Raising Children with Special Needs When You Live Overseas

 

Forest, Hope, Radiant, Zen, Sunflare

“Your daughter has a rare genetic syndrome called Cri-du-Chat Syndrome, and she needs a feeding tube.”

My dreams, my desires to live overseas, seemed to shatter with that diagnosis. The past 10 months all made sense. This was the reason she was hospitalized in Beijing for bronchitis at 3 months old. This was the reason for choking almost every time she nursed. And this explained why, just a few months before, she lay limp with pneumonia on a large hospital bed in the middle of China next to six other children with some sort of lung infection. All of this led to me flying alone with her to the U.S. for medical tests. This was the reason I sat in that small clean consultation room with a doctor I barely knew.

Was this going to be the reason God would end our time overseas?

And then the haunting question, How am I going to tell my husband Uwe half way around the world on the phone?

To date, that was the hardest phone call I have ever had to make.

When Uwe and our oldest son (20 months) arrived in the U.S., we believed our time overseas was over. At that time we only knew of one other family living overseas with a child with special needs, but our daughter seemed to have more medical issues. As we consulted with surgeons, therapists, and doctors, not a single one hesitated to tell us to go back. This was incredible to us because we, like so many others, didn’t think it possible that families affected by disabilities could live and work overseas. So with a list of diagrammed exercises, extra feeding buttons and bags, and a feeding machine, we returned to China. Uwe went back to work as principal at the international school, and I began therapy with Matthea. Life changed, but God had not. He was still good. He was still providing.

Our story isn’t unique. There are others like us. Last week I was able to interview eight families ministering overseas who also have children with special needs. All of our stories seemed to share the following three themes.

You can finish reading over at A Life Overseas

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Book Review: OF STILLNESS AND STORM by Michèle Phoenix

OF STILLNESS AND STORM29492092-_sr1200630_

by Michèle Phoenix

Summary:

Sam and Lauren sell everything they own in the US to move to Nepal. It has been their dream to share the gospel to the distant tribes of the world. But, it wasn’t their son’s dream. Sam trek’s the mountains for weeks at a time. He comes home tired and smelly, but doesn’t want any luxuries because many in Nepal live in worse conditions. Lauren’s sense of adventure soon flattens after their move as she daily bumps along to work at job she doesn’t like, fights a losing battle with the electricity, and watches her son slowly change from the fun and happy kid to a teen who just exists and resents her for everything. As things tense up on the home front, Lauren has an online encounter with a friend from her past. Her isolation leads to disillusionment and soon things come crashing around her.

My Thoughts:

One of the reviews I read compared this book to THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, and I would have to agree. It brought out many of the same emotions I had as I read that book. Michèle Phoenix is a MK (missionary kid) and has worked with MK’s for many years. Her expertise and I’m sure personal experience gives this story the raw emotions that many who work overseas do not want to face. It asks the hard questions indirectly through watching this family try to survive while doing what they believe the Lord has called them to do.

I know that not everyone who reads this blog is a Christian, but I believe that the issues/themes in this book can be related to by anyone who is trying raise their family in a different culture than their own.

*I received my copy from a giveaway on another site.

Overseas+Summer+Teens=what you make of it

Living overseas has it’s ups and downs. Most summers people “go back” to visit relatives and family friends. This summer we stayed put. We didn’t stand in any immigration lines. We didn’t hold boarding passes. We haven’t gone anywhere. Previous summers when the kids were little, we’d take them to splash pools, to the river to jump cliffs, or to the beach.

1507780_10152415025996143_7165777199028718453_nNow that they are older and want to make some money it is a bit tricky. If we lived in our passport country, they could easily work at a restaurant washing dishes, local grocery stores, or even line up odd jobs of mowing lawns. Here in Taiwan, that isn’t possible. They don’t have a work visa, so they are not allowed to legally work at establishments and there really are not many places that have yards that need to be mowed.

But, here are a few things they have been doing. Some is fun and some is for cash.

  1. Camp: The girls are still old enough to attend camp. It’s great because it’s mostly in Chinese, which is great for their language. And, it’s all day with kids their age doing fun things.
  2. Odd jobs: Family friends have hired our kids to do some odd jobs around their house. They’ve cleaned balconies, water and fed dogs, and even painted a deck.
  3. Bake Sale: Yes, in this heat our daughter plans to bake some treats to sell. This will have to happen after camp ends, of course.
  4. Apprenticeship: Our son is spending time everyday at a car mechanic shop to learn a bit about how to take care of cars and such. It is not a paying position, but he is learning and that is more often than not a payment in itself.

Other ideas?

  1. Babysitting
  2. “House sit” for another family that is gone – water their plants, check on their home

Just because we live overseas doesn’t mean our kids can’t learn the value of working for some money. From working they learn valuable life lessons that can help them with any job they may get when they get older. They also can learn how to handle their money in a responsible way.

What other ideas do you have? Share in the comments below. I know my kids are always looking for ideas to make a little cash.

Book Review & Give Away: LOVE, AMY: A MEMOIR TOLD IN NEWSLETTERS FROM CHINA

LOVE, AMY: AN ACCIDENTAL MEMOIR TOLD IN NEWSLETTERS FROM CHINA41ayswdy0ul

by Amy Young

Summary

Amy Young shares her life as a single English as a Second Language teacher in China. Her early years in China (mid-nineties) were spent at the Sichuan College of Education. This memoir is shared through her monthly newsletters to her supporters in the United States. This was an interesting time to be in China as the country was changing drastically from a poor quiet country who opened it’s gates wider to “foreigners” allowing more “western” influences to try to take root. The reader has the chance to “see” China during those transition years. Amy’s letters are fun and humorous as she relates the cultural differences in a loving way. She shares her traumatic experience of almost dying in a Chinese hospital and how she recovered and then chose to return afterwards. But, this book isn’t just a memoir, it’s a ‘how to’ book on writing newsletters. Amy shares how to write a better newsletter from what she has learned and from others who have read/written countless newsletters written by others.

My Thoughts

When I first heard about Amy’ health issues in China, I wanted to know more. Here was someone who also experienced trauma in China and not just survived to tell about it, but thrived and returned. Someone I could relate to. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it wasn’t just a memoir – though I do love reading memoirs of people who have lived overseas. I felt that her addition of a ‘how-to’ manual for writing newsletters was a brilliant idea. After reading her book, I still think it’s brilliant, but also I’ll add inspiring. I vowed to never write another newsletter again – but instead to write heartfelt letters, with stories and fun unique ideas for interaction –  not facts and a report.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is in a position of writing newsletters. You’ll be inspired and challenged to write them in a different way. And, who knows, maybe you’ll even like writing them.

The Give Away:

Amy has graciously offered to give away one copy of her book, LOVE AMY, AN ACCIDENTAL MEMOIR TOLD IN NEWSLETTERS FROM CHINA.

OPEN TO ALL READERS! If you live in the US, she’ll send a physical copy of the book, but if you live overseas she’ll send a digital copy. 

DETAILS:  Just simply leave a comment about why you’d like to read this book and your email address. I’m still “old school” in many ways, so I’ll just put names in a hat on July 7th and have one of my daughters pick out a name. I’ll make the announcement later that day and contact you via email to let you know.

DEADLINE:  July 7th at 10PM (let’s do US Eastern Time, as it is exactly 12 hours difference for me. So, easy to remember.)

Now, go comment and share this post with others. =)

Book Review: MARRIED IN MISSION

MARRIED IN MISSION: A Handbook for Couples in Cross-Cultural Service

20170531_154049by Alexis C. Kenny

 

Summary:

MARRIED IN MISSION is a handbook based on a blend of psychology and Catholic-Christian theology. As the title suggests, it is to help couples who work (or plan to work) in cross-cultural settings. After Kenny and her husband returned from working overseas, she realized that there was little to no help for couples. This resulted in her focus area for graduate school. In her extensive research, Kenny identified seven phases: discernment, preparation, realization, finalization, re-entry, and integration. These phases begin with the pre-departure stage and end with returning home. Each chapter offers insight and activities for the couple to learn and apply to their own marriages. This book is her thesis compiled into an easy to use book for any couple who plans to live overseas, are living overseas, or have returned home.

My thoughts:

I felt that the book and activities are very relevant to any couple living cross-culturally. Although I am not Catholic, I believe she explained clearly the terminology to those not familiar with the Catholic religion. I understood the concepts she presented. I liked that the reader could skip to the phase that was directly needed and not have to read the entire book to understand or gain personal insight. She also included many quotes from other couples interviewed, which helped to grasp the issues better.

The only complaint I had is towards the publishing house, and I think I know why they did it (to save money), but I feel the font is small. It made it hard to read. This is only a small complaint, but one to point out so you won’t be surprised (and for those of you like me,
have your reading glasses ready).

I do believe that this book could be used for any couple working cross-culturally, whether of the Catholic faith or not. There are some real gems that will help strengthen your marriage – and that is something, I believe, we all want in married life. Strong and happy marriages.

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.

Book Review: THE HAPPY ROOM by Catherine Palmer

THE HAPPY ROOM

by Catherine Palmer

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Genre: Novel

Summary: The Mossman family went to Africa to be missionaries. The three children all had different experiences that affected their adult lives. Peter turned away from God. Julia embraced the faith. The youngest Mossman brings them altogether when she is hospitalized due to an illness. It is during this time in the hospital that each of the children, now grown and with family of their own, remember and retell their story of Africa and of boarding school. As pain is revealed, healing begins – and the characters learn more about each other and the God who never left them.

My Take: I’d heard of this book from a few of my friends and finally got my turn to read it. My curiosity led to a background check on the author and discovered that she and I are alumni of the same university, which I find cool. But, what my investigative work uncovered was that she is also an MK from Africa. Catherine knows a bit about this life overseas and it truly comes alive through the characters in this book.

I love that the three siblings all had different opinions about being raised overseas. I loved that they each told virtually the same story, but with a different twist as to their perspective. I found the book to be a fairly quick read, meaning I had a hard time putting it down. After finishing it, I talked to my friends who were MKs and some had even boarded at the school mentioned in this book. They confirmed the feelings they had compared to their siblings to be very similar to the characters.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is moving overseas, who has lived overseas, especially if you were a MK – not as a self-help book, but possibly an enjoyable walk down memory lane. It would be a great airplane book.

Your Turn: Have you read this book? What did you think about it? Share your comments below.

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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Book Review: Pack-N-Go Girls Series

I was asked by Multicultural Kids Blog to read and write a review for a fairly new book series called Pack-N-Go Girls by Lisa Travis and Janelle Diller. My interest was peaked, of course, by just the name of the series. As I read the background of how this series began, I was curious to see how well these books might be suited for kids who live overseas, TCKs. At the moment they have six books that explore three countries: Austria, Mexico, and Thailand. They will be starting the research this year for the next two books that will be located in Brazil.

I decided to read the first book in the series, Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost. 

Summary:

Brooke is from Colorado. She has the opportunity to travel to Austria with her mother, who has a short term job assignment at a castle. In Austria she meets Eva a girl not only her age, but who also lives in the castle with her grandfather. Though they become friends quickly, Brooke soon discovers that the castle may possibly be haunted by a ballerina ghost. She and Eva spend their free time to uncover this mystery.

My Take: 

What child doesn’t like a mystery? I felt the mystery was intriguing enough to cause the young reader to keep reading. I did feel that the reader would learn a little bit about Austria without feeling like it was a geography lesson. I liked that at the end of the book there are a few pages with learning simple German phrases, as well as some important facts about Austria. Overall, I thought it was a good early chapter book for children ages 6-8.

As for TCKs, knowing that Brooke was not staying, but only there for a few months at the most, I felt it didn’t really deal with many of the issues that TCKs deal with. So in that respect, I can’t recommend it as a book dealing with transition. BUT, I would definitely recommend it for those who are going to Austria (or any of the other countries they write about) on a vacation or a short visit. I do think it was well written and had some great facts about the country.