Freaky Friday in Laos

Bike safety in Luang Prabang

Bike safety in Luang Prabang

Yes, I carried two bicycle helmets—one for Eliza and one for me—but I had decided otherwise to leave my Worrywart at home and enjoy the exploits in Laos cooked up for me by my 30-year-old daughter, who had been traveling for months in Southeast Asia.

While still at home, I had tried not to follow Eliza’s adventures too closely. I did not want to know when she was scuba diving or flying on airlines with names like Magic Carpet.

Overlooking acrophobia

Overlooking acrophobia

I arrive in Luang Prabang, Laos; the mindset to leave my worries behind seems to be working. Despite my fear of heights, I do not get heart flutters about mounting the neck of an elephant and riding bareback until the very last minute, when the magnificent 35-year-old beast lumbers up to me so I can grab onto her ear and hoist my leg over her back and then hang on by squeezing my knees around her neck. (apparently harmless to the animal in this sanctuary that takes care of abandoned and other elephants.)

On the other hand, my very presence seems to bring out the worrywart in my adventuresome Eliza, as though every day of our time together in Laos is Freaky Friday, like in the film of the same name in which mother and daughter find their personalities exchanged.

Boat to waterfall

Boat to waterfall

Day 1:

In a boat on our way to a swimming hole, during a break from our visit with the elephants, Eliza’s all like, “I don’t like the rain, I’m cold.” I’m all like, “I love the feeling of rain in my face.”

Day 2:

She’s all jumpy in the swirling turquoise pools at the exotic waterfall; “Fish are nibbling my feet,” she wails. Meanwhile, I splash about like a happy piglet, oblivious to nibbling fish.

Day 3:

We go floating downstream, each in our own huge tire tube. We hold hands and when the river pulls us apart, she shouts, “Paddle Mom! Harder! Harder!” We crack up as she stretches to reach my hand (think: God reaching for Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling). Finally, I get swirled around and am able to grab hold of her big toe.

These Hmong kids missed my idea mugging the camera.

Only Eliza and one Hmong girl got my idea to mug the camera.

At night a woman has her hands all over a mango she is cutting for our smoothies; Eliza turns away and commands, “Don’t look!”

Day 4:

On our serendipitous stop at a Hmong village of 45 houses—where they got electricity for the first time last year—it is my idea, amid the chickens flapping all around us, to worry about bird flu, a momentary reversion to my true nature.

Risking bird flu in Hmong village

Risking bird flu in Hmong village

Day 5:

I give in to Eliza’s plea that we get a ride rather than bike on the bumpy path to explore a cave and swim in The Blue Lagoon.

It takes all my energy in the scorching weather to mount hundreds of wet, slippery, uneven steps made out of rock to get to the cave. Periodically I ascend on all fours.

Navigating inside the cave makes the step-climbing seem as easy as walking from my dining room to kitchen for a bite of chocolate and a tall glass of cold skim milk.

While I teeter from one rock to the next, Eliza leaps ahead from rock to rock. She keeps pausing to admonish, “Be careful, Mom!”

At last we reached a turn where it is as dark as a power outage on a starless night. I tell Eliza to go on ahead and that I’ll start reversing my route. In a matter of minutes in the light of my headlamp I see her in the distance high above me.

The fun of picking the least craggy, least slippery, least puddly path through the rocks is augmented by doing it on my own. When Eliza catches back up with me, I confess that it has been more fun without her hovering over me. She says she had more fun without me too. When watching me, she worries incessantly that I’ll stumble.

Our week of Freaky Fridays comes to an end

Our week of Freaky Fridays comes to an end

At the nearby Blue Lagoon, Eliza climbs some twenty feet up a ladder and onto a tree branch from which she plunges into the aqua agua while I gnash my teeth and hold out my iPhone to capture the moment. In preparation for my departure the following day, we have morphed back into our usual roles. Our week of Freaky Fridays is over.


Confessions of a Worrywart: Husbands, Lovers, Mothers, and Others                                                  is now on, Kindle, and Smashwords

“A first-rate personal essayist, Susan Orlins delivers the goods time and again. Underneath her self-mocking voice, her abundant humor, her brio, there is the serious candor of a moralist who worries the problems that won’t go away.”

–PHILLIP LOPATE, author and editor of The Art of the Personal Essay

“Susan Orlins is America’s funniest neurotic since Woody Allen. Just be careful you don’t crack a rib reading Confessions of a Worrywart.”

–PATRICIA VOLK, author of Stuffed and Shocked

5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, poignant, beautifully written

Susan Orlins is a master storyteller.This book is both funny and poignant… both lighthearted and heartbreaking. It’s one of those rare books that you can read in a few days, but it stays with you much longer. I found myself thinking about Susan’s stories and experiences long after I finished the book. It’s a great read that will have you laughing out loud one moment, and then feeling your heart break the next as you travel along the bumpy road of Susan’s life. I have not enjoyed a memoir this much since reading David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty SomeDay. (But as a woman, I can relate to this book SO much more). Highly recommended.




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