Monthly Archives: August 2011

Breastfeeding lessons from cows, take two

This post is an addendum to one of my favorite posts from the last year, Life lessons in pregnancy and breastfeeding from cows.

5AM this morning:

Me: “Dominic!!”

Mike: “What’s he doing?”

Me: “He’s latching on repeatedly, sucking nicely once or twice, then tossing his head from side to side before yanking backwards – still holding on, mind you – until my nipple finally pops out of his mouth. Then he opens his eyes wide in panic and lunges forward like a small, desperate, vacuum cleaner until he finds it again.”

Mike: “Do you want me to tell you what the cows on the farm did when the calves did that?”

Me: “Yes!” (After all, you can’t go past a good cow story at 5AM after you’ve had a grand total of 4 hours sleep that night)

Mike: “Well the calves would nudge under their mothers and do exactly that – yank down on their teats really hard. Or their other favorite trick was to throw their heads up hard and headbutt the mama in the stomach.”

Me: “So what did the mama cows do?”

Mike: “They kicked the calves.”

Me: “Really!”

Mike: “Yup, they’d haul off and give the calves a sharp kick and that usually stopped them.”

Me: “So by extension I could give Dominic a smack on his little bottom when he yanks on me?”

Mike: “You’d be well within your mammalian rights.”

P.S. I relayed this conversation to my own mother this morning and she’s of the opinion that Dominic is still too young to connect his nipple-yanking behaviour with any bovinesque chastisement I might dish out. I’m not so sure, though. He’s clearly old enough to understand the concept of playing with his food.

P.P.S. I relayed this conversation to the community health nurse this afternoon and she just laughed. When I followed it up by asking whether he could be doing this because he’s still hungry at the end of his feed she laughed even harder. “That little guy’s gained over 300g for the second week in a row,” she said. “He has no right to still be hungry at the end of a feed. He’s just being demanding.”

Dominic: "What? Me? Play with my food?"

Seeking The Fruits Of Motherhood

Three weeks after my first child was born, my uncle leaned towards my husband, Mike, over the dinner table.

“It would be nice,” he said, “to see something positive on Lisa’s blog about the baby.”

This comment was directed at Mike because I wasn’t actually at the dinner table with everyone else; I was sitting on the couch with my breast firmly planted in the mouth of the small and needy mammal that was under discussion. And the reason I was sitting on the couch was because the little mammal had been almost inconsolable after we fed him just before leaving for dinner, let him sleep for 20 minutes in the car, and then woke him up by carrying him inside. When he started to scream and I went looking for the pacifier, I discovered that we’d left it at home and I was the only effective pacifier available. Parent fail.

Mike and I talked about my uncle’s comment driving home that night.

“Do people actually think I’m serious when I say things like, ‘Last night I almost left the baby in a basket at a bus stop’?” I asked him.

“You haven’t put that on the blog, have you?” Mike asked.

“No,” I said. “I only said it to our obstetrician. And maybe a couple of people from church.”

“I think most people know you’re not serious,” Mike said. “But perhaps a few are a bit worried by your flippancy.”

“When you’re still recovering from a difficult birth, you are suddenly responsible for a small being who sucks up every shred of time and attention you have to offer, you’re running on less than four hours of sleep a night, and you’re facing the prospect of yet another month apart from your husband when he returns to Laos early,” I said, “it’s sometimes easier to see the negative than the positive.”

“Well, have you had positive moments during the last week?” Mike asked.

“Of course!” I said, a bit shocked that he even had to ask. “I love lying sandwiched between the two of you when you’re both sound asleep. I love feeling Dominic settle into my shoulder with that happy little sigh – all warm and suddenly limp – when he’s milk-drunk. I love watching you talking to him so tenderly as you scoop him out of my arms to take him off and change him. I especially love knowing that I don’t have to change him that time.”

“Maybe you should push yourself a little,” Mike said. “Write about some of those moments. Make it a spiritual discipline to identify and articulate the positive in motherhood.”

I thought about this later that night while I was feeding Dominic again at 9PM. Then I thought about it at 3AM. And again at 4:30 when he started stirring and grunting less than half an hour after I’d put him back in his bed, at 4:45 when I brought him into bed with us, and at 5:15 when he started wailing and I had to get up and feed him again. It was not a night packed full of positive moments. In fact, by 6AM, I was tempted to leave the baby in a basket at a bus stop.

But maybe, I thought, this is where the spiritual discipline part comes in.

The name Dominic means “of our Lord”, and I’ve been startled during these early weeks of his life by how often my thoughts have turned into prayers while I’ve been feeding him. There is something about being up in the wee dark hours that nudges my mind toward friends and family, toward the blessings and challenges of life. And all this midnight praying has made me think of Bible verses that I memorized in younger days.

One that came to mind that evening was Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

That night I decided to try something new this year – to take a different word from that verse in Galatians as my theme of the month. I would seek to find that theme, to live it, and I would write about how that word was playing out in mothering, marriage, and the miscellaneous of life. I would purposefully seek the positive. And I would mostly refrain from joking about leaving the baby in a basket at a bus stop.

Mostly.

Help me out here as I start to think this through. What helps you be purposefully positive in your life?

PS. For those few of you who are concerned that I may actually leave the baby in a basket at a bus stop, never fear. If I do I’ll wrap him up nice and warm, just like this…

Photo credit: Mike, day six, minding Dominic while hanging out the laundry

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Supply equals demand: Our first argument as parents

I am typing this one handed while Dominic sleeps on my left shoulder. About every twenty seconds he pops his head up and makes angry-koala-bear noises. I suspect that this is because he has so far stubbornly refused to burp after spending most of the last hour guzzling milk. I don’t understand. He burps quite nicely for Mike (who has been primary burper and diaper-changer during the daytime for the last ten days). Then Mike goes into town for an hour and a quarter (and counting) and what do I get? No burps, but a big baby vomit into my hair (the hair that I washed just this morning) and two pooey diapers. Two. In one feed. I mean, can we say excessive?

Yes, you can look forward to more of these aggrieved mini-rants after Mike returns to Laos next Friday for the month of September and I’m pseudo-single-parenting for a month. And that’s enough about that topic for now because every time I think about Mike leaving I feel like making some angry koala bear noises of my own.

So the last two weeks have been a bit of a blur – as life gets when you’re on a three-hour loop that repeats over and over again. Overall I think we’re all doing well, but there have been moments when fuses have been significantly shorter because of lack of sleep, not to mention certain challenges associated with breastfeeding.

Three days after we brought Dominic home from the hospital Mike and I had our first argument as parents. We were talking about breastfeeding and milk supply. The conversation went like this:

Mike: Supply equals demand

Me: You mean, demand equals supply.

Mike: No, the supply is there to meet the demand.

Me: But the demand comes first to determine the supply.

(Long pause)

Mike: Let’s not argue about this. Let’s argue about something more important. Any ideas?

Me: You pick, I’ve breastfed for the last hour and now I’m still sitting here attached to a pump. I’ll argue with you about anything at this point.

That's the demand, right there. When he's hungry he'll attack anything, even my nose, and latch on with the mouth of a famished oyster.

 

Lessons learned during labour and delivery

I don’t really know where to start when writing about labour and delivery. For starters, it was such an intense experience that even now, almost two weeks later, I’m struggling to find the right words (any words) to tell the story well. And secondly, while I was pregnant I was incredibly curious about other women’s experiences of the whole process. Yet I’m not sure that hearing all those stories actually served me well.

Almost no one I talked to spoke positively about labour and delivery, and it seemed that for every woman who had experienced a relatively trouble-free birth there were two more who spoke first (with the haunted look of a trauma survivor) of how badly they tore, how intense back labour was, or how everything went wrong and they needed to have an emergency caesarian. Then there were the real horror stories, of which I heard several.

So I’m unsure of how much detail to go into. I mean, do you really want to know that at 8AM I was 5 cm dilated, throwing up, the contractions were coming one on top of the other almost without pause, and that I told the obstetrician I was dying? Maybe you do, but does knowing that actually help anyone? I’m not so sure.

So instead of giving you the blow by blow, complete with timeline, I think I’ll just talk about a couple of things that I learned or that surprised me along the way. But let me say this before I say any more – overall I had a reasonably good experience of labour and delivery. At eleven and a half hours from first contraction to delivery it maybe wasn’t quite as speedy as I had hoped for, but quicker and generally more manageable than I had feared.

Now, lessons and surprises…

I was more capable of managing the pain than I’d feared I would be: I won’t lie – the pain, especially during the last seven hours, was intense, all-consuming, and like nothing I’d ever experienced before. All that work I’d done creating birth playlists and packing movies we could watch in case of a long labour – none of it was needed. I was completely incapable of concentrating on anything except what was happening in my body.

What helped me the most during labour was keeping my eyes closed and counting my breaths during contractions. As long as I could do that I stayed focused and calm – almost as if I were in a trance. At no time was there any screaming, or swearing at Mike, or biting. Apart from the rough patch at 8AM when I said that I thought I wanted an epidural, I didn’t ask for medication again. In the end I was more afraid that my focus and self-control would completely disappear if I opened my eyes long enough to ask for pain relief than I was of continuing to endure without it. The end result? A completely natural birth.

Labouring in water was a big help: After my waters broke at 8AM I got into an inflatable tub full of warm water and stayed there for the next several hours. The warmth and being comparatively weightless when I wanted to shift position was a huge help in dealing with the contractions.

Having a doula (a birth coach) was a big help: Partly because of the risk that Mike would miss the birth, we decided to hire a doula to be with us during labour and delivery. It was a great decision. Jade was able to stay with us the entire time, whereas the hospital midwives had to keep coming and going as they attended to other patients. She massaged my back at key points, sponged off my face with cold water, gently nudged me to change positions at certain times, kept a vigilant eye on the process, and was able to reassure Mike that things were progressing normally. Left to my own devices I suspect I would have stayed curled up on the bed with my eyes closed the entire time, labour would have been longer, and I probably wouldn’t have made it without pain relief. If you’re pregnant and considering whether or not to hire a doula, hire one.

Moving on, here’s one that I could never fathom how it would be possible beforehand… The women who tell you that in the later stages of labour you will not care if you are stark naked and in the most unflattering position when three total strangers walk into the room… they are right. 

That oft-talked about magical moment when they place your newborn on your chest right after delivery? … Not so much. I was surprised how out of it I was immediately following delivery, and how long the whole after-birth process took. After he was delivered I went into shock and spent most of the next hour shaking uncontrollably while I was being stitched up and delivering the placenta. The baby was on my chest, but it was all I could do to hold him and pat him. There was no incandescent moment of mystery, connection, and wonder as I gazed into his eyes or kissed his little face (which was mostly screwed up, purple, and screaming). He pooed all over me. It was all much more earthy than magical.

Later that night though, when he was all bundled up and I was alone with him in the hospital, and he started to squirm and make unhappy guinea pig noises and wouldn’t settle down again until he was cuddled up right against my chest… that was pretty magical.

So there you have it. If you’ve had a baby or witnessed a birth, what did you learn or what surprised you about the whole process?

It takes a village

I wrote the following on Tuesday. It’s now Thursday. C’est la vie at the moment…

This time last week I was still two hours and 15 minutes from giving birth. Last night as I was up between midnight and 2, and again from 5AM, I was somewhat comforted by the thought that as hard as the night was feeling, it wasn’t a patch on how difficult that night of labouring had been the previous week.

Mike and I have been flooded with cyber love in the past week – receiving hundreds of notes and comments congratulating us and wishing us well as we embark upon parenthood. One of those emails said, “I’m sure Dominic will give you a whole new way of thinking, living… and writing!”

I can already see the truth in that statement. Dominic has definitely given me a whole new way of living – I have done very little but feed, sleep, and eat what has been put in front of me since we came home from the hospital on Friday. And not having had more than three hours sleep in a row for a week now is certainly doing some funny things to my thinking.

As for writing… yes, that’s going to have to take a backseat for a while. And what writing I can do, I suspect, will be along the lines of vignettes that I jot down when the odd free moment pops up. And most of those vignettes in the next little while will probably be baby-related because, well, there isn’t really much life outside of baby for me at the moment. I trust that that will change again at some point in the future (possibly when my body is not being used as an all you can eat buffet for eight hours a day). In the meantime, however, I’ll try to continue posting the odd story or random thought of the day now and again.

There are a lot of things I could write about at this point – labour and delivery, post-birth surprises (both good and bad), and the emotional roller-coaster of this last week, to name just a few. And perhaps I’ll get there eventually on those topics. But today’s thought – and the thought I’ve had pretty much every hour since arriving home – is that I really do not know how single parents manage this.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and now I have a new appreciation for why. When you’re trying to feed a baby every three hours, it seems more than one person can manage well to feed, burb, and change the little being, as well as get enough sleep yourself to stay sane. And that “caseload” doesn’t leave any room for eating, drinking, and showering, much less grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, filing the paperwork for the baby’s birth certificate, and learning how to assemble a breast pump. I have never been more grateful for a proactively supportive spouse and parents as I have been this week, or for hot running water and a warm bed. I get completely overwhelmed thinking about the challenges faced by new mothers in refugee camps and rural villages. And I have no idea how single parents do it, either.

That’s it for now from the McKay newborn nursery (where we saw a wallaby eating in the garden this morning when we were nursing). It’s now 11AM and I hear a baby starting to stir and make the “I’m a hungry guinea pig” sounds.

Introducing Dominic McKay Wolfe

Dominic McKay Wolfe

Born Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 1:14 PM

3.62 kg (8.0 pounds)

53 cm (20.9 inches)

More to follow after I get some more sleep and Mike and I figure out which way is up (so maybe you should check back in a couple of years). But in brief:

  • Mother and baby are both well.
  • After being very skeptical about whether I was capable of natural childbirth, I surprised myself by making it through the eleven and a half hours of labour and delivery without any pain relief.
  • Dominic surprised me by coming out with one hand up beside his head – a surprise that has granted me an unhappy number of stitches.
  • I still think marsupials and birds have it all over mammals in the birthing department, but my body has surprised me by what it is capable of enduring and how quickly it can transition from “incubator” to “milk factory”.
  • Mike has not surprised me – he’s been calm, supportive, enthusiastic, and capable during and after the birth. For this, and for many other things, I am extraordinarily grateful.



Midnight sorbet and 10 other good things about pregnancy

Yesterday I posted the following as my facebook status:

Good things about pregnancy #11: You feel totally justified eating enough strawberry sorbet to give your tongue frostbite at the odd hour of 1:30am.*

A truly surprising number of people liked this status. Perhaps I’m not the only person who thinks of sorbet when they wake up in the wee early hours. Or perhaps many others also enjoy feeling totally justified doing something that they suspect is not good for them.

The risks inherent with this status, however, were clear to me even when I posted it and it didn’t take long for Mike to read it, smile sweetly, and challenge me to name the other ten good things I’d discovered about pregnancy during the last nine months. Herein lay the problem, for I had given exactly no thought to what the other ten things may be. In fact, I’d first typed #3 instead of #11 on the sorbet status, before deciding that sounded too whiny even for me.

“I don’t know, you come up with them,” I said, abandoning any effort not to whine.

“OK,” Mike said. “Let’s start with all the extra attention and cuddles you’re getting.”

“That is true,” I admitted. “All the cuddles are lovely, even if some of them motivated mostly by your desire to dump more oxytocin into my bloodstream so that I go into labour and get this show on the road.”

“There you go,” Mike said, not disputing this. “That’s one. Only nine more to go.”

It’s taken more than twenty-four hours of concentrated thought to come up with those other nine but, finally, here they are: Ten good things about pregnancy.

  1. Trying to get pregnant.
  2. The minute you know you’re pregnant you have an indisputably valid reason not to drink beer or lao lao (wretched homemade whisky) during social gatherings in Laos. It’s a bit harder to get out of eating offal or pig fat, but if you’re willing to claim morning sickness and do nothing but nibble on rice you can also sidestep that particular delicacy.
  3. Pregnancy is also an indisputably valid reason to miss most of the hot season in Laos and spend it in Australia, during winter, at the McKay pregnancy resort and spa (also known as my parents’ home).
  4. And while we’re talking indisputably valid reasons…When you’re pregnant and you have lymphedema you also have a great reason to spend an extra $500.00 to buy a business class ticket with Air Asia so that you can keep your legs partly elevated during the trip from Laos to Australia at 28 weeks pregnant.
  5. Pregnancy has provided lots of extra life experiences. Despite what some might believe, I do value life experience for more than just fodder for the pen, but I can’t deny that pregnancy has also furnished me with a whole lot of new writing anecdotes.
  6. Maternity clothes are super-comfortable. Left to my own devices I’d be quite happy to spend most of my days in pajamas, so I’ve been delighted to discover that when you’re pregnant it’s not only acceptable but necessary to spend five months dressed in soft and stretchy leggings, baggy tops, and sweatshirts.
  7. Apparently it’s unwise to exercise too hard during pregnancy. This meant that I had to stop using our staircase in Laos as a step machine and doing sit ups and be content instead with doing lots of pregnancy yoga and walking. Win.
  8. As Mike pointed out, I have received a lot of extra attention, massages, foot rubs, and cuddles. Can’t go wrong there.
  9. Pregnancy pretty much functions as a blank check that you can cash in anytime you want to explain any emotion or discomfort, or to attempt to get out of doing anything you don’t feel like doing. I’m not saying I’ve been wandering around doing this, mind you, I’m just making an observation.
  10. You can ask things of your spouse with zero guilt that you would never ask of them at other times. Like, for example, whether they will come with you to see a movie called Bridesmaids at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon. And, here’s the best part, they will do it without any arguing.**

*I really think that perhaps the last three nights of solitary sorbet fests in the wee hours have given my tongue frostbite – it hurts like the dickens and I can’t think of any conceivable way to blame this on pregnancy hormones.

** Trust me, do not use this specific example as a blueprint for action – just extract the principle and then use it more wisely than I did. I ended up feeling so bad that I’d made the poor man sit through the whole thing that near the end of the movie, right around the time Wilson Philips was singing “Hold On”, I had to lean over to Mike and admit that I now owed him two hours of labour.

Over to you… What would you add to a “good things about pregnancy” list? And does anyone know whether you can, in fact, give your tongue frostbite?

Travel Savvy

Still in waiting mode with less than a week to go now until the official “due date”. Also reminding myself that most first babies are more than a week late and so this waiting mode could continue for quite a while yet. I did try to hurry things along with my OBGYN yesterday at my 9am appointment by informing him that his receptionist had assured me his schedule could be cleared for the morning and I figured maybe we could just deal with this whole “having the baby thing” right then and there, before lunch.

Unfortunately he didn’t seem to think that was the wisest course of action.

So, waiting. And doing tasks. Like washing car seat covers, and packing the hospital bag, and researching what it takes to get a birth certificate and a passport. (Why are these paperwork things always more complicated than it seems that they should be?)

Passports have been a bit of a theme this week. My friend, Rachel Held Evans, did a travel survey over on her very popular blog asking people where the most interesting place was they’d ever been, the most beautiful, where they wanted to go next, and one tip they’d learned while traveling.

My tip was this: “Make sure your passport is valid because, believe it or not, you can’t travel on an expired one.”

So for today’s reading pleasure I offer you the essay Travel Savvy – the sad tale of how, five years ago, I learned this most basic piece of travel wisdom the hard way.

Travel Savvy…?

This, I thought as I stared at my passport, is possibly the stupidest travel-mistake I’ve ever made.

And that’s saying a lot.

During the last five years I’ve been stranded in Germany for a week on account of neglecting to get a visa for the Czech Republic. I’ve traveled to Colorado and left my wallet, all my money, and every credit card I own safely in my gym bag at home. I’ve turned up to the airport in LA to discover that I’d booked a flight to New York on Wednesday all right, but the Wednesday of the previous week. I’ve walked off an American Airlines flight in Chicago and sat down at the first gate I saw that said “London” and had the right departure time, without double checking the flight details on my boarding pass (which might have helped me notice that my connecting flight to London was, in fact, with British Airways instead of American). At various times I’ve forgotten to pack my malaria medication, my phone charger, my power-point presentation, and, yes, on one especially memorable occasion, any underwear.

Given this, you might find it ironic that I make my living at least partly by training humanitarian workers to cope more effectively with their “high transition lifestyles”. In other words, how to hop on a plane, go dashing off to a disaster scene to aid the recovery effort, return home, reorient, and then turn around and do it all again two weeks later. Oh, and stay sane in the process.

One point so obvious that I rarely mention it during workshops is that it’s helpful to have a valid passport when you’re trying to board an international flight…which brings me to noon on December 15, a confirmed seat on a flight from LA to Sydney leaving at 10pm that night, and an expired Australian passport.

Here’s how it happened.

Once upon a time I was born in Canada…

OK, OK. But it is relevant. Because of where that most joyous event occurred I have an Australian and a Canadian passport. And it’s a lot easier for Canadians to get visas to work in the US than, well, anyone else. So at the moment I’m living in the States on a Canadian work visa. That means that I have to use my Canadian passport to enter and leave the US as I go dashing off to all those disaster scenes. Got that?

In July I noticed that my Australian passport was going to expire in October. But the thought of trying to navigate the maze of red tape that would inevitably surround any attempt to renew my Aussi passport in the States while living there on a Canadian visa made me feel exhausted.

So I hatched a brilliant plan. I would just go home to Australia at Christmas and take care of it there. If, for some obscure reason, the Australian immigration officials were upset that my passport had expired I could just pull out my other one, enter the country as a Canadian, and then get busy renewing my Australian passport on home soil.

The plan, clearly, was flawless. But, because I am responsible and organized, I rang the Australian consulate to run it past them and a cheerful fellow named Malcolm and I had a brief conversation that went something like this…

Me: “My passport’s about to expire and I could get it renewed while I’m here in the States, but I think it would just be easier to wait and renew it at home at Christmas, don’t you?”

Malcolm: “Yeah, mate, just do it when you get home. She’ll be apples.”

In retrospect, missing from my side of the conversation was the perhaps vital fact that the passport would expire before I was due to travel home. But, to be fair here, missing from Malcolm’s side was a detailed query somewhere along the lines of: “Wait just a minute, you don’t happen to be a dual national living in the States on your other passport and thinking of using said other passport to enter Australia after your Australian passport expires, are you?” But at the time I hung up satisfied that I’d covered all my bases.

The next six months I was very busy. Busy traveling to Kenya, Colorado, Indiana, Canada, New York, and South Africa. Busy teaching people how to live life that way and be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. Like me.

That busyness might explain why it wasn’t until the morning of December 15 that I had the time to locate the website where an American friend who was going to fly over for New Years Eve could apply for their Australian tourist visa online. As I cut and pasted the link for him, I noticed a statement saying that everyone except citizens of New Zealand had to apply for a tourist visa before boarding arriving at the airport to board their flight to Australia.

Huh, I thought, I wonder if everyone includes Canadians, and whether that might cause a small hiccup if I suddenly pull out my Canadian passport, visaless, in Sydney airport.

So, trying to do the right thing here, I call the Australian consulate again. My pal Malcolm was gone. Perhaps he’d been fired for not asking enough questions. In his place, I got Andrew.

“Andrew,” I greeted him warmly. “I just want to check that it won’t be a problem for me to enter Australia if my passport’s expired.”

“What are you talking about?” Andrew said. “You can’t travel on an expired passport.”

“Huh,” I said, moving on to Plan B. “Okay then. Will I need a tourist visa in my Canadian passport to get into the country, since I’m also an Australian citizen?”

“If you’re a citizen of Australia you can’t enter Australia on the passport of another country. It’s illegal,” Andrew said, in a tone that asked where I was in kindergarten when everyone else was learning international law.

There was a long pause while I digested this.

“Right, then,” I said. “Um, could you help me brainstorm my options because my flight to Australia takes off at ten tonight.”

What?” Andrew said. I don’t know how he managed to pack incredulity, exasperation, and pity for my obviously deficient intellect into one word, but he did.

I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to tell him – hey buddy, I’m a smart, capable, person. I have two masters degrees. I direct a training program for a non-profit. I’ve written a novel, and… and… I can cook. These things happen. They just clearly haven’t happened to you lately.

But I didn’t defend myself. I chose the only option that I thought might get me somewhere. I begged.

“Please! I have to make that plane. I haven’t been home in a year and a half!”

“Well,” he said grudgingly. “You’re probably going to need to apply in person in the consulate at LA for an emergency travel document. That’ll take five working days. Your only other option is to call the airlines, explain the situation, and see if they are willing to call Canberra and get authorization to uplift you without a valid passport. But, the airlines don’t generally go for that sort of thing, and Canberra might not grant it anyway…”

As he spoke I had a vision of spending the first week of my holidays hanging out in the lobby of the Australian consulate in LA, and a second week trying to finagle another seat on a flight to Sydney before Christmas. There had to be another way.

“So,” I hazarded, looking around furtively as if the foreign affairs swat team was about to swoop into the office and take me into custody right there and then. “Hypothetically speaking, if a citizen of Australia were to show up at the airport and present another country’s passport, what do you think the chances are that the airline would figure it out and stop them from boarding?”

“I cannot advise you regarding that course of action,” Andrew said primly.

What is my country coming to? Doesn’t he know it’s his job to represent Australia around the world? Doesn’t he know that he is duty-bound to proclaim our national motto “no worries mate, she’ll be right” with nonchalant assurance in any and every situation? And where was some of that convict spirit we’re so famous for?

As I walked into LAX that night and presented my Canadian passport, safely impregnated with an electronic tourist visa that I’d applied for online, I was sweating. I like to think of myself as someone who could, if they chose, break laws with panache and style. But I could feel all my style clinging to me damply.

My grand plan was make it onto the plane and get to Sydney whereupon I would confess all my sins and throw myself on the mercy of the immigration officials. I figured they’d probably be cross but I couldn’t see they’d have much choice about letting me into the country at that stage. I mean, they couldn’t very well deport me back to the US, could they? Can you even be deported from your own country?

But as I disembarked in Sydney I had second thoughts about the wisdom of confessing. Who knew whether, in my absence, Australian immigration officials had become as mean-spirited and irrational as American ones? Maybe they would deport me. I hesitated, and then joined the lengthy queue for non-citizens.

While I mourned the fact that I was wasting my one opportunity a year to sail through an immigration checkpoint in the citizens line (not to mention the money I’d paid for the tourist visa for my own country), I had plenty of time to wonder whether my name would flag the existence of my other passport and bring wrath and, I suddenly realized, possibly a hefty fine, down upon my head.

In teaching others how to cope well with high transition lifestyles one of the things that I always talk about is the importance of having a sense of humor. And when things like this go wrong I can usually shrug and see the bright side in that fact that I provide so much raw material helpful for keeping mine in good working order. But in that moment I couldn’t see the funny side of the situation. Possibly, as my father would point out later, because there wasn’t one.

Way too soon I was next in line. I glanced at the immigration agent and debated my options. Would it be too obvious to proclaim excitedly, “I’ve been looking forward to this trip for years, and I can’t believe it’s finally here!” Maybe my accent would give me away, even with a well-placed Canadian, “eh?” So I handed over my passport, reminded myself to breathe, and tried for my normal mien at this stage of the immigration process – bored and exhausted.

With just a glance and one casual anticlimactic flick of his wrist, it was over. Never have I been so glad to see a stamp come down and hear the words, “welcome to Australia.”

I was home.

Well, home as a tourist, anyway.

Over to you… So what travel lessons have you learned the hard way?