Koh Samui, Thailand: Relative Safety

I thought the ocean was the dangerous place. Venomous jellyfish, crashing waves that can drag you under, saltwater that burns the eyes and hungry mysterious sea creatures below. But mostly it was the jellyfish I feared.

My fear isn’t completely irrational. I read the memoir Traveling with Ghosts, by Shannon Leone Fowler, who was vacationing with her fiancé in Thailand when he unexpectedly dies after getting stung by a venomous jellyfish. The injected venom caused his heart to stop and he was dead within five minutes.

On the day of our arrival in Koh Samui, I sized up my foe, the ocean. Impressive, perhaps insurmountable. There was a sign posted warning about venomous jellyfish, but not about their lethality. I took this as an admission of the jellyfishes’ presence and confirmed existence, and that the potential threat of a sting was indeed plausible. But what I needed to assess was the severity and the species of jellyfish encountered.

The evening of our arrival, having stuck only to the glistening safety of the pool that day, I typed “jellyfish” and “Koh Samui” into Google. My research confirmed my fears: over the years, people have died from jellyfish stings here. Just a month ago, a ten-year-old boy was severely stung and rushed to hospital. In one photograph, the boy is being led under the arm by an ambulance attendant; his face pale and ashen. Next to him, juxtaposed in a smaller frame, is the culprit and attacker: a translucent box jellyfish. Scrolling down the page revealed a third photo of the boy’s foot, badly blistered.

The attacks I read about seemed to be localized to one part of the island, not where we were or at this time of year. After reading the article, I turned to Dan,

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to swim in the ocean. I don’t think I can let the kids go in – it’s too scary.”

On day two, the waves calmed down a bit, and I jogged alongside my foe, in a pitiful display of intimidation. Oh, I longed, how I longed to penetrate those waves.

I jogged past a little girl laying on her stomach in the sand, with her back to the ocean. The waves pounded and crashed down in the background then lapped at her legs, gently – playfully – pulling her in.

What fun.

During my run, I also spotted a roped-in (netted?) area for swimming. This would be my entry point.

My family acquired beach toys, and the plan was to play safely at the water’s edge.
With Dan and the girls settling in at the beach, I told him where I was going, loosely, pledging to find us a “safe place to swim” and that I would be “right back”. He never saw me again.

Just kidding!

I got my family to the beach because of one reason only: chlorine rash. All three girls got nasty painful rashes from the chemicals in the swimming pool the day before. Go figure. With the girls needing a break from the harsh exposure of the chemicals against their sensitive skins, a beach day seemed in order.

I paced down the beach, seeking a perfect “safe” spot. Finally, two kilometers later, at the spot where I had turned back in my run, I came across the nets and a dad playing in the water with his little girl. The little girl had a blond braid trailing down her back and she must have been five or six. She played carefree, while I stood frozen in place, looking out at the waves that beckoned. Finally, I inched my way close enough to get pummelled by a wave, then I was in the ocean. Nothing bad happened.

By the time I walked back to Dan and my family, I’d reached the conclusion that probably anywhere along the shoreline was just as safe as anywhere else. Dan and I jumped in together, from the shores on the property of our resort. We packed up for lunch, and that afternoon took the kids back to the pool and made sure to rinse them off well afterwards, which seemed to help with the rash situation.

That evening at dinner, it happened. I saw a couple moving gracefully through the water as the sun set. They looked like angels floating through heaven out there, and I, momentarily, seriously considered ditching my dinner and my family to join them – such was my desire to truly swim in the ocean. Turns out the couple are from Kazakhstan (side note: cool! I’ve met someone from Kazakhstan – Kazakhstanis!).

While I had all of my attention focused on the ocean, I’d completely overlooked other potential threats.

There are feral dogs roaming the grounds of our resort. They aren’t aggressive towards humans (until they are), but random dog fights occasionally arise on the beach and within ear shot. Penelope and Ariel broke free and sprinted ahead of Dan and me after lunch one day, and a dog came out of nowhere and barked aggressively at them, stopping them in their tracks. Thankfully, someone called it off. Another morning, jogging down the beach, Dan passed by packs of dogs. Normally, the dogs barely lift their head, but as he reached the turnaround point, a dog charged at him barking aggressively. He yelled at it and grabbed a stick for his way back.

We are staying in a beach front villa that has a partially covered private patio. On day two, returning back to the safety of our villa from the beach, a black and green snake slid (or fell) down from its perch with a THUD on the ground beside Dan. The snake slithered into the corner where he stayed to visit for a while.We took pictures and asked the hotel staff about him.

“Just little bite, but you should have it removed because of the children.” They might not know not to touch it.

There go the howls of the dogs again.

I ventured down the laneway leading away from our resort and across the street to a coffee shop owned by a German expat with a man bun. I told him about my interest in renting a motorized scooter. He looked at me skeptically,

“Have you ever ridden one before?” Admittedly, I hadn’t.

“It’s incredibly dangerous to drive here,” he warned. “One and a half people die in traffic accidents on the island every day, and in Thailand it’s over 12,000 people per year. Thailand is considered one of the most dangerous places to drive in the world.”

Interestingly enough, the thirty-minute car ride from the airport to our resort was dotted with motorcycle and scooter rentals. With our lack of experience being a factor, and the sheer unexpected busy-ness of traffic on the island, Dan and I decided to pass on the Asian driving experience.

While I had found the courage to jump in and get back out, I wanted to fully enjoy the ocean and to do so, I began interviewing locals. I asked various hotel staff members about the jellyfish situation. Had anyone ever been stung here? Hurt? Killed?! They mostly told me, “No, no, no – no have jellyfish!” One local woman pointed across the way to the visible nearby island of Ko Pha-ngan and said pointedly, “but don’t go swim there.” That is, in fact, the island where Shannon Leone Fowler’s fiancé died. I found the woman’s comment troubling.

I finally got what I felt was an honest and accurate answer. Yes, there are some jellyfish, and people get minor stings, but “we put the vinegar on it, they okay.” I could live with that. I would live.

The next day I woke up and the ocean was calm and clear as glass. I spotted the Kazakhstani couple out there swimming and without a second thought, dressed in my bathing suit, snapped on my watch and swim cap, and headed for the door. My feet hit the sand at a jog and I dove straight into the waves. Okay, I paddled out cautiously, like a frog, but it was a glorious moment, all the same. I was able to push my fears aside. I swam for 600 meters back and forth up and down the shoreline. The ocean lifted me up, effortlessly, each stroke felt light and breezy. I waved excitedly at the Kazakhstani couple, my water comrades, as I caught up to them. I was in heaven. With the water flat and waves mellowed out, my entire family joined me in the ocean after breakfast. We swam off and on for hours and delighted in the experience of the warm bath. Ariel remained somewhat skeptical about the safety of the sea; Penelope was carefree and Elyse, my little pitcher with big ears, screamed and hollered in protest when I dragged her into the ocean. Perhaps the only sane one of the bunch.

Another dog stalks by me, watching me from the corner of its eye.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the ocean’s a dangerous place deserving of respect. And for the record, just as many people have died from box jellyfish stings on Koh Samui as have died on Ko Pha-ngan – about seven or eight people on each island over the last twenty years.

There’s no doubt in my mind the ocean’s a dangerous place, just not today.

Author’s note: The day after I wrote this piece, I went for another morning swim and experienced tingling and annoying stings on various parts of my body. At first, I chalked it up to psycho-somatic symptoms: you know, I’m writing about killer jellyfish and now I’m feeling jellyfish stings, come on! I was wearing goggles, and as I cut through the water I looked down and could see nothing, but felt stabs of pain; it was like being stung by ghosts. Eventually, I got out to check my stinging arms, and there were indeed tiny red marks. My friends from Kazakhstan were also getting out of the water, and the husband confirmed it for me. Jellyfish arrived with the tide. I was stung by jellyfish. I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit and my abdomen was inflicted the most. Hive-like welts scattered across my stomach.

If you or someone you know is stung by a jellyfish, apply vinegar to the wound immediately. Vinegar helps to remove the tiny stingers leftover and prevent further venom from getting into your bloodstream.

Clearly, the jellyfish that stung me were not dangerous – I’m here to write about it – but let’s just say I was happy we booked a land tour for the next day.

Chiang Mai, Thailand: The Most Enchanting Experience of My Life

You know how there are those moments that can change everything in an instant? Often, this is in a bad context, but I believe just as strongly in the irrevocable flashes of good in our lives. The moments when the universe steps in and says look what is possible.

For me, these moments include the night Dan proposed under a starry sky of snowflakes, our wedding day, the birth of each of our children, and a handful of incredible experiences I’ve encountered through life and travel, many of them on this trip around the world. So far, Thailand has given me no less than two such amazing experiences. The first was visiting Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary and place to encounter elephants in their natural environment. The second experience, that dazzled and amazed, can be summed up in three words: the lantern festival.

There are two festivals happening simultaneously during our time in Thailand. The name of the festival varies by region, but it is the same festival, essentially. Loy Krathong is characterized by releasing small boats into the water, called krathong, that are made from banana trees, decorative flowers and a lit candle. Loy Krathong was traditionally celebrated on November 11, but with tourist interest and attention, the festivities have ballooned to last several days (this year from November 8 to 12). The exact date also depends on the lunar calendar and the arrival of the full moon. In Buddism, releasing krathong is supposed to appease the Queen of the River, Kongka, and serve as an apology for taking her water and doing with it what we will. While Loy Krathong is celebrated across Thailand, specific to the region of Chiang Mai with its old city, is Yi Peng. As a member from the staff of our hotel explained to me,

“The North of Thailand we call Yi Peng. The people are called Yi Peng.”

While Yi Peng is the name of the festival of lights in the North, it also happens to be the birthplace of the tradition of releasing lanterns, called khomloy, into the air in Thailand, which now happens in other cities in Thailand as well. Khomloy are large lanterns, lit from the bottom like hot air balloons. You grasp the khomloy tight, and then when it reaches peak temperature and tugs away from your grasp, begging to be let go, you release it up into the air, along with all of your troubles and a wish for good things to come. This year, the mass release of the lanterns was slated to happen on November 11th and 12th mostly; and though the city of Chiang Mai tried to outlaw releasing khomloy within the old city limits for the first time, the Yi Peng were not dissuaded, I can assure you.

Releasing the lanterns carries great significance and is a symbolic act. As our hotel staff member explained,

“Your life now has a trouble, your wish make it better. Make a wish about the good things to come in your life, (release the lantern) make the bad things go away.”

Our accommodation was twenty-five minutes outside the city by car, and our hotel graciously organized a boat tour for its guests to be able to experience the simultaneous festivities, lights by sky and water, in the middle of it all. Of course, there are organized mass lantern releases, and you can pay $100 a ticket, but arguably the best place to see the lanterns and experience the sights and sounds is in the heart of the old city of Chiang Mai, by Narawat bridge. The cost to be in the old city is free, if you can fight your way in; the view priceless.

Our little boat crew of about twenty-five people took off downstream. We could see beautiful krathong floating in the water right from the start, from the shores of our hotel, but as we passed by several celebrations taking place further along the banks of the river, the array of accumulated lights along the water was dazzling. By boat, to reach the heart of the action, we had about an hour of drifting to do, but around each bend the anticipation and thrills only grew. We saw a few lanterns, khomloy, dancing high in the air in the distance, a harbinger of delights to come.

As we approached the city, we observed many people releasing khomloy into the air and krathong into the water, but it was the scene as we rounded the final bend that was the most spectacular. Thousands of illuminated lanterns, suspended in the air, moving in unison, rising. My eyes glowed from the sheer pleasure of the scene. And as we drew nearer, the lanterns only grew bigger, fireworks shooting off all around us, packed shores and bridges, bodies and lights everywhere. I could plainly see the scene from shore would have been too much for our little family. We would have been engulfed by the masses entirely. Even from the water, the scene was overwhelming. I was brimming with emotion, every one of my senses firing, lit up. The thought came to me, and without question I knew it to be true: this is the most enchanting experience of my life.

Our boat tour began at 8:00 p.m. – past our children’s regular bedtime. Despite her tiredness, Ariel remained engaged for quite a while; but when she deteriorates, she deteriorates fast. Penelope, bright-eyed, was eager for adventure and told me, “This is so cool!” as we approached the multitude of lights by boat. Elyse was able to take in the sights and sounds, but in a modified way. We needed to tune down the sensory experience for her so as she would not become too overwhelmed and shut down completely. The combination of a late night, being out in the dark, loud and abrupt sounds, bright lights, a moving open-air boat, and a foreign situation all spell disaster for our sensitive Elyse. So we did what we had to do – not what I would have liked to do – but what we had to do, and we brought earphones and an iPad to help keep Elyse calm. During what I would call the height of the chaos and beauty, while our boat was momentarily stationary, Elyse took off her earphones and came over beside me while I lowered a krathong on behalf of our family into the water, and that was a beautiful moment. She took part in her own way.

There were several families and children on the boat alongside us, which was nice. The look of wonder and excitement on their faces, on all of our faces. One French-speaking boy, who took a particular liking to Elyse, happened to be on board with his family. Earlier in the day by the pool, I had come down for a swim with Ariel and Penelope, while Elyse was upstairs still getting ready. The little boy came right over to me and asked,

“Où est celle qui a sept ans?” Where is your daughter who is seven years old? He was delighted when she joined us shortly thereafter.

After our evening boat ride ended, sometime after 10:00 p.m., each of us filled to the brim by the experience, but also exhausted from the day’s events, we traipsed through the lobby on the way back to our room, and I caught up with the little boy again. He handed me a candy. “Oh, thank you! Is this for me?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Oh, it’s for Penelope?” who was standing beside me.

He shook his head again.

“Non, c’est pour celle qui a sept ans.”

Elyse had already made her way upstairs, but I made sure to deliver the candy from her crush.

There are definitive moments and large sweeping gestures, grandiose scenes of lantern-lit skies that take your breath away and then there are the everyday kindnesses that make life so sweet and worthwhile, that make the heart glow from the inside out as bright as floating lanterns backlit against the night’s sky. I am grateful to have experienced both in one day. Life will never be the same.

Guest Post: Down syndrome and The Dentist, How to Prepare For Your Child’s First Visit by Dr. Greg Grillo

Editor’s Note: Dr. Greg Grillo reached out with a desire to share dental information in support of Canadian Down Syndrome Week.  The words and opinions expressed are his own and that of his team.  Please visit dentably.com for more information.  

Down Syndrome and The Dentist, How to Prepare For Your Child’s First Visit 

The first trip to the dentist can be a scary and stressful experience for any child, and that’s even truer for those with Down syndrome. Preparing for the first visit is key to making sure it is successful, and helps set the tone for future visits. I’ve been practicing dentistry for over 17 years, and have seen children from all walks of life through their first appointment. Let’s look at what to expect on that first appointment, and how you can help make sure it goes as smooth as possible.

Many Different Stimuli

One of the biggest issues for children with Down syndrome on their first dental visit is the large amount of stimuli. This ranges from visual things such as bright lights to loud noises like drills and cleaning tools. These all can be a bit overwhelming, so it’s important to prepare for them ahead of time.

Things like sunglasses or earplugs are both ideas for mitigating some of these stimuli. You know your child better than anyone else, so think about what types of things might be triggers for them while at the dentist. Then, bring any concerns to the dentist, and they can help make sure your child’s appointment is pleasant.

You can also prepare with things like video at home. Showing your child the process in a more comfortable environment can help prepare them for the real thing later on.

Meeting New People

Another big part of visiting the dentist is meeting new people. This obviously includes the dentist, but you’ll also meet the hygienist, the receptionist, and maybe even other patients. That’s potentially a lot of new people in one day.

If this is something that might be a concern for you and your child try setting up a desensitization appointment ahead of time. Spending a few minutes meeting the staff before the appointment can help make the actual appointment day easier. It also helps your child meet new people during a time where they are not already nervous about the cleaning to come.

Planning For The Future

While the first appointment might be stressful, it’s important to think about the future as dental care is a lifelong activity. You’ll want to set up an appointment and cleaning every 6 months for your child, so you’ll be going back many times.

Help them understand this, and the importance of going to the dentist for a lifelong healthy mouth. One thing that can help is working with the same staff and dentist on every subsequent visit. This can help them get familiar with who they’re working with, and also mitigate some of the apprehension of meeting new people each time.

The first visit is always a bit tense, but with proper planning you can help make sure it goes great. Dental care is a lifelong habit, so building that expectation young and helping your child understand that is key to helping them maintain their dental health. As always, if you have any concerns always talk to your dentist; they’re here to help and never want a child to miss out on receiving the proper dental care they deserve.

Dr. Greg Grillo has been a practicing dentist in Washington State for more than 17 years. After studying at the University of Washington, Dr. Grillo received a bachelor’s degree with honors before attending the School of Dentistry on the same campus.

Dr. Grillo is committed to caring for families and educating his patients about the health benefits that come with a good oral hygiene routine. This is especially true for families that have children with autism, Down syndrome and other needs. As a valuable member of the Dentably team, Dr. Grillo is able to share his expertise with you to make your next appointment at the dentist a comfortable experience.

Japan II: The Ice Cream Incident

I am currently 2,743 feet up in the air. The temperature is minus forty-five degrees Celsius, but I’m donning a sleeveless dress with black tights. We are on our way to Thailand and I am prepared for the thirty-five-degree heat. But I can’t leave Japan without a warm farewell, a sincere sayonara, and a further account of our experiences there.

We stayed in Japan for a total of eleven days, and spent time in Tokyo, Yamanashi (Mt. Fuji region), Hiroshima – including a day trip to Miyajima Island – Kyoto and Osaka. Our time in Kyoto and Osaka was admittedly short, about twenty-four hours each. How long does one need to stay in a place to get a sense of it? Not that long, it turns out.

While Tokyo was hit by a typhoon a few weeks before our arrival, the climate cooperated perfectly during our stay. The ongoing joke between Dan and I was him asking if we needed the winter coats I packed, as the thirteen degree overnight and brisk morning temperatures quickly rose to nineteen or twenty degrees during the day. You can’t say I wasn’t prepared.

Interestingly enough, we hardly needed any of our own clothes during our time in Japan, as we spent four days at a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn) where our attire was provided. From a laundry perspective, this was great news. The hotels we stayed at in the big cities also provided nightwear, aka pyjamas, but we opted for our more casual t-shirts and nightgowns versus the buttoned-up affair.

My impressions of Japan are a series of moments and small details: colourful paper cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument; matcha tea and gelatinous purple treats in the tea house of the rock garden at the ryokan, the sound of a bullet train whining past, like steel breaking the sound barrier; soaking naked in the onsen beside strangers on the roof and staring at Mount Fuji in awe.

Dan described Japan best with a simile. He said Japan is like an iPhone in that if you follow the system, not only do you get the most out of the experience, but it works, and it works well. If you try to deviate outside the norm, there is no flexibility, and you will spend a lot of time banging your head against the wall in frustration. We had our share of glitches in Japan. Nothing frightening or harmful, just the impracticalities of trying to operate under a different system. Of being an outsider.

Perhaps the most acute difficulty with trying to simultaneously figure out a new culture while living our lives was to also care for our children. I often advocate on children’s behalf promoting their ability to adapt to change more readily than adults – and this is true, to an extent. Children are also creatures of routine, and when those routines are significantly altered, chaos can ensue. Okay, in our case, no chaos ensued. Well maybe a little chaos.

The food was the most obvious deviation from our regular routines. Despite Japan’s international reputation as being one of the healthiest nations in the world, partly due to its intake of fresh fish, we struggled somewhat with our diets. In a pinch, Seven-Eleven proved to be a great take-out option, but the meals we procured weren’t necessarily complete or health-conscious. For example, for one of our last breakfasts, I grabbed a cooked hotdog in a bun, a few bananas, donuts (for Ariel, the picky eater), an orange juice, yogurt cups, hard boiled eggs, and an egg & ham sandwich with tomato (a very popular meal option found around the country). While the meal wasn’t un-healthy per se, it wasn’t exactly healthy either. At home, we try to limit our kids’ juice consumption, but in Japan, vending machines abound, we embraced it and tried to fill our kids up on juice more than once. To my surprise, we often found ourselves in restaurants serving udon noodles or ramen, that often also served fried chicken and rice. Those were the staple foods our family came to depend on (outside of our ryokan stay where we were fed like kings and queens). I previously wrote off western foods in Japan, but that’s just not true. There are more options in the bigger cities, you just have to know how to find them. Down the road from one of our Airbnb’s, we stumbled across a burger joint. Hamburgers and onion rings have never tasted so good, especially to Ariel who had been subsisting on dinner bowls of plain white rice.

On the eve of our departure, Dan and I finally said enough is enough and pointedly asked the hotel receptionist for a good place to get sushi.

“We can’t leave Japan without eating sushi!” Dan and I both reasoned, having eaten so little.

When I explained our desire for good sushi, the receptionist was resolute.

“Good sushi and cheap,” she promised me, pointing to a place close by on the map.

Well, we navigated the directions she gave us and found ourselves in a mall food court. Not exactly what we had in mind, but you can’t win them all. Much to my surprise, the food court sushi was sublime. We ordered seconds.

When we found ourselves in a pinch for food, and the kids were getting cranky, ice cream became the answer. Not only did we buy it for our kids en masse, but restaurant owners, those who took us under their wing, those who didn’t even sell ice cream, would give our kids their personal ice cream stash in an attempt to please them.

One afternoon, nearing the end of our Japan stay, we pushed our kids to their limits. They had reached a point of exhaustion for which there was no return. What happened next, I will fondly refer to as the ice cream incident. I am only able to detail the experience now, because we lived through it.

Dan and I rely on Ariel heavily to be the Big Sister, the mature one, the kid who gives us the least amount of grief. Whether this is fair to ask of an eight-year-old or not is debatable, but none-the-less, we have high expectations for her that include helping out, so when she shuts down, all hell breaks loose. On the day of the ice cream incident, Ariel lost her favourite pink sweatshirt. As it turns out, the sweatshirt got left behind on one of our shinkansen (bullet train) rides that day and with the sky overcast, a light drizzle falling, the air felt cooler. She was miserable and cold. Dan wisely refrained from making the winter coat joke. We had more than one long-sleeved shirt for Ariel, of course we did, but we had abandoned our luggage the day before and wouldn’t be procuring it back at the train station until later that day, so she was stuck with only a t-shirt – the first sore spot. Then, we happened to be visiting a “park”. When I say park in Japan, I mean a place where there is some interesting shrine or pagoda or monument. My kids assume playground. I have since learned – the hard way – to watch what I say. BE specific.

Ariel and the others anticipated “park”, aka “playground”. Instead there was a massive crowd and a whole lot of steps to walk up through beautiful, “boring”, wooden orange archways called Torii gates. Ariel was incensed. Elyse protested the crowds and was unsettled riding on Dan’s back in a carrier and Penelope refused her stroller, deciding instead to weave dangerously in and out of crowds of people, risking getting lost or injured. Her behaviour put me on edge, my mother instincts on high alert. Ariel protested her displeasure with her currently situation loudly, repeating the same complaints over and over, with a voice I’ve come to associate with her alter-ego, Exhausted Ariel. I should note, for posterity, that I also have an alter-ego we refer to as my “secretary”. I have the world’s worst secretary who absentmindedly speaks on my behalf, but doesn’t actually listen or pass on any messages or recall any important details of the exchange for real Adelle.

Exhausted, and now irate Ariel was in full swing. The difficulty in travelling as a family – if I were to put myself in the child’s position – is the inability to get away from each other for a break. Dan and I constantly have eyes on our kids, which is exhausting and draining for both sides. Nobody wants to be monitored constantly.

At one point in the steep walk, Ariel staged a showdown. This was it. She wasn’t going to walk any further. I coaxed her up to the top of the next set of steep stairs, at which point she accused me of grave lies, stating I had promised that would be the end of the hike. I had not – could not – make any such promise, having no idea where we were or where we were going beyond following the crowd. As a final straw, I had to implement one of the only respite techniques at my disposal to try and rally the troops – candy. I hate to say it, but with our kids getting whiny, candy has been a great way to either silence them at pivotal moments (think: Penelope bellowing Frozen’s Let It Go! at the top of her lungs in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum) or to try and tide over their hunger or displeasure in a given situation beyond our control. I hate that we have done this. We are not that parent, but then again, I guess we are. You do what you have to do. So, when a little further down the trail, hoping to regain regular Ariel and send Exhausted Ariel packing and I saw the ice cream stand, I offered my children ice cream.

I’d like to pause here to say that Dan and I have done our best to raise respectful, peaceful, grateful children. What follows is a shame and disgrace, but if I’m going to share our adventures, then I’m going to share them all.

There were two flavours of ice cream available for purchase: vanilla and green tea. In Japan, there are replicas of all the food out on display – very helpful – so right away, Elyse latched onto the idea of the green cone, pointing to it profusely, as did Penelope. Ariel, having a better grasp of the situation and her preferences, chose vanilla. So far, everyone is feeling good. Each girl knows she is getting what she asked for. Spirits are brightening at the prospect of ice cream. My plan is working.

Dan and I chose a hot pork bun and a milk tea latte with tapioca “pearls” to share, for the record, and that was the extent of the choices.

There was a small seating area carved out into the jungle for patrons of the small shop to sit with their ice cream. We took our places, and as the cones were prepared, a group of Spanish-speaking women joined us. They were grandmotherly and sought to make a connection with me, mother to mother, which I appreciated, but I was straining under the weight of my children’s needs.

In stark contrast to our children’s exhaustion and foul moods, was the chipper, helpful and industrious little girl working behind the counter taking our payment, counting out our change and serving our ice cream. She must have been the same age as Ariel, about eight.

I’ve tried to encourage my family to adopt a group mentality while traveling together. We do what is best for the group. As such, no one individual has true ownership over anything, if what is best for the group is to share.

The cones arrived, and predictably, ice cream can’t fix exhaustion, it can, however, apparently make things worse.

Elyse didn’t want the green ice cream cone she asked for. She fussed and complained loudly, letting out angry screams. This is a behaviour she engages in when she’s shutting down, frustrated and needing to be heard. Dan, in turn, lambasts me for letting her get what she wants because I should have known she wouldn’t really want the green one. His tiredness showing, having carried forty pounds of extra weight on his back for the last hour up hill, I wisely ignore his slight with a reproachful glance and turn my attention to Ariel’s cone. She will have to share. But Exhausted Ariel doesn’t share, she is understandably too intent on meeting her own needs. The Spanish-speaking women are impartial to Elyse’s screams; one woman says to me, “we’ve all been there before,” as I give her a weak smile in return. As the eternal optimist, even I can’t see this scenario getting better. In fact, it’s going to get a lot worse because now Ariel is complaining, LOUDLY, about having to share HER ice cream cone. She is beside herself. Her voice turns shrill and convalesces into an indiscernible whine. I’m cringing inside and out at the absurdity of my children arguing over ice cream. My cheeks burn at their privilege, at my ineptitude as their parent and embarrassment at the very publicized tantrum by two of my children, screaming at each other back and forth. The icing on the cake was not only could Ariel not bring herself to share any of her cone with her sister, but when Penelope’s cone became available, and Elyse was finally calming down to enjoy some of the last bites of the freed up cone, Ariel snatched it from her hand and Elyse wailed at the injustice. The Spanish-speaking women all sighed and turned away. As it turns out, we hadn’t all been here. I hated for my children – and admittedly myself – to be so exposed to the judgement of others for this subversive behaviour. To watch my children melting down in such a public forum. To add to my shame, as we were preparing to leave, the little girl who had served us the cones came out to offer our girls a cup of broken cones – as a sort of peace treaty. My girls were hardly in a state to show gratitude, but the Spanish-speaking women ate it up, with looks at me that conveyed, that’s how you parent.

I know sugar only makes things worse, but this proves it.

Dan and I packed up our kids, heads down, and continued on our way back down the mountain hoping not to run into anyone who had just witnessed our family catastrophe.

Not long after the ice cream incident, our kids made amends and were reunited in their shared pursuit of petting a shrine cat. Kids are good at forgetting and being in the moment. Dan squeezed my hand and shortly thereafter, we made our way out of the “park” and onwards to our accommodations, with no long-term ill-effects or family fallouts not reconciled. While there are challenging behaviours, I am definitely remembering to hug my kids close and enjoy our time together. Families that play together, stay together, but you have to expect a little rough housing every once in a while.

Ultimately, this story has a happy ending. Ariel’s pink sweatshirt was eventually returned to her, having been recovered from the train station’s lost and found and Exhausted Ariel was laid to rest. Elyse ate many other ice cream cones that she thoroughly enjoyed, none of which were green. Penelope stopped associating bad behaviour with candy, because I learned to disassociate the two, and Dan and I reconciled the tensions the best way adults know how, through more love, less talk. Japanese style.

And one more thing before I go. Did you know that in houses in Japan they don’t just have a shower, but an entire shower room? That it’s customary to remove shoes at the entrance of a home and wear slippers? That there are separate bathroom slippers? That hotels provide sleepwear? That several public bathrooms don’t have soap dispensers? That there are no trash cans anywhere, but it’s not dirty either? That in Hiroshima, you can’t book a taxi before 7:30 a.m.? That our family of five required two taxis with our luggage – and that taking the train or public transport is usually the best option to get around? That Osaka, the city of our departure, has a population almost equal to the size of Canada in its entirety?

That on our flight to Bangkok, we would be served ice cream. And that, predictably, while Dan was out at the bathroom, Ariel would ask the flight attendant for seconds – and seconds would come! I’m shaking my head. What I didn’t know, is that Dan had already given Ariel his ice cream cup. Thirds it is, and many more fun parenting moments ahead.