A year ago, when our daughter was nearly 8 years old, we found out that she has profound hearing loss in her left ear. We had been concerned about her hearing since she was in preschool. Her class teacher assuaged our worries and subsequent teachers never raised any issues. But still, we wondered.
We couldn’t get concrete answers
A few years later we arranged for an audiology test at our health clinic in Jakarta and were told that her hearing was fine, in fact, her left ear was “better” than her right ear. Although I should have been happy when the doctor delivered the test result, I felt skeptical and couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.
We had to wait another year until our next US visit to schedule a more thorough assessment. This time it was immediately clear that there was a problem. The audiologist grew increasingly alarmed as he ran through the evaluation process, but my daughter remained relaxed. I explained that the tests showed us that her left ear wasn’t working. “Yeah, I know that already”, she said calmly, “I’ve been telling you that I can’t hear.”
“I know, sweetie. I know.” My heart broke a little.
There were many emotions that day.
Relief….at having our concerns confirmed and finally knowing what was wrong
Guilt…because it took so long to diagnose her hearing loss
Frustration…that it hadn’t been picked up at school or in the previous test
Amazement…when considering how well she had coped until now
Worry…about the challenges she will face and the unknown path ahead
Pride…in knowing that if anyone can manage this, she can.
The next day we met with an ENT specialist who suggested that we consider a cochlear implant (not typically recommended for single-sided hearing loss). It was a lot to take in and we wanted more time to consider the full range of options. We returned to Jakarta shortly after and followed up some months later in Singapore, where the doctor there told us that if it were his daughter, he wouldn’t do anything.
Between the two doctors, we had more questions than answers and it felt daunting and confusing to be navigating this brand new path with such divergent advice, without any kind of network or supportive community, thousands of miles from our home health care system.
Getting some Clarity
One year on, we are much clearer about things. We sought a third ENT opinion on our last US visit, which confirmed our desire to pursue a hearing aid option that we hope to get soon.
Unfortunately, such devices are more expensive in this part of the world and even with insurance the out of pocket cost is significant. When I found out about this, I immediately started calling around to compare prices – ringing hearing clinics in Thailand, Singapore and even Australia. It seemed absurd in a way – I would never fly to another US state to buy anything – but with limited options here, this type of “medical tourism” is common.
We have also worked with our daughter’s school and teachers to develop and implement classroom accommodations and communication strategies to support her learning and self-advocacy. Catering for this type of individual need is somewhat new for the school, so it has been a learning process for all involved.
Getting by with no support system
Fortunately I now know a few other school families who have children with hearing issues, which is a big help, but I still feel like I’m ambling along in the dark a lot of the time. It is this feeling of isolation which has been the hardest for me.
Sometimes I think that things would be so much more straightforward if we were based in the US and could easily connect with other families, access resources and services, and follow a more predictable path. The logistics of being an expatriate family meant that our daughter’s hearing loss went undiagnosed for longer than it might have otherwise. I still feel bad about this, but I also feel good knowing that our gut instincts were correct and we’re now on the right track.
We don’t know why our daughter lost her hearing. She was a premature twin with low birth weight, which could be a contributing factor – but really, we’ll never know.
The main thing for us now is to protect and maximize the hearing she does have and provide as much support as we can in the journey ahead. She has already selected the color of her new hearing aids (“champagne”) and can’t wait to show us how responsible she is.
If anyone can do it, she can.
As an expat mom do you feel that there are health issues with your kids that might have been avoided or that you could have dealt with better back home?
This is an original post by World Mom Shaula Bellour in Jakarta, Indonesia
The image used in this post is credited to Jaya Ramchandani. It holds a Flickr: Creative Commons attribution license.
A few months ago we celebrated our “Asia-versary”, marking six years since we packed up our life in Portland, Oregon and moved to Dili, East Timor with our twin toddlers.
In some ways, it feels like yesterday. I can easily recall the very vivid sense of taking a giant leap into the world, equally nervous and excited. But it also feels like a lifetime ago.
After spending nearly two years in East Timor, followed by four years in Indonesia, we now feel like reasonably experienced riders of the expat rollercoaster. When new arrivals ask how long we’ve lived in Jakarta (and that we will likely be here for another four), they react with wide eyes…“Oh, wow!” This long-term status is unusual but I don’t really mind.
Our diaper-clad toddlers are now full-blown big kids who do not remember our pre-Asia life. Recently my daughter said, “I think we’ve lived in Jakarta for long enough now. Can we please move to Africa?” “Well, no. Not right now, anyway,” I replied – amused that such a move seemed entirely plausible to her, but also a little concerned by the normalcy of transience.
Though I sometimes miss the shiny novelty of being a new expat, I also appreciate our settled life in Jakarta.
Here are six things I have learned about making the most of this unique experience.
Choose the positive
Jakarta is not an easy city to love. The daily challenges of mega-city living – traffic, flooding, pollution and lack of green space – can really wear you down. Though we all have our bad days, choosing to have a positive attitude makes a world of difference. Unexpected traffic jam? Extra time to listen to my favorite podcast. There really is a lot to love here. It is a vibrant, friendly and generally safe city where just about anything is possible (and everything can be delivered). When I focus on the good things, more good things come.
Accept the chaos
In Jakarta, things often do not go to plan and the concept of jam karet (“rubber time”) takes some getting used to. However, learning to let go of being in control of everything and practicing a less-hurried approach to life can be valuable lessons. We love visiting Singapore because it feels like a breath of fresh air. Everything works, everyone follows the rules, you can walk everywhere! But after a few days I am always happy to return home. It turns out I like things a little messier and less predictable. It keeps life interesting.
Living in a different country requires you to step out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. It provides countless opportunities to “say yes” to new experiences that may not have been available before. I have seen friends learn to play an instrument, take up a new sport, climb mountains, get dive certified, learn new languages, undertake distance learning and start small businesses. Last year I ran my first 5K and 10K races and performed with a dance group in front of 600 people. These are things I never would have done in my previous life. I am so glad I said yes.
One of the best parts of expat life is the community of friends. We all rely on each other and the bonds often feel familial. Close friends fill in for far away aunties, uncles and cousins. The downside is that most families will eventually leave and the annual exodus can be particularly tough for those left behind. But as sad as it is to say goodbye, it is also wonderful to know people in so many different places. We have been lucky to re-connect with some of our Dili and Jakarta friends during our summer travels, making the world feel both smaller and bigger. I love that paths do cross again.
I sometimes worry that our kids are missing out on a lot by not growing up in our home countries. The fact that they don’t remember our life before we moved to East Timor makes it even more important to stay connected to “home”, which is sometimes an abstract concept for them. Although home is where we live, home is also the US and UK – where we are from and where our families live. Fortunately we are able to visit every summer and have grandparents that can travel to see us in Jakarta. Prioritizing these special relationships helps us to feel rooted and connected.
After living in the same place for a while, it is easy to get caught up in the daily routine and forget to notice the little things that make the experience unique.
The magic might fade but it is still important to keep learning and exploring. For me this can simply mean looking out the car window (instead of at my phone) or walking the nearby alleyways on my lunch break to appreciate glimpses of local life. I try to keep learning and using Bahasa Indonesia. I also keep lists of new things to do and places to go. Though we have plenty of time to tackle these activities, I am also aware that expat life can be precarious and is never guaranteed. I don’t want to take it for granted for a second.
This is an original post by World Mom Shaula Bellour in Indonesia
As a British-American family living in Indonesia, we seem to speak a special sort of English in our house. Although our kids attend the British school, their classmates are from all over the world and the accents they hear are typically mixed. While my daughter generally sounds American, my son tends to favor British vocabulary – he enjoys maths, plays football (never soccer) and cheerfully reports that his day was “brilliant.”
To an American ear, my own accent has a British sound, while to a Brit, my British husband sounds subtly American. We joke that our accents have merged over time, which is further reinforced by living outside of our home countries for many years.
In our family we use British and American terms interchangeably – we have torches and flashlights, throw away rubbish and trash, wear pants and trousers, and occasionally enjoy sweets and candy. Our kids have recently started to recognize and understand some of the differences. The other day my son informed me that I was pronouncing “vitamin” wrong. I explained that I say it differently and my daughter quickly jumped in with her support: “It’s okay Mommy, I say it that way, too!” Tomayto, tomahto…anything goes in our house.
In a few weeks we will be heading back to the US for summer break. While our friends and family are generally charmed by the kids’ way of speaking (“so cute!”), my own hybrid accent mostly confuses people. I once had a job interview after moving back to the US from abroad and the CEO took me aside afterward to excitedly ask where I was from. “I’m from Seattle originally,” I responded. “No, where are you really from?” he continued. “Uh…Seattle?” Clearly not the exotic hometown he expected.
Although it shouldn’t bother me, sometimes it does.
When I first studied in the UK many years ago I was very self-conscious about my American accent. The young people I worked with would often imitate me and I was continually aware of standing out whenever I opened my mouth. Now, with my mixed pronunciation, I blend in more easily and comfortably slip into colloquial Brit-speak whenever I visit. I still sound different but I don’t mind.
Yet for some reason, it does bother me to be labeled as different in the place I am from. Partly I think it’s the perception of being “other” that gets to me. Living in Indonesia, I am used to feeling this way. But when I return to my hometown, I want to be able to fit right back in – even if it’s been years (well…decades) since I’ve lived there.
Despite my pre-vacation efforts to Americanize my accent, I can still hear the well-enunciated sounds tumbling out of my mouth and the British-style intonation. I try to re-train myself to soften my Ts, pronounce my Rs and say “really” instead of “quite”. Yet as much as I try to flick the American switch in my brain, I know I won’t always get it right. I’m bound to ask where the “toilet” is instead of the restroom and I might accidentally order in Indonesian, just to further confuse things.
I sound different because I am different. Perhaps it’s time to embrace it.
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by our American-mom-of-twins writer, Shaula Bellour, currently residing in Indonesia.
The image used in this post is credited to Jeremy Keith. It holds a Flickr: Creative Commons attribution license.
Last Sunday I ran my first 5K race. I still can’t believe that I actually did it – and in the tropical heat, no less. Although I have vaguely considered it a worthy goal, running an actual race wasn’t on my radar even two months ago.
It turns out that 2015 is the year of living dangerously…out of my comfort zone.
My kids often talk about being “risk-takers”. It is one of the ten traits included in the school Learner Profile and students are encouraged to be inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective. While these traits are all deemed equally important, being a risk-taker is a concept that seems to be especially resonant outside of school too: “I am a risk-taker: I am willing to make mistakes. I am confident and have the courage to try new things.”
For my generally confident (and fruit-averse) daughter, this might mean: “Look Mommy, I’m a risk-taker, I’m eating a mango!” My son takes a more reflective approach – acknowledging when he feels nervous about doing something and emboldening himself with his risk-taker status to eventually take the plunge. Though risk-taking will probably have a different connotation when they are older, I embrace what it means for them now – trying new things and not being afraid to make mistakes.
It’s an important lesson for grown ups, too.
In January, after three years of living in Jakarta, I was starting to feel like my daily life was becoming somewhat routine. Gym, work, grocery store, repeat. To change things up, I found myself saying YES to things that I might not usually consider.
When a friend asked if I wanted to join their early morning running group, I said YES. I knew that the group would likely be too advanced for me but figured that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I asked myself. I would walk, that’s it. I did walk some at first, but I set my own goals and improved each week. Now we’re training for a 10K.
When another friend asked if I would like to be part of their dance group for an upcoming fashion show event, I said yes to that too. Other friends and even my husband were surprised. Performing a dance routine in front of a huge crowd is WAY beyond my comfort zone, but again I thought: “Why not?” In this case I try not to think about the worst that could happen (falling off the stage comes to mind) but I’m proud of myself for doing it and am actually looking forward to the big night.
I’ve continued with the YES theme in other areas of my life and have already seen positive changes: improved health, new friendships, new possibilities. I’ve realized that pushing my boundaries in this way is also about adjusting my own perceptions of myself. “Oh, but I’m not a runner,” I would repeatedly explain, trying to somehow qualify my actions.
Well now I am a runner. And a dancer. Among many other things.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Our kids may not recognize some of the bigger risk-taking decisions we’ve made (like moving our lives halfway around the world), but it’s often the smaller actions that resonate the most.
It feels good for them to see that I can be a risk-taker too – I can be afraid sometimes and I can also be brave, just like they are.
When I walked in the door after the race, finisher’s medal around my neck, both kids jumped up from the couch with wide eyes. “Mommy!” my daughter exclaimed, “I didn’t know you would win the race!”
Not exactly…but YES! In my own way, I did.
What risks are you putting out there for yourself this year? How are you embracing these challenges?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by our mom of twins in Jakarta, Indonesia, Shaula Bellour.
The image used in this post is attributed to the author.
This month marks our third anniversary of living in Jakarta. Considering how empty our house was when we first arrived here, I am staggered at how much stuff we have acquired in that short time.
We initially started out with garden chairs as living room furniture and took our time furnishing our new space. Though the house isn’t exactly cluttered, it feels full – and I feel daunted by the sheer volume of STUFF that seems to fill every closet and drawer.
It’s the never-ending tide of cheap party favors, orphaned toy and game parts, and plastic galore. It’s the piles of paper: children’s artwork, old receipts, and unfinished magazines. It’s all the things I never use or wear, the boxed objects I might use one day and the stock of (US-bought) items I think I can’t live without.
Moving from the US to East Timor 5 years ago was a great opportunity to clear things out and scale back. Although I did feel a little sad watching an expectant dad cart away our twins’ disassembled cribs the night before we moved, it felt good to sort through our accumulated belongings and assign categories: donate, sell, ship or store.
Donating unwanted items was easy. I arranged for a pick up with a local charity group, stacked everything on my porch and it was all magically whisked away. We sold our car and other big items, sent friends home with plants and other housewares and shipped our edited possessions to Dili.
Everything else went into our storage unit. A few years later I visited it for the first time and was amazed by what we’d deemed worth keeping at the time. I randomly peeked in a few boxes and found…sweaters. Lots of sweaters. What was I thinking? It was winter at the time and we didn’t know how long we’d be away, but still.
We also stored our furniture, though we recently realized that the cost of storing it for the last five years has probably exceeded its value. While visiting the US, my husband spent a day digging out furniture and giving it all away – couches, tables, lamps, washer/dryer…everything. I was thousands of miles away at the time but it felt fantastic.
Leaving East Timor prompted a similar purge. And yet here I am again, feeling the urgent need to reduce and simplify.
Here in Jakarta, this process isn’t as straightforward. While it’s fair to say that nothing will ever go unused, getting rid of unwanted items isn’t as simple as piling them on the porch. I frequently give outgrown kids’ clothes and shoes to friends or neighbors, donate household items to women’s association charity shops, or leave things out to be upcycled by our handcart-pulling bin man.
Last month my children got involved and we went through their toys, books and clothes and filled 10 bags with donations for a local orphanage. Though it was good for them to be part of this process, I would also really like for them to see where their donations are going and consider giving back in other ways (time, money, materials etc.).
Although I will never be a minimalist (or a light packer…), I’m committed to scaling back and am hopeful that this is a first step toward living with less.
A quick internet search reveals hundreds of creative ways to de-clutter, organize and simplify our homes – and ultimately our lives. We are told that having too much stuff is draining and overwhelming us, that we are wasting too much time and money managing our things and that getting rid of all this stuff can make our lives richer and happier.
All of this may be true, but for me the bigger question is about how to acquire less stuff in the first place.
Clearly I don’t have the answer yet, but it’s definitely something I would like to explore and practice – starting now.
Please share your strategies and tips to get me started!
How do you minimize/manage the “stuff” in your house and life? Do you have any tips for living with less?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Shaula Bellour.
From the window, I can hear high-pitched giggles and the sound of wellington boots on garden path gravel.
My daughter is next door with her new neighbor friend, pretending that the garden shed is an animal rescue center and the backyard chickens are actually wild monkeys. My son is bouncing on a trampoline with the friend’s big sister and I can see their carefree bodies flying above the wheat fields, in the shadow of the village church.
It’s past their usual school-night bedtime, but the sun is still high and we’ve stopped keeping track of these things anyway. Evidence of the day’s activities is scattered on the grass: badminton birdies, a rainbow of half-finished loom band bracelets, a decorated cardboard lean-to and sticky signs of an earlier snail race.
Both kids return with dirty feet and ice cream on their faces and I’m pretty sure they forgot to wash their hands after petting the donkey across the road. But it’s okay. It’s the summer holidays in rural England and it feels like the stuff childhood is made of. The only catch is that it’s not where we live…
Life is a series of trade-offs.
Back in Jakarta, we’re on our way to school and my children want to know why we don’t live in England. “Well…because we live here”, I respond simply, feeling a sharp pang of guilt. I go on to explain that day-to-day life in England would probably be different than the idyllic summer version. For example, instead of playing all day, they would have to go to school and soon the long sunny days would turn cold and wet. “That’s okay!” they chirp, happily unconvinced.
Luckily the conversation shifts and together we watch the city float past our car window. The daily mosaic of life here is colorful, chaotic and always fascinating. We read shop signs, point out our favorite kaki lima food carts and compete to find the most interesting motorcycle cargo…from pallets of baby chicks to enormous balloon bundles.
We talk about their new school classes and where all the children are from, realizing that there are nearly as many nationalities as students. We think about where we might like to travel for their half-term break and marvel at how lucky we are to be so close to so many amazing destinations.
Life is a series of trade-offs.
Sometimes, I feel sad about the fact that our children are growing up so far away from their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. But then I am also reminded that since our family is both British and American, we will always be far from someone we love regardless of where we live. We do the best we can to stay connected and are grateful for the precious time we get to spend together.
Occasionally, I see photos of my friends’ frolicking children and feel a twinge of regret that my own kids are missing out on the places and experiences I enjoyed as a child growing up in the US.
But then I examine my own assumptions…does their childhood need to resemble my own for it to be good? Of course not. My children may not learn to ski anytime soon, but they are seeing and doing so much more than I ever dreamed of at their age.
Life is a series of trade-offs.
I tell myself that we are lucky to enjoy the best of both worlds. But in reality, we can’t have it both ways.
This is the path we’ve chosen and there are limitations as well as benefits. Accepting these trade-offs brings a certain kind of relief and shifts the focus — emphasizing what we have instead of what we’re missing.
It’s a process, but I’m getting there.
How do you and your family balance life’s trade-offs?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Shaula Bellour.
Photo Credit: ClairOverThere. This image holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.