Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘expat

Wordless Wednesday 08 Apr 15

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April 9, 2015 at 12:41 am

Wordless Wednesday 03 Dec 14

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Recoleta SM

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 3, 2014 at 3:36 pm

U is for Untruth

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I have two very different children. I mean that in the sense that they are different to each other, but also that they are, or can be, different. Atypical. Not the norm, whatever that is. And just to keep me a even higher on my toes (toe-walking!), sometimes they behave very typically, and that confuses me the most of all.

Lately in our house, we have been dealing with a lot of untruths. Cubby is a gifted story-teller, and has been from an early age. I sometimes question whether he can tell the difference between fact and fiction, so immersed is he in his alternate reality. He’ll even assure us that he is not lying as he states things that aren’t true…such as his assertion one evening this week that his school is teaching him to speak Norwegian.

Back when we were in the U.S. a couple of months ago, a lady at the park started speaking to me in Spanish, and after a couple of sentences revealed that I am not exactly a native speaker, she told me that Cubby had informed her that we came from Mexico (he has never been there) and he spoke English because his nanny (we’ve never had one) is from Australia (again, never been there).

I’m puzzled by all of this, because our real backstory is just as interesting as this one he chose to create. I struggled to find a purpose for him telling a complete stranger this misinformation. A friend suggested that it is just more interesting to him, and our reality, even one that spans the world, is mundane to him. He has been there, done that, and other locations are new to him, and therefore intrinsically more exciting.

Pudding is different. I used to believe the myth that autistic children don’t tell lies, but Pudding has disabused me of that, and many other ‘facts’ about autism over the years. She just doesn’t lie on the same scale as her brother. Her more recent untruths have been more pragmatic in nature. They have a function that is very clear to me. Unlike her brother, I understand why she lies. Often it is for the same mundane reasons of most children: she wants to avoid getting into trouble for something she knows she wasn’t supposed to do, or she wants to get something she wants.

But while easier to understand, and certainly easier to deal with than Cubby’s untruths, Pudding’s simple lies are the ones that scare me the most.

As you may know, Pudding has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. We’ve known this since she was a baby, and her whole life we’ve taught her that she must always avoid these items, as well as many other foods that look safe, but may contain items that are very dangerous to her. She has been able to say from the age of three that she is allergic, and will sometimes volunteer this information about herself to others.

While she carries an epi-pen, and her school cafeteria doesn’t offer nuts, and her classroom is “nut-free” for snacks, we still rely on her to keep herself safe. An incredibly challenging thing for any young child, but more so in the case of one with the additional mix of autism and ADHD.

Imagine then, how scared I was at this story her aide recounted to me last week. It was snack time, and one of the other girls had cookies. A most covetable item at the best of times, but when compared to the healthy choices I’d sent with Pudding (carrots and cucumber sticks with rice cakes), the temptation had been too much.

Noticing Pudding’s gaze, the girl wanted to share. But what is more, before she did, she actually asked Pudding if she had any allergies.

And Pudding said no.

A lie that could, quite literally, kill her.

In this instance, there were no dire consequences. Her wonderful aide was right there, and intervened immediately. There were no nuts in the cookies (thank you, parents who obey nut-free rules), and we know to continue to reiterate the dangers of taking food we don’t know to be safe.

It is messy, this parenting thing. Allowing our kids to be themselves, develop naturally, and yet keep them safe is the hardest thing to do. And that, my friends, is no lie.

This post is part of my A-Z series. You can read the rest by clicking >here<.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 5, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Blocked

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I haven’t blogged since Pudding’s birthday, more than a month ago.  It isn’t for want of things happening.  We’ve been having adventures galore that I need to catch you up on, from meeting penguins in Cape Town, to exploring Scotland.  Pudding has been making strides; learning how to brush her teeth by herself, and battling every kind of hand dryer in both the northern and southern hemispheres until she no longer fears them.  Oh, and I shook the hands of two more presidents.  Such a lot going on all at once.  I need to write about that.

Pudding is writing more than me these days.  From sending her grandparents her first ever email, to wandering around different countries with a pen and paper in her hand, she is writing all the time.

I find it interesting what she chooses to write.  Sometimes she is simply documenting her life around her; she’ll write the names of her school friends, or what she has done that day.  At other times, her writing is emphatic.  Frustrated that her spoken word isn’t being heeded, she’ll write out what she needs us to do.  This morning she was adamant that she shouldn’t be sent to school.  I know how she feels- I’d enjoyed our extended break too.

And now we are back, back in our routine.  Except not really, because it is hard to get back into a routine when you only have 6 months left in a place and you don’t know where you’ll be living after that.

I mean, I got stuck on the fact that I don’t need to buy the kids any more toothpaste, because we’ll leave here before it runs out.  We have more toothpaste than time left here, and nothing in place for after that.  No international school persuaded that inclusion is in fact, the way forward.  The only way, in my opinion.  No team of therapists in place for two kids who need extra support.  

Stuck.  Blocked.  I know how my kid feels.  I tend not to write about the frustrations of our globally mobile lifestyle.  I try not to bite the hand that feeds our family.  But not having an onward assignment at this point is devastating to a family in our situation.  It takes time and effort to set up for our kids’ educational and therapeutic needs, wherever we end up next.  

Still, we’ve proven we can do this, and we’re ready for another try.  Pudding keeps mentioning going to Brazil, so maybe she knows something we don’t.  I’m frustrated, angry, and all out of patience with things far beyond my control, but we’ll get through this like every other challenge we’ve faced: squeezing out one more day at a time.  

Yes, I feel better for writing that out.  That girl of mine really knows how to handle this stuff.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 6, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Ten Things About Johannesburg

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Johannesburg Skyline

Johannesburg Skyline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband likens Johannesburg to Angelina Jolie.  She is glamorous, wild, and a tiny bit dangerous.  Oh, and if I had Angelina’s income, I’d also be adopting a bunch of orphans here too.  Life in the ‘World Class African City’ is an experience in extremes.  You might love it or hate it here, but you’ll never be bored.

Ten Best Things

1. The Weather.  I may not ever again live in a more perfect climate.  The summer was hot, but not too humid- such a pleasant escape after a DC tour.  We’re in winter now, but only a couple of days has it dipped below freezing.  Oh, and the sun shines every day, restoring vitamin D levels after a rainy three years in Luxembourg.  What’s not to love about that?

2. Community.  From cups of tea and a chat, to getting together for book club and talking about everything but the book- we have felt incredibly welcome here, quirks and all.  Perhaps because it is my first time at a Consulate rather than an Embassy, or perhaps I’d just had an isolating few years, I’m especially grateful for the warm and inclusive support here that comes straight from the top.

3. Children’s Activities.  I don’t know that there is anywhere in the world that is Johannesburg’s equal when it comes to family-friendly things to do.  Just about anything that interests your child is available here, from cutting-edge art spaces, to polo.  The best part for us was finding a swim instructorwho was experienced with special needs children.

4. Dining Out.  It is very affordable to eat out as compared to a domestic tour, and just about every dietary requirement is catered to here.  But the best thing for us is having decent restaurants which not only welcome children, but often have supervised play areas too.  You could still hang out at McDonalds, but there is no reason to do so here.

5. Language.  Okay, so there are eleven official languages, and the people here rightly take pride in that linguistic heritage.  But the official language is English, and almost everybody you encounter speaks it fluently.  Much as I am a language nerd myself, I wouldn’t much fancy trying to find therapists and schools that can support my kids’ special needs in any language other than English right now.  After almost a year, I even like the accent now- which is just as well because Cubby is picking it up a little more every day.

6. Woolworths.  Woolworths is not the same as the former Woolworths of England or the US, but part of the Marks and Spencer family.  To know Woolworths is to love it.  To know their Chocolate Millionaire Brownies is to develop an addiction that makes your clothes stop fitting.  Everything you’ll ever need in one store, and it is still cheaper than grocery shopping in the US.  It will give us Hot Cross Buns at Easter, and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.  Pudding appreciates it as a regular supplier of Hello Kitty products, from clothes to nut-free advent calenders.

7. Tea and Coffee.  I like my tea, and used to have my parents bring huge quantities to wherever I lived, but no need here.  Five Roses tea is wonderful.  Rooibos tea is a refreshing delight.  I can go out to any cafe or restaurant and the quality is equal to what I would drink at home.  Living in the US I developed a certain fondness for Starbucks, so was dismayed to find that it hasn’t made its way over here yet.  Imagine my delight to find several quality alternatives here, from Mugg & Bean to Vida e Caffe.  And they make babyccinos for the kids.

8. Comforts.  I’ve been known to enjoy the finer things in life, and the same can be said of the good people of South Africa.  For instance, it was a little chilly in Sunday morning, so we popped into a coffee shop where I could sip a Lindt hot chocolate while wrapped snugly in the cosy throw provided on the oversized leather chairs.  Bliss.  Did I also mention that South Africa is wine country?  If you like a glass, trust me, you’ll enjoy it here.

9. Wildlife.  Can you believe we haven’t gone on safari yet?  We want the kids settled, and a tiny bit older to fully appreciate it.  But we have been to game parks and wildlife reserves that have taken our breath away.  It is incredible to see such creatures as giraffes and lions up close.  We actually stayed at a crocodile reserve (though alarmingly, it sold crocodile skin handbags).  One of the highlights of my life so far was feeding a family of elephants, and I know we haven’t even really begun our animal adventures here.

10. Scenery.  You don’t always hear about South Africa being a beautiful country, but that just makes it even more incredible to discover.  The Drakensberg mountains are incredible, and I can’t wait to add trips to Cape Town and Durban.  I don’t think we’ll come even close to exploring everything we want to, but if we do, there is always Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique to check out, all (relatively) close at hand.

Ten Worst Things

1. Crime.  You might know that Johannesburg is considered the most dangerous city in the world before you get here, but living it is an entirely different experience.  That feeling of security I’ve always known is absent here, and for all the precautions you can take, you can’t change the amount of crime that happens.  There are sections of this city that I’ve never been to, nor will I.  Even in the suburbs I don’t feel safe at night.  A woman is raped here every thirty seconds.  There was an armed robbery right where our children play.  I’ve held a woman who had just been told her son was murdered, and not had the words to comfort her.  Crime is by far the worst thing about Johannesburg.

2. Driving.  I have to drive a lot here, so my experience is probably a little different to those who manage to avoid school run during the rush hour.  You have your usual big city lack of courtesy, together with potholes and traffic lights that don’t work.  I also have a lousy car, so I’m just grateful if I get through the day without being towed.  This is not the place to have an unreliable vehicle (see above).

3. Kombi Buses. Perhaps they should just come under the driving header, but I hate kombi buses so much that they get their own special heading.  From constantly honking, to driving on the wrong side of the road, to pulling out without looking: a day driving amongst these vehicles feels like you’re in the middle of war zone.  Needless to say, we’re not actually allowed to ride in them.

4. Growing Pains.  You’ll sometimes hear South Africans refer to their country’s struggles as ‘growing pains.’  Indeed, the post-Apartheid nation is still young, but still an interesting way to describe such deep inequality and corruption.  Sometimes living history comes at a cost.

5. Racism. Apartheid may have ended in 1994, and South Africa probably has the best constitution in the world, but there is still disproportionate challenges facing the black African population here.  When you go to a restaurant in the northern suburbs, you still tend to find that most of the customers are white, and the serving staff are black.  There is a reason why ethnic tensions still exist here.

6. Inequality.  The flip-side to living amongst these luxuries, is knowing that you are surrounded by people who will never know these creature comforts.  I find it hard living in relative wealth when I see the extreme poverty of those living in settlements or more rural parts of the country.

7. Poaching.  Rhino horn poaching is brutal and tragic, and actually increasing here.  Although the horn is made of the same material as fingernails, rhino horns nets a fortune for poachers selling to the Asian market.  Poaching is so endemic that some wildlife reserves are actually removing the rhino’s horns in an effort to protect them from slaughter.  There are few things that make me sadder than the thought of this beautiful animal becoming extinct because of man’s greed.

8. Window washers.  With official unemployment rates at 25%, and unofficial ones even higher, I can understand people looking for ways to make money.  That said, the people who clean my windscreen at the traffic lights have been unreasonably aggressive.  Driving alone with young children, I feel particularly vulnerable to their hostility.

9. Disability.  This is another world of contrasts in South Africa.  There is a young disabled black African girl who frequently sits at the traffic lights close to our home.  Who knows how many years she has been doing this, but she certainly isn’t getting a decent education.  Often you’ll see (presumably) family members leading their disabled companions through traffic to beg.  It is inconceivable that the famous disabled athlete Oscar Pistorius comes from this same country, but with a radically different experience.  Likewise, my autistic daughter’s education is entirely different to if she was born here in rural poverty.

10. Distance.  South Africa is a large country, but this is a HUGE continent.  At times it feels really far from home, and the internet doesn’t always behave as kindly as it could to the homesick.  This country has a wealth of attractions, but it can’t always compete with a 17 hour flight when you’re looking for visitors.

So there you have it.  Johannesburg is like nowhere else, but for us it feels like home.  I’ll probably never feel easy living here, but at least we’re very comfortable.  This post was inspired by a fellow Foreign Service Blogger’s contribution: Fabling.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Jubilee

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Last week I was talking to another “foreign born spouse” as people like to call us, about how things are different for us.  When we move to a new country, our husbands go to work the next day, and essentially return to America.  They have all the structure, routine, and familiarity immediately in place.  Not so for us, who are immediately trying to find ourselves (again) in a foreign land.  We are the ones getting lost as we drive around trying to find new schools, and so on.

Now, likely all those married into the foreign service are nodding their heads at this point.  But things are different if you’re not US-born.  We get lost in a different way.  When homesickness creeps in, you know that it won’t be long until there is a Thanksgiving, or Independence Day celebration.  You know that when it is time for home leave, you’ll actually go home.

It is over three and a half years since I was in England.  My son has never been to the mother country.  I have nephews and a niece I’ve never even met in person.

The same day we had this conversation, we went into one of those fancy shops that make you forget which continent you’re one because everything is imported.  Lo and behold, there was an entire table of decorations and accessories for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee that had been imported from Blighty.

My husband often laughs at the way I’ve become so much more English since becoming American too.  He was particularly perplexed when I suggested demanded that we host a Jubilee celebration in honour of Her Majesty!

I’m the same person who, when living in England, was so disinterested in all things to do with the monarchy that I don’t even remember The Golden Jubilee taking place.

But then, am I the same person?  It isn’t just about being an expat now.  Since being married, my identity has changed so much.  First I was a wife, then a mother, then American, then a special needs mother.

Soon I’ll be a working mother too, and I’ll proudly serve my American community here, but at times I wonder if I’m losing every part of who I used to be, as I become identified only in relation to somebody else.  I’m Spectrummy Daddy’s wife when I go to the Consulate.  I’m Pudding’s or Cubby’s mum at their schools.  I’d say there are many people here who don’t even know my name, let alone who I am.

Later that evening, I tried to explain things to Spectrummy Daddy.  I turned to Cubby (my kids are also dual nationals) and asked him if her was American or English.

‘Merican.  I’m not English, I’m a ‘merican.

Spectrummy Daddy tried to rememdy things by asking him if he liked soccer, I mean,  football.

I like soccer!

Sigh.  With no further delay, I set to sending out invites, making the decorations, and creating a menu as British as could be for our very own Jubilee celebration.  Pudding only became involved when she saw what amounts of cream and sugar my people use.  But every royal kitchen needs an official taster, right?

The party was a great success, and it sated my inner Brit until we get to go to England in September.  We toasted Her Royal Highness, we read out loud the Duke of Edinburgh’s gaffes, we drank Pimm’s and ate coronation chicken, cucumber sandwiches, scones and trifle.

But all this was for me.

The kids ate, then disappeared.  Cubby was upstairs playing with his  American/Chinese-Australian friends, while Pudding played outdoors holding hands with our American/Australian neighbour.  Our community is nothing if not like a 1980s Benetton commercial.

Proving once again that my kids have figured out lessons I keep having to live through.  It isn’t about where you hail from, or what your passport says, or where you call home.  It is about being true to yourself and enjoying every moment life has to offer you, no matter where you happen to be.

I’m going to start right now- by enjoying a cup of tea and a biscuit.  I’m sure Her Majesty would approve.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 4, 2012 at 10:44 am

The Hidden Curriculum

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I first came across the term hidden curriculum as a sociology student studying education.  It refers to all the things you learn in school, but aren’t expressly taught, such as social norms and values.  The hidden curriculum was used as an explanation for why students of different race, gender, and social class have different outcomes even when exposed to the same classroom setting.

Then I lived in France when I was twenty, and I learned that this concept needn’t be applied just to education, but as a way of understanding cultural differences.  Sometimes rules are expressly taught, or laws, and other times it seems like people just know when something is inappropriate.

I’ve since lived in a few different cultures, and I’ve learned to observe closely when somebody does something unexpected.  The chances are that I’m the one who is acting out of the ordinary.

Take driving, for instance.  Since we arrived here, driving has been a fraught experience for me.  Between avoiding kombi buses, and aggressive windscreen washers, my heart races as though I’m in a war zone.  I soon noticed that drivers here use their hazard lights for different purposes to elsewhere in the world.  While they are still used to indicate a hazard, or that the driver must stop suddenly, people also use them as a thank you to another driver who allows them  into their lane, for instance.

Upon learning this information, I decided to adopt this method too.  Indeed, now it makes sense to flash my hazards, and I’ll have to relearn not to do that when I move, lest I bring traffic to an abrupt halt everywhere I go.

But there are other social norms I’ve learned that I reject.  It is very common here to see children without seatbelts or car safety seats, but I haven’t adopted that as a way for my family.  Of course, the safety aspect overrides any desire I have to fit in.

When I go to the gym here, I’ve noticed that the changing room culture is quite different to other places I’ve lived.  I don’t consider myself particularly puritanical for an American or Englishwoman, but I was surprised by the difference between changing room behaviour here and elsewhere.

In England, after taking a shower, we keep our towel wrapped around us for as long as possible.  When It comes time to drop it, we turn and face the wall or locker and dress hurriedly.  We may still talk to a friend or acquaintance during this time, but there is no requirement for eye contact(!) and we tend to focus on the task at hand.

At the gym I attend here, things are quite different.  Women use their towels to stand on, sit on, or wrap around their hair, but covering the body seldom happens.  They tend to face one another in conversation, and are just as casual and comfortable as if dressed.

Now, if I wanted to make friends in the gym, I know that I’d have to adopt these practices myself.  Instead, I find myself modestly choosing a changing booth with a locked door to get dressed.  This behaviour must no doubt appear odd to everybody there.  If nothing else, it highlights me as an outsider.

For Pudding, life is going to be complicated.  Not only are there all these hidden rules and expectations that might not seem relevant to her, but even if she were interested in learning to fit in, we move every two or three years to a whole new culture.

How is she to decide what is worth paying attention to, or what values she should accept or discard when these things change all the time?  Or will she become really good at this?  Will she develop a chameleon-like ability to adapt to other cultures, even if she feels like an outsider at times?

Lately I’ve seen Pudding learn some new little things that haven’t been expressly taught to her.  She sees when it is time for dinner, and goes to set the table.  She took off her shoes waiting to go on a bouncy castle, and lined them up with those of the other children.

Whether she becomes really good at learning the hidden curriculum, or never develops an interest in it, our job is to make sure that home is always a place where she can be herself, no matter where that is.  And that is something that need never be hidden.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 1, 2012 at 11:34 am