I Like Family – Family is my Favorite

In a faded, old photo album I read the words “Family makes you feel whole and strong – vibrant and needed.” The words are typed on an ancient typewriter, long gone in our travels and moves from house to house and country to country. The pictures that surround the words have lost their color and appear true vintage with no filter.

I typed those words when we were living in Islamabad, Pakistan – miles from blood relatives. I wanted to create something special for my husband, a photo album of our family at the time. We were young and had a boy and a girl. We were all quite perfect in those days. Pretty and fresh-faced, without the weathering that life brings with its hard fights and its days of no return.

The truth is that in this age where family often loses its meaning, I like family. Family is my favorite. I more than like family – I love family.


We have just returned to Cambridge from a family wedding. My niece, Allison, married Paul. Paul comes from a large Italian family and I instantly loved his mom, Patty, and his Aunt Joan. They are women I would go to war with – or at least gossip with at a family wedding.

The wedding took place outside in a rustic setting, on the shoreline of Irondequoit Bay.  Chairs were set up outside beside a small dock, while the dinner was set to be served at the waterfront lodge, with stunning views of the Bay. A sudden, and violent summer storm had all of us scrambling and rearranging the ceremony venue to take place in the lodge. It was a picture of a family willing to go with whatever happened, determined that marriage would win over weather every time. A more brilliant metaphor for marriage is not possible and I know in my gut that these two will make it.

My niece was dressed in classic vintage – lace, a netted veil, and stunningly beautiful. She walked down the unexpected indoor aisle, and the ceremony began.

Who gives this woman? 

‘Solemn vows that none of us can possibly keep without the grace and mercy of God.

Readings from the Songs of Solomon and Wendell Berry.

Rings exchanged.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The sacramental pronouncement of a union authored by God, ordained by God, kept only by God’s goodness. 

You may kiss the bride. 

And then wild cheers and the song “Will the Circle, be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by?”

A celebration followed where there wasn’t enough time to talk to everyone that we wanted to; where we enjoyed great food and amazing company; where family gathered, at one with each other and the spirit of the day. Even a nest of bright, blue robin’s eggs joined in the celebration. Not a sacrament, but a symbol of our God’s love of beauty and life.

In a world that is fearful and cynical, a world where marriage is discarded for something far easier and less permanent, a world where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have little to do with daily life, I once again bear witness to a family willing to live counter-culture. I once again witness the proclamation of the truth of marriage, once again hear vows that are humanly impossible being promised. 

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us and we are ushered into something even better then the best marriage possible.

I fell into bed that night in happy exhaustion.

Because I love weddings and the families that go with them. Because family does make me feel whole and strong, vibrant and needed.

So, Yes – I like family. Family is my favorite. 

Keep the Lego! (and other thoughts from adult TCKs)


Each year, I pick some TCK quotes to pass on to parents. Some of the quotes are poignant, some funny, but most of all – I think they are wise. The third culture kid is not a single person with one viewpoint; instead it is kids all over the world, each with their unique story and journey.  All these unique stories share one thing – a perspective on life that has developed through living outside of their passport cultures.

The quotes I share today reflect that life and can help parents as they seek to raise their children outside the places that the parents call ‘home’.

[Note – I have credited the quotes to those who were willing, the remainder are anonymous.]

Enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts through the comments!

“Take the Lego and never, ever, ever, sell the dollhouse.” Marilyn Gardner

“Where are our regular relationships, our connections? All over the map, and still in motion. It might depend on the week, on the season. We track them with social media and when they disappear for a while, we look in familiar places for them to resurface.  We load into the car with the members of our tribe that we can gather and we stop in and visit the ones we can reasonably reach on the way to and from our destination.”  On Being Local from Michael Pollock  

“Remember, our grief will not look like your grief. What we miss may not be the same as what you miss.” 

“I never felt so foreign as when I was surrounded by people who thought I was one of them.” Maria Lombart #FIGT17NL

“You may be reentering, but we are not reentering. We are “entering” – this may seem small to you, but it is a big distinction.”  

My Opa stood by the train tracks, huddled deep into his jacket in the cold Dutch winter. We’d snapped a quick photo together, I’d climbed on the train, and waved goodbye. I didn’t realize it would be the last time I would see him. As (third culture kids) grow up, we learn quickly that to say goodbye is an expected part of life. We leave without a tear because we know, there will be many more goodbyes ahead. Maria Lombart #FIGT17NL

“Your home is not transferrable to what is home to your children, and neither are your feelings or experiences. Sounds very simple, but it is very hard to live by.” Eva Laszlo-Herbert 

“Don’t expect your children to have the same feeling of belonging to your culture(s) and language(s) – whatever they choose doesn’t mean that they don’t love and respect you.” Ute Limacher-Riebold 

“Remember that kids and parents see the same event through different lenses. A child only knows part of the story, and interprets meaning from what they know. As they grow, they may need to hear the part of the story that was hidden when they were younger.” 

“Parents should not be surprised by their children’s future life choices based on their own choice to raise their kids overseas. For a parent who has raised their kids overseas to make the statement: ‘I wish you would settle down!’ feels uniquely unfair.”

“The part of the story you don’t know is the most important part – it gives meaning to your memories.” Marilyn Gardner 

“Loyalties will not look the same and be divided. The expectation that kids loyalty to place, to food, to nation, to sports teams will look the same as their parents is a false expectation. ” Anonymous


Finally – a note of encouragement: All parenting is complicated, so don’t immediately assume things are difficult because of the life overseas and third culture kid factor. As parents we make career and vocational choices based on what we know at the time. To forever heap guilt on yourself doesn’t help your kids. Instead, continue to listen well, respect, create a sense of place, and love your kids. 

Readers – what would you add? 

My Ramadan Baby

I remember the day like it was yesterday. The Islamabad sun, hot and bright, burned down on my mom and I as we walked to the hospital with my first-born – Annie – in a stroller.

It was May of 1987 and it was Ramadan, only a couple of days before the huge Eid celebration that would mark the end of this long month of fasting for Muslims around the world. We had been living and working in Islamabad since January and I was 9 months pregnant with our second child.

After a false start a couple of days earlier, my mom and I headed out to my  regularly scheduled prenatal appointment.  After examining me, my doctor said “Sometimes we need to push the horse and cart!” Which was code for “I’m going to give you something to speed up this delivery.” I was more than willing to oblige.

It was a text book induction and just after midnight on May 25th I gave birth to a gorgeous, blue-eyed, fuzzy-headed baby boy. I was smitten.

I wrote about my Ramadan baby 6 years ago, when I was a new blogger. As I reread the piece I wrote, I realized it communicates the story exactly as I remember it, so I have reposted it below in honor of my Ramadan “baby’s” 30th birthday!

Date: May 25, 1987

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan

Place: Ali Medical Center

24 years ago today at 10 minutes past midnight I gave birth to my second child. It was toward the end of Ramadan and this showed significantly in the absence of staff in the hospital. Earlier in the evening as I labored, my husband and I began to worry aloud that the doctor, busy breaking the fast at her home, would not make it and we would be left on our own. We needed her assurance in seeing to the safety and health of a pregnant woman in transition (me) and a baby that wanted to enter life. My mom, well versed in cultural norms in Pakistan, assured us that the doctor would arrive on time. But as we waited and wondered, we were deeply grateful for the calm presence of my mother.

As the hospital staff ate their fill of Ramadan specialties before dawn came (and with it the arduous fast that would not break until 7 or 8 at night) two babies made their way into the world.  The last azaan, calling the faithful to prayer, was heard earlier through the brick walls of the labor and delivery room, ensuring that even those inside would know it was time to break the fast. At that point all hospital staff disappeared, oblivious to the labor pains of two women, as they rushed to ease their hunger pains.

One of those babies was ours: Joel Rehan Braddock Gardner, born with a head of blond, fuzzy hair and deep blue eyes. I took one look and fell in love with 6 lbs and 12 oz of baby. It was magic. The second baby was also a boy – a little Pathan boy, as dark-haired as Joel was blonde, born to a family who lived in Peshawar. They had made their way to Islamabad for the delivery, ensuring that their first child would be born at a good hospital.

It was a text-book delivery and after 6 hours of laboring and a few pushes, Joel took his first breath and let out a yowl. I don’t even know if yowl is a word but it describes what was a mixture of a yodel and a howl. He was a perfect, 10 fingered, 10 toed, baby boy. Dr. Azima Quereshi was the doctor presiding over the delivery. After observing me labor without drugs and breastfeed immediately after birth, she looked at my mom with tear-filled eyes and clutched her arm saying “I’ve read about deliveries like this, but I’ve never seen one!”

The hospital staff enjoyed their own show that night as they sent staff in by two’s to see “the white lady who had her husband in with her during the delivery,” something that was unheard of at Ali Medical Center and most hospitals in Pakistan. “Who wants the men in there?” was the incredulous question voiced by Pakistani friends and acquaintances.

The Pathan family showered the hospital staff and doctor with gifts of fruit, Pakistani sweets of gulab jamun, jalebis, barfi, and savories of samosas and pakoras. This ensured a favored place with staff as low on the ladder as cleaning people and as high as surgeons. 

We were not so favored. A gift of imported Cadbury Chocolates delivered in a fake gold bowl for Dr. Quereshi seemed appropriate and we went on our merry way, taking Joel back home to the F-8 residential area of Islamabad to meet his older sister Annie and settle into a bassinet.

It was only later that we realized our faux pas in not buying treats for the entire hospital. We had failed to publicly recognize the role the rest of the staff had played in helping us deliver a healthy baby boy which, from a cultural perspective, was a huge thing to acknowledge!

And so Joel came into the world and today he turns 24. His blonde hair has turned into light brown, he still has deep blue eyes – and his yowl? That has turned into an infectious laugh, ability to argue anyone into the ground and a great personality.

Happy Birthday Joel – We are so blessed by your life.

Some Thoughts on Parenting and Goodbyes


“All the world feels caught in these goodbyes, goodbyes that bruise and hurt but remind us that our hearts are still soft and alive. For a dead heart doesn’t hurt with a goodbye, only a heart alive to others feels the pain of that goodbye, the difficulty of leaving….” From the Goodbye section of Between Worlds page 202

On Sunday we said goodbye to our youngest son at the entrance to Hellenic College, a college that has shaped him through academia,service, friendship, and most importantly – faith. 

We said goodbye in early evening, when the sun still had a long while before it set, reflecting golden rays off of Jamaica Pond. 

We said goodbye to the many years of college that come with five children. We said goodbye to the joy we had in watching a child grow to be a man. We said goodbye to those who came into our lives through him. 

A short while after we said goodbye, he boarded a plane to Albania; from there his plans include travel and study for the next year. We raised our children on travel and the uncertainty that comes with frequent moves, so there is a deep satisfaction knowing that he is choosing to grow through travel. 

Letting go of our children is a series of stages that begins early in their lives. We proudly, but fearfully, watch as they make their way onto buses or across playgrounds, their first venture into a world we can no longer control. Each stage and step gives them a bit more independence until we face the reality that we are ancillary to their adult lives. When we began the journey of parenthood, we created their world, we were their world. But through the years we gradually step aside and let them shine, apart from us. 

And our son – he shines, and it is the work of God. 

The gratefulness I feel is complicated by post-surgery exhaustion and the tears from saying goodbye. It comes in waves, and I try not to overthink, over analyze, instead allowing myself to just be, to feel what I’m feeling without defending or accusing. 

A few years ago I wrote these words, and today I repeat them: 

…the best thing I do as I pack him off and say goodbye is place him where I have placed him countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his beloved children.

While the journey of parenthood continues until the day we die, there are pivotal turning points within that journey – and this is one of them. So I say goodbye with open arms, a glad heart, and tear-filled eyes. Somehow, all of those emotions belong to this moment. 

We become parents with no guarantees. Whether biologically birthing or adopting, parenthood is a journey of faith. Today I get to celebrate. Tomorrow I may have to cry. But that’s what this is: A long journey, a journey of faith. From A Long Journey, A Journey of Faith 

Everyone’s Gone!


Sun shines through lace half-curtains, creating a whimsical shadow on the floor. Through open windows, birds are loudly and happily communicating the joy of what life brings to them. 

It is a picture-perfect day – and it is also absolutely quiet in our home. 

Everyone is gone. 

For the past eight days, there have been many people in and out of the apartment.  One daughter, who flew from Chicago to help me post surgery, my gorgeous grandson, with his crinkled nose and interest in all of life, other adult children, friends, visiting nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. Toward the end of the week as my youngest son’s graduation came closer, even more people arrived – my parents and my brother. 

Yesterday, graduation day could not have been more beautiful, and we proudly watched our son, first deliver the Valedictory speech, then walk across a stage to shouts and cheers as he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hellenic College. 

Recently I remarked to my husband that we are at the stage of life where things are not going to get easier and better. I think for years people think “When this happens, then we will feel settled” or “When I’m in my [insert age] then life will work itself out.” Those sentences can be substituted with a plethora of different scenarios, but the underlying assumption and expectation is the same: Things will get better. Life will get easier. 

My epiphany with this recent surgery and the assault on my body and emotions is quite simple: things won’t get easier. Life won’t necessarily get better. 

I don’t write this with any sort of pessimism or self-pity. I am profoundly grateful for life’s gifts. I am acutely aware of the shortness of life, of some of life’s tragedies. But now is the time to take each day and recognize that the health and strength I have today will at some point weaken, simply because of the aging process. The activity I can keep up with, the common good I can seek will inevitably become smaller and less significant. 

There is, in all of this, a profound sense of loss. That which I have been given, I slowly lose. It is the Old Testament book of Job that  bluntly reminds me of this reality: 

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20–21).

So this post surgery time comes as a tremendous gift – a gift of healing for the body, a gift of rest for the soul, a time of contemplation of losses. 

I read these words from another: “Nothing is a given — everything’s a gift.”

Who am I to complain in losses when what I lost wasn’t mine to begin with? – Ann Voskamp

Everyone is gone. At first, the words feel sad and empty. But the longer I sit in the quiet, the more comfortable I become relaxing and meditating in the gift of now. 

A Brief Reflection on Airports and Life


I am bleary-eyed at the Orlando airport. There’s a reason why the infamous “they” tell you to get to the airport early – long security lines extended far into the lounge area. We sighed as we inched our way through, a bright green electronic sign informing us that the process would take 35 to 45 minutes. 

Earlier we dropped off a rental car. As I handed the gentleman the keys, he asked me if I was Parisienne. I smiled “no” pause “but is that a compliment?”  “Oh yes!” He replied. My children laugh at me as the glow of an early morning compliment radiates off my 57 year old non-Parisienne skin. 

And then we trudge our sleepy way to security. Unfortunately, the compliment did nothing for a bad hip, so my ego has been kept in check. 

A busy, international airport is an odd way to end a family funeral. You go from familiar to anonymous; from engaged in conversation to people-watching; from significant to one more passenger in an enormous travel machine.

Yet somehow it works. It’s a bridge between worlds, and I am not expected to communicate on this bridge. I simply cross it. 

Death and funerals are a pause in life’s paragraph. A pause before continuing into more sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. They are an important pause, sometimes changing the rest of the story. Many resolutions based on the brevity of life have happened at the death of a loved one. 

Many would voice sadness over this – the question of why it takes something as permanent as death to make us pause and reflect. I think it is a gift. We are usually far too busy with the ordinary to realize that perhaps change is in order. But then, in the middle of the ordinary, the everyday chores stop so that we can remember a life, and in remembering reflect on our own. 

So in this airport moment between worlds, I stop. I pause. I pray. 

I thank God for the gift of life, and the gift of death – the circle of a broken world on a journey to redemption. 

The moment passes, the flight is ready to board. We are on our way home. 

Dear Dorothy – A Letter to my Mother-in-Law

Tomorrow I will board a plane and travel to Florida for my mother-in-law’s funeral. Since we found out last week, I have been thinking about death – how final it is, how permanent it seems, and how unreal it is until you are actually back in a place where the person lived.

I read these words in an article on grief:

“Dying is not a technical glitch of the human operating system; it’s a feature. It’s the only prediction we can make at birth that we can bank on. Everyone will die, and it’s very likely somebody we love will die before we do.”*

They are true words in an otherwise mediocre article.

Memories have resurfaced – some that make me laugh out loud. My mother-in-law was a force of nature. It’s impossible to compress a life into a blog post, and I won’t try, but I want to share some memories of this force who was Dorothy. Thank you for reading.

*****

Dear Dorothy,

On a hot July Saturday in 1983, I received my first phone call from you. I had begun dating your son in February, but he headed off to the Middle East on a study trip in May. It would be a long summer for me; an exciting one for him.

So on that July day, your phone call was welcome. You introduced yourself to me as “Clifford’s mom” and I remember voicing surprise at your southern accent.

“Well, what did you expect” you retorted! “That I would talk like a Yankee.” And that was my introduction to your quick wit and comebacks, something you passed on in no small way to your sons.

In late summer, after Cliff returned from the Middle East, we took a trip to Florida to meet the family. We arrived on a gorgeous day and went straight to dinner at a restaurant.

I was nervous until you looked at me and said:

“The service has been terrible at this restaurant the last 12 times we’ve come.”

“Then why do you keep coming back?” I said. It was the perfect opener to help me relax.

Later that week, as I came into the kitchen ready to head out for a trip to Disney World, your eyes took in my outfit from head to toe, and you said “Well Cliff’s safe with you. No truck driver is ever going to pick you up in those pants!” Cliff looked at me and confirmed your opinion. No one had ever told me how bad I looked in them. Thank God I found out sooner rather than later.

Through the years, you amazed me with your artistic and creative ability. Whether it was China painting or sewing, you knew how to do it. My children wore sweatsuits with embossed designs, drank tea out of tiny china cups that you had exquisitely painted, even admired china cremation urns that you were making for a funeral home.

There are two memories that still come to mind after all these years. The first was a time when your youngest son, Greg, and your husband, Richard were sitting in the family room discussing the weight of football players. I could hear them from the kitchen.

“Did you see the weight on that guy? Wow! 240 pounds! How about that other player? He’s 300 pounds!” And on went the discussion by two men who didn’t have one extra pound on their bodies.

Suddenly I heard you come up behind me. You were laughing so hard you could barely speak. You finally stopped long enough to whisper in my ear “Did you hear them talking about weight? Thank God they don’t know what I weigh!”  I joined you in laughing. Both of us had a struggle with weight that wasn’t easily managed, and having two thin men discuss body weight just added insult to what was already difficult. But laughter was something you did well, even when it was at your own expense.

The second memory makes me smile hard. Again, I was in the kitchen and Cliff and the kids were resting somewhere in the house. It was early afternoon, and you had gone out to do some errands. I heard the living room door open, and then heard a “Psst.” You repeated it. I went to the opening between the kitchen and living room area, and there you were with two beautiful boxes.  You slowly opened them. In each box was the most delectable fruit tart that I have ever seen. The perfectly fluted crust was piled high with cream, then fruit, then more cream. They were magnificent.

As I surveyed them with shining eyes, I realized that there were only two of them.

“Shall I call Cliff?” I asked, thinking that you had bought one for him.

“NO!” you retorted! “This is for you and me! I didn’t even buy one for my son!”

We sat at the kitchen table, like two naughty little girls, savoring a stolen treat. We laughed and whispered, eating every single mouthful and then wiping the cream off of our upper lips. It was heaven.

Something about that moment has stayed with me all these years. Any mother and daughter-in-law combination has its challenges, and ours was no exception. There were times when I fought hard and you fought back. But the shared treat of that moment was a communion of understanding — understanding that sometimes moms need to forget the needs of the rest of the family and eat rich and creamy fruit pastries.  Perhaps also, understanding that sometimes the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship needs those occasional moments away from the rest of the family to forge a bond.

Your life was not all easy, and there were times when I saw glimpses of that.  By the time you were in your early twenties, you had four active boys and were raising them all over the country followed by the world. You knew what it was to pack up and move multiple times, say a million goodbyes, and leave places you would never see again. Yet you made sure that those kids were able to see every sight possible during those four years in Europe. I imagine these last few years with increasing health problems, a husband who is struggling with his own health, and a scattered family were some of the hardest. But every day, you got up, and sometimes that’s all any of us can do.

And now you’re gone. It’s not real to me yet – it won’t be until I see Richard alone at the funeral. Your quick answers won’t be a part of this weekend’s gathering. You won’t be chiming in with opinions and laughter. But you will be there, because we will be celebrating you and your life. We will be celebrating the creativity, laughter, quick quips, tenacity, and personality that were uniquely yours.

I hope I will get to eat a creamy, fruit tart and as I do, lift my eyes to Heaven and thank you.  I love you and I look forward to the day when I see you again in another time and another place. Perhaps you are already saving a fruit tart for me.

*Time Magazine, 4.24.17

Yesterday I Baked a Cake

Yesterday I baked a cake. It’s my birthday on Sunday and yesterday I baked a birthday cake for myself. Later this morning I will spread a raspberry filling between the layers, I will make an almond-flavoured frosting and I will ice it generously. I’ll sprinkle the cake with almond shreds and I’ll carefully load the cake in to the car and take it down the road to share with a group of Catholic nuns and fellow spiritual direction students.

Over the years—the nearly 47 years, I’ve had many marvelous cakes lovingly prepared for me. When I was a little girl my mom made wonderfully creative cakes. She had a green plastic box small filing box filled with cards that each contained colourful and fanciful cake ideas. Mom turned out train cakes and clown cakes and heart shaped cakes. But the cake I remember the most fondly was the one that became my favourite, the one I’d ask for each year, it was her homemade angel food cake. She’d wrap coins in plastic wrap and push them deep into the light and luscious cake. She smothered the cake in a lavish layer of Quick Fluffy Frosting (because I loved it, but also because it was made from granulated sugar and good powdered sugar was impossible to find in our back corner of Pakistan).

My first birthday in India my friend Dianne made a delicious cake. She had heard stories of my childhood favourite and she went out of her way to replicate that nostalgic cake memory including the plastic covered rupee coins placed strategically in the cake. Ellen once made me this unbelievable lemon log rolled cake filled with a decadent lemon curd. The thought of that cake still make my mouth water.  Several years ago, Susanne, made me an almond layered cake drenched in almond liqueur. It was delicious! Other dear friends have made other dear cakes. There have been cakes at team meetings, cakes after our International Fellowship church service, cakes with friends at birthday tea parties or birthday lunches.

When I turned 40 my friend Yvonne made and decorated my birthday cake for the party that Lowell had organized and planned. It was perfect. Onto the sheet cake she designed a flag that incorporated the Canadian flag, the Pakistani flag, the Indian flag and the American flag. It captured my strange story so wonderfully and the memory of it brings tears to my eyes. I’ll never forget that cake!

Some of the most special cakes I’ve received have been ones that my daughter Adelaide has made and decorated. She’s mastered cake making and beautifying. It’s the perfect mix of math, science and creativity for her. She’s good at it! She made me a cake shaped like a tea cup once. A couple of years ago she made one that I especially loved with a bird cage piped on to it.

Yesterday I baked my own cake.

There are many years where making my own birthday cake would have made me very sad. I would have spread the cake with loneliness and sprinkled it with tears. Memories of other cakes from other years made by others who love me would have choked me as I creamed butter and sugar and eggs. The cake would be heavy and dry and tasteless.  But not this year. This year, as I baked, I was filled with gratitude and joy.  Lowell and I have taken a fast from sugar and carbohydrates. The anticipation of cake contributed to my happiness, I’m sure. But I also realized how much I am thankful for. I stirred that gratitude into the batter——for a warm house, sweet memories of cake and dear friends, for my children—all three passionate leaders true to their convictions, for my parents who are actively engaged in our lives, for my kind hearted mother in law, for Catholic sisters, my morning coffee, a refrigerator and pantry well stocked, bills paid, my one true Lowell.

I experienced wonder at the diverse and precious group of friends I’ve been given. I have close friends that keep my secrets. Each of the chapters in my story have included deep friendships—many of those friends I’m still connected to, they still very much matter to me, I miss them keenly.

There was worship blended into the cake dough too. I’ve been given so much. Jesus has been faithful. He’s been leading me, he’s been deepening my experience of the freedom he’s given me. I’ve learned so much these last years and months about the ways that I’m wired, the ways that I bear his image to the world, about my emotions, my personality, his emotions and his personality. I’ve discovered things about my identity—who I truly am—that intensify my connection with Christ himself.

Birthdays are a grace. I’m alive and I am loved. Cake is a luxury. I can afford sugar and flour and flavouring. Icing is mercy undeserved. I’ve been given so much I don’t deserve. There is so much to say thank you for. Yesterday I baked a cake and today I get to eat it. On Sunday Lowell and I plan to have dinner out with other beloved friends. By Monday this cake will be added to the list of treasured treats I’ve been bounteously blessed with.

Yesterday I baked a cake. Thanks be to God!

Let’s Talk About Lack of Choice in the Workplace

 

computer-nostalgia

This past week Brenda Barnes died. She was 64 years old.

You may not know much about Brenda Barnes, but she is an interesting role model for women looking at work choices. Brenda was the first CEO of PepsiCo. She broke the proverbial glass ceiling, but for her it wasn’t enough. After working as CEO for one year, she quit her job. Her reason? So she could spend more time with her family. Her decision made national headlines and anyone and everyone felt they had a right to comment on that decision.

On one side she was seen as a traitor of sorts — how dare she quit! Didn’t she realize that she owed it to all business women everywhere to stay in the job and do well?

On another side she was hailed as a hero — look at her! She gave it all up for the kids.

But this post isn’t about Brenda Barnes. This is about the lack of choice in the workplace in the United States of America.

Let me tell you why I think I have a right to talk about this: I have worked full time for the past 14 years while raising five children. Prior to that, I worked part time for 9 years (24 to 32 hours a week) so that we could put food on the table and gas in the car. Before that, I was a stay-at-home mom living overseas and navigating life in another culture. I’ve been in a place where I honestly didn’t know if we would have the money to make rent and fix our car to a place where I occasionally have extra and can help others. I’ve seen and done it all.

It is the year 2017, and I see just as much rigidity and lack of work-life balance as I did fourteen years ago. Maybe more so. Why are employers so non family friendly? Why do we have such poor working options for parents? Why is maternity leave a paltry three months if you’re lucky, leaving women crying in bathrooms as they attempt to pump breast milk for their three-month-old? Why do employers think more work can be completed in a cubicle, then in a home office? These are just a few of the many questions I ask all the time.

And so I pose a question: In the year 2017, why is it that the two most flexible jobs for women are as nurses and as teachers? This is assanine. Female engineers, chefs, software developers, public health professionals, and doctors (to name just a few) are married to rigid schedules and employers. Pitiful earned time policies and lack of options for women who want to work part time all add up and take their toll on families. In the eyes of employers, our children do not exist. They are neither seen nor heard.

If a woman does take time off to care for her children, it is extremely difficult for her to enter the workforce. The unsaid question is “What did you do all those years that was significant?”

Well, let me tell you what she did:

  • She managed a household and kept a budget, ensuring that her family did not go into debt.
  • She chaperoned hundreds of little kids on field trips, showing her amazing ability to organize.
  • She kept up with children’s extracurricular activities, hustling them back and forth from home to soccer to music to church and then back home.
  • She went to parent teacher organizations and organized plays and dinners for fund raisers.
  • She made sure that immunizations were up to date and kids had braces.
  • She answered to a world that asked her “what she did all day?”.

She could run an entire company single handedly, yet the interview team has the audacity to ask her what she did that was “significant”.

I’m telling you, when it comes to the lack of family friendly workplaces, we need a revolution. It is ridiculous.

So, what are my solutions?  I don’t have solutions, but I do have thoughts.

  • First of all, for god’s sake don’t condemn a woman for her work or home choices. I know how hard it is to make choices on work and home. Every April, I went into a panic thinking about the summer and what I would do in the summer. I got criticism from stay-at-home moms when I went back to work; and I got criticism from working moms when I stayed home. This is what fellow women do to each other and we can’t blame anyone but ourselves — we criticize each other. Remember the mean girls from high school? Well they never really go away. They just have different names and different clothes. They also get a lot meaner.
  • Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask a stay-at-home mom what she does all day. I repeat: Never.
  • If you are an employer or manager, please consider offering flexibility. Offer compressed work weeks; offer part time positions; offer job sharing; offer work from home. We are 2017! These should be no brainers.
  • Today’s working women: Fight for better maternity leave. Fight for better time off. Fight for more flexibility.
  • Figure out what works for you and guard your choice. If you choose to work, don’t assume that stay-at-home moms will always be there to help you. If you choose to stay at home or work part time, don’t whine about not going out to dinner as much as you want.

Lastly, always ask yourself the question “Who do I want to like me when I am 80?” I guarantee the answer will not be your employer. I look back all the time and think “I was so often in a hurry, rushing to get kids here or there. What did all that rushing get me?” A sore hip – that’s what it got me.

Brenda Barnes left an interesting and important legacy, one that I wish was talked about more frequently. Her daughter, Erin, was interviewed this past week by NPR and in the interview, she talked about being influenced by her mom to change her own profession. What did she pick? Nursing.

At Brenda’s funeral, her daughter thanked people for coming, saying “My mom would want me to tell you, ‘Don’t work too hard.'”*  Indeed. 

*https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/24/opinion/brenda-barness-wisdom-and-our-anti-parent-workplace.html?_r=0

On Death and Living in the Moment

Today’s post is from my daughter-in-law Lauren. She is amazing and I love her words in this piece. You can read more about her work here. Thanks for reading!

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“Bikini Baby” Baby Lauren and her dad. 

New Years Eve, four years ago. 

It was 9 days before my dad died, but we didn’t know that then. Cancer doesn’t give you a timeline. It just kind of chooses to detonate in weird increments – it progresses quickly when it wants to and chills when it wants to. All we knew was that the doctors started sending over hospice nurses and we had reached a point where they no longer could help his body, but just give morphine to help while his body drowned.

New Year’s Eve was never a crazy important holiday to us, but it was still a holiday. And something about holidays sort of illuminates the cracks of your life, the good and the bad. I remember reading people’s Facebook statuses of “this year was blah blah blah”. Be it good or bad, I couldn’t read what people were saying without comparing it to my current misfortune. I was angry that good things could continue while he was suffering and I was mad when people talked about how they had a hard year because their car broke down. Get over it. And then I’d feel wildly aware of my selfishness. It was a horrible cycle.

We knew the upcoming year brought death. It brought dread and we knew it. We didn’t know when exactly or what it was going to look like, but we knew it was coming. So to survive, my heart changed its syncopation with time. I switched from the typical “new year” grandiose thoughts and dreams and wishes of the upcoming year to thoughts and dreams and wishes for the next minute. The next hour. Looming death bends time a little bit like that. It makes you despise and cherish purgatory.

My dad was watching TV and I was watching my mom watch him. We both saw the space between his spirit and his body getting bigger and bigger. I was receiving texts from friends and family asking “how are you doing, Lauren?”. Well, I’m watching the coolest dude on earth suffer slowly and I know I’m not very emotionally articulate right now but like, I’m really f&%ing mad. And helpless.

This cocktail of emotions would start small as a pit in my stomach and then it would slowly overwhelm my entire body until I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t be in the room for another second. I wasn’t okay with it.

So. I forced my husband (God bless him) to make up a “New Year’s Eve show” with me to perform for my dad. Just like I had done when I was young, except with more alcohol this time. We slaved over this performance (honestly, “performance” is giving us way too much credit, but we really tried). My mom would come out and ask what was happening and I’d tell her to go back because she was ruining the surprise and I’d catch her making “I’m so sorry” looks to my husband. When we went in for the “performance”, I was legit nervous. I wanted to make my dad laugh and I wanted to take the weight off of the night and off of his chest. We stumbled through it. It was bad and we started over so many times but my parents watched like they had always watched for my entire life. God bless them, too. That’s A LOT of questionable performances they had to endure. At the end, my dad turned to my mom and earnestly asked her “Did I miss something? Was that it?” The four of us erupted in laughter. What I wouldn’t give, to be back there in that small Arizona room, cackling with the three of them.

And then the ball dropped and my dad reached over and kissed my mom at midnight. I remember wondering if he didn’t move all day so that he could reserve enough energy so that when it came time, he could kiss his wife at midnight. I remember the sheer gratefulness that he made it to midnight. That my mom didn’t have to be alone for it.

I’m trying to focus on that feeling. I know a lot of people are scared for the upcoming year. There’s a lot of dread and fear surrounding general humanity, not to mention political changes happening. I get it and I feel it. And we can’t ignore it. That’s ignorant and irresponsible. 

But I also think we can incorporate other feelings that come with choosing to live in the moment and being open to the small gifts of the moment. And we have to love each other and have sympathy for all pain, however big or small the world tells us it is. Selfishly choosing insecurity of how to handle and acknowledge our neighbors’ pain, over empathy, is barbaric. 

Anyways, happy 2017 – I hope that we are able to find the silver linings in the dark and gratitude in the now.

To the Weary Ones

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No doubt you are up early. Whether traveling or staying at home, you have things to do, groceries to buy, errands to run, work to finish.

You love the season of Advent leading up to Christmas day, but you are so weary. The living room is finally clean, but the last few nights you have collapsed into bed in the room that has slowly and insistently collected all the clutter from the rest of the house.

The expectations. The stuff. The marketing – at first it’s fun, but as you face yet another long line at a store, you wonder what this is all about. Where is the magic of your childhood? How do you create wonder for your little ones? How do you remember the clichéd “reason for the season?” Even the phrase makes you weary and, if you’re completely honest, angry. Who thought up that stupid phrase anyway?

Coupled with that is the exhaustion you feel with social media. Everyone’s trees are better than yours – you knew that you needed more lights. And every time you turn around someone posts a news article about a tragedy. Your emotions range from sadness to guilt that you whine about your seemingly small problems and post pictures of the cookies you just made. Guilt, sadness, exhaustion all lump together like the wrapping paper and ribbon on your bedroom floor.

You wander sleepily into the living room and plug in the long extension cord. Immediately white lights flood the room, sparkling off ornaments collected through the years. In all your weariness, there is still the wonder and joy of Christmas lights.

Amy Grant sings “Tender Tenessee Christmas” from an old CD and you take a minute, a minute to sit, to reflect, to be quiet.

Sometimes a minute is all it takes to remember. To remember that Jesus came for and to a weary world; a world weary of tragedy and loss; weary of natural disasters and wars. A world weary of the stress of living and the sadness of dying.

The music and words of “Oh Holy Night” begin to play:”A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…”

A minute and a thrill of hope – somehow that is enough. You sigh and head into the day. There may not be magic, but there will be wonder and there will be hope – all is not lost.

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born

Foundations & Generations 


We traveled to Los Angeles this weekend for an early Christmas with our son and daughter in law. It was a beautiful weekend with sun and palm trees, the warmer temperatures a welcome change from an arctic freeze. Our East coast cold can chill the bones and the soul. 

From eating our fill of great Mexican food to sharing an early Christmas, we made the most of our short time. 

As parents, we watch our kids exit our homes to create homes of their own with nostalgia and some tears. Memories of toddler kisses and bedtime stories will never completely fade.  Instead they remain, packed into the boxes our minds create for these things. But there is incomparable joy in watching our children “become.” That is what we now get in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston.

As I grow older and watch my children enter into adulthood, I ponder a recurring theme of foundations and generations. This circle of life depends on both to be successful. To function well as adults we need secure foundations; foundations of nutrition, of physical nurturing, of spiritual guidance. A healthy new generation will not grow without a solid foundation. 

Moments of connection with adult children are both hopeful and nostalgic, seeing a new generation ‘become’on the foundations of the past. 

When we are in the middle of building foundations, we make mistakes. There are times when we fail our kids and we fail ourselves; times when the foundations seem shaky, built on sand and not on rock. Still other times, by grace we get it right. We shake our heads in disbelief and amazement – it worked! The foundation is strong and secure, the next generation can build on what came before. But only a foolish parent takes full credit, refusing to see that this is all grace. 

We travel back on a lonely Sunday night flight, the plane full of weary travelers, perhaps others like us who have traveled to see a new generation springing from an older foundation. 

I look at the man by my side, and I am so grateful. We’ve navigated some rough waters together, some that threatened to drown us. But they didn’t. Instead we travel together, united in our prayers and love for this next generation. 

And so it is, foundations and generations–as old as the human race, reminding me that our journeys matter. 

When the Elephant in the Room is Bigger than the Turkey on the Table!

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries know that this might very well be an awkward holiday season for all of us. Families divided must now come back together around the Thanksgiving table. What on earth are we going to talk about? Here are a few suggestions to promote pre-Christmas “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill toward all men.”

*Talk about the weather! Here in Kansas the weather changes frequently. That allows you the opportunity to go back and talk about it again and again throughout the day. If the weather in your part of the world is more stagnant I invite you to talk about the weather in Kansas!

*Talk about sports! I personally don’t know how to talk about sports very well but usually if you insert, “So…how about those Royals?”, into the conversation, something will take off. Every once in a while you can nod and exclaim, “Yeah!” with authority and a suitable degree of incredulity. (Feel free to insert whatever local team you’ve heard batted around in your part of the world).

*Talk about other Thanksgivings. Remember the time 67 wild turkeys crossed the yard on Thanksgiving Day all those years ago? Remember the time my sister in law and I both brought the same cheesy corn casserole but everyone liked hers better? Remember last Thanksgiving–when everyone came from all over the world? That was such a special holiday.

*Talk about T.V. Has anyone seen anything good on TV lately? Try not to reference reality TV shows as someone might accidentally start talking about the conversation we’re all trying to avoid: Politics!

*Talk about TV in the “olden” days. What show did you use to watch when you were a kid? What time of day did it come on? Who did you watch it with?

*Talk about tattoos. I mean it can’t hurt! If you could get any tattoo what would you get?

*Talk about weird or interesting talents. My husband Lowell can play a recorder with his nose. I can pack a mean suitcase. One of our daughters can impersonate Julia Andrews, the other can swing the hula hoop remarkably well. Our son Connor can talk like Goofy—it’s pretty obnoxious-but it an interesting or weird talent.

*If they were going to make a movie of your life who would they get to play you? This always gets people going in pretty harmless ways!

*What’s the strangest or scariest restaurant you’ve ever eaten at? Why did you go there?

*Talk about Bucket Lists (Unless you’ve got family that are close to kicking their bucket—that might be too morbid!) –What do you still have on yours? Have you crossed anything off recently?

*Talk Thanksgiving Trivia. I hate trivia games. My brain wasn’t wired for them but they do take up conversational space and there are some in our family who are actually quite good at remembering useless bits of information!

            Who was president when Thanksgiving became an annual holiday? (Abraham Lincoln)

            In what year did the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade become a thing? (1924)

            (Skip this one if it’s too close to a political theme!) Which President was the first to give the Thanksgiving turkey an official pardon? (Ronald Reagan)

            What are Turkey chicks called? (Pults or Turkeylings)

            In what year did the green bean casserole first appear on the scene? (1955)

            During Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving / harvest festival, they traditionally eat a stuffed food but it isn’t a turkey. What food do Koreans stuff and eat during Chuseok? (Rice pastry dumplings)

            Where is the only place in Australia where Thanksgiving is celebrated? (Norfolk Island)

            Who do children in Japan give drawings to on Labor Thanksgiving Day? (Police Stations)

*Talk about Thanksgiving! Talk out loud about the things you are thankful for. Acknowledge one another with gratitude. Tell each other about the tiny and the tall blessings you’ve been given. Practice being thankful!

 

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries wish you a Thanksgiving marked by sincere gratitude and deep hope.

 

 

*If you’re still struggling to think what to talk about there are countless websites with conversation starters. Who knew?

http://conversationstartersworld.com/250-conversation-starters/

http://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Easy-Conversation-Starters-34313495

http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/tag/ages-14-100

**Photo credit goes to Bronzi!

To the One Who Got Pregnant too Soon

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I woke with a familiar pressure on my bladder. It was the middle of the night, and I needed to go to the bathroom. I came back to bed in tears.

“I think I’m pregnant.” I whispered to my sleepy husband as I shook his shoulder. “That’s ridiculous” he said as he turned over and fell back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, stayed awake. I knew I was pregnant. We had a toddler and a baby who was six months old. I was exclusively breast feeding and hadn’t yet gotten my period back after the pregnancy, so my husband’s response was completely reasonable.

But when you know your body, you know these things. Nine months later we had a beautiful baby boy, born two weeks earlier than his due date. He was 6 lbs and 10 oz of beauty and joy. But the inbetween time was not so much. People who saw me pregnant would look at me in astonishment and say “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” thinking it was the previous pregnancy gone on too long.

Yes – I actually had given birth to THAT baby. This one was a different one. This one was THIS baby. That one was THAT baby. Sheesh.

There were a few things that I discovered about myself and about other people during that time. I offer them here in this space, knowing that your situation may be different, but hoping that you will feel some nuggets of encouragement.

  1. You owe nobody, I mean nobody, an explanation. When people say things, when they comment about your pregnancy you don’t have to tell them anything that you don’t want to. When they ask if you were planning this, if it was a surprise, if you’re happy …. those are intimate questions, and you don’t have to let people know the answer.There will be people that you can share with and cry with, but the average bystander and acquaintance is not worthy of your explanations. Whether you used birth control or not – it’s none of their business. Whether you were planning this or not – none of their business. Don’t feel any pressure to give people a response.
  2. Your baby is not a mistake. Your baby may be unexpected; your baby may be a surprise — but your baby is absolutely NOT a mistake. Mistakes are supposed to be erased, they are supposed to be corrected. Surprises are unexpected and take some rethinking and adjusting, but ultimately you do adjust. There is a massive difference between a mistake and a surprise.
  3. You need safe people. You need people who will listen to you, judgment free as you rant and rave about your body, your mother-in-law, your oversexed husband, your life in ruins, all of it. You need to be able to say that you want to run away to safe people who know that these feelings will pass. Safe friends who will love you and protect you from a world that feels overwhelming are a gift.
  4. Be okay with asking for help. I made a vow that hurt me for years when I got pregnant unexpectedly. That vow was that no one would ever see me out of control. It was such a mistake. I carried such a heavy burden of having to keep it together. People who knew and loved me knew that I wasn’t keeping it together, but I tried to hide it under the vow that I had foolishly made. When I finally broke free of that, I cried and cried, ending the crying session with a soul-deep sigh.I was finally free to admit my need for others, my need for help. Don’t be like me. Ask for help.
  5. Routine could be your best friend. When you find yourself pregnant and you have a toddler in the house, routine is a wonderful gift. Routine means you can say “No, I’m sorry – I can’t do that. It’s nap time.” Routine builds security in you and your children. Routine gives you time to recharge and drink tea. Routine is not binding – it’s freeing.
  6. Be okay saying “No.” “No – I can’t make a dessert for the women’s brunch.” “No, I can’t chaperone the preschool field trip.” “No, I can’t baby sit your kids.” “No, I can’t work those extra hours.” “No, I can’t fill in for a sick nurse, or a sick Sunday school teacher, or a sick anyone anytime anywhere.” No. No. No. For some reason, I was an easy yes. I remember one time sitting at someone’s house helping her fold her clothes and make apple crisp. Suddenly I thought “This is ridiculous! I’m the one with five kids! I’m the one who needs to fold clothes and make apple crisp – AT HOME! I realized that I needed to put healthy boundaries around my time.
  7. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t need everything that western society says they do. They don’t need hundreds of outings, they don’t need a bunch of different play groups. They need you. They need Grandma if she’s around. They need security and safety. Self-actualization is way far away on Maslow’s hierarchy. Don’t worry about it. If play groups help you – well then, have at it. But if they don’t – then don’t worry about “socializing” your child. Believe me, there is a lot of socialization that your kid can do without.
  8. On days when you are so tired, and you just can’t do it anymore, there’s always tea and reading time. Put quiet music on in the background and read to your little ones. Then, put them in their happy places while you read yourself.
  9. One day you will get your body and your sleep back. It won’t be the same, it can never be the same. That’s the price we pay for having these little humanoids who grab our hearts with their vice-like grips and create a gap in our well-oiled shiny armor. But there will come a day when you put on a little-maybe-big(ger) black dress and go out with your true love again. There will come a day when you have a full night sleep. There will come a day when all of your children – even the surprise ones – are potty trained. There will come a time when you watch your own television shows and movies. There will come a time when you miss your kids. But it won’t be for awhile.
  10. Allow people to celebrate for you. You may think this is the worst thing ever, the timing is all wrong, you were going to go back to school to get a masters degree, you had finally lost all your baby weight, your husband is looking for a new job, you just started back to work — there may be all kinds of reasons that you have for not being able to celebrate. But others can celebrate for you. When I arrived in London, unexpectedly pregnant with my fifth child, no one in Cairo knew. I hadn’t told anyone. I arrived in London and my best friend met me at the airport. I hugged her and then burst into tears. “I’m pregnant!” “You’re so lucky!” she said. She had had a couple of miscarriages and she knew what it was to be gratefully pregnant. It was perfect. No – I didn’t feel lucky. No – I felt totally overwhelmed. But her reaction was so wonderfully spontaneous and lovely that I began to feel a measure of hope with her response.

You could still be wondering why you are pregnant when you are in labor and about to deliver the baby – but once you see that tiny, little person, you will be in utter awe and the heartburn will be gone.

So to you who got pregnant too soon – I hear you. I’m with you. You join the multitudes of us around the world in that special “I got pregnant too soon and I realize I can’t control my life club.” It’s a club that humbles you and grows you up quickly. No one intends to join the club, but once you’re in it, you realize that it’s a pretty great club after all.

Oh Canada

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Today I’m boarding a plane and going home. While the Canada Goose is turning her beak to the south, I’m turning mine to the north. I’m off to Canada!

Canada is where my story started. There’s a warm and weird nostalgia that comes over me when I think about Canada and all things Canadian: Coffee Crisp chocolate bars, Shreddies cereal, Swedish fish, Tim Hortons coffee and donuts, Canadian Tire, London Drugs, Cheez Whiz, Nanaimo bars, Nuts and Bolts, Aero chocolate, homo milk, Beaver Tails, poutine, ordering French fries with a side of gravy, Kraft Dinner, the loonie and the twoonie, the Canadian flag, klicks.

I suppose my attachment to the Great White North is a little suspect. I’ve really only lived 15 of my 46 years there. But Canada served as a pivot place for my childhood. Although we left when I was 8 years old, Canada was where we always went back to. Canada housed my grandparents, most of our aunts and uncles, our cousins. Canada was the place of my parent’s childhoods, their stories, their romance and marriage.

Later, when mom and dad were back from Pakistan, Lowell and I would marry in a tiny church in a small town on the vast Canadian prairies. We honeymooned in the Canadian Rockies between Banff and Lake Louise. Come to think of it, those months leading up to our wedding was really the last time I lived in Canada. We’ve been married 22 years ago. That’s a very long time ago.

Although I self-identify as Canadian, and have a Canadian passport to prove it, I’m quite likely the most unCanadian Canadian you’ll ever meet. My connections are weak at best, based largely on sentiment and maple syrup. I know very little about Canadian history or folklore. Canadian politics still perplex me on occasion. I’m hardly fluent in the Canadian vernacular. My vowels are now too relaxed, my consonants too indistinct, my syllables too lazy. When I talk no one suspects that I’m from north of the 49th parallel.

I know it makes no sense but I suppose this is the crux of the TCK tale. There’s no accounting for how and when the heart feels momentarily at home. The math doesn’t make sense. Only 1/3 of my life has been lived in the True North strong and free. On the other hand I’ve lived 22 years in Pakistan and India. Only nine years have been spent here among the sunflowers in Kansas.

And yet Canada still represents something to my soul that really defies logic. For reasons I can’t explain there’s a part of me that still sighs with relief when I enter her borders. I exhale and relax just a little bit more when I arrive. This time tomorrow morning I’ll be sipping tea at my parent’s dining room table. I’ll take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I’ll set down my foreignness for a bit. I’ll be among my people and somehow that brings me a measure of consolation.

O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada! Where pines and maples grow.

Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow.

How dear to us thy broad domain,

From East to Western sea.

Thou land of hope for all who toil!

Thou True North, strong and free!

O Canada! Beneath thy shining skies

May stalwart sons, and gentle maidens rise,

To keep thee steadfast through the years

From East to Western sea.

Our own beloved native land!

Our True North, strong and free!

 

Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,

Hold our Dominion in thy loving care;

Help us to find, O God, in thee

A lasting, rich reward,

As waiting for the better Day,

We ever stand on guard.

Observations and Thoughts on the Third Culture Kid Perspective 

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I just returned from a two-week trip to Cairo, Egypt where I was invited to speak at five different schools, to five different parent groups, and be a speaker at a youth retreat. I found the research specific literature to be invaluable in assisting me in my talks.

Here are some of my observations from the talks and what I heard from parents and kids:

Differences between parent and kid experience: We know that kids and parents experience the world through different eyes. Tanya Crossman’s recent research that has now been published in a book called Misunderstood is a wonderful resource in talking about these differences. Her points of difference are mainly around identity, connection, and choice. In identity, Tanya writes that children are shaped, and adults are influenced. If you think about a potter creating something, as she is shaping the clay she can turn it into whatever she wants. It can be a bowl, a vase, a container. Once it is shaped, it can’t be changed. It can however be put different places and look different according to where it has been placed. That to me is an excellent visual picture of Tanya’s point. In connection Tanya points out that the kid sees themself primarily as a resident while the parent sees themselves as a visitor. The adult comes in with a “comprehensive connection” to place. Those are two totally different connections and to expect a child to have the same connection and allegiance to their passport country as the parent is not realistic or wise. Lastly, a kid does not have power to choose – nor should they. But that should be taken into account when we think about the difference in experience. Also, parents should not be surprised by their children’s future life choices based on their own choice to raise their kids overseas. For a parent who has raised their kids overseas to make the statement: “I wish you would settle down!” is uniquely unfair. I will be writing more about this as I process it myself.

Recording vs. interpreting an event. Children are excellent recorders of events but not necessarily good interpreters. They will remember what happened really well, but they won’t know why it happened. The strongest example I have heard on this comes from counseling of children after 9/11 in the United States. A child who lost his father would be counseled. The conversation might go like this:

Adult: Can you tell me what happened that day? The day your dad died?

Child: Well, we were late because I didn’t tie my shoes.

Adult: Can you tell me more about that?

Child: Well, Daddy asked me to tie my shoes, but I didn’t obey him. And so then we were late and then Daddy died.

So the child remember that morning as vividly as the day it happened, but they have an interpretation that holds a huge burden. Imagine being 6 years old and thinking that because you didn’t tie your shoes, the twin towers fell and your dad died? So many children can remember things about their families, about conversations, about the what – but they don’t know the why. So it is with third culture kids. They remember that they weren’t doing well in school and that then the family had to leave Dubai. They correlate the two incorrectly, bearing the burden for a family having to leave a country that the whole family loved. This is a critically important concept to understand in any kind of parenting, but add a whole other dimension when location and moving are involved.

Middle schoolers and life story. Dr. Rachel Cason has developed an excellent tool for this age group called Life Story using the image of a boat. The idea is to look at what people see (the sail); what anchors us (the anchor); and what needs to be strengthened because it takes the most beating (the hull). It is an excellent image and I found that it worked well as a concrete visual picture. You can reach out to Rachel here for more information on this tool. 

Children are our achilles heel. To hurt a parent, hurt their children. They are the gap in our well-oiled and cared for armor of self-protection. We would far rather go through pain, illness, rejection, goodbyes, cross continent and ocean moves, and more than watch our children go through them. Yet it is so important that we grow in ways that we don’t try to protect them with soft padding, but instead offer them a good foundation and a strong sense of place even when geographic location moves. Guilt does not help, but comfort before consolation does help. Trying to force connections on our kids that they can’t possibly understand is not helpful, but bringing in traditions and stories from our own lives connects them to a bigger story that anchors them.

Different ages = Different stages. At times during this trip I wished I was only speaking to high school seniors or students in their first year of university. Different ages respond completely differently to the term third culture kid and to the researched profile of the TCK. Middle schoolers responded well to the Life Story exercise that Rachel Cason developed, but other things like grief do not necessarily have the same relevance. They need talks and exercises that are concrete and relatable. Seniors in high school on the other hand are beginning to realize that their world will indeed turn upside down – and with that turn, they are beginning to grasp for resources and are thinking about their future destinations.

Some stories are more complicated than others. I love how Tanya Crossman frames the third culture kid research she has done as a perspective rather than a person. There were stories I heard in Cairo that were really complicated. Kids with five different passports and seven different moves by the time they were 14 years old. This differs significantly from my own experience which was really just two countries – the United States and Pakistan – and one passport. These complicated stories don’t have easy answers and the story these kids are experiencing is not the same as mine. It is important to keep in mind the danger of a single story. At every session with parents I spoke about the danger of a single story and used the wonderful quote from Chimamanda Adiche “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are incorrect, but that they are incomplete. No one is a single story.” This quote set the stage for all of my talks. There is no single story in the TCK narrative. Rather, there is a perspective that can strengthen and connect the individual to a bigger story, one person at at time. 

The third culture kid is alive and well and we continue to need more research and more stories. I am more convinced than ever before of the need for more stories, more research, and more voices in this conversation. In 2013, the Guardian wrote an article stating that there are over 230 million expatriates all over the world. That number is only growing. Over 3 million people recently viewed a “Where are you from?” meme that I put on the ALOS (A Life Overseas) Facebook page. There are over 8 thousand comments and 14 thousand shares. This is proof of both the complexity and the scope of the third culture kid and global nomad conversation.

It was a gift to be a part of the conversations I had this past week and I will be processing for some time. In the meantime, I am so grateful for the Ruth Van Reken, Tanya Crossman, Rachel Cason, Lois Bushong and so many others whose work I rely on heavily as I continue to learn.

I salute them and so many more of you who continue to make this conversation a priority.

Conversation and Laughter at a Funeral Home

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The New Comer Funeral Home is in a primarily residential area in Rochester, New York. It is a one story, unassuming building and the only indication that its business is death is the word “funeral.”

We arrived at the funeral home on a bleak and rainy Friday afternoon for an appointment at 1pm. No one had died. There was no funeral on the calendar and there were no frantic, tearful phone calls explaining to relatives far away what had happened. Instead, it was a preplanned appointment to talk about a funeral, to talk about death.

Years ago, a friend of mine made the observation that everyone feels free to talk about sex, but when you bring up the subject of death, for some reason, it isn’t proper. Our family has never been one to live up to the cultural standards of any society we have lived in. Most of us have always lived counter culture, so making an appointment to talk about death not only seemed reasonable, but also wise. My mom and dad are 88 and 90 years old, respectively. For their ages, they are healthy and happy. This is largely due to my mom’s bran muffins, and the care she gives to eating healthy. I also believe it’s due to their general attitude toward life and their belief that life is not really life at all if God is absent. An autopsy would never show that as a factor, but I believe it none the less.

But Mom and Dad will die someday. And the someday will come sooner rather than later. As they have talked and planned with each other, they brought their children into the conversation. This appointment was strategically made to include my brother Tom, who they live with, as well as me while I was visiting them.

As we walked through the door, my dad said “Should we set a date?” “Then we could send out ‘save the date’ cards!” I enthusiastically replied. This casual response to a fate that awaits all of us set the tone for the entire visit.

The conversation ranged from the price of coffins to what the funeral home could provide for the family to how to pay for the funeral. We found out that a one paragraph obituary would cost 300 dollars. We all saw the absurdity of that. “I’m a blogger” I said. “I’ll let people know.” We talked about style of coffins. “Do you have a cheap, steel coffin that looks like wood?” asked my father. The answer was yes – but the cheap price didn’t seem quite so cheap to us.

The man we spoke to was down to earth and frank. “No matter what kind of coffin you get, Mother Nature always wins.” A coffin will not prevent decay – earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust – our bodies are our earth clothes, not our eternal garments.

He said they take all kinds of payment – at which I grabbed my brother Tom’s arm and said “Which of the brothers shall we give?” We joked, told stories, and talked seriously. My parents talked about some of the deaths and funerals that they had been a part of in Pakistan, and I told the story about how the first flowers I ever received from my husband were from a colleague whose aunt had died. Turns out, the aunt had been my patient at a hospital 45 minutes away. The difficult conversation was made easier because we made it so.

A movement has begun in the western world called “Let’s have dinner and talk about death.” It is based on a book of the same name. The movement began because this is one of the most important conversations that people in the West never have. We spend so much time and energy on trying to look younger and live longer that we forget the importance of addressing the inevitable. The idea is to engage families in the conversation and provide them with the tools to have a good conversation about end of life care.

I believe that talking about death while we are still alive and well is an unselfish and important conversation. As it says on the web site for “Let’s have dinner and talk about death,” difficult conversations can sometimes be the most liberating.

We left the funeral home in peace with no small amount of laughter. My parents have lived well – and now they plan to die well.

The day will come when we will grieve and cry deep tears over the ones that we love; when the conversation at the funeral home will no longer be theory, but reality. Talking about these things before they happen helps us to know that we can face that day with the certain truth of these words:

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust:
in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died, was buried, and rose again for us. To him be glory for ever. Amen”

Get a Life

“Oh, for God’s sake…get a life, will you?”–William Shatner

 

Connor left nearly a month ago to return to the University of British Columbia. As he and Lowell pulled away from the house I felt the bottle of grief shaken within me lose its scarcely screwed on lid. Before I knew it I was drenched, inside and out, with sadness. I came into the house, sat in my chair, gently held my coffee cup and cried.

In my sad spot I remembered that this is our Adelaide’s last year of high school too and a fresh wave of grief dragged me under. It felt like my heart would break.

I wondered at the strangeness of parenting. We wrap our lives and our hearts around these miniature people. We tend, nurture, guide, direct. We attend concerts and games, plays and competitions. We give up our rights to complete thoughts, finished sentences, sleeping in on Saturdays, uninterrupted conversations, Sunday afternoon naps, free time, long showers, the late show. We trade it all in for diapers, runny noses, giggles, knock knock jokes, princesses, pirate ships, play dough, lego towers, swing pushing, nail painting, homework helping, eye rolling, door slamming, curfew pushing kids! And if we get a minute we’d admit that it was a fair trade. For the most part we’ve loved it—!

In that sad moment in my chair I wanted those days back again. I wanted another turn at it all. I wanted to hold fiercely on to the childhood of my children. They said it would go fast and for the longest time I thought they were mocking me…but now I realized with horror at how right they had been. It was over with my kids before it had really begun in me.

As I sat sipping my coffee, which now oddly tasted like nostalgia and sorrow, I thought to myself, “Robynn, You need to get a life”! I suppose it was a mild rebuke from my more sensible self to my emoting sobbing self. Even as I thought it another thought quickly jumped up in defense of me. Wait a minute…I do have a life!

I do. I have purpose. I’m a spiritual director in training. My brain is being stretched and stimulated by the program I’m enrolled in. I have a broad worldview. I’ve had the humbling privilege of travel and crossing cultures in varying places around the globe. I’m a part of an Environmental Missions effort. I’m passionate about climate change and its effects on the world. I care deeply about the oppressed and long for justice. I have deep friendships with interesting people who expand my world in significant ways. My thoughts are often outside of my inside domestic duties. I read books, I engage in conversation, I watch the occasional documentary, I listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

Honestly I think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve given my children. They’ve seen my heart for others. They know I have a wide circle. They’ve heard me rant about racial injustice, about welcoming the immigrant, about caring for the poor. They’ve seen my eyes fill with tears with concern for friends that are hurting. They know I have dreams and goals and longings outside of our home.

I attended an international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan. Multiple times a year we’d have to say goodbye to our parents. It was devastatingly difficult. But I’m convinced it was made marginally easier because we knew my parents had purpose. We knew they loved each other well. Their marriage was solid. We knew they’d be ok without us.

Kids need to know that their parents are going to be all right when they’re not around. It’s too much pressure for a child to believe that his mother’s or his father’s emotional well-being is connected to him. He needs to know they have a life without him.

There are ways we interpret our obsession with our kids that sound noble and self-sacrificing. But I wonder if we scraped those notions back down to the frame if we’d find something more self-serving than we originally thought? Does it give us a sense of importance? Are we tethering our identity solely to our role as caregiver?

I’m not saying that being a parent is not an important vital job. By all means it is! But the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We want to raise adults that are independent, that no longer need us for their daily cares. We want to train up people that know what it means to contribute in valuable ways to the world around them. They will not know about that unless we show them. It will be important to your health and the health of your progeny that you have some other meaningful thing to give yourself to.

I suppose there’s no real easy way to say this….but moms and dads –you have got to get a life! I don’t care what age your kids are now, begin, even today to imagine a little life outside of your children. Start researching ideas of what you might want to do. Pray it through. Take up a hobby that energizes you. Are there distance education classes you could enroll in even now? Are there places you could meaningfully volunteer? Are there courses offered in your community that might spark your imagination? Do you have dormant dreams that you used to think about? What would it look like to fan some of those back into flame? The little people won’t be little for long. Start now and get a life!