Book Review: SHANGHAI PASSAGE by Gregory Patent

SHANGHAI PASSAGE by Gregory Patent

Illustrated by Ted Lewin

Genre: middle grade autobiography/memoir

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.

My Take:

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

Image by KathyBarclay from Pixabay

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.

Trusting God.

Right now sitting in my home where my son is just in the next room I can honestly say it’s easy to trust.

But,

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?

How the Rapids Showed me Beauty

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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.

 

*PC Credit: Free-photos via pixaby

Language Learning and Special Needs…a conversation starter

RaisingTCKs for Mulitcultural Kid Blogs

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.

Goodbyes and Skies – Signs of Letting Go

20180811_182558In 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.

Hope returned.

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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.

We must get on the airplane and leave loved ones behind.

We can’t always take our pets with us when we move. Sometimes they die.

Our child breaks their foot two weeks before soccer season begins.

A typhoon (or insert tornado, fire, etc) destroys the scrapbooks, the photos. Memories lost.

Kids grow up and move on to university.

A diagnosis is learned.

But, we don’t have to stay in that dark and hopeless place. There is a path to where the sun shines down and the mountains can be seen from the valleys below.

Just as my husband kept moving forward in the torrential rain, we can keep moving forward. Sometimes it is a slow trudge, but it’s forward.

He kept his eyes on the road ahead of him. We keep our eyes on the path that is set before us (Heb 12:1).

We bring our focus on the One who put us on that path, who created the road, who created us. And we give thanks and praise to Him (Heb. 12:2, Phil. 4:4-7).

It is then, that the view becomes clearer and we are able to give more thanks. And as our hearts become grateful, the view only becomes more spectacular.

The road hasn’t changed.

No, he is there and I am here.

His first game was this weekend (though cancelled due to rain). There.

I am here. Still here.

The circumstance hasn’t changed. It won’t.

But, I get a phone call from the boy. He sounds happy. And I’m grateful.

Grateful for the age that I live in where he can pick up a phone and call.

Grateful that friends sneak photos of him on campus and message them to me within seconds after taking said photo.

Thankful that he gets to do something he loves to do.

Joy is found in the gratitude.

Your Turn: Have you ever noticed that the weather or the sky seems to reflect the mood or the circumstance that you are going through at the moment? Share your moment in the comments below.

Book Review: HOMESICK by Jean Fritz

HOMESICK: My Own Story  homesick

by Jean Fritz

Genre: Middle Grade Memoir/Fiction

Summary:

Jean Fritz shares her life as a child growing up in the middle of China during the mid-twenties. She longs to go “home”. To a place she has only read about in letters from her grandmother, a place where she can feed chickens. And though this desire grows stronger as the date for departure gets closer, Jean shares her love for the Chinese people, especially her dear Lin Nai Nai. As with any good story, there is trouble and heartache. Through the eyes of a ten year old girl, Jean shares about the unrest that was developing in China towards the foreigners. Jean also shares her confusion of how her parents reacted to the death of her baby sister. We get a glimpse into the heart and mind of a young child who experienced so much.  At the beginning Jean informs her readers that most of the stories are true, that all of the people were real, but the events are not in chronological order. As a NF writer, this was very important to her to clarify. 

My Take:

Jean Fritz is a TCK. If you want to see examples of grief, frustration, and raw emotions from a TCK, sprinkled with humor and wit, get this book. Yes, it’s written for a middle grade child, but it really is a beautifully written memoir of a young TCK. If I write too much more, I’ll have to write a spoiler alert. I cried and I laughed – maybe partly due to the fact that we used to live in Wuhan, which is now a large city that includes Hankou and Wuchang, two cities that play a huge part in this book. Or maybe just the pain of saying “good-bye“. Either way, it’s good.

*****

Next week I will be starting the series on “The Art of Letting Go“. If you would like to write a guest post you can go back to the original post for the details.

The Art of Letting Go

 

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Mothering a TCK has it’s up and downs. At times it is not for the faint at heart. The older my children get, the more I respect my mother-in-law. She raised three TCKs from birth in a country not her own, but also in a school system very different than the one she grew up studying under in Germany. Then as they graduated, she watched them board airplanes to travel around the world to begin their own life. Now her grandchildren are spread between three continents.

My kids have not started university, yet. My oldest has three more years, but it won’t be long until I say my “good-byes”. But, then again, I did just say good-bye to him a few weeks ago. He is not going to a dorm, but he does have the opportunity to play soccer with one of the international schools on the island. Unfortunately, it is too far to commute to from our home, so he is living with some friends for the next few months. As I write this post, I know he is in the middle of a game and it is killing me (and my husband, too). We wonder if he’s made a save (he’s the keeper), or if the wet ball has tricked him to dive in the wrong direction (it’s been raining the last few days). We both try to focus on other things, but then my phone lets out a BING. A friend sends me a video clip – the ball slipped between his hands. On my phone we watch the mini version of our son draw his hands up behind his head then smack his legs, a sign of frustration. This isn’t the first clip we’ve been sent. During previous games other friends have slipped us glimpses of him making some pretty good saves. This clip, though, is hard to watch – he can’t hear us cheering in our heads, “It’s okay. You’ll get the next one” and “You’ve got this, Bud.” And my heart is screaming…

This is so hard.

This isn’t what I signed up for (I don’t care if Dave Pollock told me 20 years ago that one day this would happen if I had children while living overseas).

Why isn’t teleporting invented yet?

As I lament, I’m reminded that I’m not the only one who can’t watch their son play a high school sport or long to have him sit at the supper table. I have friends who dropped their children off at boarding school. Some won’t see their children until Christmas. Others left their child, now an adult, at the university dorm room. They are not the first to do this. My mother-in-law was not the first. Parents of TCKs for over a century have had to learn the art of letting go, or maybe it’s thrust upon them.

I feel I’m just at the beginning. I know that there may be other sport seasons he will want to tryout for. He may even have the desire and opportunity to board someday. But, I do know that one day he will leave. He should leave. He must leave. He will become an adult. And though I know this in my head…

I miss him.

As moms we begin this letting go when our children take their first independent steps. They teeter, they wobble and most likely they fall, but eventually they get up and begin walking or possibly with some running. Or maybe it was when you dropped your child off for the first time at school. Walking away as you entrusted your child to another adult, possibly a stranger that spoke a language you barely understood. Those are the first phases of this process. So, whether you are at the beginning stage or getting closer to what seems like the final stage, I believe we could learn a few things from those who have gone before us.

I’d like to start a guest series called “The Art of Letting Go”. I know many of you have stories or tips that helped you. Letting go to allow your child to grow is an art – it is terribly painful, and even scary, but the artwork can be beautiful. So, if you have a story you’d like to share, a humble fail that you learned from, or even some tips to help those of us just starting on this journey please send a post. This can be as broad as a child going to university, into a dorm, or first time attending kindergarten.

You can email me in a Word doc. Each post should be around 500-800 words. If you feel you have something to share, but you are uncomfortable with writing, we could even set up an interview type post as well. I’m flexible. Please include a bio with any social media that you’d like people to follow. You can email me at mdmaurer135(at)gmail(dot)com.

*Photo from Creative Commons by Pexels

Book Review: THE HAPPY ROOM by Catherine Palmer

THE HAPPY ROOM

by Catherine Palmer

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Genre: Novel

Summary: The Mossman family went to Africa to be missionaries. The three children all had different experiences that affected their adult lives. Peter turned away from God. Julia embraced the faith. The youngest Mossman brings them altogether when she is hospitalized due to an illness. It is during this time in the hospital that each of the children, now grown and with family of their own, remember and retell their story of Africa and of boarding school. As pain is revealed, healing begins – and the characters learn more about each other and the God who never left them.

My Take: I’d heard of this book from a few of my friends and finally got my turn to read it. My curiosity led to a background check on the author and discovered that she and I are alumni of the same university, which I find cool. But, what my investigative work uncovered was that she is also an MK from Africa. Catherine knows a bit about this life overseas and it truly comes alive through the characters in this book.

I love that the three siblings all had different opinions about being raised overseas. I loved that they each told virtually the same story, but with a different twist as to their perspective. I found the book to be a fairly quick read, meaning I had a hard time putting it down. After finishing it, I talked to my friends who were MKs and some had even boarded at the school mentioned in this book. They confirmed the feelings they had compared to their siblings to be very similar to the characters.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is moving overseas, who has lived overseas, especially if you were a MK – not as a self-help book, but possibly an enjoyable walk down memory lane. It would be a great airplane book.

Your Turn: Have you read this book? What did you think about it? Share your comments below.

Book Review: Pack-N-Go Girls Series

I was asked by Multicultural Kids Blog to read and write a review for a fairly new book series called Pack-N-Go Girls by Lisa Travis and Janelle Diller. My interest was peaked, of course, by just the name of the series. As I read the background of how this series began, I was curious to see how well these books might be suited for kids who live overseas, TCKs. At the moment they have six books that explore three countries: Austria, Mexico, and Thailand. They will be starting the research this year for the next two books that will be located in Brazil.

I decided to read the first book in the series, Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost. 

Summary:

Brooke is from Colorado. She has the opportunity to travel to Austria with her mother, who has a short term job assignment at a castle. In Austria she meets Eva a girl not only her age, but who also lives in the castle with her grandfather. Though they become friends quickly, Brooke soon discovers that the castle may possibly be haunted by a ballerina ghost. She and Eva spend their free time to uncover this mystery.

My Take: 

What child doesn’t like a mystery? I felt the mystery was intriguing enough to cause the young reader to keep reading. I did feel that the reader would learn a little bit about Austria without feeling like it was a geography lesson. I liked that at the end of the book there are a few pages with learning simple German phrases, as well as some important facts about Austria. Overall, I thought it was a good early chapter book for children ages 6-8.

As for TCKs, knowing that Brooke was not staying, but only there for a few months at the most, I felt it didn’t really deal with many of the issues that TCKs deal with. So in that respect, I can’t recommend it as a book dealing with transition. BUT, I would definitely recommend it for those who are going to Austria (or any of the other countries they write about) on a vacation or a short visit. I do think it was well written and had some great facts about the country.

 

The Leaving Series Part 6: Leaving and Staying

I’ve so enjoyed this little series on leaving and want to thank again all those who have sent in stories to share. Today’s guest post comes from an ATCK who writes books for and about TCKS. You can find my interview with Valérie about her book, B at Home: Emma Moves Again here. Please welcome, Valérie and what she as to say about being left behind.

At most international schools, June is marked as the ‘leaving month’. Last year, I wrote a piece here specifically about leaving and saying goodbye. It was prompted by people leaving, people close to us dying, and a lot of grief. “Partir, c’est mourir un peu” (translation: Leaving is to die a little), but I have come to realize that staying is as well. This school year, my focus is shifting towards ‘staying’.

Clearly, being left behind by loved ones who pass is an entire different kind of loss. The abruptness of death’s goodbye can be heartbreaking and so few words of comfort can do justice. However, in terms of the global mobile lifestyle, we are often granted the luxury of anticipating goodbyes. Staying au lieu of leaving confronts us with just as much loss. Perhaps even more, because when others leave, we are left with a certain emptiness. And as the emptiness is not filled with all the new input that comes along with starting again somewhere else, the emptiness can sometimes be more overwhelming than we imagine. After all, when we stay, we are not confronted with intense changes to our lives on almost every front. Yet, our lives do change forever.

Last year, I had to say good bye to one of my closest friends and her family. When they left, my daughters and I had to part with certain small rituals and traditions that we had built up together with my friend and her daughters. At the ages of three and one, my girls didn’t understand why we didn’t have regular play-dates any more. Even after traveling on many trans-atlantic flights to visit grandparents, distance is not an easy concept for a young child. Months after our friends left, my three-year-old would still ask if we would meet up with her friend when we drive to the local playground or in the general direction of their old house.

When we are the leaver, or the mover, nothing can ever replace what or who we leave behind, but eventually the transition curve catches up and excitement about what is new catches on. When we are left behind, eventually things do fill up the empty space that other leave, but we all know that filling up never replaces. And then the seasons pass, and the people who fill up our lives become the very ones who we grow another attachment to and who we will need to say goodbye to at another point. The cycle of mobility doesn’t stop, and most of us wouldn’t even want it to.

As an ATCK, teacher and mother, and passionate about the subject of children and mobility, I do believe we can help our children become strong leavers and stayers. With the luxury of anticipation, and the research-based evidence of the effects of unresolved grief and mobility on a child’s life, we owe it to our children and students to provide them with the tools and language to say goodbye properly. To be able to leave well and to be able to be left behind well, is the beginning of intentionally jumping into a new journey.

As many TCKs feel that their idea of ‘home’ is associated with a sense of belonging, this attachment to ‘home’ changes when people around them leave. It is important to ensure that they are supported in their transitions as well. Just as there is an art to leaving well, there is most certainly an art to staying (as) well. For the first time in my adult life, I am moving into my sixth year in the same house, in the same town, holding the same job. For the first time I am starting to feel like a stayer, without losing sight of the probability of leaving again one day, and it is putting so much in perspective.

Thanks Valérie for taking time to write for us today. 

VBesanceney booksOriginally Dutch, Valérie Besanceney grew up changing schools and countries five times as a child. She is a quintessential Third Culture Kid (TCK) turned adult, with a passion for traveling while cultivating a strong sense of home. Currently, home is in Switzerland, together with her American husband and their two daughters. Apart from writing, Valérie loves teaching Year 3 at an international school.

Valérie’s first book, B at Home: Emma Moves Again (Summertime Publishing), is a fictional “memoir” about the experiences of a ten-year-old girl and her teddy bear who have to move, yet again. During the different stages of their relocation, Emma’s search for home takes root. As the chapters alternate between Emma’s and her bear’s point of view, Emma is emotionally torn whereas B serves as the wiser and more experienced voice of reason.With this book, Valérie hopes to give younger TCKs a story that they can identify with while they experience their own challenging move.

Her second book, My Moving Booklet (Summertime Publishing), is designed to help children through the initial stages of an upcoming move. Moving can be exciting and terrifying at the same time. It can be very sad to say goodbye, but it can also be incredibly fun to experience new things and meet new people. Everybody experiences a move differently, but it is very important to say goodbye properly. This booklet allows children to truly welcome the new challenges and adventures that lie ahead of them, together with their parents and teachers. In many parts of the booklet, they will have the opportunity to either write about it, to draw a picture, or to glue on a photograph. This is their own unique story that one day will serve as a keepsake of a life-changing event.

Although both books are targeted at a younger TCK audience, Valérie also hopes to reach out to parents and educators of TCKs. You can find more information on her website: www.valeriebesanceney.com and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/besanceneyvalerie.