Thursday, 25 January 2018

Loss of Their World

In 3 months, we’re moving back to Canada. After 6 years in Manila, we are very excited to live near family again and we look forward to the familiarities we’ve missed. But the closer we get to this move “home” the harder it’s becoming to leave our “home” here. Manila, in all its hot, busy and dirty glory, has grown on me over the years and its beautiful people are our family.

My heart hurts knowing I have to say good-bye to so many dear friends. But what hurts the most is knowing that we are taking our kids away from the only life they’ve known. I know having the experience of living in another culture is amazing and it will shape them forever and I love love love that we get to do this, but there’s also some really tough stuff that comes with it and as we near this big transition, the big emotions are surfacing for all of us.

When I’ve felt overwhelmed by this move, I’ve tried to tell myself that the kids know Canada and that it can’t be very hard to transition into a life we love every summer! A life with grandparents, cousins, good friends, mountains to hike, forests to explore and playgrounds at every corner! And they’re excited about it…. we all are. But despite this excitement, and the good good things that wait us, I realize, too, that there’s also so much to mourn.

I’ve been reading Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, and its been super helpful to understand the way being an expat kid shapes the individual and all its benefits and challenges. While reading a section on hidden losses, I stopped in my tracks and realized, gosh, yes, this is really going to be a tough move for the kids. Here’s the excerpt from the book:

"Loss of their world. With one plane ride the whole world as TCKs have known it can die. Every important place they’ve been, every tree climbed, pet owned, and virtually every close friend they’ve made are gone with the closing of the airplane door. The sights and smells of the market, waves of people walking, darting between honking cars as they cross the streets, store signs written in the local language- everything that feels so familiar and “home” are also gone. TCKs don’t lose one thing at a time; they loose everything at once. And there’s no funeral. In fact, there’s no time or space to grieve, because tomorrow they’ll be arriving at Grandma’s house to see relatives who are eagerly awaiting their return."

Oh my word. My little kids, these tiny humans I nurture and care for so much to ensure they feel loved, safe and confident…. in 3 months time their whole world will be ROCKED and will never be the same. I cannot read this paragraph without tearing up. I know we will get through this just fine as a family, I know we are better because of our experience here, I know, I know, I know, but I also need to sit and mourn. And I need to acknowledge the hard stuff my kids will go through without offering a quick, “Oh, but it will be so fun to move to Canada!” and so on and so on. We have to let them grieve, let them feel the deep sad stuff, or else these hidden losses might hit them hard in years to come. Above all else, these little ones who hardly know the depth of what they’re going through, will need to be comforted. Here’s another section from Third Culture Kid that explains it well:

"Unfortunately, in their efforts to help another person “feel better,” people often confuse comfort with encouragement and end up giving neither. Encouragement is a person’s attempt to change the griever’s perspective. It may be a reminder to look at the bright side of a situation instead of the loss or to think about a past success and presume this present situation will turn out just as well. When encouragement is given before comfort, the subtle or not so subtle message is “Buck up; you shouldn’t feel so low.” It becomes a shame message rather than an encouragement. Perhaps because the TCK’s losses are far less visible than the widow’s, this mix-up between comfort and encouragement can sometimes prevent the TCK from being comforted."

I don’t know exactly how this move will affect our kids. In a few years Teyah (age 3 now) may not even have any recollection of the Philippines (which is so sad to me!). At age 6 and 7.5, my big boys, and also Teyah, are going to be sad. Really sad. And when they feel super happy and excited about being with their cousins at the same time as feeling big big sadness because they miss Kuya Fread, they might be pretty confused and won’t know how to express it or how to deal with the sadness, especially when there’s so much fun to be had. But I will encourage them to feel it all. I will try to create that time and space they need to grieve. In the middle of our joys for being “home” again, they’ll be mourning. And after a fun day of playing at the cousins’ house, I’m sure I’ll be tucking them into bed and Teyah will ask if Tita Sam is coming tomorrow. And Makai will wonder why we don't have air-conditioning in our rooms anymore and be worrying about that particular lego piece that was lost in the move. And Cody will be wondering what Zane and Noah are doing at school today. And I will sit there trying not to cry, I’m sure, because I feel it all too- my own grief and also grief for my kids, who will be mourning the loss of their whole world.

Please carry us all in your prayers as we enter this phase of transition. With huge hope we put our trust in God and know that he will carry us through it all, with the help of awesome family and friends to support us.

We keep reminding the kids that we’re bringing all their favourite toys to Canada, their familiar storybooks will fill the shelves of our new “home” and most of all, wherever we go in this world, we go together. Whether we live in Abbotsford or in Manila, there are so many loved ones we miss, but when I ask the kids who we definitely won’t miss, they excitedly name each member of our family of 6 and I think they do really know that all will be right in their world, no matter where we are. 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Making Mealtime Memories (screen free!)

Last week Makai started kindergarten, and though we are very happy with the school he's at (Cody's in his second year there and loves it), I had a fairly major complaint after the first 3 days. Makai's teacher was putting a show on (I think Peppa Pig) during the 30 minute recess, while the kids were eating their snack. My kids don't get to watch any TV during school days (and video games/iPad games haven't made their way into our home at all yet) so watching TV at school everyday was not something I was ok with. A show on also changes the dynamics of meal time, which I think should be  a lively community event, where kids are free to chat, share their food, and simply interact face-to-face.

We see it every time we go out for dinner- little kids are watching shows on phones or iPads while their yayas feed them and often older kids and even the parents are all on phones too. When we eat out, my kids might be climbing around in their seats, talking way too loud, and crying over spilled drinks on their colouring sheets, but the chaos is part of our family and something we work with, rather than easily eliminate by focusing on a screen while we eat.

We have a policy in our home and even during Peace Church gatherings, that phones are not allowed at the dinner table (and even if you are new to our table, I enforce it!!!). In a culture where smartphones have become an addictive habit, often taking us away from personal interactions and making us less happy and more depressed (, curbing the use of screen time for some good dinner conversation (and a little chaos!) is a pretty easy decision for us.

More and more, I am realizing how counter-cultural it is to put limits on screen time and not use it as a parenting (or teaching!) behaviour management tool.  I'm glad that Makai's teacher understood my concerns and has decided not to put a show on during recess anymore. Yesterday Makai told me, through giggles, about how funny it was when his new friend's juice box squirted all over her arm and how they laughed together... a kindergarten bonding moment that wasn't lost to a screen :)

I had to add a photo of our sweet kindergartener on his sunny first day of school!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

10 years in with a big year ahead....

Today marks 10 years since the day Darnell and I got married. What a full 10 years it has been! Last week was Makai's 5th birthday, which also means its been just a couple months shy of 5 years since we've lived in Manila as a family.  And this month marks one year until we say goodbye to Manila and move back to Canada. I also celebrated my 34th birthday this week and have been reflecting on what this next year of my life will bring.... most importantly, it will bring one more child into our family! The due date for the arrival of this little one is September 28, exactly 12 years after the blind date that started our family's journey!

I feel incredibly grateful for our journey. It is such a joy to raise a family with Darnell, to travel together (we've been to 10 countries in 10 years!) and to live cross-culturally as a family with all the challenges and fun it brings. I can't say I don't feel overwhelmed by the thought of another kid in the mix during a big year of transitions but we are up for the adventure.... if there's anything 10 years with Darnell has taught me, its to lean into adventure, to be brave and not worry, and to embrace life with positivity and passion. Its no wonder it was Darnell convincing me to have a forth kid :)  I'm not sure if I've every met another human who so joyfully enters into adventure, transition and challenges. So with the big changes this year will bring, I'm praying for Darnell's positivity and courage to rub off on me even more!

The other day as Cody was tying his shoes before our walk to school, he told me that he was sad to move to Canada because he will miss his classmates. I almost teared up right there.... and it looked like he was about to too. We talked about how hard it will be to say goodbye to everyone here and what a big change it will be for our family and how brave we'll need to be. As excited as we also are to live in Canada again, life in Manila is all our kids know. Canada is the place for summer holidays and fun visits and perfect summer weather. So Cody and I talked about how we can have happy and excited feelings right beside the sad and lonely ones because it will be a lot of both when we move home. The joy and sadness of change is coming in this next year- pray that we can embrace all the emotions with courage.

So today as we celebrate 10 years together, much is on my mind.... I look back to 10 years ago and could not have imagine a better decade or a better partner to share this adventure with. And I cannot help but think what a year from now will look like... we'll be packing up our life here; our books and toys will be in boxes and our arms will be tearfully embracing friends who have become our family as we say goodbye to the only life our kids have known, and settle into new jobs, new schools and a new community in Abbotsford, all with a new baby in tow! But before that big transition, we will savour each memory this last year in Manila will offer us. We celebrate 10 years of marriage with so much gratitude for our journey; wonderful friends and family who support us, two countries to call home, our Peace Church community, and 3 amazing kids, plus one special bonus that will be completing our family as we begin our next decade of adventure together!