Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘third culture kids


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“Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man.”

Imagine, John Lennon 1971,  © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, EMI Music Publishing

Imagine is one of my favourite songs.  If I try hard, I can imagine no religion, and no countries, and yes- the world might just be as one.  But, dreamer that I may be, I still get stuck on no possessions.  Last week the rest of our possessions arrived from the US, and materialistic as it may be, it is good to be surrounded by familiar comforts.  Even though we donated or cleared out a lot of our belongings before we moved, there is still so much stuff.

Spectrummy Daddy is allotted a day (or two) to be at home to meet the packers and check that all our belongings our returned (no mean feat when dodging pirates and hijackers), which is awfully nice.  What you don’t realize though, is that it takes way more than a day to unpack, sort, and put away for an entire household.  So I’ve been going through the remainder of the boxes.  While I’m not finished yet, we’re getting there.

My husband is sentimental, and a collector, which is an awful combination for a nomadic lifestyle.  I’ve gone through box after box just incredulous at the kind of things he still keeps.  There is this whole other life- which makes no sense, because everybody knows his life only began when he met me!

But when you look at our possessions, it appears that the reverse is true.  There is hardly anything that belonged to me before we got married.  No photos, no correspondence, only one book compared to dozen after dozen of his- not even including the ones we put in storage.  If you were trying so see who I was before I was a diplowife, you’d struggle to find anything.

When I left England, I only took with me what I could carry, which amounted to one large, and one small suitcase.  Mostly filled with clothes, which no longer fit.  There is a whole lot of my present surrounding me, but nothing of my past.  My mother did bring me some photographs one time when she visited, but they were mostly of my brothers. and in her words, “it doesn’t matter because you all looked the same as babies.”  Thanks Mum!  But really, it doesn’t matter, because the things that are most important to me can’t be put inside a cardboard box and shipped around the world.  John Lennon had it right.

Perhaps because I don’t have too much to be sentimental about, I’m kind of ruthless with purging our house of unnecessary items.  I need to maintain a balance.  You see, if I get homesick, or nostalgic, I can turn to Facebook or Skype and reminisce.  But I’m not sure how this process works for Pudding, who struggles with making connections with others.  For her, those possessions might really be her world in a way that I can’t imagine.

When we first moved, including the time we were in temporary accommodation, Pudding held on tight to her two favourite toys: Abby Cadabby and Kelly doll.  If they went out of her sight, even for a moment, she would panic.  As she became more settled, she felt less of a need to carry them around- to our great relief, as there is no American Girl store here to replace Kelly doll.  Now that the rest of her toys are here, she has felt the need to play with every.single.one.  Perhaps play isn’t the right word…her belongings have been touched, worn, tasted, observed, sniffed, rubbed, sat on, rolled on or placed on top of her.  For a multi-sensory girl like ours, she needs to possess the things that are important to her.  It isn’t enough to see them, or remember them.  She has to experience everything about them, and that way they exist for her.

So now that everything is all around her, Pudding’s world is back in a way that makes sense to her.  I wonder if her playthings might be the very things that help her to connect with the world, and give her some grounding.  Unlike as is suggested in the song, I imagine that her possessions are the very things that give her peace.  In this house, we’re always open to giving peace a chance.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm

C is for Culture

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Hmm, I’ll bet you didn’t think I was going to go for Culture for today’s post, did you?  There is a much more obvious “C-word” for autism, and that is “cure.”  But I’m not going there, my friends, for many reasons.  Not least of all because long before ASD, ADHD, SPD and all the other lovely acronyms came into our lives, our kids were already TCKs: Third Culture Kids.  Their upbringing is a cocktail of my English and their father’s US heritage, and a blend of all the countries they have and will live in throughout their childhood.  Much as autism or sensory issues colour our lives, so does this multicultural mix.

One thing that has always fascinated me about Pudding, is that relative to her diagnoses, she is a fairly flexible child.  She handles transitions well, and follows directions and accepts authority at least as well as most of her contemporaries.  Which isn’t to say she doesn’t have meltdowns and behavioural problems, but they seem to come from a different place.  Perhaps she doesn’t understand the situation, or she lacks control over it.  Maybe she isn’t familiar with an expected custom, or she is expecting others to behave according to a custom and they don’t.  Clearly she is a child on the autism spectrum, but these are also difficulties generally found in young children who have lived in a variety of cultures.

Pudding and Cubby have adjusted flawlessly to life here.  Things that are jarring to me because they are so different, are simply accepted as the status quo.  Take Cubby, for instance.  He is currently fascinated by kombi buses.  For those not in the know, a kombi is a kind of minibus that should hold about 10 passengers, but usually has double that.  They are generally old, beat-up vehicles with lights and indicators that don’t work.  Not that it matters, because the drivers never use them anyway.  They prefer to hoot their horns if they want to let you know they’re going through a red light, or crossing your lane, or just coming to an abrupt stop in the middle of the road.  Not that they always choose to let you know.  To my knowledge, white people don’t tend to ride on these vehicles, and they certainly don’t drive them.  I’ve only lived in countries with very strict safety laws about seat belts and maximum occupancy, so I experience a little culture shock regarding the death-trap transportation here.  Cubby, however, will grab a cardboard box and pretend he is driving his kombi bus.  He thinks they are just as awesome as trucks or fire engines were in the US.

The kids are too young to pick up on the poverty and inequality that is prevalent here in the Rainbow Nation.  They are sheltered, of course, in their ethnically diverse, but still expensive and private preschools.  In her own way though, Pudding has made observations about life here.  For instance, when we are in the cleaning aisle while shopping for groceries, Pudding will say, “that’s for Leia*” (our housekeeper).  I still clean at the weekends, and certainly that was my responsibility before we moved here, but she never described cleaning products as “Mummy’s”.

The outcome of all this exposure to different cultures during a child’s development is very interesting.  Third Culture Kids generally excel at communication, and are frequently adept at learning languages.  With a receptive-expressive language delay and auditory processing dysfunction, this isn’t exactly Pudding’s strong suit.  And yet…yet I feel one day it will be.  She picks up on the subtle differences in pronounciation that many can’t detect.  Asking for a drink, for instance, will be a rather English waw-ter from me, and an American wah-derr from Daddy.  She has taken to saying ho-tay-ull (for hotel) as though she is Scarlett O’Hara.

Older TCKs often describe how they don’t feel that they belong anywhere, and both belong to and are apart from their parents’ home culture.  Without the shared experiences of growing up in the same place, they feel very different from their peers, and may adapt better in a foreign land than they do in their “homeland”, which may be neither the place they were born, nor have ever lived.  I’ve read accounts by TCKs where they describe the strange blend of feeling like an alien amongst their peers, but able to assimilate to any culture.  Strikingly familiar for me as a mother of child who looks like any other on the outside, but is so very different underneath.  I’m pretty sure that one day I’ll be steering Pudding towards the exchange students or other global nomads, who might be a little more understanding and accepting of behaviour outside of the cultural norms.

I’ve been thinking about culture a lot, because one thing that strikes me is how family friendly South Africa is.  Children are very much welcomed here, and they are expected to behave…well, like children, really.  Because young children do run around and bounce up and down.  They are loud and exuberant, and why should they be expected to be otherwise?  The western world could learn a thing or two from the attitudes here towards the young.  I’m considerably less tense when I’m out with the children, knowing that they are accepted here.

So, why then, did I get the look from those ladies when we first arrived?  Perhaps they weren’t from here, or they were just plain mean.  Or maybe I was carrying a lot of baggage from living where hyperactive children aren’t so well tolerated.  Where expected behaviour is being still and quiet, two things that are impossible for Pudding.  But one thing is clear to me now, I focused on the one table where Pudding was viewed with negativity, not at the people all around who didn’t notice, or didn’t concern themselves with a child having a meltdown.

The more relaxed I become, the more I see the genuine pleasure people here get from seeing my girl quite literally dance to her own rhythm.  We feel like we belong.  And that is most definitely my kind of culture.

This post is part of my A-Z series that you can find by clicking here.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 10, 2011 at 8:05 am