Marathon Parenting

Two months ago I finished my first ever half marathon. That would be 21km of feet hitting 20170316_155509the pavement at a slow jog. Though my times were nothing to brag about, I finished and I have a medal to prove it. The medal is hung from a wide silk ribbon and it is in the shape of a hot air balloon. It is pretty, but let me tell you the race was anything but pretty.

Okay, parts were pretty. The location was in Taitung, Taiwan. Known for beautiful mountains and blue/green ocean. We started out in Forest Park, which is just that a park forested by trees. We ran towards the mountains. That means that I ran uphill for at least 3km of the race (I calculated), but it also means that I ran downhill 3km. The rest of the layout was flat along the river basin with the view of the mountains the first half. The last half I noticed rice fields flooded, rows of green tomatoes hanging from their tepee-like frames all while dreaming of the finish line and a cold green tea.

Because…

It was HARD! I mean I had trained for this day. It wasn’t like I just showed up and put on a number hoping that I’d finish. No, I’d spent the last six months building up my stamina for this day – and it was still hard.

It’s funny how your mind sees things differently when your body is in pain. Like those slight inclines turned into steep cliffs and the curves in the road became tormenting hairpin turns hiding the turnaround. Then the last 3km of the race perseverance was a must. No joke. I was back in the park when I saw the 3km marker. Seriously? I still have three more to go? But I’m in the park! My legs were feeling the burn, I had slight abdominal pain, and the sun choose to come out and shoot rays of hot fire at me. I got to the 500m marker and rounded the turn with a sharp inhale. Where is the balloon filled archway announcing the end?!?! I wanted to lay down right there. Another “more mature” runner was in front of me. He and I had been encouraging each other with the Mandarin phrase “Jia you”. With his encouragement we finished together.

It was during the last stretch that I remembered I had written an article comparing  parenting a child with special needs to a marathon with hurdles placed throughout the race. At the time of writing that piece, I had only run a 10k. I used testimonies of other long distant runners to write that piece, but I can now testify that I was pretty accurate.

A few weeks ago a friend reposted a quote on Facebook. She, too, is parenting a child with special needs. It said..

“Every parent plans to raise their child for about 18 years, set them free for 30 years and then hope they come back to help them face the final years of their own life. A SPECIAL NEEDS parent plans to raise their child for 65 years and while doing so also has to prepare for the other 20 or so after they themselves are long gone…. Let that sink in for just a moment and you will begin to understand the drive and determination that many of us have while we are here on earth.”

I don’t know who wrote that. It wasn’t me, but it was definitely the feelings I was having during that hot Sunday morning. Let me explain.

I sometimes feel I’m running uphill. Life is hard and sometimes a struggle. Let me give you a glimpse from our meal times: Jie Jie, who is now 13, but mentally about 4, has to have her food cut up into tiny bites so she doesn’t choke. We have to watch her closely when she feeds herself as she tends to take 3-4 huge bites at a time and proceeds to choke anyway. Then she gets upset with our oldest because he has his elbows on the table, and then she thinks her chair needs a cushion (although before the meal she said she didn’t) or we need a completely different chair altogether. By the time she finishes her meal, everyone else is done and the table is cleared.

I feel my body giving out. It has been reported in health studies that parents of children with special needs age quicker. This is due to the stress. Stress of child choking to death. Stress of child getting hit by a car. Stress of trying to plan for the future. Stress from the IEP meeting or trying to figure out how best to homeschool your child. These are just a few that I know parents deal with on a regular basis. For me my body gave out in the form of a sprained shoulder. I was in physical therapy for about three months repairing the damage, which we believe may have been caused from years of me daily tightening my neck muscles every time Jie Jie would grab me in a super bear hug squeeze. Some days this happens 10-20 times. I have a very tight neck.

I am tired and weary at times.  Many kids with special needs may not sleep all night long. Many parents go about their day on about 3-4 hours of sleep. Plus all the trips to the hospital for therapy, check-ups, and surgeries. Fixing supper? Laundry? Who has the energy?

I can’t see the finish line and afraid I never will. Just like those deceiving turns from the half marathon that blocked the finish line, I can’t see the finish line of parenting. And this is where that quote hit home for me – it can be overwhelming. This is when perseverance has to kick in. There are days I want to give up, but I can’t. I want to finish this life well.

But…(here’s the encouraging part)

We don’t run alone. Just like the other runners in my half, there are other parents who are running this race with me. They may not live in the same town, and maybe not even the same country, but, they are on social media. We are there to support and encourage each other in our knowledge, our joys, and even in our frustrations. We understand the pain and the fear. I am part of a Facebook private group for those dealing with the same syndrome that Jie Jie has. If you are not part of a group, I highly suggest either searching on Facebook or on a search engine.

Spectators.  Running through a small village near the mountain’s edge a few elderly people sat in white plastic chairs cheering us on. In life, I have people who come alongside me and help me. That morning of the race, a dear friend came to our home at 5:50am to be there when Jie Jie woke up so the rest of the family could complete their own race (yep, I signed everyone else up for the 10/5km).

Qualified Help. During the run qualified EMTs on scooters rode up and down the road ready to attend to those in physical need. As a parent of special needs, there may come a time when qualified help such a therapist, counselor, or psychologist is needed. Don’t shy away from mental health help. I just read in a local English newspaper here of a elderly Taiwanese man killing his sister who had special needs because of the stress from the past 30 years of taking care of her. None of us want that. We need to take action before it gets bad.

So, who are you?

  1. A runner? Parenting a child with special needs?
  2. Active spectator? Maybe you’re the spouse, the grandparent, the aunt/uncles, or maybe a friend who helps out. Thank you. Thank you for your help, your encouragement, your presence in our life.
  3. Sideline spectator? You see families, but not sure how to help. You may not even know anybody with a special needs – they are not in your line of vision. I have a challenge for you: First, look – you always see what you are looking for. Second, just smile and say “Hi”. Seriously, just that small act of kindness speaks volumes to us. It’s a reminder that we are human and that you acknowledge that we and our children are humans

Just as the scenery during my half marathon was beautiful, a small act of kindness brings beauty to a harsh world – no matter if that person has special needs or not. I challenge you to do one small act of kindness this week to anyone, but you’ll get extra points and a virtual medal if you do it for a family touched by disability.

Book Review: LOOMING TRANSITIONS Amy Young

LOOMING TRANSITIONS: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service

by Amy 28256660Young

Summary: LOOMING TRANSITIONS is a navigational book to help those who are in the process of transitioning in a cross-cultural setting. It does not tell you what to pack or not to pack, but rather the emotional process that goes with big moves. Amy has lived this cross-cultural life and repatriated to her home country of the United States, so she understands all the ups and downs. She has also written a workbook for individuals to accompany the book, as well as, an activity book for families to help their children work through the transition.

My Thoughts: I bought this book last spring and just finished right before Christmas. It isn’t a long book, nor is it boring. In fact, I enjoyed Amy’s candid transparent voice as I read. It took me over seven months because my mind could only handle chunks at a time. I needed to process some areas from many moves ago. Reading this book brought to mind thoughts and feelings I had regarding those moves. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the workbook or the activity book all the way through – but by just glancing at it I know that I will be using them both when we make our next move (which I pray isn’t too soon).

And as I was writing this review, I found out that it is the one year anniversary for this book. If you’d like to read more about how this book came about and receive some coupons for the book (one being a free audio download!), visit Amy at her website The Messy Middle.

Beach Therapy…for my daughter with special needs

I don’t remember publishing this piece, but I’ve updated it –

raisingTCKs

20151003_162231For the past nine years we’ve found ourselves living as educators/cross-cultural workers/Christian workers (we’re still figuring out what to call ourselves) on an island that sits on the brink of the Pacific Coast. I have come to realize that being on the beach with a good book and drink is therapeutic to the mind, body, and soul. There is just something about the whooshing sound of the waves, the warm sun and sight of green mountains, blue sky, and blue/turquoise water that just makes me exhale deeply. Seriously, just writing about it I exhaled…

While I quickly discovered this amazing way to relax – remember I grew up in Midwest, USA – I had NO idea how taking my daughter with special needs would be beneficial to her as well. And to be honest, living overseas makes it difficult sometimes to find therapies for our TCKs with special needs. So, I love it when…

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Beach Therapy…for my daughter with special needs

20151003_162231For the past nine years we’ve found ourselves living as educators/cross-cultural workers/Christian workers (we’re still figuring out what to call ourselves) on an island that sits on the brink of the Pacific Coast. I have come to realize that being on the beach with a good book and drink is therapeutic to the mind, body, and soul. There is just something about the whooshing sound of the waves, the warm sun and sight of green mountains, blue sky, and blue/turquoise water that just makes me exhale deeply. Seriously, just writing about it I exhaled…

While I quickly discovered this amazing way to relax – remember I grew up in Midwest, USA – I had NO idea how taking my daughter with special needs would be beneficial to her as well. And to be honest, living overseas makes it difficult sometimes to find therapies for our TCKs with special needs. So, I love it when I can do things that I know are beneficial and inexpensive.

1. Digging in the sand – She uses both fine and gross motor skills as she digs holes and her sandpit is HUGE.
2. Filling buckets – with the sand that she just got from digging holes and also the countless trips back and forth to fill up the buckets with water to pour into the holes.20151003_160440

3. Sand – Just the texture of the sand itself is therapeutic. Many kids don’t like it, so they have to be introduced to it over and over – but others, like my daughter, LOVE it. For us, we had to teach her that it was not okay to put it in her mouth.

4. Running/walking in the sand – If you’ve ever tried running on the beach yourself, you know the workout you can get from it. Enough said.

5. Standing in the waves – This really depends on how strong the waves are. Of course, if they are pretty strong – then do not put your child in the water. But if the waves are mild, then the constant motion is great for balancing. *

6. Jumping the waves – I know our PT has worked with us on getting Jie Jie to jump and this is a fun way to jump over something.

7. Collecting shells – We can work on balance as she 20150919_160228bends over to pick up the shells and walking without dropping the shells out of the bucket.

8. Playing with the hermit crabs -Jie JIe is an animal lover, and last month her younger sister introduced her to hermit crabs. She loves picking them up and letting them scurry across her hand or trying to scare me with them.

9. Boogie boarding – My daughter is not able to do this completely on her own, but she loves to lay on the board and let the waves take her in and out. We also go out with her sometimes and help her catch a wave that is a bit farther out.

20151004_155155

10. Surfing – I’ve not had the opportunity to do this, but from reading about Surfer’s Healing, it is something I’d love for her to experience. Below is a picture of her out in the kayak with her dad – this girl loves the beach.20151003_151111

We’ve just moved to a new city, finally – but transition is rough. I think tomorrow we are in need of some therapy….beach therapy.

* Always be extra careful when taking your child with special needs out into the ocean. We always have Jie Jie wear a life-vest even when the water seems calm.

Your Turn: What are some activities that you have found therapeutic to you and has been good for your children as well? Please share below.

 

The Leaving Series Part 2: Leaving with Traditions

Welcome to Part 2 of the Leaving Series. If you want to read the first story click here. Today’s story comes from Beth Everett. I have not officially met Beth, but we have mutual friends and I’ve gotten to know some of her story through her writing around the web. Today she shares more about the transition that she is currently going through and how she is helping her children in the process.

We are right smack dab in the middle of transition. As I am writing this, the countdown calendar stuck on our bedroom door says we have 10 more weeks before we say goodbye and leave our home in China of almost nine years. 10 weeks! It feels like yesterday when I noted the six-month mark. So many emotions, so many thoughts on my heart waiting to be expressed.

One thought comes to mind now that I’d like to share…

 Leaving with Traditions

 Once we started our family almost eight years ago I had a desire to establish our own unique family traditions; the kind of traditions associated with special holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Over the years these have involved several things including special handmade decorations used every December as we read through the Jesus Storybook Bible; or the resurrection eggs that we hide in our neighborhood garden for the kids to find.

This past Easter I had been so wrapped up in the process of our upcoming move that I almost forgot about the little plastic Easter eggs … but my kids didn’t! They found them in the action packer that is being packed up with all of the other family tradition items. And so we made a plan for our annual Easter Sunday’s afternoon activity in the garden. I’m so glad we did not miss out on this fun opportunity to celebrate both the Resurrection Joy as well as keep some sense of stability with this tradition. Although many of the other details of celebrating Easter will change in our new location, our family-Easter-egg-hunt is now an established tradition that we can do anywhere.

first

So we will pack our plastic eggs and look forward to hiding and finding them in a new garden next year.

Also on the list to be packed away for the move are a pretty round floral tablecloth, and several teacups, saucers and dessert plates. This past January, as we approached our six-month mark to departure, I wanted to try to establish a place and time when we purposefully paused in the day to find out how everyone was doing … a “how was your day?” kind of thing. My kids are still little (7yrs and 5yrs) so the conversations are not terribly deep, but a rhythm in our family life is being established. Several times a week, after I pick the kids up from the bus stop we have ‘teatime’. We have done it enough times, with the same tablecloth and accessories, that we can now call it an afternoon tradition. The kids eagerly anticipate it and chatter away about their day at school. During these times we have been able to talk about things they are going to miss, how they are feeling about the move, and also things they are looking forward to. Having this tradition in place seems to be helping with making conversations about leaving more natural in general.

second As a mom, this warms my heart, and I also look forward to pulling out that tablecloth on the other side of this big move, and finding a new yet familiar rhythm for sharing and debriefing in our new place.

But not all traditions involve items that need to be physically packed up for the move. Bedtime routines with the kids are now tradition too … a story, followed by each family member saying something they are thankful for about that day, and prayer time led by daddy. This routine will remain the same wherever we go even if we are stuck in a hotel in transit, or living in a temporary setting until we figure out where our more permanent home will be. I am hoping that even this simple nightly family tradition will provide some level of normalcy in the midst of the upheaval that inevitably comes with transition. And finally, one other tradition that reminds this mom, and hopefully her two little munchkins, that God is in control through every season of life: the tradition our family calls “Looking for God’s Surprises”.

third One bleak, gray, cold winter evening several years ago, I looked out across the city from our tenth floor apartment window and saw the sun determined to say farewell to the day through the haze. With a perfect circular orange glow (unfortunately seen more easily because of the pollution barrier) I felt as if God was whispering to me “I am here even in the midst of dark cold days! Look for me … you’ll always find me.” I called my kids to look out the window to see God’s surprise for us at the close of that day. Since then we have taken time to point out to each other God’s surprises in the sunrises and sunsets (both of which we can view from opposite sides of our apartment!), a rare full rainbow across the city, dainty ice formations in the dead of winter, a perfectly blooming rose along a messy roadside construction site, and many others. Even when traveling, daddy has been known to send us a picture and text message from his point of view of the setting sun before entering the train station, in order to share with us God’s surprise.

The phrase “Come see God’s surprise” has now become a tradition in our family, and one that we can take with us wherever we go, reminding us that no matter what the circumstance are, God’s beauty and presence does not cease to exist and we can find glimpses of it when we open our eyes with expectancy to see what is around us.

With all of the people, places and things we have to leave behind us as we relocate, it is with a deep sense of peace that I know we do take with us both memories and traditions. Cherished memories that can be reflected upon, and family traditions that can be continued.

Traditions provide stability, anticipation, hope and joy when shared together with those we love most … all things I long for, both during the intensity of transition with all of its loss and uncertainty, as well as that time when we finally feel settled again.

Thanks Beth for sharing today! 

BethBeth was born on the island of Barbados, in the West Indies. Her husband was born in America and her two children were both born in China. She likes to refer to her family as the A-B-C family (America-Barbados-China). She has lived almost all of her adult life in cultures and countries other than her original. This summer she will be relocating to Barbados, and learning how to adjust from living in a city of millions to living on a small island with her husband and kids.

 

If you want to share your story with us please email me at mdmaurer135{at}gmail{dot}com your story in a Word doc along with some photos. I’ll be posting one story every Thursday!

 

 

The Big “D” Word

This post was from a few years ago – I updated it a little, but I turned to it as we are starting to prepare for a move and I will be starting this scenario very soon….but have decided that it is a good idea to declutter at least once a year or even twice. HA!

raisingTCKs

Doesn’t the picture above just make you exhale – to feel like you could sit and stare at the sunset, to forget all that is going on around you? Yep, me too – in fact I’ve learned that some of the clutter that is going on around me is to my own doing – to my own collecting. This has become my equation:

Sell + Trash + Giveaway = Declutter.

To some that is a dirty word. I have to admit, I once could barely utter that word. I remember when we were first newlyweds and my husband got all excited about the first move and used the “D” word. I cringed.
“But, we might need that!” I said with clinched fists.
After about the, oh let’s say, the third move I had come around to liking the word. Declutter meant less to pack into a box and less to unpack…

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An Expat’s Letter to Santa

Okay another older post….but one that is lighthearted and one I had fun writing. I think I’d add Anti-jetlag vitamins since we are headed to Germany to visit family there. Jetlag and kids during the holidays is tough on the attitude.
What would your Letter to Santa look like this year?

raisingTCKs

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…

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A TCK’s Christmas Tree

This is an older post, but I wanted to bring it out of the dark and dusty closet.

raisingTCKs

Last time I talked about the Expat Christmas Tree, all the ornaments that we have representing the places we were at during the holiday season. Those ornaments are mine and my husband’s, not our kids’. They will have the opportunity to have them when we are finished with them one day.

My kids have their own ornaments. This is a tradition that my mother started years ago with me. When I was young, I received one ornament each Christmas until I left home.

She has carried out this tradition with my children. They each get an ornament each Christmas.

It is not anything huge or grand, but it is to them.

Each year we let them hang their ornament on the tree. They look at the train or the princess in detail and talk about the year they got that. They hang up their precious ornament with care. They brag…

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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.

Hospitality is More Than Hosting…thank goodness!

I’m trying something new this week. I’m joining in on Velvet Ashes Friday’s “The Grove”. This week the topic is hospitality.

I’ve never felt like I’ve excelled at hospitality. I’ve had to learn how to host parties and I’m not so good when unexpected circumstances are thrown my way. Ask my husband about the time we had invited the staff at school to an end-of-the-year party in our home. Literally, a few hours before they were to arrive I had to call the exterminator. Gathered around a large rectangular ceiling light were thousands of tiny termites…with wings. Did you know they could fly? I panicked. He stepped in and had all the tables moved outside. The party became a total outside only party. He’s my hero. Oh and the pesky bugs were taken care of the next day and all went back to normal.

After reading this post a light came on. Hospitality is not just about hosting dinner parties or having guests over for Kaffee und Kuchen. It’s about treating others in a kind and loving way. Duh! I “feel” THAT hospitality quite often from people around me. 

I traveled down memory lane to the many moves we’ve had in the last fifteen years of marriage, the difficult pregnancies, the “stormy diagnosis months“, and the “just because we thought of you” times in our lives. The people that I’ve met at various stages in my life and the friendships gained have been great – but I’m so thankful and feeling so blessed by the hospitality offered. You know who you are….

~ the family that let me live with them for a month so I could be near the hospital when I was pregnant with my oldest. (premie baby)

~ the couple who let me invade their apartment with my almost two year old due to another pregnancy issue.

~ the young couple who offered to watch our two children right after Jie Jie was diagnosed and using the feeding tube so that we could get away for our fifth year anniversary.

~ the two single ladies who watched our two oldest children so that we could travel to pick up our third from the orphanage – and how they helped our son make a “Welcome Home” sign for the door.

~ the lady (boss’s wife) who unpacked my kitchen and organized it for me while I went shopping for furniture.

~ the friend who watched my three little ones so I could attend a ladies conference.

~ that family that brought us homemade enchiladas and mango ice when Jie Jie was in the hospital for a week. Plus they picked up our other two from school!

~ that friend who brought by a huge stuffed Monkey for Jie Jie the other time she was in the hospital, so she wouldn’t be alone.Then sat with her so that I could slip out for a quick walk and use the bathroom.

~ that family that gave us their van for the summer to use because ours had no air-con.

~ that friend who read about fast-food being my BFF while we were changing apartments – so she brought over a huge fresh salad with so many toppings. It was truly the best!

~ that lady from church that we had just briefly met offering us to use their yard while they were away for the summer so our kids could play and we could enjoy private outdoor space.

This is hospitality…treating others in a kind and loving way. It’s like the homemade ice-cream that tops the blackberry cobbler that my mother lovingly makes each time we are back for a visit. Hospitality is sweet. It’s special. It’s given.

So, thank you to everyone who has helped me pack, move in, invited our “circus family” to your home. We have truly been blessed. I know I didn’t write every single thing, because well…you’d be reading for a few days if I listed it all….

Your TurnHow have you been blessed by hospitality from others? Share your blessing in the comment below.