Book Review: OF STILLNESS AND STORM by Michèle Phoenix

OF STILLNESS AND STORM29492092-_sr1200630_

by Michèle Phoenix

Summary:

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

The Transition

The word transition means different things to different people. For instance:

  • Parents bring home their newborn from the hospital
  • Freshman in college (or high school)
  • Soldier returning home from deployment
  • Family moving to a new country
  • Summer to Fall
  • Summer holiday to “Back to School”

Though, expats and TCKs relate the word with “good-byes”, new countries, and new friends, I’m going to talk about that yearly transition from summer holidays to returning back to school. It is an adjustment – for everyone involved.

For the parents: It’s the return of the SCHEDULE – either homeschool or taking them back to local or international school. Either way, we don’t hear the constant two words, “I’m Bored”. Okay, maybe if you’re like a super Pinterest mom and don’t deal with this issue skip this section, I’m not talking to you. If you are like me…well, I’m still trying to “enjoy the summer,” but I’m ready for everyone to get on a regular schedule.

The kids: You remember. Come on, I know you do. Sleeping in just a little bit later (or a lot later) than school days. Swimming, snacking, playing with friends, and swimming some more. That first morning of school was like being thrown in an Arctic Plunge swim. It shocked your system and was just not a pretty site. Times haven’t changed – it’s tough for our kids, too. Okay, my kids can’t wait to see their friends All Day Long, but they are NOT looking forward to early wake-ups and the dreaded homework.

So, what can we do to help them?

  • Start waking them up earlier. It doesn’t have to be the exact time, but definitely maybe trying for a half hour difference. This doesn’t have to be done weeks in advanced either – just a few days before to help their bodies start to adjust.
  • Earlier Bedtimes – This goes hand-in-hand with the above. Same rules, a week before or a few days put kids to bed at their normal “school night” bedtime.
  • Review Math Skills – This tip is more for elementary school aged children, but buy flashcards and a few weeks before school starts have your kids review them. Their brain has had a break, hopefully, so now is a good time to help them “think” school.
  • Reading – If you haven’t had them reading at all this summer, then start. This year we actually are paying our kids to read. They are getting a set amount per book they read and record on their chart. It was an incentive to READ – and I’m afraid that it may just have hurt our pocketbooks, but totally worth it!
  • Collect Meal Ideas/Make a Meal Chart – This one is for the cook in the home. I’ve found that when I take the time to make out a two-week meal plan that I actually feed my kids healthier and spend less money at the grocery store. It’s fairly easy to do this at the beginning of the year, but think about doing 4-6 of these charts and rotate them throughout the year.

What do you do with your children? Do you help prepare them? Do you just “throw them into the Arctic Plunge?” Please share in the comments below. Me? I’ll be doing some of it…I’d like to get to the meal plan, but that all depends on how I do with my lesson plans. Remember…I’m not the super Pinterest mom, though I so wish I was.

All the Colours of The World: An Activity for Debriefing TCKS

Today I have a guest writer. I sort of met Christa in college *ahem* years ago, then re-met while living and working at the same school. She is from the US, but married an Auzzie, and is living there now. I asked her to share a tool that she uses when working with TCKs as they transition from one place to another. I know you will LOVE this idea. It’s simple, brings out conversation, and turns out beautiful.

Four years ago when our family was moving from China to Australia we went to a departure seminar led for all of the team members who were moving. We were very fortunate to have a culture in our team of giving those who were leaving a weekend away with caring facilitators to think through the leaving process and to plan our goodbyes.

We were also very fortunate that departure activities were thoughtfully chosen and prepared for our two boys. All weekend long they took part in facilitated activities that led them through a process of grieving and thinking through their departure.

Well I can say I am very thankful for the time our children had at that seminar and the lessons they took part in. There was one lesson in particular that was so special I have used it each time I am asked to debrief or talk with a TCK now. When I lead children through this activity I use scrapbook paper and photos but it was originally done with my children using fabric to make a pillow. The activity is so perfect because it is easily adaptable to using whatever materials you are comfortable with.

First, I ask parents to work with children to choose or print off four photos of their time in the host country they have recently moved from. I bring with me a large selection of scrapbook materials and paper. I asked children to choose a background colour and then explain for the next step we will choose two pieces of paper we really like and two pieces we don’t. While we are doing this I ask children to recall two things they really miss and they love about their host county and two things or memories they don’t like about their host country. We each share these memories with each other and it is often surprising even to the siblings what each child shares. Once we are finished sharing our memories we cut out frames for the four photos using the two pieces of paper we liked and two pieces we didn’t. We place our photos in the frames and onto the background.

After that is finished they use the other materials I have provided to decorate the page. I then ask the children to step back and look at the page. Do they like it? What do all the photos look like? Are there individual things they like and don’t like about the page they created? During this time I intentionally compliment different aspects of the page and I also draw out more discussion and details about their time in the host country. We finish up by discussing that even though we might not like some individual things about the pages they are beautiful as a whole and in that way they are just like our time in our host country. God has used the not so beautiful times, (referring to things they share that they didn’t like), and the beautiful times to create something gorgeous and unique in our lives.

The pictures shown here are of this activity which I recently did with our boys after returning from a visit to China. There were so many emotions during and after the visit I felt it would be good to work through our time by doing this activity. 20140613_111438There are also pictures of the original pillow they created at the departure seminar four year ago. The leader did the actual sewing for all the children. What a dedicated leader! Our children still take these on every flight.

Front side of the pillow

Front side of the pillow

Backside of the pillow.

Backside of the pillow.

I hope this activity can be as useful to you as it has been to me when helping kids talk through their feelings. It will always be a continuing process and no one activity or weekend will work through all of their feelings but it has been a huge help to us and helped us to remember all the colours of our time in China in a positive and realistic way.

Head ShotChrista 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 and lived 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.

 

Author Interview: Valérie Besanceney

IMG_9127This week I’m celebrating my 100th post here on Raising TCKs. Click here to find out how you can enter the giveaway to win a signed copy of B at Home: Emma Moves Again by Valérie Besanceney.

Today I have the opportunity to share with you some more about this great book and author. So, sit down with your cup of coffee (or tea, but Valérie and I would be drinking coffee) and learn more about Valerie and the backstory of B and Emma.

As a Dutch TCK, Valérie knows all about packing up belongings and moving around the world. As a child she moved five times, and countless times as an adult. She understands the ins-and-outs of being the child who feels they had little or any choice in moving to new places, learning new languages, and making new friends.

All transitions have advantages and challenges. Children, and many adults, usually only acknowledge the challenges. This is true during the transition of a move as well. As an adult, Valérie now sees the advantages of being a TCK and shares this knowledge in her book through the sideline character, B. The idea of this unique character came from her childhood. B was her traveling sidekick during those transitional years of maturing into an adult, but also transitioning from country to country. Today, B is still a part of her family as he sits peacefully on her bed. Valérie believes that having a “sacred object” helps TCKs as they make their transitions, just as B helps Emma make hers.

 Where is home?

Like most TCKs, Valérie has had her struggle in finding where “home” is. After university she found herself back in the little village of Switzerland where her parents took her on holidays. It was there as a ski-instructor she met her husband, an American. They worked and backpacked together until they earned their Masters in (International) Education. From there they taught in international schools all around the world: Egypt, Bolivia, Aruba, and now back in Switzerland. They have two daughters and can’t wait to show them more of the world. For now, though, that consists of holiday trips, as they have chosen to plant some roots –

“Even though my husband and I both easily get itchy travel feet, there is also a certain calm charm to being able to plant some roots in these early years of their childhood.”

Valérie appreciates the time her parents took to always go back to the village in Switzerland that became sort of home to her as she became an adult.

Write what you know.

Valérie has always loved writing. She took classes in university and enjoyed writing fiction based on her personal experience. Writers are always told to write what they know and Valérie knows “moving.” As a child she struggled with the feeling of not belonging. She says about writing her book that: “Partly, I needed to write this story for myself. But mostly, as a primary teacher and as a mother, I felt a growing sense of responsibility to let children know that they are not alone in their search for ‘home’.”

Although it took her three years to complete the book, she was able to write a large portion of the book during her maternity leave. Like most writers she needed encouragement and support from those closest to her. Valérie says, “I am lucky to have a very supportive husband who is a wonderfully involved house-husband and father to our girls.” She continues to write now that she is back in the classroom, but she admits that finding the balance is “tricky.”

“They described my experience better than I’d ever been able to myself.”

Before Valérie began writing about her TCK experience, she first read Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken. She says that after she read the book she “felt an overwhelming sense of recognition and relief.” She had the opportunity to hear Ruth speak about her work. The stories “were even more powerful in person.” It was from this opportunity that Valérie found the courage to pitch Ruth her story idea about Emma. From there, Ruth put her in touch with Jo Parfitt at Summertime Publishing and as the saying goes, “the rest is history.”

 Valérie’s thoughts on publishing~

  • I think it’s important to know that it will take time and that you need to be patient.
  • Take the time to edit your work until you’re truly happy with it.
  • Take the time to let your target audience read it and give you honest feed back on the content of your work.
  • Take the time to let it rest once in a while before you continue writing.
  • After many people, including professional editors, have edited it have someone who you trust give it a final read through. I’ve learned that it’s very easy to become ‘blind’ to small errors and ‘fresh’ eyes are always helpful.

Valérie’s thoughts on helping kids transition~

“I think the best thing you can do for your child is to accept that your child will likely go through many different emotions during different stages of the transition. It’s important to acknowledge all of these emotions, not to underestimate the grief that saying goodbye will cause them, and to comfort them without judgment.”

Wise words to part with. I want to thank Valérie for taking the time to answer all my questions and for allowing me to share her story.

Again, if you haven’t signed up for the contest, you need to do that. Deadline is May 30th.

BONUS POINTS: Yes, today you have an opportunity to add more points and have a better chance at winning B at Home: Emma Moves Again. All you have to do is subscribe to our websites. For mine, you just need to scroll up and it is located on the right side of your screen. For Valérie’s, you need to click here. Her subscription box is also located on the right side as well. After you subscribe just comment below that you followed and you’ll get two extra entries for each (total of 4). If you already are a subscriber, then just comment below that you want to enter the giveaway because we sure don’t want to exclude those of you who have been following us thus far.

We’re moving back! How do we tell the kids?

In this two part series, I’ve talked (emailed) two families about how they have prepared their children for the move back to the parent’s home country. Notice I didn’t just write home country, as we all know our TCKs don’t always feel it is their home country. This first post is from a family with younger children and the other is from a family that has older children.

going&coming-6

I’ve been digitally following this family for over a year now. I enjoy Kim’s writing style and her photos capture the moments. I’ve known Kim for….we’ll just say many years. I think I was a newlywed and she one of the cool single teachers that let me hang-out with them. We have quite a few things in common. We both met the love of our life in Tianjin, China. We both taught grade 5. And we both have three kids all born in China. Her kids are younger than mine, but they follow the pattern: boy, girl, girl (and the third child is also adopted from China).

Kim and her husband, Patrick, just repatriated to the US almost six months ago. She blogged about her experience with the move and some about what she did to help her kids (ages 6.5, 5, and 3) with the transition. I knew I wanted to interview her about it because she just has wisdom pouring out from her. And don’t we all want to hear from people like that?

“We got a lot of advice. We knew about two years in advance that a relocation was coming up, but that such young kids did not need to know so far in advance.”

        The key is to balance two needs…

Kim and Patrick asked adult TCKs and early childhood specialists about how they should explain this move to their children. The consensus seemed to be within six months. Kim explains that the key is to balance two needs: 1) As small children, too much time with news of a big move was too abstract to be of any real benefit however 2) waiting too long to tell them increased the risk of them hearing it from someone else.

“Six months allowed for openness within our community for an appropriate amount of time, but did not burden our little ones with a hard-to-grasp impending move for too long.”

     Lasts, Losses, and Logistics…

As the community and the children all knew of the move, Kim and her husband began talking with their children about lasts, losses, and logistics. They made lists with their kids what they wanted to do one more time, or as Kim called it their “Tianjin bucket list”. Some ideas were fun places in the city they loved like the TV Tower, but many were typical day things they did like play-dates with specific friends or even certain foods from the local market. From this list, Kim and Patrick calculated around sixty days before departure and marked the items on the calendar. They were intentional to make sure that the kids got to celebrate the “lasts” that they wanted. I believe this is important because it gives the children a chance to say good-bye not only to people, but also to places.

Tip from Kim: Towards the end, limit the activities to only a few a day. They limited the kids to one activity/day. They allowed each other a few more, but then took turns watching the kids at home. I think this is great as it helps the kids to feel stable, especially as time gets closer to the end.

Losses are part of lasts, but still need to be talked about. Kim talked with her children about what they were going to miss: people, pets, places and possessions. She knew that this was important – even if it seemed silly, like the blender that stopped working right before the move, but apparently her oldest is a kitchen fan. Check out this post on saying good-bye to the zhou-maker.

Kim and Patrick also talked about logistics with their kids; from packing, shipping and flights. Kim said that the question, “How will that be different in Texas?” brought up all kinds of talks about what to expect in the new location. And her “Moving Book” she made helped with the transition for her youngest. If you don’t check out any of the other links, this one you just must look at. Seriously, a great tool to make for your kids.

“Preparing our family for repatriation was a huge job…one that we did with lots of help and advice, and one that we did imperfectly. Like any parenting endeavor, it is impossible to fully anticipate and fully meet the needs of every child.”

Kim, thanks for sharing your experience and your wisdom with us. And though you may feel like it was “imperfect”, I do believe you did it with grace and wisdom.

The US Dialect Quiz and TCKs

Maybe you’ve seen the US Dialect Quiz roaming around on Facebook. The quiz is from NY Times and questions are based from the Harvard Dialect Quiz. Basically, you answer twenty-five questions about how you would say certain words or which word you would call an object. Then based on your answers a map is shown where in the US your dialect comes from.

Any expat parent that is not a citizen of the US can probably say that their child has “lost” some of their accent. I know this to be true because my German husband has an American accent. As a teacher I have seen students from other countries speaking with an “American accent,” this includes countries where English is the official language. I vividly remember many years back a little Korean first grader saying good-bye to her teacher in a southern drawl – no hint of a Korean accent. And now, I see it with my Auzzie, South African, and even New Zealand friends – their children have only a hint of their “home” country’s accent.

So, what about an “American” TCK – yes, they most likely will have an “American accent,”but even the US has many varied accents and even vocabulary words. I had two thoughts about this quiz: 1) I wondered if my accent/dialect would be different since I’ve lived overseas for sometime now and 2) if my children would be relatively close to my score. And then the question of just wondering where my husband’s accent/dialect fell since he has an “American accent,” but had only lived there for a total of four years for university (two years on the west coast and two on the east coast).

The results? I scored southern Missouri/northern Arkansas, which I’d call the Ozark region. I grew up in northern Missouri, but went to university in southern Missouri. So, okay I’ll take that.

I had my oldest take the quiz. He scored Washington state.

And my husband? St. Louis, Missouri. Maybe I have had an affect on him after all, or the east and west balanced out? Actually, probably neither.

My thoughts on this? I believe that my son’s language has been affected by his teachers and his classmates just like all other expat children. As I think about it, he has had teachers from Washington state and Canada. And I bet if I asked my husband, his accent would probably be because of teachers and coaches.

I’m not the only one finding this quiz to show a differences between child and parent, though. A friend of mine also discovered the same thing. She scored Texas and Oklahoma, while her son scored North and South Carolina.

So is this breaking news? No, but it may give us another example of why our kids don’t feel “at home” in the place we may call “home.” It is a tiny example, I know, but still an example.

How about you? Have you taken this quiz? Has your children taken the quiz? What were the results? Please share in the comments below.

Painting Pictures Series

Harbin, China Russian Orthodox Church

I’ve been married now for 14 years to a man who is a third culture kid. We definitely have our differences – like how often we should/need to rearrange the furniture. I have to talk myself into putting the effort into painting rooms of our apartment, for fear that he will come home and tell me that he wants to move….again. (This has actually happened. I painted one wall and he came home and asked me what I thought about moving…)

But, with all the differences I have learned so much from him about TCKs and how to relate to them. If you want to read about what I’ve learned you can go here. I’m a guest this week at Djibouti Jones in her series “Painting Pictures”. This has been a fun series from fellow writers that are TCKs or raising them.

Book Review “Expat Life: Slice by Slice” by Apple Gidley

Expat Life Slice by SliceExpat Life Slice by Slice

by Apple Gidley

Book Description: Apple Gidley is not only a TCK, but one that has parented and now grandparenting TCKs. She shares her life from the beginning in Africa with her pet monkey, to the various moves and boarding schools, to life as a young mother, and the challenges of elderly parents. She offers insights and tips throughout the book that all expats can use.

My Take: I received this book from Janneke, a fellow blogger-friend who writes at DrieCulturen. I was excited to read it after Janneke’s review because Apple has been an expat all her life. With a full understanding of the TCK experience, she shares her frustrations and excitement living and traveling around the world not only as a TCK, but also as a trailing spouse, or as she has renamed this group STARS (Spouses Traveling And Relocating Successfully). I enjoyed her humorous stories and related to many of her, let’s just say, interesting experiences. I liked this book because it wasn’t just a memoir of an expat life. At the end of each chapter (slice) she gives tips and thoughts that she calls the “Take Away Slice”. Although, I didn’t agree with everything that she writes, I do think it was a good book that made me think through some issues.

I must warn you now, I was inspired with a few ideas for posts while reading this book. So, you will be hearing more about this book later. So, I definitely recommend it to those who are about to venture into expat life, those who are in the midst of the adventure, or to even those who have left or about to return “home”. She has much to share.

Your Turn: Have you read this book yet? What were your thoughts? Please share in the comments below.

Interview at Expat Child

Today, I’m over at Expat Child being interviewed. If you want to find out more about me and my thoughts about living overseas, then click here.

**I’ve been moving these past few weeks, so I’ve been quiet here. I’ve had a couple of you check in on me this week. Thanks for caring enough to ask. We are all doing well, just adjusting to new apartment and new school location.  *sigh* back to unpacking and lesson plans.

If you haven’t checked out Expat Child, you should. Great resource for those who are raising kids overseas.

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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