Learning Simplicity

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Birthdays. That word seems to have lots of emotion attached to it, doesn’t it? Think for a minute. A child begins counting down the days until the BIG day comes immediately the day after their birthday – unless you celebrate Christmas and then there is a mini-break. They are excited for the presents, the cake, the anticipation of it all. As we get older, many of us (not all) dread watching the number of candles added to the cake until it looks like one big fireball about to explode. Parents of the birthday child…well, planning out a party can be stressful, especially if you live overseas you have this idea of making the party a top-notched one right off a Pintrest page.

I admit, I have tried to be one of those moms. I have lugged party hats, plates, cups, napkins, banners, etc for all three kids half way around the world. I have a patient husband. I loved making the cakes, decorating, and planning the games to all go around the theme. Then the day of the party would come, and I’d be nervous – I’d be smiling and laughing, but deep inside I just wanted it to end. I was afraid it would flop. I know silly me, it isn’t about the party, but about the child… A few years ago, I caught on…sort of. My son got older and didn’t want the theme. He just wanted his friends, cake, and playing at the park. It was one of the best parties for me. It was easy and the kids still had a blast. Same for Mei Mei, simple with friends equaled fun.

But, what do you do for a child who has no friends?

Jie Jie has no friends. Really. She has tons of people who love her and who she loves dearly. These people range from adults, kids in her school, to people at church, but she doesn’t have friends. This isn’t a huge issue until her birthday comes around and I try to plan a party. I think her last party was when she was in Kindergarten and we invited her class – the special ed class in the local school. Of course, it was themed – Penguins!

Then we started homeschooling, and I’ll be honest every year I dreaded her birthday. Each one reminded me what she lacked – and it wasn’t just friends. I’d be reminded that she was one year older and farther away from the learning curve of other kids her age. Both facts punched the gut and I couldn’t plan anything. So, the past few years we’ve just gone out for supper and had some cake with a few presents. Then guilt would pour over me for not planning a nicer party for her. Nasty cycle.

We just celebrated her 11th birthday last week. A week before her birthday, I felt the pressure, the dread. My husband informed me that we were having a party this year. I asked, “Who are we going to invite?” He told me, “No one, we are going to have a family party.” I’ll admit, I dragged my feet and didn’t think it was going to be much fun – but then he made me go out with him to buy presents. We bought her a calculator, a flashlight, amongst some other things. We talked about what we could do – like games to play, simple decorations, and planned a trip to the zoo for that weekend. Amazing how attitudes can change once the focus shifts to more positive thoughts. My husband is such a great and wise man.

The day of her birthday, I brought her and the kids home early. We frosted the cake and set up the game, “Pin the Tail on Bullseye” that my sister had sent to use for her birthday last year. Ge Ge blew up the “Toy Story” balloons, also from last year’s package that we hadn’t used. When my husband got home, the party began. We all played the game, ate cake, and watched her open presents. We took her out to eat for supper and the restaurant sang to her and gave her a birthday balloon. This past weekend the five of us went to the zoo because that is what she wanted to do. She wanted to see the giraffes.

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It was the best birthday party we’ve had in years for her. You know those moments you sit back and watch the world around you – in amazement of your family and how grateful you are for each one? That was sentimental me this past week. I know that she would have had a blast with just cake and presents, but playing the game and laughing together was what I needed. A reminder that simple pleasures like a party is good for the soul.

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So, how do you do birthdays? Do you go all out (don’t worry, I won’t judge you…in fact, I applaud you!) Or do you do simple family birthdays? Do you have a child with special needs? What do you do? Please share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

Changing the Way I View Good-bye

“Good-bye!”

I’ve never really liked that word, though I’ve written quite a bit about it. I’ve written about how we should teach our kids to say it, how important it is, a great tool to use to go through it, and how I just feel that it stinks. I mean it sounds so final and ending. When I moved to China I learned the word for Good-bye (再見/zaijian) really meant “see ya later!” ~ my translation, but fairly accurate as it has a meaning of seeing the person again. I remember grabbing that meaning soon after my arrival. It was the bandage to my bleeding heart just after having left my family. The hope that I’d see them in a few years, that the good-bye was not final.

But, what if something happened to one of them and it was my final Good-bye?

The thought had plagued my mind at various times that were usually not convenient – like staff meetings or in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping. This thought turned into a fear. The definition bandage was not enough. I needed something stronger. Out of my comfort zone, away from dear friends and family who had always wrapped up my fears with encouraging words and support, I clung to God’s Word. Hebrews 11:13-16 spoke loud and clear to me.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

(Heb 11:13-16, NIV)

Note that this passage is in the middle of the “Great People of Faith” list in Hebrews. Namely, Abraham came to mind. He left his home and family and just started out on a journey that he had no idea where he was going or when the traveling would end. Yet, he went in faith. I am no Abraham, but his example encouraged me to stay where God had placed me.

My fear became reality.

Death eventually did come. My grandfather. My grandmother. My own father. Each was difficult. There was grief. A few days before she died I talked on the phone with Grandma, the tomboy of a grandmother whose farm had been my second home. We both knew it was coming, and yet she encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. We talked like we’d see each other again. I grieved, but understood and knew that we would see each other…one day.

A few years later, the phone call came that my dad was on his deathbed. He had battled leukemia for many years, and it had began to attack his body again. His immune system was shot – pneumonia snuck in. My siblings shared with me on the phone that he was peaceful those final hours. My mind raced to the last time I had seen him just five months earlier. I remembered as I hugged and told him good-bye wondering if it would be my last. As I hung up the phone I realized that my dad knew it would be. I remembered the look in his eyes as it seemed he wanted to tell me something, but being a man of few words he patted my back and choked out “I love you.”

As the years pass I know I’ll experience more deaths. We are mortal. It is part of life. Through these years of moves and watching countless others move out of my life, the Chinese meaning of Good-bye has changed from a bandage to more of a reminder of the passage above. Taipei is not my home; nowhere on this planet is really my home. I’m just a traveler passing through this life until the Lord decides to take me to my real home. A place where there is no more tears, no more pain, no more Good-byes!

Until then, I feel that I must live the life that God has asked me to live – not for myself, but for Him who through his death and resurrection made the harshest of good-byes of this earth just a “see ya later!” I know there will still be grief, but in the midst of that grief there is hope – that sure knowledge of knowing what will come. And for that I’m forever grateful for his saving grace.

This post was inspired by The Groove and is part of a link-up with Velvet Ashes. Thanks for letting me share a bit of my heart today. Please feel free to comment below or to contact me via email.

 

The Transition for the Child with Special Needs

I just wrote about helping your children transition from the summer holidays to going back to school. You can read that by clicking on “The Transition“.

How about kids with special needs? They may need a little more time and creative ways to help them with this transition. Below are just some additional ideas to help them adjust to the transition.

  • Talk about it. Talk about what school looks like. Talk about their friends and what they will do while they are there. Even doing some role-play activities to help them get into the mindset will help.
  • Count down – Make a simple chart with the number of days left until school starts up. Let your child mark off each day. HINT: Don’t start too far away from the first day as it might be too overwhelming. You know your child, so adjust accordingly.
  • Visit the school: If the school allows it, make a trip to the school to go and see the classroom, to reconnect BRIEFLY with the teacher. (Hint: Don’t stay more than 5-10 minutes. Teachers love to see you, but they do need to get their work done.)
  • GRACE: Give your child grace and give yourself grace those first few weeks that school starts back up. Remember that sometimes change and transitions are not always what we hope or dream they will be – but they eventually do adjust.

I know I need to get started with this transition with Jie Jie. Otherwise she just may think that I threw her into the Arctic Plunge Swim.

If you have a child with special needs, how do you help them get ready for going back to school? Please share in the comments below.

The Transition

The word transition means different things to different people. For instance:

  • Parents bring home their newborn from the hospital
  • Freshman in college (or high school)
  • Soldier returning home from deployment
  • Family moving to a new country
  • Summer to Fall
  • Summer holiday to “Back to School”

Though, expats and TCKs relate the word with “good-byes”, new countries, and new friends, I’m going to talk about that yearly transition from summer holidays to returning back to school. It is an adjustment – for everyone involved.

For the parents: It’s the return of the SCHEDULE – either homeschool or taking them back to local or international school. Either way, we don’t hear the constant two words, “I’m Bored”. Okay, maybe if you’re like a super Pinterest mom and don’t deal with this issue skip this section, I’m not talking to you. If you are like me…well, I’m still trying to “enjoy the summer,” but I’m ready for everyone to get on a regular schedule.

The kids: You remember. Come on, I know you do. Sleeping in just a little bit later (or a lot later) than school days. Swimming, snacking, playing with friends, and swimming some more. That first morning of school was like being thrown in an Arctic Plunge swim. It shocked your system and was just not a pretty site. Times haven’t changed – it’s tough for our kids, too. Okay, my kids can’t wait to see their friends All Day Long, but they are NOT looking forward to early wake-ups and the dreaded homework.

So, what can we do to help them?

  • Start waking them up earlier. It doesn’t have to be the exact time, but definitely maybe trying for a half hour difference. This doesn’t have to be done weeks in advanced either – just a few days before to help their bodies start to adjust.
  • Earlier Bedtimes – This goes hand-in-hand with the above. Same rules, a week before or a few days put kids to bed at their normal “school night” bedtime.
  • Review Math Skills – This tip is more for elementary school aged children, but buy flashcards and a few weeks before school starts have your kids review them. Their brain has had a break, hopefully, so now is a good time to help them “think” school.
  • Reading – If you haven’t had them reading at all this summer, then start. This year we actually are paying our kids to read. They are getting a set amount per book they read and record on their chart. It was an incentive to READ – and I’m afraid that it may just have hurt our pocketbooks, but totally worth it!
  • Collect Meal Ideas/Make a Meal Chart – This one is for the cook in the home. I’ve found that when I take the time to make out a two-week meal plan that I actually feed my kids healthier and spend less money at the grocery store. It’s fairly easy to do this at the beginning of the year, but think about doing 4-6 of these charts and rotate them throughout the year.

What do you do with your children? Do you help prepare them? Do you just “throw them into the Arctic Plunge?” Please share in the comments below. Me? I’ll be doing some of it…I’d like to get to the meal plan, but that all depends on how I do with my lesson plans. Remember…I’m not the super Pinterest mom, though I so wish I was.

Jetlag Blues – The Empty Fridge Saga

The summer is over and Sue and Kris are making their way back to expat-land. They’ve said all their good-byes, they’ve packed-up those suitcases with precious cargo of things they can’t easily buy, and they’ve prepped on-flight entertainment for their three kids. The flights are long, the layovers almost as long – but they somehow seem to arrive in their home with all thirteen pieces of luggage and their three kiddos. It’s dark outside and everyone is tired – no exhausted from the lack of sleep. With fingers crossed and prayers said, Sue and Kris put their three kids to bed and then collapse on their own bed. A few hours later, which really seems like only five minutes, the children start waking up….hungry. Sue notices her stomach is rumbling as well. She looks at the clock, 1am. Groggily she walks into the kitchen and begins to search for something….anything to eat. The kitchen is bare, the cupboards show a little hope – a pack of lemon flavored Ritz crackers. “Will this last until morning when she can get to the market?” she asks herself.

I don’t know about you, but I can relate to this scenario. I can remember even digging in the carryon bags in desperate search of airline snacks or rolls for the kids to nibble on until we could get to a store. Fortunately, we now live in Taipei – the land of 7-11’s and other 24-hour convenient stores, so I just send Uwe out at odd hours to hunt and gather food for the ravenous crew. On the RaisingTCK Facebook page I asked readers what they do during these times and guess what? I’m not the only one who makes 7-11 runs in the middle of the night.

Others listed great ideas which I will post below…

1. Neighborly Love: One great idea is to ask a friend or a neighbor that is around to buy a few staples to put in your fridge. Of course, they will need to have an extra key, but usually this person has a key for those times that you lock yourself out of the apartment/house. *Table-turner: If you have a key to a friend’s place, why not buy a few staples and put it in their home as a “Welcome Back” surprise. Trust me, you will jump up a few notches on that friend ladder for sure!

2. Stop and Shop: Most airports have some sort of convenience store where you could pick up some crackers, rolls, water, or other snacks to tie everyone over later. If that is not an option, if time and location allows it swing by a store to pick up those staples. It may seem like a pain at the moment, but it might just make that first night of jet-lag bearable for all.

3. Stock-up – As another reader shared: she stocks up on UHT milk and cereal. UHT milk is that boxed milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. If that is not an option, then look at what is sold that can be stored in cupboards over the summer and stock up those things. Of course, this needs to be planned out – so this idea may need to be tucked away in your mind for the next time you take a longer trip.

4. Bake and Freeze: If you trust that your electricity won’t go out and if you have a large enough freezer – you could bake quick breads or simple meals and put them in the freezer to use that first night or even week as you struggle with jet-lag. *Table-turning: Make a meal or something to take over to a friend/family their first night back. With email and Facebook, it is pretty simple to find out when they arrive.

I’m sure there are other ideas – like raiding the precious treats from the luggage that you were planning to save for special occasions. Please share with us what you have done to help you through that first night of jet-lag…because none of us like “The Empty Fridge Saga.”

Raising TCKs

“Most new parents buy books about raising kids. They want to know what to expect at each month, how to handle tantrums, or even how to help make a smooth transition for an adopted child. Parents who choose to raise their kids overseas should also spend time learning about third culture kids – a.k.a TCKs.”

Today I’m over at Tayo Rockson’s blog sharing ideas on how to learn more about raising TCKs. Tayo is a Nigerian TCK who just started blogging about TCK issues. Go on over and share your favorite websites and blogs with his community. Click here to read those ideas.

Enjoy the Summer

 

 

 

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This week I’m linking up once again with Velvet Ashes and their Friday “The Groove”. This week the topic is on Enjoy.

Summer is here and it should be easy to enjoy the break, but I’m actually finding it hard this year. Maybe it is the heat. Maybe the kids picking, picking, picking on each other- on me…. or maybe it is because we didn’t go visit family this summer. Or because our plans of moving didn’t happen…probably a mixture of it all dolloped with a topping of disappointment.

Last week I caught myself wishing school would start sooner.

I KNOW….CRAZY! Wait, you had that same thought? I’m not the only one?

Shame on you…I mean me. I mean, I only have a few more years left with these kiddos before they head off to whatever the next chapter in their life leads them. I’m not going there because I only have 6 more summers left with my oldest. SIX! 6! That is like almost counting down on one hand.

Okay, I’m not going there ~ but do you see what I mean that this wishing school to start up again has got to stop? The school year is crammed with homework, practices, quick breakfasts, and early bedtimes. Summer is slower mornings, no homework, and well many times just slower days.

So, how can we make this hot, humid, kid-fighting summer blues turned into enJOYable?

Find the joy in the simple, and then stop what you are doing and DO them….

  • water fights
  • boardgames
  • blowing bubbles…in the house
  • go to the library to read a book, or read a book at home together
  • sipping cold tea at sunset
  • watching the World Cup together at odd hours of the day
  • baking together – with the fan blowing on you at all times and a large cup of cold tea always full
  • hike, bike, anything outside together
  • swim or splash

Make memories – ponder these days because honestly they will slip by, sadly some may already have.

So, I raise my cold styrofoam cup of grapefruit tea and salute Summer. May it slow down enough to enjoy the pace, may it bring some memories that will bring a smile to my face this winter, and may I never forget that simple pleasures can be some of the most enjoyable things in life.

Your Turn: What have you done this summer to make it more enjoyable? Please comment below. I love to hear from you and get more ideas.

Book Review: PASSAGE TO PERSIA by Margaret A. Frame

PASSAGE TO PERSIA is a story of a young missionary doctor and her 30-years in Persia, or what is now known as Iran. Adelaide Kibbe became a doctor in the 1920s and traveled to Persia. Her story is woven together through her personal letters, diary entries, and mission/hospital reports. It’s through these accounts we see a young lady become a wife, a mother, and a widow – all while working as a doctor in a fairly rough country for women.

You can read my full review at the CLEW website. Just click here.

Coming out of Grief

I’m joining in today with Velvet Ashes in their Friday “The Grove” linkup. This week the topic is on what every expat knows well – GRIEF.

Grief comes in various forms for the expat.

  • Every spring we say good-bye – either we are moving or someone we know and have grown to love is moving.
  • We say good-bye after every “home” visit - each getting a little harder as we see our grandparents, parents aging.
  • We miss family gatherings for birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, World Cup parties, or whatever…fill in the blank.
  • Death of dearly loved ones – either family or tragic accidents

For me, those have been true – but as a parent to a child with special needs I seem to grieve regularly. I don’t mean it is there every single day all the time. No, my grief hits me when I least expect it. It sometimes hits hard like a punch in the gut. It is strong enough to bring instant tears – but not strong enough to leave me in a pit of despair. I wrote a story for the anthology MONDAY COFFEE & OTHER STORIES OF MOTHERING CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS. The section below, I feel, illustrates how grief tries to pull me down.

 I’m told that parenting a child with special needs stays difficult. It doesn’t just “go away.” I have found that to be true. Grief finds me at odd places. It finds me at the park where I see girls playing and laughing together while my daughter stumbles up the stairs to go down the slide. Grief finds me in the hospital holding the results from yet another developmental testing and I see she isn’t mentally where I thought she was. And Grief brings tears to my eyes when party invitations are passed out and she didn’t get one. Grief reminds me that she doesn’t have friends her age. She doesn’t seem to notice, but I do. I hurt.

Through all the grief and mourning, joy does come. It always does. It comes with a kiss and a hug. Joy comes with each new word she speaks. It comes when she dresses up in her cowboy hat, boots, and comes out swinging her pretend lasso. Joy comes from watching her love life in the way I sometimes wish I could.

Yes, joy does come after the mourning.

 

I read a recent blog post from another parent of a child with special needs and she stated it, too.

She is happy. She is totally fine. She doesn’t feel like she’s missing out. It’s not her dream, it’s mine.

Grief comes to everyone – unless you are a hermit who lives in a cave with no pets. As expats we must learn to go through the grieving process, to embrace it knowing that it will pass. And as a parent of a child with special needs, I’m learning that it’s okay to grieve – but that I need to not stay there. Here’s how I get out…

1. Count my blessings – you know that song, “10,000 Reasons”. I made a chart on the wall - but even just saying them out loud helps.

2. Sing Louder – speaking of songs, I put on praise music and turn it up real loud and usually break out dancing. It gets all of us into giggles.

3. Remind myself that my daughter is not sad – in fact she loves life to the fullest (most of the time). Just yesterday I used this…at the water park I started to feel sad because she couldn’t run off with the others to zip down the slide, but I looked up at her jumping in her life vest laughing and splashing around. She was fine – so I would be, too.

4. Take note of the gifts and talents that my children, especially my daughter with special needs, have. Not in a “I have the best kids in the world” kind of way, but in a “Wow, look how they are growing and giving to others” kind of way. (but, just so you know….I do have some pretty awesome kids!)

Your Turn: How has grief affected you? What has helped you through the process? Please share in the comments below.

Book Review: A CAREER IN YOUR SUITCASE

A CAREER IN YOUR SUITCASE, fourth edition

by Jo Parfitt and Colleen Reichrath-Smith

Living the expat life can sound adventuresome, exciting, and honestly quite fun for most people. Most trailing spouses will agree that at the beginning, it is fun and adventuresome, but somewhere in the middle of maybe the third month or so the “vacation” is over. They begin to feel bored, somewhat useless, and possibly even depressed. Most left jobs and/or careers back in their home country to support their spouse or partner. This was the scenario for both Jo Parfitt and Colleen Reichrath-Smith, authors of A CAREER IN YOUR SUITCASE.

Jo found herself on a plane from England to Dubai as a young wife. The first ten years were rough she says in her book, but she “developed…a career in my suitcase, a portable career that moves when I do.” Colleen, a career consultant, moved to the Netherlands shortly after she married a Dutch man. She gave herself time to learn the language, and then began giving career development training in Dutch. The two of them have teamed together to add and improve what Jo created over fifteen years ago.

In their book, they say, “a portable career is work that you can take with you wherever you go. It is based on your own unique set of skills, values, passion and vision and is not based in a physical location.” Technology has really paved the way for many to be able to make a career while they are traveling the world. “The only real limit is your ability to imagine and create it,” they say at the beginning of their book when describing more about a portable career.

A CAREER IN YOUR SUITCASE is packed with useful tools for anyone looking at the next step. It is divided up into three parts: Find Your Direction; Find Your Opportunity; and Putting it Together. The first part helps you find what you are passionate about to remind you what skills you already possess and can use. The second section takes those passions and skills and helps you discover career options. The last section encourages and directs you in ways to step out and make your career work.

This book is not a book you just read through. It is one that is to be used, marked up, and notes taken in. Jo and Colleen created a separate section called “My Career Passport” at the end of the book, which is a space to write out answers to the “homework” questions in each section. This new section makes it worth having the newer version. This version is also packed with so many resources that are available on the internet. One being their own called A Career in your Suitcase.

This book is definitely a must read for those who are the trailing spouse or if you are at a point in your life that you want to do something new. I found this book to be highly useful and resourceful.