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.

Advertisements

When Actions Speak…

photo from microsoft.com

You know that American phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.”  Well, today I experienced just that.

Walking along a busy sidewalk in Taipei. Gripping Holding the hand of Jie Jie, I noticed an older couple holding hands. They were probably in their 70s, at least. I smiled. The man said something. The lady let go of his hand and slapped him on the back. The elderly man chuckled. She smiled back and shook her head. Their hands found each other and with fingers interlocked together once more continued walking in front of us. My smile broadened.

I hope Uwe and I are just like that when we are 70, 80-years old.

Nice scene isn’t it? I mean, I didn’t hear/understand the conversation, but I gathered up enough about this couple to know that they have a love for each other still. It was apparent in the way that they interacted with each other.

About, oh say, twenty steps later, I was struck with this thought, What do my kids see from me? Do they see love? Do they see patience? Do they see forgiveness? Do they see joy? Ouch…

We tell our kids to do this and to do that. Or maybe more so, don’t do this or don’t do that, or stop that now. But, what are we showing them in our actions? They learn more from what we do, rather than from what we say. Seriously, think about it. What did you actually learn from your parents? Was it something they said? Or something they did? Yeah, me too…

Well, if you think times have changed because of social media…wrong. I just read a paragraph from a middle school student about the same thing. This student wrote about how adults always tell him what to do, but he sees that these same adults do just the opposite. Hmm, interesting, isn’t it?

Actions do speak louder than words.

Your Turn: Do you agree with this phrase or not? Why? 


新年快樂! (Happy Chinese New Year!)

Today is Day 3 of 15 of the Chinese New Year. As an expat in Asia, it just means another vacation day with the kids, but to my Chinese neighbors it is another day of celebrating with family…usually the wife’s family.

I’ve been more nostalgic this year. Maybe it is an age thing. Maybe it is because we moved again this year. Maybe it is just because I have time right now as I sit here and write. Whatever the reason, my first experience was wild.

I remember walking from my third floor apartment over to my friend’s apartment, which was just the next building over. Not far. I could hear the explosion of firecrackers booming and others popping like an automatic gun. I stepped out of the exit-way, only to jump back inside the stairwell. A flaming rocket had just flew by within inches of my head. I peeked out cautiously and wide-eyed. The quiet little neighborhood had turned into a free for all war-zone of a party. I covered my ears and ran towards the safety zone, heart beating as I ran up the stairs to the fifth floor apartment.

I’ve not experienced that kind of celebration for a few years now. Reasons?

A few years after I was married with babies, we’d hide out in hotels on the 19+ floor where we couldn’t hear a thing, except the TV episodes of “Friends” showing on Star World. Who wants to deal with crying scared babies at midnight? We didn’t.

Other years, Christmas and Chinese New Year’s vacations were linked together and we left the country to visit family for the longer vacation time. Christmas with extended family is always GREAT!

The past few years we have lived in Taipei. Most of the people that live in Taipei, especially in the area we had lived in, were not from Taipei. That meant they left for their parent’s home, leaving that part of the city very quiet, a bit on the eerie side. Our move has put us in an area of Taipei where people stay and celebrate. They are really from here.

This year we have experienced more of what we remember of CNY. Our neighbors have all decorated their doors with various banners.

One of the gods of CNY on neighbor's door.

Another neighbor with a banner.

We have decorated our door with the traditional red signs that some Christian friends gave us. If you want to read more about why this is traditionally done by the Chinese, you can read about it here.

Our door decoration.

We experienced the fireworks, though NOTHING like my first experience. Uwe and I stood on our balcony and watched a beautiful display of fireworks on the river for about 15 minutes or so. It was too cold for me to stay out longer.

As we stood and watched the green and red glows, an automatic gun sound blasted in the other direction. I looked up and saw the silhouette of a bamboo pole swaying over the building with about 2-meters worth of firecrackers popping it’s way up to the end. These loud firecrackers are to scare the evil spirits to not come into their home. I’m not so sure how much of this is still believed vs. tradition. I’m thinking a little of both.

So, what does tomorrow look like for us? Maybe we will go and let the kids spend some of the red envelop money. Close friends and family give children red envelops with money inside. Maybe we’ll watch more movies. Maybe we’ll go swimming in the local indoor pool. We are going to grill with some friends that evening. I am loving this break!

Your Turn: If you have experienced CNY, what is your most memorable one? If you haven’t, what aspect of this holiday intrigues you the most? Please share in the comments below.

And if you want to read more about this holiday, here is an informative blog post by Culture-4-travel about the 15-days of CNY/Spring Festival. Click here to read it.

Looking Past the Disability…gifts and talents

***This will be one of several pieces on lessons that I am learning from Jie Jie, one of my TCKs.

Disability. Handicap. Special Needs. Special Ed.  Words that just don’t tend to flow off the tip of one’s tongue easily when talking about a loved one or someone else’s loved one. I find that people (some, not all) feel uncomfortable using these words, especially around me. A mother to a mentally handicapped daughter. Hey, even I feel uncomfortable using those words to describe one of my most treasured gifts given to me. They are NOT pleasant words. They don’t bring encouragement or happy feelings, but they are real and can’t be overlooked.

My daughter is a three year old trapped in the body of an eight year old. Trapped is probably not the word that she would use. If she could communicate, I believe she’d tell me it is “Great!”  I mean, what three year old wouldn’t love to have the height to reach the cereal box to sneak a snack when mommy isn’t looking? I know she does. She doesn’t tell me in words. That smile of success, those squeals of joy complimented with the beat of hand clapping is enough for anyone to know she is quite satisfied with life.

Over the years she has been teaching me much about life, about giving, and about love. Every once in awhile, I’ll share it with you. Today is one of those days. This lesson is something I knew to be true in my head, but to really see it makes has made me know it and believe it to be true.

This lesson? That each person possesses a gift or a talent that just naturally flows from them. It maybe something that everyone notices like being athletic or joyful. Or something that is not noticed like discernment. Some may label these “gifts” as personality traits, unique qualities, or rather just a person’s nature. Maybe this is true, but I think it is more than just that. As a Christian, I believe we’ve all been given some sort of gift or talent that is to be used for God’s glory. 

Even people with disabilities.

My daughter? I see compassion and hospitality naturally flow from her personality. It isn’t a lesson I’ve taught or even really intentionally tried to teach. It is just something she naturally does.

Compassion. She cares for her stuffed German Shepherd, Shrek. She pets him, watches TV with him and tries to feed him real food when I’m not paying attention. She’s very caring for her baby dolls, making sure they are rocked and loved. Many days I’ll be handed the “baby” and a blanket. As I swaddle this doll again and again, Jie Jie signs for me to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  And lately, I’ve seen her compassion for those hurting. One day I saw her facial expression soften as she squatted down beside another little girl that had just fallen down. Jie Jie patted the injured girl and rubbed her back until the girl felt better. She didn’t needs words to be compassionate. She didn’t need a band-aide. She was just compassionate to care and give.

Hospitality. This one just came to me right after Christmas. I have noticed that any time someone comes over for a meal or coffee, that Jie Jie always runs to her room and grabs either a book or a toy. At first, I thought she wanted our guest to read or play with her, but then I realized that after she handed off the item she would turn around and jump up and down with either a squeal or come and give me a hug. I feel like she wanted them to feel welcomed, to have something “fun” to do while they were visiting. To her just sitting and chatting is not so fun, I guess.

Now that I’ve noticed these gifts I want to help her use them more. I want to create opportunities where she can practice these gifts. I want to show her how to be gentle with my friends’ babies. I want to show her more ways to be hospitable in our home when guests come over. I want her to grow and develop in these areas that seem to be natural and in a way, easy for her.

Your turn: What gifts have you noticed in your children, whether they be special needs children or not? How have you helped them grow in those gifts? Have you ever thought about this kind of training? Please comment below.

Elections, Presidents, and Parties

Below our apartment....

Living abroad has always brought many fun opportunities.

  • Like meeting some of the players from the Chinese national soccer team.
  • Having the President of the country speak at your daughter’s field day because he went to that school as a child.
  • Interviewed on TV for various things, mainly because we are foreigners.

A few nights was just another to add to the list…and one that my kids will remember.

President Ma Ying Jiu making his way to the stage.

  • The President making a speech at the rally below our balcony.

President Ma Ying Jiu giving a speech at the Presidential Rally

Here’s a few snipets of things we heard/saw:
Fireworks shot from the building across the street. Our windows were shut at that point.
Whistles. Chanting. Shouting. Cheering. Flags waving.
Mamma Mia sung with intervals of a man screaming various chants that the crowd would repeat. Did I mention that this was taking place just 10-floors below us between 6-9pm?
President Ma giving his speech to rally the crowd to go and vote for him that Saturday.
Loud music.
50, 60, 70-year olds dancing. So wish I had a picture of this!

Yep, not something you see on a normal day, but then again what is normal when you live outside the culture you grew up in? It is all in the point of view of the beholder, isn’t it?

**Note that President Ma won the election and will remain the president of Taiwan for another four years.

Holiday Cheers

Although living overseas can bring some holiday blues, it can be blessed with some good cheer as well.

Here are some of my blessings this year:

1. Skype: We were able to skype with most of my family just this past weekend. I have 4 siblings and they are all married with kids and some with grandkids even , so there are a lot of people to visit with. Skype wasn’t so nice to us, as we had trouble…but considering that we were able to see each other briefly over miles and miles of ocean, I really can’t complain. Something that was NOT available when I first moved overseas.

2. Boxes like this! LOVE my European chocolate and candy…do I really have to share it with my kids and husband? 

3. Putting up the Christmas tree and looking at all the ornaments like this and this.

4. Keeping old traditions and making new traditions.

My kids are all home now for vacation. They are counting down the days on an hourly basis. I love my time with them watching Christmas movies, sipping hot chocolate, and watching Christmas tree lights.

I pray that your Christmas holiday is one full of joy, peace and good health.

Merry Christmas!

Your turn: What has brought you cheer during this Christmas season? Please share in the comments below!

Holiday Blues

Sad snowman on Commonwealth Ave.

photo by flickr

I’m beginning to see Facebook statuses that read:

“He’s here! He’s here! Let the fun begin!”  or

“I’m at — airport and only a few more hours left to be home!”

I’m excited for my friends and their children that get to be with them for the holidays, but it made me begin to wonder about the ones that won’t get to see their kids this year. Living overseas can be difficult during the holiday times, especially if your children are no longer living with you and can’t come “home” for Christmas. You worry about where they might go, how they are going to get there, among all the other worries you already have about them.

Many go to visit grandparents or aunts and uncles.

What if your child is not from the country where they now residing and can’t come “home” for the holidays? Where will they go? What will they do?

I’ve thought about this and have watched Facebook and listened to moms here that are in this scenario. Here is what I’m “seeing”:

1. They are going to friend’s houses for the holidays. Fellow TCKs they know from high school whose parents have moved back.

2. Hanging out with other international students during the holidays.

3. Hanging out with college roomate and family or new friends they have made.

If you’ve had children that couldn’t come “home” for the holidays, what did they do? How did you cope? Please share in the comments below.

Christmas Gifts for the Grandparents

Christmas presents under the tree

photo by flickr

Buying presents is something I like doing. Even though I live overseas, I like coming up with ideas for my nieces and nephews. Sometimes this is done online, but most of the time it is at the local market.

What I do find hard is buying for the grandparents. My husband’s parents lived here and have every little trinket and painting that they have to offer in this Asian country. My mother doesn’t need another trinket, table covering, wall hanging, etc. So, a few years back I began to think about this dilemma. What do you buy them? Do I just add money to the gift fund that all my sibs are doing and let them buy the gift for us? Do I try to find a new book that they haven’t read?

A light went on. The one thing they don’t have is seeing my kids on a regular basis. I decided to make something with them as the focus. So, here are just a few gift ideas that I have given in the past.

Note: I’m not mentioning this year’s idea because they might read this. But, I’ll post a picture of it AFTER Christmas.

1. Home DVDs of the kids.

2. Calendars with the kids’ pictures for each month. I’ve used Shutterfly, which has been great because they mail all over the world.

3.  Album of specifically of our time with them that previous summer/winter. This I also did with Shutterfly.

4. I’ve had the kids trace their hands to make various craft projects. This was a visual for them to see how big they really were getting. I’ve made Christmas trees and Christmas wreaths. Pinterest is a good resource for finding ideas of this sort.

I have this year’s gift almost completed, which is a good thing since I’m about out of time to get it there before Christmas Day!

What are some gift ideas that you have for the grandparents? Any favorite that they really liked the best? Please share in the comments below.

Thanks for stopping by and as always, if you really like reading these little posts consider subscribing and get the latest news from me in your inbox. It’s simple. It’s FREE. It’s convenient, too!

Christmas Traditions Broken

I’m sure you have certain traditions in your family that you just do at certain times of the year. Our family is no different. Christmas has become a time of traditions for our family.

Here is a small sampling of our traditions:

  1.  Make Christmas cookies
  2. Put up the Christmas tree and stockings the weekend of American Thanksgiving.
  3. Drink hot chocolate with straws while enjoying the lights of the Christmas tree.
  4. St. Nicholas Day..kids clean their shoes and we put fruit and candy in them.
  5. Open presents from our German family members on Christmas Eve.
  6. Open presents from our American family members on Christmas Day.

The kids pretty much remember them, so we have kept them. Except for this year…

  1. We didn’t get our tree up until mid-week after Thanksgiving.
  2. We forgot St. Nicholas Day! That morning we told the kids that we’d do it “tomorrow.” Well, that didn’t happen either (and probably will not happen this year).
  3. Haven’t made ANY Christmas cookies, yet.

I think about beating myself up with all that I’ve NOT gotten done, but then I think about what we are doing and what we are going to do. And more importantly, what Christmas is all about in the first place.

  1. We started reading from the Jesse Tree Advent devotional. Something I have really enjoyed. I hope to sew together this tree and ornaments to go along with our readings for next year. A new tradition in the making…
  2. We are going to make cookies together this weekend and during the first week of vacation. There is still time.
  3. Christmas Eve will be shared with some dear friends of ours. We will have our traditional Christmas Eve meal…brauts, baked potato salad, red cabbage, and Christmas cookies!
  4.  Christmas Day will come and we’ll hear the wrapping paper rip, the shrills of delight from the girls, and watch our three little blessings enjoy being blessed.

I may not have accomplished all that I have wanted to this year in regards to traditions, but I’m enjoying the simplicity of things because of it. Maybe that was how it was intended to be in the first place.
Simple.
Simply a Babe born.                                                                                                         Simply laid in a manager.

Simple.
I like that.

What are your family traditions during the holiday season? Have you dropped some of those traditions or started new ones? Please share below.

*If you enjoy reading these simple little posts and want to be updated on when the new ones are published, then you can subscribe on the right. Each new post will be sent to you via email. Thanks!

 

An Expat’s Christmas Tree

I love Christmas. I love listening to all the carols new and old. I love the smells of cinnamon, ginger, and all things Christmas-y.

I love the laughter and squeals from my girls as my husband begins to assemble the tree.

I love the excitement as I open up the black luggage tote full of ornaments. Ornaments that ring out our family’s history. Like these:

Our first Christmas together.

The Christmas we spent in Austria.

The Christmas in Germany.

Our last Christmas in China.

Our Christmas in the US.

This is a tradition that my husband and I started our first year. We make sure that we have a new Christmas ornament for each year.

Each has it’s own story to tell and we talk about our time in that place or the events of that year. I love this because we pass down stories to our kids. Some stories portray them as the main characters. Other stories they are not part of, but each year we remember. It’s good to remember. Remember the fun times, the hard times, the joyful times, the times of grief.

It’s during these times of remembering that I’m reminded to be thankful. Thankful for all the good friends I’ve met. Thankful for all the beautiful places I’ve been to. Thankful for the family I’ve been able to visit during the Christmas seasons of past. And to be thankful for what this season means to me and my family.

That Love came down as a Babe.

Do you have a special ornament that tells a story from a Christmas somewhere? Please share in the comments below.

*Sorry that some of the pictures wouldn’t flip correctly. I tried, but it just wouldn’t let me. Ugh!