How to Encourage a Family that has a Child with Special Needs

The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” is a saying that most overseas workers would agree with. We do not have easy access to trusted family members to help us in times of need. We rely on those in our host country to help. I live on the island of Taiwan. For me, it has taken the island to help me raise my children, especially my daughter with special needs. We have lived on the island now for fourteen years. We have made friends in various cities due to my husband’s role, but also because he grew up here.

It wasn’t until we started planning to attend our son’s graduation that I began to think more about this African proverb. We knew our daughter with special needs would not be able to attend the ceremony. She is deathly scared of the auditorium where it would be held. As we tried to plan it out, a couple of friends let me know that whatever we needed, they would be there. That was when I realized that for me it has taken more than just a village, but actually an island, to raise my kids. I realized that in almost every major city on the island there were at least a few families that knew our daughter well enough to help at any given moment. And last year we even had a friend come from a different city to stay in our home for one week so my husband and I could go away for our twentieth anniversary, something we hadn’t done in over ten years. Seriously, that is more than friendship.

I don’t think we are special or have this amazing gift that people want to help. I think that most people want to help, but just may not know where to start. So, I asked some of my other online friends who happen to have raised or are in the process of raising children with special needs outside their passport countries.

To read the rest of this post and to see how you can be an encouragement follow the link to A Life Overseas

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

Seasons and Schedules

Quarantine life offers time.
Time to read.
Time to catch up on TV series.
Time to exercise.
Time to do a puzzle.
Time to write.
Time to think.

I have about twelve hours left on my mandatory quarantine.
Alone in my house for 14 days.
I’ve settled into a routine.
It will change in twelve hours.

In twelve hours I will put back on that mom hat.
I will make homemade pancakes per request from my family.
I will triple the amount of laundry I’ve been doing.
I will begin making real nutritional meals, not whatever I can find. (There is a reason God gave me a family.)  
I will hug my family. (I will HUG my family!)

Before my plane left the US to fly over the Pacific Ocean, I knew that I wanted to be intentional with my time in quarantine. And I have. I pretty much did what I listed at the beginning of this post. Although, truth be told I didn’t watch as much TV since our WiFi went out due to a storm and I couldn’t let anyone in the house to look at it (probably not a bad thing).

But, I had loads of time to think. I’ve wondered about what my schedule will look like once I return to the daily life living in Taiwan. I will be entering a newer season. I won’t be planning, teaching and grading as much (only one class). I will have time that I have not had since my oldest was born (He’ll be 19 soon!).

I want to get out a planner and start filling it up with activities. White spaces scare me. I feel I might get lazy or look lazy; that I’m not doing enough for an overseas worker. Staying busy is worn like a badge.
But, I’m stopped before I even get a blank schedule printed out.

I stop because of a conversation with a friend.

She has also found herself in a new season of motherhood with time on her hands.
She is not filling up the space so quickly.
I’m challenged by this.
The question arises from the pages of my journal.
Why am I trying to fill up the empty spaces so quickly? What am I afraid of?
Have I inquired of God what He would want of me in this newer season of motherhood?

Time is one of those precious things to me.
So, why am I so quick to give it away?
I want to be intentional with my time.
I want to be intentional in who/what gets my time.

I want my next step to be right, not a page full of activities that steal my energy and joy.

I am inquiring of the Lord what it is that He wants of me this season. 

I will wait (or I promise to try to wait) before I fill up the white spaces. I know shame and guilt will knock on my door wanting me to budge. But, I don’t want the Badge of Busyness anymore. 

I want joy, peace, patience, goodness….

I want to be intentional.

How do you plan out your time? Do you tend to want to wear the Badge of Busyness? Please share in the comments your thoughts on time and schedules.

Photo by Valerila Miller on Canva

Transition Roller Coaster

PC: “Roller Coaster Ride” by Angie via Canva.com

Change. Unknowns. Transition.

This seems to be the theme of 2020 for me. Our oldest graduated from high school, decided on a university, and will get on an airplane in less than five days. To be honest those three words bring out emotions, but with this pandemic can I demonstrate by writing “EMOTIONS!”? Seriously, I think sending off your first is suppose to be a roller coaster of emotions, and having a TCK and all that entangles makes those drops a little more steep, but throw in a pandemic and it’s like a sudden double loop with a fear that the safety harness is faulty. This is coming from someone who doesn’t like roller coasters. For those of you who do, well, come up with your own analogy. But, to break it down, this year has brought out these emotions:

Fear. Excitement. Anxiety. Stress. Joy. Regret. Doubt. Stress.

And here’s the thing I’ve noticed this week. Especially this week. I’m not the only one going through these emotions. Of course my son is going through some of this, but my husband and daughters are as well. And as the time of departure nears, the emotions heightened.

And get this – we all respond to these emotions DIFFERENTLY! Maybe you already knew this and I think I did, too. But, this week with everyone just a little more on edge I’ve really noticed it.

So, what to do?

I’m not sure I have a complete answer, but here are a few things I have tried to do to help.

  1. Be aware. Be aware of your own feelings and responses to those feelings. Be aware that others may be acting out of response to anxiety or deep sadness or even fear.
  2. Choose Grace. Grace is a Christian word that basically means gift. Offer the gift of understanding when a young child throws a tantrum at the table. Give grace to your spouse when you find them “hiding” in a book, TV series, or game. Giving grace sometimes means forgiving before it’s been asked for. Don’t forget to give yourself grace. It’s easy to be hard on yourself, but you need grace, too.
  3. Communicate. When you are aware of your own actions and responses you can communicate with your family how you are feeling. You can ask for forgiveness when you’ve spoken in anger because of stress. You can ask how they are doing with this upcoming change. You can talk with them about their own responses/actions. Remember though, that HOW you communicate is key – go back to #2 for guidance.

This is not something that comes naturally for me, so please don’t read this and think, “Wow, she’s got it all together.”

Uh, no, I fail multiple times a day with this. I sometimes I wish we could just rush through this hard part of transition – but I don’t want to miss it. So, I will hold on to that safety harness and force my eyes to stay open through all the dips, the dives and the loops that this roller coaster brings.

Have anything else to add to this list? Please share in the comments.

The Path of Parenting

PC: MaDonna Maurer

Last week I tripped and fell while running. Okay, let’s be honest, it was a slow jog. Anyway, I ran on a path that I regularly run on. I’ve run on this path for several years. I’m familiar with this path. Most mornings I turn on a podcast before pushing start on my app that tracks my kilometres. I run down the empty road with traffic lights still flashing red towards the path. It’s an old railroad track that the city has turned into a really nice walk/run/bike path. It’s lined with trees and flowering bushes. About a fourth of the way into my run, I cross a bridge that opens to a view of the mountains. It’s gorgeous and honestly one of the reasons I get up so early to run.

That morning though, I remember turning around to head back. I was laughing at something the host of the podcast had said when my foot caught on something and I stumbled and crashed to the ground.

How did I get here?

I stood up and looked at my knees. No scratches. I couldn’t believe my luck.

I took several steps. No twisted ankles. Wow, this is amazing!

All seemed good.

A throb came from my right hand.

A quick look revealed the source of the pain: a thick slice of skin between two fingers ripped off.

Really?

I squeezed my hand into a fist and jogged home – hoping I didn’t have too much blood running down my arm.

The next day I ran again and stopped where I had fallen. The section where I had tripped had changed. It went from a smooth path to slats of wood before changing back to the smooth path.

A transition.

PC: MaDonna Maurer

My son leaves for university in a few weeks. I feel like my life resembles that path. I’ve been mom to this kid for over 18 years now. I’m familiar with mothering – but it’s changing. This transition feels like those slats of wood. It’s uneven. It’s loud. It’s not comfortable.

  1. It’s uneven – Just as the boards are not evenly spaced, parenting during a transition isn’t either. It’s an awkward dance of letting him become an adult and still have some control. It’s knowing when to let him make his own decisions and mistakes. It’s more about coaching him and less about obedience. I’ve noticed this change in parenting a few years ago.
  2. It’s loud – I feel like I’m a stomping elephant when I run over the slats of wood. That is why I run on the smooth bike path. It’s also loud in my head during this transition of parenting. The freak out voice seems to be shouting out all my fears and concerns, while the rational voice tells me that he is growing up and his decisions are not terrible. Maybe not the ones I would have made, but they are not going to ruin him. I’m reminded that I am now a coach and can only advise, but he needs to make decisions.
  3. It’s uncomfortable – The uneven boards and the loud pounding make me feel uncomfortable – but I keep going as I know it is the right thing for me to do. Exercise. And just as this time of parenting feels uncomfortable with the uneven and loud feelings, it is right. He is growing up and needs to become his own person.

Transition is like that isn’t it? It feels uneven, loud and uncomfortable, but before you know it the path smooths back out and you are back to feeling normal.

So, here’s to making memories, watching him build his RAFT, and being attentive to my path as I finish this transition from mothering a kid to mothering an adult.

Taking time to Reflect

PC: mdmaurer

Reflecting takes time. And honestly, most of us don’t have the time to spare to spend it on such a “luxury”. It’s amazing how needy those little humans can be. If you have them in your home, trust me, they do grow and become somewhat less needy.

Unless they are a child with special needs.

Then, I can’t promise anything.

My daughter will be turning 17 next month and still requires most of my attention when she is at home.

In writing the first two sentences until this point I’ve stepped away from the keyboard several times.

  • Started some music for her to listen to in her room.
  • Put her hair in a bun.
  • Took her to the bathroom.
  • Changed music.
  • Answered the phone and door.
  • Put her hair in a ponytail.
  • Cleaned up the water she spilled.
  • Changed music again.

Reflecting in my journal is something that I need to do regularly for my mental health. But, as you can probably tell, I can’t do that with her home. Or at least awake. Years ago I began waking up at 4:45 am because she got up around 6 – no matter what time she was put bed. I needed my cup of coffee in S.I.L.E.N.C.E. with my journal, pen, and Bible. I was NOT a morning person, so this wasn’t easy to implement. These days she sleeps in until sometimes 7, so I’ve been working in some time to exercise – can’t say I’m as consistent as I am with drinking my coffee and writing in my journal, but I’m trying. (really, I am.)

With her graduating from middle school and getting to be home almost three weeks earlier than the rest of the school, I have reflected on how these weeks have gone and began thinking about her future – like when she graduates from high school.

I had a panic attack.

Would my life resemble these past few weeks with her home with me?

Would I have to totally give up ALL of my hopes and desires to be a writer, my projects that I’ve started on around the house, and stop any kind of normal social life or work that revolves outside the home?

Do I really only have three more years of freedom?

This week the theme at Velvet Ashes is on reflecting. And they are using the verse from 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.” (NLT).

I was seeing lots of trouble. My focus was very limited and definitely not on the eternal.

But, honestly how do you change your focus from the here and now to the eternal?

Reflecting on the faithfulness of God in the past.

So that is what I did.

  • He provided schools when I didn’t think there would be one.
  • He provided therapists.
  • He provided hospitals, doctors, and countless people around the world to help with all medical needs.
  • He provided friends who are WILLING and ABLE to help out.

If He could take care of all those needs in the past, He is able to take care of her future (and mine). Taking time to reflect and remember, led to peace and acceptance (or at least the beginning) of what this summer will look like. And for that matter, what her future will look like. I still don’t know, but I can trust the One who does.

While finishing this post, she got outside.

PC: mdmaurer

So, I laughed, snapped a photo, and I brought my computer outside.

Win. Win.

Do you take time to reflect? When do you find time to do that? What have you reflected on this summer?

This post is part of The Grove with Velvet Ashes link-up on #velvetashesreflecting.

Book Review: SHANGHAI PASSAGE by Gregory Patent

SHANGHAI PASSAGE by Gregory Patent

Illustrated by Ted Lewin

Genre: middle grade autobiography/memoir

SHANGHAI PASSAGE is a collection of memories of the author, Gregory Patent, as a young child living in Shanghai at the end of World War II. Born in Hong Kong, Gregory was a British citizen to Russian and Iraqi parents. His stories are from the age of five, when the war ended, until he was around eleven when his family emigrated to the US.

My Take:

I picked up this book a few years ago from a school that was discarding it from their library. It has been sitting on my shelf and I’ve been wanting to read it. The cover has always tempted me to read it, but for some reason I’ve never taken the time. This summer I added it to my list for the Summer Reading Challenge by Amy Young. I’m so glad I did. Gregory’s story is just fascinating. The time period, the city, his cross-cultural family dynamic, and his opinions as a third culture kid – just a great read. He is truly a boy that has grown up, as Marilyn Gardener has coined, “between worlds“. As a mom raising some TCKs and CCKs, I was drawn to his thoughts about friends leaving, learning his father’s mother-tongue, and countless other things that Gregory shares in this very short book.

Honestly, I wanted to know more about this young man. So, I did some research and found that he is a cookbook author. You can read more about his life and try some of his reciepies at his website, The Baking Wizard.

To Throw a Zhongzi or Not to Throw it – that is the question.

Photo Credit: MaDonna Maurer

I’ve come to conclude that no matter how long you’ve lived in a country you can always learn something new. Sometimes, it is as simple as a vocabulary word or phrase. Other times, it is something more cultural like holidays, food, or traditions.

And sometimes, and honestly most of the time, it is learning or relearning to obtain a teachable attitude sprinkled with humility (okay, maybe humility needs to be poured like water out of a bucket).

Why is it so difficult sometimes to do this?

I am an adult, I should be able have an adult conversation and not sound like a child, age 6.

I’ve lived here x-number of years and it still bothers me when I am told certain things about my body.

Why is it that I either have too many clothes on my baby or not enough clothes on? I’m never right?

The answer I believe to why it is so difficult is Pride. Some of us just have more of it than others.

Yesterday was the Dragon Boat Festival. School is off for a few days and people are making zhongzi, which is sticky rice mixed with mushrooms, shallots, small shrimp, and sauces stuffed inside a bamboo leaf along with a piece of meat, duck egg yolk, peanuts, and another mushroom (or as I have learned this week, a variation depending on where you live). After the wrapped bundle is steamed, you unwrap it and eat the fragrant delicacies inside.

This week I was invited to participate with some other moms to make zhongzi. I knew this would be challenging, but fun and tasty. I honestly wasn’t prepared for what the challenge would really be. Let me unfold the events for you…

I watched as the “teacher” showed us how to do it. In my mind, I thought it didn’t look too difficult.

I could not have been more wrong.

On my first try I was told by one lady that it wasn’t a triangle. Another laughed. The “teacher” came over and took it out of my hands and showed me again.

I tried again.

And again.

And again.

Yep, I stuffed and wrapped, but according to those around me none of them were quite right.

Here’s where the battle began for me.

After the fourth one, as I was “laughing” along with the others, but on the inside wanted to through the ball of sticky-ness across the room – I had a choice to make.

  1. Quit and be angry.
  2. Laugh with them, but inside be seething angry.
  3. Laugh at myself and keep trying.

The first option would be bad. Some of these women I’m friends with and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings or make them feel guilty. Honestly, their critiques were signs that they wanted me to succeed with this project – not put a dunce cap on my head.

The second one would be easy. I can fake emotions for the sake of the situation. (Don’t looked shocked! I know you can do it too.) And honestly, I did this for the first bit while I was thinking through my reactions (remember I wanted to throw it across the room). But, I didn’t like how it was making me feel.

As I looked around at the other tables, I realized that they were laughing at each other as they were also having trouble making them. You see, in my mind, I thought I, as the only foreigner present, was the only one getting critiqued and laughed at. Not true.

So, from that moment on I chose to laugh at myself and to keep trying. I’m not sure I made any that were exactly right, but I do know that I left with a better attitude and a bag full of zhongzi to feed my family.

My zhongzi bundle.
My neighbor’s zhongzi bundle. What it should look like.

Two days later another friend invited me and my daughters to her house to make zhongzi and jiaozi together. Let me say, I went into this situation much better equipped for the challenge that I knew would be there. Plus, I was able to help my daughter “laugh” at herself, reminding her that it’s okay not to get it right at all this first time. What is important is spending time with our friends laughing and talking; building relationships.

Photo Credit: MaDonna Maurer

Moral of my story? Don’t let pride stop you from building relationships with the people in your host country. They have so much to offer. And don’t forget that our children are watching us in how we respond to situations that seem a little difficult.

So, got a story to share on something you’ve learned or relearned? Please share in the comments below.

Bittersweet

Image by KathyBarclay from Pixabay

Bittersweet is a plant. It has bright colored berries that would seem sweet and juicy, but are actually toxic and harmful if eaten. Another definition of bittersweet is, “arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain” (Lexico). This is what most people are familiar with.

Life is generally like this. A little bit bitter. A little bit sweet. It mixes together and creates the story of our life. Sometimes the bitter seems toxic – and maybe it is, in which case, seek help – but most of the time, the bitter is just a time of growth.

My son just graduated from high school. Bittersweet was the one description I think I heard and felt through this whole experience.

Bitter – My first born completely finished this chapter of his childhood. That book is completed. It is shelved; to be looked at like a scrapbook full of memories. He’ll be leaving and living across an ocean soon; 12-24 hours away.

Sweet – We’re proud of his accomplishments. This new adventure is just beginning and it is exciting. Who will he become? How will he grow?

These two words together capture the feelings of a parent or sibling – and possibly even the graduate, as well.

But, aren’t most transitions “bittersweet”?

Bitter – packing, saying good-bye to places, saying good-bye to people, watching your children hurt

Sweet – maybe living closer to family, new adventure with new foods & culture, recognizing how many good friends you have

As this summer plays out and the time gets closer to board that plane with my oldest, my emotions teeter back and forth from feeling bitter and sad, to sweet and proud and then back to sad.

I want him to go, yet I don’t.

I want him to grow up, yet I want him to need me, to need his father.

I believe this is the dilemma of many parents. We work and endure those early years to train our kids to be responsible mature adults, but when the time comes to send them off we feel that this isn’t the right time. It’s too soon.

As a Christian, I wondered if the word “bittersweet” was in the Bible. I couldn’t find the word, but I found a passage where both words are used. Exodus 15:22-25. This is the point in the story where Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea. They were headed into the Desert of Shur, where there was no water.

The people complained because the only water they found was at the place “Marah”, which was bitter.

Moses cried out to God.

God showed him a piece of wood.

Moses threw the piece of wood into the water.

Sweet water. Drinkable water.

It doesn’t say, but I’m guessing the crowds were happy once again – or at least relieved.

This little word search led me to an old story from long ago, in which God used a stick to make bitter water sweet.

My situation isn’t terrible. It’s not life-threatening, but it has some bitterness that is harder to walk through.

It requires trust.

Trusting my son.

Trusting God.

Right now sitting in my home where my son is just in the next room I can honestly say it’s easy to trust.

But,

I know that when “move-in” day comes and I drive away with him standing in the parking lot of his dorm, my eyes will be blurry from the streams of bittersweet tears as I put that trust into action.

How have you seen “bittersweet” play out in your own life?

Transition: Helping Your Children Through Change

Photo Credit by Canva

Transition is part of life. People move. Children come into the family. Special people and pets die. For those living overseas this rhythm of transition brings an odd normalcy, which one could easily sway or tap their foot.

In and out.

Come and go.

Up and down.  

Arrive depart.

Turn around and start again.

But, after a few years of this dance our minds stand guard. Emotions must stand against the wall and not step foot on the dance floor. Sometimes transition requires helping children through change.

If we find ourselves either in this awkward dance or stuck against the wall, what about our kids? They learn the dance early. How well they learn it or how to avoid it really depends on a few things. As parents we need to be mindful of them and how they are handling all the transitions, this includes children with special needs. My second child has Cri-du-Chat Syndrome and is mentally delayed. Though she can communicate, she is non-verbal. She has had her fair share of transitions as she spent most of her life outside of her passport country.

Her brother just graduated from high school last week. 

You can read the rest at Multicultural Kid Blogs where I am a guest writer today.

RAFTing: Dreams vs Reality

You are in the midst of building your RAFT, but you’ve always pictured rafting to look somewhat like this photo above.

It’s calm.

It’s peaceful.

It’s picturesque.

It’s, well you fill in the blank.

It’s suppose to be a time where you enjoy your friendships and your favorite places.

Your home fits nicely into boxes. The junk drawers and overstuffed closets are not to be found, for the moving fairy came and organized them while you were having coffee with the girls.

Your new destination is going to be like paradise.

My sunglasses are rose colored. I promise that the world looks SO much better with them on. I’m not joking. We’ll be driving along the coast and I’ll ooh and ahh about the ocean color or the sunset, but then I slip off my glasses and reality is nice, but it just isn’t as nice. Building a RAFT requires you to not put on rose colored glasses, but instead to be real. Doesn’t RAFTing as a family look more like the photo below?

And if you have children with special needs you are tied to them, possibly pulling them along.

Boxes are stacked all over the house.

“What do you mean you want to take ALL of your stuffed animals? Didn’t we agree that we’d only take 10?”

“What do you mean you’ll be home late again? You know the shipping company is coming to measure how much space we will need. I can’t comprehend what they will be saying while wrangling mini-you and feeding mini-me.”

Kids are crying. You are crying. You’re out of tissues.

You’ve given all your food away to friends and now you are hungry for that bag of chocolate covered almonds.

You get the picture. Nothing has gone the way you planned except that the airline tickets are set for you to leave in a few weeks. How are you going to get it all done and build that RAFT, let alone help your kids with it?

First take a deep breath, or maybe take a few. Relax.

It will get all done. I promise that the important things will get done. Remember to keep it all in perspective.

Prioritize your list of things to do and people to see.

Recruit help. Friends want to help. They can watch kids, clean house/rooms at the end, and even provide you with a meal. But, you have to let them know what would be the best way for them to help.

Have take-out more often. Invite people you need to see “one last time.” You need to eat. They need to eat. So eat together.

Keep that bag of chocolate covered almonds. Don’t give those away. You might need those.

Breathe.

Fill box and tape shut.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

*Image by judithscharnowski  at Pixabay

** Image by julianomarini from Pixabay