Book Review: THE PRACTICE OF PROCESSING by Elizabeth Vahey Smith

Living overseas brings out many emotions from the time you leave your home country to the arrival of your new city. Or take the emotions you have when you watch friends leave to move on to the next destination. But transition is not the only thing that brings out emotions. Hard things happen. That is why it is important to process your emotions, but also the situations you find yourself in.

THE PRACTICE OF PROCESSING by Elizabeth Vahey Smith is just what the book title says. Elizabeth had those who transition often in mind when she wrote this book. It is a book that I found to have the why one should process, but also provides a guide in ways to process. She begins with emotions and how understanding them as “communicative…we can intellectually process the new information they provide” (pp. 18-19). Emotional intelligence is important and she covers that topic well. Elizabeth also provides examples of how to help children process, which is a nice bonus for parents or those working with young people.

If processing is new to you then I would suggest that you look at this book for yourself. Or if you are in member care for your organization, then a nice resource for people who need help in this area.

A Day in the Life of Me: Domino Affect

It’s September* and everyone is back in school. Did you hear me sigh? Did you sigh along with me? Don’t get me wrong summers are good, but with a child with special needs they are usually not great. She needs a set schedule with a para and we don’t get either in the summers. Summer schedules are suppose to be flexible. They are to be a time to relax, take a vacation with the family, right?

So, with school starting and the schedule in place life would flow down a lazy river. Nice and easy. You’ve heard of the domino affect, haven’t you? You know after one domino falls, others go right behind it? Today’s story will follow the domino trail; not a lazy river experience.

Domino #1: Beach & Teas

It was a school holiday, Mid-Autumn Festival. So, off to the beach we went for the morning. Just the two of us because the other two were out of town. The sky was blue, the wind was strong, and the sand was warm. M2 rolled around in the sand and waves, built sand mounds, and ran up and down the empty beach. Perfect.

Teas are usually something we buy to take to the beach, but since we left so early there were no shops open. So, after rinsing off the sand and sweat we stopped at a shop before going home. My wallet was at home, but I had a zip-lock full of copper coins. They are worth 1 New Taiwan Dollar. I ordered and paid with 110 coins. Bless those workers hearts as I counted out stacks of ten coins eleven times. (Maybe you are wondering why I had a bag of coins in the car. Well, I’ll save that story for another time, but you can try to guess in the comments.)

We got home and I put the teas in my bag.

Domino #2: Keys & Flipflops

I gathered all our belongings and coaxed M2 out of the car. She is sometimes a sloth when she wants to be. I reminded her that we had tea and then threatened that she would not get tea if she didn’t hurry. Mama had to use the bathroom.

We live in a house with a yard. To enter you have to unlock a tall solid metal swinging gate. Ours is blue. I fanned out the keys on my key ring, but could not find the key to this gate. I looked through the bag to make sure they didn’t get buried under the towels and sand.

“No! Please don’t tell me I left them in the house?!?!”

M2 giggled, snorted, and smacked her leg.

I dropped the bag and climbed up the side wall to see if I could be like my super amazing husband who climbs over and jumps down. I looked down. It’s about a 6-7 foot drop, so not bad. But I looked at my shoes. Flipflops. I was not sure my ankles could take that jump onto concrete. And I was sure our dog looking up at me wagging her tail would not catch me either.

I called a friend who has an the extra set and lives just down the road. No answer.

I found a curved tool in the hedges. “Oh, Lord, please let me jimmy this door open. I really need to use the bathroom and need your help.”

Nothing. I try several times. Nothing

I felt my breathing pick up and my heart rate quicken. By this time our dog was whining on the other side of the gate.

I tried once more, probably with a little more frustration than wisdom. But the door popped open. I got in and I didn’t break the lock. A miracle, I think.

Domino #3: Wet bag & Wet Keys

After washing my hands, I went to the kitchen to retrieve our teas and get something for lunch. My bag was wet. Soaked. I reach inside and pulled out one full cup of tea and one empty cup. When I dropped the bag, the seal on the tea opened and out went the tea onto everything, including my car key which has a battery operated button to unlock it. I ran everything under the water to rinsed it off and then gave M2 chocolate almond milk. She was just as happy with that.

Domino #4: Car Alarm

Two days later we used the car to go to church. The key fob has the buttons on it to lock and unlock the doors. They were not working. I manually unlocked the doors and we drove to church. Later that day we were heading to pick up a friend to go to the beach. The car began to lock and unlock on its own. Strange, but I thought, “Maybe the keys are still wet and they just need time to dry.”

Monday morning same, but not a huge deal. Monday afternoon, I go out to the car to pick up M2 from school and the car alarm goes off when I open the door. I cannot get it to shut off. I try several times to unlock and get in, but the alarm goes off. One time I get in without the alarm going off, but then when I started the car it went off again. A little later, I had the car started, but when I pulled out of the drive the alarm went off again. By this time it had gone off four times. I was loosing my mind.

I call handsome hubby. Bless his heart, he was of no help.

“Push the button on the key fob, that will turn it off.”

“Really,” I said, “You don’t think I’ve tried that? It doesn’t work.”

“Oh, then I don’t know what to tell you, but you have to get to school now or you will be late to pick her up.”

This conversation was going on while the alarm was going off. You can imagine how we were both feeling.

I prayed, “Oh Lord, please let this crazy alarm stop. I cannot go down the street with it going off. Please don’t make me stand out any more than I already do!”

It stopped.

I sent handsome hubby a message asking him to let the teachers know that I was on my way.

He messaged back: “I’m sorry I was not helpful. I was mad because I wasn’t there to help you. I’m glad you got it to stop.”

I love that man.

M2 was in the office waiting for me. I did not turn the car off, but left it running while I ran in to get her. We went straight to the mechanics and asked him to disable the alarm system. He did.

With a chuckle.

Conclusion

Dominoes are fun to watch as they cascade around their merry path. But when that path is your life and it is affects so much of what you do, then that is not so much fun. In fact, it can make you aware of thoughts and emotions that you have about yourself, others, life, and/or the world. I’ve been studying Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy in my final class for my Master’s in Care and Counseling. The biggest takeaway is that beliefs directly influence our emotions and behaviors; not the situation or the event.

Example from my story. The moment I realized that I left the keys at home and did not have them to open the door triggered a belief. The belief that I should never do such a stupid thing like forgetting to take the keys to the house with me and this is terrible, I’ll never be able to get in. This belief started the domino affect of me dropping the bag; not setting the bag down. You could probably go back and see where this belief rises back up at various points in the story. How to change your beliefs is through disputing them, but I’ll save that lesson for another time.

*This story was supposed to be published in September, but for some reason I forgot about it. Maybe it was because I needed to understand REBT more and could begin to introduce it to you all as a way to process events/situations in your own life.

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 Day in the Life: A Story on Learning

I find that no matter how long I live overseas I am learning. Some days I learn from others; be it books, internet searches, or people with more knowledge. Other days I learn from experience. Yesterday I learned from both. A lesson that not just taught me about a fact of life, but reminded me of something about myself.

The Setting:

It has been hot here on the island. Handsome is visiting his parents. M2 is back in school this week after having three weeks off due to case numbers increasing. M3 is out of school for the summer. We had dinner plans to meet friends from out of town. So since I did not have to cook I decided I had time to water the house plants.

The Conflict:

This plant had a hole right in the middle of the pot. So did another one. These two plants sit on the top of a six foot shelf on either side of our TV cabinet. So, I did what any one of you would do. I got a stool and armed with my security type flashlight. (You know the long handle ones that are super durable) and checked out the crime scene. It was a mess. There was dirt and plant leaves strewn all over the shelf. I could not imagine what would do this, so I got out my phone and searched in the “Land of the Net”. You will not believe this. Or maybe you already know. But, rodents can dig in house plants to hide their food.

A rodent digging in my HOUSE plants. There is a possibility I have a rodent in the HOUSE again! You see last time my husband was gone for a period of time we had a rodent in the house.

At this point I only have speculation and no hard evidence, so with about 45 minutes before we are to leave I decide to investigate a bit more. I moved one of the shelves out from the wall. There on the floor was the evidence of poo, but that is not all. Out of the corner of my eye I see the end of a tail scurry out of sight.

I scream. M3 screams. M2 giggles as I pull her away from the potential new crime scene.

That is hard evidence.

We have less then 45 minutes to get rid of this rodent before we need to leave.

Rising Action: (Oh, yes this gets better…)

M2 changes her tune from giggling to screaming. Her Duplos are all over the floor in front of the TV. While I take all the breakable things off of the shelves and move the TV to a safer place, M2 picks up her Duplos and takes them to her room. Seriously, the fastest I have ever seen her pick up her toys.

M3 becomes the “gate keeper” to keep M2 in her room while I let in our amazing rodent killing dog, Marley! Marley is half Lab and half mountain dog- so a medium sized dog. She enters excited to be let in the house. But, quick to be on top of the scent, she darts behind the TV cabinet with her tail wagging back and forth. She begins pawing. I look at the clock and think we have half an hour or less until we need to leave.

I grab a broom ready to hit the rodent if it should come out. “Come on Marley, get that thing.”

Marley barks and scratches more. She is moving the cabinets out of the way like a machine. I’m glad that I moved all the breakables. “Is this such a good idea? What if she does get it, then what?”

I hear M2 voice my thoughts, “What if she gets it, Mom? Won’t that be gross?” I look behind me and M2 is now standing on a chair. I hear M3 giggling again. She is now sitting in the rocking chair in her undies trying to put on her shorts. Apparently she was so scared she had a an accident and was changing her clothes, but didn’t want to miss the action.

“This is almost a circus,” I think.

The rodent which I am now naming Ralph, must understand my look on my face because just then he races out from under the cabinet. I watch in slow motion as he stretches with each leap as if running the 100 meter sprint and he sees the red ribbon at the end.

We all scream. Ralph finds safety under the yet to be installed oven. When I say oven, I mean full size American oven. Marley continues to scratch by the cabinet…maybe she isn’t such a genius after all.

I look at the clock. Twenty minutes before we are to leave. I pull out the oven from the wall expecting it to run out like those oversized roaches do, but no Ralph. He is smart. He has crawled into the hole in the back, I think. I call Marley to sniff it out and sure enough, she again gets excited and whines.

I have fifteen minutes before we are to meet our friends outside to drive to the restaurant. M2 is pulling up her shorts. M3 is off of the chair. We cannot leave Ralph. I decide to go to the store to buy some sticky rodent traps to place around the oven in hopes that Ralph will jump on the gooey mess thinking it is a fun game while we are having dinner.

The girls are to stand watch to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere else.

At the store Handsome calls and the friends send me a message to let me know they have arrived. I give him the rundown as I speed walk up and down the aisles looking for the traps. I’m probably yelling at him on the phone, poor guy, asking him where the crazy things are located.

I buy three sets. That is six sticky traps. Think 8×10 picture frame with a super sticky substance where the photo should go. Surely this will work. As I’m paying I text my friends to tell them what is going on and that we would be ready in fifteen minutes. The cashier smiles in acknowledgement that I have a problem. I’m not sure if she is talking about Ralph or the fact that maybe a glass of something is needed to calm that poor foreign lady down. Either way, I nod in agreement and head home.

Climax:

At home, I welcome our friends and show them where to park. I wonder what they think of me. I thank God for that time I ate at their house and seemed calm and normal, because I am pretty sure I am not calm and normal right now. But, no time to worry about that.

In the house, I place all six traps around the oven while M3 prepares the live trap. M2 is suppose to be putting on her shoes. “Suppose” is the key word here – she doesn’t, but after a few words and looks we get our stuff together, say a prayer and shut the door.

Supper was a great distraction for us all. Laughs and good food. We even had mango ice – I felt we needed to celebrate catching Ralph.

Is it a good idea to ever celebrate early?

We got home. Turned on the lights to find.

Empty traps. All seven empty.

Conclusion:

Handsome calls again to check on us. I am at a loss. Do we just go to bed? The girls are nervous. Do we go to a friend’s house? Handsome talks me through it and I become a robot. I follow his instructions.

I put all the sticky traps in a safe place and let Marley back in to see if she can smell the rodent (I had to take his name away at this point) inside the oven. She wags her tails and whines. Love that dog.

In robot fashion, I put the traps in strategic places suggested by Handsome. Have I said that I love this guy and miss him?

We turn off the lights. I text a friend to pray. (Yes, yes I did pray that the Lord would have the little creature he made get into a trap).

I close the hallway door and use the dining room chair to block it shut. I get M2 ready for bed. I read a little and then sleep. I dream that I catch the rodent along with many of his cousins. “Oh, please let there not be more.”

When the sun rose the next day. I said a prayer and quietly took away the chair holding the hallway door shut. I found my flashlight and shined it into the kitchen. One. Two. Three. Four traps empty. I went to the other door and there it was on a sticky trap.

I sighed relief and then groaned as I knew I was going to have to bag it and put it outside.

Learning by experience has not always been the easiest of lessons, but ones that I have remembered the best. Yes, I learned that rodents can dig in house plants, but I was also reminded of something else about myself.

I am bound and stressed by Time. Go back and notice how often I note how much more time we had before we needed to be at the next thing. And maybe you can sense that I am getting more frazzled as time goes by. I notice this too in other areas of my life. I am more focused on the task instead of the relationship. My family notices it too.

This lesson comes up often as living overseas puts a stress on Time. It always takes more time to do things. And just when I think I have Mastered it, an uninvited guest comes into our home at just the right time for me to see that I still have work to do.

A work in progress. That is what I am.

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

Photo Credit: MaDonna Maurer

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

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

Why is it so difficult sometimes to do this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could not have been more wrong.

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

I tried again.

And again.

And again.

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

Here’s where the battle began for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: MaDonna Maurer

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

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

The Leaving Series Part 3: You Can Take it with You

Welcome to Part 3 of The Leaving Series. If you are just reading for the first time, you may want to go back and catch Part 1 and Part 2.

Today’s post if from another friend, who I have had the opportunity to work with on team. Christa, may look short when standing next to her husband, but she is full of life and energy. I think you’ll sense that today as you read what she would have liked to have taken with her when she left…
Valley Of the Giants Western Australia

If you read the title and got upset then give me just one second because I am not talking about passing away, I am talking about moving. Of course it all depends on what the “it” is that you want to take with you. Our family lived in Shenyang, China for 12 years: both of our boys were born there and my husband and I were married there.

Before we left China there was quite a bit of debate about what everyone would be taking with us. When we decided to move, my children wanted to bring their best friends and every toy they had ever owned. My husband wanted to bring every book on the six bookcases in our home. I was much more unreasonable; I wanted to pack the Shenyang Imperial Palace, my best friends, my entire apartment, Starbucks, our school, every book in our home and every toy the boys had ever owned. We could negotiate on some of these items, but I did eventually have to admit that the Imperial Palace wouldn’t fit in my suitcase and I had to accept that skyping friends would be enough.

Our negotiation and moving process took an entire year. I started whittling down items as we used them. As I used items, I thought about whether I would give them to someone, sell them at the garage sale we would host, or pack them to take home. I would also figure out when would be the last time I would use that item then pack it in a box. Yes, in case you are wondering, I am a type A personality. Most stuff got left behind with beloved friends. When I visit now, I get to see my things being used by other people and I have to say it is one of the nicest feelings in the world.

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We worked out that we couldn’t take things with us but we could take experiences with us. We could take parts of the culture and language with us. We also got to take a lot of love and care with us because people did so much for our family to make sure we each knew we were cared for as we said goodbye.

We did quite a few things to make moving easier for the boys. We knew they would miss China, so we made sure to take a long trip around the country to see important places before we left. We talked with the boys and asked them what their favorite places were in Shenyang. We visited those places one last time to say goodbye. We made sure to talk through it with them when we were going to a certain place for the last time. We also made sure to take photos of them in those places. We let them help with packing their own things, so that their things didn’t just disappear one day. We also encouraged them to think through which items they would give to friends and which they could give to children in need. This made leaving things behind more acceptable to them because it was an act of generosity.

We looked to the future in Australia by talking about living close to a part of our family, going to the beach and having a house with a yard. We talked to them about what they were looking forward to and then made sure to mention those positive things with enthusiasm when we could.

The boys wanted a dog in Australia and my husband and I both thought that was reasonable request and something that could help them get through the transition. They looked forward to having Bolt, (our dog), for months and he has helped through emotionally difficult times. He has helped me, too when I think about it.

20.5The experiences, the culture and the language have stayed with us. We have made great Chinese friends here in Australia. I now write for a Chinese magazine here and we speak at a Chinese church in Perth. The boys talk about China often and have kept some of the language as well. The office Darren and I work at is a 5-minute walk from Chinatown in Perth and it is a wonderful way for us to stay connected to a place we all consider home or at least one of our homes. We celebrate the Chinese holidays and enjoy eating Chinese food as often as we can go to a restaurant or cook it. We also keep China in our home by having photos of friends from China, hanging scrolls and keeping things we brought with us from China displayed in the house.

Making sure to keep China a part of our lives, talking about it and participating in Chinese cultural events here in Perth has helped us to feel complete. There is no hole in our heart where China was because it has remained an integral part of what makes up our family. It is our children’s birthplace, and the place where Darren and I were married. Saying goodbye and moving to a new place cannot diminish how important China was and is to us.

Head Shot (1)Christa and her husband lived in China for 12 years. She met her husband, Darren, in China and they married there. Both of their two boys were born in China andlived there until 4 years ago. They moved to Australia, her husband’s home country, in 2010. She has been working with TCKs and other expats since moving to Australia. She is also the China promotions manager for Stacey College and Director of Student Services for Sheridan College. As part of her work she assists students in coming to Australia to study. You can visit her blog at staceycollege.com.

 

Thanks Christa for sharing today! So, readers, what do you want to take with you as you are preparing to leave? For those of you who have transitioned, what are other things that you were surprised about that may have followed you to the next destination? Share in the comments below!

Including Your TCKs….

I grew up in a family that worked together. What I mean is that my parents expected us to help each other out with family projects. For instance, every fall we helped Dad cut and haul wood; every summer we worked in my grandmother’s very large garden, and then at the end of the summer we canned everything; and as we got older we helped each other move into our homes. It is like that still . Almost every return visit there is usually some family project going on that we (my husband, kids, and I) help with. Like a few years ago we helped my brother-in-law build his barn; and last summer we helped my mother tear down an old building. Everyone that was able helped in some way, even if it was just refilling the water jugs.

My husband grew up somewhat the same, so he jumps right in and helps with no complaints when we are back. And because of this, we have tried to include our kids in whatever we are involved with while living overseas. When they were younger my husband was a principal at international schools, so I would take them to all the school programs. It was a way we could support him and be a part of each of those communities. When our kids were toddlers, we wanted them to learn to help others – so I had them help me pick up trash after school events or other small jobs that they could handle.

Now that they are older, our work focus has changed. My husband is now the director of a not-for-profit that helps families of children with special needs. We wanted to include all of our children, not just our child with special needs in this new endeavor. The other two “get” to help in appropriate ways like volunteering as a buddy for a child with special needs at activities we host or they help with the preparations. It’s a family project, not just my husband’s job.

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Why do we do this? We want our kids to feel involved in the work that we are doing. We want to them to experience different aspects of life, not just what they see at school or with their friends. We want them to do something meaningful. I just read an article* that says that “adult MKs who felt they were a significant part of their parents’ ministries had, as adults, a greater sense of spiritual/emotional stability” (“Raising Resilient MKs” by Diane Morris). That MK, could be replaced by TCK for those who are working with humanitarian organizations. I believe our kids need to see what we do and why it is important.

Do we force our kids help us? Honestly, sometimes, but not always. We ask and see if they want to help out, especially if it is volunteering to help other people. We challenge them to try it, but we don’t force them to volunteer if they are uncomfortable. Now, we might force or bribe them to help with preparations when we need extra hands to sort T-shirts and medals, but most of the time they do it because they want to – but not always. They are children.

“But, I work with organizations that work against child trafficking and sex-slavery, there is NO way I’m bringing my children anywhere near those places,” you say. I hear you. I wouldn’t either. I want to protect my own children’s innocence as long as I can. I’ll be honest, this is not an area I’m an expert in – but I’ve had my kids help me make cookies and color eggs that were to be delivered by another organization to “tea shops” where some of the women worked. My kids did not and still do not know what kind of work these ladies do, just that we were making cookies for some people to make them happy. What kid does not want to make others happy.

“But, I’m not a missionary or a humanitarian,” you say. I still think you can get involved in something with your community. I’m sure you may already are. I know of other traveling spouses that volunteer at orphanages, help with fund-raisers for needs in their city, or other “humanitarian” type work. Try to work in times to get your kids involved with you. It’s great for kids to see their parents helping others, and it’s even better when you see them and can honestly say “Great job, today. I’m so proud of you!”

So, I challenge you. I challenge you to get your children involved with whatever it is you do. It can be simple like making cookies or it can be more difficult like building new homes after a natural disaster. Whatever you do make sure it is age appropriate, meaningful, and that you do it together.

Your Turn: How do you involve your children in the work/ministry that you do? I’d love to hear of more examples and stories, so please share below in the comments section.

*Taken from the book, Raising Resilient MKs edited by Joyce M. Bowers.

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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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Debunking the Excuse Rail – Part 2

For the first part of this series click here to read.IMG_2608

Living overseas can be adventurous and exciting. It can also be lonely and hard – even if you have a family. I’ve had my seasons of it all – or at least I think I should have by now, but I’m sure as seasons come and go they will each return at various times in my life.

One season that seems to return quite frequently is the Season of Feout (pronounced fe-out, combo of fear and doubt). This one pops up when I mention things or people from the US and my kids look at me with a blank stare. It also pops up in the fall when many Facebook friends start posting pics of their children at the pumpkin farms, hayrides they’ve taken, or tree leaves in their brilliant autumn colors. These I mentally add to my “list” of all the things I’m failing at with my kids because I have them here and not there. Here where there are no pumpkin patches, where the leaves don’t change colors, and hayrides? HA, we live in a mega-city. Here where they can’t get to know their grandparents, nor their cousins. Here where they constantly have to say good-bye to great friends who move. Here where “here” may be a new location in a year.

Do you relate to these “feout” questions I have sometimes? My mind can really get out of control with all the emotions swirling around.

I sometimes struggle – not always, just sometimes. It is during those times though that I want to “make-it-up” to my kids. I want to make up for all the losses they have because of the decision I made years ago – way before Uwe came into the picture – to live overseas. When we go to the US (or Germany) I want to take them to all the “fun” places – so they don’t miss out. I want to take them to baseball games, to amusement parks, to zoos, to farms/ranches, to fairs – whatever I can find. I sometimes want to make sure they “experience” the culture, not just hear about it through stories of my past.

Maybe you’ve not had these feelings above, but maybe you felt your children “deserved” something for all the loss in their lives. You know that the transitions are difficult, so you buy all the kids a smartphone so that they can “keep in touch” with their friends better. Or you think everyone deserves an iPad mini because let’s face it, it sure would make travel easier on the plane if everyone had their own. Or maybe you feel just the opposite. You feel as if you can’t give your children anything too nice because you work for a relief organization or are a missionary – and it just wouldn’t look good to those who support your work.

Either way, it’s all an excuse.

An excuse to do, buy, or not to buy for our kids (and let’s face for ourselves, too). Fact is that transitions are hard. Fact is my kids are going to miss out on some of my cultural activities. Fact is our kids are going to be fine. Yes, they will be fine if I take them to every fun thing I can find, or if we just play in the grandparents’ backyards. They will be fine if I buy them all an iPad mini or (more likely) not buy any. Point is, they will be fine. I shouldn’t, and neither should you, fall into that trap that we should “make-it-up” to our kids for living overseas. If you want to buy them an iWhatever, then do it. If you don’t have the money, don’t feel guilty. If you want to “experience” a cultural event like a baseball game with your child, then go. I really believe that our kids will remember the time we spent with them more than the actual event or gadget we buy them.

How do I know that our kids are going to be fine? I’m married to a TCK, have TCKs for friends, and have watched countless TCKs grow up. They all survived the experience – and most would say they are glad they grew up the way they did. That’s how I know my kids are going to be fine. This is how I get through those Seasons of Feout – I remind myself of other TCKs that were taken on this path. I don’t have to go far to be reminded – I just have look across the dinner table.

Your Turn: Have you ever had a “Season of Feout”? If so, how did you get through it? Please share in the comments below.

*Note: As far as I know “Feout” is my made up word from “fear” and “doubt”, but if it should be a word in another language please forgive me.

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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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