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As a woman used to traveling and living the high life in Bangkok, Leanne Shirtliffe recognized the constant fodder for humor while pregnant with twins in Asia’s sin city. But in spite of deep-fried bug cuisine and nurses who cover newborn bassinets with plastic wrap, Shirtliffe manages to keep her babies alive for a year with help from a Coca-Cola deliveryman, several waitresses, and a bra factory. Then she and her husband return home to the isolation of North American suburbia....
As a woman used to traveling and living the high life in Bangkok, Leanne Shirtliffe recognized the constant fodder for humor while pregnant with twins in Asia’s sin city. But in spite of deep-fried bug cuisine and nurses who cover newborn bassinets with plastic wrap, Shirtliffe manages to keep her babies alive for a year with help from a Coca-Cola deliveryman, several waitresses, and a bra factory. Then she and her husband return home to the isolation of North American suburbia.
In Don’t Lick the Minivan, Shirtliffe captures the bizarre aspects of parenting in her edgy, honest voice. She explores the hazards of everyday life with children such as:
The birthday party where neighborhood kids took home skin rashes from the second-hand face paint she applied.
The time she discovered her twins carving their names into her minivan’s paint with rocks.
The funeral she officiated for “Stripper Barbie.”
The horror of glitter.
And much more!
Shirtliffe eventually realizes that even if she can’t teach her kids how to tie their shoelaces, she’s a good enough mom. At least good enough to start saving for her twins’ therapy fund. And possibly her own. Shirtliffe’s memoir might not replace a therapist, but it is a lot cheaper.
PREGNANCY AND BIRTH, OR IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?
SO THE ACCOUNTANT GOT HER AUNT TO DO SOME WOO-WOO ON OUR UNBORN BABIES?
When I got knocked up, my husband Chris and I had been living in Thailand for three years, teaching at an international school. It took what seemed to be the majority of our first year in Southeast Asia for me to find someone who could cut my hair so that it didn't look like I'd been welding while standing in a bathtub full of water. Bangkok's humidity meant that pieces of my hair flipped in every compass direction, like they were trying to escape my head.
I found a woman with curlier and nicer hair than mine.
"Who does your hair?" I asked.
Soon, I hunted down Franck, a French expat living in Bangkok whose name rhymed with "honk." Franck knew how to cut hair, even if his methods were unorthodox. For part of the appointment, he'd sit on his stool-with-wheels and encircle you, not unlike a kid who's discovered his parents' twirly office chair. For the end of the haircut, he'd rise and ask you to stand up, finishing off his magic while standing.
He had a good thing going. He charged Parisian prices in a developing country; desperate and frizzled expatriates emptied money from their wallets. After I became his client, a dozen of my colleagues followed.
I'd been seeing Franck for three years when my love for him temporarily faded.
"Allo, Leanne," he said, holding the last syllable of my name as French men do. He was always good-natured. Then I watched as his eyes squinted at me, bringing me into focus against the blinding Thai sun.
He walked over. "Your hairrr," he said. "Your hairrr look like sheet."
"What?" I said, even though I'd heard perfectly well. "My hair does not look like sheet, does it?"
"Ah. But it does. It look like sheet. Who cut deess?"
"Non. Not I. I did not cut deess." He inspected the ends.
"You did. Two months ago."
"Some-ting happened den. Tell Franck de trute." He led me to his chair, which might have been electrified given what just transpired.
"Seet," he said. "And tell me."
I sat. "Well, I'm pregnant."
"Aha. So dat eez it. Dat explains it."
"Bien sur. Your hair look like sheet because you're pregnant. De body changes. De hair changes."
"But I thought your hair was supposed to look better when you're pregnant."
"Ahh, Leanne. Most women, yes. But you? Non."
"Can you make me look less like sheet?"
"I try," he said. He must have noticed my pout. "But pregnancy is good, Leanne, non?"
"It's good, Franck. It's good."
He motioned for his assistant to wash my hair.
"But please don't tell anyone," I said. "Other than my husband, you're the only one who knows."
"Leanne, I won't tell anyone your hair look like sheet."
"No, Franck," I said. "Don't tell anyone I'm pregnant. No one knows."
Franck smiled. "Pas de problem."
There are things that turn my stomach more than a French man telling me I look like sheet and more than pregnancy. But being knocked up is still high on my list. It's not so much the pregnancy; it's my memory of being pregnant with twins in Thailand.
While Bangkok might be called the City of Angels, it sometimes felt more like the City of Smells. The spectrum of stenches presented a multitude of problems for pregnant me, not the least of which was eating fried rice without upchucking refried rice. I stumbled along the sidewalks, climbing two-foot curbs and dodging vendors who were hawking a variety of smelly goods ranging from deep-fried bugs to papaya with chilies. If those didn't turn my stomach, the hawkers promising pirated Celine Dion CDs or sex would.
Most days I ate at a street stall. Having lived in Bangkok for years, I knew which portable eateries were safe. Usually I'd inhale chicken fried rice or pad thai. Sometimes, however, eating held the same level of enjoyment as getting a pap smear with a frost-laden metallic torture device.
Chris often joined me for lunch, anxious to escape the world of books he lived in as the school's librarian. He'd watch me play with the remainders of my food and shift in my plastic chair. I looked over to the propane-powered barbecue on which the vendor was cooking mystery-meat-on-a-stick. I said to Chris, "If I smell any more charred flesh, I'm going to puke up my pad thai."
He picked up his empty bamboo skewer and mimed stabbing himself in the chest. I laughed.
"Feel better?" he asked.
"I feel like I'm going to puke with a smile on my face."
That day I didn't, but on other days stray dogs lapped up my second-hand offerings, adding me to the food chain.
Things didn't become much more routine when Chris and I went to my ob-gyn guy, also known as a doctor. Given that my first trimester had included some bleeding and bed rest, I panicked at any abnormality. Whenever our doctor did an ultrasound, I just wanted him to say the word "normal." Or, as he said in his accented English, "nor-maall" (rhymes with "sore gal").
Every few weeks, we would come armed with a paranoid couple's list of concerns and he would answer, "Nor-maall, completely nor-maall."
At one appointment, I pulled out my scroll of questions. I looked at the doctor and asked, "Is it normal to have mushrooms growing out of my armpit?"
His forehead creased. "Mushrooms?"
I raised my arm. I'd worn a sleeveless blouse, anticipating this moment. Chris shifted, unfazed at my colony of fungi. The doctor wandered over and laughed. "Those aren't mushrooms," he said. "They're polyps."
"Polyps. Or skin tags. They come, they go. Nor-maall."
"So, they're not mushrooms?"
"Then I shouldn't stir fry them?"
When we arrived home, Chris imitated me, "Doctor, I've grown a third eye and there are radishes sprouting from my ears."
"No worries," Chris continued his impression, "it's nor-maall."
There are a lot of things that were nor-maall in Thailand that wouldn't have been in North America. The Thais have some great superstitions. One is that it's bad luck to get your hair cut on Wednesday. Another is that twins are incredibly lucky. Boy/girl twins are even luckier. And if the boy is born first—as William was in our case—you're going to start crapping gold bricks. Even if we didn't go all Midas-like, several Thai maintenance staff members asked Chris to buy lottery tickets for them. They gave him money; his job was to select the tickets. Chris would have had an easier job crapping gold bricks than picking a winning lottery ticket from the blind man with the rebar cane who approached the outskirts of the school campus daily.
At some point during my pregnancy, Chris received an email from a Thai woman in the accounting department at work. He showed it to me when he arrived home.
"I have asked my aunt to look for the good day for your children to be born. I gave her your and your wife birthday and she comes up with the following day and time:
* May 22 or 24. Time: 6:00 AM to 1:00 PM
* June 5. Time: 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM
* June 6. Time: 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM
* June 12. Time: 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
I reread the email. I used my fingers to count how many weeks I'd be pregnant by those dates. I also used my toes and every other countable thing nearby.
I paused to process this epistle.
"Let me get this straight. So the accountant got her aunt to do some woo-woo on our unborn babies?"
"And we're supposed to give this to our doctor?"
Chris nodded. "She said it also has something to do with the moons."
"OK. But we're not giving this to our doctor, are we?"
"He's Thai. He'd likely say it's nor-maall."
"We're still not giving him the list," I said.
"Good. You know, if our babies are born on those dates, it'll be freaky." I shifted in my chair. "But if they're not, we can blame the moon for everything they do wrong for the rest of their lives."
Which is precisely what we've done.
WE'RE IN TROUBLE IF OUR DOCTOR DOESN'T KNOW HOW WOMEN DO IT
Some babes are born in the back of a taxi; some babes are conceived in the back of a taxi. Our daughter was named in the back of a taxi.
We had just taken the Skytrain, Bangkok's version of Jetson-transit, to an English-language bookstore and picked up a baby name book. Chris suggested we take a taxi home, which meant we were stuck in one of Bangkok's infamous 24-7 traffic jams.
Having been married for four years, we'd had every conversation we ever needed to have twenty-six times. So I made up a game. I'm annoying like that.
Taking the baby name book out of the bag, I said, "Pick a number between one and three hundred ninety-two."
"Seventy," Chris said.
I flipped to page seventy. "Now we each have to find a baby name we like." We scanned the names and critiqued each other's choices.
Three turns later, I said, "Three hundred seventy-seven."
I thumbed through the pages. We both said, "Vivian."
"I think we just found a girl's name," I said.
The next day, the name discussion continued. Miraculously, we were no longer in the taxi, but at home.
"How about the name 'Humphrey'?" Chris asked.
I looked at him in shock and said, "You're kidding, right?"
He said, "No, I like Humphrey."
"But I like it. I really do."
"I don't care if it was your grandfather's name and he died in the war saving the lives of three children who went on to win the Nobel Prize for something. It's horrible."
"Look," I said, "I'm carrying the babies, so I have veto power. If you name our son Humphrey, I'll kill you."
Chris shrugged. I grabbed the baby name book and opened to Humphrey.
"It means peaceful warrior," I said.
"See? That's nice."
"What the hell's a peaceful warrior? It's a bloody oxymoron. I think the second meaning is beat-me-up-at-school."
"You know, any name can be made fun of."
"No, it can't," I said. "Some names are above that."
"Try me," Chris said.
"Give me a name. Any name. I'll make fun of it."
"OK, how about Zack?"
With a delay of 0.03 seconds, Chris sang, "Zack, Zack, rhymes with butt crack."
I tried another one. "Michael."
"Mike, Mike, you're a dyke."
"You've made your point," I conceded. "But I still hate Humphrey." I looked back at the book. "After the meaning, it says 'see also Onofrio and Onufrey.'"
"See what?" Chris asked.
"Onofrio and Onufrey," I said. "They're names that are similar to Humphrey. So there we go," I said, dropping comfortably into sarcasm, "if our babies are boys, we can name them Onofrio and Onufrey. Or Ono and Onu for short."
This time, Chris conceded. "OK, you've made your point."
Thankfully, we didn't need to register our babies' names to attend prenatal classes at Bangkok's most prestigious hospital. It was the first of three classes that some childless administrator had scheduled over the supper hour, the time of day your blood sugar crashes. When your circulatory system has nearly twice the normal blood volume, that sugar crash can be akin to free falling off a cliff. Chris and I walked into the hospital, foolishly bypassing Starbucks, and took the elevator to the ninth floor. We took a glass of sugary orange drink. Nutritional content was overrated.
After checking in, we sat on the floor in a conference room that was devoid of chairs. With seven couples against one wall and seven against the other, I wondered if we'd play a game of Red Rover as an icebreaker. A lone projector sat in the middle of the floor, like a cactus popping out of a desert. A young Thai woman—who was so small that she'd make Angelina Jolie look like she ate McFood daily—smiled, bowed, and started the PowerPoint. I squinted, trying to differentiate the white font from its pale yellow background, and I ended up wondering if my bad vision meant I had sudden-onset gestational diabetes.
When PowerPoint #1 was finished, a woman from public relations took us on a guided tour of the ward. The first things we saw were the high-end maternity suites, complete with a bedroom, a living room, and a full-size fridge.
"Where are the nor-maall rooms?" I asked.
"In the other hallway," she said. "We won't be seeing them."
Next she took us to a delivery room, showcasing the overhead light dimmer.
"Turning down the lights," she explained, "takes away the pain."
Who knew it was that easy? "Remind me to give birth in the dark," I whispered to Chris.
We returned to the chair-less conference room. After introducing the physiotherapist, the tour guide informed us that we were about to experience her favorite part. This highlight consisted of three minutes of yoga lessons, including the following instructions: "Breathe in, breathe out, shut your eyes."
Excerpted from DON'T LICK THE MINIVAN by LEANNE SHIRTLIFFE. Copyright © 2013 Leanne Shirtliffe. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 25, 2013
I'm not finished yet, but it doesn't matter. For every parent anywhere in the world: read this book.
Outrageous, funny, heartfelt and so so true. Leanne Shirtliffe's voice is pitch-perfect, reflecting the joys, anxieties,
frustrations and wonder of parenthood. As a grandparent of twins, I can so relate to the tales of supernatural communication
between the identical spawn; it makes me want become a kid's birthday party clown - just for the the visceral thrill of
creating nightmares. Only for those that deserve it, of course.
Posted May 28, 2013
I LOVED IT!
Leanne gives a refreshingly honest take on pregnancy, delivery, flu shots, piano lessons,
and all things arts and crafts (hint, she hates crafts and has banned glitter from the home).
And the trips! Road trips and plane trips galore, with hilarity ensuing on each leg of their journeys.
These aren't your run of the mill two hour drive to the beach or a quick three hour plane ride kind of trips,
they are drives across Canada and flights across oceans. With twins!
In addition, it's filled with "Parenting Tips". Here's my favorites:
Parenting Tip: When you ask your children a question, the reply "nothing" means they're guilty.
Either investigate or hide.
Parenting Tip: A regular routine of brushing and flossing is essential the three days before your
children's dentist appointments if you want to appear to be a good parent.
In summary, this book is heartwarming and hilarious, and smothered with sarcasm. I highly recommend!