Weeks 33-36: Homer

A word of warning: I am about to wax both maudlin and metaphorical today - it's a combination that should be strictly limited to romance novels and Hallmark Channel programming, but I am going to do it anyway. If you're not in the mood for melodrama, you might want to click on over to ESPN, although you're likely to find it there, too.

So. It is no secret that I have had trouble adjusting to life over here in Southeast Asia - much more trouble than either Greg or my surprisingly adaptable offspring have had - or that the thing in my life most notably and painfully missing is the companionship of my friends. I am blessed, I know, to have the girlfriends that I do, both in and outside of Austin. And by friends, I don't mean the inscription on a pre-teen's pendant - forever split in two, always yearning for the matching half - or even the premise for a successful sitcom. I am talking about real, honest-to-goodness, girlfriends: women who love me in spite of my many flaws, who understand my limitations and gently encourage me to overcome them, or help me try to forget them, as appropriate. I am talking about the special relationship that exists among women who know each other well enough to say the things that need to be said, no matter how uncomfortable they may be to speak or to hear, and to listen when it really matters most. Women to whom you can tell anything, no matter how stupid, or emotional, or politically charged, and you know that there may be some good-natured razzing, but there will be no judgment. Women with whom I am equally comfortable sharing personal thoughts or just a beer in the driveway. So, yes, I lament their absence in almost every update - perhaps to your great chagrin - because it's just harder to enjoy this expatriate extravaganza without them.

You see, the fabric of my happiness is a simple one: I need ample time with my family; I need mental exercise, preferably something that provides value, if not income, outside of my home; I need an abundant reserve of Clorox wipes; and I need someone - other than my husband - to talk to; because Greg is willing to listen to me vent about most things, but he tends to be rather unreceptive to complaints about him specifically. That's not a lot, is it? Just a few things, really, to keep me happy. But this simple fabric, to continue my vexatious metaphor, is fragile in its structure: pull one thread out, and the whole thing begins to unravel. And that is where I find myself now and then, even with the family time, and the work, and the appropriate cleaning supplies - without the readily accessible support system of my friends, I tend to fray a bit around the edges.

Well, aren't there more than four million people in Singapore, you ask? Surely I could make some new friends and lay off the sob story for just a little while, right? Well, that is a lot easier said than done; at least it is for me. Many of you know that, in the emotional landscape of my admittedly eccentric world, attending a gathering of people I don't know, and being expected to interact with them on a normal social basis, is akin to entering one of Dante's levels of hell - the one just below the River Styx, perhaps, where the "sullen" souls hang out. Unless, of course, these strangers are embroiled in a heated debate involving politics or data analysis tools - then I'd be right at home. Unfortunately, political discourse has historically been eschewed as too volatile for social subject matter, and I have met few party-goers with the same passion for Microsoft's quintessential spreadsheet program that I have. Instead, most folks (understandably) want to have polite verbal exchanges that are unlikely to offer offense. And I am no good at that - mostly because I get so nervous worrying that what I say will come out all wrong, and somehow end up creating the very state of offense this type of conversation was designed to avoid, that I am rendered all but speechless, and that tends to drive people away even more than partisan censure. I know it's not rational, but paranoia rarely is, you know. You could call me conversationally challenged, I guess, or socially insecure at a minimum. It is an aspect of my personality that I am making every effort to change, but for now: if you want to discuss the effects of global warming or the beauty of pivot tables, count me in; if, however, you want to have a little harmless small talk, go find Greg - he's profoundly talented in this area (something I have always admired and envied).

So, yes, I have met a lot of people, and specifically, a lot of women, a few with whom I actually do have a great deal in common, and whose company I enjoy immensely. But, these things take time, particularly for someone as diffident as I am. And Greg, thoughtful man that he is, knows this. So when his mother scheduled a return visit to the land of the black spitting cobra, Greg suggested that I take a trip back home. To Texas. By myself. He would have Memaw here to help him, he assured me, and she could chase after the boys while he allegedly traipsed off to work each day. When I was still non-committal a mere two weeks before Katherine's arrival, he began insisting that I go. While trying very hard not to take his apparent zeal over my proposed absence too personally, I began to see the potential benefits of spending a week on my own.

It then became an internal contest: between my intense desire and need for personal time - for freedom, if only for a few days, to eat when and what I want, to sleep when I want, to wear dry-clean only clothes, or even (dare I think it?) high-heeled shoes - and my significantly more intense fear of bad things happening to the people I love: fear that one (or both) of the boys would get hurt without me there to overprotect them, or that my plane would crash and leave them mommy-less, or that the bird flu would break out in Singapore while I was busy throwing back Bud Lights in the U.S. You see, I have left my children before, but never for more than five days, and never with more than a quick flight separating us. Fear is a powerful thing; at least it is in my life. But, as the aforementioned friends told me when I was agonizing over this decision, I can't fully care for my kids, or for my husband, if I don't take of myself; and that, apparently, includes a little self-indulgence once in a while. Plus, it wasn't like I'd be leaving them alone with Greg for a week.

So I did it. I cried all the way to the airport, but I did it: I embarked on a self-discovery adventure of great distance and emotional significance - just like Homer's classic tale. Except that my journey was voluntary... And it only lasted a week... And I think I was a bit more emotional than Odysseus, massive bloodshed notwithstanding.

And, I had a wonderful time. In addition to enjoying numerous hours of interesting conversations with my beloved friends - ranging in content from inane to earnest - I gorged myself on local Texas delicacies, including Mexican food, barbecue, and the now world famous Elgin mashed potatoes, that Greg's grandmother thoughtfully prepared for me on my last day. And I didn't have to cook or clean up any of it - it was delightfully decadent. As for enjoying a self-directed sleep schedule, the brutal effects of jet lag ensured that only a few attempts at peaceful slumber were successful; but that just left me with more time to have fun, so it wasn't all bad.

When it was all said and done, I talked a lot, ate a lot, and slept very little, and I am so glad that I went, that I overcame my fears, at least this once. Unlike Odysseus, my family recognized me when I returned, but I feel like my journey was significant - in its own, less epic way - as well. Spending time with my friends, talking about the things that are most important in my life, about what contributes to my emotional well-being, and what detracts from it; knowing that they are still present and available, despite the distance between us; and that they love me, even with my peculiar personality; it all makes me somehow more confident - more willing, and hopefully more able, to interact with strangers, and maybe even make new friends.

While I was  thoroughly enjoying myself in Texas, the boys were having just as much fun, if not more, here in Singapore with their Memaw, including a raucous afternoon in-line skating at East Coast Park. Fortunately, once I crossed back over the Pacific, I was able to enjoy some time with Katherine as well (although I slept 24 out of my first 30 hours back). On her last day here, we all went down to Clarke Quay to have some fajitas - at the local restaurant that, so far, has most closely approximated the singular flavor of Tex-Mex food - and explore a bit. In search of mechanically cooled air, we ventured into the famous Fullerton hotel (formerly the Singapore post office), which Cameron has now christened "the hotel that I love." He has been requesting a return visit, with an overnight stay no less, since we boarded the taxi at its exit.

Sadly, Katherine left early the next morning, concluding our amazing and wonderful parade of visitors for 2006. Our next chance to bask in the glow of family and friends will be in the last two weeks of December, when all four of us will travel home for Christmas. Other than a planned jaunt to Australia over spring break next year, the calendar's wide open...

Take care,
Shannon et al.

Check out the new masterpieces below the photos...

Cameron and python at Underwater World




Alec and python at Underwater World


moray eel  at Underwater World (not a puppet)



Cameron, floating...


Alec, Cameron, & Memaw at East Coast Park


Alec & Cameron






sawfish at Underwater World


Cameron & Greg




spider crab at Underwater World (very big)


Cameron & Alec








scuba dude feeding the fish and (friendly) sharks at Underwater World (where Alec got the idea for his picture)



Alec & fish, talking at Underwater World




Alec & Cameron


close-up of a reef shark...

Alec & Cameron


me and some friends from home





Alec & Cameron

Boys' Artwork

Alec's Art...



"Scuba Diver"




Cameron's Art...


"Smelly Sock"




Memaw's Art...



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