J Simens.com

Expat Halloween and the Importance of the Pumpkin!


I  never met a pumpkin I didn’t like.

When I lived abroad and got ready to celebrate another international Halloween…I needed to get all my ducks (or pumpkins)  in a row. This was always hard when living in a new country or location and you are trying to celebrate American Halloween for the first time in that place.

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers.  Tis near Halloween.

I realize it is now October 1st,  but for many expats, the planning of Halloween started long before October. Some people put things into their suitcases from this past summer holiday in plans for the upcoming Halloween. Others commander the suitcase space of their traveling spouse to ensure that treats are in their new home country before this candy loaded holiday.

Others commander, the suitcase space of their traveling spouse, to make sure that treats are in their new home country before this candy packed holiday.

What I hadn’t realized is how this impacts places like Canada. This photo was taken on July 31st at a sale at Loblaws in Westboro, Ottawa. This means there were only 92 more shopping days left before Halloween.

Early shopping for Halloween

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When many Expats move, they have this vision that they can build up their lives into some nicely sugar-coated layered experience. Blending their home culture into their new culture.

Making layer after layer build up into a wonderful, beautiful experience for the whole family. They are just like kids going trick and treating, they want all their old and favorite candies in their tick and treat bags along with some new and exotic candies.

They want to cling on to some of their background, their history, and their Halloween rituals.

Halloween pumpkins

Expectations are hard to meet!

Parents need to be careful and connect with what is special about this holiday for your family. As an expat, you can easily get sidetracked and forget what is most important for your family. You get worried about your child’s interactions. You worry about the exposure your child has to something different from his or her home environment. You worry that your child will miss out!

I have talked to a lot of five-year-olds and their parents from around the world. Here are a few things I have been told about Halloween. Remember my sources are five-year-olds!

Austria – We leave bread and water out at night for the dead people.

Belgium – We light candles for dead people in our family.

 Canada  – The best part is the Jack O’Lanterns!

China – ‘Teng Chieh’ we put food and water by the photos of our dead family. We have lots of lanterns.

Czechoslovakia – We put one chair by the fire for each person in our family, even the dead people.

 England – Our pumpkins or ‘punkies’ are made out of large beets. We sing a ‘Punkie Night Song.’

 France – We also see pumpkins at McDonald’s near Halloween. We are all ‘scary’ not ‘fairy princesses.’ We get treats in the stores, not at your home.

 Germany – We have to be careful on Halloween, and we can’t use knives.

 Hong Kong – ‘Yue Lan’ (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) It is about spirits!

 Ireland – it is just like in the USA. We do costumes and go trick-or-treating. We play ‘snap-apple,’ (an apple on a string and you try to bite it) and ‘knock-a dolly’ (where you ring the doorbell and run away).

 Indonesia – We don’t have Halloween, but we like candy.

 Japan – We don’t have this Halloween. We have ‘Obon Festival’ with our dead family members. We clean the house and the graves. It is in July.

 Korea – We have ‘Chusok.’ It is in August, we visit our dead family and take them rice or fruit.

 Spain – We have ‘El Dia de Los Muertos’ (days of the dead), but it is a happy celebration. We go to the grave and have a picnic. We have parades.

 Sweden – We have ‘alla Helgons Dag.’ We get to have a vacation day from school.

But this is our life, and as Expats, we try to fit into the host country, but most American’s want their children to get scared, overindulge in candy, wear costumes and even let the local children have this holiday.

Halloween Night Pumpkins

 

Family rituals are important

Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately. The routine of whatever you do is what counts. It can be anything. Just make sure you do it consistently.

Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual.

Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if rituals are presented in a non-controlling manner, and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought.

I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time, and sometimes the rituals start with just one person, but if that person feels it is important and keeps trying sooner or later the event can become a ritual.

Sometimes the ritual comes from having another culture in your life

We have often celebrated Halloween over the top! In Duri, Indonesia the expat engineers took over one of the houses on camp and made a truly ‘scary house’ for all of us to experience. I am not sure who had more fun the adults making the house or the kids going through it.

When you let a group of engineers take over the event, it can be way over the top!

I thought the eels in the stairwell with plexiglass that you walked over them was a great touch!  The pig’s head that moved in and out of the toilet – scared me, I can’t imagine what it did to my seven-year-old.  The electrical engineers did a great job with the lights and sounds.  What took the engineers two full days to complete allowed all of us to be like kids again on that Halloween night.

Years later, I wonder if people are still calling that one home the haunted house?  I know the family that moved into it only a few weeks after Halloween. They had no idea what it took to get their empty house back to normal.

Some of my highlights of Halloween living overseas with our young children were carving our pumpkins –

One time our pumpkin was a green coconut!  We have used Cassava Root to be a pumpkin in Indonesia. We used a Taro root as our pumpkin in Nigeria. Now that was a scary ‘pumpkin.’

Root vegetable in the market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have made sure that our unique global situations allowed us to still have Jack o’ Lanterns that are uniquely ours. It has become a family ritual.

Families who move together – grow together.

Halloween tradition

 

Photos:

Cassava Roots – http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/44493000/jpg/_44493567_02nigeria_afp.jpg
fancy carved pumpkins http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124412397@N01/2962675525/in/photolist-5vNudv-5vSLhh-5vSLXQ-5vSMZW-5vSNXj-5vSPpA-5vSPyb-5wFHwT-5wL3vA-5wMPqa-5x3TWv-5x3XeV-5x3Y8x-5xuiTH-5xHcG2-5xWN7c-5y57h7-5BiPJf-5BJKm9-5Cexc1-5DtTqE-5Nddv4-5NhtLq-5QQikP-6aqioL-6bYozM-6xGtDz-6xGtKt-6xGtNH-6xGtR4-6xLCqG-6xLCtw-71Zedv-75mvd7-76CAMk-77KG2c-77ZLJp-7a7Fvr-7abvfs-7aBR4a-7aFDtE-7aFDY3-7b5g3T-7bz9Gn-7cpKLw-7fENbM-7gfK2W-7gKNAh-7hiRsB-7ipDvY-7mhGSH
peanut free: http://www.flickr.com/photos/93663762@N00/4872539224/in/photolist-8qz39Y-7E6yWk-dpRtDc-dqxymx-aBjdrE-8uXDLT-8uXDQa-fYyQ2W-8NNSeK-aALxBh-8Pz1Pm-dgdv7U-aAXkYY-88fysa-aAB3oK-at1upA-dq2SLW-dq2GUp-dq2SNY-dq2GNk-dq2GQT-dq2SRh-arcK1B-dpBaRe

Sophomore Slump : Full Speed Ahead as an Expat


Blog jsimens - helping families worldwideRemember When – – – A shout out to my expat friends who just sent a teen off to University

For many young American adults returning to the USA to attend college or university after being expats or global nomads since they have been following their parent’s careers overseas, “Sophomore Slump” starts after about six weeks in the new university.  This is when it dawns on them that their lifestyle of travel is now over.  No more vacations in foreign countries on long weekends. No more traveling to and from exotic places at Christmas. No more team sports that cause you to carry a passport.

Some global nomads find the start of college so hard but can usually settle down into the new system soon. After the orientations, the parent weekends and the new student events, campus life can get stressful. This is when it is key to have some support system on campus. Or near by. Teens are often good at masking what is going on for them by text or even skype. They seldom want to admit to their parents that things are not going as well as they wanted.

Changing Universities

Sophomore slump hits repatriated teens often, and they show how upsetting this is by changing institutions.

If you look closely at the retention rate in a university from a freshman to a sophomore at some schools, it is alarming. What is causing all these teens to try one university for just a year and move on? Most of the time it is not because of grades but because they are finding a ‘slump’ or the excitement of the university does not match up to their expectations.

As the author of Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, I am greatly concerned about these children as they return to the USA to attend university in their home country. I often feel we have not prepared the child enough for this transition without their family.

Two children = Two Locations

Since our two children decided to look at two very different locations for college, it has complicated our travel plans. Colorado is a state that receives many teens repatriating because it is such a lovely state. Toronto is also known for its high rate of international students. Many expat children do not have a ‘home’, so they pick a geography site that they love.  Then the match of a university to this location to the child’s long term goals is applied.  This is hard for many families.

We are slowly approaching our second year in this location, Balikpapan. In our short time here, we have already seen a tremendous amount of turnover in the Expat population. The things that have bothered me the most during this expatriate move without children are:

  • My relaxed lifestyle of booking four tickets to one place is no longer possible. We now have to book three different travel plans to get to a single location.
  • I no longer want to go on long weekends out of the country since I am saving up my days to be with my kids.
  • My kids have done the exotic places for Christmas and now wish to do something more relaxing and mainstream.
  • My passport does not get used as much as it did since I am not traveling to see my kids in all those high school events that international schools are so good at setting up.
Travel - worldwide leaving a part of yourself

Worldwide –  Leaving a Part of Yourself

 

 

You might say I am in a sophomore slump.

 

What you can learn from Grandparents about interacting with your own child


Picture 5
Tri- Generational events are the best in the world

Happy Grandparents Day

National Grandparents Day originated with Marian McQuade in West Virginia, USA. Her primary motivation was to champion the cause of lonely elderly in nursing homes. She also hoped to persuade grandchildren to tap the wisdom and heritage their grandparents could provide. President Jimmy Carter (1978) proclaimed that National Grandparents Day would be celebrated every year on the first Sunday after Labor Day.

In 2017, (USA) Grandparents Day falls on Sept. 10th

I hope your family can connect somehow on this upcoming Sunday. Family reunions are important because they allow the family to create rituals that connect the generations.

Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately. The routine of whatever you do is what counts. It can be anything. Just make sure you do it consistently.

Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual. Some children may resist being involved in such ceremonies. But if rituals are presented in a non-controlling manner and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought. I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time and one key way to do this is to have family reunions.

Let me give you an example:

Memories are highly personal and so is how a family wants to ‘remember’. Having a global connection allows a family the ability to participate on any level that is in their comfort zone so they can determine what they need. For many people having a structured event allows them the ability to connect to others easier, therefore, a family reunion is perfect. I work with families on “emotion stories” and tri-generational ones are the best.

Having events or creating rituals builds resilience.

As a parent, you cannot help your child learn to be resilient unless you let them take responsibility for their own growth process. Learning from your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins is vital for your children. It is one way to make sure they understand the importance of family connections.

These times of connections can be priceless. Some families are lucky enough to get to do tri-generational family vacations.

Julia’s top Five Books for Families on Grandparent’s Day

  1. HALMONI’S DAY  – by Edna Coe Bercaw
    About a Korean-American girl who is self-conscious about bringing her different-seeming grandmother to school on Grandparent’s Day.
  2. To Grandma’s House We…Stay – by Sally Houtman
    This is a very wise and helpful book, especially for families headed by grandparents. Ms. Houtman tells it like it is, saying “The fact is, families are changing. We can either bail with all our might or look for a lifeboat.” You’ll definitely find plenty of life preservers in Ms. Houtman’s writings.
  3. I Don’t Want To Talk About It – By Jeanie Franz Ransom features a comprehensive afterword that describes children’s common reactions to divorce and offers parents suggestions for helping their own children adjust and thrive. Grandparents are vital when a family is going through a divorce.
  4. My Grandma Lives at the Airport  – by Rebecca Rudner is about keeping families connected when they live far apart. Author Rebecca Rudner shows how absent family members can stay present in the hearts and minds of young children. The story is about Shelby, who concludes that Grandma must live at the airport because that is where she and her parents always pick Grandma up when Grandma comes to visit.
  5. The Gifts of being Grand by Marianne Richmond acknowledges the grand people whose love and care we treasure…and who truly celebrate the grand little people in their lives.

My children were blessed with having two grandparents that they collected memories with for a long time. Being expat children they have been able to keep in touch with both and see them often. Many family vacations would happen when they would come to see us in our overseas assignments or we would visit their homes in the summer time.

janetgrand marshal
Grandma Wright – Grand Marshall

The annual Old Settlers Day Celebration in Russell Springs, Kansas starts off with a church service than the parade. After the Parade, the annual Cowchip throwing contest is held.

IMG 0176
Grandpa Simens – Annual Family vacations in Lake Tahoe

Tahoe if a time for us to go fishing, sit on the beach or play lawn bowling games.

This year we got to celebrate Grandpa’s 86th birthday.  One of the highlights was a whiskey tasting at Incline Wine and Spirits.

Notes: A great grand parenting book is: If I Knew it was going to be this much fun I would have become a Grandparent First by Willard Scott.  It has short stories from Phyllis Diller, Phil Donahue, Mike Wallace, Stephen Covey, Maureen Stapleton and many more.

How to Survive the First Month of School


Parents (locally and abroad) search for things that make their children successful. What would you do if I told you the top three ways to help your child were free? Would you take time to help your child be successful?

School Buses

Every Family needs help when it comes to school success – three free tools!

The backpack already has some crusty unknown item on the corner, the colored pencils are half in the smashed box, and half of them in the bottom of the book bag and your family wants to know how it can survive the rest of the school year. I want you to focus on that but also what you can do to help your child for the rest of his/her life.

Parents need to focus on what is most important to a child’s success. I know the focus of academics is what most of us what to focus on.  It is easily measured. Somewhat confrontational – you just have to get the grades and for many families this focus in never ending. The “B- ” really needs to be an “A.”  But we “A” could be a “higher A” so it factors into the honors at graduation. Academics is the wrong focus.

Focus on friendships more than academics

According to a recent study, friendships is what parents need to focus on. Adolescent social connectedness was a better predictor of adult well-being than academic achievement. Please read that sentence again and share it with your family. When kids have a lot of friends in childhood and adolescence, they tend to grow up to be happy adults. I am not saying grades don’t matter, we all know they do.  I am saying turn the focus so at least 50% of the time you are aware of the social and friendship needs instead of just the academic pressures of school.

Concentrate on breathing

Practice this with your whole family: Put one hand over your heart and one hand on your stomach. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Focus on the air coming into your lungs and on how it feels as your belly expands. Pause briefly, relax, and then exhale through your mouth, counting slowly to five. We all know this simple exercise will diffuse stress, cause us to focus, and to keep ourselves from overreacting. But we seldom teach our children to breathe! We need to let them see this in practice so Mom or Dad…breathe in public so your kids can see the benefits of this simple free tool.

For students the power of breathing is amazing. Research has shown us that focusing on their breath can be powerful for students: It reduces stress, stimulates creativity, boosts test scores, and improves focus.

Focus on play and family time

Don’t stress out your children.  I love the concept of play time, down time and family time.  This video explains “PDF.” Play-Down-Family

Expat Empty Nest Syndrome: Fact or Fiction?


4858954172

Is empty nest syndrome a real psychological condition to be reckoned with or just a natural process of life?

Is Expat Empty Nest Syndrome a delight or torture for all of us?

With August here, many expats are heading back to their work locations. Some kids are going back to their International Schools; other teenagers will be leaving the nest and going to university.

Empty nest syndrome is a psychological condition experienced by parents when their coming-of-age children leave home (the nest). The symptoms that parents suffer are typically feelings of sadness, anxiety and excessive worry over the welfare of their child. Throw in that parents will be half a world away from their child and pow…interesting!

Experts say those hardest hit are parents without career obligations and/or parents who might have an unstable relationship. I gave up a job that I loved and have taken the longest summer vacation in my life thus separating me from the love of my life, so this might be an interesting time for me.  I decided to come up with seven self-tips to help during this time.

Here are my seven tips to ease the impact of EXPAT Empty Nest Syndrome:

1) Remind myself that it’s very normal to feel sad during this transition. So quit dancing around his empty bedroom. Quit jumping up and down with joy enough that it makes Raja bark and run around the house.  Get back to my normal life of quilting, blogging, and reading! Quit that foolish smile!

2) Think of this as a new beginning instead of a loss or sad ending. Not a new beginning for my kid off at college but for me and my husband’s new beginning. We can now just eat when we want to eat, watch TV we want to watch. We can stop giving each other the ‘deadly silent eye treatment’ when we wanted to make sure the kid does as we wanted with least amount of fuss. We can just actually talk out loud and communicate like the good old days when our child was under the age of one. Quit enjoying this time so much!

3) Stay connected to my kids via technology but do it on my time and my schedule. I don’t need to answer each email within 5 seconds.I will treat my child like I treat a job.  If a question comes up during my regular working hours, I respond, but after hours, the response can wait until morning.  This keeps my sanity and also helps my kids become more resourceful.  Remember as an overseas parent – time zones suck so why set the ground rules that will allow me to be worked up or irritated right when I need to go to bed. I won’t log on!

4) Lean on friends – Yes there is life after kids! Now I can stay out as late as I WANT or just go to bed when I want. I no longer have to wait up to do the “hug and smell test” good night squeeze! I can bug my friends and have fun. If I want to give late night hugs, I can just wake up Kevin.

5) Do nice things for myself on a routine basis. ENOUGH SAID if I have not already been doing this…do MORE of this.

6) Experts often say “Don’t make any major changes in your life during this time, like selling the house or moving to another city or state.” As an Expat, THIS IS THE TIME MOST OF US MOVE because we have stayed trying to get that last child out of High School and the company was kind enough to let us stay. Now it is time to move on.  In many ways this is great.  Few children want to come home to a ‘home’ they have never lived in.  Perhaps this means they will want to find that holiday job or summer job and start becoming a productive member of society instead of my couch potato in a new location.

7) If at all possible do not have/get another baby. That would give me 18 more years before I can once again feel this ‘bad’ about letting go. Find a friend with a baby and offer to rock it one afternoon, then run like hell, so I don’t have to change the diaper or hear the baby cry!

Expat Empty Nest Syndrome is a time to thrive!

I am sure some of my expat friends who have already hit this transition in life and have succeeded will have great words of wisdom.  Please add your comments about what you did during this time in your life.

Notes:

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/walkn/4858954172/

If you want a great article on real self-help for this, check out this article by John Tsilimparis

On a real personal note:  I still miss Jackie every day and I am sure my time away from Grant will be spent thinking about him.

Starting a New School? Tips to Help Your Child


 

Are you excited or nervous?

Are you excited or nervous?

 See the new environment

Families often do not use their new school until the start of the school year. I always suggest to my parents who are moving to call the school and ask them if you can bring the children in to see their new environment. This often takes some anxiety off the first day of school, but it also allows you the opportunity to ‘run into’ other new families or those families that are involved with the school. These are both valuable resources. You can ask them, “Where do kids this age play or hangout?” as you point to your children. You ask them, “What are you finding to do while your family is still in the rental apartment? Sometimes this on-site visit gives your child the opportunity to see what other kids are wearing, so they don’t get stunned on that first day of school. This can be very important if the school does not have a uniform. Most kids just want to belong and not stick out too much.

Get a local resource person

Use the school secretary as a resource. Ask the school staff, “Where is the best playground around here?” – “What activities do kids in this school get involved in?” I have had students take a weekend class on pottery to find out that a child in that class would also be in their grade or classroom in a few days. Make sure your child understands how many sections or classrooms there will be with kids their age. When a child moves from a huge school to a small school, it is important for them to realize how important first impressions might be because there is a smaller pool of possible friends. This also is important if your child is going from a tiny school to a larger school. Often the first days of school have grade level assemblies or school assemblies; your child needs to know if these will be in a group of 40+ or 400+. The more information a child has on their new environment, the more in control they might feel.

Proper use of “Family Time.”

Use family time as “out of home time” not “bonding in your environment.” The more exposure your child has to get around the new town, eating at the local places close to school and knowing the names of the large streets or apartment buildings gives them more to talk about the first two days of classes when friendships are being formed. Often we are stuck in a service apartment while waiting for the shipment to clear customs. This means we have very little to do and can easily get on each other’s nerves. Take that energy and go out to explore the new environment.

#1 Rule for Success

My number one rule for all parents is – Do not show up late to the start of the school year. Friendships form so quickly that a kid that misses out on the teacher trying to make class connections with peers, he/she will suffer. This also means do not show up to school with an overly tired child. Getting off a plane on Sunday to start school on Monday can set up a child for social failure. As parents of global families, what has been your “rule of thumb” or “success strategies” that work for you family? I’d love to hear them.

Note: Related posts to starting a new school – New schools and emotions and Ahhh – Survived the first week of school

 

 

 

Never Again: A look at change in an Expat’s life


Never again – words that a mother might cry about

calendar August 01

Pinch and a Punch the first of the month!

August is one month that can bring tears to a mother’s eye. It is not so much the growing up, the changes that summer brought to your family or even the fact your child will never be in this school grade again.  It is the fact that change has happened and it is possible that as a mother you will never again have that moment in time.

I used to measure my start of a new school year with the type of notebooks my children wanted to purchase or the style of their backpacks.  Sometimes it was the kind of new shoes to start the school year with. Now it is measured in ‘what my kids care to share with me.’  Never again – will the start of August be the time I am needed to ensure that this school year (year) starts out right.

For an Expat Child – sometimes the changes are massive

Often an expat child will start August in a new location. Many times this is with their family unit, so the change is manageable. They still have everyday things around them and standard family rules to obey.

Then they move out of the family unit and head off to university!

This is a milestone for all children but even more so for an expat child. Most kids are giving up the convenience of having mom and dad help them. Or someone to do the laundry and to cook.

Expat children are giving up someone who does laundry and irons each piece of clothing. Never again will the expat child have underwear that is ironed and folded into tiny little squares. Never will his cargo shorts have the seams folded and ironed together. Never again will his t-shirts be wrinkle free.

Also, he will not find his refrigerator always full of clean fruit and vegetables. His meals will not always have salad or soup with fresh bread and butter. His meals might just consist of one item, a cup of soup or a bowl of ramen.

He might find his shoes are dirty and no one thinks to clean them up after a rainy night on the busy city streets. The old dried crud on his book bag might never get wiped off. Ever.

He might not have the luxury of getting batteries for his math calculator or strings for his guitar by just writing a note and leaving it on the kitchen table for the maid or driver to pick up when she/he is out and about.

He is giving up the driver that drops him off at the front of the movie theater. He is never going to have someone stand by the side of the car and wait as he has last minute talks with his friends and then just jump into the car and know that the driver was not mad because he had to wait. Never again will be he 100% sure his designated driver has not had a drink.

Expat children often lose a ‘village’ when they go off to college.

The hardest part for many expat children when they go off to college is the fact they often also lose at the same time…their family home. Many expat families try to coincide their work move to line up with a transition of schooling for their children. This means the kid moves off to college and the parents pack up the home and move to a new location. Now the college kid does not even know what ‘home’ is like because they have never even seen where their parents are now living.

 

This is a whole new type of “growing up” and expat children around the world do it so well.
Please share your child’s most positive achievement during this time of growth.

Picture 18 1

Notes:

Photo

http://www.flickr.com/photos/71256895@N00/9414783260/in/set-72157634879835721/

 

What are Your Worse Expat Parenting Moments?


Parenting at it best – Bring Your Fish to School Day

Why are your parenting practices remembered by the “worst” things you have done?

I am often aware that I will not get a mother of the year award, but sometimes as an expat mother I get pushed over my sanity limits and worry that I might get the “Worst Mother of the Year Award.” I want to share three “special” times that my mother dearest moments will stay with me forever.

I will be using the same “Jack” that I used in Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child; my children wish to remain out of these moments documented since they don’t want to have to verify how rude I did treat them. Some of these stories are from Jackie’s experiences around the world, and some are from Grant’s experiences. To make it more palatable for my children, I have made each story be about a boy called “Jack.”

 

safety first

 

Safety First

As our family was relocating from Indonesia to Nigeria, we had a lot of items we wanted to have as soon as we got into our home in Lagos. As a family of four, we were traveling with 13 boxes and suitcases. Since this was a work relocation, we were flying business class, and each of us were given three suitcase allotments. That extra box, Number 13 started to cause us a lot of problems.

When the airplane staff personnel told me that Box 13 would be $1,120 to take as luggage, I could not believe it. What happened to the $200 per bag – extra fee? After a very long discussion about freight and rules, it was evident this box would be way too expensive for us to consider taking to Nigeria.

I received this box, opened it up to see what we would be throwing away. At this point in time, a few air support staff started helping me by saying “That box can hold three more pounds” and “you can put four more pounds in this suitcase.” We ended up with four items that would just not make it to Lagos.

  • The small ziplock bag of dry cat food so we could feed Bailey as soon as we landed in our new foreign assignment. This bag went into my front jeans pants pocket. Not all that comfortable for me but I knew once I got on the plane it would be in the seat pocket in front of me.
  • A lap size quilt that I had made that I thought would brighten up our new home. Since we were leaving Indonesia at the end of a school year when many expats are also leaving, I walked across the crowded airline terminal and gave this quilt to a coworker and wished her a pleasant summer holiday. I hope she still has it somewhere in her travels around the world.
  • Two bicycle helmets. If you know me, you realize I am a stickler for brain safety and wearing a helmet was a requirement – not an option for my children. We had already sent their bikes in our air shipment, and they should be waiting for us in Lagos. My kids knew if they didn’t have their helmets, they would not get to ride their bikes.

In one of those “Mom is starting to lose it” moments, Jack took his helmet and put it on his head and walked down the attachable jetway into the airplane. As Jack buckled himself into 3A in business class, he firmly kept the helmet on and did not even make eye contact with the rest of his family. It was only after take off that he removed the helmet and put it in the overhead storage area.

We never talked about how most people flying don’t bring special head protection on the plane. We never spoke of the strange looks Jack got from fellow passengers and flight attendants. We just let this “mommy moment”  go by. Now twelve years later we can finally laugh about this.

baggage tracking information

Bound to Happen 

 

As a family of four, we are meeting up with Grandpa in the Cook Islands. We are looking forward to a week of family fun. As we watched the last bag being picked up off the baggage carousel in Rarotonga, we knew that our bags were still in the Auckland International Airport in New Zealand.

The airline gave each of us a tool kit and travel bag because the airline did not fly into Rarotonga each day. We would have to survive 48 hours without luggage. The kids are five and eight years old. Now imagine how that large white airline t-shirt fits a five-year-old or an eight-year-old as well this same size t-shirt fits my body.

These are what our family of four will be wearing for the next 48 hours.

Since it was a long trip and the hotel room was hot, everyone was very comfortable pulling off their travel clothes and going to bed. I hand washed the clothes and put them out to dry. In the morning, Jack jumped up eager to eat breakfast.  The clothes were not dry. After 15 minutes of using the hair dryer, they were still not dry. Jack didn’t complain as he pulled on his white t-shirt that became a long flowing dress on his small little body. He knew as a family of four we would all be entering the restaurant to eat breakfast in our matching one size fits all white t-shirts with airline logos. Jack knew if we were not careful we might make this a ‘mommy moment’ so he bravely marched into the breakfast brunch area.

He firmly kept the t-shirt from flowing off his shoulders and not tripping on it. Jack did not even make eye contact with the rest of his family as he filled his plate full of bacon and toast.

We never talked about the strange looks Jack got from fellow diners and staff personnel. He just let this “mommy moment” go by. Now twelve years letter we can finally laugh about this. Our bags showed up before we took off for Aitutaki but we never talked about how it was to wear matching clothes. Or how it felt to wear the same size of something that Mom and Dad were wearing. Then about twelve years later after this beautiful vacation, we were able to laugh about those Christmas photos!

 

89045075  Legal Documents are Forever!

We need passport photos for a legal medical document, and we need them as soon as possible.  From the Doctor’s office, we grab a cab and go across town to the only ‘fast photo’ location in the city. We traveled to this photo shop clear across a city we had never been to before. We hope the doctor’s office had given us the correct information and we hope the cab driver knew where we were going.

We finally found the store. As the clerk informed us that Jack could not wear a white t-shirt in the photo or it would blend in the background and the visa department would reject the pictures.  We are in a government office building without any commercial stores around it. We know if we miss this opportunity, we will not get the legal document on time, and our summer would be ruined.

I look down at my black shirt and inform Jack that he would be wearing my shirt for the photo. It was starting to become a ‘mommy moment, apparently, ‘ but without a single word, Jack went with me into the photo store bathroom to switch shirts. It comes apparent that Jack could easily put on my large black shirt with a small ruffled around the collar but there was no way his tight white shirt would fit me.

I stripped off my black shirt and he put it over the top of his white t-shirt. I stayed in the bathroom in my bra while he took his photo. When he was finished he knocked on the door, handed me my shirt and walked away without saying a word.

I hope it doesn’t take twelve years for us to think this was funny.  But it might because tonight, Jack reminded me that these ‘legal documents’ would be part of his life for the next four years and each time he had to deal with them he would remember this day and the events that lead us to a ‘mommy moment.’

mother award

I am sure you all have had expat mommy moments!  Are you willing to share one with us?

 

Notes:

Related Blogs – Good Now?  and Go 2 Women 4 Women

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mollivan_jon/125377856/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/comedynose/4154079494/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/gjs/89045075/

Camps: Don’t target your child’s weakness, so for the strengths


Tahoe Summer Camp

 

Some children thrive in a camp like environment.

Some kids are way out of their comfort zone.

But all children can benefit from camp because of the independence and social skills that it builds.

 

Children should attend camp when they have the emotional vocabulary to express how they are feeling and would be able to articulate that to an adult in charge. This type of development is like a sliding scale; some children have it at eight years old others not until they are twelve years old.

Do you build up a weakness or strength?

Parents often look at camps for ‘growth’ for their child and will target
areas they feel their child is already strong in. Parents want to help develop
that area.  Some parents do the opposite; they target a weakness the child has.

As an expert in child, adolescent and family therapy, I know, parents must
target the strengths of their child. If parents target camps that highlight
the ‘strengths’ of their child, they will see more self-determination and
strength from their child when he or she returns. Empowerment results from
being treated with respect and having your strengths acknowledges and
enhanced.

I have worked with over 20,000 students and parents who do summer camps each year. Working as a school counselor, I was involved in overnight trips, week-long trips, international trips and a variety of kinds of camps with a variety of ages. I have had endless conversations with parents before/ during and after a school sponsored trip and how it impacted their child. These are my tips.

Tips for Parents

  • All parents should talk to their child about ‘homesickness’ even if
    their child has NEVER been homesick before. So often we are not sure why or how homesickness hits so all parents should help their child have a plan of action. Each child is unique, but some things seem to work well with many children.
  • Parents should not send anything unless they have talked to their
    child, and then asked them, “Would you like to take a photo?” “Would it be helpful if I put in some friendly notes in your items?” Some parents feel guilty, and they put in things in the suitcase because they need to do it.  Not that their child needs it.
  • I always encourage parents to discuss what will be in suitcases and stick to the plan. Some kids feel more out of control when parents sneak things in on them.
  • Calls home from camp should not be treated lightly or brushed off with words like “you only have two more days” or “you are a big girl”. What the child needs is to be heard and know that the parents care about their feelings. Parents can also ask to speak to an adult and get some real facts. Who is my child sitting by at lunchtime? What do her sleeping habits look like? What adult has she connected to? What seems to be the hardest thing for her to do? Then the parent should get back on the phone and talk to the child again.

I call it a ‘sandwich call’.

Top layer is the child’s actual feelings and emotion. The middle is the ‘meat’ of the

The middle is the ‘meat’ of the situation – the facts. The bottom layer is unconditional love and support

The bottom layer is unconditional love and support from the parents.

For families who are doing a summer camp

Important. Ask your child to do this activity. – Before you leave make a list of all the times you have already been successful and put this list in your suitcase. Example: Stayed with Grandma two weeks, Stayed at Carla’s house about 10 times, Stayed at the school sleepover one night, Stayed at a basketball camp two nights. Then make an “action plan.”

Then create your unique “action plan.”

At camp if you are not feeling okay about the situation.

  • Get your thoughts on paper. If you are able to explain in writing
    what is really bothering you, you might be able to work out a plan on your
  • Know whom you will go to talk to because the longer you wait to
    express your concerns the bigger the event or feelings can be. Parents

Parents should make sure the child knows about the camp nurse or the camp dorm support person or others that are around to help them. Parents should make sure the camper has seen the website or handouts so they understand how big the camp is and who is available to help kids.

  • On your notes- jot down your plan – who you will talk to and when
    will you talk to them. This will often get a child to make the first step
    towards action.

 

 

 

Summer Time breeds Neighborhood Kids and Overlap: Sane or Confusing


School Buses

School’s out for the summer!

Practical or Foolish, how are the stops in your home from the neighborhood kids?

Do you seldom see your own children? Often as parents, we only remember the negative situations with our children’s neighborhood friends. Parents need to have the real facts and data so they can back up their needs with what has been happening.

Keeping track of time is important

Summer time breeds neighborhood kids and your front door banging open and shut. Summer time generates a lot of children in your living room or backyard. Summer time can foster close family time.

I encourage parents to keep a small notebook with playtime interactions that include the date and the length of time the kids played together in their own home as well as how often they were next door at their peers home. Knowing that your child was also at their home eight times this week makes it not seem so bad when their child shows up the ninth time this week.  It is also important to realize if this was a ‘normal’ week of interactions or if it was out of the norm.

 Stop bad habits before it is too late

It is much easier to stop the overuse of your home when you first noticed it happen than trying to correct a situation after it has become more of a habit. Make sure you know what is happening at the start of your summer so you are able to modify the play dates prior to it becoming a long hot July and even longer, hotter August.

As an international school counselor I often have parents find their family living in compounds or camps so this closeness and setting a play boundary is a huge concern for many families. Some families find that their own living room is overrun with kids as soon as the school day is over. It often helps to have the rule that all kids must “go home” first before they can come back to play.  This allows all those important school papers to get to their own home instead of being left at your house.  It also allows the child to possibly eat an afterschool snack at their own home creating less of a mess in your own home. I think the biggest benefit is it allows you to check in with our own children to see what their day was like and if they have any major things that need to be taken care of before play starts.

Home first then play

This is also wise during summer hours. If your child goes off to a dance class, always make them come into your own home first before going next door to play. This allows her to put up her dance shoes and dance bag. She can grab a snack and get ready for a play date next door.  If your child leaves the car directly, those special dance shoes might remain at the neighbors and will not be easy to find before the next dance class.

Rules and Meltdowns

I encourage parents to be honest with their own children first before they approach the neighborhood kids or parents. Parents should avoid having their own child meltdown when they are addressing the problem of too much time together or limiting the use of playtime at their own home.

Once you make the rules public, you need to keep to your own rules. Families deserve to have special time as a family unit. This is one benefit of the long summer hours and the kids out of school. Don’t let your home become a place where you can’t take advantage of this family time.

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