29 October 2016

Five Minute Friday ~ How the word EAT got me thinking about THIRD CULTURE KIDS, particularly my own.

We left Niger-home to move to temporary-Michigan-home on June 9, 2013. 

That was more than three years ago... 40 and one half months... 1257 days... I won't bore you with the hours... minutes... seconds...

Since the last ride on the tire swing by the front porch and the last hug from Madam Safana... 

Since we last snuggled Sasha and Hera (our two cats) and pulled away from our house - waving goodbye to Butterscotch and Beethoven (our two dogs), the Niger river just down the hill, the night guard... the place that we'd learned to love and the only place that our littlest ones really thought of and knew as home. 

We'd been home for several months when a little voice from the back seat asked, "When will I get to see Butterscotch and Beethoven again?" And I realized that even though we'd talked much, cried much, imagined much, experienced much together, at least one little one hadn't grasped the idea that we had no idea when... if... we'd be returning to Niger-home. That when she said goodbye late that 9th of June, she didn't understand that it was a very long goodbye. She certainly didn't grasp that is was most likely, at least as far as the pets were concerned, a forever one.

I did a quick survey of my gang: "If I say home, what's the first thing that you think of?"

"Quebec and Africa"
"my bed, wherever it is"
"I don't know"
"Why do you ask such hard questions?... (sigh)"
"wherever I am right now"
*eyes rolling*
(gutteral groan and dramatic falling back, sprawled as though knocked out, into the chair)
"Ugh! Why?"
"Wherever you, Dad and the majority of my sibs are."
"I don't even know... location wise."
"I think wherever family is."

It was a question no one wanted to answer... one they didn't know how to answer... one that was significantly harder for the older ones. That's why I received more answers than I have kids. Sometimes I wonder, as parents... what our life choices and callings, as parents have "done" to these sweet kids. 

I always said I didn't want our kids to grow up to be those "different" and "interesting" MKs I'd encountered growing up in church, the ones that didn't know how to talk to their home country peers, dressed a little weird, told unbelievable cool stories, and that always seemed to feel awkwardly out of place even when they looked like they could be fitting in.

From where I stand, from what others say... and most importantly - based on what my children say - Tim and I have both succeeded and failed in our efforts to achieve that goal.

It is something I think about... wonder about... almost every single day.

Because every single day, at least one - if not all - children present ask if they can eat peanut butter for breakfast.

Madam Safana's peanut butter (the most amazing peanut butter, ever, by the way) on homemade bread... on fresh pancakes... on made-from-scratch waffles... on hot biscuits... as part of the glaze on fresh from the oil doughnuts... We ate it for breakfast almost every single morning we lived in W. Africa. Unless the jar was empty, of course. This family of 10 could easily eat 1 kg of peanut butter in three or four days. 

Too much peanut butter actually put one in the hospital. The power went out. We were busy looking for candles. That one found the jar - a full kilo - and ate about one-fourth of it. Plain. Then said child started throwing up and having a hard time breathing cause it stuck in the throat. Trip to the ER... we had to try two because the first one was closed for the night (don't ask). Doctors kept the kid on IVs in the hospital until they were sure the peanut butter wouldn't form a blockage in the intestine, as you get dehydrated fast in African heat when vomiting. 

That's our only traumatic peanut butter eating memory. The rest are all good... if not great! Up to this date, thankfully, no one is allergic. That would be a tragedy in our family, on so many counts.

You know what just might be the first thing I hear tomorrow morning (I'll be up early, finishing prep for the Sunday School lesson I'm scheduled to teach):  "Mama? Can I eat some peanut butter on my toast today?" 

Illustrations included in this blog post are from this book - a fave in our family.

(By the way, if you are wondering. This was a 15 minute Friday, written on Saturday, when I should have been preparing for Sunday School. I'm teaching 4-6 year olds about Daniel's faithfulness in prayer, even if it meant the lion's den...)

11 October 2016

The Enigma of Educating our TCKs

I wrote this post almost exactly a year ago... 
Wanted to share it again, and then later this week, update a bit - as we are on year further into this journey.

It is an amazing one... this journey, I mean! Not necessarily this post! :-)

As a relatively large family (eight children spanning 13 years) that’s been on the mission field essentially since the turn of the century (15 years - long enough to be considered career), we’ve tried several different education options: homeschool, local language schools, private school, public school, online school… We’ve not yet used the boarding option at a boarding school (unless you count our university aged kiddos living in a dorm, but that’s still a whole different ballgame). And, in fact, when we first left for the field, I would have told anyone who asked that home school was the plan, but also that boarding school was the only option NOT on the table. 


I would tell you that any possible option that presents itself makes its way to the table as a topic of discussion…

People have asked us before about our education plan/philosophy, and I used to think I had it pretty well figured out – actually, mapped out – before our first reached third grade. A special educator with several years of experience in the classroom… a professional trained to look at the individual skills, abilities and needs of an individual student – and one who was fairly good at what I did… I figured those skills would naturally transfer to figuring out an exceptional and best educational plan for each one of my own children. Since I was the professional educator, my husband – although always an active contributor to the many conversations – essentially followed my lead regarding what was best, educationally, for our children, although there have been compromises. 

I’ve discovered that it HAS NOT come naturally – because my own desires and dreams for my children often interfere with… even disguise… what might actually be best for them… educationally, emotionally, physically, socially… spiritually. Those best choices that I could see easily for someone else’s child weren’t nearly so obvious when it came to my own.  Sometimes, best choices actually got in the way of good decisions. Sometimes, we make what appear to be best decisions – only to discover down the road aways that we didn’t have all of the facts or experience necessary to know, actually know, what we were deciding…

We’ve I’ve made so many mistakes. 

I’m thankful for God’s grace and merciful children. 

Key questions we’ve started asking when it comes to making those educational decisions:
  1. What is available?
  2. What is affordable?
  3. What is advantageous? (Or… What is the absolute best for this one child?)
  4. What is acceptable? (Or… What is a practical and adequate reality for our entire family?)
  5. What is the actual child’s input?

The first two questions are obvious. If there is no English language day school option in country and your children are too young to go to an out-of-country boarding school, then homeschool (parent teaching or engaging a teacher) or online are probably the two primary possibilities - if English language schooling is a priority. And, of course, whatever option must paid for - often putting the private, international schools out of reach for many missionary families.The third question is an ideal – If not limited by anything, what would I choose for my child. The fourth question is more one of workability: Which choices are both doable and good - not just the individual child, but for our family as a whole. This last one is always a hard one for me, because my perfectionist side has a hard time settling for the good if there is a best alternative. Doing so is, in my mind, equivalent to failure. The final question has much to do with what the child wants – or thinks s/he needs.

These questions are not listed in a hard and fast order of priority – because priorities can change based on present realities. They also change based on the individual needs of each specific child.

Sometimes, it feels like we’re trapped in a high stakes poker game where we’re dealt a hand of cards, we try to read the nuances of the situation all around us and then make decisions that are educationally sound and profitable for our children. Sometimes we make the very best decision we can – only to watch as our child struggles, hurts, or worse… learning as more information comes to light that perhaps we didn’t actually make a very good choice – or that we need to make a change. 

There are so many “stories” I could tell – but there are two I think are particularly relevant.

While in W. Africa, we choose to enroll our children in a local, French language primary school. It felt like we got to have our cake and eat it too… to use a cliché! We met so many people outside the missionary community (the school was run by Baha’i missionaries). Our children were learning French and making local friends - outside of  church. The teachers and staff at the school worked very hard to meet the educational needs of our children and our children learned that the standard “American” perspective wasn’t necessarily the only way. It certainly was not the way the rest of the world saw things. 

They children grew from experiencing life as a visible minority where they didn’t have all of the prerequisite skills that typically give majority culture students an advantage. They learned independence, hard work, how to memorize, obedience without question and how to make friends with people who were drastically different from them. We were all home for lunch together every day – and for a rest time during the afternoon heat - before the children returned to school. Academically, we found that even though the educational system and priorities were different, our children were well taught and well prepared to eventually transition to an international, English language school as bilingual students. The only disadvantage was that our children were spread across three different school campuses in town.

Life was cruising along; we were following this educational plan for our family. Then our mission unexpectedly became insolvent. Resulting financial difficulties as well security challenges due to increasing terrorist activity in our region led us to make a radical change - several weeks after the beginning of a new school year. We moved our children into an English language, international mission school. 

I had to let go of my dream of genuinely bilingual children and being a part of that school community we had enjoyed for several years. I also had to accept that this was a decision that had nothing to do with an educational best choice, but a real life, real time choice of what was best for our family. Additionally, I was surprised to discover just how difficult this change was for our children who had to make the switch – suddenly, unexpectedly and mid-year. They immediately had to learn 1) a new school, 2) new classroom/teacher systems, 3) a new academic language, 4) to live day in and day out with those who had, before, only been weekend friends, 5) to walk through perceived injustices/prejudices as a result of the previous educational choices we’d made for our family, and 6) to be just like all of the other TCKs who filled their classes. Others of our children who'd already transitioned to the international school had made that transition. But, we’d taken a year of homeschooling to help each adjust to the radical differences.

What's the moral of the story? When you realize that a current educational situation is really not working, either because of a change, new information, or whatever – make the necessary changes. I shed many tears, crying for my lost vision of the future, but also with my kids as they dealt with their own losses and frustrations. I had to create time to be available and drop other obligations and commitments in my already full ministry schedule to emotionally and academically support them through the change. It was hard.

My second story is one that is taking place, literally, right now. We’ve transitioned to a new place of ministry. Those among our children who are not attending college back in the States are presently enrolled in a French language, private, evangelical school. It’s a great school. But it is already clear that it is not the best educational decision for at least one of our children, one for whom learning does not come easily, one who is an extreme extrovert - not being able to talk with friends is driving said child crazy. This child was already identified as having an articulation disorder, has an individualized education plan and was receiving speech and language services in English. For this one, languages do not come easily. Yet, because of immigration/visa requirements – our children must be actively engaged in French language education. 

Are there other avenues we could choose? Probably, but we aren’t familiar enough yet to know what those options might be. So we spend hours on homework every night. We memorize verb conjugations even though the children may not have any idea what said verb means and will not likely be using the conditional form of the verb any time in the near future. We reread and translate much of the work that was done during the day. It's like a second school day once home when what they really want is a break because they are exhausted. I easily perceive that exhaustion as “laziness.” A good friend recently reminded me of something I should know very well - as a language learner myself and as a teacher of English as a second language… Language learning is draining; learning content material in the new language is beyond grueling. Sometimes what looks like lazy is simple self-preservation from information overload. Once again, for this season – different ministry ideas I might have need to take a back seat to supporting my children as we walk through this season together and learn to thank God for His Presence when life (school) is unrelentingly hard.

The moral of this second story? Sometimes the cards we are dealt just don’t leave a particular child with any good hand, educationally. That isn’t necessarily a failure. It is a reality of life in a fallen, broken world. What may not turn out to be an academically profitable year might actually reap more real life skills and an opportunity to lean on the Lord in ways we just don’t when we don’t desperately need Him. But as parents, we can't leave our kids to just fend for themselves in the challenging seasons our life choices, our callings, have thrust upon them.

Do I believe God called me to this place, at this time, with this family? I absolutely do. He also gave me this family and called me to a responsibility to serve them. More important than making perfect educational decisions for each child each school year is a lifestyle lived, walking humbly with our God through those decisions (and others). It is climbing educational mountaintops together and holding close through the academic valleys, all the while ultimately recognizing His Sovereignty and His amazing grace in all circumstances. TCKs don't need to be coddled and protected from life's realities and hardships because their parents are following a lifestyle that denies them of much of what is valued and expected of parents in today's western/developed world. Life isn't all about our kids. But they are also not to be ignored or expected to fend for themselves. They need to be discipled in looking to God for strength and hope in the midst of our decisions.

Originally posted on Missionary Mom's Companion

03 October 2016

Five Minute Friday (on a Sunday Afternoon Turned into Evening) ~ Collect

Fall has arrived and the weather is changing! As a result, we took advantage of a somewhat lower key weekend (where lower key really is a relative term meaning  only had one short work shift, Saturday morning house cleaning, two Sunday School lessons to prepare and teach, sound system set-up and breakdown at church, one small group meeting with food to prepare, our first feverishly-sick-so-staying-stationary-one of the new school year AND five sets of homework) to switch seasonal clothing. Mary Michelle had been coming home from school all week saying her teachers wanted her to start wearing a real coat. It was time!

Now, the storage space under the stairs seems almost echoingly empty...

For years, it seems as though I've collected clothes, shoes, coats, gloves, mittens, etc. Biggers growing out of stuff and if it wasn't immediately passed down to the closet of a younger sib, I'd pack it away in a Rubbermaid tub for littlers to use some future day. Often hand-me-downs arrived on the doorstep from cousins, friends in our church and expat community.... or I'd run across a great deal at Goodwill or Walmart... or Gammie would go on a grandkid clothes splurge.

But now that some of these kids are transitioning to life out from under our roof and littlers (really, only one littler remains) are transitioning to middlers while middlers morphing into to biggers, scatter is becoming my new word. It seems I've spent a life - to anglicize a French verb - ramasse-ing things that I knew would be valuable in days to come. Now, I've entered that season where my collection of tangibles is rightly shrinking - as we pass along, sharing with others those things that we have received. 

Yet, should nostalgia, sadness, regret and loneliness over a much quieter house than it used to begin to predominate ~ all I have to do is remember is that now, I can focus on all those intangibles I've been - and will continue - collecting: memories, relationships... treasures that rust and moth doth not corrupt.

...which reminds me of an Emily Brontë poem ~

Fall, leaves, fall 

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away; 
Lengthen night and shorten day; 
Every leaf speaks bliss to me 
Fluttering from the autumn tree. 
I shall smile when wreaths of snow 
Blossom where the rose should grow; 
I shall sing when night’s decay 
Ushers in a drearier day.

So... funny but true. I really did write this in right around 5 minutes. I started, wrote the first bit and was interrupted by life in our house. Then came back after watching the season premiere of my fave TV show (Madam Secretary, if you are wondering), finished and forgot to post - until I sat down at the computer today. Then, I decided to add the photos, because who doesn't love pictures of Fall in Québec!


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