a flash of panic, thinking that I left something behind because why is my life so easy right now? Then I’d see a frazzled mom holding on to a sweaty, squirmy, screamy baby and realise that why yes, I did leave something behind and it’s called responsibilities.

Most importantly, we could only have done this with the help of my in-laws and my mom who had to watch the five babies, so thanks dad and mom and mom!