Traveling without Kids: Packing their bags


Flickr Photo by Andrew Stawarz

Sometimes couples just need to go away for the weekend without the kids. And there maybe times when couples need to leave for a longer period of time for business. It’s during those times that the Extended Family Tree comes in quite handy.

My friend and her husband had to leave the country for meetings a few weeks ago. I thought she did a great job preparing her child and us for that week, so I asked her if I could share some of the things she did.

So, here is the list:

1. Contact information: This is a given that you’d leave your contact information, but still want to note it because it can be the one thing we forget to give the caregivers. You should have any phone numbers and email addresses that you can be reached at. Also, skype is a great cheap way to communicate with the caregivers. Or setting up a “skype date” with your child mid-week to see how they are doing would be fun for all.

2. Medicine: Another given, but still worth mentioning. Vitamins and any other medicine that your child needs to take should be labeled with clear directions. You can even divide it up into days by using those daily tablet holders.

4. ID card and passport: This is something none of us like/want to think about, but anything can happen in the world and we need to have our passports ready and easily available in case we need to leave the country immediately. This is true for your child as well. Leave their passports with the caregivers, so if there should be an emergency, they have all their important identification records with them. Also, make sure you leave any insurance cards or other health information like their pediatrician’s name and number just in case of an emergency.

5. Extra money: This may not be necessary, but it is a nice gesture to help with any extra costs that may come up during that week.

6. Favorite foods: Make some cookies or muffins anything that is a comfort food to your child. Take it to the caregivers so that your child has food he is familiar with, something that speaks of home and you and that will bring comfort him while you are away. This is also really helpful if your child tends to be a picky eater.

7. Little presents: Wrap small packages with little notes for your child to open each morning he/she wakes up. This package can be small treats, erasers, really anything that you would like to give. This makes the time go quicker for those that do not like to be away from you AND it makes it more fun for those that enjoy the sleepovers.

Okay, your turn. Have you ever had to leave your kids with friends? Have you been the caregivers? Any other ideas or thoughts from your experience?  Please comment below.

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Family Trees and Living Overseas

Most everyone keeps track of their family tree, or at least they know the relatives on the branches near their own. When we need help with the kids or a listening ear, we push that speed dial number, which is usually the grandparents or the aunts/uncles. Having lived overseas for sometime now, our “family tree” has some branches that have been grafted into the trunk. These are people that have become our adopted family. They are people who have become the “aunts and uncles” to our kids. People that, no matter what, keep in touch even after they (or us) have left the country.

1. They help you move.

2. They bring you meals when your kids are sick (or when your sick).

3. They grab a coffee and sit at your table and listen to you. You sit at their table with coffee and listen to them.

4. They celebrate birthdays with you.

5. They celebrate holidays with you.

6. They watch your kids for you while you and the hubby go away.

I’ve been thinking about this for reasons #5 and #6.

My friends had to attend a conference for a week in a different country. They asked us to watch one of their sons. She needed her adopted family and I was glad to be her “sister”. She has helped me out countless times with my kiddos. We just do that.

And Thanksgiving is coming up. In two days. It’s been over 12 years now since I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with my family back in the US. For my kids…never. Ouch, that was hard to type.  We are celebrating, though, with friends ~ adopted family.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for family.

Family that is in the US.

Family in Germany.

Adopted family all over the world, and especially those that are put in our path at this season of our life.

What are you thankful for? Do you have adopted family where you live?

Translation Saga at the Dentist…

A few weeks ago I took the kids to the dentist for their checkups. Living overseas and finding dentists isn’t always easy, but we’ve gone to this dentist for the past few years. I feel like she knows my kids and understands our circumstances with Jie Jie.

I was wrong.

Let me back up a bit. In the past I’ve let the kids know and I even “practiced” with them when they were younger. I still get out the plastic toy dentist set beforehand and play dentist with Jie Jie, but this time I didn’t get that done. Bad, bad, bad.

She was fine watching the other two get their teeth checked, but when it was her turn that content child left the building. I don’t mean she got up and left, I mean she was no longer content and did NOT like anything or anyone.

I was okay. The dentist is great with her and quick.

She understood. I thought.

“Your daughter has a mouth sore and she will need to see a doctor.” (What I thought she said)

We go to the lobby and wait to pay. Jie Jie calms down and plays with the train set. The nurse comes out with a prescription and tells me about a doctor I need to see. Now I’m confused as to what kind of doctor, especially since she gave me a prescription for the mouth sore. I had not understood the conversation with the dentist.

I phoned my husband and gave the nurse the phone.

They talked. I listened. She gave the phone back.

“I’m not sure what she was saying, but I’m almost there. Just wait,” said my husband.

He arrived and talked with the nurse some more. After about five minutes, it was clear that the nurse was telling us that we needed to have Jie Jie tested. She was a little slow for her age.

We kindly let her know that she is a special needs child and that it should be on her medical record from the first visit. It was awkward.

We left giggling because anyone that has ever met Jie Jie knows immediately that she has special needs. We couldn’t be angry, because for one they were so sweet in how they were trying to tell us. I really felt bad for them.

Lesson Learned:Even though you are the only foreign family that visits a dentist and you have been their for years, take your medical information to give to the dentist to look at. It’s better than having awkward conversations like the one we went through.

What dentist/doctor stories do you have with your children? Any communication stories? Please share in the comments below.




Identity Crisis for TCKs and the Adopted Child

Different is Beautiful

Photo by epicnom

The scene and conversation below is one that we tend to be a part of on a weekly basis. 

It’s raining. A bright blue, a brighter orange, and a large blue and green umbrella dashed across the street to the bus stop. Okay, dashed isn’t what we did…I had Jie Jie, so we stomped in the water puddles and marched. The large bus squeaked to a halt and we quickly slid our way to an open seat. I looked at the kids’ spotted wet clothes and wondered why I had insisted on them using the umbrellas.

Mei Mei and Jie Jie shared a seat. Ge Ge stood holding a pole. A Chinese lady sat next to the girls and I stood near them praying that Jie Jie wouldn’t jump on her, suck her hand and then try to shake the lady’s hand, or that Mei Mei would be patient with her older mentally disabled sister.

Yep, all three things came to pass, but thankfully the lady was gracious as we swayed to the rhythm of the bus.

The older lady looked at the girls, then at Ge Ge, and then at me. I was ready for the question. The question that we get about 2-3 times a week.

“Are all these children yours?” she asked in Chinese pointing at them.

I nodded and smiled thinking to myself, there’s only three.

The lady looked at Mei Mei and said, “But, she doesn’t look like the rest of them.”

I nodded and told her she is adopted.

Mei Mei sighs and says in English, “Mom, why do they always say THAT?”

I sighed and just winked at her. Too tired and wet to have this conversation again.

Then today we had this same conversation with a different Chinese lady walking home, except Mei Mei added another sentence, “I wish I could change my skin color.”

My heart stopped. WHAT did my daughter just say? WHY did she just say that? HOW am I to handle this right now as I’m chatting with a total stranger while keeping my tight grip on Jie Jie who wants to run out into the street?

I pushed her comment to the back of my head and finished the conversation with the lady. After our good-byes we hustled home to start homework, her comment crammed into the back of my mind.

Suppertime came and it was just the girls tonight. Her comment and my concerns about it wriggled itself out of the corner of my mind and I began to dialogue with her about it.

Here’s my conclusion:

1. Insecurity – Being different and singled out can make most people feel insecure. As a woman, I can relate with that. We did talk about other kids that she knows who are also adopted. She is not alone, and neither am I.  

2. Identity – We just started to scratch the service on this one. I mean think about it:

  • Third Culture Kids struggle with identity.
  • Girls struggle with identity.
  • Adopted kids struggle with identity.

This is something that we will probably dialogue about for years to come.

And I think that is the key: Dialogue, to keep the communication open so she feels comfortable to share her hurts, her fears, and frustrations. I don’t have all the answers, but I have a listening ear and a loving heart for my little girl.

I just have to remember to keep those ears open. To put down the dishrag. To not let concerned comments stay crammed inside my mind never to be found until it is too late. To sit with a cup of tea and listen.

Your turn: How do you handle questions like this from your adopted child(ren)? or from your TCKs when trying to identify who they are? Please comment below.

KID$: Teaching them about $

The Envelope System

Ever since my TCKs were cuddled into the front pouch and brought to the market or store, they have witnessed how money can give them “stuff”. They understood all too quickly how this system of money or plastic card works.

I’m sure your kids are the same. They don’t just watch us. Toy manufacturers have caught on to this years ago. They sell fake money and plastic cards for pretend shopping. I’m not bashing toy companies, I actually think it is a brilliant way to teach kids about how money works IF taught intentionally.

As kids grow and mature, we need to teach them how to manage their money.

We do give our kids an allowance…sort of. They get paid for certain small jobs around the house like taking out the trash. They get paid for the work they do. If they don’t take out the trash, they don’t get paid. Then there are jobs that they have to do just because they are part of the family, like setting and clearing the table. Those they don’t get paid for.

Our youngest got bright eyes and a huge smile when she got her first paycheck. She was ready to go to 7-11 and buy some gum. It reminded me the first time our oldest got his first paycheck and we made the decision to teach our children about money management. It was time to teach Mei Mei.

We use Dave Ramsey‘s ideas because we like them. I’m sure there are other ways to teach your children, but here is what we do.

Each child has three envelopes.

  1. Saving: this is for large items that they need to save money for like skateboards, iTouch, dolls
  2. Spending: this is for the small fun stuff like gum, drinks, or stickers.
  3. Giving: Because we are a Christian family, we’ve taught our children that they have to give at least 10% to God. This envelope can also be for charity giving, which we’ve told our kids that they can put in more and use it towards that as well.
Our rules are simple. We give them the money and a calculator. We teach them how to figure out how much is 10%. They put that in their Giving envelope. Then they decide how much they want to put into the Savings and the Spending envelopes. We let them choose.
*We do this system all with the monetary bills of whatever country we are living in. If they get money from family in other countries, then we get out a calculator and figure the conversion rate with them, and then we exchange it for them. After that, they figure out what amount goes in each envelope.
**When we travel to other countries, we do allow them to take their Spending envelope (if it’s worth the amount). They can exchange it at the airport for fun.
***We also do this system with Jie Jie, our daughter with special needs. She doesn’t have a “job” yet, so she doesn’t get paid, but she gets money for lost teeth and birthdays. I do believe that we will soon be giving her a “job” that is suitable to her needs in the near future.  This all depends on maturity levels though.
Like I said, there are other ways to teach kids about money and how to manage it. How have you taught your kids? Please comment below.
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Wishing you a Good Week

Here’s hoping that your week starts out better than mine did last week.

Yep, that is Nutella (think chocolate hazelnut spread) splattered on my floor with handprints.

Jie Jie’s hand-prints. If you want to read about the whole story click here. I posted about it on my personal blog.

If your week gives you some “splatters”, grab a camera and take a picture. You really will be laughing a few hours after you clean it up. And in those few moments of getting the camera and taking the pictures, you will have calmed down enough to respond to the situation instead of reacting in anger.

Simple Pleasures

Raising TCKs can be fun and adventurous.
Heck raising kids can be fun and adventurous.
With all the fun and adventure though, I get tired and a bit weary. I’m feeling that today.
The weather is NOT helping either.
So, what to do?

Enjoy some simple pleasures.

You know those very simple things in life that just bring a smile to your face? A specific candle scent. 5 minutes with a magazine or ezine. 5 minutes of uninterrupted time of quiet.

My simple pleasure?
Coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon. My trick is to put the cinnamon in with the coffee grounds. My body begins to relax just from smelling the coffee brew. And the taste? Well, a little taste of wonderful.

And today I’m having that with a piece of pumpkin pie. Pie that I didn’t even bake. It was from a friend who gave it to us. Just another simple pleasure.

What is your simple pleasure? How do you survive those dreary days? Comment below.

Vacation Turned Staycation

If you remember I posted awhile back our plans to go camping over vacation. Well, that didn’t happen. We decided to take the tips that I wrote about and do a staycation. If you did not get to read those tips you can click here to read them or review them.

I’ll admit I had mixed emotions. I wanted to get out of the city, away from the apartment, to escape the routine, but the thought of packing everyone up and camping was a bit exhausting. The weather wasn’t looking that great either, so Leaky Tent Phobia took over. We stayed home.

What did we do?

1. Celebrated 100 years of ROC.  We stood with the other few thousand gathered around the intersection to watch the military drive by. I would call it a parade, but it wasn’t really one. The real parade was invitation only. We caught the line up after the show on their way back to base. It was still pretty spectacular with the face paint, fighter jets flying by, and the parachuters jumping out with their red, blue, and white parachutes.

Frog Men armed and ready...

This guy scared me and intrigued me all at the same time!

"The French have landed! The French have landed!" was what my husband wanted to shout as they glided down to the ground. =)

Watched the show from our rooftop!

2. Beach Trip. Went to the beach for half a day. We forgot the boogie boards, but kids caught some waves anyway. Any day at the beach is a good day, sand and all.

3. Cable Car Ride. We rode the cable car up to the tea farms. Our cable car had a glass bottom. Yes, it did! To say the least, it made for an interesting ride as we climbed higher and higher up the mountain. I wasn’t sure if it was really that hot inside our glass death trap or if my body was reacting to the little bit of stress I felt every time Jie Jie would get excited and start jumping. We survived the 30-minutes and took the glass bottom box back down. All for the love of our kids, cause it ain’t gonna happen again!

4. Zoo Trip. A few hours with friends at the zoo is always fun. I officially called our group, The Crazy Mom Club. You know 5 moms take out 14 children. No more needs to be said, except that we didn’t loose any kids and we all were laughing and having fun.

I’m really glad we didn’t go camping. We would have missed the “parade”, the fireworks, and probably would have had to sleep in the rain. It was the best decision we could have made. Bonus points: we saved money. Now I’m planning Christmas vacation with more money in our budget.

If you had a fall break, what did you do? What other staycation ideas do you have? Share in the comments below.

Overseas Halloween Dilemma (or maybe it’s not)


Jack-o’-lantern by wwarby’s photostream via flickr

October is here and Halloween is only a few weeks away.  This holiday is typically a LOVE or HATE type of holiday. People either love it and go all out with hanging skeletons and witches all over the yard, while others not so much and don’t participate in any of the activities. Instead, they may decorate with fall leaves, happy cute jack-o’-lanterns, and Indian corn. Whichever side you are on (or what country you are in), with children you have to plan ahead.

Living overseas doesn’t mean that all holidays must be done away with, but it will take some planning to make them happen. Here are some ideas to plan for Halloween. (for those that don’t celebrate, scroll down for ideas on that)

1. Decorations, Candy Corn, and Costumes. It is possible that you can find some of these things in the city/country you live in, but maybe not. This is where planning ahead helps. Have those grandparents, aunts and uncles mail some of this stuff to you. Kids LOVE care packages, and I’m sure you don’t mind them either. =) As for costumes, you might just make your own or have a local tailor make something for you.

2. Trick or Treat. Assume that this holiday is not celebrated in the country you are living in, but don’t assume that no one celebrates. Check and see if any of the expat hangouts are holding a Halloween party for kids. If they are not, why not get with a few other parents and plan a simple one?   *Note that if there is a party, you might want to check the age appropriateness of the party just so you don’t scare your toddler to tears and don’t bore your teen to the point of no return.

If you live in the Paris area, I do know that Disneyland Paris is celebrating Halloween Mickey style. You can get more details about that at this blog post by Selenapan9, an expat mom. If you are heading to Hong Kong Disneyland or Tokyo Disney Resort, then you might want to check out what they are planning.

My family doesn’t celebrate Halloween, but we still plan ahead for it. We decorate for fall, which is sort of hard to do when you live in a more tropical setting. But, here is a list of our traditions that we do during the fall season.

1. Fall Tree. We create a fall scene on a wall. Sometimes this wall is inside the apartment, other times it is by our door. We use large brown butcher paper to make the tree. Then I let the kids cut out leaves from fall colored construction paper to hang up on the tree and on the ground. Later, I let the kids cut out paper pumpkins and they taped them up under the tree.

2. Scarecrow. We make a scarecrow together. Living in the city we don’t have straw, so we use newspaper to stuff the overalls and shirt. Last year we placed him outside our door for a few days, and then had to bring him inside. He scared our neighbor girl, so be aware of your neighbors. 😉

3. Pumpkin carving. Last year we were able to find pumpkins, so we made it a family project and carved them together. The kids LOVED this!

4. Watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! together. I keep this DVD put away until October, and then we watch it together to celebrate the changing of the season. If we get a fall care package we’ll pull out the goodies, too.

5. Talk to our kids. If you choose to not celebrate a holiday, I believe you need to inform your children about the holiday and why you, as a family, don’t celebrate. We explained this to our kids when they were old enough to understand it all. I’m sure we’ll have some questions again this year, as our youngest is only 6.

Our kids start their fall break tomorrow. Guess I need to pull out some of our decorations and that DVD out tonight. They’ll be excited to get started.

Does your family celebrate Halloween? How do you celebrate? If you don’t what are some of your fall traditions? Please leave a comment below.

Hospital Tips

A few weeks ago I posted on tips for seeing doctors and dentists. My middle child was admitted into the hospital with pneumonia last week. Unfortunately, this is not the first time for her. But, as we spent our days and nights at the hospital I thought I’d share what I pack when we’ve had an overnight stay (or two, or three, or…) at the hospital.

1. Clothes/toiletries. Extra clothes for me and for her. The basics of toiletries. I went home for showers. I should have packed a sweatshirt because it was freezing in our room, but a good friend brought me one.

2. Bible and BSF material: I’m a Christian, so reading the Bible is important to me. I also just started Bible Study Fellowship, so I wanted to keep up on the study material. =)

3. Computer/cell phone: The hospital has free wifi, so having the computer helped me to stay in touch with the world. Also, I was able to do some writing while she was sleeping.

4. iPad/iTouch: We were blessed with an iPad last spring, so this provided some major entertainment. Jie Jie wasn’t allowed to go out and about, so having this was great. We had some educational apps and videos that she could play on and watch.

5. Books. I brought books to read to her. I also brought a book for myself.

6. Snacks: She wasn’t too hungry, so I didn’t have that much for her. I mainly brought some seeds and nuts for me to snack on during the times I was there by myself. We did have a little refrigerator in the room that we shared, so we put in some yogurt drinks for her and some green tea for me.

7. Stuffed animal: We couldn’t bring her favorite because right now that is a giant sized dog, but we did bring the next best thing, her giraffe. A friend did bring her a fairly large monkey that she loved on as well.

This was pretty much what I packed into a small suitcase. We ended up only being there for two nights, which I’m thankful for.

How about you? What have you taken to the hospital to entertain your child or yourself? Any other thoughts that would help make that overnight stay smooth? Share in the comments.