Living overseas brings out many emotions from the time you leave your home country to the arrival of your new city. Or take the emotions you have when you watch friends leave to move on to the next destination. But transition is not the only thing that brings out emotions. Hard things happen. That is why it is important to process your emotions, but also the situations you find yourself in.
THE PRACTICE OF PROCESSING by Elizabeth Vahey Smith is just what the book title says. Elizabeth had those who transition often in mind when she wrote this book. It is a book that I found to have the why one should process, but also provides a guide in ways to process. She begins with emotions and how understanding them as “communicative…we can intellectually process the new information they provide” (pp. 18-19). Emotional intelligence is important and she covers that topic well. Elizabeth also provides examples of how to help children process, which is a nice bonus for parents or those working with young people.
If processing is new to you then I would suggest that you look at this book for yourself. Or if you are in member care for your organization, then a nice resource for people who need help in this area.
It’s September* and everyone is back in school. Did you hear me sigh? Did you sigh along with me? Don’t get me wrong summers are good, but with a child with special needs they are usually not great. She needs a set schedule with a para and we don’t get either in the summers. Summer schedules are suppose to be flexible. They are to be a time to relax, take a vacation with the family, right?
So, with school starting and the schedule in place life would flow down a lazy river. Nice and easy. You’ve heard of the domino affect, haven’t you? You know after one domino falls, others go right behind it? Today’s story will follow the domino trail; not a lazy river experience.
Domino #1: Beach & Teas
It was a school holiday, Mid-Autumn Festival. So, off to the beach we went for the morning. Just the two of us because the other two were out of town. The sky was blue, the wind was strong, and the sand was warm. M2 rolled around in the sand and waves, built sand mounds, and ran up and down the empty beach. Perfect.
Teas are usually something we buy to take to the beach, but since we left so early there were no shops open. So, after rinsing off the sand and sweat we stopped at a shop before going home. My wallet was at home, but I had a zip-lock full of copper coins. They are worth 1 New Taiwan Dollar. I ordered and paid with 110 coins. Bless those workers hearts as I counted out stacks of ten coins eleven times. (Maybe you are wondering why I had a bag of coins in the car. Well, I’ll save that story for another time, but you can try to guess in the comments.)
We got home and I put the teas in my bag.
Domino #2: Keys & Flipflops
I gathered all our belongings and coaxed M2 out of the car. She is sometimes a sloth when she wants to be. I reminded her that we had tea and then threatened that she would not get tea if she didn’t hurry. Mama had to use the bathroom.
We live in a house with a yard. To enter you have to unlock a tall solid metal swinging gate. Ours is blue. I fanned out the keys on my key ring, but could not find the key to this gate. I looked through the bag to make sure they didn’t get buried under the towels and sand.
“No! Please don’t tell me I left them in the house?!?!”
M2 giggled, snorted, and smacked her leg.
I dropped the bag and climbed up the side wall to see if I could be like my super amazing husband who climbs over and jumps down. I looked down. It’s about a 6-7 foot drop, so not bad. But I looked at my shoes. Flipflops. I was not sure my ankles could take that jump onto concrete. And I was sure our dog looking up at me wagging her tail would not catch me either.
I called a friend who has an the extra set and lives just down the road. No answer.
I found a curved tool in the hedges. “Oh, Lord, please let me jimmy this door open. I really need to use the bathroom and need your help.”
Nothing. I try several times. Nothing
I felt my breathing pick up and my heart rate quicken. By this time our dog was whining on the other side of the gate.
I tried once more, probably with a little more frustration than wisdom. But the door popped open. I got in and I didn’t break the lock. A miracle, I think.
Domino #3: Wet bag & Wet Keys
After washing my hands, I went to the kitchen to retrieve our teas and get something for lunch. My bag was wet. Soaked. I reach inside and pulled out one full cup of tea and one empty cup. When I dropped the bag, the seal on the tea opened and out went the tea onto everything, including my car key which has a battery operated button to unlock it. I ran everything under the water to rinsed it off and then gave M2 chocolate almond milk. She was just as happy with that.
Domino #4: Car Alarm
Two days later we used the car to go to church. The key fob has the buttons on it to lock and unlock the doors. They were not working. I manually unlocked the doors and we drove to church. Later that day we were heading to pick up a friend to go to the beach. The car began to lock and unlock on its own. Strange, but I thought, “Maybe the keys are still wet and they just need time to dry.”
Monday morning same, but not a huge deal. Monday afternoon, I go out to the car to pick up M2 from school and the car alarm goes off when I open the door. I cannot get it to shut off. I try several times to unlock and get in, but the alarm goes off. One time I get in without the alarm going off, but then when I started the car it went off again. A little later, I had the car started, but when I pulled out of the drive the alarm went off again. By this time it had gone off four times. I was loosing my mind.
I call handsome hubby. Bless his heart, he was of no help.
“Push the button on the key fob, that will turn it off.”
“Really,” I said, “You don’t think I’ve tried that? It doesn’t work.”
“Oh, then I don’t know what to tell you, but you have to get to school now or you will be late to pick her up.”
This conversation was going on while the alarm was going off. You can imagine how we were both feeling.
I prayed, “Oh Lord, please let this crazy alarm stop. I cannot go down the street with it going off. Please don’t make me stand out any more than I already do!”
I sent handsome hubby a message asking him to let the teachers know that I was on my way.
He messaged back: “I’m sorry I was not helpful. I was mad because I wasn’t there to help you. I’m glad you got it to stop.”
I love that man.
M2 was in the office waiting for me. I did not turn the car off, but left it running while I ran in to get her. We went straight to the mechanics and asked him to disable the alarm system. He did.
With a chuckle.
Dominoes are fun to watch as they cascade around their merry path. But when that path is your life and it is affects so much of what you do, then that is not so much fun. In fact, it can make you aware of thoughts and emotions that you have about yourself, others, life, and/or the world. I’ve been studying Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy in my final class for my Master’s in Care and Counseling. The biggest takeaway is that beliefs directly influence our emotions and behaviors; not the situation or the event.
Example from my story. The moment I realized that I left the keys at home and did not have them to open the door triggered a belief. The belief that I should never do such a stupid thing like forgetting to take the keys to the house with me and this is terrible, I’ll never be able to get in. This belief started the domino affect of me dropping the bag; not setting the bag down. You could probably go back and see where this belief rises back up at various points in the story. How to change your beliefs is through disputing them, but I’ll save that lesson for another time.
*This story was supposed to be published in September, but for some reason I forgot about it. Maybe it was because I needed to understand REBT more and could begin to introduce it to you all as a way to process events/situations in your own life.
We have another Senior (Grade 12/ 高三) in our home. Child #2 – our daughter who has Cri-du-Chat Syndrome and attends a local special education school in Taiwan will graduate in the spring. I got to attend the two day Graduation Trip with her and like all the other stories in this series there were lessons learned.
I got the packing list translated. Thank you Google 叔叔 (Uncle Google). Packed clothes and some extra snacks because you never know. But, the day before we left, I felt my heart racing and tension in my neck/shoulders area every time I thought about this trip. I took fifteen minutes and reflected on it.
I have gone on her other graduation trips, so what was different about this one? What emotions am I feeling about this upcoming trip? What thoughts do I hold that would cause these emotions?
It all came down to not knowing the plan. In my mind I needed to know where we were going; what was going to happen; what to expect. Well, thanks to my husband and Google 叔叔 I learned of the location, but that was it. I then remembered that the last time I went on an overnight trip with her and her class I had a “go with the flow” attitude. I can’t be honest and say that all the tension disappeared, but I can say that I noticed I began taking deeper breaths and relaxing. I worked the tension out with a roller later that evening.
Have a motto
Maybe you’ve heard this saying when you first moved to a new location, or maybe like me you have forgotten it. A friend reminded me of it as she was talking about a recent move and having to remind herself that where she is now is not like where she was previously living.
It’s not bad. It’s just different.
This became my motto for the entire trip.
Asian tour groups are known to have everyone follow the tour guide and not wander off to something that might interest you. They are also known for moving quickly so that you can see everything possible. That way you can get all the perfect photo ops. They are also known for having all the meals planned out in advanced at specific locations. And they help promote buying certain products.
This motto, along with the “go with the flow” attitude, proved to be very useful. For instance, the first day was spent going to three different places of interest. We rode the bus for about three hours stopping for bathroom breaks, of course. Our first stop was a cocoa farm where we saw how they make chocolate from cocoa beans. We even got to see some cocoa trees. We ate lunch there. The food was really good, except for one thing. At the end, we could drop a chocolate into the hotpot (think fish based soup with vegetables). According to my taste buds, fish based-soup and chocolate do not blend well together. But I remembered, It’s not bad; just different – yet I did not drink anymore as I was full from all the food we had eaten.
The second stop on the list was what was translated as an “elves garden.” When we arrived, I realized it was a garden with gnomes. They had some rabbits you could feed, but were not allowed to touch. Well, that proved difficult to avoid with an animal loving daughter. But, I tried. We were only “scolded” once. “Go with the flow” served me well here. They had costumes where we could dress up as gnomes. And as another famous quote goes: “when in Rome…”
From there we drove another hour to a deer farm. We were given instructions on what we could and could not do, then given metal tins with leaves and grain to wander around the lot with deer. They can be quite aggressive for such passive sweet looking animals.
From there was the hotel, where the fun did not stop. After supper they had a DIY project planned and the kids could dress up again. I was ready for bed and thankfully she was too.
With the “go with the flow” attitude, I could handle surprises: good or bad. Like not knowing we would be allowed to swim in the hotel pools and not bringing suits. Disappointing, but we found other things to do the next day.
Or finding out that there is not only a Starbucks at the last bathroom stop, but that they do have your favorite: Pumpkin Spiced. So, I treated M2 to her very first Pumpkin Spiced Frappuccino. Ahh, my little TCK did drink most of it, though she thought it was too sweet. Honestly, I thought so too.
We got home and there were two things that I did that helped. First, I had prepared food before we left so I didn’t have to cook supper from scratch. Heat and serve – so easy. And the second, I declared Saturday a Travel Rest Day. We stayed in our PJs, watched movies, and rested all day.
Last spring my oldest graduated from high school. Six months ago I was just beginning the ride on the “transition roller coaster” and learning to navigate this new kind of transition: parenting an adult TCK. It was unknown territory. I’ve been in the land of unknowns before – finding homes, adjusting to new countries, learning to parent a child with special needs – but this one felt different. It wasn’t my life that had all the unknowns – it was his.
As his mom, I wanted to step in and find all the answers. Let me be real, I wanted control. If I had control, then I’d know who would be traveling to the US with him (thank you pandemic), what insurance to get, who his friends were going to be, what his Christmas break plans would be….you get the picture. I really just wanted to know that he would be okay.
I was reminded of a hike I took with my son a few weeks before graduation day. It was on a mountain path that was near his campus and overlooked the city. On our way down, he seemed to leap and skip down the steps. He’d disappear around bends. At one of those bends I heard God whisper to me, “Let him go. I know you can’t see him, but I’ve got him.” (and let’s be honest, what 18 year old boy wants his mom controlling his life?)
And that is what the last half year has been for me – practicing and actually trying to do what God asked me to do on that mountain – Let him go.
The photo above is a very simple illustration of my heart. It is dragging a bulging suitcase full of heavy rocks that I have packed and stuffed diligently. (One perk of living overseas is the ability to pack a suitcase well, right?) The rocks represent everything that I want to control because it isn’t just things in his life that I want to control. I’d like to control everything in my sphere of influence. Wouldn’t we all?
Some are small.
Math lessons for my youngest
Regular health checkups for me and the kids
Some are big and heavy and honestly, cumbersome.
Oldest in isolation last month
What will my daughter with special needs do after high school?
Feeding tube incision leaking…needs surgery?
These are just a few of the “rocks” in my suitcase. Collectively, these rocks are heavy. Too heavy for me to be dragging around with me from place to place, day to day, year to year.
When we believe that having control is the answer, we miss out on peace.
Looking back, time allowed answers to unfold to some of the unknowns. Yet, now there are new unknowns.
Isn’t that like us though? Replace the old with the new? I mean we replace old clothes with new. We replace old batteries with new. So, why wouldn’t we replace old worries with new – or even better just become a Hoarder and add to our already collection of worries.
I guess that would be called a Worry Hoarder?
I want to propose something though.
Look at where the eyes of my heart are. They are on the suitcase that I’m dragging. My focus is on those rocks that represent worries and anxieties that I want to control.
What if, I shifted my eyes to the mountains. Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
That simple shift of realizing who is really in control and then trusting God to be all that He says he is is monumental is stepping towards peace. It is simple, but I will not say it’s easy. It is choosing to trust and believe.
I’m sure that if you live overseas, have lived overseas or are parenting TCKs (children or adults) you have your own “rocks” that you’ve been lugging around as well. And with this year of so many unexpected surprises and unknowns, I’m sure your suitcase is bulging, too.
I bought this painting last weekend at a local artist market in Taiwan. It is where I want to be. Sitting on that bridge with my legs dangling over the side looking up at the mountains.
So, my question this week is this…
Do you want to be a Worry Hoarder or would you rather be sitting next me.
So, here’s to parenting more on my knees before God.
This seems to be the theme of 2020 for me. Our oldest graduated from high school, decided on a university, and will get on an airplane in less than five days. To be honest those three words bring out emotions, but with this pandemic can I demonstrate by writing “EMOTIONS!”? Seriously, I think sending off your first is suppose to be a roller coaster of emotions, and having a TCK and all that entangles makes those drops a little more steep, but throw in a pandemic and it’s like a sudden double loop with a fear that the safety harness is faulty. This is coming from someone who doesn’t like roller coasters. For those of you who do, well, come up with your own analogy. But, to break it down, this year has brought out these emotions:
And here’s the thing I’ve noticed this week. Especially this week. I’m not the only one going through these emotions. Of course my son is going through some of this, but my husband and daughters are as well. And as the time of departure nears, the emotions heightened.
And get this – we all respond to these emotions DIFFERENTLY! Maybe you already knew this and I think I did, too. But, this week with everyone just a little more on edge I’ve really noticed it.
So, what to do?
I’m not sure I have a complete answer, but here are a few things I have tried to do to help.
Be aware. Be aware of your own feelings and responses to those feelings. Be aware that others may be acting out of response to anxiety or deep sadness or even fear.
Choose Grace. Grace is a Christian word that basically means gift. Offer the gift of understanding when a young child throws a tantrum at the table. Give grace to your spouse when you find them “hiding” in a book, TV series, or game. Giving grace sometimes means forgiving before it’s been asked for. Don’t forget to give yourself grace. It’s easy to be hard on yourself, but you need grace, too.
Communicate. When you are aware of your own actions and responses you can communicate with your family how you are feeling. You can ask for forgiveness when you’ve spoken in anger because of stress. You can ask how they are doing with this upcoming change. You can talk with them about their own responses/actions. Remember though, that HOW you communicate is key – go back to #2 for guidance.
This is not something that comes naturally for me, so please don’t read this and think, “Wow, she’s got it all together.”
Uh, no, I fail multiple times a day with this. I sometimes I wish we could just rush through this hard part of transition – but I don’t want to miss it. So, I will hold on to that safety harness and force my eyes to stay open through all the dips, the dives and the loops that this roller coaster brings.
Have anything else to add to this list? Please share in the comments.
SHANGHAI PASSAGE is a collection of memories of the author, Gregory Patent, as a young child living in Shanghai at the end of World War II. Born in Hong Kong, Gregory was a British citizen to Russian and Iraqi parents. His stories are from the age of five, when the war ended, until he was around eleven when his family emigrated to the US.
I picked up this book a few years ago from a school that was discarding it from their library. It has been sitting on my shelf and I’ve been wanting to read it. The cover has always tempted me to read it, but for some reason I’ve never taken the time. This summer I added it to my list for the Summer Reading Challenge by Amy Young. I’m so glad I did. Gregory’s story is just fascinating. The time period, the city, his cross-cultural family dynamic, and his opinions as a third culture kid – just a great read. He is truly a boy that has grown up, as Marilyn Gardener has coined, “between worlds“. As a mom raising some TCKs and CCKs, I was drawn to his thoughts about friends leaving, learning his father’s mother-tongue, and countless other things that Gregory shares in this very short book.
Honestly, I wanted to know more about this young man. So, I did some research and found that he is a cookbook author. You can read more about his life and try some of his reciepies at his website, The Baking Wizard.
Bittersweet is a plant. It has bright colored berries that would seem sweet and juicy, but are actually toxic and harmful if eaten. Another definition of bittersweet is, “arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain” (Lexico). This is what most people are familiar with.
Life is generally like this. A little bit bitter. A little bit sweet. It mixes together and creates the story of our life. Sometimes the bitter seems toxic – and maybe it is, in which case, seek help – but most of the time, the bitter is just a time of growth.
My son just graduated from high school. Bittersweet was the one description I think I heard and felt through this whole experience.
Bitter – My first born completely finished this chapter of his childhood. That book is completed. It is shelved; to be looked at like a scrapbook full of memories. He’ll be leaving and living across an ocean soon; 12-24 hours away.
Sweet – We’re proud of his accomplishments. This new adventure is just beginning and it is exciting. Who will he become? How will he grow?
These two words together capture the feelings of a parent or sibling – and possibly even the graduate, as well.
But, aren’t most transitions “bittersweet”?
Bitter – packing, saying good-bye to places, saying good-bye to people, watching your children hurt
Sweet – maybe living closer to family, new adventure with new foods & culture, recognizing how many good friends you have
As this summer plays out and the time gets closer to board that plane with my oldest, my emotions teeter back and forth from feeling bitter and sad, to sweet and proud and then back to sad.
I want him to go, yet I don’t.
I want him to grow up, yet I want him to need me, to need his father.
I believe this is the dilemma of many parents. We work and endure those early years to train our kids to be responsible mature adults, but when the time comes to send them off we feel that this isn’t the right time. It’s too soon.
As a Christian, I wondered if the word “bittersweet” was in the Bible. I couldn’t find the word, but I found a passage where both words are used. Exodus 15:22-25. This is the point in the story where Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea. They were headed into the Desert of Shur, where there was no water.
The people complained because the only water they found was at the place “Marah”, which was bitter.
Moses cried out to God.
God showed him a piece of wood.
Moses threw the piece of wood into the water.
Sweet water. Drinkable water.
It doesn’t say, but I’m guessing the crowds were happy once again – or at least relieved.
This little word search led me to an old story from long ago, in which God used a stick to make bitter water sweet.
My situation isn’t terrible. It’s not life-threatening, but it has some bitterness that is harder to walk through.
It requires trust.
Trusting my son.
Right now sitting in my home where my son is just in the next room I can honestly say it’s easy to trust.
I know that when “move-in” day comes and I drive away with him standing in the parking lot of his dorm, my eyes will be blurry from the streams of bittersweet tears as I put that trust into action.
How have you seen “bittersweet” play out in your own life?
Life can be like a journey down a winding river. Rivers can be calm and smooth, but usually along the way rapids appear. Life is like that. Sometimes the rapids are exciting and fun, like moving overseas. Other times they are downright frightening, like an unwanted diagnosis.
During those rapids I find myself wanting and sometimes even desperately trying to paddle back upstream away from it all. I long for an easier way, but usually there is no other way. And in the end, I find that God uses those hard situations in my life to transform me.
Fifteen years ago I found myself at one of those bends.
This week I’m a guest writer at Velvet Ashes. You can read more about my story and the lessons I learned by clicking here.
My children are bilingual, including my daughter who has Cri-du-Chat Syndrome, a disability that affects her mentally and physically. She’s not the only bilingual person with special needs, though. In fact, I know a young adult with Down Syndrome who is trilingual. And I read about another boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder who speaks at least four languages. This goes against the belief of many educators and therapists that children with special needs should focus on one language only. Most of the research focuses on three specialty groups: Specific Language Impairment (SLI), Down Syndrome (DS), and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but the researcher still believes that other disabilities can learn a second language as well. This is great news for CCKs (Cross-Cultural Kids) and TCK s(Third-Culture Kids) who have special needs and their families who are raising them.
My daughter is fairly non-verbal, but she is able to communicate in both English and Chinese. She uses American Sign Language (ASL), speaks simple words in both languages, and sometimes uses communication boards. We speak mainly English at home and she goes to a Taiwanese special education school where they speak Chinese. Honestly, like most Third Culture Kids she is comfortable living in both worlds. It’s part of who she is.
But, what about just teaching a child with special needs a new language? Are there any benefits? Join the conversation over at Multicultural Kid Blogs where I share some benefits I’ve noticed.
In books, movies, and even in TV shows the weather gives the audience a glimpse into the mood of the story. Other times it is the foreshadowing of something about to happen. Writers do that to captivate their readers. This past week, God used this same technique for me.
Last weekend we took our son to the dorm. The day before, we spent the afternoon at the beach. Heading into town we witnessed the sunset over the mountains. It was the perfect scene to a perfect day. I posted on my IG account, “Reminder of God’s continuing handiwork in creation, in me, in my family”. It brought me hope knowing that even though the next day would require me to “let go”, He would still be there working in my son, working in me.
The next day we drove up and over mountains to campus. We had decided to spend the night, which I believe helped me to truly be excited for him. I needed to be excited for him. It was exciting. He has a great place to live, a good roommate, wonderful dorm parents, and a great school to attend. What more could a parent ask for their child who will attend boarding school? It’s funny because I don’t remember the weather that day. It seems to be a blur.
But I remember what it was like the day we left…
Dark clouds loomed over us right before lunch. We said our goodbyes. He left us in the parking lot; walking back to the cafeteria with his backpack slung over his shoulder. We slumped down in the car and buckled up. As we pulled out, the first drops of rain began. I used my finger to wipe my damp cheek. The wipers swiped at the damp windows. As we merged onto the freeway, the heavens opened and the rain dumped its heavy load. We almost had to pull over. My heart felt the same crushing, drowning feeling. Goodbyes just stink, but I didn’t have time to sink to the abyss emotionally because I was co-pilot and had a job to do: keep the passengers quiet and help watch for traffic. It was seriously raining that hard.
Thirty minutes later the sky opened up like a dark blanket being lifted off our car. The mountains were once again in focus. The white clouds hung around the valleys and decorated the sky. It was gorgeous.
Isn’t that like life though, or shouldn’t it be? There are going to be days that are tough. Days we don’t want to go through. Days we don’t think we can get through.