Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ex-Pat Life Series Part 3: Being a Person of Welcome

I started this blog post months ago, and its been on my mind since then to finish it and then finish the Ex-Pat Life Series. When I started writing this, I had been in Shanghai just a few months...I think! I can't remember exactly when I started writing it, that's how long its been. So I had a slightly different perspective than I do now at 10 months in to this assignment. This is something I've thought about a lot and I think it can apply to whatever life situation you currently find yourself in; I'm simply taking it from the perspective of someone who has recently moved overseas and the unique challenges that come with that.

So right to the point, how do you become a person of welcome and what exactly does that mean? This post stems from reflections of the people I've met while in Shanghai. I recently read this hilarious post Nine Expats You'll Meet Abroad and she nailed it. I think I'm a cross between "One-shot Wanda"and "Sasha the Serial Expat", vacillating from being excited to see new places while we're here and being content to stay in our little bubble because its the easiest thing to do and because sometimes I feel like I've "been there, done that". This partly has to do with the fact that I have little little kids and travel and adventure are not currently as fun as they used to be. Also it partly has to do with the fact that I've done this before and I'm not as eager to experience all the new and exciting things as I used to be. You know, you've seen one market or temple, you've seen them all.

When you first meet people here, the conversations all go mostly the same way. After meeting and learning each other's names, the conversations involve these five questions:

Where are you from?
What company are you with?
How long have you been here?
How long is your contract?
Where do you live?

The people who haven't been here that long, myself included, eagerly question others looking forward to making new friends. The people who have been here longer are less likely to bombard you with questions and are less eager to have these conversations. And by longer I mean longer than 6 months. These folks have usually already established a group of friends and/or experienced one season of mass exodus of their established friend group (i.e. June), so they're less interested in investing the energy to meet new people who may soon just up and leave.

So here's what I've learned. If you are an ex-pat moving internationally, or in the military and moving wherever, or just happen to move for work, or don't move but meet someone who has, or are human, this applies to you.

Being a person of welcome means:

1. To take initiative. In a book I'm reading (that doesn't have to do with being an ex-pat or relocation but is insightful none-the-less), the author states that most groups she's been a part of she's had to initiate herself. Don't wait for someone to initiate contact with you, be the first to introduce yourself and initiate get togethers with others. Listen and learn about the other person without the agenda of being able to share about yourself

2. Invite others in. I don't just mean initiate activities, though that is certainly part of it. Be an inviting person. Invite others to share about themselves. Invite others to your home, whether or not its perfect. Invite others to join you and your friends in other activities, especially if you have kids in the same age group. Invite others to coffee or to join you at the swimming pool or to your kids school picnic. Everyone loves to be included. Don't wait for someone to include you, be the inviter and includer.

3. Be open and friendly. One unique opportunity the ex-pat life provides is the opportunity to become friends with people you wouldn't necessarily become friends with at home. You're all thrown together in this unlikely situation, you all have moved here from somewhere else. Instead of staying within your comfort zone, especially if you're an introvert (cough, cough...I don't mean me of course!), be open to talking to new people. Discover new friendships with different types of people. You never know what life long friendships will develop.

So that's it. Take initiative, include others, be open to new types of friendships.

Do you have anything to add? What are ways you have been a person of welcome in your life?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Giant Rubber Duck comes to Shanghai

I haven't posted in forever. For-ev-er. And so the story goes with my history of blogging. But you all already know that about me right? And you know that I'll eventually be back.

The thing is that I'm 25 weeks pregnant with Mini-Mac #3. Soon I will be a mom to 3 under 3. Even though I have help, I am constantly exhausted and overwhelmed and generally just trying to keep our heads above water. Even though I don't have horrible pregnancies in comparison to others I know are so very sick, I still am just useless. The pregnancy exhaustion is like nothing else, harder than newborn exhaustion and harder than chasing an energetic toddler. I guess its because there's actually a human being inside of me, leaching all my nutrients and energy. You guys, I have a full on HUMAN BEING INSIDE me! Its like you are pms-ing, fighting getting sick, feel jet lagged and like you've just pulled an all nighter, and have just done some kind of weird, strenuous workout all at once. For 10 months. 

I am so SO grateful for this little life inside me, and the two little lives running circles around me. But I am so so SO tired. Life with a 2 year old. Life with a 1 year old. Life being pregnant. Life in China. Sometimes its just overwhelming. I'm not gonna lie, these days can be really challenging. There are so many sweet moments, but lots of hard ones too.

As they say, long days, short years. So whiney, geez I sound like my 2 year old. 

The Giant Rubber Duck has come to Shanghai! We can see it from our apartment, so I packed up the kids and forced them into the stroller for a trek to see it. Worth it!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ex-Pat Life Series Part 2: Keeping in touch with people at home

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Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_studiom1'>studiom1 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I decided to push back the post I had planned for Part 2 of this series to next week because I got quite a bit of feedback on last week's post, Ex Pat Life Series Part 1:Why don't people reach out to me?, and felt like I should respond.

I want to clarify that my post was not a cry for help, a vent of feeling sorry for myself, or meant to be a whining diatribe. No Apologies if it came across that way! It was simply a response to some of the conversations I've been having with a few other ex-pats here in China and some reflections on my own experience. I do occasionally reflect upon such things although I may seem like a superficial So-Calian (Word made up. So-Calians do not call themselves So-Calians. Also, how can you tell if someone is truly from Southern California? Their non-use of the word "Cali". Boom!).

As several people pointed out, that post could have applied not only to people living abroad but also to anyone who has moved any sort of distance, from down the street, to an hour away, to across the country. If you've moved you probably can identify with the feelings of losing touch with people back home and how great it feels when someone from home initiates keeping a connection with you.

I also want to clarify that in no way does all the responsibility for keeping in touch fall upon people back home. Its your responsibility too. As we all know, life just gets in the way of this at times. But if its a priority to you, putting in a little effort is sometimes all it takes. Since I grew up overseas and have had the opportunity to travel, I have friends living all over the world. I don't keep in close touch with all of them, and I used to be much better at it than I am now (2 babies and all). But I do try to keep in touch with some or connect with others when I'm in their area of the world.

So how do you do it?

1) Facebook, obviously - The number one way of keeping in touch is by posting fun status updates and pictures of your adventures. Not too much, mind you, just enough to get people to ask you for more information! For example, "What do a stop light, a taxi, and a crosswalk have in common? Not enough apparently (true story)." is a status update sure to get people asking to know more and sympathizing with your plight to cross the street in safety or laughing at your hilarious story!

2) Email updates - Be sure to include every possible way under the sun to get in contact with you (mailing addy, email, local cell, Skype number, Viber, WeChat, WhatsUp, Instagram…) so as to give them the hint you'd love to stay in touch. Although most people won't respond to a mass update letter, you're sure to get a few return emails, and people appreciate hearing from you and having your new contact info. When they comment on your hilarious status update they'll say something like, "OMG are you okay??? I loved your email update! btw how do I contact you again?"

3) Viber/WeChat/Whatsapp - Seriously THE easiest way for keeping in touch ever. I'm for sure going to use WeChat forever! People in China are crazy about it, everyone (restaurants, doctor's offices) have a WeChat account so you can send them a quick text or voice message.

4) Actually use email/texting/instagram/whatever to initiate contact - If you're a social butterfly but just can't keep in touch with everyone, choose a few people that you really want to maintain a friendship with, and initiate contact. Everyone likes it when someone reaches out them. So be that person. And get back to them when they follow up with you (I know, I know, I'm THE WORST at this right now! My email turn around time is about a month at the moment. But I'm working on it!).

That's it. So simple right? If only I had the luxury of time and energy, I could keep in touch with everyone I've ever met. Instead I think I'll order take out during nap time and catch up with my shows on Hulu.

Tune in next week for the Ex Pat Life Series Part 3: Being a person of Welcome wherever you are.

How do you keep in touch with friends near and far? 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ex-Pat Life Series Part 1-Why don't people at home reach out to me?

Lulu be all like, "Mickey Mouse Yay! AHHHH I HATE MICKEY!!!"

You guys last week Lulu turned 2. TWO! And I am having an identity crisis. You know, no longer a mom of 2 under 2 and all. We're celebrating her birthday this Saturday with a little shindig (why am I throwing a party for a 2 year old again?!). On her actual birthday we were at Tokyo Disneyland where she had a "Happy Birthday" sticker so everyone could wish her a happy day. I'm not sure she enjoyed it since she still doesn't get it, but she sure did enjoy screaming her way through the park! She was like a little wild boar, running haphazardly through the park, bowling people over as she went. The inner conversations of the day went something like:

Me: She's so cute, look at her running to keep up with us.
Other people: That child is a terror! Quit bumping into me!
Japanese Grandma: Those are terrible parents. Look how loud and rambunctious she is.
Chinese Grandma: Look at those terrible parents letting their underdressed child scream and cry!

I think that's how it went anyway. Truthfully I didn't have much time to think much while trying to chase and contain my exhausted, wound-up Terrible Two year old. And feed the baby of course.

Anyways, I've been thinking a lot about the things you give up and the skills you develop as an ex-pat and decided to do a little informal series about it (and write using only run-on sentences). Tune in next week for my post on being a "person of welcome" wherever you are.

Being an ex-pat is great, it really is! Its exciting, fun, adventurous, challenging, and rewarding. But of course, it also comes with some unique sacrifices.

People choose to live overseas for so many reasons, whether they've relocated for a job, with the military, teaching, being a missionary, or simply for an adventure, that it would be unfair to say that everyone experiences the same challenges. There are, however, similar experiences shared by many people who move out of their home country. The biggest sacrifice being relationships with people back home.

You see, while you move into a new country and deal with all the excitement and challenges cross-cultural adjustment brings, your friends back home carry on, life as usual. You may both make a strong effort to keep in touch, at least at first, but soon the people back home stop reaching out as much. Its really difficult to keep in touch with people when you don't live in the same vicinity. As the old saying goes, "Out of sight, out of mind".

For an ex-pat, moving can become a way of life, as does learning how to keep in touch with people across the world; its a skill you develop so that you can keep in touch with the amazing friends you make during your time abroad. Unfortunately, its not a skill everyone has, especially if they are not the one who has moved.

I have always wondered why people don't reach out more often, and I think it boils down to this:

1-They hate me and think I'm weird.
2-No, its just me that thinks I'm weird. Other people are simply busy and wrapped up in their immediate lives.
3-Its hard to find the time make time for an email and an across-the-date-line Skype call.
3-They may not realize how challenging it can be to be living in a foreign place, especially in the first several months, and think that your exciting "My ayi is so awesome and look at the live snake I found at the wet market" post means that you're doing awesome.
4-They aren't skilled at keeping up long distance friendships.

Although I've often felt disappointed that friendships back home fizzled or became more distant, I've also been pleasantly surprised about the friendships that have hung on and even gotten stronger across time and distance. And those are the ones that are worth keeping.

If you're one of the friends back home, why don't you shoot your wanderlust friend a quick email, just to let them know you're thinking of them, or a quick viber text to say hi. A little connection can go a long way when you're living abroad; it always means a lot when someone from home reaches out.

Are you an ex-pat? How have you maintained friendships with people at home?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Moment by Moment -- My Messy Beautiful

I often say that in this season of having two littles under two years old, you have to take things moment by moment. Not day by day or hour by hour. Moment. By. Moment. Most of my moments are just about survival and are not pretty. But some are beautiful.

I say this because things can change so quickly, like the path of a tornado. You can be sitting having a great breakfast together, your first sip of caffeine is on its way to your grateful lips, when all of the sudden your toddler is screaming bloody murder because she wants to be drinking your tea instead of you and your baby starts crying because she's just a baby. And then the storm blows over and you lovingly, though warily, look at your kids again, realizing that since its only 7:30am this type of thing will probably happen 730 more times by the time Daddy gets home at 6:30ish. And the day seems long. But that moment of calm between the storms is so sweet and quiet. So suspiciously sweet and quiet. But sweet, it really is.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate my point. 

You, miracle of miracles, manage to get up and dressed before the babies. You get the babies up and fed and mostly dressed. After wrestling a potty training almost-two-year-old into a diaper and clothes for mommy and me class, you head out the door. You gaze lovingly at said almost-two-year-old and think how cute she is carrying your umbrella. 

You arrive at mommy and me where things glacially progress downhill. Slowly and surely several nuclear meltdowns occur, particularly when you attempt to get toddler to use the potty. After the second attempt toddler has washed her hands and gotten her shirt entirely wet. During circle time in class she takes off her shirt. Since you pick your battles wisely you let it slide.  

You attempt the potty one last time, just in case her board-stiff-screaming bathroom induced tantrums are suddenly behind you. Plus, since she has already taken off her shirt she is successfully trying to pull off her diaper, tutu, and tights. As you try to get her to sit on the potty, she goes rigid, screaming and wiggling. You accidentally stick her tighted feet straight down into the toilet (after all you thought she would bend at the waist and sit down once you got her near). This induces a wild tantrum, splashing toilet water all over the bathroom. You set her down on the floor and try to remove the tights and tutu and clean up. Your once beloved, cute-as-can-be, sweetish toddler takes off running at the speed of light down the school hallway. In her birthday suit. Wet with toilet water. Screaming with delight and laughing with a sound that can only be described as evil.

A teacher's aid (Chinese of course. And that is significant because you and the toddler are committing some serious cultural no-nos) sees her and gasps, trying to speak but unable to get any words out. You finally catch the toddler in the school lobby where, mercifully no one is waiting. You throw toddler back in her school classroom, out of breath and gasping for air because that is how fast the toddler can run and its hard to sprint while laughing hysterically chasing a naked, toilet-water covered toddler through a proper international school. The teacher looks at her and says, "Oh! Naked!" offering some help as you go back to try to clean up the bathroom. The teacher is very gracious and happens to have a bag of extra clothes with her for such purposes, and a plastic bag for the clothes you'll be destroying once you get home. 

The toddler proceeds to wheel around the room naked. Until you catch her and wrestle her back into a diaper and clothing. Which she again tries to take off. 

Like I said, not pretty. 

But then there are moments when they wake up from naps and I give toddler a healthy snack of raisins and cookies and I manage to get us out the door for a walk. And the weather is just right and the Air Quality Index is below 250 and the spring cherry blossoms and flowers are out and it feels just perfect. And I get a chance to pray and see the city and chat with toddler about the dogs and leaves and trees. And I think I got this, I can do this, this IS getting easier! 

Until the next meltdown...

Like Glennon Melton of the Momastary blog says, if you can grasp a few good moments in your day, its a good day. 

Not all moments are good or pretty or easy. But some are. And those moments make it worth it.

You got this mama! You are strong enough and you have what it takes to love your babies as they need to be loved. 

Moment by moment. 

Don't forget to laugh! 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Momastery-Carry On Warrior

Monday, March 31, 2014

Pedestrian Rules in China:You do not have the right of way

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Photo credit: Philip Lange via www.123rf.com
Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_philipus'>philipus / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

1-Rules of right of way:1-Babies 2-Grandmas 3-Trucks/buses 4-Cars 5-Motorbikes 6-Bicycles 7-Normal humans 8-Dogs. If you're a dog you might as well not even leave your house.

2-Looking left-right-left does not necessarily ensure safe passage across a road. Look left-right-left-right and run. Look right-left before stepping onto opposite sidewalk. Look left-right-left again when stepping onto sidewalk to avoid being hit by a bike, motorbike, or child on a scooter.

3-To cross the road, wait until there is a significant amount of cars approaching. Run for it, stopping at the center island becoming sandwiched between traffic going in both directions. Once there is a short space between two passing cars, run for it. Once on the opposite sidewalk walk as slowly as possible down the middle of the sidewalk to prevent others from passing you.

4-To ensure safe passage while crossing the street, try to sandwich yourself between 2 local Chinese people and match their speed and vehicle avoidance pattern.

5- Its important to be aware of the fact that there is no directional flow of pedestrian traffic. Sometimes you need to keep to the left, and sometimes to the right. It may be difficult to determine what side of the road to walk on but either way you do it you are wrong.

6-Allow your child to wander down busy sidewalks and public places as they see fit. Bonus points if they are on wheels. Double bonus points if you are in an area for fitness and you allow your child to drive their set of wheels down the middle of the running track, or slowly and haphazardly zigzag across the sidewalk. Don't worry about the oncoming speed runner, he'll do anything to avoid tripping over the kid as he is well practiced in such skills. If that speed runner is you, you may fall and sprain your ankle if you don't jump into car traffic as fast as possible to avoid said child.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Surviving 2 Under 2 page updated!

I'm FINALLY working on finishing up the pages on the top of the blog. How long have I had this blog, maybe a year? I'm such a slacker. Or maybe I'm just busy keeping babies alive and figuring out life in China. Excuses, excuses…

I wanted to direct you to my 2 Under 2 page because I wrote a detailed description of how to survive the "2 Under 2" period of life that everyone experiences (Not everyone you say? Just me and a few other crazies?) using all the sage wisdom and parental maturity I have gained in the last 22 months. Does this make me an expert? Not likely. But I've survived 8 months (HOLY TIME FLIES BUT FEELS SO SLOW BATMAN!) of this craziness so I'm doing something right…I think?

I've also included a few links to other blogs of mamas that are also surviving, or have survived, with the littles and have said something about it. I found very little on having 2 babies under 2 when I was pregnant with Little Baby so I want to have all these links in one place.

One resource I did not initially mention in that post but will someday go back and update is a blog/book I found called, "A Mother's Survival: Two Under 2" by L.A. Burton. I guess she wrote a blog about her experiences and then published a book. The blog is no longer active but you can get her ebook on Amazon. I always enjoy hearing about other people's stories and experiences and this was THE ONLY PUBLISHED book on this parenting niche! Surely other people in the world have babies close together? Maybe they're just too busy actually parenting to have time to write?!

I have a favor to ask you faithful 2 readers. If you like this blog and that post in particular would you share via Facebook and pintrest? I would be ever so grateful and will compose you an Ode.

Have you parented 2 (or more!) kids under 2 at the same time? What advice do you have for moms who are currently in the trenches?
Thursday, March 13, 2014

How to Put a Baby to Sleep When You Have a Toddler

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Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_kobyakov'>kobyakov / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

1-Think of all the parenting and sleep training books you read while pregnant with baby #1. Throw them out; they are useless.

2-Disregard any type of schedule or routine in the morning and keep Baby awake until she is overtired and screaming. This step is very important and will strengthen your stress management skills.

3-After Baby has irritated Toddler (or maybe it was Toddler who irritated Baby? Who can say?) to the point of acting out for attention by screaming and throwing toys, attempt to sooth Baby by holding her, changing her diaper, and then feeding her. This will sharpen your ability to follow procedure and multi-task.

4-While sitting down and feeding Baby, protect Baby from Toddler continuously slapping Baby's little head while simultaneously helping Toddler put on her socks and shoes. Do not skip this step! It helps one adapt to getting ready in emergency situations and strengthens your ability to use one hand to do the tasks you used to need two hands to complete.

5-After feeding, sing lullabies and rock Baby to sleep. Walk to Baby's crib while Toddler has attached herself to your leg like a koala (this is a bonus because you also complete your strength training workout for the day during this step). Try not to confuse Rockabye Baby with Toddler's very passionate version of the ABC song. This helps strengthen both the left and right sides of your brain and combats the loss of brain cells accumulated during the mass sleep deprivation that began when baby #1 was born.

6-After Baby has fallen asleep, remove Toddler from the room in the point 5 seconds before she lets out an ear splitting scream, waking Baby and thus reinitiating the entire process. 

7-Should Baby refuse to fall asleep or Toddler awaken Baby during Step 6, throw in the towel, turn on Elmo and give Toddler a cookie. This should help her fall asleep quickly during nap time following the initial sugar rush and following meltdown. At which point you may eat the rest of the bag of cookies.
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