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When Do You Grieve? Pre, Post, or Present?

(this is a bit delayed, I have good reasons which I’ll keep to myself. In any case, I’m posting it now)

When my twins went back to boarding school last April, I was a hot mess. A throwing myself on the bed and sobbing, holding my head in my hands and yelling at my husband (so the kids wouldn’t see), kind of mess. It was a really hard goodbye. It was the goodbye that closed the door on their childhood home, the goodbye that meant an ending. Sixteen years in the Horn of Africa (Somaliland and Djibouti) and it was over for the twins, at least over in the sense of living under my roof and being children here.

The goodbye was sweet, too. We celebrated, we had a graduation Open House and friends from all the varied and diverse sectors of our decade and a half in Africa came, we did all their favorite things, we laughed hard and played a lot, like we Joneses do.

But it was a goodbye without a hello, there was no new adventure to move on to just yet, simply the final semester of boarding school.

***

When they then graduated from boarding school in July and we spent the afternoon saying goodbye to roommates and dorm parents, best friends who had become more like family, and packing up dorm rooms to fly things back to the United States, I was a mess. Crying, taking all the pictures, hugging all the people, watching the kids say goodbye to their friends and feeling my heart explode. So much love, so much loss.

It was also a sweet goodbye. These people, both other students and particular staff members, have been sources of life, hope, laughter, challenge, community, strength, and rescue for my kids. One group in particular, watching them say goodbye to each other was one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching scenes I can imagine.

But it was also a goodbye without a hello. It was goodbye to Kenya, goodbye to these people, but it was not yet time to move on to the next adventure.

***

Now, with both of them going to University, the goodbyes still sting. It is still hard and strange and new. But it is also a great big hello. It is hello to exploration and adventure, to curiosity and new community, to the next step.

We are really dragging out this goodbye. We’ve been saying goodbye since April and the goodbye will last until January, when I leave Minnesota and go back to Djibouti to join my husband and our other daughter. It is a real good, long Minnesota goodbye.

***

As I questioned why my emotions have drastically shifted from grief and loss to pride and excitement, I realized that I am a pre-griever.

I anticipated this pain and cried it all out at the start of the grieving season.

Some parents have shared how they were surprised by the hurricane of emotions that struck them in the dorm room when they said goodbye and turned to leave. They would be present-grievers.

Other parents have shared how a week or two after dropping their student off, the emotion hit and took their breath away. They would be post-grievers.

Knowing this about myself and my response has helped me not feel guilty for not crying in the dorm room. It helped me understand why I rushed out two weeks before they left to buy them surprises and why I wrote them long letters ahead of time, but also how I am okay when they don’t call or text me for a few days after the separation.

It also helps me understand my husband and our youngest, as we talk through how we are each doing.

Helps us not compare our specific emotional states in time.

Helps us not judge other parents.

Helps us not judge ourselves.

Helps us do the grieving so we can do the healing, too.

How about you? Pre, Preset, or Post griever?

By |October 5th, 2018|Categories: parenting and family|Tags: |1 Comment

A Quiz about Fear

Quick link: 10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, a Quiz, at A Life Overseas

I recently heard an interview with Kim Brooks, the author of Small Animals, parenthood in the age of fear, and was reminded of how irrational fear can be. Understandably so, but still, in an age of fear and also judgment and rage, parenting can feel fraught with risk.

I had written this quiz several years ago, but found it again in my drafts and pulled it out to publish now. What are we generally afraid of? What should we actually fear (if anything?)

A quiz:

  1. Are Americans more at risk of dying by terrorist or dying by an appliance falling on us?

Death by appliance.

  1. Is a predator more likely to attack a child walking home from the playground alone or to attack a child playing in the home?

Child playing at home.

  1. Does a child face more of a health risk while climbing a tree or while staring at an iPad?

Staring at an iPad.

Click here to continue with the quiz and to read my conclusion: 10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, a Quiz, at A Life Overseas

Not All Moms Cry at University Drop-Offs

Last week I dropped my oldest child off at University.

Said goodbye.

The next day I sent my husband and my youngest child back to Djibouti.

Said goodbye.

Yesterday I drove my second firstborn (twins) to a different University.

Said goodbye.

Now it is just me, in my parent’s basement (so see, kids never really move out), for a few months as the twins transition to university life in this foreign country called the United States of America.

Now, I’m asking the questions all parents of recent university students ask:

What just happened to my life?

What just happened to my family?

How am I doing?

***

How am I doing?

I don’t even now how to begin answering.

Okay. Not okay. Emotions are layered, shifty things.

I thought for sure I would be one of the moms who cries as she walks out of the dorm room or who sits in the parking lot of the university waiting for the tears to clear enough so I could drive away, away, away.

But guess what?

I wasn’t that mom.

I didn’t end up crying in the car in the parking lot or the dorm stairwell. Not that there is anything wrong with doing that. I had a pocket full of Kleenex, totally expected that to be me.

Maybe my tears are used up. Maybe it hasn’t quite hit me yet. Maybe we are more used to the separation. Maybe my house doesn’t feel empty yet because I’m not yet in my house that no longer holds their memorabilia and stuffed animals. Maybe it will strike me most when they come to Djibouti but they will not be able to enter the country on our family work permit but will have to apply for a tourist visa.

I’m not going to feel guilty about the lack of tears. So many articles about moms sending kids to college include this flow of emotion and believe me, emotions have flowed. They just didn’t flow in that moment.

I’m okay with that.

I’m owning my excitement for my kids and their new adventure.

I’m prepared for the day when the ache strikes and I cry. Or not.

I’m expecting to cry on the plane in January when I go back to Africa. Or not.

So much of parenting comes with pressure to do certain things, make certain choices. We can be judgmental to the point of cruelty toward other parents.

The ones who cry? Weak, mushy, unprepared, overly emotional, too attached.

The ones who don’t cry? Cold, pushing the kid out, unloving, distant.

I call bull-oney on all that. I’m done with “supposed to” and “should”. I faced enough of that in our decision to send the kids to boarding school, or way back to when we moved to Somaliland in 2003. Faced enough of it when I gave birth in Djibouti, when I used disposable diapers, when I breastfed or pumped or bottle-fed, when I just wanted to get to the end of the day with everyone mostly fed and mostly clean.

What “should” parenting look like? What choices am I “supposed to” make for my family? What “should” I be feeling in this moment?

I have no clue.

I’m deciding what we decided.

I’m feeling what I’m feeling.

Cry on, moms who cry. Don’t cry at all, moms who don’t.

(I’m a pre-griever, more about that later)

Did you cry at drop-off? Do you think you will? Know you won’t?

 

Dear Parents Launching Your Third Culture Kids

Hey you, yes you, the one who just relinquished your child’s passport into their own hands to carry for the rest of their life all by themselves.

Yes you, the one who wonders how your child will introduce herself on campus. Is she from Minnesota? Africa? Kenya (which as everyone in Minnesota knows is the same thing as Africa)? Djibouti (what’s a Djibouti?)?

Yes you, who calls this move to his passport country an international move to a new, exotic, and slightly scary country.

You who has to not only turn around and walk out of their dorm room but who has to step onto an airplane in the international terminal.

You who will not be nearby, not even continentally (yes, that’s a word, I just made it up) nearby, on Family Weekend or on Thanksgiving or over Christmas break.

You who watched other kids move in with boxes of winter boots and hats and gloves and big, puffy coats, while your kids don’t own any of those items yet because they aren’t for sale in July in Minnesota and the winter gear they last owned (age two) won’t fit anymore.

I see you. Stumbling back to the car, wishing eyes came with windshield wipers so you could drive safely through tears, crying in the bathroom at the gas station or the airport or the borrowed house. You who aren’t even ‘home’ yet to cry into your own bed, or who are is crying alone because your spouse wasn’t able to make the international flight with you, or who is left to numb your sorrow with, I’m so sorry, airplane food and jet lag.

This is hard.

This is really, really hard.

You feel alone. You look at the other parents, the ones who live in the same city or the same state or the same country and you are jealous or angry or feeling protective. You think no one understands all the questions and losses and griefs and fears racing through your mind and heart. You’re confused because no one told you raising TCKs would end up here, would end up with you on the other side of the ocean finally appreciating what you’ve put your own parents through all these years abroad. No one told you this would be harder than moving abroad in the first place.

Or maybe they did, but when you heard it, perhaps at an orientation meeting, your only thought was, “This kid? University? Don’t they have to be potty-trained for that?!” And so, in the stupor of breastfeeding and surprise positive pregnancy tests and figuring out schooling options for kindergarten and worrying through vaccination records in multiple languages and multiple countries’ schedules, you didn’t listen. I know I didn’t. And now, here I am.

Let’s talk about it.

It is so right and appropriate and you’ve raised them for this, to be competent, generous, brave, tender, loving, creative gifts to the world.

You’re excited for them and for this new adventure. So much of life as expatriates has been an adventure into the unknown or into places that have stretched us outside our comfort zone. But you’ve done that together, with this kid by your side. Now they have to navigate it alone and you have to navigate this new stage without this particular child, without their take on experiences, their sense of humor, their insight.

You have a lot of questions about how to parent adult children and how to parent from a long distance.

I don’t have any answers, I’m winging it now. I’ve been winging it since they were born, like all parents, with the added twins times two thing happening. But maybe we can help each other.

What questions do you face now or did face when you sent your kids to university and returned to living abroad?

What hurts the most in this season?

What makes you the most proud in this season?

What wisdom have you earned through experience and time and perspective?

What do you wish your parents had done differently when you went to university? What did they do well?

15 Things I Want Tell My Graduating Third Culture Kid Seniors

Five years ago I wrote a post, 15 Things I Want to Tell My Third Culture Kids. I’ve been writing my kids letters and telling them things for years. When they return to school every three months, they return with packets of letters. One for each week, usually written on the back of a photograph of people and places they love. I’ve written them verses, prayers, quotes, poems (so much Mary Oliver), song lyrics, and rambling mom-junk. And we talk. So, they know this stuff. But, too bad for them, their mom is a writer and sends some of that mom-junk out to the wide, beautiful world.

I wrote this several weeks ago, a lifetime ago.

You can always come home. Home might not be this house but home is always this family. Come rejoicing, come weeping, come whole, come broken, come lonely, come with packs of friends, come in silence, come and spill it all. This table, meaning the table I’ve set in my heart for our family, always has room.

You can never go back. There is no rewind on life and no redoing spent years. You can’t go back, even if you come back. In You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe wrote, “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.” Keep going. Djibouti will keep going and changing, too. When you meet again, whether this country or the people you have known on the continent, know that you will have to reintroduce yourself and re-explore the other and rediscover who you can be together, or from a distance, now. You might want to go back, you might think things were better or easier or simpler back when…that’s nostalgia. That’s saudade. That’s okay. Those days were good and beautiful and hilarious and I can testify to that. They are part of you now, in your very being, the fabric of what makes you, you. But you can’t live them again. Hold them, honor them, and live into the now and the new.

Guard your heart, your mind, your soul, your body. Be wise, be discerning. Make good choices. Be patient, take your time. Stay in touch with old friends. Don’t sink into social media or the internet or porn or alcohol or consumerism.

But don’t lock it up. Don’t shut the door to keep out what might feel like overwhelming American culture. Don’t be afraid to be tender and loving. Don’t cling so fast to friends far away that you don’t have space for new friends. Be vulnerable, in the appropriate relationships.

Don’t treat Americans with contempt. Even, especially, when they have no clue what a ‘Djibouti’ is. Hear them out, learn their stories, ask inquisitive questions.

Don’t be afraid to be who you are. All that Djibouti awesomeness. All that Kenya awesomeness. All that you awesomeness. You can blend it up however you want, but don’t be ashamed or embarrassed or too proud. Be you.

Be honest about what you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. People might think it is strange that you don’t know something they think is normal American life, but most of the time, they will also enjoy helping you and you never know what friendship might come of it. Be humble.

Explore and be curious and savor. Think of your college campus or your new city as though you have just moved abroad, which for all practical purposes, you have. Think of American English as a new language, restaurants as exotic local fare, a trip downtown as an exciting cultural exploration. Try stuff. Try broomball. Try downhill skiing. Try snowball fights. (Don’t try licking the flagpole in January). Try saying “oofdah.”

Seek out a trusted advisor with whom you can be completely transparent and ask for cultural guidance. Here gender and race conversations look different. Here poverty, justice, corruption, wealth, privilege these things look different and are talked about in different ways. It will be hard and you might feel confused sometimes, but try to learn to contextualize your conversations and learn from the people around you. Conversations in America have changed since mom and dad lived there and we can’t be specifically helpful in this regard because we are often confused, too. In this same vein, seek out a counselor, a trained professional, who understands cross-cultural issues.

Find a strong, healthy, joyful, creative, supportive, purposeful spiritual body to be part of. Maybe a church, maybe a campus group, maybe a small group of friends. Explore who you are, spiritually, apart from mom and dad.

Root yourself. You might be tempted to flit around and there will be potentially appropriate times to leave – to transfer or to study abroad – but don’t move just for the sake of movement. Settle in, make a home, even a dorm home, connect with people, invest in your community.

Call home. Text. Facebook message. Send photos. When you do, be honest. Goods and bads. Talk us through it. We’re transitioning, too. We miss you like whale sharks would miss the sea.

I am eternally grateful that we have had the honor of sharing this life abroad with you. Djibouti hasn’t always been easy, but what is easy? No place is easy. The way you love this small, fascinating nation blows my mind. You have embraced it, the heat and the dust, French school and Djiboutian best friends, Papa Noel and Eid Mubarak, volcanoes and ocean, with exuberance. And it has embraced you back. This is a rare thing. Including you, I can count on two hands the number of non-Djiboutian American children who have spent their lives, from toddler-hood to graduation in this country, and you have loved each other well.

You are not alone. You can cross the sea, go to the highest mountain, the lowest volcanic lava tunnel, you are not alone. God is with you, cliché and true. But also, all the people who have loved you and taught you and coached you and prayed for you are with you. You don’t leave friends or family behind, not when they have invested in you. They have become part of who you are, part of your character and your stories. You know this, from the Open Houses that we had/will have. We need to have them on two continents, with letters from people in dozens of other countries, because love and support is coming at you from all corners of the globe.

Live here and now. They might be hard words to live in and I’m still learning how to do this well. Right here, this now. And then this one and then this one. Pay attention to your here and your now and feel it. This actually builds new pathways in your brain. Did you know that? How you choose to receive and embrace each moment matters. Make it good, even the hard ones. Learn from them. Savor the good moments. Laugh when you want to, cry when you want to. Get angry and feel wonder. Here. Now.

Okay and a couple bonus, obligatory things:

I love you. I’m proud of you. Always and forever, to the moon and around to Djibouti and back around again.

What do you want to say to your graduating senior, TCK or not?

Read suggestions on helping TCKs transition to university in Finding Home.

Find more wisdom for graduating TCKs here.