Homes Remembered…the expat life

TCKs struggle with the sense of home. If you raise a TCK or work with them – or really had any conversation with one that is semi-deep – then you already know this. It is not some life-changing news to you. If this is new to you, then I suggest that you read this, this, and this to get started – and then I’d Google it for more information.

Though I’m not a TCK, I feel as if I’ve lived long enough overseas and have moved often enough that I what I used to call “home” doesn’t feel like home anymore. Now, this doesn’t bother me so much as I’m older and mature (most days) and have learned to make “home” in whatever place we are at that moment. If this is something you struggle with I just read this great post from an adult TCK. Click here to read it.

What does bother me is that as I am getting older and we continue to move, that I am starting to remember stores or streets that we shopped at but can’t always remember what city/country it was in. For instance, I was shopping at a Costco here (I know, so spoiled!) and while shivering in the walk-in refrigeration section I was visited by a memory of the past: Ge Ge sitting in a shopping cart in the middle of a huge refrigerator room while I frantically picked over the meat and veges because he had on shorts and a T-shirt and the elderly ladies were starting to scold me for not putting enough clothes on him. I stood, still shivering, in that Costco refrigerator giggling and trying to remember what store and city/country I was in…after coming to my senses and before I turned blue, I grabbed what I needed and zipped out of there. Later, after my brain returned to normal temperature, I remembered where we were at…Metro, Wuhan, China. This is just one of many times where I was trying to remember some street, store, or event from another city/country.

Am I the only one that has moments where memories come to mind from days gone past and can’t remember where it took place? Is this just how it is for expats after years of moving around? The normal everyday places where we once called home become a foggy distant memory that visits us during trips to Costco, a market street, or even in a smile from a stranger at the post office?

Share your stories below in the comments section. I know I’m not the only one.

The Leaving Series: If you’d like to be a guest writer, I’m running a series on leaving. More detail can be found here.

Good-bye book

As parents we want to help our children adjust to changes as best we can. Living the nomadic lifestyle of an expat leads to a childhood where the ebb and flow of transitions becomes a normal feeling for our kids. People come and go in and out of their life just like waves lap with the tides – in and out, in and out.

It is consistent in that it constantly is moving, but just like waves transitions are not always graceful and easy. Sometimes they are stormy and just plain hard.

How can we help our kids through these times, especially if they are really young? Help them build a RAFT. This could look different for you, but for me it was making a Good-bye Book. Basically, I took pictures of people and places that were their favorite and made a book for them. After our move, we’d pull out the books and look at the photos and talk about the places that we left. It was good for all of us.

I’m a writer, so I crafted them after story books themes that I thought might work with each city. The kids were really young, so I used ideas that would appeal to that age, so we could go back and look at them after we moved. Now that the kids are older, I think I’ll still do something like this but use an online photo book to be printed out and get their input as well – cause I’m sure GeGe and Mei Mei will NOT want a toddler type book this time around.

Below are some pictures of different books that I did. They still like to go through and look at the pictures. They don’t remember the places, but it allows us to retell stories from those places to connect them to their own past. It helps them to develop their own story beginning…

Ge Ge was almost two when we left Shenyang, so I used an ABC style for his.

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When we left Wuhan, I made Mei Mei an Acrostic Book to remember her first home with us as a Maurer.
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For Ge Ge’s Wuhan Book, I did a theme on colors instead of the ABC’s. You can see that I did do an ABC book of Wuhan, but it was for Jie Jie.
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And speaking of stories, remember that I am still taking stories for The Leaving Series. There is NO deadline, just email me your story and some pictures if you have any. I will publish one story each Thursday. I’ll start the first of the series this Thursday – so if you don’t want to miss these stories make sure you are subscribed to receive notifications in your inbox. You can also like the Facebook page and get information about other places on the web that reports about raising kids overseas.

Saying Good-bye…The Leaving Series

When I look back at my history of blogging, I noticed that I have written a lot about leaving, or saying good-bye. I’ve written about the importance of saying ithelping our kids through it; and how it just plain stinks. I’ve also written about the importance of sharing our past with our kids and taking them back to the places where we once said good-bye. And although, these posts may be helpful – possibly even inspiring – I have found something to be even more powerful. Story.

Stories are powerful tools that can speak from the heart of the writer to the heart of the reader. We connect in the story as we see that our own story is sometimes quite similar, yet different. We feel the pain of saying good-bye; or the relief of the hard-to-deal-with drama; or the difficult times of trying to balance our own emotions while trying to comfort our children in their time of uncertainty. We learn from the hardships of moving valuable lessons about life and living in this nomadic life, called expatriating.

And being that time of year, when so many of you are probably looking at your homes and trying figure out what to save, sale, or throw away, I thought maybe you’d like to read about others who have gone before you. Real people who have packed up all their belongings and moved away from dear and precious friends – and possibly first friendships of your children.

Or maybe you need to share your own story….

So, I’m asking you to share your leaving stories. It can really be anything – from the hardest move to the easiest move. It could be about your most memorable move or a tip on how you helped your kids move. It can be moving for the first time to repatriating back to your passport country. It could be from a parent’s perspective or from your childhood (TCKs welcome, so much to learn from you all as well!). I’m hoping to get my husband to write out a guest post here for this as well.

You write it and I’ll post it! I’ll be posting them every Thursday for as long as I get submissions. I’ll start the first story next Thursday, April 16th. So here are the details.

  1. Email me your story at mdmaurer135(at)gmail(dot)com (please use a doc formatting)
  2. At the bottom of your story include a brief bio. Here is where you can share your blog site, books you’ve written, etc.
  3. Please also email me 2-3 pictures to go along with the story; one being a headshot to go with your brief bio.

Okay, so there you have it. So now write those stories. I really want to hear from you all.

Please also consider sharing this with your other friends you have that would be interested in writing a guest post. ~Thanks!

Sharing Your Past with Your Kids

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Photo credit: hey Tiffany! via flickr

This is the second part of the Sharing your stories. If you haven’t read the first part click here.

As you probably know my husband is a TCK/MK. He grew up on the island of Taiwan. A few weekends ago he was out with my son doing what father and sons do – jump off tall rocks into the ocean, snorkel, scooter lessons on the backroads, and sleep under the stars – literally.
The thing is, they were in the exact location where one of the many famous stories my husband shares of his childhood took place – Nixon Rock (The rock really does look like Nixon’s silhouette, go back and check out the photo!)

Here’s a brief story: A group of high school guys biked from their “hometown” to the beach village of Kenting. It took them 2 days to travel the approximately 300km. They spent the weekend jumping off of this rock. This rock is legendary among those who have lived on this island – there are legends and horror stories from this rock. Really.

But the story really isn’t the point. The point is, my husband got to share the experience with my son that weekend. They both climbed up the side of the cliff and jumped off. Our son experienced a bit of my husband’s past – the stories came alive (though the son may not have realized it).

I know I’ve shared before the importance of including our kids or being apart of something that we do. I’ve also shared the importance of sharing our stories with our kids – and not just our own personal stories, but those family stories that are passed down from grandparents and parents.

This time, I want to challenge us as parents to go even farther – to actually go back and show the kids these places that you talk about so much. Pictures help to tell the story, but visiting the actually place – to feel the coral cut into your fingers as you climb up the cliff, to feel the smack of the ocean, and to see the the fish and taste the saltwater – yes, to experience a little of what we did or where we lived growing up is definitely something we should share with our children.

Maybe you are like me and grew up in one location near most of the extended family. Plan and be intentional to show your kids those places where the stories that you share took place. Go back to that creek, amusement park and ride the Tilt-A-Whirl, or wherever your most memorable fun childhood experiences took place.

I know, maybe you are a TCK yourself and moved around too much. Or it cost too much to make the trip with everyone. I get it. I know that my family is blessed to be living on the same island where my husband grew up, but I challenge you to try. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year – but try to do it sometime before it’s too late to take them.

Plan it.

Save for it.

Do it.

You won’t regret it.

Sharing Our Stories

The longer I live overseas and raise TCKs, the more I firmly believe my husband and I must tell stories from our childhood. We must connect them to our family “back home” in some way. I also am coming to realize the importance of getting the stories from our parents when we are back with them. These stories are like a tapestry that is woven together to make a beautiful rug to hang on the wall.

I’m a mono-culture kid and knew my grandparents (well one set) VERY well. I spent countless summer days out on the farm searching for adventure with my cousin in the back woods. We were explorers looking for fossils in the creek bed – lost in our own world. We helped gather the eggs in the extremely pungent smelling hen house, stack hay in the barn, and feed any orphaned lambs that ended up in the house. My life was drastically different than my children – but they love to hear stories about that life – especially if they involve mom getting stuck in the muddy garden and having to be pulled out with a 3-wheeler (those were the days before the ATV), only to loose said boots.

And though my husband’s life is similar to my own children – he is a TCK; there are some differences…like furloughs in Germany where he went to a very small country school and learned how to buy cigarettes (those were the days they sold them in vending machines on the street); or the time they returned to the field and he sat in class for months staring blankly as he didn’t understand anything the American teacher said. Stories connect the past with the present.

That’s why I think it is important to learn the stories from our parents and grandparents. Take the time to sit and “interview” them when we have those opportunities. Make the most of those few weeks/months we have with them to hear their stories.

Summer is approaching and many of you will be headed back to visit family. I challenge you to sit down and write out some questions you are curious about. Write them down….you’ll forget them if you don’t because we know how we get all caught up in the cuteness of the baby nieces and nephews to remember what it was that we wanted to know. And as you are listening to the stories, record them – make a video or write it down. Then share them with your kids…I believe it is one way we can link our children to their extended family that they see every few years.

Stories help us explain to our children who we are and ultimately who they are – and possibly help them see that their own stories will only add more color to the weaving pattern of the family tapestry of life.

Need some help getting started on questions…here’s some I thought up:

  1. What is your fondest memory during your childhood days?
  2. What was school like for you? Did you go to a public school? a country school?
  3. How did you get there? Any story you can remember about a time going to school?
  4. Did you date (insert mom, dad, grandma, etc)? How did you meet?
  5. Ask about important historical events that would have happened during their lifetime and ask what they remember of that day….how did it affect them?

Book Review: Picture Books

This month I’ve joined an online group called ReFoReMo (Read For Research Month). It’s a group that has dedicated to read and research picture books for a month. I’ve joined because, well, it’s something I’d like to do and am working towards….publishing a picture book. Anyway, in my researching I’ve discovered a few gems that would be helpful to TCKs. Below are three that I’ve found so far.

1. THE NOISY AIRPLANE by Mike Downs illustrated by David Gordon

Not all TCKs begin life in an airplane. Some are toddlers when they take their first flight. This book is a great book to introduce the experience of riding in an airplane: the loud noises, the bumps, the meals, and riding in the day and in the night. I highly recommend it if you are a parent about to take your TCKs on a long flight for the first time.

 

2. THE LEAVING MORNING by Angela Johnson/paintings by David Soman

This book focuses on the morning of the move. Although, the family is probably not moving to a new country – kids can relate to the feelings of saying good-bye to friends, neighborhood acquaintances, and even family. It’s a nice book that might help younger children understand the process of moving.

 

3. THE COLOUR OF HOME by Mary Hoffman illustrated by Karin Littlewood

Little Hassan is new to the UK from Somalia. When his teacher gives the class time to paint, Hassan’s painting begins to tell the harsh story of his family and what he witnessed. I added this book for two reasons because 1) sometimes our children witness some harsh realities of life – even dangerous ones and 2) I felt this teacher was a good example in finding a way for this child who spoke no English to communicate. Although, it is not probably a book you would want to read to a younger child, it is a good book to read as an adult or an older child.

*Please know that in no way am I suggesting ways to counsel children who have gone through traumatic experiences. If your child has encountered such experiences, please seek professional guidance and help. And if it is a student, please talk with the parent/guardian first.

Book Review: RED BUTTERFLY by A.L. Sonnichsen

RED BUTTERFLY

by A.L. Sonnichsen

Description:

Kara lives with her American mom in Tianjin, China. Her mother brought her home eleven years ago after finding her abandoned, but for reasons Kara doesn’t understand or fully know they are not able to travel too far outside their small apartment, let alone move to Montana where her dad lives. After her older sister comes to visit, unpreventable events occur that causes a domino effect in Kara’s life. She uncovers answers to her questions and learns to thrive in new, and sometimes quite scary, environments. The story is told in moving (sometimes to tears) verse.

My thoughts:

I’ve included this book on my list of TCK books because Kara is a TCK. From the beginning you sense it. She’s Chinese, but her mother is American. She looks Chinese, but feels American on the inside. Isn’t that what a lot of our children feel like? The author knows this feeling because she herself grew up in Hong Kong.

It’s also an adoption book – as there are some deep issues touched upon. We “hear” Kara’s thoughts about all that is going on around her: her fears, her questions, her sadness. I think I’ll let the book show what I’m trying to say. You’ll get an idea from this excerpt – which is one of my favorites.

Misplaced

On my way home,

like always,

I inspect

each

passing

face,

realizing

one of them

could be

her.

Sonnichsen understands adoption as well as a mother can. She and her husband adopted their oldest child while living in China.

I totally recommend this book, especially if you have internationally adopted. It is truly a good read. My only warning is that you set time aside, as it will be hard to put down. It seriously is that good.

Expectation

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It’s the season of Advent, a time of expectation, a time of hope, a time to put up decorations, make cookies, and this year it is a time to pack and get ready to board a plane to Germany to visit family. So much excitement and expectations going around in our little apartment.

The biggest expectation comes from my daughter with special needs, little Jie Jie. She wants snow. It doesn’t snow in Taipei. She hasn’t seen snow in about five years, I think, but wants it so badly. Everyday she either prays or asks us to pray for snow at Oma and Opa’s. Her expectation has really gotten me thinking on a deeper level.

1. She prays consistently. She has been praying everyday – sometimes more than once a day – for the past week that there would be snow. This is a long time for her…She understands that God is who she should ask for things that are dear to her heart.

2. She believes. Sometimes after her prayers she will go to a window and look out at the city below. Then with a bewildered look she turns and silently asks “Why?” Other times, she gets excited and pretends to throw snowballs. She knows that God is going to answer her prayers…we’ll have to wait and see how. It could be a “No” – and we’ll have to deal with that if that time comes. But for now, I am enjoying it. I love the excitement she draws out of her siblings as they begin to think about the possibility of building a snowman or getting to maybe try cross-country skiing for the first time.

I’m challenged by her, though. I mean, here is this nonverbal child for the most part who is intellectually disabled praying consistently in belief that God can do this. Do I consistently pray for people or situations? And if I do, am I praying in belief that God can change a heart towards him or turn a hard situation into something beautiful? Or do I get sidetracked by all the “To Do” lists I’ve created, the prepping for this trip, or the many worries and doubts that tend to fog my mind. Or has that expectancy I once had  waned-out due to lack of persistance or dare I say, belief?

Well, those are my thoughts this evening as I sit quietly alone staring out over my screen at the just decorated Christmas tree.

I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes this week at The Grove. This week’s theme was “Expecting.”

School Reports and TCKs

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Believe it or not, I finally unpacked the last two boxes that have remained sealed and stacked in the very back of our closet. We moved over a year ago. Of course it was the two boxes I dreaded to open. They were labeled: “Stuff from top of Desk” and “Stuff from top filing cabinet”. Which pretty much means all the junk I was too tired to sort through before we moved. Tell me you do it too. Just dump everything left into a box and seal it up to sort later.

Yep, I had a box of paper trash – but there was some good stuff, too.

I found mementos to put into the kids’ scrapbooks. Yea, I’m a wannabe scrapbooker – stress on the wannabe. 

I found a couple of books that my husband has been looking for – Oops!

I found school reports from a few years ago. As I put them with the others I remembered when my husband, who by the way has been a school principal for many years, told me to buy a folder with clear plastic sheets. One for each child. This was to be their “book” of school reports. For Ge Ge and Mei Mei, I have their Kindergarten graduation diplomas (I know such a huge deal), all of their report cards for each grade and any standardized test score results filed away in this simple book.

Why?

Simple. It is a clear record for any new school they may attend to see that…

  • They have attended school and which grades they have completed
  • Their scores in each subject for each grade
  • Their behavior and character – from what the teachers have written on the reports

As parents living overseas, most likely our children will not attend the same school they started Kindergarten in. I mean my son has gone to four different schools already – but honestly that is on the low end for TCKs. Many of them change schools every two years or so. It can be difficult to supply all the necessary records for the next school, so having all the reports together helps when it is application time.

As for Jie Jie, my daughter with special needs. I have set hers up a bit differently. Her report cards look different. Some years it is test results from the hospital where they have tracked her physical, cognitive, and self-help development. I also have her IEP (Individualized Educational Plan )from the local Kindergarten, as well as her more recent IEPs. This is mainly for my benefit as I can look back at all that she has accomplished and to plan for the coming year. Though special education classes are rarely found in international schools, this record has also been beneficial for the times that she has had a new teacher.

My school report filing system is simple, but it works ~ so long as I remember to put the report in the book and not just toss it with the other papers piled on the desk.

Your Turn: What do you do to keep track of all the school reports for your TCK(s)? Please share in the comment box below.

 

 

Learning Simplicity

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Birthdays. That word seems to have lots of emotion attached to it, doesn’t it? Think for a minute. A child begins counting down the days until the BIG day comes immediately the day after their birthday – unless you celebrate Christmas and then there is a mini-break. They are excited for the presents, the cake, the anticipation of it all. As we get older, many of us (not all) dread watching the number of candles added to the cake until it looks like one big fireball about to explode. Parents of the birthday child…well, planning out a party can be stressful, especially if you live overseas you have this idea of making the party a top-notched one right off a Pintrest page.

I admit, I have tried to be one of those moms. I have lugged party hats, plates, cups, napkins, banners, etc for all three kids half way around the world. I have a patient husband. I loved making the cakes, decorating, and planning the games to all go around the theme. Then the day of the party would come, and I’d be nervous – I’d be smiling and laughing, but deep inside I just wanted it to end. I was afraid it would flop. I know silly me, it isn’t about the party, but about the child… A few years ago, I caught on…sort of. My son got older and didn’t want the theme. He just wanted his friends, cake, and playing at the park. It was one of the best parties for me. It was easy and the kids still had a blast. Same for Mei Mei, simple with friends equaled fun.

But, what do you do for a child who has no friends?

Jie Jie has no friends. Really. She has tons of people who love her and who she loves dearly. These people range from adults, kids in her school, to people at church, but she doesn’t have friends. This isn’t a huge issue until her birthday comes around and I try to plan a party. I think her last party was when she was in Kindergarten and we invited her class – the special ed class in the local school. Of course, it was themed – Penguins!

Then we started homeschooling, and I’ll be honest every year I dreaded her birthday. Each one reminded me what she lacked – and it wasn’t just friends. I’d be reminded that she was one year older and farther away from the learning curve of other kids her age. Both facts punched the gut and I couldn’t plan anything. So, the past few years we’ve just gone out for supper and had some cake with a few presents. Then guilt would pour over me for not planning a nicer party for her. Nasty cycle.

We just celebrated her 11th birthday last week. A week before her birthday, I felt the pressure, the dread. My husband informed me that we were having a party this year. I asked, “Who are we going to invite?” He told me, “No one, we are going to have a family party.” I’ll admit, I dragged my feet and didn’t think it was going to be much fun – but then he made me go out with him to buy presents. We bought her a calculator, a flashlight, amongst some other things. We talked about what we could do – like games to play, simple decorations, and planned a trip to the zoo for that weekend. Amazing how attitudes can change once the focus shifts to more positive thoughts. My husband is such a great and wise man.

The day of her birthday, I brought her and the kids home early. We frosted the cake and set up the game, “Pin the Tail on Bullseye” that my sister had sent to use for her birthday last year. Ge Ge blew up the “Toy Story” balloons, also from last year’s package that we hadn’t used. When my husband got home, the party began. We all played the game, ate cake, and watched her open presents. We took her out to eat for supper and the restaurant sang to her and gave her a birthday balloon. This past weekend the five of us went to the zoo because that is what she wanted to do. She wanted to see the giraffes.

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It was the best birthday party we’ve had in years for her. You know those moments you sit back and watch the world around you – in amazement of your family and how grateful you are for each one? That was sentimental me this past week. I know that she would have had a blast with just cake and presents, but playing the game and laughing together was what I needed. A reminder that simple pleasures like a party is good for the soul.

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So, how do you do birthdays? Do you go all out (don’t worry, I won’t judge you…in fact, I applaud you!) Or do you do simple family birthdays? Do you have a child with special needs? What do you do? Please share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.