Tag Archives: kids

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

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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.

 

There’s no other way to put this – I’m really, really, really into summer. I love the heat. I love the food – eating fresh and light from the garden. I love making a meal out of chips and guac and a nice cold beer. And then there are the long, long drawn out evenings. One of my all time favorite feelings is being tired and worn out from a day in the sun.

So many of the details of my summer memories are wrapped up in my childhood. Growing up in the Texas Hill Country gave my brother and me (and all of our friends) the pleasures of Hamilton Pool, Barton Springs and Pace Bend. And when those places got too crowded or it was too far to drive or it was late at night, there was always swimming at a friend’s pool (or even occasionally in a rumored-to-be-water-moccasin-infested tank…for the under-informed, a tank is what we call a small pond that cows can drink from). We also had lots of lots of barbeque and tacos and chips and salsa and burgers on the grill and Blue Bell. And, well, it really is very, very, very, very hot – it creates a certain way of being…lazy, and relaxed, and kind of tough in a weird sort of way. When I’m here in Texas in the summer I feel completely defined by this part of my past. There’s no place I’d rather be and I spend a lot of time watching my kids as they learn to navigate these weeks of summer that we always spend here.

For those of us nomads that are parents, there’s a point at which we ask ourselves what we’re going to do to make sure our children feel that somewhere is home. For my husband and me, the single most important factor is that our children feel that home is where we hang out hats. The walls may be different, the beds not “truly” our own, the sights and smells and sounds a cacophony of the new and strange, but if we’re together (the five of us) that’s all that really matters. We take time to make traditions that fit our mobile lifestyle and we stick with them through thick and thin.

But in addition to creating a sense of family that goes wherever we go, we’ve also committed to making our hometown (for my husband and me that’s Austin) feel like home. It’s exciting to see that as our children get older, they’re collecting experiences that lay the groundwork for their own fond memories of this special time. The experiences are their own and different from mine – different camps, different places to swim, their own friends and interests, but they’re punctuated by the many things that are familiar to me – the same food, the incessant heat, the long, long evenings that seem to go on forever.

Watching all of this come together (the combination of our never-ending moves abroad along with summers spent back home in Austin) fills me with an incredible awareness of how very special and unique our lifestyle is. I feel the passage of time and know that summer days that seem so recent are now twenty or even thirty years ago for me. I know for sure that my own love of this place with its heat and water and good food and long days is being instilled in them. At the same time, I note with such a full sense of peace and satisfaction, that they’re so blessed to have this and to have all of the other intricate and complicated parts of their international life too. I can’t help but be excited in advance for the incredible mix of memories they’re creating – here in the Texas Hill Country and in so many little corners of the world. Love. Love. Love. Summer.

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Today I watched my 6 year-old walk across the stage at his Kindergarten graduation. He’s the same kid who almost died four months ago. The same kid who played one day with his friends and then left almost everything he loves, with no prior warning, to get on a small plane to a hospital in a country he’d never been to. The same kid who gets four shots a day and anywhere between six and twelve (or even sometimes more) finger sticks over the course of each and every 24 hours.

And, he’s the same kid that is a natural with anything that requires running or jumping or sliding or involves a ball. He’s the kid who can now read, add single digit numbers with no fingers (usually) and tell you what items on your plate contain carbohydrates. He’s the kid with the killer blue eyes, the mischievous, pure-love smile, and the blonder than blond, still baby-fine hair. He’s the one who’s grown over an inch since January. He wears either (and only) soccer cleats or cowboy boots…always. He’s the one who loves hugs and babies and super heroes.

He’s nothing short of incredible – when the going’s easy and when the going’s just plain tough.

Not to exaggerate here, but really, aren’t we all? I don’t know about you, but I look at my children, my husband, my family and my many friends in all of the corners of the globe and I think – these people are Amazing!

While it may seem that sometimes (or lots of times) we arrive at every major milestone rather easily, the truth is – it takes a lot to get here. It takes a lot to get wherever you are. Whether you’re dodging bullets or vomit, climbing mountains or stumbling over Legos – if it feels easy, it’s easy because you’re good at it, you hold your head up and focus on putting one foot in front of the other. If it feels difficult, it’s difficult because you’re human and sometimes life throws us some really nasty stuff. We all fall on both ends of this spectrum – the person who sails through and the person who gets thrown off course.

Let’s remember this for ourselves and for the people who surround us. Take some time today to say, “Close call! Good job! Way to hang in there!” or “Wow, you’re getting good at this! Hard work’s paying off! Nicely done!” No judgment, just love, for all the dedication it takes to get here.

Earlier this week my son’s baseball team had the first game of their end of season tournament. This event, and well everything that has happened in the last five months, is so outside the purview of things I ever imagined happening. I assumed we would be wrapping up our family’s final months in Antananarivo. Who knew it would all end up this way.

But, back to baseball. I’m finding myself preparing to miss this weekly ritual that has taken up so much (and by that I mean A LOT) of our time in the last couple of months. The dust of the baseball fields, the now familiar layout of the dugouts and batting cages and concession stand on several acres of land that, up until recently, I’d never been to.

I’m also really struck by the now so well known faces of the parents in the stands. Shockingly, in most cases we don’t even really know each other’s names (mostly we’re so-and-so’s mom or dad). But we’ve developed this sort of easy camaraderie around the ups and downs of the 8U Rangers Georgetown Youth Baseball Association team. With the incredible background of the last 5 months for us, I appreciate seeing these people I barely know a few times a week. And I like them, even in the limited capacity in which I know them.

I can’t help but wonder if this is part of the constant cross-cultural adjustment of our lives as expats. Because everything is always so unpredictable, we tend to see even limited contact with people as significant to the broader need for interpersonal connection. The longer we’re in this life the more I realize that even these seemingly small relationships with people we very well may never see again matter.

This idea serves as a daily reminder of the importance of connecting with others – from a smile genuinely offered to the young woman who serves your coffee to a heartfelt thank you to the loved ones that always seem to be there when we need them the most. And that, in turn, reminds me (as oh so many things do) what a blessing it is to live this life of wandering. For it is in the constant presence of everything new that we surely learn to appreciate the many truths that through time and distance never change.