mom2nomads

ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

Archive for the tag “Third Culture Kids”

The Poetic Nomad: a Flash of Light, a Gift from My Daughter

I understand that wishes will not always come true

I say that if you believe in it, it will happen

I dream of lifting my roots, walking away from the damp soil that keeps me down

Those words are from a poem that our eleven year old daughter wrote last night for her English class. I think I’ve read it fifty times, the first few times my eyes filled with tears. I’ve been worried about her since we moved here, leaving SEAS, our beloved school in San Jose, was painful, is painful. In SEAS, she was on firm ground. There, she knew everyone, was friends with everyone, adored her teachers, and felt safe and loved. Here, everything is new, it doesn’t feel safe yet, and we’ve had more than a few tear filled conversations that consist of her telling me how much she hates it here and how she just wants to go back. “Please, mommy, can’t we just go back?” On the surface I am steadfast, under it my heart aches for her and wishes I could whisk her off to the place she wants to be.

It is trying to move to a new country, to settle into a new school, to make friends, get to know your teachers, get a new routine down. And she has started middle school, which is a substantial transition in and of itself. She’s straddling two worlds right now–one where she is still a kid and one where she is becoming a young adult, she would prefer to have her feet firmly planted in the place where she is still a kid. She was telling me that part of the difficulty she is having is because “all the girls in my grade act like they’re so grown up! But they’re really just kids! I don’t feel any different than I did when I was in fifth grade, I just want to be a kid!” Yes, be a kid, kid. Please, stay a kid for as long as you can, don’t be in a rush to grow up, this is best for you. But I gently remind her that everyone is different and that those girls are just trying to figure out who they are, we do that by exploring, putting on different masks, trying on different personas. It’s a normal part of growing up, and it exasperates her. She knows who she is, she knows what she likes, she just wants to be Aisleen.

And Aisleen is disorganized, which she comes by honestly–ahem. We’ve been working on different ways to help both of us be more organized, some things are working and that is a relief. But the lack of organization has meant some assignments were not being done or, if done, not being turned in. Which compounded her frustrations and grief, it’s hard enough to do everything she is doing but when you feel like you’re moving backwards frustrations loom larger.

Up until last night Aisleen had yet to truly be sparked by anything at school, but, last night, she sat at the computer and wrote enthusiastically, thinking out loud about words she could use, asking us for meanings and context, and I was thrilled! She loves to learn, she loves the challenge of school, she loves to delve into projects that engage her and help her grow. She had two assignments to finish, one was a poem imagining herself as a willow tree, and one was to write a diary entry from the perspective of a character in a book the class had just read.

When she finished the poem she first showed it to Eric, I could tell from his reaction that it was a special piece of writing. She handed it to me and I read, curled up on our sofa, the incense I had lit drifting past my nose, my glass of wine untouched as I sat completely entranced by her poem. My eyes filled with tears, I read it a second time, then a third. Then I placed the paper in my lap, looked up at my magnificent daughter, and said “wow.” She smiled and replied “did you like it?” I looked at her with complete astonishment and told her it was an incredible piece. Just, wow. Her smile grew larger before she went back to writing her diary entry. Eric and I looked at each other with disbelief on our faces. We have always known she is creatively gifted, she’s been weaving stories since we was old enough to talk, and then to write. She has notebooks full of characters that live in lands she has invented, their lives are rich and adventurous. This poem, and the diary entry that followed, showed us that she is coming into her own.

I Am, by Aisleen

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I wonder if I will be able to graze with the buffalo that live on the plains

I hear the morning birds sing their sweet, calming song

I see the butterflies fluttering around the field of grass that surrounds me

I want to be free like the animals that sleep at my roots during the cold, harsh winter nights

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I pretend to be free with the deer, the grass tickling my feet every step

I feel as if I will leave one day, never to return to the soil that keeps me from my dreams

I touch the wind that hits my face as a gust of wind floods over the farm

I worry that my beliefs of being free with the world will never come true

I cry when I think about being cut down, the advantage of leaving, never coming to be

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I understand that wishes will not always come true

I say that if you believe in it, it will happen

I dream of lifting my roots, walking away from the damp soil that keeps me down

I try to make the dream come true, walking, flying, adventuring with the animals

I hope that I can explore the world, see the countries many miles from where I stand

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

Every parent has doubts; we doubt the disciplines we use, we worry if we shower them with too much praise or too little, we have those nagging thoughts tinkering in the back of our minds–are we doing right by our kids? What if we aren’t? What path are we setting them on? When you are the parent of nomads there is an additional layer of doubt–am I asking too much of them? Should we call an end to this and settle down? Which way is right for them? And then there are those flashes that tell you, yes, they are okay, more than okay, they are thriving, and those flashes are gifts. For me, this poem is one of those flashes. In it I see a girl who is wise beyond her years, a girl with roots who recognizes that there is much more to this world than what is outside her bedroom window, so much beauty to soak in, and she recognizes that the journey she is on is full of endless possibilities. I feel abundantly blessed that I will witness her walk her path and whether she becomes a writer, a teacher, a veterinarian, or a stay at home mom she is bound for greatness and her spirit, full of grace and recognizing no boundaries, will not settle for less.

Gramps: By Aisleen

I miss my Gooseberry. I miss the smell of her every night in bed, and how her sweet voice whispered in my ear telling me how much she loved me. She had the most angelic voice. Her words on our marriage day, “I do” echo around my head. Her pale, wrinkled skin, how my fingers felt when I touched it, I felt like if you offered me to stand there and touch her arm forever, I would accept it in a heartbeat. Her grey hair, oh how it shined all day, it would reflect of the sunlight, and would glisten in the brightness of the moon. Her smell was indescribable, how it would dance through my nostrils. I can still smell it in our marriage bed, in the pillow, in her suitcase. I could smell it whenever I went to her grave. Her eyes, oh how I miss them. Her beautiful eyes would sparkle whenever she looked at me, I could see my reflection, as if they were a stream in an evergreen forest. When we kissed, I could taste her cherry lip-gloss, I would hate to admit, but I put it on at night to make me feel like she is there with me, in bed, her arms wrapped around me. Oh, how I want to have her back with me, enjoying the pleasant breeze on the farm, the sun shining down on us.

I have a new dog named Huzza-Huzza. I named his after Gooseberry. Huzza-Huzza and I sit in the back of the car while my Chickabiddy drives around the fields. Driving over bumps, grass, and dirt. As I sit in the back I pet Huzza-Huzza, his short, silky fur under my fingers as I smoke my pipe. It reminds me of the trip Gooseberry , Chickabiddy, and I took, around the United States when we went to visit Chickabiddy’s mom. Sadly, I could not see her grave, since I had to stay back with Gooseberry.

Chickabiddy’s friends are coming over to stay with us for a little while. I have heard so much about them. They sound like magnificent friends to Salamanca. I have been staying up at night because of the delight. Ben sounds like a wonderful, smart boy, and how I am so happy that he and Salamanca are together, and Phoebe sounds like a blast, her life sounds like a roller coaster, excitement, hilarity, sadness, thoughtfulness, uncertainty, anger, but I shall stop with that for if I kept going it would be as long as a ray of sunshine coming from the rising sun reflecting on a beach. Apparently, her English teacher might also be coming. It warms my heart to see my Chickabiddy ricocheting off the walls of the house. Oh how I wish my Gooseberry could be here for such an exhilarating time.

Saying See You Later, this is the part that really sucks

I should be sorting and organizing but I need to write this, my heart is aching for my children and I have to acknowledge that in words.

Last night we were having dinner, eating, chatting, each child trying to get their voices heard. Our daughter, who is ten, had had a very long day, she’d gone straight from school to the vet clinic where she volunteers and she’d assisted in several surgeries, she was tired but also her normal silly and sassy self. About halfway through dinner, seemingly out of the blue, she looked at me and very quietly said “mom, I don’t want to leave Costa Rica.” I saw tears in her eyes, she looked down and wiped her eyes with her shirt, kept her head bowed for a moment, took a deep breath and let the pain pass. I told her I understood, I didn’t really want to leave either, that I was sorry. I felt completely helpless when faced with her grief. I knew she was thinking of our vet, who has become a good friend to all of us, I knew she didn’t want to leave Anna and her clinic.

On the way to school this morning our youngest, who is seven, said “mom, I don’t want to leave Costa Rica.” I asked him why and he said “because my two best friends are here! I want to stay with them.” Of course he does. The kids and I talked about how it’s so hard to say goodbye. We talked about how, when you live a nomadic life, you learn what is really and truly important to you in a different way than when you don’t move all the time. Bad roads? Too much traffic? Electricity that goes off? Internet that magically disappears? Frustrating laws? Honestly, we learn none of that is truly important. It can all be frustrating in day to day life, and there are days when those problems feel huge, but when we are so close to leaving and saying goodbye to people that we love, we see what is truly important to us–family, friends, love.

So this is the part that sucks. When faced with this pain my children feel I am often clueless how best to comfort them. Hold them. Listen to them. Talk with them. I can do all that, but I can’t make it go away. This is going to be a pretty difficult grieving process and we’re all just going to have to move through it.

I try not to think about my own grief, I try not to think about leaving people that I love. It’s so important to make friends, especially when you’re nomadic and don’t have your family near by, your friends become your family. My friends here have become such an integral part of my life, woven so deeply into my happiness. They’re always there for us in a pinch, always there to listen to me, to laugh with me, to help guide me, and they’re just really, really good people. My closest friend here is someone I see almost every day, I’ve grown to rely on her smile as a way to start my morning, thinking of letting go of such a simple thing is tough. I was at her house the other night, we were chatting with another friend of ours (who is also moving this summer) when she started getting tears in her eyes. It’s inevitable that when she tears up I tear up, and I hate crying in public, so I pointed at her and said “don’t start with me, woman!” and our other friend said “there’s no crying in baseball!” which made us all laugh. Tears were still there though and she said “it’s just that you’re my peeps and I know as long as you’re both here everything is okay.” Two of us are moving this summer, one of us is staying. It pretty much sucks. These women are the mothers of my youngest child’s two best friends, all of our children have a tough road ahead of them.

I am not whining, I’m not complaining, I’m not even having a pity party (yet). But the weeks leading up to each time we move are always some of our toughest and the ones that make me ask questions; are we doing the right things for our kids, would they be happier if we just stayed in one place, are we expecting too much from them emotionally? We’re almost to the tenth anniversary of joining the Foreign Service and I still don’t have the answers to those questions. They’re fantastic kids, they’re healthy, happy, kind, smart, and so much fun to be around. So I guess they’re okay. But how do I best help them say goodbye to people they couldn’t love more if they were blood? I simply do not know.

I’ve spent months trying not to think about saying goodbye but it’s close enough now that it’s not dwelling as much as preparing. I guess what we’ll all have to do is focus on the positive side of all of this, if we hadn’t made such amazing friends we wouldn’t be going through this, the pain is a testament to the power of our friendships. We’re letting ourselves live and love. My closest friend here and I decided this is our theme song, I think it sums this crazy, nomadic life up nicely …

A Letter to Our Nomadic Children: 10 Things I Hope We’re Teaching You

Our time in Costa Rica is coming to a close and we’re headed for Honduras this Summer, which means, according to the map below, we’re moving from the country that does happiness the best to the country that rocks homicides. Awesome!

what each country leads the world in

We’ve all got a lot of feelings bouncing around right now–excitement, nervousness, curiosity, anxiety, grief. I’ve enjoyed Costa Rica more than I thought I would, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the lifestyle we’ve chosen and about raising kids in that lifestyle. Lately I’ve been thinking of some things I’m hoping our kids are soaking in, both about being nomads and just about life in general. The challenges that we face as nomads are some of our most important teaching tools, that’s something I’m trying to remind myself of more often. I think the move has gotten me thinking of some of the lessons that are most important to me. So I’ve decided to sit down and write a letter to our three amazing nomads …

Dear Liam, Aisleen, and Riley

1. Try your best to go into your new host country with an open mind, let it be what it is, find out what that is as time goes on. I don’t have to tell you that moving is tough, and it’s even tougher when you’re leaving a country you love because you’ve had so much fun and so many cool experiences and you love your house and your friends and your teachers and leaving all that? Ick. Leaving Ireland was painful for all of us and we learned it’s hard to be open to a new country when it feels like half of you is still in the country you’ve come to love and call home. Remember that first trip we took to downtown San Jose? We caught the bus by our house and rode it to the end of the line, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of our host country. I was kind of excited to find out there was a pedestrian street downtown, I had in my mind Grafton Street and Henry Street in Dublin–tree lined, peppered with beautiful statues, shops, flowers, buskers, hustle and bustle. I thought of Temple Bar, on the edge of the river Liffy, with it’s ancient cobblestone pedestrian streets, or of the many little offshoots of the three, like this charming narrow mews …

Dublin

But, of course, that’s not what we found. Because it was San Jose and not Dublin. I had this ideal in my head of what a pedestrian street looked like and, because the one in San Jose didn’t live up to that ideal, I was pretty let down. I don’t know if you guys know but when we got home I cried. Now, I wasn’t really crying just because the street in SJ wasn’t my cup of tea, I was crying because my expectations had been dashed and, really, I just missed Dublin. I’ve learned, though, over the past two years, that expectations can sometimes be pretty harmful and it’s better to just accept a country for what it is. Which leads me to the next thing I hope you guys are learning …

2. Do not compare your host country to other countries, especially the ones you love the most. Boy was I bad about this when we moved here, and I’m sorry because I know that wore off on the three of you, I find myself still doing it occasionally (though, hopefully, mostly in my head). It accomplishes nothing and only leads to feeling resentful towards the country that will never live up to the favorite–which really isn’t fair to the country or to your happiness. So, kids, be fair to yourselves and to your present home, only in doing that will you find joy.

3. Be open to the unique gifts each country can give you. Every country, even the toughest to live in, has gifts to give and if you’re not open to receiving them you’ll never know what they are. All those hours we’ve spent body boarding in Jaco, the monkeys that have shaken trees around us, special people we’ve met, hikes we’ve taken in the rainforest at night with fireflies lighting up the night and sloths sleeping over our heads (and who knew hummingbird butts were so darn cute!) and so much more! Liam, you’re on a first name basis with an enormous crocodile! Aisleen, you spend hours every week helping to take care of animals who need you desperately. Riley, you have become a master tarantula spotter. Me? I got attacked by spider monkeys. They didn’t kill me, I’d call that a gift, and I got a great story out of it! These are all gifts, and incredible ones at that, so remember to be open to receiving!

4. Try to find something beautiful in your host country every single day. Keep your senses open, be conscious of the world around you. Take a moment to sit in the grass and watch the butterflies, stop on the hill in front of our house and close your eyes to feel the warm breeze on your face, hug a friend or a teacher, watch hummingbirds play–just allow yourself to do something to remember what a beautiful and interesting country you live in.

5. Find the humor in the eccentricities. It’s so easy to get frustrated when things don’t work properly (like the eight billionth time the internet goes out or when we lose power), or when you’re dealing with an infrastructure that could use some help, or the fact that there are too many cars for the roads; it’s perfectly understandable and okay to be frustrated by those kinds of things, they’re frustrating! But try, also, to see the humor in them. A tree branch stuck in a pothole that is big enough to swallow an elephant (the Costa Rican sign for “Warning! Major pothole!”)? That can either lead you to roll your eyes and cluck your tongue or it can make you laugh and recognize the world is a funny, wacky place and, sometimes, you just have to laugh, either because it’s actually funny or because, if you don’t, you’ll beat your head against the wall–doesn’t matter the reason, just do it. I promise it will always make you feel better!

6. As your dad and I tell you, you represent America, this is an honor so remember to be a positive example of our country to our host country. All three of you have been amazing at this, I am beyond proud of you for being aware that people will judge our country, and the people in it, based on your behavior. It’s not entirely fair but it is the reality of the situation. Keep up the good work!

7. Find a way to give back to your host country by volunteering or helping out in some way. It’s always good to bring more kindness and compassion to the world by giving the gifts each of you has to offer and I know you’ve all enjoyed doing this! I am so proud of your compassion and kindness and your willingness to share those things!

8. Living in a foreign country isn’t always easy, and it’s rarely simple, but people who don’t live the kind of life we live don’t always realize that. So when people look at you cross-eyed if you are venting a frustration, or talking about how you didn’t get enough sleep because the bar next door was so loud and the roosters kicked in right when it quieted down, or your morning was tough because we got caught in a monster traffic jam that turned the roads into a parking lot, try to remember that not everyone understands the unique challenges that go along with living overseas. You live in “paradise,” after all, so what the heck do you have to complain about? Everyone has bad days, and it’s okay to vent about them (necessary, even, because it’s a way to get it all out of your system so you can move on), whether you live in Costa Rica or Ireland or the US bad days will happen. Every post has its challenges and you know that creating a life in “paradise” is a lot different than taking a holiday there. So don’t take it personally if people don’t understand, or if they belittle your experiences because they don’t think you should be complaining when you live in “paradise,” just remember they have different life experiences. I encourage you to seek out people who understand your lifestyle and vent to them–they’ll get it and that’s all you’re asking. And don’t ever be hard on yourself for being frustrated or upset, it’s just part of being human.

9. Remember that you are you no matter where you have landed in the world. Hold on to your core, your beliefs, your center. I’m not saying don’t be open to change, it’s important to grow and change, but each of you has such a special core and remembering that is crucial. Your core, along with our family, gives you your stability and when everything around you spends so much time in a state of flux hanging on to who you are will make you solid. When we first moved here we faced a huge challenge with Aisleen being bullied–new country, new language, new culture, norms we weren’t used to, some negative things we weren’t prepared for. One of the ways our Aisleen, and our family as a whole, got through it was by being true to who we are and not adjusting our core beliefs to fit the situation. So stay true to yourselves, always.

10. Remember that our roots are portable. We live kind of a weird life, things happen in our lives that, when you stop and think about them, make you recognize our frame of reference is not the same as it would be if we were settled in a neighborhood in DC or Minneapolis. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. With our nomadic life comes a lot of goodbyes. And where is “home,” anyway? It’s so hard to be away from family that we love–both blood family and family that we’ve picked up along the way. I know that sometimes it feels like there are parts of you scattered all over the globe and that’s tough but we always, always have each other and we have proven time and again that our roots are like steel! In five months we will gently uncover those roots once more and move them to a new country. It will not be easy, we will have challenges, we will very much miss the people we’ve come to love here, but we will make it work, we always do. And Honduras will hold many more gifts for us as long as we’re open and willing to receive them, I promise this. Above all else, remember that your dad and I love all of you with our whole hearts and as long as we are together we will always be home.

All My Love,

Mom

The Gay Experience, TCKS, and The President

When I heard the President state this past Wednesday in an interview that he supports equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian partners I got tears in my eyes. True, it doesn’t change legislation, but to have a sitting President state his support for marriage rights for ALL Americans–that’s HUGE!  The person whose opinion I was most looking forward to hearing after the President’s statement was blogger/writer/pundit and all-around brilliant man, Andrew Sullivan. I read Sullivan’s blog daily, it’s the one thing on-line that I never miss. I love him because you can’t stick him in a box, he doesn’t wrap himself in a political ideology. I love him because, while I don’t always agree with him, the intellectual and emotional honesty with which he approaches politics and life is something I greatly admire. Sullivan, of course, did not disappoint me. When I read his initial thoughts in a piece on his blog entitled “Obama Lets Go of Fear,” I cried again. Just to clarify, I’m not a crier but this is a subject I care deeply about for a lot of reasons so it gets to me.

Today I read Sullivan’s Newsweek piece on the subject, again I found him insightful and eloquent. I can’t imagine how it must feel for children and adults alike who have been marginalized, bullied by family and schoolmates, made to feel that they’re not “normal,” to know that the President of the United States has their back. So Joe Shmoe down the block thinks there’s something wrong with you, well, the President begs to differ. I don’t know if it will help in what, for some, must be a daily battle to maintain self-esteem but I’d reckon it’s a very big step in the right direction.

There’s one other thing about Sullivan’s Newsweek piece that hit very close to home for me and it was this bit:

Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family. The America he grew up in had no space for a boy like him: black yet enveloped by loving whiteness, estranged from a father he longed for (another common gay experience), hurtling between being a Barry and a Barack, needing an American racial identity as he grew older but chafing also against it and over-embracing it at times.

This is the gay experience: the discovery in adulthood of a community not like your own home and the struggle to belong in both places, without displacement, without alienation. It is easier today than ever. But it is never truly without emotional scar tissue. Obama learned to be black the way gays learn to be gay. And in Obama’s marriage to a professional, determined, charismatic black woman, he created a kind of family he never had before, without ever leaving his real family behind. He did the hard work of integration and managed to create a space in America for people who did not have the space to be themselves before. And then as president, he constitutionally represented us all.

As the mother of three children who are growing up overseas I watch them straddle different cultures, different norms, different habits, languages, ideas of what is “normal” and what is not. I watch them struggle to try to reintegrate when we go home, sometimes it’s simple and sometimes it’s complicated. Parts of them transition from culture to culture easily, in many ways they are chameleons who can change their colors as needed. They’re as comfortable sitting around a communal bowl of food on a dirt floor in Guinea as they are sitting in a posh restaurant in a castle in Ireland or a Johnny Rockets in Virginia–that’s the nature of their lives. But there’s a difference between fitting in and feeling like you belong to a place and a people and, sometimes, they feel like they don’t quite belong even at “home,” in America. Prior to our decision to become a State Department family I’d never thought about how much one’s nationality impacts ones sense of identity and belonging.

When we’re overseas, while our kids are sometimes singled out for being American, by and large they are accepted because they go to school with other nomadic kids so they generally don’t feel like outsiders. When we go home, however, I always worry it’s going to be a different story because I’ve heard about the struggles of Third Culture Kids, as their called, trying to reintegrate into American culture. It’s perfectly understandable for an American kid to feel a bit out of place in Guinea or Costa Rica but in America? While I understand why they don’t automatically feel “at home” I worry that they won’t understand why they don’t automatically feel at home. I worry that they will feel like outsiders in their own country, which could be painful or it could be something they don’t care about, I guess we’ll see. My hope for them is that they’ll create their own sense of belonging and, while they will know they are American, they will also know in a tangible way that they are citizens of the world–they’ll be like cultural soup, rich with flavors from all over the world but still uniquely them.

Either way, Sullivan’s description of the gay experience, of the President’s own struggles to figure out where he fit in relation to the cultures he was straddling, sounded so much like the TCK experience–belonging to different places, different cultures, sometimes feeling like an outsider, and trying to figure out who YOU are in the middle of all of that. It reminded me to be vigilant with my own children to the difficulties that our lifestyle can cause but it also drove home in a very personal way a truth; our humanity has so many different aspects that bind us. Even in the midst of feelings of alienation, of being unsure about where one belongs, there are others there with us, we’re not alone. It brings me comfort to know that there are so many people who can understand my kids in a way even I can’t. I like the fact that a gay, British born, American intellectual has more in common with my (as far as I know at this point) straight, American born nomads than I ever thought possible. I like the thought that Sullivan, and the President, and people like them, have my kid’s backs and that they’ve got theirs. That makes me smile.

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