What does a TCK do with St. Pat’s Day?

St Patrick's Day Parade San Francisco 2012

*photo by David Yu via flickr

Today was Saint Patrick’s Day. In Asia it is not really celebrated. So, for the past fifteen years or so, the day usually went by just like any normal day in March. Some days that was filled with reheated coffee and mountains of laundry. Other days it was a classroom of kids from all around the world. Some days in March I was putting sunscreen on my kids at the zoo. Other days I wore gloves while I taught because the small electric heater just didn’t put out enough heat.

As the kids got to be school-age, I still didn’t really pay attention too much because they were in local school. Then they started attending an “American” school. I  didn’t anticipate the holiday; I hadn’t worn green on March 17th intentionally in years.

This year though, my kids are older. They don’t attend an “American” school, but a homeschool-coop. Many of their classmates, though, are American with both parents being American. So, when my Facebook newsfeed filled with St. Pat’s parades and such I looked at the calendar and saw that it fell on a school day. I remembered some of the traditions, especially the one about not wearing green.

My mother-protection mode kicked in.

This morning I told them to wear green. They looked at me strange, but at breakfast I explained the holiday. Call it a crash-course in holiday tradition. I didn’t care. I just didn’t want my kids to get pinched because they didn’t wear green, but more importantly I didn’t want them to get pinched and not understand what was happening.

Results? I found out my kids were the ones to start looking for the ones who didn’t have on green. Can someone say, “Backfire?” *throws hands up in the air* 

Your Turn: Have you ever held a crash-course on holiday traditions from your passport country? How did it turn out? Please share in the comments below.

Counting My ….

A few months ago we moved to a new apartment. There are things that I like about the new place. For one it is just a three minute walk from where I work and the kids go to school and it has a fair amount of storage space.

And I like this….

We have a small entrance way into our apartment.

We have a small entrance way into our apartment.

And this…

This Japanese Tea room is now the play room for the girls. If it's too messy, just shut the doors.

This Japanese Tea room is now the play room for the girls. If it’s too messy, just shut the doors.

But that is it – really. That is ALL that I like about it. I don’t like that the bathrooms are not big enough for a bathtub. Or that the living room is SUPER dark – think cave. And, please keep in mind that I am not new to Asia, but having six neighbors – and this is not including those living below or above us – living so so close makes me almost crazy. I’m talking so close that I can reach out and water the plants in the window of one neighbor and wash the windows of my other neighbor.

Don’t believe me? Check these out.

I can water your plants for you....

Our windows almost touch…and opposite side is the kitchen to another neighbor.

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I could almost wash the windows off my balcony.

This is what I’ve been whining about for the past few months since moving here. There have been other things that I’ve whined about, but this was what caught my attention to how LAME I had been. As soon as the photos started coming in from the Philippines, my head hung in shame. “At least I have a home….”

The whining had to stop. And it did for a short time…

And then Thanksgiving was approaching. And I was whining because our awesome plans to start a new tradition with the kids fell through. It was a week before and we had NO plans for Thanksgiving. Slight panic – then a friend at church asked us to join their family.

Last week was Thanksgiving and I had the greatest time in a huge church kitchen with a few other ladies to finish up the last touches for a gorgeous meal. I had the chance to pause for a brief minute and take in the beauty of family. The yelling as one uncle threw the long pass of a football, girls giggling about the baby, and the shrill laughter of the women in the kitchen (I’ll not admit to anything on fire, to which caused the excitement) – all of this caused a deep sigh in my soul. Not a longing sigh, but a grateful one. Grateful to have had time to cultivate friendships – to take time to stop and remember all that we should be grateful for this past year. It lit a fire in my soul to do this again…

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That is our “Blessings” Chart from last year. I wanted our family to give thanks each day for things that God had done for us. I wanted it for my life and I wanted it for my children as well – so every night after supper we each shared one thing. We did this for almost two months. So, we’ve started it again. The day after Thanksgiving I taped up a new chart…this chart.

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It’s bigger and I’m excited to see what we will be putting up there. I’m also excited, as I know that when I have to think about all my blessings, that my whining decreases and I my thankfulness increases.

I don’t know if you are like me – wanting to give thanks and to have a grateful attitude, but find yourself singing your own version of the country western song “There’s a Tear in My Beer.” If you are like me, what do you do to stay positive? If you don’t do anything, I challenge you to do this or something similar for a month – you may find yourself doing it longer like we did last year. I’d love to hear how it goes if you choose to do it. Please share your stories below. I’m so encouraged when you do.

Make Sure To Say Good-bye

It’s the end of the school year, which means traveling with family, moving to a new place, or hanging out at home. Most parents and teachers of third culture kids know that they need to make sure there are opportunities for students to say good-byes properly. They have “Good-bye Parties” for their children; they take photos of their favorite places, and/or they have dinners with special people before they leave.

Alloway Kirk and Burial Place of Burns's Family

Photo by The Commons at flickr.com

Saying “Good-bye” well is something we should have our children do at the end of every school year or long vacation no matter if we are leaving or not.

Just last week I put in a music DVD for Jie Jie that we’ve had for over ten years now (Have DVDs truly been around that long now?). She requests it once in awhile, and on this particular morning I sat and watched her dance along with it. A song came on, this song in particular, and my heart wrenched.

I was flooded with memories from 10 years ago.

It was the last week of our time in Shenyang, China. Due to SARS, the school had ended a week earlier. My husband was the principal at the time, so we were making our last rounds of dinners and lunches with various people. This day we happened to be eating fish head soup with a Korean family when my husband got the phone call. An elementary student had gotten pinned down by a large iron gate just outside his home. He was dead.

In a haze of confusion and pain, a memorial service was arranged. The students who were still around all showed up, along with teachers and friends of the parents. “With All of My Heart” by Jana Alayra was one of the songs that was played that day. It had been one of his favorites.

Many of his classmates were not there that day. They had already traveled back to their passport country. *

We can’t know for sure that when school resumes in the fall, that your child’s classmates will all be there. So, if you have the chance help your young children say “Good-bye” well this year. Maybe it it’s just a handshake and the words spoken or maybe you go all out and have an end of the year party where the kids say something nice about each other. Either way, from this experience, I learned the importance of saying “Good-bye” every time.

*The school had another Memorial Service in fall for all the students, along with counselors to help them deal with such a huge loss.

Your Turn: What do you do to help your child/student say “Good-bye” at the end of the school year? Please comment below.

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Thoughts of the New Year

New Years Greeting, Chinatown 1912 (LOC)

Photo from flickr “The Commons”.

For the past two years now I’ve done something totally different with New Year’s Resolutions. If you were following me last year you may remember what that was. If you were not, keep reading.

Every year people write their resolutions down about what they want to accomplish for the year, usually about health. Others write out a list of goals they want to achieve that year. Some people keep them, but most of us stop after a month – and if you’re like me, it’s all over after a week. The list gets shoved aside, lost among the bills or other papers, or in my case, wadded into a perfect ball and slam dunked into the bin. Why did I do this? Well, because I once again realized that the ambitious part of my life exited when that alarm went off.

Can you relate to any of this? If so keep reading.

I’ve not wadded up a list now for two years. In fact, I don’t even need to make a list because I just have one word to remember. Yep, you read that right – One Word. The word needs to be something broad that can be applied to all areas of you life, but not so broad that you can’t grasp it. It should be something that is on your heart, something that speaks to you.

Two years ago my word was “secure”. Strange, maybe, but married to a TCK and raising three of them, being secure in who you are and where you call home is something I’ve dealt with. That year, my husband quit his job as a principal and began his own NGO. Secure was the perfect word for me – I learned enough lessons on security to probably write a book. It was one of those hard, but really good years.

Last year, my word was “intentional”. I wanted to be intentional in all that I did. I can’t say I did a perfect job with that one, but I have learned how important it is to be intentional, especially with my kids. To intentionally stop and enjoy coloring with my youngest, to read a book, or to play catch. To intentionally keep traditions that we started and talk about them with the kids. I was even more intentional in my writing and entered a few contests (nothing to brag about, but I did enter). I’ve learned that if I’m not intentional, it probably won’t happen – and time isn’t something you gain back once it is gone.

My word this year?

I came across this word Christmas Eve. It was after the meal, after the Christmas story had been read, after the presents had been opened, after skyping with family – after the kids were in bed asleep. It was while my husband was out to buy the bike for our youngest. We live in Asia, so not such a huge deal going out Christmas Eve to buy Christmas presents, although I don’t recommend it. I was all alone with a cup of tea. The light were off except for the white lights of the tree. All was quiet, except for the water trickling in the fish tank. My thoughts began to make a path around the events of the evening. I thought about the excitement of the kids as the time came for them to open presents, especially Jie Jie as she really understood what was going on. My mind replayed Mei Mei showing me her princess she had just colored. Then the phrase, But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19) came to my mind. I was doing just that – pondering. And that was when my one word came to me, “ponder”. I want to take the time to ponder over God’s blessings that day and over my family and the funny things they did or said. Who knows though, I may ponder over writing ideas, lesson plans, or Bible studies. There are a lot of things that I could ponder over. So, 2013, here’s to a year of treasuring – may you bring me lots of joy and happiness to ponder over in my heart. And if you bring some heartache and trials, then I’ll ponder over the lessons learned from them – but I’m really hoping for the joyful things to think about. 

Your Turn: How do you plan for the New Year? Please share in the comments below your goals or your one word.

**If you want more information on the myoneword, you can check out their website.

And may each of you be blessed with peace and joy this year of 2013.

Happy New Year!

An Expat’s Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS

I’m sure you are one busy man this time of year. I can’t imagine, as I only have three kids, not millions to check on. I don’t want to take up too much of your precious time, as I know you have quite a few of these letters to read. So, here it goes:

This year I’d like…

 

1. Language – the ability to communicate clearly with the locals around me. I know I could study more, but if you could just give me the language, then I would be able to understand the man on the phone telling me that a package has arrived for us and I need to get it soon. I’d also like to be able to read in this new language. It would be so helpful with the public notices in our elevator, especially today when the water went off during my shower. That would have been very helpful.

2. Lifetime of free airline ticketsOkay this maybe steep, but hey I’ve been REALLY good this year. I love to travel, but it just costs so much money to go places, especially with a family of five. So, maybe you could put at least a few years worth of free tickets in my stocking?

3. Cooking classes – A personal tutor to teach me how to make all the wonderful food that I have eaten in the various places that I have called home. It is difficult to find the exact same food after we move on to the next destination. I’d even settle for a recipe book, but they have to be authentic recipes. Please don’t send me the recipes that are westernized.

4. Home – Yes, this maybe the most difficult as we are not really sure where home is. To spend the holidays with the entire extended family each year would be just a dream come true. For us it’s difficult because my family and my in-laws live on different continents. You are creative, so I’m sure you will come up with a grand way for us to be able to celebrate with both families this year. (If it doesn’t workout, then I’ll settle for a GREAT connection on Skype.)

Thank you so much in advance. And in case you didn’t know, we no longer live where we did last year. In fact, we don’t even live in the same country. So, be sure to pay attention to the return address. Don’t worry though, I smuggled in my suitcase the special ingredients so I can make your favorite cookies.

Your Biggest and Most-Well Behaved Fan,

The Expat

Your Turn: I had fun thinking about what an expat might ask for. Now if you could ask Santa for anything, what would you ask for? Share in the comments below.

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*Photo Credit: Flickr, The Commons

 

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Vacations and Special Needs – it can happen!

Vacationing with children is SO different then the days before children. Before children Uwe and I would just pick a destination and plan around job schedules. Packing could be done the night before. Living abroad, travel was almost as easy as breathing.

Then child number one came and travel changed just a bit. Packing was focused more on what he needed and therefore took more planning. We still hiked up mountains and other non-child friendly activities. Our thoughts when choosing a destination was – If we can carry him in the backpack carrier, then we’ll do it. Once child number two came along traveling wasn’t nearly as easy as breathing. Then Jie Jie was diagnosed…and what seemed easy required much energy and planning. She required so much – feeding tubes, food to feed her, stroller, diapers, extra clothes, etc.

By the time child number three came along, we weren’t sure about traveling at all.

Those early years, when we had three under four-years of age, I learned something – keep my expectations low. Kids get sick on vacations. Kids get tired and grumpy on vacations. Kids might not like the vacation places you chose. And a whole lot of other things can go wrong, like the weather, the food, the room…you get the picture.

No as our kids are older, we involve them more with the vacation planning. We ask them their opinion. We look up the place on the internet or on Google Maps and let them see where we are going. We ask them what they would like to do while we are there.This has helped with Ge Ge and Mei Mei, but Jie Jie is different. With her we need a different approach.

We still involve her in the planning.

We show her the pictures of the parks, the playgrounds, the beaches, and any animals we might see. We tell her how we are going, whether it is by train, plane, boat, and or car. This gives her an idea of what we will be doing and gets her involved as well.

Flexibility

This is probably true for raising kids while living abroad, but for vacationing with special needs kids it’s very important. They don’t always respond the way you think they might and they may do better than what you thought. For instance, Jie Jie loves the beach and the sand. She likes fish and turtles, so I thought she might like snorkeling – well, a modified version of snorkeling. Geared up in her blue life-vest and mask, we walked her across the shallow reef to the edge. The plan was to let her look into the water, but after one short glance she was done. I’m not sure if it was the water that seeped into her mask, a darting bright blue fish, or just all the new experiences at once that caused her to freak out, but she was done. We didn’t force her to look anymore. We told her she did a great job and walked her back. She was perfectly content playing in the shallow water. Having flexibility allowed us to change plans – like I stayed with her on the beach while Uwe took the other two out snorkeling.

Try new things, but still keeping expectations low.

We do this not because we are negative thinking people, but because we try to be realistic.  For instance, we just took a vacation to Xiao Liu Qiu, a small island off of Taiwan. This island is very small and doesn’t have many cars. Our original plan was to bike with the kids, but once we got there and saw the hills we knew that biking wasn’t going to work. We decided to try the scooters for a day and see how it went, not thinking Jie Jie would sit still and behave. She surprised us. She did just fine. We scootered around the whole time we were there.

Slow it down.

Don’t expect to do everything. As a family choose a few things and do those. Allow for breaks and even rest times in the room. We allow the kids to each choose one activity they would really like to do or see – then we do those things first. Sometimes Jie Jie can’t participate in the chosen activity – that’s when either I or Uwe take her to do something else.

Not every child is the same. This goes for special needs children as well. Just because your child may have some issues that are harder to deal with doesn’t mean that you can’t have a fun family vacation. With a bit of creativity and flexibility, you can even take more exotic trips with your whole family.

Your Turn: Have you traveled with your special needs child? What are some vacationing tips that you have when you go? Please share in the comments below.

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Nontraditional Holiday? Why not?

For the ‘American’ part of our family, the big holiday is coming up quickly. You know, Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potato souffle, pumpkin pie, and all the rest of the good stuff. In the past we’ve celebrated with fellow expats (aka adopted family) gathered around our own table or their table – or even larger gatherings where we rented space at the international school to feast.

This year is different.

This year we did not buy a turkey. I did not make stuffing. I didn’t even make a pumpkin pie. In fact, we are not even going to be home for Thanksgiving. We are leaving and taking a much needed mini vacation.

How do I feel about this? Actually, relieved. I’m not stressed about putting food together . I’m not worried about how Jie Jie is going to act/react at the gathering. I’m excited. We haven’t vacationed as a family in quite a while – like two years. We’ve gone to the US and visited family, but we didn’t go anywhere to shut off completely as a family. We’ve had stay-cations  but we tend to work anyway. We need to go away with books and games. I can’t wait -(actually, by the time you read this we will already be gone).

Why be nontraditional when this is the time I should be teaching my children about “their home” culture?

1. The thought of being away from family is too much this year. This is what one of my friends told me as she related their plans for the Thanksgiving break. They were planning to not have a huge feast at their home as they have in years past, but instead go to a different city and help at an orphanage with a group of other expats. I thought this was a brilliant way to fight the holiday blues. Go and serve others. And with that they are teaching their kids empathy for others.

2. The thought of doing anymore work is going to kill me. This is me, I raise my hand waving my white flag. I’m tired and the thought of cooking and prepping makes me swoon. And we have an “I Am a Hero Game” that we will travel six hours for the day before, so we decided to add time away and explore a small island off the main island.

I totally agree that holidays are a great way to teach kids about your own home culture. It helps them relate and understand where they came from. I understand that and agree. I get the full blown celebrations with all the fun crafts, food, and pre-recorded football games. I have done this – except the football game. We are European football fans, not so much the American football. So, my kids are not going to get a turkey this year. Will they survive? YES.

We really went wild this year – we put up our tree before Thanksgiving! We usually do this the weekend following Thanksgiving, but I wanted to come back to a decorated apartment. 

So, Happy Thanksgiving to you all! If you are eating turkey and pumpkin pie I wish you well as I sit at the beach reading a book and watching the kids play in the ocean. I’m thankful for time with my family.

Your Turn: How do you celebrate holidays? Do you go all out with every tradition? Do you ever do a nontraditional type of holiday? Please share in the comments below.

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