Sunday, December 18, 2011

TCKs and Grief

I'm not a full-time Twitter-er ... I read more than I tweet.  Usually I'll "re-tweet" things I see that are interesting or funny.  I follow a lot of different Twitterers (what the heck do you call people who use Twitter?  Twits?) and a lot of TCK-related Twits, in particular one called "FIGT" or "Families in Global Transition".  This group provides resources for missionaries serving all over the world.  Remember how I said being the parent of a TCK didn't come with a manual?  Today the internet is filled with "manuals".  This particular tweet had a link to a talk given by David C. Pollock, a co-author of the book "Third Culture Kids".  He talks about how TCKs experience their own particular brand of grief.  In light of my previous post about "recovering", I thought it apropos to share his words here.

Part 1

Part 2

On a related note, here's a good article for parents about how to help your TCK deal with grief.

Of course, grief isn't fun.  It's not something we love to experience.  But it is a reality.  Sometimes we're told to "suck it up" and shake it off, stop feeling sorry for yourself.  We're not allowed to fully express our grief.  I remember once right after my sister died, my dad and I were sitting together in the house.  I was trying really hard to hold back my tears.  I thought that my crying would upset my parents all the more, and I didn't want to do that.  My dad noticed my efforts, and he put his arm around me and said it was okay.  That it was okay for me to cry.  So I did.  I had permission.

Living the TCK life, my parents didn't understand my grief.  How can you be sad?  We're in Singapore!  We're in London!  Look how lucky you are!  But they were looking at our life situation from the perspective of a fully formed adult, who has the foundation of their selves fully in place .  From my perspective, I was still under construction.  It was like someone was stacking coins on top of each other.  One quarter on top of the other, evenly spaced.  With every move or loss, someone came along and flicked one of the coins out of center, but the stack continued to grow.  After that, of course, the stack was unsteady, apt to crumble at any minute.  I hadn't lived long enough to have a stable base from which to appreciate the things and places I was seeing.  Grieving for a dead sibling is okay.  But the grief for my lost friends, my lost homes, was not okay or understandable.

Part of the recovery is giving yourself permission to grieve.  When someone asks me, "Was it hard being a TCK?" I respond, yes and no.  As an adult I now appreciate the rich experiences I had, the places I saw.  But when I was in the thick of it, it was very very hard.  There was a lot of sadness.  But now I have permission to grieve, and that helps me recover.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tebow Was Here? Superstar Still Unknown In Philippines City Of His Birth

Tebow Was Here? Superstar Still Unknown In Philippines City Of His Birth


Synonyms for the word "recovering":

 Recover, reclaim, retrieve: to regain literally or figuratively something or someone. To recover is to obtain again what one has lost possession of: to recover a stolen jewel.  To reclaim is to bring back from error or wrongdoing, or from a rude or undeveloped state: to reclaim desert land by irrigation.  To retrieve is to bring back or restore, especially something to its former, prosperous state: to retrieve one's fortune. Heal, mend, recuperate; rally. 

Recently a fellow TCK blogger wrote an article questioning the validity of the word "recovering" in terms of being a Third Culture Kid.  Of course I was offended at first, seeing as my little piece of the information superhighway is actually named "Recovering Third Culture Kid."  When I was scratching my head trying to come up with a catchy name for the blog, it just popped into my head.  I didn't give it a lot of thought. The fact is, I am a recovering Third Culture Kid!  If we break the definition down into its parts, I can illustrate this pretty easily.

Recover: To obtain again what one has lost possession of.  I guess you could ask: how can you recover that which you never had?  In other words, if I was never "not" a TCK, how can I return to "not" being a TCK?  I guess in this sense, I am reclaiming my identity.  Something which I know I had as a child at one point!  The identity that I was forced on so many occasions to reshape and redefine.  Yes, I was the same person at each new posting, but I was forced to make myself fit into a new set of rules that were required to fit in.  Where I fit in with one form of myself "here", I had to remold myself to fit in "there".  And not necessarily between foreign postings.  Even coming back to the states, I had to learn what to say and what not to say.  We TCK's talk a lot about being perceived as arrogant, talking about our big houses, our maids and our drivers.  So we just don't talk about them.  The parts of our lives overseas that we took for granted don't apply in the states! We have to craft our conversations carefully, to pick and choose the things that will make us find common ground with those we are trying to befriend.  And we don't do it consciously, we do it on some level, knowing what will and won't work.  As an adult, I realize how much I did it, how difficult it was, and how many times I failed miserably.  It of course becomes easier as an adult, because you finally realize that so many things just don't matter!  So what if you don't get into that clique!  Did you really want to be part of them anyway?  Most likely not. 

Reclaim:  To bring back from error or wrongdoing, or from a rude or undeveloped state.  For many years I blamed my parents for all of my TCK-related shortcomings.  I was shy, I was awkward, I never fit in.  "If only I had grown up in one place, I wouldn't be like this!"  Earlier this year, I wrote a blog entry about seeing a picture of my 12-year-old self in a yearbook.  We were living in Brussels. I  remember my self from that time: I had no inhibitions, I had lots of girlfriends, I was outgoing, a leader.  After sixth grade we moved back to the states, and that "me" was lost forever.  That was the birth of my shy and insecure self.  Of course, you can point at lots of things other than moving back to the states that made me that way: my sister died shortly after that, and my family went into a downward spiral.  But even before my sister's accident, there were changes.  I remember going to the new school in Louisiana and feeling completely bereft.  I broke down in the cafeteria one day (the dreaded "where do I sit at lunch") and some girl took pity on me and took me outside.  I remember stamping my foot in frustration, that I was out of control, making a spectacle of myself in front of this stranger.  I was completely awash in a maelstrom of emotions and I couldn't stop them.  I will never forget the "WTF?!?" look on her face.  And the sheer misery in my very soul.  So you can't tell me that the move didn't affect me.  

Many times I hear parents considering a move (even just to another school district) and then I hear them say, "No, I would never do that to my kid."  I don't remember either of my parents asking me how I felt about moving.  It was a directive, an announcement.  We're moving, period.  No discussions about how this would affect us, if we were happy about it or what.  It was just done.  When we moved from Manila to Singapore (in the middle of my senior year in high school) I apparently cried and cried, a lot.  My mom asked me recently, "What were you crying about?"  Really?  You don't KNOW?  I guess it was a generational thing, I don't know.  People back then just didn't coddle their kids like a lot of folks do these days.  They worry about their precious babies' bruised psyches.  I guess in retrospect I'm glad I wasn't coddled.  But it would have been nice to have a little understanding at the time.

My point being ... I don't blame my parents any more.  I accept my life for what it is.  What is the point of dredging up the past?  Mom & Dad did the best they could, looking at the bigger picture.  They thought they were offering us a great opportunity to see the world!  To grow up with a global perspective.  To have broader horizons.  Raising children as TCKs at that time didn't come with a manual.  (It does now!)  Blaming them doesn't change the past.  As my mom says, "Go to Home Depot, buy a ladder and get over it!"  Well, Mom, I'm trying!  

Retrieve:  To bring back or restore to its former, prosperous state. Retrieving a healthy part of myself is in the ultimate recognition of why I do and feel some things, that are a result of my being a TCK.  It is a new awareness of what makes me tick, and being comfortable with this awareness.  Okay, I'm like this because of this, and that's okay.  Today I have personality quirks that are directly related to growing up like I did.  I hate (despise) being "new" and not knowing how to do my job.  I hate being the newbie in the neighborhood.  A good friend of mine once told me that you have to give yourself a full year before you feel "home" in a new place.  On the other hand, I am very sympathetic to others who seem out of place too.  That's a good thing!  I don't feel bad that I find comfort in my solitude.  I don't feel guilty that I don't need the company of others, just to hang out for the sake of hanging out.  I learned to be alone while my parents traveled or while I traveled by myself.  This may be a factor of maturity, after all, when we're grown up, we weed out the things that don't matter. 

And finally, what helps me retrieve my well-being is relating to others who are like me.  The internet, of course, has made it so much easier to talk to and relate to other TCKs, including the friends I made along my way.  It's those relationships that are satisfying to me, because other TCKs GET me.  And I get them.  No blank stares, no eyes glazing over.  We are the same.  We've finally found the clique that is worth belonging to.  Because of this, we are all restored to our former, prosperous selves. By reaching out and connecting with each other, we are recovering.  

Filipino Christmas

Great article in this month's "Mabuhay" magazine, Philippine Airlines' award-winning travel and lifestyle magazine.  This blog is beginning to sound more like "Recovering Third Culture Kid Whose Favorite Country to Live In was the Philippines".  

Monday, December 12, 2011

Continental Drift

I wish I had the literary chops that Sarah Stoner has ... she writes about herself, about "us" TCKs, in a fluid, wispy way that paints a picture of our enigmatic selves ... Marco Polo Arts Magazine

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Displaced Christmas

Same lyrics, different melodies: Coping with an expat Christmas

Read this interesting blog about not being "home" (wherever that is) for Christmas.  I found it a little cynical .. although I understand.  Everyone who celebrates Christmas seems to have their own idea of a "genuine" Christmas, i.e. what it should be, what it means, what accouterments should come with it.  (I think it's called "tradition" haha).  Maybe it's based on that one perfect Christmas from childhood where everything came together in a symphony of smells, tastes, sensations, and thrills.  For me it was the magic of going to bed with a few paltry gifts under the tree, only to wake up to find the living room practically strewn wall to wall with silvery wrapped presents.  See, there really IS a Santa Claus!  Even if his handwriting was eerily similar to my father's, I chose to believe.  My mom's initials are S.C., so even if the cards were signed from "S.C.," I ignored the irony and chose to believe they stood for "Santa Claus".  Even though I loathed going to midnight mass at church, and sat sleepily through the service, yawning as if my jaw would come apart, that memory goes down with the whole Christmas package (pun intended).

My ideal Christmas is located in New England (think Currier & Ives) with snow on the ground, getting a sled and a breathtaking Scarlet O'Hara doll from Santa.  My mom was in a choir that year that performed in gold paper dresses (don't ask me how they pulled THAT off) doing great hits from Andy Williams and Herb Alpert.  One of my favorite Christmas songs is the great chart-buster "The Bell That Couldn't Jingle" and I love it because of its obscurity.  Another favorite was Alan Sherman's "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (not the usual one!)  (All these songs traveled with us on my dad's reel-to-reel tape deck).  I think of my parents dressing up, dad in his red sweater and Santa tie, drinking a cup of tea while waiting for mom to come out, in a great whiff of Chanel No. 5, her ears sparkling with gold earrings and her wrists tinkling with bangle bracelets.

So how are we to live up to that New England standard, living overseas?  New traditions crept into the family lore.  In Japan of the early 1960's it was hard to get Christmas wrapping, so the cry on Christmas morning was "SAVE THE BOWS!" Gifts were unwrapped carefully and the paper was carefully folded into squares, saved for next year.  I was in a performance at school, dressed in a hula skirt, and we danced to "Christmas Island".  We used to go to some enormous banquet Christmas Eve, which was really more like New Years' Eve, with noise makers and music that went on into the wee hours of the night.  That was the Japanese equivalent of midnight mass for me.  I was so worried about getting home in time for Santa to come!

Brussels came in a close second for "Ideal Christmas".  We made weekend trips to Germany (the REAL home of Christmas!) and stocked up on ornaments and decorations from there.  Mom still re-uses tags from those days, with glitter and pictures of old Europe on them.  There was snow on the ground, and we went to the dreaded midnight mass at a British Anglican church.  So the agony became a little more bearable because it was done with an English accent.  Very little.

Then came our move to the Philippines.  The first obstacle, other than the weather, was finding an acceptable Christmas tree.  We brought in a pathetic looking tree that may or may not have been in the pine family.  Mom, against all odds, actually decorated it and made it look quite presentable (again, pun intended!)  It wasn't the New England Christmas tree, but it, like Charlie Brown's tree, became part of our family history.  Midnight Mass in Manila involved sweating and fanning, but I still yawned and loathed it.  Check.  One year it involved a typhoon.  Okay, liquid snow; close enough.  I'm pretty sure we had turkey too.  Served by our maids in their Christmas aprons.  Now there's a tradition that I'd like to bring back.  These days, when we're all stuffed to the gills and the dirty dishes and cooking detritus spreads out towards the horizon, mom and I lean back and yell, "PACITA!" as if she would come running in her slippers and clean it all up.

All in all, we made do wherever we were, appreciating the unusual customs, incorporating the culture of where we were into making new traditions.  We never wished we were back in the states, because, while that was "home" to most Americans, wherever we were was "home".  And that was okay with me.