When we moved to Abu Dhabi from Manhattan five years ago, we intended to stay in “the Dhabs” for a year. Our kids had scored the Manhattan Grail: spots in a “gifted and talented” public school, which meant we wouldn’t have to sell everything we owned to pay for private school, and if we stayed away from the city for more than a year, we would lose the seats.
“But you have two spots at the school,” people said to me when I told them we were leaving. To ease their doubts, I kept talking about the benefits of an international education and experiencing different cultures–but to tell the truth, I think I was trying to convince myself. After all, if you’re a student in a Manhattan public school, you’re going to be connect with kids from around the world; it’s unavoidable. Did we really need to move halfway around the world to get a “global experience?” I wondered.
Three-quarters through our first year, we decided to take the leap and sign on for another year (or four) of expat life. A year just didn’t feel like enough time: we would have been packing up to move back just as we were starting to settle in. I felt as if all the energy (and exhaustion and not a few tears) that went into adjusting would have been wasted if we returned to New York after just a year.
The boys are studying Arabic in school, and in our travels through the region, they’ve picked a few phrases here and there — mostly “hello” and “thank you” and “chocolate” — in Sinhalese, Punjabi, Italian, Swahili, Korean. The trips we’ve been able to take from Abu Dhabi would have been impossible from Manhattan, especially on the salaries of two literature professors, and so in that regard, our expat life has delivered the sort of global awareness we were hoping for.
Or at least that’s what I think on my optimistic days. On other days, I wonder: does the simple fact of being able to say “hello” in eight different languages really make you globally aware? I suppose my wavering back and forth is just the expat version of questions most parents ask themselves–“is this school the right school,” “are we doing the best we can for our kids”–and we all have good days and bad days in terms of those answers. How do we raise global citizens? That question, in the light of “Brexit” and the demagoguery of Trump, seems increasingly important, even as the answers get more complicated.
I had to confront those questions just the other day in an emotional conversation with my younger son (now almost twelve). We were sitting on his bed in a hotel room in Bangkok, where we’d come for the Global Round of the World Scholar’s Cup, an academic competition that draws kids from, yes, around the world (but mostly Asia). I’d asked C. if he were nervous about the upcoming three days of competition in writing, debate, and current events quizzing, and his eyes welled up. He admitted that he wanted to do as well as his brother had, two years ago, in the same competition, but also, he said, “I don’t want you to feel like it was a waste for you to bring me here.”
Argh! A blow straight to the heart! How had he gotten the idea that my husband and I would resent the money we spent on airline tickets if he didn’t do well? Suddenly I was the one almost in tears.
I assured him that we didn’t think it was a waste at all and that we were ridiculously proud of him already, just for doing the work to get this far. “Being able to do things like this are why we moved to Abu Dhabi,” I said. “We couldn’t afford flying to Bangkok if we still lived in New York.” My son nodded, vaguely reassured (although still nervous and still in the grips of sibling rivalry).
Truth be told, he probably doesn’t believe me when I say that we’re proud of him already. In the mind of an almost twelve-year old boy, “winning” is pretty much the only thing that matters. Given that there are about 2,000 kids competing in his division, I’d say winning anything is a long shot. (Though if there were a category called “Minecraft knowledge,” he’d probably outscore the entire world.)
What I realized after our conversation, is that yes, this experience is part of why we moved to Abu Dhabi, even though at the time we’d never heard of the World Scholar’s Cup. Even with the international flavor of New York, this sort of intense week-long bonding experience with kids from around the world would not have been possible. This experience, of negotiating differences and finding connections across cultures, will go a long way (I hope) in establishing the foundations of a global citizenry.
C. will remember this week in Bangkok long after he’s forgotten how to say “hello” in Sinhalese. For this week, at least, I’m pretty sure that becoming an expat family was the right thing for us to do.
What about you? How do you raise your global citizens?
After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.
Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.
On Saturday night, I had the privilege of hosting three of my 13 year-old son’s friends for a sleep-over. They are lovely boys, and all I have to do is feed them and ignore them. I don’t mention things like showers or teeth-brushing, and in return they pretty much keep to themselves and don’t expect me to converse about Minecraft, Clash of Clans or Team Fortress II.
I teased them a little about not letting girls in while I drove my 9 year-old to a birthday party. I didn’t make a big deal of things when one of them smuggled in cola. I laughed with them, when on my return from the party drop-off, they were trying to stuff MacDonalds packaging into my kitchen rubbish bin. They pushed their limits with bedtime, of course. And they declined the offer of mattresses to sleep on (too much work for them to get them into our lounge) and slept on the carpet…. because, they’re 13 and their bodies still bend in ways mine don’t.
It was both innocent and, I felt, an appropriate mix of mischief and compliance.
Then, on Sunday, I heard of other 13 year-olds who had been in online chat rooms, talking about anal-sex and rape. Not in general terms, but in…. I shall be doing this to you terms…. These are kids who come from great homes and who have very loving families. I immediately thought: there but the Grace of God go I.
Children easily get caught up with what their friends are doing, or those who they emulate. My 13 year-old could have easily been one of those involved and I have no doubt all three of my boys will make stupid mistakes as they move from childhood to adulthood. Just not this time. Thank goodness.
The biggest worry, for me, was that there was at least one unidentified person in the chat-group who could, quite literally, have been anyone. It’s probably another 13 year-old, a friend or acquaintance but it could just as easily be a predator who was scoping for a target. And that makes it all the more scary.
The same is true of a local man who is hanging around liquor stores offering to buy alcohol and cigarettes for underage kids, 14 and 15 year-olds. He does this for a while. Then he offers drugs. Then it’s parties at his house. This is a whole different scenario from the stranger-danger I taught my boys when they were small.
We’re talking about people who are consciously befriending those kids who want to seem older than they are, and who are ready to break rules. They are grooming relationships before they pounce. They are feeding the teenage need to belong and the teenage need to experiment and do things that their parents may not approve of.
So we hit the teenage years, and now I find parenting is not so black and white.
No, I don’t want my kids drinking alcohol or smoking but do I buy them a few beers to take to a party, so that creeps don’t target them and they go behind my back? No, I don’t want my kids smoking pot but if they choose to, should I allow it when they know who grew it, rather than have them turn to those who lace it with P?
No, I don’t want my kids to be suggesting they will rape someone or perform anal sex on them, but I also don’t want them to be excluded from other things their peers are doing.
Suddenly, a conversation about Minecraft seems pretty appealing afterall.
What do you do or have you done to deal with these aspects of parenting?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer and mother of three, rapidly growing boys in New Zealand, Karyn Willis.
The image used in this post is attributed to JD Hancock and holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.
I grew up in a house full of girls with one baby brother, who was so much younger than me that our friends and social lives didn’t overlap.
Now that I am the mother of three boys and one girl, I am learning many things I never knew about boys: they are more straightforward, easier to read, and, honestly, easier to persuade than girls. Boys wrestle–a lot. Even when they haven’t got the hang of walking yet, they wrestle. (I still don’t know why.) Boys are more emotional than I expected, and more sensitive.
I know there’s a lot more to learn about raising boys, and I’m excited to do it–especially because I can call in their father whenever something freaks me out.
Despite my growing expertise in raising boys, something recently caught me off guard. Something obvious in our society, but not so prevalent in my ‘tribe’ (which is what I call my close family–mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.).
My eldest turned 11 this year, and is in the phase between boy and teenager. And I find myself surprised to discover that our society’s segregation of men and women is changing my relationship with my own son.
I was totally unprepared for the separation that occurred when he moved from the little school to the big school. I went from being able to walk into his class, to speak to his teacher, and to meet his friends and their moms, to having to drop him off and pick him up outside the school gate (but not right in front of it, where the other boys could see us).
No more going into the school, unless I make an appointment with the headmaster and go to his office to speak with the teachers. (And even that is not permissible in most boys’ schools, the majority of which would not even allow a woman on the premises. The same is true for girls’ schools, which don’t permit men on the premises.)
My son can no longer go into the all-women area of the malls. In a few years, he won’t be allowed in any area of the mall without a ‘family’ for fear he will terrorize the girls. (Ironically, some young teenagers wait outside the malls and approach older women, or women with children, and ask them to pretend they are one family to gain entrance into the mall.)
Soon, my son won’t invite his friends over when his sister is home, although he could still invite cousins and close family friends.
There are so many unwritten rules concerning the separation of girls and boys, and a million variations. For some families, it’s pretty black and white: unless he is your brother or father, or unless she is your sister or mother, you don’t spend time with them. It also depends upon the region. In the eastern or western provinces, strict segregation is not as prevalent as it is here in the central region. In seacoast areas, people have the benefit of interacting with many cultures, and are therefore more forgiving.
I am baffled by how our society has become so segregated. Throughout the early history of Islam, segregation wasn’t practiced. Modesty and chastity, yes. Total segregation, no. I do not even think it was part of our culture as Saudis. At least, not to the extent it is today.
Until recently, Bedouin women were expected to welcome travelers into their tents, and to make them coffee, and even dinner, regardless of whether her husband was there. Yes, most would have had their faces covered (again, a cultural custom, not religious one), but they interacted with men all the time. It’s only in recent years that things have changed. Some put it down to the influences that came into Saudi when it was united. Others say it is a reaction to how fast we were exposed to the outside world, and how quickly we went from tribal life to modern-day life.
Theories aside, I’m facing the reality of being shut out of a part of my son’s life and of him being shut out of mine.
When I explained my concern to one of his teachers (over the phone) he said, “You can’t follow him around all of his life!” As if I were a stalker! Am I being a stalker? Hmmm, I wonder how involved I would be in his day-to-day school life if I were?
My biggest fear is that if he gets caught up in the wrong crowd, segregation makes it easier in certain houses with absent fathers to make mistakes and do stupid stuff. I thank God his father keeps an eye on him, and that he still fills me in about his day and talks to me when he is upset. If we can continue to talk, I think I may be okay.
Perhaps I just don’t like not being in control of the situation, or perhaps it’s that I don’t have the choice.
Would you naturally step back from your son’s day-to-day life when he turns 11 or 12? Would you withdraw from knowing his friends and supervising his outings?
It’s all foreign territory for me now, and I am learning to deal with it as best I can.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our contributor in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and mother of four, Mama B.
Photo credit: Dr. Coop under Flickr Creative Commons License
Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house).
Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process.
Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.
It’s mid-winter in New Zealand. The air is crisper than I’ve felt it for a while, the leaves have pretty much fallen and we have had the shortest day of the year.
This week also saw the appearance of the star cluster, Matariki, (The Pleiades), which heralds the Maori New Year.
This was not a festival I had ever heard of growing up but it has been revised and reinstated and there are now celebrations being held all around New Zealand. While different tribes traditionally celebrated Matariki in their own fashion, now it is universally marked by the new moon and rising of the Matariki star cluster with festivities running from 1st June to 30th July.
Traditionally, Matariki was a time of celebration, important for navigation and the timing of the seasons. It was particularly relevant to the preparation of the ground for the upcoming growing season and offerings to the gods, and specifically, Rongo, the Maori god of cultivated food.
Only a few New Zealand schools consistently mark mid-winter and Matariki but for our boys’ school, festivals are an important part of the culture and I have two mid-winter events to attend this coming week.
On Wednesday evening, my youngest son has a lantern walk through a public garden. Imagine a waterfall and a large pond with a bridge over it and a stream running throughout. Imagine 30 or so small (3-6 year-old) children clutching a paper lantern with a candle in one hand and a parent’s hand in the other as we meander through the park in, otherwise, pitch black. We will wander past tiny grottos of handmade gnomes and crystals, we will attempt to sing (although for the children, it’s enough that they manage to walk and stay upright!) and we finish gathered together, munching on a star shaped, ginger or shortbread biscuit.
On Thursday evening, my older sons have their mid-winter festival, beginning with a shadow play performed by their teachers. After the play, the children who are between 10 and 14 gather in small groups amongst the trees at school and the youngest children, guided by their lanterns and teachers, meander from group to group and hear the older children entertain them with a song, or a poem or a tune. The 10 year-olds then follow behind the youngest to see the older children’s performances and the 11 year-olds follow them, and so on. They will finish with their classmates and a biscuit and warm drink.
The magic in these events is heart-warming and the children just seem to absorb the atmosphere; they appreciate the small snippets of light amongst the darkness, the companionship, the quiet musicality of the ’entertainment’ and especially the sharing of food at the end! (So do I.)
Do you celebrate mid-summer and mid-winter? How do schools where you live mark these seasonal events?
Sources: NZ Ministry of Culture and Heritage; Wikipedia
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our writer and mother of three boys in New Zealand, Karyn Van Der Zwet.
The image used in this post is credited to Wikipedia images with editing from Dayne Laird (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, NZ)
When my boys were small, it was easy to find ways for them to nurture. They all had dolls and stuffed animals to care for and I tried hard to let them hug me whenever they wanted, even when it was really inconvenient or awkward, or snotty, or tiring for me.
But it got harder, when they got older. Dolls gave way to LEGO and cars, then Nerf guns and Minecraft. Time away from me at kindy or school, or play-dates or sport, meant the hugs, while no less enthusiastic, were less frequent. I realised I had to be more lateral in seeing their nurturing: Life had changed and they had grown beyond my initial, pre-baby, plans and ideas.
It came to me in a flash of understanding, a few weeks ago, how much their being in service to me, is their way of nurturing and this is what I now focus on, for this part of their growth and development.
The times when they tell me to sit on the sofa and do nothing, I need to listen to them and do as they wish. And while I have always accepted their offerings of daisies and dandelions picked from the lawn and scrunched in tiny hands, I now have to accept them pouring my wine and cooking my dinner – without my input.
The times they volunteer to do these things, I need to keep my directions to myself and my appreciation flowing – despite my discomfort at sitting still while they work and despite the painful slowness with which they perform these tasks.
I have also learned to accept them opening doors for me. They do this not because they think I can’t manage to do so for myself, but because it’s a way they can show me that they care for me.
And I accept their offerings, not because I think I deserve this gesture because of my gender, or my age, or my position as grand dame in their lives, but because I see it for what it is: Nurturing of me, and something to be valued and encouraged.
Apologies have also become a point of nurturing. In our house, they are seen not as just social niceties and empty words, but as a starting point for repairing a battered emotional bond. After an apology-needing moment they almost always ask, “How can I make things better?” And are wonderful at showing they really do mean their words via their actions. They nurture their relationship with me, as I do with them.
No, they aren’t angel children who do these things all the time. They still need direction and they can be down right horrid. They are often disorganised and they are often messy, noisy and silly. But they do show their ability to nurture in a variety of ways. I just have to look at their actions from a different perspective, and accept their gestures as signs of the loving emotion behind them.
How do your children show you they care?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in New Zealand and mother of 3 loving boys, Karyn.
The photograph used in this post is credited to the author.
One of my enduring memories of childhood is of trapsing over paddocks, up and down hills, in gumboots too big for my feet picking mushrooms or blackberries. Eventually getting sore heels and aching legs. Eventually filling buckets and ice-cream containers with food.
Probably scrapping with my sisters. Probably moaning about having to do so. Definitely covered in blackberry juice and scratches on blackberry days. Definitely not impressed by having to pick mushrooms, which I didn’t like to eat.
This summer holiday, my boys got to harvest their own food. Not blackberries and mushrooms, though. They got to harvest seafood.
Tuatua (too-ah-too-ah) are a shellfish. The children love to collect them. We go out at almost low-tide or just after low-tide in thigh-high water. We do the Twist. Our feet sink into the wet sand and feel around for something hard. When we find one, we reach down and pick it up with our hands.
Sometimes, we are side-swiped by a wave. Sometimes, we pick up a round hard sea-biscuit instead. At times, instead of the Tuatua-Twist there is a Crab-Bite-Leap with occasional bad-language. There is almost always laughter and a competition to see who can find the most. This year, the boys and their cousins also took responsibility for collecting fresh seawater twice a day, to keep the Tuatuas in, while they spat out all the sand inside their shells. They kept them cool in the fridge and, when they were finally cooked, the children ate them: some with gusto, others not so much. To me, they taste a bit like chewy seawater…
Our eldest son, 12 year-old Joe, with his 13 year-old girl cousin, Billie, trapped their own crayfish.
Crayfish are related to rock-lobster and, in our extended family, are usually trapped off-shore and by boat, or dived for with scuba-gear and tanks. Joe and Billie had kayaked out around a small peninsula and discovered an old craypot on the rocks. They dragged it out of the sea and managed to convince their fathers to repair it. They then kayaked it out again and dropped it on a good rocky spot.
Each day they went out to check their pot, just as the adults do the other craypots. The first day they caught – seawater. The second day they caught – seawater. The third day they were a bit fed up and otherwise occupied, so didn’t go out. The fourth day or maybe it was the fifth, Billie was out fishing and Joe went out alone to see what was there and to bring the pot in for good. He was very excited to discover they had caught a legal-sized cray! Yes, duly cooked and eaten.
In these days where many children don’t know that carrots grow in the ground or that their meat comes from a real animal, I love that our boys are sometimes involved in the process of food-collection and the processes of preparing it for a meal. I know that these are the Good Old Days and these moments will create some of their childhood memories.
Do your children do similar things you did as a child? Are they involved in collecting or harvesting their own food?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in New Zealand and mum of three boys, Karyn Van Der Zwet.
The image used in this post is credited to the author.