Tag Archives: memories

A parent in a Foreign Service Facebook group recently shared this video that her daughter made about being a Third Culture Kid. It's so well done and does a wonderful job of capturing the emotions of this lifestyle. I even teared up a bit watching it with my oldest son.

Being able to name and identify our emotions is key to successfully navigating the expatriate lifestyle. If you're interested in learning how to better understand your own thought and emotional patterns, consider checking out this free downloadable exercise from my book - The Expat Activity Book: 20 Personal Development Exercises for Gaining Insight and Maximizing Your Potential Wherever You Are. Or, click here to find out more about the book and purchase your copy.

Last year, in the space of 9 months, we lost my step-dad and both of my maternal grandparents. They were all people who’s influence in my life cannot be overstated.

You know those people who say or do something and you go back to it forever? The people whose words you access when you’re struggling with a decision? The individuals whose embrace, quiet reflection or gentle laugh brings you home even when you don’t know where you are?

Even some of their tiny, little throw-away sentences, things they probably would not even remember having said, now have permanent real estate in my brain. “I can’t really get on board with hell because I know some really nice Hindus,” or “I wouldn’t worry about it. You were dating. That’s what dating’s for.” I’ve filed them all away for reference. Small things may even have become the guiding force of my views on big things like love and spirituality.

I hold on to the fact that if I close my eyes I can still hear their voices. In that sense, they’re not really lost. Of course this means no hugs. But they’re not gone. Mostly I just refuse to believe that they are. I can still know them. Because of the millions of words exchanged between us over most of four decades I can still hear their responses to specific situations. It’s like my own secret panel of advisors.

This is kind of true for all my friends in far off places too. No, it’s not the same, but it’s not completely different either. There are moments when I know a dear friend is sleeping in her corner of the globe. I won’t wake her, but I know what she’d say and what she’d do if she were here. She (the many, many she’s all over) has her own stock of advice that I need to take and embraces that I need to accept. She’s another member of this invisible panel of advisors collected in my deepest thoughts.

And come to think of it – this isn’t just about the people either. All the little rincones of the globe hold their reflections that guide me too. I bet it’s the same for you. When you walk outside in Japan, sometimes you think, “This day feels like Madagascar.” Each place we’ve been has a reflection, a memory, some words of wisdom locked away to guide us.

We move to all these places and we meet all these people, but they don’t leave us.

We close our eyes and we can tread the same path from the fruit stand back to the office without even thinking. We hear the same car sounds and smell the same mix of exhaust and sea and in those moments all the things we learned come rushing back. The one thing she said that day, in the car, in the summer of 1984 that changed your whole perspective of the world. A clink of a glass, the scent of a loved one’s perfume, the feel of someone’s hand in your own – each little memory deepens the map in your mind that leads you back to wisdom.

So it’s not all lost, just a little bit different.

Just because you go from place to place doesn’t make you lost either, maybe just a little bit different.

There’s a lot of wisdom stored in those mental maps you’ve collected. Go ahead. Close your eyes and find it.

christmas-gift

My husband and I don’t exchange Christmas gifts anymore. Actually, we haven’t for years. It was a gradual process that has turned out to be one of my favorite details of our holiday celebrations. The process was accidental at first, but the reasons for our decision are rooted in our desire to live more from our personal values and not from outside expectations.

Of course, like anyone, we have moments where we struggle to find the balance between our values and the demands of a hectic international lifestyle, but this no-gifts philosophy has been a real success story for us. Here’s why.

I come from a gift-giving family. My husband does not. I enjoyed the process of finding the perfect opportunity to share something special. My husband approached it with dread and shame. He never felt like he’d live up to what I’d chosen for him. It was stressful. Something about that seemed really wrong. A gift shouldn’t make you feel bad. So we started to make gifts more simple. Nothing fancy. Maybe a just a book. Socks are fine.

Then, when our children were born their excitement at opening a special gift seemed like a gift to us. Nothing either of us could receive would measure up to the delight of seeing what Santa had placed beneath the tree. We started to get forgetful about our own and we realized it didn’t necessarily matter.

And so the gifts started to fade. They seemed less like a priority. We moved to just filling our stockings. That’s funny too because we realized – we take good care of our needs. We don’t need each other to buy our socks, or underwear, or Chapstick or purse-sized packets of tissue. That’s a lot of effort to fill your sock with stuff you can throw in the Amazon cart when you have a few minutes at work. Why are we doing this again?

About six years ago we started hosting Christmas Eve for our friends and their children. That was always fun. It enhanced the feeling that the real party wasn’t in the presents, but in the company.

Then one Christmas season, 4 years ago, it all seemed to click – we decided to throw a huge Christmas Eve potluck for our friends and neighbors. There were around 80 people and we immersed ourselves joyfully in the planning. The love we felt in setting the stage for a memorable evening for a group of diverse people from all over the world spending Christmas at a remote corner of the globe superseded any gift we could have cobbled together.

That gift – the gift of sharing together in welcoming friends – is now the most special gift that we offer each other.

Habit and tradition are hard to overcome. This is where people often have their values challenged – at the intersection between doing what feels right for us and what we’re told we should do. However, if we pay attention and tune in mindfully to our intentions during the holiday season, we may see a whole new way to celebrate.

The holiday season – whether Thanksgiving, Christmas or the New Year – is a natural time for self-reflection. This year, how will you turn away from the shoulds and must-dos (even if they’re part of tradition) and live more from your values? What do you think you might be willing to give up, if it meant you’d find just a little more happiness or peace under the tree?

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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

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Soul Mates...

This article was originally published on Expat Bookshop - a great resource for finding expat-focused, expat-friendly, and expat-written books.

She took the words right out of my mouth. We laughed. Then five minutes later I finished her sentence. Then we laughed again and really made eye contact.

This wasn’t an old friend – someone I’d known since childhood and with whom I’d shared countless hours (although those women do exist in my life). This was a new person. A new person who lives like me (here and there and everywhere) who just happened to be one of my friend soul mates. She is a person who, if I were to have stayed in one place, I never would have met. Ever.

That always kind of scares me. What if we had never met? What if someone else had taken my place? What if someone else were to have taken hers in my heart?

Of course, after almost 20 years of going from home to home, I know there’s nothing to worry about. We would have met, or not, but one thing is certain, we would have both found other soul mates. We each have found other soul mates. There are a lot of us.

You know that question where they ask which 10 people, living or dead, you would invite to a dinner party? I love that question. Since becoming an expat I play it in my head. Only instead of famous people, I list all my soul mates from all over the world. My big fantasy is that their paths could cross. That they would know each other. That they would make new soul mate friends with a person they would never have met in the real world. But, of course, they will never meet because some people’s paths will indeed never intersect.

Is this a good fantasy or a waste of time?

Perhaps if I were rich, it would be a good fantasy. Maybe I’d hold a lottery and the top winners of the drawing would earn an all-expenses-paid trip to a Caribbean island where all of my soul mates would get to know each other. Maybe we’d plan yearly trips to New York City, or Paris, or Hong Kong where we’d shop and eat and drink and laugh and cry knowing that we were meant to be together all along. It sounds slightly overindulgent just to think about it. Pure fantasy.

Then again, maybe it’s simply a good mental exercise.

I don’t find I’m longing for the impossible. I know that I can probably never make this happen. But what I do find is that this leaves me hopeful for the relationships that are yet to begin in someplace new. Finding these friends opens my eyes. It makes me look at people and see who they are – the parts they hold close and the parts they lay all out. It reminds me there’s potential in every person. Honestly, it reminds me that there’s potential in me. Bad days will come, but we’re no less worthy of being seen. Of being loved. Of being someone’s new soul mate.

So as we keep rolling around the world, each new home provides the opportunity to connect and to find someone who truly “gets” us. It ends up being not just our world that gets bigger, but our hearts too. We open them up so wide to take in all these new people. And the wider and fuller and more colorful our hearts become, the more room we leave to gently sooth the ache of goodbye when it comes.

When it always comes.

 

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

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One of the most exciting and enjoyable aspects of the Families in Global Transition Conference this past weekend was the way in which personal narrative – both written and spoken – was taken as an essential part of processing the expat experience. I’ve written about personal narrative before and in The Expat Activity Book I even provide an exercise on using one’s story as an insight tool, but there was something incredibly moving about being surrounded by people for whom the process of transitioning one’s story from the heart to the page was seen as a given.

One of the most memorable moments of the conference for me was when I attended the Writing Your Way Home: Capturing a Sense of Place session led by expat writer Nina Sichel and Tales from a Small Planet Literary Editor Patricia Linderman.

During the session we were prompted to write about a place that we had called home. The clock had already started ticking when I scribbled “Tana Kitchen,” down in my notebook.

As I began to transport myself back to the kitchen in our house in Antananarivo, I couldn’t believe how quickly the memories started coming and how emotionally charged the process of writing about it even for just five minutes became. It was impossible to hold back tears. Our kitchen had been my entry into every single day of my life in Madagascar. And the experience of mentally and emotionally revisiting that space holds important keys for me even now.

As I’ve taken more time since the conference to write about my Tana kitchen, I’ve come to realize that I want the process of discovery through story telling to be accessible to every expat. Moreover, I like the idea of supporting people through that process. As a coach, it is something I want to increasingly make a part of my practice.

So, what about you? Do you have a place that moved you…or moves you still? If you revisited it in writing, would it give you new insight, growth or perspective?

I encourage you to give it a try. Close your eyes. What do you see, hear, smell, taste and feel? What do you come to know about yourself and your experience when you go there?

And for now, let me invite you into My Tana Kitchen.

The first place I stepped into upon our arrival “home” to Madagascar was that kitchen.

I can close my eyes now and feel my feet that first jet-lagged morning stepping from the hardwood floor of the entryway onto the tiny, grey, perpetually dusty, black grouted tiles of that kitchen. The floor was always so smooth, but really, no matter how much we Lalaina cleaned it, always had that layer of dust.

But not the red dust that settled everywhere else, this was a grey, speckley dust. Maybe it was dehydrated mold. Is that possible? Mold was always an issue in that kitchen.

We had so much light in our Tana kitchen. An entire wall of windows and then, nestled with just enough space between our ridiculous American fridge filled with French things and vegetables and UHT milk in boxes, and the old sideboard, was a big French door with a view to our hulking, green generator, some pavement, a 10-foot, red adobe wall and the mango tree.

And we’d always want to leave that door open even though the screen had lots of holes and mosquitos would sneak their way in through them. We’d want to leave it open because that’s where you’d watch the rain roll in. And that’s where Lalaina would sit and close her eyes in the afternoon and rest, but never nap. And when the rain would finally shift from rumbling to falling, you’d want to wait as long as possible to close up the door because the breeze through the curtains and the musty, wild smell of the rain felt so good. But then the dusty tile would start to get wet and slippery and you’d finally give in.

Those ugly pink curtains will never leave my mind. Who chooses the curtains in these houses? So much pink…accented with gold. Why? I guess I think maybe the thought was that a woman would be spending lots of time there. And she’d like pink. Funny. And the salmon-colored tile of the countertops…impossible to roll out a pie crust there. Pie crust? Hm…maybe I am the woman they thought might be spending a lot of time in there.

And then there was that big oak sideboard. You know, I kind of liked it. It was the old-school Embassy stuff. The stuff that’s so old that it’s now retro and kind of nice and quirky. Not like the new old stuff from the 80’s that is now, quite simply, just old. Anyway, the top drawer, where we kept all of our Ikea forks and knives and spoons and the tea ball that I move from home to home and never use, was broken. So every time you would open it, it would fall out. Swish, Dunk, Ting! Swish, Dunk, Ting! It saved our toes though. It never fell out all the way. Of course, this was unlike the stools.

Three very heavy, pale-oak-colored Malagasy stools perpetually took up more space than necessary in that kitchen. Utilitarian. And heavy. I’m not kidding here. I mean, really heavy. In our first few weeks one fell on Sam’s toe and he lost his toenail. And my shins were banged up for almost two whole years of running into them as I rounded the corner and, for some reason, forgot that they would be there. And they always made this deep, low screeching sound as they slid across that slightly dirty floor. We were always scooting them around because they were always in the way. And yet we never got rid of them. Utilitarian. They were useful. For sitting on to rest without napping and for teetering upon to get a glass from the high shelf.

From that kitchen, every little corner of that strange house was accessible. If not by sight, then by sound, I knew where everyone was.

In the morning, I would watch as the guards made their way around the house, inspecting things like the pathways of lizards, the stealing of mangos from the part of our tree that hung over the street and the breaking down (once again) of the generator. And I could hear parties from next door. And the clarinet sounds that would blow through our 30-foot jacaranda trees as our musically gifted neighbor filled his free time with song. When friends would come over I could see them asking the guard for entry. "Madame Amy est ici, Madame." Madame Lourdes. Madame Lisa. And on and on.

And then in the evening, as the children bathed and did homework and I cooked yet another meal from the small list of ingredients to which we ever had access and the chirping of birds gave-way to the creaks of nighttime insects, I’d hear the front gate squeak and “Bonsoir Monsieur,” meant my single-parent day had ended and my back-up was there to embrace save me. All from that kitchen.

That kitchen let us in and let us out. Each morning I would open the metal-latched, heavy wooden, pink-curtained window above the sink. Click. Thudunk. And all of these things would come into my life. And the day would be good because it was consistent and peaceful and nature would be right at the very edge of our shelter…and sometimes even come right in. And then each night, as we prepared to settle down under mosquito netting, we would ask the world to wait safely outside. Thudunk. Click. Locked back up again. The sun would come up and then again it would start all over. One day after the next.

And even though we’re gone now from that home, I realize we’re always surrounded by these bookends. Click. Thudunk. Thudunk. Click. We arrive. We stay. We leave. It’s the life. And while it might be hard sometimes, all this coming and going, it’s packaged nicely when you think about it. There’s one side. Then there’s the next. And oh, how nice, all that stuff in the middle.

Expat Life Linky

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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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Confession time. I’m not a packrat. In fact, I’m like the opposite of a packrat. Which I guess is someone who not only constantly gets rid of their own things but harbors fantasies of cleaning out the closets, shelves and toy rooms of others as well. Yep – that’s me.

But wait! That’s not the confession. The confession is this. There’s one little tiny, packrat-like thing that I do. When I find a receipt or card or movie ticket stub or even a crumpled old parking garage pass hiding in the bottom of an old purse or coat pocket – I keep it. I take these things out from their hiding place and I look over them and I smile. Sometimes I even cry.

This weekend I found the receipt in the photo up there. It’s almost two years old and it’s from the time when I just gotten over the 6-month culture shock hump. I felt in my groove in my little life in Antananarivo, Madagascar. I had friends. I knew which store to go to buy toilet paper, tissues, dark chocolate and parsley. And even now I can still picture the produce guy who would weigh my food and print out my sticker at the Leader Price on the dusty, crowded, chaotic Hydrocarbon Road in Tana. I look at this receipt and I can actually feel what my day was like that day.

I see this receipt and I’m back there. I’m reminded of all the parts of myself that I leave behind in all of these little places. I’m reminded that I only really think I leave them behind – they’re still with me. Like little slips of paper hiding in the pocket of the jacket I haven’t worn in years…just waiting for me to bring them back out again.

And so, I never throw these little things away. I can’t. After my moment of remembering, I re-hide them. I slip them into books. I put them back into new purses. I slide them under the socks in my bottom drawer. It’s all like a little ritual now. They’re my little reminders that wherever I go I take a bit of my old life with me. Wherever I go I never truly leave behind the things I think I’ve left behind.

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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.

Last week we saw the new Richard Linklater film Boyhood. It’s on everyone’s minds. Having grown up in Central Texas (my hometown of Dripping Springs even gets the briefest of mentions), I found much of the movie mirrored my adolescence...only, of course, we didn’t have the Internet or Facebook or cell phones. But, I’m not the only one finding the images from the film stuck in my head. What is it about this movie?

Watching the film is like flipping through an old family photo album that covers an entire decade. It’s like watching your mom age right before your eyes. It’s like seeing yourself with chubby baby cheeks and then acne and then braces and then suddenly coming out of your shell all in three hours. It’s recognizing that you see yourself in the kid on the screen, but the also noticing that, wow, you really relate to the parents.

For most of us, this feeling can be unsettling. We like to ignore that time is passing. In this film, 12 years are wrapped into 3 hours so, unless you get up and walk out, you just can’t ignore it. These people are getting older! These people are making bad decisions! These people are doing dangerous things and (lots of times) nothing bad happens! These people are falling in...and out…of love! These people are having the times of their lives for now and then tomorrow who knows what will happen. So yes, it’s unsettling, but it’s also uplifting. It puts us all, the young and the old, right in the same place…or at the very least, headed in the same direction.

In the final scene, a young girl (a new character perhaps on the edge of taking a leading role) says (I’m paraphrasing), “You know the saying goes, ‘Seize the moment,’ but I think it’s more like the moment seizes us.”

Maybe it’s a bit of both. A two-way street.

Sure, sometimes we seize the moment and make it ours, but perhaps if we do life well, we find that we’re surrounded by moments that have the potential to seize us.

I like this twist on that famous line. I like the way in which it sounds like a call to wake up, to pay attention, to say “yes” a bit more to what’s happening around us. I think there’s a happiness booster in there too. A little less doing, a bit more listening and, I’d like to think, a lot more following your heart. Who knows, there may be some adventures out there just waiting to take you along for the ride.