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For many of you in the expat/overseas/around-the-world community, the I Am a Triangle Community on Facebook has been a life-saver - one of the few places you can connect with people who truly "get" the ins and outs of this crazy lifestyle.

I Am a Triangle founder, Naomi Hattaway, has transitioned the IAAT group from Facebook to an official website and online community hosted by Mighty Networks. Learn all about it and join the community here.

I am also super excited and incredibly honored to be a featured blogger in the resource section of the new website. You can check out great blog posts from a wonderful community of triangle writers here.

Go straight to my first IAAT blog post, Ghosts Know No Borders, here.

 

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Almost every summer for the past nine years, we’ve gone home. As we eke out the last few days of tacos, swimming pools and grandparents in this summer’s 7-week adventure, I see that this trip home has been different than others.

I had not realized before that, for my husband and me, these trips back home all come with the same reflections and contemplations – How have I changed? How long will we keep doing this? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this lifestyle? Who do we want to see? Who is it better to let fall off the radar this year?

For our children, the summers have always been – More swimming! More American television! More tacos! More ice cream!

Not this summer. Their eyes have opened. It’s been an unexpected gift.

I’ve read a lot about raising TCKs. Forget the books – this summer is the summer they’re teaching me more than ever before. With simple words, little stories, dreams recounted on lazy mornings and tears and smiles that come from nowhere – I’m seeing our lifestyle from their eyes in new and vivid colors.

This is the summer that I’ve learned:

With each passing year, they see more.

There is a progressive, deepening understanding of their lifestyle as the children of a diplomat. Our middle son, age 9, came into our room one night, bright eyes of a wise man. He says, “You might have seen me crying a little bit earlier. It’s because I got all the answers all at once. Well, not ALL the answers, but the answers. I’ve realized we move. I mean that’s what we do. We move and we move again. We just keep moving.” I’m reminded that I can never assume they know it, get it and have incorporated every aspect of our lifestyle – their understanding of and relationship with the way we live will keep evolving. Our work is never done in supporting them through each phase.

They have traveler’s eyes, all the time.

Because my children are always outsiders no matter where they go – even in their home country – they see every place as a location to be explored. Everyday, American things like playgrounds, squirrels and never-ending plains of grass are fascinating. They are offering me opportunities to see things I’ve never noticed.

Home is home. Vacation is vacation.

For my husband and I – we are at home when we are here. When we are in Tokyo, we are also home…but not HOME. For our children – this is vacation. This is not home. It is a place they are from, no doubt, but home? No, not really. Tokyo is home. The balance between teaching them they are from here while letting go of my own desire to define home (for myself, but inadvertently for them) takes constant rethinking.

They don’t have to be “on” all the time.

One day, about 3 weeks into our stay here, my oldest came to me crying. “I know that I’m supposed to know these people. You say that I used to play with them, but I don’t remember. I want to remember. I want to be nice and have fun, but really, I just want to do something else right now.” I shared this story with another expat-mom friend and she responded, “Yep! I tell my kids they don’t have to be on all the time when we’re here.” I can connect quickly and deeply here because the relationships and memories are all seamed together through shared history and location. Those relationships, to my children, hang by single threads. I have to give them permission to tune out some and even teach them to cut ties when and if they need to.

Siblings.

There are millions of upsides to going home each summer. Spending concentrated sibling time is one of them. When you have no other friends to escape to, no school activities, no routines to fall back on and no room to hide in – you have to invent and play and fight and make up. I see their relationship deepening with each passing week. Mobile best friends are amazing.

Some things they will remember, some things they won’t.

I’ve started so many sentences with, “Do you remember…?” Blank stares often follow. I’m teaching myself to avoid saying, “Wow! How can you have forgotten?” and “What!? He was one of your closest friends.” I’m working more on, “That’s okay. It was a long time ago,” and “Hm. Maybe you’ll remember when we get there. I remember that you really loved it when you were young.” I want to work towards teaching them that forgetting some parts of their past lives is actually okay and perhaps even necessary for survival in a life of constant change.

My friends are not their friends.

What more can I say on this one? If we lived a life in one place they would be surrounded all the time by the same grown-ups. Instead, I see them developing deep, meaningful, trust-worthy relationships with adults in each place we live. Ultimately, I find that this promotes choice and boundary setting. They approach relationships with a self-assuredness and outgoing nature that is unique to this way of living.

They will not love the same things about going home that I love.

Okay, so some things here everyone loves. We’re fortunate to be from Austin and that’s a place people want to go. When I come home, I’m coming back to see and experience all the things I loved growing up. I’m also lucky that this is a place that always seems to be changing in really cool ways – so there is a lot more to explore and learn about each time we're here. My kids, however, are falling in love with their own experiences here. In a sense, we have to treat it like a whole new place where everyone has his or her personal must-see/must-do list.

Family is home.

At the end of the day, a mobile lifestyle means our little family of five is our safe space. The world changes around us and we move and experience new countries and cultures, but for the most part, we stay the same. The stability of our home life and family rituals is a foundation upon which to grow (even when we're moving). It takes time and effort to reinforce this perspective, but over the years having done so – we see how important it is when we’re home. When the days are long, the miles exhausting, the newness too much to bear – hugs and an empathetic ear from someone who gets it can make all the difference.

Nothing can be forced, only offered.

The friends and family we see when we go home and the opportunities to do new and interesting things while we’re here can be overwhelming to all of us. We have to be lots of different people at once. Each moment must be approached with a gentle, loving heart. The space for learning to love this place we call “home” can be offered, the opportunity presented, but deep down it must always be done with the knowledge that they may say, “No thank you.”

I’m no expert. There are lots of times when I wonder if we’re doing the right thing. And, of course, there are even more times when I am profoundly aware that my children are getting the best of all possible worlds – deep roots to a place they can, if they choose to, call home and strong connections to potential heart-homes all over the world. I’ve found the key this summer is in observing how they’re learning. I didn’t expect that this summer, as they’ve aged and grown, would be the summer when their learning was also their chance to teach me more about how to be their mom.

Check out some of my other posts on parenting TCKs at the links below.

Mindfulness for Expat Parents: FREE Chapter Download

Traditions and Rituals for Smoother Transitions

The Upside to Detours

Making Memories All Your Own

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Every one of us is made up of layers and layers of experience. Our personalities, our likes and dislikes, our success and failures and our dreams and nightmares are all part of who we are.

For those of us who live a globally mobile lifestyle, those layers are further complicated by the fact that we can be one person in one place and an entirely different person in another. Or, at least, it can often feel that way.

I hear this so often from my coaching clients. One of the most common expat feelings is the sense that some of our most cherished personal qualities get buried under the stress and anxiety of moving from place to place. Alternatively, some of the parts of ourselves that we most desire to change, end up sticking around because let’s face it – doing our personal work is hard even if we stay in one place.

But with practice and dedication, we can learn to reveal more of our layers. As we do this, we begin to live more as our complete selves which, in turn, can help us feel more secure, confident and fulfilled – even if we’re moving around a lot!

Here are just a few ways some of my most successful clients have learned to honor their multi-layered selves:

  • They take time to find out what those layers are. Make a list of the keys areas of your life. I like to include these 7 areas: emotional, spiritual, professional, social, intellectual, practical/physical environment and health. For each of these areas, write down some of your most important needs, priorities or values.
  • They practice saying, “I am…”. I am a writer, I am an artist, I am a poet, I am a runner, etc. Do you have a passion or skill that you feel shy about sharing? That’s normal, but with practice comes acceptance – from yourself and from those around you.
  • They tell people what they’re working on. Whether it’s something you’re proud of or something you’re hoping to change – don’t keep it a secret! Getting trusted companions involved in our growth helps us feel accountable to the changes we’re hoping to make and it reveals layers that may not always be evident to the outside world.
  • They share stories. Story telling is a great way to learn more about the complex layers of our lives and it also helps others (especially when we’re making new friends in a new place) see how dynamic we really are.
  • They commit to being a good friend. One of the best ways that we learn about ourselves is to invest in relationships. Taking time to honor the people around us enables us to bring forth our best selves. Read here for some of my favorite skills of socially adaptable expats.
  • They ask a lot of questions...and then they ask again. All the time - to themselves and to others. They get really, really curious.
  • They know that the things they love are not frivolous or silly. If you have a unique interest of hobby, recognize that this interest is a key part of making you feel like yourself and then find people with whom you can share this interest.
  • They stop shrugging. This is so common! I do it all the time! When we have something special to share, when we receive a compliment, when we have the opportunity to open up – we often do it with a shrug of the shoulders. In an effort not to standout, we hide behind the shrug. Instead – square your shoulders and go for it! Own up to all the layers of yourself!
  • They never stop growing! Give yourself space to revisit things that are working well for you and areas in which you feel stuck. Get help when you need it. Remember – you’re always a work in progress – layer after layer, year after year.

Living a globally mobile lifestyle doesn’t have to be an excuse for staying in one place on the inside. Your layers are amazing – let them show!

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I’ve always loved to be in gardens, but I’ve never really been a fan of actual gardening. This is because my mom used to make us pull weeds in the Texas heat with all those sticker-burrs and fire ants.

Over time I’ve come to appreciate gardening a little bit more. It’s fun to plant seeds and see things grow. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing your part for the world of the globally mobile by putting down some roots, even if they become the victim of forgetful watering.

A few weeks ago, I found myself the reluctant recipient of a community garden plot. I say reluctant because, to be honest, I wanted the plot when I applied for it a year ago, but then realized it was a good thing I didn’t win that lottery because there’s no way I had time to tend a garden. As the year passed, so did my gardening ambitions.

But there it was in my inbox - Congratulations! Welcome to the Community Garden!

Great.

Surprisingly, my reluctance turned, quicker than I had expected, into enthusiasm. Maybe I could turn this little plot into something. Maybe. After a few days of indecision, I went and bought some dirt and some seeds. Then I dragged myself over to the weedy patch of neglected earth and started working….and learning.

And who would have guessed - when you dig in the dirt and think about, "How'd we get here?" you end up with an all new opportunity to reflect on life overseas. Here are few of the lessons that have come to me between rocks and ants and mystery sprouts.

Don’t overthink past decisions.

You’ll do all sorts of weird things in the midst of transition (like apply for a garden plot) that will later seem ill advised. That’s okay. Maybe they will indeed turn out to be questionable or maybe they’ll turn out just right. Either way – it’s how you choose to handle them in the moment and going forward that really matters.

Remember you have choices.

Nobody says you have to do anything forever. What freed me up to finally say yes to the garden plot was the realization that I could say yes now and if it didn’t suit me – turn it over to someone else later. This is a good reminder for this lifestyle. While it’s not always easy (or even possible) to bailout entirely, remembering that we have choices is a nice reminder that we keep moving because we choose to, not because someone’s making us.

Nobody knows what you like except you.

Plant whatever you want to. I knew we would be traveling a lot this summer and I dreaded the idea of a bunch of herbs and vegetables growing wild and crazy so I just bought some flower seeds. This is an important point to remember when we’re setting up home somewhere else. There’s value in listening to the advice of those who’ve gone before us, but ultimately our responsibility is to creating a home that feels right for us, not for the Jane-expat next door.

Mistakes are part of the process.

Accept a certain degree of “failure.” Something’s eating the leaves of my sunflowers. Part of being a gardening novice is not-knowing. I really have no idea what I’m going to end up with or, frankly, what I’m doing at all! As expats, we benefit from accepting that we’ll make mistakes along the way, learn from them and grow to do better next time.

Surprises can be the biggest delight!

Getting this garden plot was not on my list of things I wanted to do this year. Last year it sounded great, but now I am in a completely different frame of mind and I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to care for it. But in saying yes, I found the little moments that make the garden worth it a million times over – watching over the growing flowers with my daughter, picking weeds and getting dirt under my nails, watering in the quiet space of the late afternoon as people wander home from work or school. The surprise is that it’s become my thing. Totally my thing that I care for and nurture – an unexpected gift hidden in plain sight.

And that’s how it goes, doesn’t it? We think we’ve got this thing all figured out, but then right in front of us are more lessons hiding in the weeds of the everyday experience of living around and around the world.

How are you weathering this latest transition or planning for the emotional ups and downs of the one just around the corner? Check out my coaching programs here and latest seasonal offers here.

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Last night my husband and I drifted off to sleep talking about where we might live next. We have two more years here before we move and since our oldest will be in high school by then it feels like there's a lot more to figure out.

But, in all honesty, this has been pretty much how we fall asleep every night since we’ve known each other. Having lived overseas off and on for the past 20 years (has it been that long!?) hasn’t done anything to alleviate the slow list of countries, their advantages and disadvantages easing from my sleep-drunk mouth as I settle into my pillow.

I think the final words last night were something like, “Latin America…sure. Maybe. Or maybe somewhere in Europe.”

I thought we were done with the conversation, but clearly my brain wasn't.

The Dream

We were driving, driving, driving – all packed in the car. Me, my husband, our 3 kids and (interestingly) my mom. It was a beach town. Hilly and beautiful, but full of people and obstacles in the road.

I was trying to find a parking space. “Get that one!” my Mom says.

“No. It’s too small. It’s only for those small cars.”

“But it’s so close.”

“I know, but I tried it. It’s too small….I’ll try again…yep, too small.”

Then more driving. The roads are getting trickier and curvier. There are steeper cliffs and tighter turns. There are more impossible parking spots. The view is nice though.

Finally, we come to the perfect spot, but the entry into the spot is super steep and at a jack-knife turn. I look over to see a family (coincidentally the family of another expat friend I’d just been talking to last night) standing in the parking space.

“Oh, they’re in our way. I’ll just get out and ask them to move.”

I get out. We all get out.

Then I realize I haven’t put on the parking break. The car begins to roll. I’m too late to stop it! It goes sailing, down the hill and over the cliff crashing into an antique store at the bottom of the hill.

“Crap!” I think. I check to make sure we’re all okay.

And then we just stand there watching.

We weren’t even all that afraid. No one freaked out. One guy stopped and took a photo.

We were just there watching and thinking, “Hm."

Hm...indeed.

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The other day my mom sent me a photo of a basket of peaches.

I want to be that basket of peaches.

I want to be the prickly, sweet way that they smell. I want to be the juice that seeps through the corners of the dry, crinkle sound of the paper bag that first housed them on the side of a two-lane road somewhere between Fredericksburg and Austin. Bluebonnets long since faded and replaced by green that won’t be brown until August...on a good year.

I want to climb inside the basket and feel how they’re both scratchy and soft at the same time. Like the little pig I once named Wilber…before I really understood what happens to Wilber.

I want to walk into HEB and pass right by the Georgia peaches that sit there in that big, wooden, less-expensive crate with the bright yellow sign that says, “Buy me because I’m cheaper!” and go straight for the smaller ones in the less visible display next to the limes and lemons.

Sure they’re smaller. Bring it on! Don’t Mess With Texas.

When you pick them up in your palm you already know they’re just right without even giving them a gentle squeeze. There’s always a stack of lunch sacks waiting just right on top or maybe sometimes in that little wooden holder.

Do they bring that holder out just for peach season?

Who would put peaches in a plastic bag?

Who would call tortillas, soft tacos?

Who drives by Dairy Queen without stopping for a Blizzard (small, extra Heath)?

But back to the peaches.

I want to hold the fruit in my hand and gently turn the knife around and around along the middle, making a meridian. Lots of meridians to cross between here and home. Lots of lines. This one in the peaches is perfect.

I want to be that moment, after the knife, when if it’s just the right peach, on just the right day (which is always June), at just the right time (which is always 3:00 in the afternoon) when you hold each side and twist. Snap. Not quite a snap though. More like a deep, just-waiting-to-give release.

And now it’s two sides. Eat one. Slice the other. Peel or no. That part's up to the consumer.

I want to be those peaches because in them there are so many memories. It’s like if I become them, crawl inside and live from them all the things that seemed so simple are still there.

Time stands still in those peaches.

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If you’re American, you probably remember the school presentations where a local firefighter would come and teach you what to do if you ever found yourself on fire – STOP, DROP and ROLL.

The likelihood that most of us will find ourselves literally on fire, is probably quite slim. The metaphorical fires of our lives, however, burn bright and strong. What do we do about those?

I’d like to propose a new, grown-up set of words: STOP, LISTEN, and CHOOSE.

STOP:

Every one of us has encountered the moment inside when we sense something’s up. That split second when we know that something doesn’t feel right or when the moment feels totally meant-to-be. It’s a sense in the pit of our belly. The first step in addressing our personal emotional fires is therefore – simply to stop. A simple pause, a brief reflection on the moment, three deep breaths is all it takes. Pause. Wait. Be still.

LISTEN:

Your body likes to tell you things. Butterflies in your stomach. Tension in your neck. A smile creeping across your face. Tears, just on the brim. In that pause, allow yourself to listen to what your body is telling you. What emotions are represented in the way your body is speaking? Are your tears those of gratitude, sadness or frustration? Did that smile touch off a memory? Do these sensations trigger a string of related thoughts or cause you to lose track of your thoughts all together?

CHOOSE:

And now what do you do? Here’s where you can make a choice about how best to incorporate what you’ve observed from stopping and listening. Is there something you need to say? How do you say it? What actions, if any, should you take in this moment? Do you need more time to be still? Perhaps a deeper listen? The choice is yours.

Life doesn’t have to be a series of fires you're scrambling to out put.

Stop. Listen. Choose.

 

 

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Summer can be a wonderful time to pursue coaching. Seems strange, right? For many expats, summer is the transition season - which means a lot of upheaval and uncertainty.

But over the years I noticed that my clients do some of their most creative and insightful work over the summer months. Here's why:

When we transition, travel, visit family or return home - everything looks different. Often we see our former selves, our former lives in contrast to who we've become as expats. We're asked to explain why we do what we do and for how long we'll continue. We see opinions and habits and perspectives that can feel shockingly different from our own. It can be really overwhelming. We're bombarded with opportunities for reflection. And, if we can harness that a bit - we begin to see shifts we'd like to make or changes that have long been on the horizon. In short - we see more clearly the things we'd like to work on.

Moreover, this time of the year can also mean that we lose our alone time. We experience a great reduction in personal space. Whether we're sleeping on couches or sharing bathrooms - we often find we're without the solitary moments we need in order to feel like ourselves. Coaching gives you 45-minutes per week that is only about you and what you want to work on. Scheduling that time, even when things are hectic, can be an incredible gift and a really powerful way to guarantee some self-care.

This summer, I'd like to make it easier for you to have the time to make the shifts and changes you've been hoping to make.

I'm offering 7 discounted coaching spots from May 1 through August 31, 2017. Each participant will receive six, 45-minute coaching sessions at my regular 4-session program rate of $500. This program is not eligible for additional discounts. All sessions must be completed by August 31. Complete your initial registration here.

Questions? Feel free to email me directly.

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Thinking about joining my upcoming Mindful Parenting Workshop in Tokyo? Wondering how you might put the skills you gain to use?

Here are a few highlights of how becoming more mindful has made a difference in my life with kids.

Top 10 Mindfulness-Saved-Me Moments in Parenting

  1. When shopping for 2 hours in the same store while trying to breast feed, change diapers and keep my 3 month old from crying.
  2. While straddling my kicking and screaming toddler so that I could brush his teeth.
  3. When sitting in a chair rocking and rocking and rocking for hours hoping the baby would fall asleep.
  4. When they have a really bad day. When I have a really bad day.
  5. When my child says, “Let’s run!” “Let’s race!” “Let’s play cars!” for the one hundredth time that day.
  6. When my child says, “You’re my favorite person in the world mommy. Will you be with me forever?”
  7. When my son almost died in a foreign country.
  8. When my husband doesn’t do it the “right” way…or when I don’t.
  9. When they say, “I wish we just stayed in one place,” and when they say, “I hope we do this forever.”
  10. When the Internet tells me something I do (or do not) need to know about raising children…always.

There are still a few spots open in the workshop so click here to register today or on the link at the top to learn more! Also be sure to check out this free download of my chapter on mindfulness and parenting from Raising Kids in the Foreign Service.

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* Please note: If you're coming to this post from the Tokyo Mother's Group Newsletter link - the information contained in the newsletter is not fully accurate. This event is a workshop (not a summit) and it is NOT being held at the US Embassy, but rather the Embassy compound in Roppongi. Please see below for full details. Thank you! Hope to see you there.

It’s such a cliché, but every parent knows it’s true – time goes too fast.

Author of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, published the video above a few years ago and it brings me to tears every time I watch it. As adults, we often lose the ability to see that living is now, that the moment we need to pay attention to is happening right in front of us, that the answers lie, not in tomorrow or the next day, but in what’s in our hearts at this very moment.

When we become more mindful, we wake up to what is happening around us. We can put a child’s eye to the moment – not to forsake all the things we’ve learned in life thus far, but to open up to new levels of creativity to solve challenges we face each day.

Most people know this, but it can be difficult to know where to begin.

My Mindful Parenting Workshop is designed to give you that starting point.

In this workshop we will:

  • Explore the link between mindfulness and creativity
  • Create a vision for how you hope to parent when you’re at your highest and best
  • Learn 6 simple mindfulness techniques for in-the-moment awareness
  • Practice an easily accessible tool (The Critical Moment Dialogue) for connecting to your vision and choosing the best action for you when you're facing difficult situations.

This workshop is about:

  • Brushing up on skills you were born with
  • Developing new skills to see possibility when you’re feeling stuck
  • Reminding yourself that you have everything you need to be exactly the parent you want to be
  • Connecting more deeply with life as it happens
  • Sharing with others and creating community around a common goal - becoming a more mindful parent

This workshop is NOT about:

  • Telling you how to parent
  • Making you feel alone
  • Pointing out mistakes you’ve made
  • Giving “expert” advice on what to do with your kids
  • Creating a problem-free existence

The spirit of this workshop is one of learning. I take the approach that we are all in this together. I have children, but I am not a parenting "expert." I’ve been fortunate to have developed my mindfulness practice personally and professionally (as a clinical social worker and certified life coach) over many years, beginning right after my oldest son was born almost 12 years ago. It is a daily journey.

Moreover, I am committed to offering an open, supportive and thoughtful small group experience. It's not always easy to decide to learn new things, to stretch yourself or to admit that some days it all just seems like too much. My intention that this space is supportive and open to all.

I know you will like what you learn here and I'm certain you’ll find it 100% applicable to your daily life.

The content for this program comes from the Personal Leadership framework for intercultural communication. PL is used throughout the world in schools, universities, international corporations and community programs. You can read more about it here. Read my recent blog post on the PL facilitator's training here.

Mindful Parenting Workshop Details

Date:

Thursday, May 11 & Thursday, May 18 from 9:00-11:00 AM

Where:

US Embassy Compound – Roppongi

Workshop Fee:

$60 USD (¥6,000 if paying cash at the door)

Register here.

NOTE ABOUT PAYMENT:

If you'd like to pay online now using credit/debit card or PayPal, you may do so by clicking the Buy Now button below (no PayPal account is needed). Please note that if you use a non-US based card, the fee will be converted to your card's currency and additional fees may be added.

Alternatively, follow the link to the registration form (above) for information on other payment options.




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