Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Reflection on "Normal"

Sometimes I forget that I’m living abroad. I don’t mean that I think I am still living in America, I just mean that it doesn’t feel like there is anything “different” about our lives anymore. So many of the things that were once strange and new have become so natural that I forget that there was a time I had to get used to it. I have grown accustomed to handing my credit card to the cashier with two hands, taking taxis everywhere, knowing that I will have to order in a restaurant using pointing and hand signals; it is all just my life now. It is funny how you adjust.

I was thinking how interesting it will be for our girls growing up with this life as “normal”. Calling grandparents means using the computer and a calculator to calculate the time difference, a break from school is usually equated with needing a passport, and a really special dinner means TGI Fridays. I suppose it is true from every generation to the next, but our girls are going to have a very different childhood than what I had.

Just before we let out for Christmas, I asked my freshmen what they were doing for Christmas. As they each went around saying what they were doing and where they were going, I reflected on how different life is for expats. Everyone going “home” or to a warmer place for a few weeks is expected, someone staying in the country is the exception. One student explained that he was going to Cambodia. He couldn’t remember which city but knew it wasn’t the big city. Another student chimed in, “Phnom Penh?”  The class erupted in insults saying, “Phnom Penh is the big city, duh!”

These kids are freshmen in high school and not only do they know the capital of Cambodia but many of them have been there and can tell you the currency and the exchange rate against the US dollar and the Euro. Crazy. I’m pretty sure I didn’t find out that Cambodia existed until I was at least a junior. I don’t think I could have pointed it out on a map until I moved to Taiwan. But, at the same time, there are so many things that are “normal” to my childhood that are totally foreign to expat kids. Most of them never went to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap, they have never driven around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights, and many of them have never known what a real Christmas tree in your living room smells like.  

No matter where I live, I will always have a strong tie to American culture and traditions. Even though I may experience reverse culture shock every summer as I ogle grocery store aisles, the US will always be my home culture. It will forever be the measure against which I compare everything I experience. So, I often wonder, what will my girls use? What will their measure be? I think being abroad helps them to be adaptable, accepting, and gives them a knowledge of their world; but does it also rob them of a sense of consistency? Is there any way that they can know the capital of Sri Lanka but still have fun building forts with their Stateside cousins?  In short, I guess I really just want what every parent wants anywhere in the world. I don’t want my kids to be weirdos. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Am I doing this right?

So first off, let me apologize profusely for my two month blogging hiatus. I fully intended to write a blog every couple of weeks or, at the very least, once a month. Yet, here I find myself nearly eight weeks from the last post. If there is anyone left reading this blog, I apologize and promise to do better.

One of the excuses that I am going to give you about why I have taken such a long break is that the Simpson clan has been quite under the weather for the last week. Being sick sucks. There, I said it. There is nothing fun about it. Historically, I haven’t been one to get sick too often but when I do, I am reminded of how much I adore my immune system and can’t wait for it to do its thing and get me back to normal. You know what is worse than you being sick? Your kid being sick. When I’m sick, I know what hurts and how much it hurts. I can take a stab at what is wrong and what I need to do about it. A little girl just under two can’t tell you that. And so there is not a lot I can do about it. This is where our story begins.

The great thing about living on campus with all of the teachers and their families is that we get to see each other all the time and our kids have plenty of playmates. Unfortunately, however, this also means that when one kid gets sick, they all get sick. So, our two girls with a cough that sounded woefully similar to their friends’, we took them to the doctor and received the diagnosis we were expecting: bronchitis. Ten days of antibiotics it was. Not surprised, we headed home ready to serve our time on the medicine spoon chain-gang. The hospital had other plans, however.

The giving of the medicine turned out to be a more difficult task than I had anticipated. Lily must have been poisoned in a former life because she did everything in her 10 kg. power she could possibly do to not swallow the medicine we offered. If you have ever tried to get a toddler to do something they don’t want to do, you have some sort of idea how much her tiny little self writhed and squirmed so that the two tiny drops that did actually enter her mouth could easily be spat out. There has to be an easier way, I thought. There is no way I’m doing this right.

Poor Lucy really tried to cooperate with the medicine. For her, it was her stomach that refused it and promptly ejected it so as to not allow any of the antibiotic properties to do their job in her system. So then, what do I do? I’m her mother; I’m supposed to take care of her and make her better. Do I force her to take medicine that will most likely make her throw up and cause her to lose the day’s nutrients along with the medicine? Or, do I stop halfway through an antibiotic to let her keep lunch down for once but cause her (and her bronchitis) to build up an immunity to the antibiotic? Both decisions felt like the wrong one. Sitting in the ER at midnight one night confirmed that there is no way I was doing this right.

Lucy was still throwing up. I wasn’t doing this right. Lily was still coughing. I wasn’t doing this right. That is why having your kid sick is a million times worse than you being sick. More than anything in the world I wanted them to get better but there just isn’t a switch to flip or a button to push. Seeing my distress, other parents comforted me, “Don’t worry, they will get better.” Nonetheless, every time the clock struck “medicine time”, it seemed like the world was going to end.

But, it didn’t. My friends were right. The girls did get better. Though we are still making our way through the post-antibiotic haze, I am able to take a step back and get a little perspective. How blessed am I that the only illness I have had to deal with in their two years is a little bronchitis? And how amazing to live in a place that has antibiotic and IV hydration drips readily at my disposal. I really have very little to complain about. As far as the medicine administering, I still don’t know if I was doing it right or if I made the right decisions. I do know that I love them more than they will understand until they get to know the agony and the ecstasy of motherhood. All I can do is hope that I only give them enough dysfunction to have funny stories at dinner parties. Wish me luck!