Tag Archives: kids

A couple of nights ago we faced a life-threatening health emergency with one of our children. Our middle son has Type 1 Diabetes. It’s well controlled and even though it’s a big part of our lives, it mostly now feels like a background fact. It’s been almost 4 years and, except for his initial diagnosis, he hasn’t faced a single emergency or hospitalization…until the other night.

One of the most upsetting things about what happened is that it was a simple mistake – picking up the wrong insulin and injecting him with fast-acting instead of short-acting insulin. He was fine in the end, but the whole thing was really scary. I won't mince words here - it was potentially fatal.

I hesitate in some ways to make this statement - it seems so cliché - but mindfulness totally saves me in moments like this. In looking back, I can see how having spent years practicing more mindful responses to stress (as opposed to my old way which was full-freak-out) has helped me even in the most critical of moments.

When things like this happen, the definition of mindfulness comes into vivid focus. And I'm reminded that this is why we practice, practice, practice at tuning in...even when we don't always feel like we're "succeeding."

I'm in no way different from anyone else. Next time I might lose it. But the practice comes to you when you need it. It's like running a marathon. Even if you haven't trained, you'll probably be more prepared if you're running a few miles every day than if you're sitting on the couch watching movies.

Everyday mindfulness is about seeing life as it is. It is about paying attention to what is really happening, taking in what we witness there and moving through that experience to the next place. It helps us to live more in tune with ourselves and with those around us. It helps us move closer to being the people we really want to be in the world and it supports us in getting back on track when we've lost our way.

It does not mean avoiding stress. It is not about pretending everything is okay when it’s not. It’s not about making yourself feel calm or relaxed all the time. It's not about being perfectly happy with every moment. It's about living fully aware of the way things really are and responding from that place so that we live more fully.

Mindfulness also helps me to recognize that my natural tendency is to chase worst-case scenarios, to imagine endless what-ifs. It helps me get up close and personal with that fact of my personality. There were certainly moments the other night when I thought - "What if...!". I know I'll mess up and fail and feel overwhelmed a million times in my life. Sometimes I worry that the next big "catastrophe" will be the final straw to stability. We all do...right...just me? When I'm mindful, I'm freed to see that that's only one part of the story.

When things are well, mindfulness helps me notice and be grateful. When things are tough, it provides the little bits of light in the woods.

The good news is, none of this is rocket science. We can all practice becoming more mindful. These are skills we all have – listening to what our bodies are telling us, naming and honoring all of the emotions we feel, seeing the ways in which our assumptions get in the way of more creative solutions to the problems we face each day.

Often, we’ve simply unlearned these abilities. Moments like this really remind me of why it’s important to keep relearning. It’s like going from black and white to full color again and again and again.

What if you could face all sorts of challenges and still hold yourself together enough to come out the other side wiser, stronger and still laughing? Maybe not every time, but at least some times...or even just a bit more than you are now.

It sounds impossible and yet these skills exist. Mindfulness is not the cure-all for all of the things that we face in life and certainly, many life events are so painful we can’t even bear to consider them. Trust me, my brain has gone there.

But what if you have an entire toolbox of abilities that you’re not accessing? What if you could rediscover those tools, learn when and how to access them and put into place the habit of using them every day?

You know, it might even be simpler than you think.

Want to learn how you can bring more mindfulness into your life?

Join me for my upcoming Mindfulness Skills for Parenting Workshop. We’ll be using the very practical and totally accessible methods outlined in the Personal Leadership program. Read more about PL here and check out my reflections on becoming a PL facilitator here.

Or, check out these resources below. Note - this list is far from exhaustive. These are some of my favorites.

Websites/Apps

Headspace (website and app)

Insight Timer (app)

Soundstrue.com

UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center

University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness

Mindfulness/Meditation Teachers to trust:

Tara Brach

Jon Kabat-Zinn (Google him for more info)

Jonathan Froust

Jack Kornfield

Sharon Salzberg

Pema Chodron

Books

Making a World of Difference: Personal Leadership a Methodology of Two Principles and Six Practices - Schaetti, Ramsey and Watanabe

Wherever You Go There You Are and Full Catastrophe Living – both by Jon Kabat-Zinn

10% Happier – Dan Harris (This is a great, easy to read book for people who find themselves somewhat skeptical about how to go about living more mindfully.)

The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin (not specifically mindfulness, but still a good resource)

Thinking about joining my upcoming Mindfulness Skills for 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.

Click on the link at top to register today! Also be sure to check out this free download of my chapter on mindfulness and parenting from Raising Kids in the Foreign Service.

* 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.




In 2015, I had the honor and privilege to write a chapter in the Foreign Service parents’ support guide – Raising Kids in the Foreign Service.

Written by FS parents for FS parents, the book is a must-have and includes tons of great ideas, along with first-hand knowledge and information. You can purchase a copy here.

I am pleased to share that I now have my chapter – The Oxygen Mask: Mindfulness for Expat Parents – available here for download.

This chapter offers my insights and experiences as a typical parent attempting to not lose my mind with three kids and 8 moves in under 10 years. Thank you for reading! And be sure to check out the additional bonus offer mentioned at the end of the chapter.

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Traditions for Transfer

I recently came across a letter I wrote to myself in January 2000. It’s sealed. I haven’t opened it and I’m not sure when I will. The idea of writing letters to myself has long had this sort of mysterious appeal to me. I think it lies in the idea that there’s a gift in finding a way to be your own personal cheerleader months or even years later.

This summer we will move for the 8th time in 7 years. This move will just be from Yokohama to Tokyo, but the difference of 15 miles will bring a lot of changes – new neighborhood, new friends, new schools for the kids, a new job for my husband, new grocery stores and post offices, restaurants and doctors’ offices. A lot will stay the same, but many more things will be different.

It makes me wonder if perhaps I should be writing a letter to myself each time I move. It might be something new to add to the things we already do. I think it might be nice to have a letter I write before I move that I could then open up and read before the next move. I love the idea of rituals around moving and traditions that individuals and families create to ease the transitions.

There are so many wonderful, insight-building and compassionate ways to ritualize a move and to make transitions smoother. I’ve come across so many of these activities over the years. I’m seriously considering adding the letter to myself to the list.

Are you facing an international move? Is this your first or one of many? Have you ever used a ritual or tradition to make your move feel more easeful?

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. (New one!) Write a letter to yourself. Include your thoughts and feelings, your expectations and worries. Seal it. Hold onto it and read it just before your next move.

2. Create a space box. This is a personal one that my husband and I started when we were first dating back in 1998. We still use it to this day and I’ve included it in my book. Read the details here.

3. Inspire conversation. This one came from a recent discussion on a Facebook group I belong to. Place large pieces of paper on the walls around your dining room (or some place else that your family regularly gathers together). Write the following headings one per paper on each of the papers – Things we will miss. Things we won’t miss. Things that will stay the same. Things we are looking forward to. Each night at dinner, invite family members to talk about the different categories and add things to the various lists.

4. Say "thank you." Purchase (or make) small, simple thank you gifts for the people who’ve made your home away from home feel like home. I especially like this for “community helpers” – the people who you don’t know well, but who always lend a hand, a smile or infinite patience when you’re out and about and trying your best to make a go of your life overseas.

5. Make an Instagram wall collage. This is one I really love. When we were temporarily back home a couple of years ago I took photos of my favorite places around my hometown. It now serves as a collage in our entryway. People often comment on it and I like getting the chance to brag about my hometown a bit. I think it could also be a great way to remember your favorite places from one of your other “homes.”

6. Create a soundtrack of your time in your adopted home. Like many people, our family is very much inspired by the music that makes up a particular time and place in which we’ve lived. We love hearing songs that remind us of the different phases of our life. This activity is especially fun if you live somewhere with music that’s quite different than what you’re used to in your home country.

These are just a few of the many options for ritualizing transition. You might also try Googling to find some other ideas or ask your other expat friends.

Also, be sure to check out my book – The Expat Activity Book. All 20 exercises are relevant to almost every phase of transition.

I'd love to hear your ideas and share them with other blog readers. Leave me a comment below with some of your favorite transition traditions.

Seychelles Mama

Don't forget the detours.

The first thing my daughter said when she woke up this morning was, “Momma, will you take me to school on your bike this morning?” I so wanted to…but I also didn’t. I could see all of these excuses in front of me – I don’t really know the bike route to her school, the bike is new and I don’t yet have a patch kit and supplies, I don’t have a good place to store a water bottle, I had a client session scheduled for 10:00 AM.

I told her I would think about it. That’s all it took. She was so enthusiastic – looking at the bike, telling me it looked sturdy and ready to go, getting dressed and following all of my instructions to make sure she was ready on time. “Please Mommy,” she kept saying.

Between dishes and lunches and beds and backpacks, I was able to sneak a peak at the trail map. It looked pretty doable. I figured at any rate, if I got lost I’d just get up on the road. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal if she were late to preschool. We probably weren’t going to have a flat or an accident. The ride’s only an hour round trip, I couldn’t get that thirsty. I'd definitely be back by 10:00.

I found myself saying yes.

Normally, I’m a big believer in saying no to the things that you’re not super enthusiastic about doing. But, this is one of those cases where I had the exact opposite feeling. In my heart, I wanted to take her, to spend time with her, to get in a great workout, to be out in nature, to try something new.... it was just different than what I had planned on for the morning. As I went through my mental list of excuses, I realized that all of them were really excuses based on the fact that I’d already planned my morning and a bike ride wasn’t initially part of that plan.

While I was getting dressed, I took myself through my mental list of excuses and realized that none of them really prevented me from taking her to school on my bike. The only thing stopping me from having a pleasant morning with my daughter was me and my silly plan.

To be honest, changing the plan made me a little anxious. We’re at that place where we’re starting to transition. I don’t feel over-scheduled, but I do feel fully scheduled…if not logistically, at least mentally. It’s that time where you feel like any small shift in the plan could set the whole thing tumbling on the floor like an unstable pyramid of oranges in the produce section.

And yet, we took the bike. And it was awesome. We got a little lost at one point – that’s what maps are for. It was hot and steamy, but it didn’t rain – it was a good workout. After dropping her off, I skidded on a rocky incline, fell and scraped up my knee – it actually feels kinda’ nice… like being a kid again.

I needed this reminder today. I love our life, but the packing and moving never get easier. I’ve gotten better at managing the moves, at knowing where the ups and downs will be and at staying true to myself in the midst of transition – but it remains challenging. Today was the day that I was reminded that one fool-proof way to live through it is to say yes here and there to the detours and when you find yourself on one, you might as well go ahead and have fun.

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childhood memories blog post

Today I hosted a play date for my two oldest children. In addition to my boys, there were three other TCKs. For much of the afternoon they played a game that was one part good guys/bad guys, one part chase and one part hide-and-seek. They laughed and screamed and beat a path from bedroom to bedroom in our tiny apartment.

This got me thinking about the fact that sometimes, despite all of the amazing things my children have seen and are seeing because of our international life, I really wish they could do some of the things I did as a kid.

Things like:

  • Lying in the driveway looking at stars and counting the falling ones.
  • Building forts in the cedar trees and collecting juniper berries and leaves and twigs and making magic potions out of them.
  • Walking late at night through ranch land to a friend’s house only fearing coyotes and snakes and stray barbed wire.
  • Reading in a hammock, listening to wind chimes.
  • Passing notes and staying up late with the same friends since kindergarten.

I’ve shared this feeling with my husband off and on over the years. He laughs because his childhood was nothing like mine. He, of course, has completely different memories that fuel his understanding of what childhood should be like.

He’s good at reminding me that what I really want them to have is good memories – memories of laughter and security and adventure.

Today I had this moment in the kitchen, making popcorn and listening to the laughter of this silly bunch of kids who’ve lived all over the world, that they have exactly what I had and exactly what my husband had. They have now and are creating every day memories that are tailored exactly for and by their own experiences.

And that’s what makes childhood memories so special. It’s not the place or the time or the exact activity, it’s the fact that you were there. You were fully engaged. You lived in that moment. In all your perfect kid-ness you just lived…without comparison or envy or the feeling that the grass was greener on the other side.

Come to think of it, that’s not too shabby of a lesson for each and every one of us…no matter how old.

 

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

IMG_2751

This weekend I gave my kids the Referee Bop Bag (official name per the internet) you see pictured above. It was a gift, but it’s been in the back of my closet for about 6 months waiting for the perfect day to make its appearance. Three kids, rain, cold, 800 square feet and late afternoon restlessness was all it took. This thing is awesome! Poor guy.

Who knew the entertainment factor for this thing could be so off the charts. Apparently there’s no end to the delight achievable by punching, kicking and tackling a 4-foot tall, plastic, pear-shaped dummy.

I’ve had a number of thought-provoking observations in the 24 hours the Ref has been in our lives. Like whether a free-for-all approach is preferable to taking turns. Or, the fact that my 2 year old daughter apparently has a face of steel – she’s been the victim of more than one gravity-based backlash from the dummy. But, perhaps the most surprising thing I’ve noticed is how very particular each of my kids is in the way they go about playing…or pummeling…this toy.

Bear with me here on these observations. As someone who spends a lot of time helping people figure themselves out – I never quite get away from noticing these sorts of things.

My oldest is gentle and systematic, but persistent. Single left jabs over and over and over again right between the eyes. Punch the dummy, the dummy bops back up, punch the dummy again. He’s like a metronome. Maybe he laughs or smiles a little bit. It seems therapeutic in the way knitting or coloring is therapeutic. He seems to value the consistency and the rhythm of it.

My middle child is all out, free for all, anything goes on The Ref! Laughing, singing, dancing, kicking, carrying and (once or twice) throwing. It’s like the dummy gives him permission to unleash every ounce of energy he has stored up. And he loves that thing – he said goodnight to it, checked in on it first thing in the morning. I’m sure before we know it the guy will have a name. Come to think of it…they’re the same height. At least the dummy is tolerant of this passionate play.

And then there’s my daughter. At two years old, she more or less goes for the dummy in the same way my middle child does, but since she’s smaller and the thing towers over her she tends to collapse in giggles and spend more time on the ground laughing than actually punching it. Her kicks almost always knock her over instead of the dummy. It’s hilarious.

When my kids are punching that dummy – there’s no agenda. They’re just punching away in the way that feels most natural and most satisfying for them. As long as they’re not hurting anyone, there aren’t really any rules. There’s no right and wrong.

As adults, we spend a lot of time judging others for the way they do things or judging ourselves for the ways in which we go about dealing with the challenges in our lives. To be fair, sometimes the ways in which we deal with the world around us are harmful (to ourselves and to others), but lots of times they’re not. Like the way my kids tackle the dummy, we’re faced every day with tackling life in own unique way.

I like to imagine how we can grow from taking the bop bag as a reminder of the fun, freedom and self-awareness needed to confront the challenges that we face by owning up to what works best for each of us. We benefit greatly from looking honestly at what inspires us, moves us and brings us home.

So as I sit here staring at that bop bag and knowing that come 4:00 PM the kids will be back in here punching away, I’m using him as my own reminder of the importance of taking things at my own pace – sometimes slow, sometimes hectic, always steadily on to the next day (or place).

Oh, and before I forget, if you’re interested in your very own Referee Bop Bag, it looks like you can buy him here.

Today was one of those days. You know, the days in your expat life when you think, “Why are we doing this? Again.” I find these days always hit me completely out of the blue. We’re going along, no big deal, feeling on top of the world and (honestly) quite proud of ourselves and our children. We feel like transition rock stars. And then – Bam!

Yesterday we were looking at some family photos from our last home in Madagascar. Because of his Type I Diabetes diagnosis my middle son was never able to say goodbye. He got sick. He went to the doctor. He got on a plane. He’s never been back. He found the photos upsetting. He got teary-eyed seeing his toys and his room and his friends reflected in the pages as we recalled our favorite memories. His siblings had closure. He never really did. At bedtime he was saying, “I want to go home.” But, of course, it’s not home…anymore.

Last night I had a dream that he and I were in a foreign country and we got distracted by something that was happening in the street and laid our bags down, then a civil war broke out, then our bags were stolen, then a small, starving child latched on to us and wouldn't let us go. That’s my psyche working out the conflicts that always come up living this lifestyle. We wouldn’t give this up. We’re happy. It’s a way of life and the benefits, for now, far out-weigh the downsides. But man, that dream really hit me.

And then I remember:

  • Expat or not, I’d probably still worry sometimes (or…always?) that I’m screwing up my kids.
  • Sad days happen no matter where you are.
  • This lifestyle can be hard, but not always. Today is just one of the hard days.
  • There’s a lot to be said for love…and hugs.
  • I’m not alone.
  • Some things are portable – like fun, and silliness, and getting outside, and (more) love.

The funny thing is, by today he was completely back to his usual self. That makes me think that that list up there, all those things I say to give myself some perspective aren’t just things I say, they’re habits that my husband and I live out…and the kids know that. They’ve learned to tell themselves those things too. They’ve come to believe them to be true. So…now I’m back to thinking – wow, we’re kind of transition rock stars…most of the time.

This morning, driving back from dropping the kids at summer camp, my husband I had a great conversation about music. We’re huge music lovers at our house and we see that permeating our kids lives as well. We were noticing that one of the greatest joys of our international lifestyle is the complicated and diverse fabric of music we have come to love. My husband and I can understand the lyrics to songs in English, French, Spanish and even a bit of Japanese. Our kids on the other hand (despite once being bilingual in English and Spanish and having a smattering of French), really don’t understand the lyrics most of the time…frankly, even if it’s in English, their native language.

But, they’re so moved by the rhythm and the energy that comes from the things they hear. Some of their favorite songs they simply request by reproducing the beat or other times they approximate the lyrics by giving a go at what they believe they’re hearing (as you can imagine, this is especially adorable).

As we were talking this morning, I was thinking about this and the way in which it’s another unexpected positive consequence to this mobile lifestyle. Their flexibility with experiences, with language and with culture is being formed in so many complex ways we never even really think of.

And, it’s yet another thing that reminds me how little actually needs to be “done” in order to make this lifestyle work. We kind of just nestle down into living, having fun and making our best go of it without overcomplicating things. Then out the other side comes a simple, unencumbered ability to dance to a rhythm that moves us – even if we never really understand each and every detail.

For the music lovers out there – here are a few favorites that we never get tired of hearing.

We love Stromae and he actually gave a really great NPR interview with Eleanor Beardsley this morning.

Such a fun and addictive song! This was a real hit of the elementary school birthday party set when we were living in Madagascar.

Ok - we LOVE this one, but be warned - the video is horribly sexist...I also can't promise that none of the lyrics aren't offensive....but, on dance beat alone, this song is hands down a favorite.

And here - just a simple, never-gets-old classic. I have to admit too - I love the fact that my kids only really recognize the Spanish one.