Can we just stay in a world where bagel necklaces solve all of our problems?
Shocked. Confused. Completely taken aback. That’s what happened the other day when I was watching my two young girls on the playground and elementary-aged kids came out to play. Horrible language, bullying, and throwing around malicious comments about looks, behavior, and sexual orientation.
Those words. Those attitudes. That scrutiny. I was so suddenly jolted from my innocent little world of swings and sand castles and hoisted into a “big kid” universe that I was disbelieving of what was happening around me.
I had so many questions. How do these kids even know these words? Should I do something to intervene? And then the realization hit. My children, now ages 5, 3 and nearly 2, will be thrown into similar situations in the not-so-distant future. And what would they do in this situation? Have I taught them to respect others? To be the right kind of friend?
And close behind became a second epiphany. These are the days. The days to appreciate. The days not to take for granted. I think I have problems when my 20 month old won’t go down for a nap on the first try. Or when my kindergartener drops an entire box of Cheerios on the floor. When my three-year old refuses to wear anything but her Olaf sweatshirt. When my toddler eats Play Doh. Problems. These are our “problems.”
Sometimes I find myself complaining, maligning the fact that my children can’t quite do things for themselves yet. After my encounter on the playground, I’ll keep my problems and multiply them by one hundred before wishing for my kids to grow up.
Yes, I’ll happily read “Old McDonald Had A Farm” 100 times in a row, help you put on your socks and velcro your shoes, and carry you when you are just too tired to walk anymore, because these “problems” are not really problems at all. They are tiny – nearly microscopic – bumps in the road to becoming independent.
And as not-so-subtly thrown in my face that day on the playground, I realized that as children grow up, their problems become more delicate, emotional, and serious. The problems that they face are more complicated and likely to impact others.
Can someone please find a way to make time stand still? Because I don’t want to get to the more serious stuff. I want them to stay young, innocent, and oblivious to mean behavior, bad language, and unforgiving situations. And I want my problems to revolve around Cheerios and Play Doh rather than the much, much harder stuff.
But try as I may, I can’t freeze time. They will grow up and make choices on their own. And when they reach that point, my hope is that the example I have set for them is to be kind; love others; empathize; have unwavering confidence in who they are; and surround themselves with the right people. If they adopt that attitude, maybe we will be able to navigate the real problems with greater ease.
Just a few weeks ago, I volunteered to read to my son’s class. He proudly sat in my lap as I read, and when we left school that day, he asked, “Mommy, can you go on the next field trip with us? You know mommies are allowed to go on field trips.” It didn’t take me long to find a babysitter for my younger two so that I could chaperone his next trip.
Happy to chaperone my son’s field trip to the ornament factory
I’m not going to let these days pass me by – these days when they are impressionable, eager to listen and learn, and want me around. I’m going to use them as wisely as I can. Instead of thinking I have problems when my toddler throws her winter hat off for the tenth time in one day or my three year old melts down when her brother doesn’t bring her something from the school bake sale. I will think about how trivial our “problems” are in comparison to the more grown-up situations they will soon face.
And I will use the extra time I have not obsessing over the small things but to teach them how to embrace the qualities that will serve them well on that critical day when they have to start making important choices on their own.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our mom to three and writer in Poland, Loren Braunohler.
The images used in this post are attributed to the author.
Eight thousand pounds, ten suitcases, three car seats, and a mammoth-sized double stroller. That is how we move from place to place. Our lives measured in mass. The “things” we take with us as we circumnavigate the globe.
Every time we pack up and unpack I ask myself, do we really need all of this stuff? All of these things? What would become of us if we couldn’t bring these things with us?
Before I became a parent, I wasn’t so concerned about having our things. It was always nice to receive our personal items and make our new house a home, but we could do without. While on assignment in Sudan, our household shipment took a year to arrive and be released at the port, at which point we only had one more year of our assignment left. Surprisingly, we found it pretty easy to live without our things.
But then I became a parent, and we acquired all of the things that come along with that wonderful privilege – toys, blankets, cribs, clothes, plastic plates, bottles, kid-proof cutlery, safety gates, bikes, trikes, scooters, hot wheels tracks, mountains of Legos. All of the things that entertain kids and make them happy (so we think). Times three.
Somehow our things mushroomed from two thousand pounds to eight thousand pounds overnight.
With three young children and all of this stuff, it then came time to move — not once, but twice (internationally) in one year. The first was a move from Thailand to Washington, D.C.; the second from Washington, D.C. to Poland. And with each move came new regulations about how much of our stuff we could take with us and how long it would take us to receive it. And naturally, as parents do, I worried about how the kids would fare without their things. How will they keep themselves entertained? Won’t they be bored? Won’t they miss their stuff?
And then the test came. In Washington, D.C. we were allowed 1/12th of our unruly-sized load of things. This actually turned out to be a very good thing. We got out to explore often – every day – and many days, multiple times. We lived near trails of every kind, streams, baseball and soccer fields. There must have been ten playgrounds within a mile radius. Libraries, museums, nature centers. Most within walking distance. By getting out, it became increasingly clear that the kids didn’t need their “things,” that in fact, those things become pretty unimportant when there were was so much exploring to do.
Their happiness was not predicated on whether or not they had their stuff. They were just as happy as before; if not, more so at the excitement of discovering new places.
After a wonderful year in Washington, we moved to Krakow, Poland last month. Our things arrived in several different shipments over the course of six weeks. It was amazing to watch the kids use what little they had at the beginning to easily amuse themselves. Crib mattresses became trampolines, our back yard became a place of adventures, plastic tubs became swimming pools, and moving boxes . . . you name it, and moving boxes turned into all kinds of things from forts to art tables and clever hiding places. And just as we did in D.C., we are exploring. We are exploring our neighborhood, the main square downtown, the forest, the zoo, castles with dragon caves (yes, you read that right), biking trails, outdoor fountains, ice cream parlors, chocolate shops.
On Friday, the last shipment of our 8,000 pounds arrived. As I look around, I realize how easy it would be to simply. To cut down the clutter. To purge all of the things we don’t need and choose to get out and explore as an everyday way of life. Kids are the best versions of themselves when they use their imaginations. Less really is more. Happiness is not about what they have, but about who they are with. So what does that mean for us? It means we will slowly be letting go of our “things” over the next three years and lightening our load before we embark on our next overseas adventure. And I’m sure the movers will thank us for it.
Have you ever felt the need to cut down on all of the “things” you own? Have you thought about how you might do this (i.e. – by donating to local orphanages, Goodwill, etc.)?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Loren Braunohler. Loren Braunohler is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She is a world traveler who avoids the cold (don’t ask why she is currently in Poland). Former assignments have included Mozambique, Venezuela, Australia, Sudan, Thailand and Washington, D.C. She enjoys running, although she probably enjoys sleep more. Loren blogs about her family’s international adventures and parenting at www.toddlejoy.com.
We are ready for Poland, countdown calendar and all!
A year ago, we were preparing to leave Thailand after four years. We’ve now been settled on the East Coast of the U.S. for ten months. And in two months, we’ll depart for Poland, where we’ll spend three years. That’s two international moves for our family of five in nearly one year.
All of these transitions come easily for my husband and me, since we chose careers that we knew would involve us transiting the globe every few years. But how will it affect our children? The youngest (newly one-year old) is too young to know what’s happening yet and lucky for us, the other two (ages three and five) have been good about going with the flow so far.
But not far from my mind is how their opinions on this transient lifestyle will change over time, especially as they begin to develop good friends and fondness for certain places.
When I look back at our time in Thailand, it evokes a sense of nostalgia for me because it was the place where both of my daughters were born, where my son spent his first four years of life, entered his first school, and made his first friends. My children developed a strong affinity for Thai food, were comfortable living and walking the streets of a big city, and became spoiled by monthly trips to the beach. Every day was a swim day. Travel to cool places such as Bali, Hong Kong, and Australia was easy. The Thai people were welcoming and friendly, and loved interacting with the kids, and as a result, my children developed a strong sense of confidence and ability to easily and comfortably interact with others. Thailand was their first home and I believe, will always be a big part of who they are.
Catching a ride on a street stall food truck in Bangkok
My husband and I talked to the children a lot about our move back to the United States in July 2014. When we packed everything up, said our goodbyes, and headed for a three-day layover in Hawaii, the kids were adjusting to the concept that the U.S. was not just one place, but a place made of 50 states. As we made our way from Hawaii to California, Michigan, and Virginia, our four-year old kept asking us when we were going to get to “America.” Soon after that, we invested in a large, magnetic USA map and had a geography lesson or two at home. The kids were thrilled with the discovery that in “America” there are water fountains in parks and airports (and that you could actually drink the water from them), that a mailman delivers mail to your house every day, that people who live in houses have neighbors, back yards, and can do things like set up lemonade stands or invite friends over for a night of s’mores-making.
What is this white stuff? Discovering snow in the U.S.
And then there was the discovery of seasons, snow, door-to-door trick-or-treating, fall festivals with pumpkins, hay rides, and mazes, spring festivals with strawberry and blueberry picking, summer carnivals, and of course, Disney World. And to top it off, they’ve had a wonderful year of connecting with family. They have developed strong bonds with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Sleepovers at the grandparents occur on a regular basis.
And now, ten months into our time in the U.S., when we are just settled, comfortable with our home, our neighborhood, our friends, the schools, the rhythm of the seasons, and happy to be near family, we are getting ready to head overseas for our next adventure in Krakow, Poland. For several months we’ve been prepping the kids for the move – talking up castles, countryside, dragon festivals, skiing, and Polish bakeries. We’ve been listening to the Frozen soundtrack – my daughter’s favorite – in Polish. We’ve been practicing our hellos and thank yous in Polish. We’ve been talking about our new schools, how we’ll get to school, where we’ll live, and where we’ll visit. Although I’m not sure that they fully comprehend the concept of starting over again, they are excited about the move. It is fun to share in their enthusiasm.
Sometimes they ask us what’s after Poland – a question for which we don’t yet have an answer. As I think about the next three years, I know that the kids will be exposed to new experiences that will continue to shape who they are. It’s fun to be in this together, our family of five.
So when does this get hard? When do they start lobbying to stay in one spot and resist leaving friends, schools, and places behind? When do they tire of the transient lifestyle? When will it be hard to garner their enthusiasm for yet another move? And how do we as parents support them, empathize with them, or even determine whether the regular moves are still the best thing for our family?
These questions cross my mind every once in awhile, but until that time comes, we’re going to continue to enjoy the new places, activities, cultures and friends that await us, remembering the people we’ve met and the places we’ve lived along the way are all part and parcel of who we are and how we approach life.
Have you and your family always lived in the same place? How do you deal with transitions?
This is an original post to World Momst Blog by Loren Braunohler, currently in the United States and preparing for a move to Poland. Photo credit to the author.