J Simens.com

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.

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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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What Should Be Banned?


Parenting can be very hard regardless of where you live. I feel it is compounded when you are living in a country different than where you grew up. Growing up in one area you learn small things behind the scenes that make sense to you.  I have spent 28 years abroad and had the benefit of raising two children in this span. Some of my parenting “knowledge” might not make sense to others but it holds true to myself and my kids.

Can you think of any way to get our young kids not to drink and drive?

imgres 2

To cut down on drinking and driving in Louisiana, lawmakers have banned the state’s ubiquitous drive-through daiquiri shops.  Sounds like a great idea!

Wait – those shops are still legal.

Sen. Dan Claitor successfully lobbied the state Congress to allow only solid plastic lids, not pre-punched hole plastic lids. True, they can’t put pre-punched hole covers on the to-go daiquiris.

As a parent, we always want to keep our children safe. This can be heightened when you live overseas.

I have had unrealistic fears just because of the exposure I have had in certain countries. I know my fears were justifiable but ‘not normal.’  Let me give you a few examples:

  • In Indonesia, I would not let my children ride the small electronic animals you see in malls because several children had been electrocuted while riding in a mall due to poor electrical wiring. My kids understood my worry, and since I never gave in, they stopped asking while we lived abroad. They did get unlimited rides in the summertime when we were in an area where things like this were monitored, grounded and appeared safe.
  • In several countries we lived in, I would not let my children eat the ‘street food’. Mostly because when you see meat grilled on sticks and you have no idea what the meat is…you should not eat it.  I still firmly believe this.  I also hate it when people tell you it is “meat.”  I want the exact type of meat, is it a snake, water buffalo, rat or what.  When we go to Disneyland, Silver Dollar City in the Ozarks and at The Ponderosa Ranch in Lake Tahoe, I would let my children eat anything they wanted at the small vendors or stalls.
  • When in Thailand, I have made it a rule that my children (who were both over 18 years old) cannot use the ATMs that are outside.  They have to get cash from machines located in a building.  Why?  It was the rainy season, and several children have died due to shocks coming from the ATMs, again water and electricity not a good mix. Once again, my children did as I ask, they understood my demands came from caring and not just being bossy. They also don’t think I am irrational. Just a mom who loves them.
Picture 23

So that is why I am happy places in the USA still care about drinking and driving.  Do I think a small hole in a lid will stop a person from drinking or not drinking something that they purchased – No.  Do it think the inability to slip a straw into that alcoholic beverage will stop a person from buying, consuming and then driving – No.  Am I glad to see others have faulty thinking – as I do? Yes.

At times it is very important to remember that our fears can be real and our justification can be weird but if it is coming from concern for our children, it is good.

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946,080,000: Wow, that’s a lot of moments so dear!


Memories are what bind families together around the world. Memories shared are quality time spent with family. Memories are often all we have of past times. 

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose”, wise words from Fred Savage. He played Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years. 

Taglines:

It’s 1968. The Suburbs. And in each little house with a Chevy in the driveway and a TV in the den, there are people with stories…families band together in laughter, hope, love and wonder (season 1).  Its lack of laugh tracks and a single camera set up were revolutionary.

The Wonder Years set itself apart from other shows of its time, production-wise, with its single camera setup, use of a narrator, and complete lack of laugh track. “The Wonder Years [showed the television industry] that it’s OK to create a show like that—to take out the laugh track, to try different camera styles—to take a risk,” said Josh Saviano.

Resilience – one of the most common thread is the quality of time spent with family

Simens Wedding
Simens Wedding

 

Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear – How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights – in sunsets – In midnights – in cups of coffee – In inches – in miles – In laughter

How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love? – Measure in love – Seasons of love

 

I am usually not one to talk much about my personal romances. Some things are private even if you blog about “home life” and “parenting.”

My first kiss was…

My first love was …

At times, it is hard to remember since Kevin has been a part of my life for 30 years!

At one time I did have a boyfriend younger than I was…

At one time I did date a basketball player …

I remember my first kiss with Kevin…

And I remember the last one…

You will see the reasons for my questions if you watch this film. I love the rainbow in the short movie.  Briand’s Apricot evokes forgotten memories. This movie is a film for the Dreamers, a film for the romantics and a film for film lovers.

APRICOT — A Short Film by Ben Briand from Moonwalk Films on Vimeo.

This year, the day we were to celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary, we were apart. It did seem appropriate enough that I was with my flower girl from my wedding 30 years ago but not with Kevin.

 

I can’t imagine anything better than to be with my flower girl as an adult sharing the things that I love. We were at the Women in Tech conference in NOLA. Collision Conf 2017  was a great event this year. Imagine three women sharing all different backgrounds thriving at a conference. Amy, my flower girl, and niece is a graphic designer, Jackie – my daughter is a computer consultant and myself representing Families in Global Transition, we all found #Collusionconf a treasured experience.

Now back to Kevin, We had spent 946,080,000 seconds in love (not counting the three months we were engaged and the few shorts weeks before that when we met) There are so many things I remember about the last 30 years.

A visible record will provide some perspective

A few things stand out –

When we first decided we would start a ‘global life,’ Kevin wanted to give me a gift to symbolize our move from the USA to Singapore.  Of course, he bought me a lovely gem!  Little did he know that this simple tradition would slowly grow into a beautiful collection with so many International moves under our belts.  I am a firm believer that family traditions are a must for all families but vital for mobile households!  These types of rituals don’t have to be big or expensive – it is the simple traditions that keep a family strong.

When we made our first move from the USA overseas, I remember the excitement. We jointly made the long inventory list. We packed up many suitcases. We stuffed the air shipment full. We moved. We unpacked together and went shopping for our new home together. The last international move, I  updated the inventory. I left and went to the USA for the summer holiday.  Later that year, we packed up our home in Bangkok, Thailand and got it ready to head to Balikpapan, Indonesia.

On that our last international move from Bangkok to Balikpapan – Kevin sent the air shipment off to our son’s college. Kevin unpacked our home in Balikpapan. Kevin then meet me in the USA where I was still on vacation. I didn’t do much for this move.

But, our very last step was when we repatriated to the USA. Being a repatriate is very different than being an expat. We tried to consolidate all of our belongings so they would fit into our USA based home. The work before the actual move was a hard time. The actual move was smooth. We were going back to a fully functioning home, so we had no worries or concerns about the items being sent “home.”  We also could care less when the items arrived. It was a stressless move until the boxes showed up!

It is important that global families are flexible with what works best for them at that moment in time.

When we retired we packed up our expat life together and headed to the USA. We would not be returning to work. We were starting a new life of not “working.” I was excited.

When we first moved overseas, we went as a family of two to Singapore. We had long walks together, fun dinners with lively conversations and many talks about the upcoming trips we would be doing.  Two children later and 18 years with kids in elementary and high school, we are once again alone. When we left Borneo, we were again, a family of two.

Today we are enjoying long walks together, fun dinners and many talks about planning family vacations. Last year,  we jumped on a paddle wheeler and cruised around Emerald Bay. We cruised around Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. We looked at Vikingsholm, an excellent example of Scandinavian architecture which is a 38-room mansion.

This year we did a beautiful walk on the beach of Lake Tahoe, had champagne in front of the fireplace since it had snowed last night. Then we went to Soule Domain for a wonderful dinner celebration.

It is important that the adults in the family remain close, so the children benefit from the quality of time spent with family.

It had been a great 30 years!

Notes:

For those family members that flew to the San Francisco Bay area for our wedding, I am glad you were a part of my memories.  We are lucky enough to spend our 25th with about 25 of our best friends in Bangkok, and I am thankful for those memories.

This year we didn’t get 30 of our close friends together, but we wanted to!  So plan to come to Tahoe on May 2nd next year, and we will invite you to our anniversary party!

For Amy and Jackie – thanks so much for attending Collision Women in Tech 2017 with me. Those memories are priceless!

Notes: Movie – APRICOT -A Short Film by Ben Briand
by Moonwalk Films
Winner: Community Choice Award
Voted Best Narrative on Vimeo by its users

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