Unrooted Childhoods: A Chapter by Chapter Review

Last year, just after we arrived in Ecuador and desperate for reading material, I borrowed a book from my sister called Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global. It is a collection of essays from TCK’s from many different countries and many different walks of life. As I read it, I found myself identifying, as a fellow TCK, with many of the writers’ experiences. At the same time, I also found myself wondering how my own children will remember their experiences of growing up in other countries and cultures. I remember thinking that I should make a collection of quotes and passages from the book to revisit later… the only problem was that I found myself wanting to write down about every third sentence!

Now, almost one year later, I have decided to go back and read this book again. I will be doing a chapter-by-chapter “review” of it here on my blog. I use the term “review” loosely, because it won’t be so much a review as it will be an interaction with the essays and with the experiences and viewpoints of the authors. I want to explore both the positive and negative aspects of growing up abroad so that I can better understand and relate to my own children in the years to come.

See, I know from personal experience what it is to be a TCK, and all the blessings (and the baggage) that goes along with growing up abroad. But I don’t yet know from personal experience about raising TCK’s. I’m learning as I go, and I’m thankful to have not only my own life experiences to draw from, but the life experiences of others, like the writers of the essays in this book. I’m also thankful for all of the study and research that has been done in the last few decades on TCK’s. So much more is understood today about children who grow up overseas, about their unique gifts and also about the challenges they face.

As I re-read the introduction of this book tonight, the following sentence jumped out at me: “the paradox of nomadism is that its benefits are always tied to losses.” (p. 3) I think that neatly sums up how I hope to interact with this book: I want to recognize and give thanks for the benefits of an “unrooted childhood” without glossing over or minimizing the losses.

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The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 7

Week 7 is about noticing the details. Read the entire post here.

When I’m busy, feeling rushed or stressed, or just in a task-oriented mode, I often fail to notice the details. It’s amazing how slowing down just long enough to really see all the little things wakes you up to life and to wonder. And I think an awareness of the details is one of the primary characteristics of a creative person — artist, writer, photographer, musician, etc. So not only does noticing the details help me be more awake, it also helps me be more creative.

So here are a few observations (and photos) from the last couple of days, as I have tried to be more intentional about noticing the details.

IMG_55511) I’m finally starting to feel as if my house is finally starting to come together. It’s not like we have made any big improvements, and there is still a lot to do, but little by little, we are getting things done. And all the little details add up. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I am beginning to reestablish some of the systems that keep my home organized and running smoothly, which isn’t really a visible thing. But hanging pictures on the walls is — and we’ve been doing a little of that here and there. Before he left for the jungle last Friday, my sweet husband helped me hang some pictures in our bedroom, and it’s amazing the difference that made!

IMG_55562) One of the things I like best about living in Ecuador is wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies, available year-round, and so affordable. Most of what you can buy in the States, you can find here, as well as many other fruits I had never heard of before I came here! These are the fruit bowls on my kitchen counter, piled high with fruit. Believe it or not, most of this will be gone by the end of the week. My kids love fresh fruit and eat it all the time.

3) Most days as a stay-at-home mom, I get to the end of the day and think, “What exactly did I DO all day?” Of course, I can list all of the things I do, but when there aren’t any visible, tangible results of your work, it’s easy to begin to feel like you’re wasting your time. This is especially true when you are simply playing with, interacting with, teaching, training, disciplining your kids. I mean, even housework and meal prep have visible, tangible results! On Monday, the boys asked me to build them a Brio train-track. So I did, and I tried to make it a cool one. (I am not nearly as good at this as Rusty, but I gave it my best shot.) It occurred to me later that this is actually a very visible and tangible example of how I spend my time with my kids, so I took a picture of the track after I was done as a way to remind myself — I am Mom, and this is what I do!

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Discouraged

Ever have one of those days where everything just seems to hit you all at once? That’s what Thursday was for me.

First, I was stressed over what was happening with Alex at his new school. Apparently, he made life pretty miserable for his teacher last week, leading the school to question if the class they had put him in was the best one for him. He came home on Wednesday with two notes written in his school notebook, one from the 2nd grade teacher, explaining some of his behaviors and why he wasn’t going to be in her class anymore… and the other from his new teacher, the Kindergarten teacher. Ummm, okay, so 2nd grade wasn’t working out, so they decided to move him back two grades? As it turns out, when Rusty went in to talk to them, they told him they felt like 1st grade was too full, and there were already 4 kids in 1st grade with special needs or learning problems or something, so they didn’t want to add Alex into that mix.

I’m really fine with Alex being in the Kindergarten class. As I said before, I’m more in favor of holding kids back than pushing them ahead, especially in the beginning. I just wish the school had explained to us the situation from the beginning (the correct class for his age was full) and let us decide whether we wanted him to be a grade ahead or behind so we could have avoided this mess. To me, it’s not really important what grade he is in — he is there to learn Spanish and for the social interaction. Academically, he is way ahead of the other students in Kindergarten, so I will probably have to send stuff from home for him to do so he doesn’t finish early, get bored, and cause problems for the teacher and the other students.

I’m mostly frustrated because I feel like Alex has already earned himself the reputation there as being a problem child. The school has asked us to have a neurological and psychological evaluation done on him. They suggested he might have ADD or ADHD. I’m not denying that might be a possibility (although I do think that high-energy boys are often falsely labeled such), but I do feel like they are being awfully quick to start requesting testing when he hasn’t even had a chance to adjust to this new environment. After all, he hasn’t been in a formal school environment for a year and a half, he’s immersed in a new language that he can’t yet communicate well in, and he was put in the grade ahead of where he should be. And they’re surprised when he has trouble adapting?! I’m not excusing some of his behavior (much of it was totally unacceptable, whether or not he can communicate well, and we had some pretty serious talks about it on Wednesday night), but I do think that once he adjusts and knows the routine, the expectations, the rules, and above all how to communicate his needs and problems, the acting out will diminish.

So, I was feeling anxious about all that, and then Rusty started telling me about the meeting he had with Kent and Josh the day before where apparently it came out that there had been some criticism as to his performance leveled at him by some folks on the medical campaign. I think it is interesting how people can come on these week-long campaigns, people who don’t even know you or have a vested interest in you or your ministry (i.e. they are not personal supporters or from a supporting church), see one aspect of what you do, and then feel like that somehow gives them the knowledge and the authority to critique you personally or how you are doing your job! Are missionaries the only ones who deal with this, or does this happen in other professions? I am sincerely asking — this is not a rhetorical question! I have been thinking about it all day, wondering if this happens to other people in other jobs. We don’t claim to be perfect, we still have much to learn (we haven’t even been here a year for goodness’ sake!), we make mistakes and bungle things up daily and probably will continue to do so for years to come! I guess it would just be nice if people would take the time to know us and understand our unique situation and the team dynamics we are working with here in Ecuador before being so free to offer up their criticisms.

I probably just need to grow a thicker skin. There will always be critics. I know this.

Also, Rusty left on Thursday for a weekend trip to Kumanii. We went to the bank to take out some money before we left — he needed cash for the trip, and I needed to pay the ladies who help me around the house. And none of our cards would work in the ATM — we tried his bank card and mine, as well as a credit card from a different bank and could not get money out with any of them. Which probably signifies a problem on the Ecuadorian bank’s end, or a problem with all international cards. Still, it was frustrating. And on the way out of town, Rusty called to inform me that he’d been pulled over for “speeding” (going 2 km. per hour above the speed limit) and given a $90 ticket. Really, Ecuador? Really?!

Sometimes, it’s the compilation of little daily annoyances on top of all the major stresses of living in a foreign country (learning to speak a new language and adapting to a new culture for instance) that just make that first year or two abroad so difficult. And sometimes, it just seems to come at you all at once, like waves relentlessly crashing over you, making it hard to catch your breath. After Thursday, I was grateful for a peaceful weekend at home, for crackling fires in the fireplace each night, for “Downton Abbey” with my sister last night, for a long nap this afternoon.

And I’m looking forward to our family vacation at the beach next week!

From Baby to Little Boy in One Haircut

Benjamin has needed a haircut for several months now, but I just kept putting it off, not quite ready to cut his hair for the first time because it really does make them look so much older! But finally, a couple of days ago, I did it. I sat him in a chair in front of the TV, gave him a sucker, and went to work. It’s certainly not perfect (I’m no professional stylist), but it’s short and not in his eyes anymore. And I just can’t get over how different it makes him look. He’s like a different kid — a toddler, a little boy now, not a baby. All the reddish tints are gone now (guess it really was just baby hair), and he’s a tow-head just like his brothers. He reminds me so much of Alex at the same age.

It’s not just the haircut, although that is probably the biggest and most noticeable difference. A couple of weeks ago, Ben gave up his paci for good. He was actually starting to chew on them, so I threw one away that had a big hole in it, and in the few days it took for me to get to the store and buy another one, he decided he was all done with pacifiers. It probably won’t be long before he gives up the bottle at nap-time and bedtime as well.

He’s also walking better, almost running sometimes, and talking more. In short, he is growing up. In just a few months’ time, we’ll be moving on to things like a big boy bed instead of a crib, a booster seat at the table instead of a high chair, and underwear instead of diapers.

And I’m wondering if I’m about to be done with the baby phase of my life forever. Don’t get me wrong… I’m most definitely NOT feeling like it’s time to have another one! If it’s up to me, I won’t give birth to anymore babies (adoption is still something we talk about, so we’ll have to see where the Lord leads us on that). But it’s not always up to us — Benjamin is proof of that! — and so I’m hanging on to all my baby stuff for awhile longer as insurance! But there is a sort of melancholy in the realization that this season of my life may well be on its way out — this season with its many trials (sleep deprivation, anyone?), but also its uncountable joys.

And while a part of me may miss the baby years, I am looking forward to being a mom of kids who are a little bit older, who can do more for themselves (like use the toilet and put on their own shoes), who can communicate better. I’m looking forward to some of the things we’ll be able to do as a family as the kids get older. I’m looking forward to homeschooling and walking beside them as they learn about the world, to helping them discover their interests, gifts, and passions.

In short, I’m looking forward to watching my babies become the people God created them to be.

Here are a couple of pictures so you can see what I mean about the difference one haircut can make:

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I Remember February 26th

In two days, my Alex will be seven years old. And while we celebrate February 28th as the day he came into the world, a small part of me always privately remembers February 26th as the day I went into labor. Alex should have been born on Feb. 26th. My water broke early in the morning followed by strong and fairly consistent contractions… there was no reason to think I wouldn’t be holding my baby in my arms by the end of the day.

Except that by the end of the day, I wasn’t. And I wasn’t holding him by the end of Feb. 27th either. It wasn’t until almost the end of the third day, Feb. 28th, that he finally came howling into the delivery room of a small Japanese clinic.

I was in labor for 64 hours. Without drugs. Without an epidural.

Even now, I can hardly believe it. I don’t consider myself a person who has a very high pain tolerance. And yet I got through it. And then I went on to give birth twice more — without drugs and without epidurals.

Even now, I am amazed. Amazed at my own strength. Amazed that both I and my baby came through that experience safe and healthy. Amazed that it did not end in a c-section. Amazed that I had the courage to have another baby after that experience! Amazed at the miracle of life.

Someday, I keep telling myself, I will write this story down, in all its excruciating and beautiful detail. Someday, I will do it, but not tonight. Tonight, I simply remember and give thanks.

The First Day

This morning, Rusty took Alex to Hansei for his first day of school. (Going forward, he will ride a “bus,” really a van, that will come to our house to pick him up, but they asked us to bring him ourselves this first day.) He was sooooo excited. He was up at 6:30 — he got dressed and made his bed without being asked and without waking his brother up, then came downstairs and got his own bowl of cereal. I could get used to this — wonder how long it will continue?

When they got to school, the director wanted to do a basic evaluation of Alex to verify that they were placing him in the correct grade level. We had told them yesterday that he should be in “segundo de basico,” which is the equivalent of 1st grade in the Sates, and they agreed that based on his age, that is where he should be. However, after the evaluation, they informed Rusty that they were going to put him in “tercero de basico,” (2nd grade)!

Honestly, I was a bit perturbed when Rusty called later in the day and told me about it. Of course, every mother thinks her child is smart and gifted, and it’s nice to have your opinions verified by an objective professional… but really? 2nd grade? He’s only turning 7 next week! Age-wise, he’s a year or more younger than most of the other kids in his class. Because he’s so tall, he looks like he belongs, but is he ready academically for 2nd-grade level stuff? Especially in another language?

The director assured Rusty that Alex will be fine, but I really think their decision had more to do with the fact that the first grade class was already very full, whereas the second grade class has only 6 other students (all boys). So, in some ways, I can see the wisdom of the decision — Alex will be much more likely to receive personal attention and individualized instruction in a class with fewer students.

However, I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s better to hold kids (especially boys) back in the beginning rather than push them ahead. Then again, Alex is not really at Hansei so much for the academics as he is to learn Spanish. I do wonder what the results would be if we had him tested in the States. Would he test at a 2nd-grade level? I’m not a professional teacher, but I’m pretty sure he’s not yet reading at a 2nd-grade level, although he is improving rapidly.

We’ll give it a few weeks and see how it goes. In the meantime, is it safe for me to say I’m the mother of a gifted child?

Life With Seven Kids

Four days it’s been this time since I did my daily writing. Every time I take a break, I feel like I should offer some kind of explanation as to why I’ve been gone from this space. I really do enjoy the practice of writing just a little each day. It’s something I do just for me, not for anybody else, and that’s a good feeling. Especially when you are in that season of life where it seems like your world revolves around caring for others and making sure they are dressed, bathed, fed, taught, loved, kept organized, and so on. It also forces me to think in a different way than I normally do when I’m at home all day taking care of my kids.

So, here’s my explanation this time — for the past two nights, we have been staying at my sister’s house and taking care of her kids along with our brood. Seven kids, ages 7 and under, altogether. Josh and Julie spent the week in the Galapagos, playing tour guides and translators to a group from the States, and we volunteered to keep the kids for two nights while they were gone (the kids spent the other two nights with their grandparents). It’s been fun, but crazy, leading me to wonder how people with lots of kids actually DO this all the time!

Of course, I know that it’s physically impossible for all these kids to be ours, considering their ages. And I also know, from experience that you “grow” into your family. God normally doesn’t dump seven kids in your lap all at once! You have one, and then awhile later, you have another one, and so on. I remember, when we just had Alex, I would look at people with two or more kids and wonder, “How do they do it?” I felt like I had my hands full with just my one, and couldn’t imagine adding a second one to the mix. And then we had our second, and we just — adjusted. We learned to make things work with two kids. And the same thing happened when we had our third. So, I know this principle would hold true if our family continued to grow.

At the same time, though, I am thankful we DON’T have seven kids right now. Before I had any children of my own, I used to think having a large family would be cool. And don’t get me wrong — I still think large families are awesome! I know there are lots of benefits to growing up in a large family, and I stand in awe of families like the Duggars with their 20+ kids. But the more years I put under my belt as a mother, the more I think that maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be the mother of lots of kids. And a smaller family is definitely more conducive, logistically speaking, to life on the mission field!

We have had lots of fun these past few days with seven kids. We made Valentine cards; we had pizza for dinner one night; we made and decorated Valentine cupcakes — and ate them of course! I read stories at night with a tangle of children all either sitting on my lap or pressed in against my sides or hanging over my shoulders. I brushed and braided my nieces hair. I walked them to school this morning, and they proudly showed me their classrooms. It’s been an enjoyable couple of days!

At the same time, I think I’ll be glad to go home tonight with just my 3 boys! These days, being a mom of three is enough for me!

Reducing Birthday Stress

We are entering birthday season here in the Campbell household. 4 out of the 5 of us have birthdays within 3 months of each other, starting with Alex at the end of this month. And I’m starting to feel the stress that always accompanies this time of year — the stress of deciding how to celebrate and planning the parties. Of course, Rusty and I don’t typically have parties anymore, although I feel like we should do something special to celebrate Rusty’s 40th birthday this year! But Alex has had enough birthdays that he expects some kind of celebration, and Stephen, who will be turning 4 in April, is starting to figure it out as well.

Over the years, I have tried hard to curb the excessive consumerism that often accompanies birthday celebrations and be creative in the ways we celebrate. For each of our kids’ first birthdays, we did a first birthday time capsule (to be opened when they turn 18) and asked party attendees (family, close friends, and teammates) to bring a small token for the time capsule in lieu of gifts. The second birthday party for both Alex and Stephen involved playtime (at the Taco Bell play-place for Alex and a local park for Stephen), and we will probably do this for Ben’s 2nd birthday party as well.

We have done “venue” birthday parties a couple of times at Bounce U. I am always surprised at how expensive venue-type parties are, even when you just go with the basic, cheapest package. I wouldn’t normally choose to do these kinds of parties, but when we were in the middle of a big transition and just couldn’t host the party in our own home, it was pretty much our only option. We have also done venue parties where we didn’t pay for the party package — we just went and played and then had cake and ice-cream at home. We have done this at both Chuck-E-Cheese and Jungle Java, and it was just as fun and a lot less expensive!

Alex had a “traditonal” birthday party the year he turned three with friends, games, presents, cake, and party-favors, and although I really thought I kept it simple in comparison to other parties, I was worn out by the end of it. I’m sure part of it had to do with the fact that I was about 8 months pregnant at the time, but it was an exhausting day. And it wasn’t just hard on me, but on some of the kids too, including my son, who were over-stimulated and overwhelmed by all the activity.

And then there is always the issue of the gifts. Really, do my kids need anymore toys? They don’t play with and appreciate all the ones they already have! But they have been to enough birthday parties of other kids, that they are starting to associate a birthday party with “getting more stuff.” So, what to do? Once, Alex went to a party where the birthday girl did not open her presents at the party, but opened them later after the guests left. I had never seen this before, but I thought it was a wonderful idea! No awkward moments of realizing you gave the same gift as someone else, or something the birthday child already had. No feeling bad because you gave a $10 gift, while someone else gave a gift that obviously cost much more. And the other kids didn’t have to stand around and watch while one person opened present after present. Older kids understand this, but it is SO difficult for the younger ones.

Over the years, I have tried different things to combat the “have party, get stuff” attitude. A couple of times, we had a “no gifts” party, and we explained to the kids beforehand that they wouldn’t be receiving any presents at the party. They were usually having so much fun playing that they neither noticed nor cared. And they still received presents from family, and from grandparents (things they either really wanted or needed), which they opened later at home, so it wasn’t like there were NO presents, just no presents at the actual party.

Last year, for Alex’s sixth birthday, we asked guests not to bring presents, but to consider a cash donation, which we would then give to World Vision. You can read all about it here on our family blog. I love the idea of using a birthday party to bless other less fortunate children. I have also heard of parties where instead of presents, the birthday child has a toy drive or a book drive, and they donate everything to a local charity or children’s hospital. I would like to continue this tradition, but I’m still trying to figure out how it would work now that we live overseas.

In some ways, we are naturally insulated against the big-birthday-party-with-lots-of-presents tradition. Since we homeschool, it’s not like our kids have a bunch of classmates to invite to a party. When we have Alex’s party at the end of this month, we’ll probably invite his cousins and his good friend Micah from the homeschool group, and maybe of couple of the kids that he’s met through T-ball, but that’s it.

The older my kids get and the more birthday parties I plan, the more I feel like what I really want their parties to be is a time to celebrate their lives and have a good time with a few close friends. I’d love to hear ideas for creative and frugal birthday celebrations and traditions. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

One of Those Days

It’s just been one of those days — despite all of my good intentions.

I feel like I’ve been trying to shake the cobwebs out of my head all day. I’m sluggish and tired. The constant rain doesn’t help this feeling. I love the rain, but it does make me want to curl up in bed and read a book all day, which is basically NOT going to happen when you have littles in the house.

I’m trying very hard these days to yell at my children less. And today? Today was an Epic Fail in that department.

We did do school, and had a rousing Nerf gun battle after lunch (the activity from the jar), so I suppose that counts for something. And story-time was very sweet with all the boys participating. Even Benjamin sat quietly while I read “The Little Red Caboose” — he has really gotten into books these days.

On days like today, I need to celebrate the small victories and just let go of everything else. I know that, but it’s still hard to do. I’ll be back tomorrow with the Stay Awake Challenge.

 

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 3

Week 3 is about setting intentions. Read the entire post here.

This post really resonated with me. I used to be a more planned out, intentional person. These days, my life feels so haphazard, last minute, and thrown together. Part of it is probably due to having 3 lively little boys constantly underfoot; and all the moving around we’ve done over the last several years certainly hasn’t helped any. I remember a time in my life when I treated Sunday afternoons as my time to plan ahead for the rest of the week. I would go over my calendar (appointments, school assignments, church activities, etc.), discuss any logistical details with Rusty, plan my menu and make my shopping list, make a “to do” list, pay bills and check our bank account, and generally just try to mentally prepare myself for the week ahead.

It has been years since I was really in the habit of setting aside time to focus and plan for the week in front of me. In some ways, I guess I need this time less since I’m not stretched quite as thin as I was when I was working 2 jobs, taking graduate level classes, and trying to be a youth minister’s wife (a 3rd job, really, although it didn’t pay anything). But maybe I do need this time just as much now as I did back then. As a stay-at-home mom, with very few external motivators on my day, I find myself struggling with time management. An intentional time of planning ahead each week might really help with that.

But, although setting aside time to plan ahead is good, the idea behind setting intentions is more about setting a tone, guiding your behavior, and focusing on the important things than on working out the logistical details of your life. If you read Shawn’s post, you’ll find that she advises weekly intentions, daily intentions, and weekend intentions. All day today, I’ve been thinking about my intention for this week — Rusty is gone, I’ll be home with the boys most all week. Although I have help around the house during the day, I’m on my own in the evenings, and the bathtime/bedtime routine usually proves to be my own personal Waterloo. When Rusty left on Saturday morning, I was in a bad mood. I was grumpy and feeling sorry for myself. And then I realized, I can choose my response to this week. I can be miserable and make my kids miserable in the process — or I can choose to make the make the best of our situation and tweek3 (3)ry to have fun.

And so, my weekly intention this week is to Enjoy My Kids. That’s it — just enjoy them. Enjoy learning and discovering with them. Enjoy playing with them. Enjoy cuddling and snuggling with them. Enjoy reading to them. Enjoy talking to them. The When Dad’s Away Activity Jar made it’s reappearance yesterday, and today Stephen chose “indoor cookout.” Since it was Superbowl Sunday, I put the game on the TV, built a fire in the fireplace (yes, I finally managed to get a fire going, Rusty, you would have been proud!), and we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire for dinner.

week3 (1)week3 (2)Each day this week, we will do something from the jar. I even added a few new activities like “make our own personal pizzas,” “game night,” and “Mario Kart tournament.”

My daily intentions will change each day, but I want to try to focus on one small goal or project each day this week to see if I can make some headway on some of the things that I have been procrastinating on lately. This afternoon, I forced myself to spend 15 minutes just tidying up in our bedroom. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, the pile of clothes at the foot of the bed is now put away! Baby steps, people, baby steps.

And finally, my weekend intention is to Celebrate! My vivacious, red-headed niece is turning five tomorrow and having her birthday party on Friday, and we will all be going and then spending the night afterwards. And then Rusty arrives home on Saturday evening. If we survive the week, and I am still sane, then clearly, we will have much to celebrate!

Setting intentions — it’s simple, it’s easy, and it gives focus and direction to your day, your week, your weekend.