A Day in the Life: Graduation Trip

We have another Senior (Grade 12/ 高三) in our home. Child #2 – our daughter who has Cri-du-Chat Syndrome and attends a local special education school in Taiwan will graduate in the spring. I got to attend the two day Graduation Trip with her and like all the other stories in this series there were lessons learned.

Preparations: Attitude

I got the packing list translated. Thank you Google 叔叔 (Uncle Google). Packed clothes and some extra snacks because you never know. But, the day before we left, I felt my heart racing and tension in my neck/shoulders area every time I thought about this trip. I took fifteen minutes and reflected on it.

I have gone on her other graduation trips, so what was different about this one? What emotions am I feeling about this upcoming trip? What thoughts do I hold that would cause these emotions?

It all came down to not knowing the plan. In my mind I needed to know where we were going; what was going to happen; what to expect. Well, thanks to my husband and Google 叔叔 I learned of the location, but that was it. I then remembered that the last time I went on an overnight trip with her and her class I had a “go with the flow” attitude. I can’t be honest and say that all the tension disappeared, but I can say that I noticed I began taking deeper breaths and relaxing. I worked the tension out with a roller later that evening.

The Trip:

Have a motto

Maybe you’ve heard this saying when you first moved to a new location, or maybe like me you have forgotten it. A friend reminded me of it as she was talking about a recent move and having to remind herself that where she is now is not like where she was previously living.

It’s not bad. It’s just different.

This became my motto for the entire trip.

Asian tour groups are known to have everyone follow the tour guide and not wander off to something that might interest you. They are also known for moving quickly so that you can see everything possible. That way you can get all the perfect photo ops. They are also known for having all the meals planned out in advanced at specific locations. And they help promote buying certain products.

This motto, along with the “go with the flow” attitude, proved to be very useful. For instance, the first day was spent going to three different places of interest. We rode the bus for about three hours stopping for bathroom breaks, of course. Our first stop was a cocoa farm where we saw how they make chocolate from cocoa beans. We even got to see some cocoa trees. We ate lunch there. The food was really good, except for one thing. At the end, we could drop a chocolate into the hotpot (think fish based soup with vegetables). According to my taste buds, fish based-soup and chocolate do not blend well together. But I remembered, It’s not bad; just different – yet I did not drink anymore as I was full from all the food we had eaten.

The second stop on the list was what was translated as an “elves garden.” When we arrived, I realized it was a garden with gnomes. They had some rabbits you could feed, but were not allowed to touch. Well, that proved difficult to avoid with an animal loving daughter. But, I tried. We were only “scolded” once. “Go with the flow” served me well here. They had costumes where we could dress up as gnomes. And as another famous quote goes: “when in Rome…”

From there we drove another hour to a deer farm. We were given instructions on what we could and could not do, then given metal tins with leaves and grain to wander around the lot with deer. They can be quite aggressive for such passive sweet looking animals.

From there was the hotel, where the fun did not stop. After supper they had a DIY project planned and the kids could dress up again. I was ready for bed and thankfully she was too.

Surprises:

With the “go with the flow” attitude, I could handle surprises: good or bad. Like not knowing we would be allowed to swim in the hotel pools and not bringing suits. Disappointing, but we found other things to do the next day.

Or finding out that there is not only a Starbucks at the last bathroom stop, but that they do have your favorite: Pumpkin Spiced. So, I treated M2 to her very first Pumpkin Spiced Frappuccino. Ahh, my little TCK did drink most of it, though she thought it was too sweet. Honestly, I thought so too.

Back Home

We got home and there were two things that I did that helped. First, I had prepared food before we left so I didn’t have to cook supper from scratch. Heat and serve – so easy. And the second, I declared Saturday a Travel Rest Day. We stayed in our PJs, watched movies, and rested all day.

A Look at Letting Go

Last spring my oldest graduated from high school. Six months ago I was just beginning the ride on the “transition roller coaster” and learning to navigate this new kind of transition: parenting an adult TCK. It was unknown territory. I’ve been in the land of unknowns before – finding homes, adjusting to new countries, learning to parent a child with special needs – but this one felt different. It wasn’t my life that had all the unknowns – it was his.

As his mom, I wanted to step in and find all the answers. Let me be real, I wanted control. If I had control, then I’d know who would be traveling to the US with him (thank you pandemic), what insurance to get, who his friends were going to be, what his Christmas break plans would be….you get the picture. I really just wanted to know that he would be okay. 

I was reminded of a hike I took with my son a few weeks before graduation day. It was on a mountain path that was near his campus and overlooked the city. On our way down, he seemed to leap and skip down the steps. He’d disappear around bends. At one of those bends I heard God whisper to me, “Let him go. I know you can’t see him, but I’ve got him.” (and let’s be honest, what 18 year old boy wants his mom controlling his life?)

And that is what the last half year has been for me – practicing and actually trying to do what God asked me to do on that mountain – Let him go.

The photo above is a very simple illustration of my heart. It is dragging a bulging suitcase full of heavy rocks that I have packed and stuffed diligently. (One perk of living overseas is the ability to pack a suitcase well, right?) The rocks represent everything that I want to control because it isn’t just things in his life that I want to control. I’d like to  control everything in my sphere of influence. Wouldn’t we all?

Some are small.

  • Meal plans
  • Math lessons for my youngest
  • Regular health checkups for me and the kids

Some are big and heavy and honestly, cumbersome.

  • Oldest in isolation last month
  • What will my daughter with special needs do after high school?
  • Braces?
  • Feeding tube incision leaking…needs surgery?

These are just a few of the “rocks” in my suitcase. Collectively, these rocks are heavy. Too heavy for me to be dragging around with me from place to place, day to day, year to year.

When we believe that having control is the answer, we miss out on peace.

Looking back, time allowed answers to unfold to some of the unknowns. Yet, now there are new unknowns.

Isn’t that like us though? Replace the old with the new? I mean we replace old clothes with new. We replace old batteries with new. So, why wouldn’t we replace old worries with new – or even better just become a Hoarder and add to our already collection of worries.

I guess that would be called a Worry Hoarder?

I want to propose something though.

Look at where the eyes of my heart are. They are on the suitcase that I’m dragging. My focus is on those rocks that represent worries and anxieties that I want to control.

What if, I shifted my eyes to the mountains. Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  

That simple shift of realizing who is really in control and then trusting God to be all that He says he is is monumental is stepping towards peace. It is simple, but I will not say it’s easy. It is choosing to trust and believe.

I’m sure that if you live overseas, have lived overseas or are parenting TCKs (children or adults) you have your own “rocks” that you’ve been lugging around as well. And with this year of so many unexpected surprises and unknowns, I’m sure your suitcase is bulging, too.

I bought this painting last weekend at a local artist market in Taiwan. It is where I want to be. Sitting on that bridge with my legs dangling over the side looking up at the mountains.

 

So, my question this week is this…

 

 

Do you want to be a Worry Hoarder or would you rather be sitting next me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, here’s to parenting more on my knees before God. 

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 

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?

Mother’s Day and one month until…

It’s Mother’s Day weekend and technically less than a month until my oldest dons the cap and gown of a graduate. (Yes, his class will be one of a handful of graduates in the world who actually gets to experience a real ceremony.) Yet, even if they didn’t, I think I’d be pondering and reminiscing this weekend anyway.

My oldest was the one who first called me “Mama”.

Besides his father, of course, he was the first to steal my heart, bring such pure joy and delight.

And in less than a month – he graduates. Three months later he’ll be living across the ocean from us – not just over the mountains.

I knew living overseas was going to be hard. I knew when I married Uwe that life would be full of good-byes. I mean, I’ve said my fair share of good-byes, but I’ve also watched friends say good-bye to their own graduates. I’ve listened to them in their mixture of grief and excitement. I’ve been preparing my heart and mind all school year for this.

But, let me tell you – No matter how you think you’ve prepared for this day:

It. Still. Hurts.

I’ve looked back at other posts that I’ve made in previous years regarding Mother’s Day. I wrote about a surprise weekend that my husband and kids pulled off; a quiet picnic at the beach; and a letter to my younger self where I wish I had my “more mature self” write a letter to guide me through the teenage years.

This Mother’s Day feels different.

I feel like it is the last with my son.

And, well to be honest, it probably is the last where we’ll be “together”. But, that doesn’t mean I will stop being Mom, right? Of course not.

I can’t get a letter from my “more mature self”, but I can listen to those who have been on this path of motherhood and learn from them.

Like this morning.

My son’s school had a Mother’s Day Brunch for the mom’s of the graduating seniors. Crista Blackhurst, a mom who had her oldest graduate not too long ago, was the speaker. She had great wisdom for us, but the take away I am keeping for this weekend is.

“Be in the moment.”

As I began to ponder that phrase for this post I had some thoughts.

Be in the moment with my…

  • Body – that’s easy. I’m physically here with him now and will be with the girls tomorrow.
  • Mind – This one is harder. I want to think about the past or worry about the future, but I need to have my mind on the here and now when we are together. Soak in the moment. Trust that God has all the details worked out and will take care of my children.
  • Heart – This one is easier if the mind is in the moment. When we trust God, our hearts are at peace.

So, as this weekend begins and I get to celebrate with my son I want to fully enjoy it. And then when I’m celebrating later with my husband and girls, I want to fully enjoy them.

So, my Mother’s Day wish for each of you and myself is that we can

Be in the moment.

Be trusting of God.

Be at peace.

Happy Mother’s Day!

*photo credit: “Standing women facing speeding train” via pixels.com

Letting Go…

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PC geralt via Pixabay

The time of year has come for the expat communities of the world – that time of ebb and flow of suitcases, boxes and RAFT building. At times it may feel more like emotional waves crashing, letting go of a child who graduates can be specially daunting.

As a mom of a son who will soon begin his year of “lasts”, this has been on my heart: how will I let him go with grace and peace?

This week I am guest writing for Multicultural Kid Blogs about how to let our kids go as they prepare to leave “home”. Click here to read more.

How the Rapids Showed me Beauty

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Life can be like a journey down a winding river. Rivers can be calm and smooth, but usually along the way rapids appear. Life is like that. Sometimes the rapids are exciting and fun, like moving overseas. Other times they are downright frightening, like an unwanted diagnosis.

During those rapids I find myself wanting and sometimes even desperately trying to paddle back upstream away from it all. I long for an easier way, but usually there is no other way. And in the end, I find that God uses those hard situations in my life to transform me.

Fifteen years ago I found myself at one of those bends.

This week I’m a guest writer at Velvet Ashes. You can read more about my story and the lessons I learned by clicking here.

 

*PC Credit: Free-photos via pixaby

Celebrating Christmas with CCKs

IMG_20181205_215554_058It is the night before St. Nikolaus Tag, which my husband celebrated as a young German boy growing up in Taiwan. Even though I didn’t grow up celebrating like this we have made this part of our Christmas tradition with our own kids. Tonight the girls cleaned their shoes and in the morning they will find some chocolate and treats inside.

Celebrating the holidays with family from different cultures is interesting. I was allowed to write “Holidays for Cross-Cultural Kids” for Multicultural Kid Blogs. If you’d like to read more about what a CCK is or other ideas on this topic please read more here.

 

Language Learning and Special Needs…a conversation starter

RaisingTCKs for Mulitcultural Kid Blogs

My children are bilingual, including my daughter who has Cri-du-Chat Syndrome, a disability that affects her mentally and physically. She’s not the only bilingual person with special needs, though. In fact, I know a young adult with Down Syndrome who is trilingual. And I read about another boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder who speaks at least four languages. This goes against the belief of many educators and therapists that children with special needs should focus on one language only. Most of the research focuses on three specialty groups: Specific Language Impairment (SLI), Down Syndrome (DS), and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but the researcher still believes that other disabilities can learn a second language as well. This is great news for CCKs (Cross-Cultural Kids) and TCK s(Third-Culture Kids) who have special needs and their families who are raising them.

My daughter is fairly non-verbal, but she is able to communicate in both English and Chinese. She uses American Sign Language (ASL), speaks simple words in both languages, and sometimes uses communication boards. We speak mainly English at home and she goes to a Taiwanese special education school where they speak Chinese. Honestly, like most Third Culture Kids she is comfortable living in both worlds. It’s part of who she is.

But, what about just teaching a child with special needs a new language? Are there any benefits? Join the conversation over at Multicultural Kid Blogs where I share some benefits I’ve noticed.

Goodbyes and Skies – Signs of Letting Go

20180811_182558In books, movies, and even in TV shows the weather gives the audience a glimpse into the mood of the story. Other times it is the foreshadowing of something about to happen. Writers do that to captivate their readers. This past week, God used this same technique for me.

Last weekend we took our son to the dorm. The day before, we spent the afternoon at the beach. Heading into town we witnessed the sunset over the mountains. It was the perfect scene to a perfect day. I posted on my IG account, “Reminder of God’s continuing handiwork in creation, in me, in my family”. It brought me hope knowing that even though the next day would require me to “let go”, He would still be there working in my son, working in me.

The next day we drove up and over mountains to campus. We had decided to spend the night, which I believe helped me to truly be excited for him. I needed to be excited for him. It was exciting. He has a great place to live, a good roommate, wonderful dorm parents, and a great school to attend. What more could a parent ask for their child who will attend boarding school? It’s funny because I don’t remember the weather that day. It seems to be a blur.

But I remember what it was like the day we left…

Dark clouds loomed over us right before lunch. We said our goodbyes. He left us in the parking lot; walking back to the cafeteria with his backpack slung over his shoulder. We slumped down in the car and buckled up. As we pulled out, the first drops of rain began. I used my finger to wipe my damp cheek. The wipers swiped at the damp windows. As we merged onto the freeway, the heavens opened and the rain dumped its heavy load. We almost had to pull over. My heart felt the same crushing, drowning feeling. Goodbyes just stink, but I didn’t have time to sink to the abyss emotionally because I was co-pilot and had a job to do: keep the passengers quiet and help watch for traffic. It was seriously raining that hard.

Thirty minutes later the sky opened up like a dark blanket being lifted off our car. The mountains were once again in focus. The white clouds hung around the valleys and decorated the sky. It was gorgeous.

Hope returned.

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Isn’t that like life though, or shouldn’t it be? There are going to be days that are tough. Days we don’t want to go through. Days we don’t think we can get through.

We must get on the airplane and leave loved ones behind.

We can’t always take our pets with us when we move. Sometimes they die.

Our child breaks their foot two weeks before soccer season begins.

A typhoon (or insert tornado, fire, etc) destroys the scrapbooks, the photos. Memories lost.

Kids grow up and move on to university.

A diagnosis is learned.

But, we don’t have to stay in that dark and hopeless place. There is a path to where the sun shines down and the mountains can be seen from the valleys below.

Just as my husband kept moving forward in the torrential rain, we can keep moving forward. Sometimes it is a slow trudge, but it’s forward.

He kept his eyes on the road ahead of him. We keep our eyes on the path that is set before us (Heb 12:1).

We bring our focus on the One who put us on that path, who created the road, who created us. And we give thanks and praise to Him (Heb. 12:2, Phil. 4:4-7).

It is then, that the view becomes clearer and we are able to give more thanks. And as our hearts become grateful, the view only becomes more spectacular.

The road hasn’t changed.

No, he is there and I am here.

His first game was this weekend (though cancelled due to rain). There.

I am here. Still here.

The circumstance hasn’t changed. It won’t.

But, I get a phone call from the boy. He sounds happy. And I’m grateful.

Grateful for the age that I live in where he can pick up a phone and call.

Grateful that friends sneak photos of him on campus and message them to me within seconds after taking said photo.

Thankful that he gets to do something he loves to do.

Joy is found in the gratitude.

Your Turn: Have you ever noticed that the weather or the sky seems to reflect the mood or the circumstance that you are going through at the moment? Share your moment in the comments below.