Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ex-Pat Mom

I've started asking some of my favorite bloggers to be guest writers--here is our first participant! I hope that you will follow their blogs too and be encouraged by their words. Without further ado, introducing Camille Ho! I'll let Cami do the talking since she's a fantastic, real-life, engaging writer. Afterwards, check her blog!

The life and times of an ex-pat mom.

Hello everyone!

My name is Cami, and I’m a friend of Julie’s from Moody (although we got a little bit closer after we both moved across the ocean to different continents…isn’t life ironic?). I’m wife to an amazing Chinese guy who rocks his British accent and momma to a crazy-beautiful-extremely independent almost 15-month old who is the sunshine of my days. We are currently living about an hour south-east of London, in England, where my husband was born.

I’ve been blogging for nearly ten years now, although I’ve only gotten “serious” about it over the last six months or so. I was so excited when Julie asked me to guest post on her blog, even though it took me forever to get back to her about it. I’m just going to blame it on my son…he’s young enough that he won’t know yet. Ha.

Anyway, when I was thinking about what I should write about, I started to come up with all of the things that Julie and I have in common—which is kind of a lot, actually. We both went to Moody, both got married during (or right after), both have babies that were born within days of each other and looked eerily similar at birth (no really, they looked like they could have been twins!)…and then I realized that we’re both figuring out this mom thing outside of America, away from our friends and family and I knew that is what I wanted to talk about.

Because this mom-thing is no joke.

And then when you throw in the added fact that you’re living in a foreign country with strange people surrounding you, and cars that drive on the wrong side of the road, and all you want to do is eat some decent Mexican food, but you can’t find it anywhere…it can start to wear on you after awhile. (At least I’ve got the advantage of speaking the native language—I don’t know how you do it, Julie! I’d go crazy not being able to understand what everyone was saying!)

I think, for me, the hardest thing is being away from people that really and truly know who I am—my family, my best friends. The people that you have a history with, the ones that have seen you through the good, bad, and ugly, as well as a move across the world, and are still there for a skype call at 1am when you need them. Sometimes all I want to do is sit with someone without giving the abridged version of my story and how I got here, without modifying my personality to make it a little more palatable and just drink some coffee and laugh really loudly (like I have a tendency to do). I want to cry about how my son didn’t nap for the second day in a row, and then kicked me in the face all night long without worrying about someone taking me the wrong way. I want to order “French fries” instead of “chips, buy “baking soda” instead of “bicarbonate soda”, and pay 99 cents for a giant Diet Coke at McDonalds, instead of £1.89 for what would be considered a medium in America.

And yet, there have been moments of extreme sweetness and joy that I know my little family would have missed out on if we hadn’t been here.
-Our third wedding anniversary waddling around London at 36 weeks pregnant, spending hours in the British Museum and eating ice cream, holding hands and dreaming of our future.
-Days spent huddled in our tiny apartment staring in awe at our newborn son while the rain poured down outside.
-Laughing at an English joke that I finally understood, and realizing that my worldview had expanded just a bit.

Living in another country is hard, and it can be so lonely and so isolating. But at the same time, I know that I’m raising my son to see the world in a different way than I saw it and I am happy about this. He will be someone that understands that there is more than one way to do things, and that there are other types of people that share this planet with him, and I hope that this makes him into a better person than he would have been without it.

I know we won’t be in England forever, but I am trying to cherish the time we do have here (even when I want to pull my hair out and put a flight back to America on the credit card just so I can GET OUT). It has been a privilege and a blessing to be an “ex-pat” for awhile, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Autumn: Cross Culture Style

Signs of an American Fall:

Apple picking
Corn mazes
Pumpkin patches
Warm sweaters and hot drinks
Camp fires and s'mores
Hay rides
Apple crisp, apple pie, apple cider, apple donuts....
Fall festivals
Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Beautiful moons
Hunting season (ok, I don't hunt, but I acknowledge it as a fall activity)
Rake leaves

Signs of a Chinese Autumn

National Holiday
Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
Cabbages and Leeks everywhere outside being sold, bought, and dried
Moon cakes (to go with the festival)
Lots of traveling for holidays
Don the long johns!
Air the blankets!
Government turns on the heat!
Sweet potatoes sold on the street, baked and ready to eat
Don't rake leaves
Cover bushes with tarps
September is a lucky month for marriages and births

Willow, eating her first moon cake ever! 

I can't wait for the cabbages to come out so that Willow can have another photo shoot with them. Last year, she was about the same size and we took some cute photos of her sitting with them. Not really any pumpkin patches around for photo ops!

September is basically over. Today is the last day of September--which is my favorite month of the year. Favorite because it's when school is still fun (not a student or teach anymore....but it still brings back memories), late summer turns to fall, and of course there is my birthday.

I'm not really looking forward to October. October is my least favorite month because it starts with an O and immediately proceeds my favorite month. I'm looking at October as a month of preparation, and also my last month of freedom for a little while.


Drama starts the first week of November this year.

I've been putting a lot of things off until October. I just wish time would slow down a little!

This week is our Fall Break. Adam doesn't have to work because we are observing the National Holiday (kind of like China's version of the 4th of July) as well as Mid-Autumn Festival (which is sort of like our Thanksgiving as far as being traditional).

Happy Fall!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

On Being a Mom & Stuff: Part 2

Around Christmas time, Adam and I had finally agreed on a plan. It would be my last year of teaching, I would continue with directing plays at school part time while taking care of our baby at home. This meant signing another contract. Adam would start the graduate program (I was disqualified by being a stay at home mom) in the fall of 2011. We would have our summer break in America where our baby would be delivered.   Then came time to tell our family and friends of the pregnancy news. We started with immediate family members over skype, emailed Uncles/Aunts/Cousins, announced it at school in our weekly team announcements, told our students, and posted it on facebook. It's quite a process, and somehow so delicate when you're living overseas and its your first pregnancy.

[some of the stray cats that Willow frequently---daily---chases]

The biggest reason, actually the only reason, we didn't share our news until the second trimester was because the future was initially uncertain. We didn't know where the baby would be born, if we were staying in China two more years, or what....and because I was already stressed out by the whole situation, I didn't want to be bombarded with the same questions every time I had a conversation---which would only remind me of the important/life-changing decisions that needed to be made. So we waited until everything was mostly sorted out so that we could answer the questions....

-Are you staying in China? 
-Where will the baby be born?
-Are you teaching next year?

and etc.

There's something wise in waiting.

Be slow to speak.
Be still.
Wait upon the Lord.

But there's also something sinful in waiting. Why are you waiting (in any particular situation)? Is it because you are scared of what others might think? Is it because you are worried your anxiety will increase? Is it because you are afraid that speaking about your circumstance will only make it more real?

Can you trust Him in all things?

And you could boil it down further. Is their something shameful in your secret? Are you holding onto pieces of your sinful nature that you don't want others to know about?

Are you waiting in patience, prayerfully relying on God?
or are you waiting because you're trying to fix everything on your own?

In hindsight, I can see so clearly the fear that had rested in my heart. The initial feelings of anger and bitterness had blossomed into a hideous anxiety that ruled my thoughts and actions. I was uncertain for what the future would bring, and because being reminded of uncertainties scared me, keeping our baby a secret was comfortable.

It was so easy to go on with life, like nothing had happened. Ok....sometimes it was easy. I had new symptoms everyday, and nausea was killing me. My teacher's assistant had ankle problems and applies a homeopathic lotion to her joint every morning. The odor filled the room, for it was quite strong, and since we sat next to each other it was impossible to escape. I remember looking at the trash can with longing, and thinking it would be so easy to just vomit. Once, a student walked in late, and I knew instantly that she had had McDonalds for breakfast. The lunch line was the worst. I've heard that the school lunch has improved vastly in the last two years, but in 2010, it wasn't anything to write home about. Everything was sitting in oil, and sometimes the smells were just too much. I would play with my food and eat a lot of bland rice. The fatigue was the worst symptom to hide from everyone. I was getting about 12 hours of sleep every night because if I didn't, there was no way I'd be able to get through the day. So, I was going to sleep right after dinner....actually, I would go to sleep while Adam was preparing food for his dinner. The nausea was worst at home, and I couldn't handle food at night. But still, even with all that sleep, I would lie down on the reading rug during recess if I could. I was so tempted to lie down in the clinic where there is a cot.

But the one thing I couldn't hide was the growing bump. I was wearing loose clothing and sweaters to help disguise my stomach, but because I'm so short it was growing more obvious very quickly. I did get in trouble one day for being immodest, which made me cry because of the hyper-sensitive hormones. My neckline was touching my collar bone, but because my breasts had grown several cup sizes, I guess I should have been wearing a turtle neck. Ugh! NOT what a pregnant woman needs to hear. Especially when she's already trying her hardest to be discreet. Along the way, a few people found out about my pregnancy. Between decisions being made, the growing belly, and people starting to put two and two was time to tell.

With the peace we had found in making our decisions, we started announcing the news. At first, I was really nervous because I didn't know how people would react. I was hoping for support. Which, thank Him, we received from so many people! It was so liberating to let the news out and not feel like I was living a double life anymore. I could answer people honestly when they asked, "How are you doing?" and not feel like a total liar. And I realized that it had been somewhat trivial to keep the news secret for so long. What needless self-inflicted torture!

I shouldn't have sweated the little things. Because really, where we would live and what we would do was not a big deal. He cares for even the sparrows, and the flowers do not worry about what they will wear.

If I could paraphrase the emotional pregnancy journey, it would sound something like this. Shock turned into anger, anger into resentment, resentment into fear, fear into acceptance, acceptance into excitement, excitement into nesting, nesting into closure, and closure into discomfort (let's be honest: physical discomfort towards the end really starts to effect everything).

I think the best way to get over fear is to stare it in the face and say, "You don't matter anymore".

Look at whatever you're holding onto that's keeping you safe, and saying, "I don't need this".

Find your idols and say, "Darkness, you have no power over me"

Surrender what you cling to, and gain what you cannot lose.

For me, getting over the fear meant surrendering everything. I was scared of being a mom, scared of staying in China, scared of being stay-at-home mom [in China], scared of leaving what I loved, scared of being bored [haha, that's a good one!], scared of what others might think or say, scared of making mistakes, scared of losing control.

Because from the outset, I had no control in this situation. That's why I rebelled against it for so many weeks.  The one thing I truly had control over, however, was surrendering my rights of self.

I felt that....
--leaving teaching at that time was asking too much. I surrendered  third grade.
--becoming a mom was going to be too tough. I surrendered my 'right' to be happy.
--staying at home would change my calling to China. I surrendered my self-appointed purpose.
--my identity was in what I did. I surrendered position and authority.

Towards the end of the pregnancy, we attended a goodbye party for teachers who were not signing another contract. In one of the goodbye speeches, the former SYIS teacher challenged his younger colleagues. He said something along the lines of....

"Right now you are young and you think that your identity is in what you do. Soon you will discover that teaching is what you do. It is not who you are".

At first, I recoiled at that statement. I thought, 'how utterly offensive!'.
In retrospect, I would like to reprimand myself and say, "you are utterly foolish!"

Side note from the topic of this post: she now climbs up the play set on her own, sits down and slides to the bottom all by herself! She is so proud of her accomplishment at the park! 

It's so true, whether you are a teacher, a parent (maybe both!), a daughter, a writer, a business person, an artist.....whatever you are! You are not a label. You're identity is not in your profession. Your identity is not in your favorite hobby or your relationship status.

You are who you are because of the blood of Jesus Christ.

Find your identity in Him.

Only then you will be free to do whatever it is that He has called you to.

I bristled at this idea of "teaching is not who you are" at first, because it identified the sin that was in my heart. It was like a festering wound that was being poked mercilessly. The infection was killing me inside, and something as wonderful as a baby and the opportunity to stay home with my own child was causing me to suffer. How wicked the heart is, how deep the sin lay, how strong the deceit ruled!

 I was stung by truth because I was living with a lie: that I was Julie-the-teacher.

Live in the truth! You are a child of the King, the One who calls Himself the Beginning and the End.

 My heart rebelled against the truth and I took offense; how dare you pinpoint where I struggle? The sin cried out, 'how dare you try to root me from my resting place?' I knew that I was having a hard time leaving my classroom, leaving a job that I loved and a calling that I felt strongly for because I had put it at the center of my heart. My identity was not in Christ, and my idols were being shattered on their high places.

I was frantically trying to glue the pieces back together, but they turned to ash in my hands.

Thank the Lord for His redemption and ever caring love.

Thank God that His mercies are new every morning.

Rabbit Trail: I'm sitting here, writing about how my self-worth in teaching was an idol. I'm reminded how easily it is to replace fallen idols with new ones. How easy it would be to put Willow on that pedestal. I think this blog has been a good place for me to hash out some of my thoughts on mothering. I do not want to place this new role in a place of idolatry, just as I don't want to place my offspring there. Although I love being a mom, and I love Willow so much---it cannot be my everything. I would also like to disclaim that the number of pictures I post of Willow does not necessarily mean she is the most important thing in my life. She is just the person I spend the most time with and taking pictures is something fun to do to pass that time. Also, I have family members who always ask for more you can also blame them for the weekly plethora. 

Sometimes I think that our fear of removing false gods in our lives keeps us from realizing God's will for our lives. What do you spend most of your time doing? Where do you invest most of your money? What do you think about the most? These answers may lead you to possible idols in your life. For me, it was definitely my classroom, my students, and my plans. It happened so easily, so seamlessly. It was effortless, and overnight. Where did I spend my time, my energies, my money, my blood-sweat-tears?

In the school year of 2010-2011, God began to strip me of away these hindrances. He took away my self-worth, which were built on mortal things. He removed all sense of control, and because I was willful, the process was long and painful.

I was born a control freak. I struggle with perfectionism. I like to know what's happening all the time. There's always a plan A....and a plan B.....and a plan C. There's always a list of tasks to do that can be neatly checked of one by one. While doing things well, having plans, and being efficient can be good--especially when you've got a lot going on--it can also become a huge pitfall.

Perhaps He was disciplining me for wrong living. 
Perhaps He was pushing me towards the right direction. 
Perhaps He was pursuing me in love. 
I'd like to think it was all three. 

But my second year of teaching, which had gotten out to a great start, became troubled. By the end, I was ready to say goodbye to teaching. Ready to leave my classroom.

Walked out the door for the last time without a regret in the world.

God brought me through a fire.

And like pressure turns coal to diamonds, my last year of teaching made my heart long for motherhood in a way I couldn't have imagined back in November of 2010.

But we'll save that story for part 3. 

[also including these funny pictures. Adam said that she looked like the inconceivable character in the Princess Bride in her tight pants and fluffy shirt]