Public Transportation and Children, including Special Needs…

crowded bus

*photo by nats’ photostream at flickr.com

Imagine getting on this bus with Baby in the front pack and Toddler trying to free his hand from yours. You help Toddler climb the giant steps up, only to find the bus crowed with no seats. With Toddler in front, you tighten the grip of his wriggly hand while you grasp with the other hand the hand grip swinging from the ceiling. The bus lurches forward. You stumble a bit. You close your eyes praying for your lives and cursing yourself for taking the bus. Then someone smiles and gets up so Toddler can sit. You stand swaying back and forth, or more likely jerking forward and backward while bouncing Baby, who at this point has started crying. Somehow the bus gets more crowded. Your stop is coming up. You begin planning the exit strategy in hopes that you don’t loose Toddler and don’t crush Baby. Then, the Mommy Panic Button is pushed – what if Toddler doesn’t get off with you? What if he gets lost? 

Imagination or Real?

Maybe you didn’t have to imagine this because you just experienced it this week AND to top it all off you are in a foreign country. I’m pretty sure I have had this kind of a day. It was WAY too easy to write for me to have imagined it all up.

Transportation Holder

When our son became old enough to have his own transportation card (like a debit card for buses and subways) we bought him a holder that went around his neck. All the kids now have one. Jie Jie just got a new one for her recent birthday.

photo.JPG

“But a transportation holder isn’t going to help…”

No, just having the holder and the card are not going to help. I agree. That is why we decided that in case we should get separated from our kids, they need to have our phone numbers in the holder as well. So, we have my husband’s business card with his cell number inside, too. This card is written in both English and in Chinese. The dual language is important – not everyone can read English, so the language of your host country needs to be on the card as well. The kids know they are to ask someone to call that number if for some reason they find they are lost.

Special Needs Addition

Since Jie Jie is a special needs child, we have added  a little more information to her holder. We also have a card that states, in English and Chinese, that she is a special needs child who cannot speak or have anything by mouth. Then both of our cell numbers are on that paper as well.

I’ve been thankful that the kids have not had to use those business cards to call us. Tomorrow morning we will climb those steps again and face the crowds. We take the bus to school most mornings. Even though the kids have gotten really good about staying close and paying attention when it’s time to get off, I feel a little better knowing they have our numbers in their holders in case something does happen.

Your Turn: Do you use public transportation with your kids? What has been your experience? Share your story below.

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How to Prepare for Typhoon Days (or other stay at home days)

Typhoon Guchol Approaching Japan

photo by NASA

It is typhoon season, and once again we are about to get hit with not one, but possibly two nice sized typhoons.

Typhoons can complicate life. They mess up plans to go out and play. They cancel school and work, which is usually welcomed in this family. They cause some city-wide panic as everyone runs out and buys all the instant noodles at the grocery store. We can learn from the locals, though.

Be Prepared:

Typhoons are predicted days in advance, so there is time to be prepared. You can go out and buy the extra staples like milk, eggs, bread, instant noodles, extra water, candles, batteries, etc. I advise that you do this, but this is not what I’m talking about today. No, today I’m talking about something I always want to do, but never get to it because of my “To Do” List.

Preparing Fun with my TCKs:

Usually, I clean the house during a typhoon. I’m home and can’t go out. The kids can play in their rooms or watch a movie. I can get SO much done because we don’t have to go anywhere – we can’t go anywhere.

It hit me yesterday as I looked at my soon to be 11-year old son. I’m “wasting” valuable time cleaning when I could be spending time with my kids. They are going to be at an age where they may not want to play a board game with us, and then too soon they will be off to that place called university.

YIKES!

Be Intentional!

I cleaned the whole apartment yesterday. Today I am planning the “fun” with the kids for the typhoon that will hit sometime in the next day or so. We will play board games, do some crafts, and probably bake together. I want to be more intentional with my life and this is one way I can do that.

I have found that my kids share things on their mind while playing a board game. We discuss questions they may have. We find out what they are thinking about. We laugh at jokes. We find out how creative our kids are, or not. We explore. We experiment. We bond. Bonding is what I want and to get that the vacuum, the mop, and the “To Do” list must be put away.

Your Turn: How about you? How do you prepare for those snow days, typhoon days, or other vacation days when the kids are at home? Please share in the comments below.

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Packing Problems? A Quick Fix

114/365: April 24 2007

Photo by ::d::’s photostream via flicker

It is that time of summer when we all travel back to our homes overseas. Many of us are getting our kids ready for the new school year. We’ve bought new school clothes, maybe even some supplies that are hard to find in the country we are now living in.

I have just returned from such a trip and as I re-packed our belongings I realized I had a problem.  I have this same problem each time we visit family. It doesn’t matter if it is in the US or in Germany, I struggle with this.

The Overstuffed Suitcase Dilemma                                                          

Please tell me I’m not alone in this. I followed my own tip, “Stash It”, when I packed to go to the US this summer. I thought that having that extra bag would be enough. I even packed clothes to take that I knew I’d leave behind and not take back, which would leave more space for the new clothes and gifts that we acquired while there. Sadly, I still had the Overstuffed Suitcase Dilemma. Fortunately, though, I found a solution.

Plastic Storage Bags

I have used these oversized shrink-wrap storage bags to help me pack up winter clothes and blankets in our apartment, but I’ve never used them for packing suitcases. If you’ve never used one before, they are really great. You simply put the desired clothing or other clothed-based material into the bag and zip it up. Unscrew the cap, and then place the hose of your vacuum cleaner on the opening. Turn your vacuum on and let it do the work. Once the air is out, put the cap back on. It usually shrinks it down to at least half the size. Take a look at what I did for packing.

Before

After: One blanket wouldn’t fit.

The Important Tip 

The one thing you must remember is that the weight doesn’t change. My pile of lap quilts my sister made still weighed five pounds after I bagged it, but I had a whole lot more space to use.

Your Turn: Have you ever used these storage bags for packing suitcases? Do you have other tips to share on gaining more space (I know, don’t buy anything to bring back. HA!) Please share in the comments below.

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Making Change

Change

photo by spcbrass via flickr

I was standing in the check-out lane and opened my wallet to see that I had about two handfuls of change. I am headed back overseas in a few weeks, so I want start getting rid of the excess change. As the cashier began to ring up my items I noticed that the there were a few people standing in line behind me waiting patiently.

My heartbeat picked up.

My hands started sweating.

My eyes darted into the wallet trying to make out what kind of change I had, so I could quickly pull out what I would need.

A few seconds later, the cashier told me how much I needed. What? I didn’t hear him. I frantically looked at the register to get a read and asked again for the price. He told me.

I handed the bills and began to dig for the coins I needed. My fingers were not working. The coins kept slipping from them. Finally, what seemed like five minutes, I got the exact change and handed it to him. I know I heard a sigh from the person behind me.

The cashier handed me the receipt. I apologized and quickly made my exit.

I’m in the country I grew up in, yet counting change causes me to stress. What in the world? Here is what I think it is…

1. The money is foreign. As expats, we live outside the country for at least 11 months or longer ~for me it’s been 2.5 years. The money has become foreign. We are used to our RMB, Yen, Euro, or Pounds and have forgotten what “home” country money feels like. If you’re a TCK, it may all feel foreign and familiar at the same time…

2. Identity problems. I’ve lived in Asia for over a decade and there is so much grace when I don’t get it right because I don’t look Asian. As for going to Germany, I look the same, but as soon as I open my mouth the people there understand and have shown me grace. Being in the US, I look and sound “American”, so they are so confused that I can’t count change, don’t understand the debit card scan, or whatever the “new-to-me” procedure is in public places. If you’re a TCK, is this how you feel all the time?

So, how to beat this? I guess I could “play” with the money before I get back to just get a feel for it. Instead, I just keep shopping and using cash OR I skip the cash part and use the debit card. As for the identity problem, I’ve thought about putting on an accent at the checkout, but mine is terrible and I’d probably start laughing at myself and blow it. So, instead I just take a deep breath and remember that it’s okay and normal ~ my friends all have the same problem and we will sit with our tea/coffee at the end of the summer laughing about the “trauma at the grocery stores” and how we “survived the cereal aisle”. 

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Keeping the Culture: US Independence Day

"Uncle Sam's Birthday. 1776- July 4th 1918. 142 Years Young and Going Strong."

Have you ever worried that your TCKs are going to forget or not know your home culture? Are you afraid that they are missing out on all the cultural festivities and knowledge about where you are from? That they are just not going to understand their heritage?

My kids are third culture kids(TCKs). Most of you have read my bio so I won’t bore you with details. In case you haven’t had the chance here is a shortened summary. I’m from the States, my husband is a German MK, and our kids are growing up in Asia.

Sometimes I wonder about the above questions. I know they are getting a great education. I know they are learning so much about the world by living overseas and going to school with children from all over the world. I’ve read books and have attended conferences to learn more about these resilient kids. I’m following blogs of top experts on the subject and even blogs by adult TCKs to gain more understanding. I do all of this and still I wonder.

I’m sure you do too, or you wouldn’t be reading this post.

So, what can you do to pass down your heritage to your kids?

Celebrate the holidays. Yep, this is one way I am doing it. Independence Day for the US is in a few days. I’ve had the opportunity to read part of this book to my girls. I’ve planned crafts and activities to do with them as well.
Since we are in the US, we will get with family and grill and celebrate together. We might even be able to shoot some fireworks off ~ I say might because it is so dry it might not be safe.
The years we have been out of the US for the 4th of July, I have had to be more intentional in celebrating. Sometimes, we’ve been able to attend parties hosted by the embassy. Other years we celebrated with just a few friends around the grill. And there has been a few years where it was just our family. But, no matter what, we brought out the red, white, and blue.
If you are a US citizen and wondering about some free simple activities that you can do with your kids, here are some ideas that I did this year with the girls.
1. Printed out simple readers that they colored and made into books. Click here for site.
2. Printed out some worksheets of the flag and the eagle. Click here for site. Note this site has some things for older kids as well.
3. Free coloring sheets here.
4. Glitter glue fireworks.                                                
Click here for the website.                                5. Blow-Paint fireworks here.
Super Easy, little messy. 

Your Turn: Do you celebrate your home country’s holidays with your children? If you’re a TCK, did your parents teach you about specific holidays from their home country? Was it helpful, why or why not? Please comment below. I would LOVE to hear your ideas, thoughts or if you have other activities to share, please do!

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The All Time Hated Aisle

Cereal Aisle

photo by Rex Roof via flickr

Can you guess what the all time hated aisle for any expat is? Okay, the photo gave it away if you were wondering.

I don’t have solid research on this, but I believe this has to be one of the top 5 places expats hate to visit in the US. I have this theory because, having lived overseas for a-hem several years now, every expat I have talked to gets the same look and pretty much says the same thing, Oh, I just stand there for hours looking at all the choices not knowing what to put in the over-sized cart.

What is it about that aisle? I like lists if you haven’t noticed, so here are my lists of why cereal aisles make us tense up.

1. The aisle is a mile. Have you noticed this? I mean it is the entire length of the aisle and at least 4 shelves high. The pure size of it overwhelms me.

2. The number of choices. So, the aisle is a mile long and each shelf has rows upon rows of every kind of cereal you can imagine. Take for instance a simple flaky type cereal. You can get it bran, frosted, fruity, low-fat, and, and, and. And if you know what type of flake you want, then you have 4+ brands to choose from. I’ve gotten used to only have, at the most, five choices to choose from. Period.

3. The shouting of words. I’m a writer, so words tend to jump out at me. The cereal boxes are no different. I feel like the boxes are shouting their greatness, their newness. “Low-fat!” “Low-carb!” “Healthy Eating!” “Great for the Heart!” And that doesn’t even cover the “prizes” that are inside ~ which my kids have now figured out. I think having lived overseas I can’t always read what the boxes are shouting, so it is like they are on mute. You think?

So, what to do about this “problem”? I haven’t totally figured it out. My plan thus far has worked out fine. I tell my mother what kinds of cereal we “like” and let her bring them home. Then when we need to buy more, I search for the exact same box ~ if the kids liked it that is.

Your Turn: Do you like the cereal aisle? How do you tackle it when you are back in the US? Please share in the comments below.

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The Importance of Good-bye

The last ride last night.

My guys left for the airport a few hours ago. They both needed to get back home. I am staying in the US for another month with the girls.

Each time we leave a place we make sure that we and the kids get the opportunity to say Good-bye, especially with family. Yesterday was that day for them. Most of my siblings came over for supper. One even brought their horses and dog so Ge Ge could have one last ride. After 10pm, hugs were given and some tears were shed. It was hard to watch.

More Good-byes this morning. More tears. This time harder for me to watch. Last night the tears were going out the door with them, but this morning as they pulled away in my sister-in-law’s blue Durango I witnessed the heartache of my family left behind. A behind-the-scenes moment if you want to call it that. Watching my mother and nephew was gut wrenching.

I’d like to skip this process and just sneak out when the time comes in a month. Bypass the tears. Skip the downcast faces. Miss the awkward silences of trying to come up with another topic to talk about to avoid the final good-bye. It sounds like a good plan, but my family would be furious and I know that the process of “grief” is needed for both sides.

Closure is needed. I’ve known this and my husband has made it a high priority to make sure good-byes are said properly.

 Properly = Eye contact, hug/handshake, and the words “Good-bye, Thank-you, Love you” spoken when appropriate.

The winter of 2009 my father passed away and I saw the huge importance of saying Good-bye. The previous summer we had the opportunity to be in the US with them. We had no idea it would be our last with him.

Yesterday we went to the cemetery with the kids. Mei Mei broke down crying because she wanted to hug him, to tell him Good-bye. I was able to remind her that we did that when we saw him last. We prayed and asked God to give him a hug for us and to let him know that we loved him. My heart was heavy, but so thankful that we were intentional about saying “Good-bye” that final summer.

We can’t know for sure when life here on earth is over. People die in car wrecks, plane crashes, and illnesses everyday. For this reason, each time we return “home” I have made it a point to make sure that I and the kids let the people in our lives know they are loved and special.

Your Turn: Do you do anything special with family when you leave them to return “home”? Please share in the comments below.

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Saying Good-bye Stinks…

photo by flickr The Commons

Good-byes are never easy, especially when you live overseas. In many ways it is like death. You say your good-byes not knowing if you’ll ever see the person again here on earth. You depart. You cry. You see old photos. You cry some more. Then time passes and life goes on. You keep in touch with Facebook, email, and possibly even Skype, but most of the time you don’t.

It is hard, but what about our kids? Third Culture Kids grow up saying good-bye to friends every year. It is normal for them. Either they are the ones moving or a friend is leaving. It is just the way of expat life.

In a few days we will have to say good-bye to a couple of dear friends. We leave for the summer to visit family and when we return they will be gone. They are close friends of mine and their kids are close to my kids. So, how do we, as parents, help our TCKs deal with the coming and goings of people in their life? I’m not sure I have all the answers, but here is what I am trying to do this week.

1. *Talk about it. I have been talking to my kids about their friends leaving this year. We’ve talked about where they are going, how they feel about it, and to some extent what to expect next fall. For my oldest, he understands and has gone through this too many times for his ten years. As for my youngest, I don’t think she gets it. This will be the first time really for her to experience it. I’m expecting tears.

2. Listen. Stop talking and just listen to what your kids have to say about the situation. When my son was four, I cried with him when his friend returned to South Korea. Now I listen to my daughter tell me where her friend is going next. And I will sit and cry with her when reality hits.

3. Photos. Take photos of them together with their friends. Even if you have to force one from your older kids, they will be thankful later when they see it. This has been great for my whole family. We have photo albums of friends we’ve met along this expat journey. Make these photos visible if your children want that. Let them make a photo album of their own with memories of their friend(s) that are leaving.

4. Say Good-bye. Make sure they get the chance to say good-bye. Even if you need to drive a half hour to do so, just do it. Kids need that part of closure. Even better, offer to take the kids for ice-cream, swimming pool, or to the park. I’m sure the parents would appreciate the extra uninterrupted time to finish packing plus it is a great memory for both children. Another idea is to have them make cards for their friend leaving and be sure to exchange contact info with the family if you don’t already have that.

5. Listen. After the friends have long boarded the plane and are gone, listen again. It maybe a month later, but listen. Sometimes kids just need you to be there to cry with them. To know that it is painful and that you care about them. And then again, maybe they don’t want you around. Be flexible – don’t hover, but be available to listen. It’s a balance act that I can’t say I have mastered, but trying to fine tune it.

Saying Good-bye is never going to be easy, but I think we can help our kids make the transition by being there.

*I just read this article today by Julia Simens about transitions. I really like the idea of teaching my children that transitions happen ALL the time no matter if you are TCK being “left behind” or if you are in elementary school going into middle school. Transitions are a part of life, but I do believe that we need to help our kids through them. As you know,some transitions are a whole lot more fun than watching your best friend pull away in the car loaded with suitcases.

Your Turn: Got any tips on helping TCKs say “Good-bye” in a healthy way? Did you read Julia’s article? What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments below.

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Interview with the Lai’s, authors of “I Am Special”

As promised, the interview with Lai Yit Loong and Catherine Lai, parents to a special needs TCK. All answers are from Catherine unless otherwise noted.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Singapore.  Loong was born in Malaysia and went to Singapore for education when he was 15 years.  We met each other in Singapore.
How old was Benjy when you began to notice something was different?
Benjy was about 8 months old when I noticed that he was not meeting the milestone of babies that age.  I sent him to the doctor regularly to follow up on his progress and we all thought he was a late bloomer.  I enrolled him at Tiger Tots when he was 2 years old.  About 6 months later, his class teacher suggested that Benjy might be autistic and told me to look into it.  Benjy was diagnosed as ASD at about 2 years and 10 months.
How did you react to the diagnosis?
From the suspicion that he was autistic to the final diagnosis, I was just very anxious and I was scared.  I was sad too because he was our only son, the son that everyone in our family (especially my in-laws) was waiting for.  It was difficult to accept but I knew that God has a plan for us and there is no reason why I should question Him.  Loong and I accepted this very well and we were more interested to know how we can help our son.  Sometimes I do feel sorry that my husband could not have a regular son that could rough it out with him, but I am sure Loong does not feel that way.
(Loong’s input) He has made me a better father. I have become more sensitive to and aware of Benjy’s developent, attentive to his needs, and become more involved in his life. Benjy has also bonded the family closer together. He has become the center of our universe and focus of everything we do. I have learnt to do many things which I have not attempted before, such as changing his diapers and cooking his meals. He has also inspired me so much that I wrote a book last year just for him.
You have three other children. How did they react to the news?
In the beginning, my girls could not understand what Autism was.  They were very curious about their little brother and they tried so hard to help him achieve the different milestones.  To teach him to crawl, they would literally be on the tummy, wiggling around to demonstrate to Benjy how to crawl.  They love their little brother very much and they are extra gentle, caring and patient towards him.  They allow him to get away with many things.
Did you ever think that you should move back “home”? Why?
I did not want to move back to Singapore because my husband’s job is in Taiwan.  I was afraid that moving back might affect his employment.  I believed that God has given us a special child and He will provide a way for us to be able to help Benjy.  I pray a lot and make use of all the resources that God has put around us.  Loong and I were prepared to move back to Singapore should we fail to find resources to help Benjy.
What has been the hardest part with raising a special needs child in a foreign country?
It was easier to handle when Benjy was a baby because he did not display behaivour that tells him apart.  As he gets older, it becomes more obvious and Benjy sometimes will behave odd in public and it can be a little embarrassing because people stare, judge and sometimes become excessively ‘helpful’.  Taiwanese are outspoken. They like to come forward and tell you what to do.  There are also people who come and openly criticize us because they think we spoil our son.  In the beginning I try to explain his condition but I got tired of it and realized that I did not have to justify my son or my action.  It is more and more challenging to bring Benjy out without causing a scene.
Do you have any advise for others who are raising special needs TCKs? Please share.
The earlier we can accept their special condition, the better it is for parent and child.  Your spouse and you must agree to accept, move on and work together to help your child.  Read as much as you can about it.  Be open about it, the more I talk about him to my friends, it actually made me feel better.  I mostly find my strength from God and in the bible.  Attending a good bible study class (like BSF) helps me whenever I feel depressed.  Whenever I am depressed, I seek God.
If you are more interested in reading more about the publishing side of “I Am Special”, check out this interview I did with Yit Loong here.
I’m so thankful they were willing to come and share what they have learned as a parent to TCKs, and to a special needs TCK.
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CPR/First Aid trained? Why you should be, especially if you are an expat…

First Aid

*photo from flickr

CPR stands for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, which is a medical term that means heart (cardio) lung (pulmonary) revive to life (resuscitation).

As a teacher I was expected to keep up my certification in CPR and first aid, which I did. When I had my own children and decided to stay at home I did not re-certify. It was not expected of me and it was difficult to find a class where we were located at the time.

And then the day came.

We were in Germany packing to return to Asia. My husband was out with our son buying new shoes before we left. I was with the two girls squeezing the last of the necessities in the last suitcase. The youngest was taking a nap. Jie Jie, the non-verbal special needs child, was playing with toys in the playroom. Before I knew it though, she had slipped out of the playroom into the kitchen. When I found her she was bent over with drool dripping to the floor. She looked up at me with wide eyes and fear. She was choking.

My heart stopped. I yelled for my mother-in-law. She didn’t hear me.

I was alone. Bits and pieces from that CPR/First Aid class came to my mind.

I began the Heimlich. A few seconds later, which seemed to be minutes, out popped a blue plastic object covered in saliva. And then the greatest sound, a cry.

She was breathing again. We sat there on the floor crying together. I knew right then that I needed to get re-certified. Not because certification would give me permission or status, but because I needed to refresh my memory. It had been too long and I felt I had forgotten too much.

Just this week we had another experience with choking due to eating issues. My heart jumped, but because I just re-certified a few months ago it didn’t stop completely. I knew what to do.

It made me think, though. Are you certified? If not, why? Here’s why I think you should be, especially if you are an expat-parent.

1. Alone. You could be the only person with your child when that time comes. Husbands travel, housekeepers have days off, and neighbors vacation. Knowing these simple skills can really save your child. Another tip: Have a SOS number of a friend who speaks the language who you can call if more assistance is needed.

2. Language. The emergency operator may not speak English. Having a little CPR and first aid training can give you a head start on saving your child. Use that SOS number of a friend who does speak the language. Have them call while you are administrating CPR/first aid.

3. Time. In cases of choking, you don’t have time to call for help. Knowing what to do can help reduce further injury from pushing in the wrong spot.

I hope that you never have to administer CPR/Heimlich, but if you should one day, I do hope that you have taken a class. I’m so thankful that I was able to get re-certified here in my city. I highly encourage each of you to find a class, whether in the city you live or when you go back to your home country. It is something you won’t regret.

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