Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘expat

Safe House

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Once Pudding’s birthday is over and done with, I give December over to Christmas.  We pulled out our not-so-authentic tree and boxes of ornaments, and realized that we must have inadvertently sent a box of decorations to storage.  We can’t find our stocking holders here, and probably some other things that I haven’t yet noticed.  We waited until Cubby went down for a nap, then got to work, knowing that otherwise we’d have two sets of hands thwarting our efforts.

Pudding adored getting into the boxes.  She delighted in unwrapping our ornaments, recognizing them from Christmases gone by.  It always make me wonder just how far back she can remember.  For those of us who aren’t blessed with such a sturdy memory these days, I could look on the bottom of my ornaments to see where on our travels I’d collected each one.  I didn’t need to write on my Red Sox ornament to remind me of my day Defying Gravity in Boston.  The following day, we headed out to the craft market so that South Africa would be represented on our tree of travels.

And of course, there is our other collection.  A steady record of our kids’ special interests through the years.  Pudding loves these.  It reminds me I need to find a Hello Kitty ornament to out on our tree this year.

Having a tree up is a challenge.  There has already been casualties, including the beheading of Santa on my favourite ornament bought one snowy December in Germany.  The kids can’t help but touch, and it takes all the patience we can muster not to chastise them for something that can’t be helped.  Unless, of course, we were to skip the ritual for a year.

I find that as I get further away from my traditional expectations of Christmas, I cling harder to the rituals that we are able to keep in place.  It is summer here in

Shortly before he was beheaded

South Africa, and it feels very different from every Christmas I’ve ever known.  I feel very far from home.  It is tempting to skip, to ignore the time of year when it just feels so wrong.

But that is the thing about rituals- they’re the thing that make us feel safe.  We need them.  This won’t be our home until we’ve spent a Christmas here.  I’ll be homesick until here feels like home.  It may not be the kind of Christmas I’d choose, but this is the Christmas we have, and we’ll make it our own.

Earlier today I was going through old paperwork, and I found some language tests the Pudding’s teacher had carried out over the previous year.  One test was the question: Who keeps you safe?  Pudding had answered incorrectly all three times she’d been tested, including the last time, in May shortly before we left, when she’d answered “home.”

A telling mistake, she’d confused “who” with “what” or perhaps “where.”  But even though she was incorrect, I know how right she is.  I can’t help but be glad that she associates safe with home.  And every ritual, every memory we carve from this house, from any house, will add to that feeling of security.  So we’ll have our first Christmas here, and I might have to sacrifice some of my ornaments in the process, but we’ll make new memories in the process.  Safely at home, where Christmas is supposed to be.

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Safe Heaven

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In our home we have a safe haven. A secure area we can retreat to in the event of danger. Before we arrived, somebody had tried to sort through our large collection of keys to label them, and so we found the keys for our “safe heaven.”

It made me smile, because in so many ways, where we live is like paradise. The weather is glorious, the people friendly, the country amazingly beautiful, but with all the conveniences we’re used to. I can’t believe how fortunate we are to call this place home for the next three years. It surely is heaven.

Apart from one thing: the crime. It is hard to match up this glorious land of sunshine and smiles with the frightening statistics. Car-jackings, personal invasions (armed robbery of private residences), smash and grabs, muggings are all alarmingly commonplace here. It is the rape capital of the world. Living in the Northern suburbs, our affluence is a stark contrast to the poverty of the townships. There are parts of this city I will never visit. Even here I will always be on alert.

I’ve never lived anywhere like this before, and I can’t believe how much I took for granted that feeling of peace of mind.

When friends asked how I liked South Africa when we first arrived, I responded that it was like England, but with better weather and worse crime.

Then England rioted.

Seemingly out of nowhere, first London, then other parts of England came under siege. I struggled to believe it, this is England. This is my safe haven, where I would always return with the children if things got too crazy elsewhere. Suddenly it seems safer here than over there.  Severe cuts to the police force left them instantly overwhelmed.

Of course, this looting and violence didn’t suddenly spring up. It seems that the motivations for the riots are different in different parts of the country. Just as there are multiple causes: a cocktail of political, racial, cultural, and economic reasons, so will the ultimate solution be difficult and complex. I don’t have any answers here.

Yet the reasons people are putting forward to explain this senseless shift to chaos are intriguing. A generation of children and young adults who are alienated from the rest of society, who are so disengaged that they feel no empathy for the pain and destruction they are causing to others. Young adults who feel their futures are so hopeless that they opt for instant gratification regardless of the consequences. Entire sections of community at odds with one another, and a pervasive mistrust of authority.

Alienated, disengaged, lacking empathy, hopeless- these are the words I’ve read recently to describe the people of my homeland. The neurotypicals of my homeland at that. It is interesting to me that the same words which are often used (incorrectly) to describe adults and children with autism are being applied to entire sections of community. I would love to understand what is happening in England, but the causes are mysterious and complicated.

I’m ashamed at the violence directed against innocents.  A teenager even tried to mug my friend as she walked with her baby in her neighbourhood in broad daylight.  I’m proud of the way others rallied together to clean up the mess.

The Prime Minister described society as “sick”, but he failed to offer a cure. We are invited to see the rioters as different to us.  And while I can’t imagine tearing up my homeland, neither can I imagine feeling alienated, hopeless and disengaged.

As the police regained control and the courts are dealing with the fall-out, we are learning that those involved in the riots appear to come from all sections of society: a number of students, a teaching assistant and an 11 year-old girl are among those facing charges. For a while, the rules were gone, chaos reigned, and the thrill of the mob was too appealing for many. England was in meltdown. If these people have taken part in destroying their communities, we have to ask ourselves why, even if the answers are mysterious and complicated. Even if a solution is hard to find.

It pains me to think of my home country being torn apart, to see places I’ve lived and visited being destroyed. Just as it pains me to think of the crime in this beautiful country where I now live. Just a few miles from the townships, I can close my gates, lock my doors, and enjoy a relatively safe heaven. But I can’t help but feel sad that I have experienced a different England and South Africa to many.

And that my haven will only feel safe under lock and key, away from the alienated, disengaged, and hopeless.  Peace of mind is increasingly a slice of heaven that few of us can experience, no matter where we live.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 12, 2011 at 1:29 am

Making Connections

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As you read this, I will be finishing packing, getting the kids ready, heading to the airport, taking our first flight, making our connection in the busiest airport in the world(!), or on our second 16-hour flight.  Or I’ll be a stranger in a strange land, figuring out what to do next.  At least for me, that is familiar territory.

When Pudding was first diagnosed, I struggled to learn a foreign language littered with phrases like “echolalia” and “proprioception.”  Eventually I became fluent in this new language, even making up my own translations for some of those tricky phrases.  This language would be how I communicated with Pudding’s educators, therapists, and doctors; but to communicate with my girl, I had to learn to speak her language, just as she struggles to learn mine.

During the last two years, I made connections with those who could help me navigate this strange land.  In particular a teacher and doctor whose care and attention extended beyond Pudding to our entire family.  They acted as my guides so I didn’t get too lost.  Eventually I found community resources, and made sense of insurance regulations and somehow managed to find a path to follow.  It wasn’t always the easiest journey, but I could stumble my way along.

I would be lying if I said I’m not intimidated by starting all over again.  Making new connections, and finding trusted professionals who have my family’s best interests at heart.

At least once I began blogging, I found that there were so many of us, we could find our way together.  By reaching out to one another, we make new connections, form a community that doesn’t have geographical boundaries.  I have friends walking the same path, holding my arm if I should happen to stumble.  I’m grateful beyond measure for the friendship and support I’ve found through this blog.

Connections matter.  A few weeks ago a friend from university announced he was going to be the manager of a new independent cinema in England.  I immediately though about how great it would be if they could do the sensory showings that we enjoy here in the US, and suggested to him that they do just that.  He said he’d get back to me, and earlier this week he wrote back saying that when they open later this year, the cinema will be offering sensory showings every three weeks.

If that can be done in the UK, why not South Africa?  Why not everywhere?  We just need to keep making those connections.

I want to thank you for reading, commenting and sharing this blog over the last year.  It has been an incredible journey, that in many ways is only just beginning.  Time for me to go and make my connections.  Time for more adventures abroad!

If you would be so kind, I would love it if you could visit here and vote for Spectrummy Mummy as one of the top autism blogs.  Many thanks!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 1, 2011 at 6:03 am

Living abroad with a special needs child

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So what I didn’t tell you when I wrote my letter to editors last week, was that it wasn’t the first time I’d tried to get magazines to address their lack of coverage of special needs issues.  From the beginning of my involvement in the exchange with Parents magazine, I started paying attention to web sites and magazines to see if they fared any better.  On the whole, they didn’t.  So every time I tried and failed to find what I was looking for, I’d contact them with my complaint, and wait for the response.

By and large, I’m still waiting.  That is the problem with being invisible, of course.  It takes a lot of us saying the same thing to get noticed.

One time I clicked from a fellow foreign service blogger’s site to Expat Arrivals, and again, I noticed there was no mention of special needs issues within the expat community.  I was unsure if I should approach them in the same way.  After all, special needs parents make up a small proportion of expats.  But then I thought about it.  In Pudding’s preschool autism class of just 6 children, one girl had been born and raised in the Middle East, and a second child (besides Pudding) is about to move overseas this summer.  A further two boys are first-generation immigrants.  These are issues affecting 5 out of 6 children in her class.  I know this area is more geographically mobile than many parts of the US, but that still makes a sizable group of children sharing similar experiences to Pudding, not to mention the many children of Foreign Service Officers who have special educational needs like our daughter.

To my surprise and delight, the editor emailed me back, and acknowledged the lack of coverage in this regard.  Then she asked for my help in providing an article about our expat experiences.  Expat life is about letting go of your expectations, and finding the enjoyment in a different way of living.  There are highs and lows, but it never gets boring.  Does that sound familiar to my fellow special needs parents?

Here is the link if you’d like to read more, and here are other posts I’ve written about my take on living the expat life.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Wordless Wednesday Jan 19 11

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I give up.  Despite my best efforts to raise an Englishman, the boy is now officially an American.

It may be gluten-free and casein-free, but that is still an Oreo cookie.  He pulled it apart and ate the middle before the outside, without ever seeing anyone do it.

I suppose I’ll give up any hope of him playing cricket now.

Happy Wordless Wednesday everybody!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 19, 2011 at 6:58 am