Moved Around, Ripped Out, Messed Up: Has This International Life Damaged My Children?

This year it hit me broadside.

Standing in my entryway, eagerly opening up holiday greeting cards from around the world, I held a family Christmas collage from a friend in my hands. There they were: the crowds of folks gathered for one child’s wedding; a smiling circle cheering another child’s academic achievement; lines of friends there for another child’s community concert. I skimmed the lines about neighbors and friends who rushed in when there was a crisis, and wiped my forehead, now pumping hot blood, astonished by my gut reaction.

Pain. Pain for my children.

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I knew my friend was only sharing her normal, everyday life.  What I read wasn’t shimmering with the exceptional, not in her mind, I’m sure.  It was an obviously normal life to her, probably, a life spent in one spot with lifelong connections, familial solidarity and children held sturdy by that kind of  ballast.  Skimming, though, I saw strong, bold lines that plumb through layers and layers of years and years of rock solid support and shared common experience.

Then, as if someone pulled the plug on the parquet floor beneath me, that sensation hit. And I sank.

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It’s there, in that sunken place, that I developed a T.I.C.K.

Or at least I developed the concept of one and made up the acronym for it.

T.I.C.K.? You’ve probably never heard of it, although maybe you’ve heard of a TCK, or a Third Culture Kid. That’s a child who’s spent the dominant portion of her upbringing in a culture/language/geography other than that of her parents.

TICK is something else, and may be a little more complicated than a TCK. A TICK is a Transient International Composite Kid.

That, ladies and gentlemen, would be my bundle.

Of joy.

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Not only are my kids TCKs, (they’ve spent virtually all  their developmental years in a culture/language/geography other than their parents’ native one), but they’re TICKs, too, having spent their entire lives moving and moving. And moving again. And not merely from one side of a city to another. Nor from one side of a state nor side of one country to another.  They’ve moved from one side of the cultural spectrum to another: Hong Kong, Norway, two different locations in France, America, Germany, Singapore, and now Switzerland.

What does that kind of perpetual and far-flung transience mean for a child? For a teenager? For a young adult? It means multilingual proficiency (about which I’ve just written.)  It means adaptability, flexibility, courage, ability to make friends with your corner lamp post. It means resilience. It means, as many TICKs will tell you, an unusually tight bond as a family. (You’ve gone through quite a lot together). It can mean various positives like increased tolerance, motivation, independence. It can mean you know many things firsthand that others know only virtually.

Unquestionably, there’s a lot gained from traipsing through so much diversity and upheaval. But lately. . . I am tallying the costs. And they are painful to me.

What might those costs be?

Let me give you an idea by showcasing just one of our four, Dalton Haakon Bradford.

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Dalton is now seventeen, a “Year 12” in his international bilingual school here on outskirts of Geneva, or, according to the US system, a high school junior.  In these 17 years, he’s attended a Norwegian preschool…

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A French bilingual preschool…

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An American international kindergarten, an American public 1st grade, a French bilingual primary school…

073A German international school…

088a Singapore-based American international school, and now the Swiss bilingual school from which he will graduate a year from now.

I’m no mathematician, but I’m adding up 8 different approaches to academic instruction, and 4 distinct classroom languages. What you can’t see in that tally are all the friends made and lost. All the homes adapted to and emptied. All the programs begun yet suddenly dropped. All the teachers who had to get to know this kid from ground up, who didn’t know his strength or quirks or particular needs. All the opportunities to audition or compete or enter, lost because, whooops, we can’t promise we’ll be here for that. All the essential secrets held under the coat like a vat of churning lava, because there is no gathered context out of which strangers can interpret him.

June 2007, last vacation where the kids were all together in Provence

June 2007, last vacation where the kids were all together in Provence

Those kinds of costs. Let’s let our TICK speak about them for himself.

So, Dalton Bradford: What, in your opinion, have been the costs of this nomadic, international life? 

1) I’ve forfeited familiarity and comfort. More times than I can count, I’ve been the only new kid (or one of the few) in my class, and that has sometimes meant the only one not quite yet speaking the language of instruction. Seems I’m always in the figuring-out phase, just getting my mind organized in a new culture, not to mention a whole new school system and student body. This means my ramp-up time to becoming efficient in a new school costs me academic and social ease.

Versailles, France.

Versailles, France.

2) I’ve had to say goodbye to dozens of friends. Over a dozen times.  This is just hard. It’s gotten easier to keep in touch via FB and Skype, but still virtual’s not the same.  They just aren’t here with me. This repeated separation makes it harder to invest in relationships. I always know either I or they will eventually be leaving. OR, I feel I have to invest in relationships super quickly, because I never know how much time I’ll have. In my current school where there’s only a 7% turnover in the student body from year to year, I’m one of the few who hasn’t been here for most of my education, even all 12 years. That’s danged hard to penetrate.

Croissy-sur Seine, France

Croissy-sur-Seine, France

3) It’s so hard to get academic traction. When you’re not certain how long you’re going to stay in a country, it’s hard to plan on your academic curriculum.  When you can’t plan, you can’t count on completing courses or taking them through their end with certain teachers, then you also can’t commit to being around the next year for certain activities. This was so hard when we moved from Singapore, because I’d just made real strides in the theater department, had a fabulous French instructor, was cruising in Mandarin, and then we suddenly left. I’d banked on being  heavily involved in theater, French and Mandarin the next year. There’s hardly a theater department where I am now. And now I’m the one who helps tutor Mandarin.

Cosima Schwimmbad, München, Deutschland

Cosima Schwimmbad, München, Deutschland

4) Sometimes others hold back from investing in a friendship with you because they know you’ll be leaving anyway. I’ve heard this in church and school, that others who are locals expect we’ll leave soon anyway, and so why get close? Because of this, they sometimes keep their distance.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

5) Sometimes I question my identity. Am I American? European? International?  Who am I? I don’t know the first  thing about American TV, football, baseball, even a lot of the daily slang. But I carry a US passport and English is my mother tongue.  Where do I fit in, and where can I count on being understood? Where will my life experiences be valued and not criticized or pigeonholed? Some people who’ve never lived internationally assume all sorts of things about this “luxurious”, “pampered”, “exotic” lifestyle, and they also question your patriotism. (Once, I had to explain to a kid that an expatriate was not an ex-patriot. Yeah, like that was cool.)

Berchtesgaden, Deutschland

Berchtesgaden, Deutschland

6) Unlike kids who grow up their whole lives in one place, I struggle to advance and establish myself in extra curricular activities. For example, coaches or instructors or music teachers need to have known you from the year before in order to put you on a team or cast you in the play or in the orchestra.  I’ve been the new kid so much, I get passed up and can’t compete with the ones who’ve established themselves with coaches and mentors over years.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

7) Depending on where you go to University, you might get slammed with major culture shock. I remember how disoriented Claire [my older sister] was her first year at university.  She had a great time eventually, but she talked about always feeling she was looking at the experience from the outside-in. There were attitudes and even language usage she did not “get” at all.  After a year, thanks to a great roommate and some key professors, she had a positive experience. I wonder what the adjustment will be like for me.

Nesøya, Norge

Nesøya, Norge

8) You miss on certain maturation experiences growing up like this. Because I don’t live in one place, I can’t apply for summer jobs in the place in the US where I usually vacation only three weeks per year, so I don’t learn about that kind of responsibility like punching a time card, taking orders, reporting to a boss, earning and saving money. I won’t have  a driver’s license until way after the normal US kid has his, so sometimes when I visit the US I feel less mature than all those kids who’ve been driving and holding down jobs since they were 16. Some even get cars when they’re 16! That’s completely unthinkable in my world. (Getting a license in Europe takes private schooling, loads of money, and buying a car is many times more expensive that doing so in the US.)

Maasai village, Tanzania (Dalton's 16th birthday)

Maasai village, Tanzania (Dalton’s 16th birthday)

Dancing through the night of his Sweet Sixteen, with the Maasai

Dancing with the Maasai through the night of his Sweet Sixteen

9) My life experiences – learning languages, working through serial major changes, gaining cultural fluency, whatever– don’t necessarily translate into high college entrance exam scores. And my schools grade much much harder than most public US schools do. The classes are literally like college classes, and getting an “A” is rare, even for top students. What I’ve spent a lot of energy managing has at times been a distraction from the basics of schooling. It takes a lot of work just figuring out your life again after moving to a new country – finding the right teachers, getting the right group of friends, I’ve done math in three different academic styles with their different approaches to graphing stuff, even – and when you slap on top of that the fact that you’re being schooled in a whole new language, it’s…Well it’s just so much more complicated and demanding.  But you can’t explain all that on the SAT.

Making friends, Maasai village, Tanzania

Making friends, Maasai village, Tanzania

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Translator at juvenile detention center. Arusha, Tanzania

Translator at juvenile detention center. Arusha, Tanzania

10)My major loss is a secret to nearly everyone I know now.  When I was 11 years old I lost my oldest brother, Parker. I was there in the ICU when he took his last breath.  This huge part of who I am was unknown to the kids at the German school I walked into 2 weeks after my brother’s funeral. Ever since then, I’ve carried this loss with me, always among strangers. That is one of the hardest things in my life, and it hurts me every day in some way, even today, almost six years later.

Parker 9, Dalton 2, Claire 7

Parker 9, Dalton 2, Claire 7

Parker 15, Dalton 8, Luc 4, Claire 13

Parker 15, Dalton 8, Luc 4, Claire 13

It’s just so hard when the people all around you don’t know your story. I think sometimes about other kids who’ve lived in one place and who’ve lost favorite siblings, and what it must be like to just know that people around you know. They understand things about you that are the very core of who you are.  I’m so jealous of that. This thing that’s enormous for me is hidden from everyone in my surroundings. I hate that. An example: This year (another new school, right?), my English teacher announced a surprise writing assignment that had to do with death.  I totally choked. I froze and couldn’t even think straight.  I felt fuzzy and nauseated.  Normally, I’m a really strong writer – it’s my gift, many teachers say – but I went totally blank and cold.  I had to leave the room. Who can blame my teacher, though?

Brønnøya, Norge, June 2006

Brønnøya, Norge, June 2006

Like who can blame the biology teacher that first month Claire [my older sister] arrived at our new school in Germany? He held this big class-long debate on the ethical implications of sustaining life on a ventilator when a patient is in a deep coma. The debate went on and on, with students (who didn’t know Claire or her story) really getting into it. Didn’t Claire have to run out of the class, Mom, and throw up in the closest bathroom?

Yeah. Right. She did. You can say there are hard aspects.

**

Our two children still at home.

Our two children still at home.

It was February when I finally stored away my holiday greeting cards this year. I’d read through them a couple of times, mesmerized by the tokens of those distant, stable lifestyles my children will never know.  I took a breath. I put them away.  And just when that parquet entry floor began feeling a little sturdier beneath my feet, I discovered that what I’d thought were normal adolescent blips, were actually signs that my boys were having significant (read: what have we done moving our kids here?!) adjustment issues. These concerns shook our world so much, my entry parquet floor practically sprouted grooves.

I think I’ll have to write a sequel to Global Mom: A Memoir.

TICK Mom: A Confession

**

What else could you add to this list of costs of a TICK lifestyle?

What suggestions would you make to a TICK like Dalton?

What suggestions would you make to the parent of a TICK?

Do any of these costs surprise you? What do they reveal about what we know or don’t know about another’s life?

Global Mom: Split Between Two Different Countries

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continuing from last post, “Ceiling Talk”…)

**

Despite the fact that Munich as a location was in many ways an ideal spot to drop us (we had roots there, as I’ve mentioned before, and were both German speakers), no one, including myself, could imagine leaving Paris. We had dug some serious grooves, as Kristiina Sorensen put it when I told her the news, and what place on earth could ever suit us as well as this place now did? So from that point in the early fall until the end of the school year, we conducted a test to see if living in one country—France— and working in another—Germany—would be not merely feasible, but preferable in terms of stability and consistency for the children. Randall lived during the weeks in a small hotel room outside of Munich, and I managed during the weeks with our four children and their four worlds of needs. We texted and called and emailed, stitched together our family with fiber optics, dangled in a world wide web.

kmmatrimony

kmmatrimony

Living in two different countries. One country for the employed person, another for the family, the occasional weekend together, if we were so lucky. More often, it turns into monthly or quarterly visits. Writing that today sounds so ludicrous it makes my fingers go rigid. But many families deliberately choose to do exactly what we were considering doing, and for the long haul. As I already knew from my circle of expatriate friends, more and more companies seemed to tacitly encourage such a thing. After all, with no family around to go home to, their employee could be counted on to work until or after midnight, could take international conference calls throughout the night, and be back at the office at 6:00 a.m., on Saturdays, on Sunday, on holidays.

Friends like the Sorensens and others from church and school and the neighborhood helped fill in some of the gaps when one has an absent father, and Parker, now an inch taller than Randall, became my right- hand man; a trusted, loving, fun and easy-going friend. Not a surrogate spouse, but my man-on-site who took care, literally, of some of the heavy lifting. He picked up brothers from their Parc Monceau school, carted heavy things up from the dusty cave, hauled the Christmas tree across town and up our building’s entry steps, and hauled it out again in January.

With the volleyball and basketball teams at school, Parker had to make his way by train or plane to sports trips all around Europe, the Mediterranean, and northern Africa, and at the same time he was pushing his way through the college application process. We saw Dad nearly every weekend for twenty-four or forty-eight hours, connected daily by every technological means known at the time, and kept extremely busy. Life was spinning as quickly as I had ever experienced it, the hum was rising, the date, June, 2007, drawing us ahead.

(Next post, we’re heading into the unknown. . .)

Global Mom: Ceiling Talk. . .Munich?

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continued from last post, “La Grande Gare Centrale”)

**

flickr

flickr

“And what about the smaller apartment in the 17th? Three bedrooms? Fifth floor? Not far from John and Renée? Should I make an appointment and see it? We ready for that?” That was me speaking from where I lay, covers tucked up under my arms, hands crossed thoughtfully on my abdomen, staring at the lights filtering through our drapes. This dialogue was happening nearly every night. It was Ceiling Talk as you know, and this was September 2006, and this was Randall and Melissa considering, as we had done in Norway, to just stay. To settle. To buy. To go native.

Randall was thriving at work and he could call this the end of his career and “coast on out,” as he put it. I was busy volunteering at our children’s two schools, singing in various venues, and seeing to the needs of the teenage girls and their teachers of our church in the greater Parisian area. This meant I was regularly going to Normandy, Chartres, and the small congregations throughout the city. In addition, I was writing small pieces for an international journal and compiling chapters of my own book. I had the application forms on my desk for taking courses at the Sorbonne. We were looking ahead to having Parker graduate and head off to college that June, and Claire was cruising along beautifully at ASP, too, with her locker right under her brother’s, a spatial closeness that symbolized nicely their unusually strong relationship. Dalton and Luc were gathering friends at EAB, fencing, singing in French choirs, collecting marbles, writing screen plays based on the Louvre. And Joey — may my crazy vet be praised — was finally, finally house trained.

So why move?

etsy

etsy

Unless the company, in October, approaches with a reorganization that would bump Randall from his position overseeing the French subsidiary to another post in the regional offices based in Munich from where he would oversee his function for all of Europe. Could he move immediately?

“No,” Randall said into the receiver. “We can’t move right now. The school year has just begun, our oldest child is a senior in high school; he has to finish out in this program. But,” he eyed me for the go-ahead nod from across our bedroom where he was receiving the phone call from headquarters, “I can move. I’ll move. Melissa and the kids will finish out the school year and follow to Munich in the summer. That is, if the family follows at all.”

parisgo

parisgo

(Come back tomorrow for our last months in Paris…)

Global Mom: La Grande Gare Centrale

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flickr

First, a note to my readers.  As we advance toward the official release date set now for mid-July, I am pacing my posts in order to give you regular excerpts from the manuscript itself, updates on the publication process of Global Mom (the book), and vlogs featuring Global Mom (the Mom). The latter is to share with you what it’s like to navigate the many constant and weighty demands of this lifestyle we’ve chosen, which in this phase includes parenting the two youngest of our four (now high schoolers), integrating and trying to make a valuable contribution in yet another geography/culture/school system/place-we-call-home.

These are crowded but invigorating weeks ahead as we ready for the book to take off.  So I’m strapped in, tray table in upright position, stuff stowed in the overhead. Very glad you’re my seat partner, by the way, and not some snoring stranger.

Alright. Back to the book:

**

From Global Mom: A Memoir

Continued from two posts ago, “Toot-a-loo!”, where our family is now sinking deep into our years living in the heart of Paris.

**

 

mylearningtrains

mylearning

Out of 365 days on our family’s kitchen calendar, 281 were marked with visitors who stayed in our apartment. That’s not bragging. That’s fessing up. Our place turned into la Grande Gare Centrale, with its constant stream of bodies, roll-on suit-cases, extra mattresses, and fat stacks of Paris maps. Despite what that kind of traffic meant for predictable bed times and bathroom rights, the children learned to share their space, we made delightful connections with people from all over the world, and others got to experience Paris.

As is typical in many Parisian apartment buildings, ours was outfitted with rooftop garrets, or, in French, chambres de bonnes, or maids’ quarters. Our apartment was allocated two such rooms, hardly bigger than a walk-in closet each, but enough room for one set of bunk beds, a chair and a sink. In them we kept our frequent houseguests or visiting missionaries from our church. We grew especially close with some of these missionaries, who missed their families and homes and often ate around our long Norwegian table, hung out with and became like siblings to our teenagers, spent holidays with us, even went Christmas caroling with us to the homeless sleeping in tents along the Seine.

When missionaries were using the garrets, then other visitors were necessarily crammed into a back room with pink walls, a red futon, and access to a bathroom the size of a Parisian elevator, which sort of elevator is suited only for solo trips, not some convention of two.

If someone was abruptly left homeless, as happened to a newly arrived family of five from Boston, we took them in. The Sorensens had been jerked around, as is often the case, by Parisian real estate capriciousness. Translated, that means they’d found one apartment, signed a contract, and were geared to move in, then the owner changed his mind. So they found another apartment, signed a contract, were geared to move in, then this owner changed his mind. A cosmic joke? To the Sorensens it felt like one. But when I told the story to my drycleaner down Rue Malar, he hardly blinked. “I know,” he shrugged, “slippery as eels, these apartments,” and went on to ka-ching-ka-ching up my bill.

 

wikipedia

wikipedia

So the Sorensens (Greg, Kristiina, Rachel, Caroline, and Sam) were understandably less than charmed by Paris, and were repacking their bags to head back to Stockholm where they’d previously tried living Scandinavianly in a peaceful yellow country house on a quiet lake with a green row boat and a family of ducks. They rowed to the other shore to pick up fresh eggs, fresh milk, fresh gooseberries. They opened up their shutters to the sight of field flowers and climbing roses. They sun bathed on their quiet balcony.

This Parisian apartment yanking thing felt, well, yanky, if not uncongenial. But we convinced them to stick it out a bit longer—“Paris isn’t really hostile; she’s just playing hard to get. It’s a tactic.” And to help them stick it out, we took them in for a few weeks. This was a legitimate tactic, actually, to get them to move into our neighborhood, across our itsy bitsy street. When that actually happened, it was as improbable as it was magical. Our children conveniently matched in ages, and Kristiina and I discovered that we were suited to be more than friends; we were more like long lost sisters.

From [our] … tight corner of Paris and for what would be over four full years we lived there, we ventured broadly across and deeply into the town. The children found their favorite places to buy crêpes and gallettes (in Montmartre at the foot of the hill of Sacre Coeur and at the same crêperie every single time), where to grab the best ice cream cone, where to buy toys and CDs and shoes. I knew where to get great art supplies, kitchen ware, second-hand French books, fresh-cut hortensias, a decent hair trim, and where I could meet a friend for rose petal tea. I knew, above all, where to let myself get lost looking, for instance, for Gertrude Stein’s, Hemingway’s, Cole Porter’s, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, or Rudolf Nureyev’s apartments.

Randall found the ideal tennis partner, who rode a Vespa, too. They met at a court early Saturday mornings. When the season came, Randall enjoyed taking the children to the French Open at Roland Garros, the court-side tickets gifts from a generous friend. The boys knew every corner of the Jardin d’Acclimitation, Palais de Tokyo, the Esplanade des Invalides where they roller bladed and walked Joey. The man who ran the peddled racecar track tucked in corner of the Champs de Mars knew the boys by sight. We’d found the best comic book store in the Latin Quarter, the best art movies theaters the Reflet des Medicis or the Balzac, and knew what new releases in their VO or version originale were showing at the big Gaumont houses on the Champs Élysées. We knew how many steps it was to walk past Harry Winston’s windows to Fendi, or from Dior and Chanel, all on our walks to school up the Avenue Montaigne. That we did when weather was just the right shade of warm and Paris at her most ebullient.

At the bottom of that Avenue Montaigne, right next to what had been Marlene Dietrich’s apartment, was the clean white facade of le Theâtre du Champs Élysées, where Randall and I went every so often with or without the children to concerts. René Fleming. Cecilia Bartoli. Kurt Masur conducting. Sylvie Guillaume dancing. Or we went to the Salles Gaveau or Pleyel to hear Jessie Norman, J. J. Milteau and his jazz harmonica, the King Singers, or African percussion.

Not only were we delving into the city, but we were crisscrossing the country. With visiting relatives and sometimes friends, we made our way to the castles and beaches of Normandy. Then we discovered Brittany, with its seaside fishing villages and ramparts. With my parents as enthused travel partners trailing us in a rented green Punto, we penetrated the Charentes, Perigord, Dordogne, Bordeaux, the Pyrenées, and the Loire. We lodged, as you can in France, in troglodyte hotels, working farms, renovated monasteries, erstwhile castles, and some bring-your- own-toilet-paper youth hostels. There was almost no region of France we didn’t visit, and yet we always felt we’d scarcely scratched the surface.

All of this was an investment in our children who, at eighteen, sixteen, eleven and seven, could appreciate the things they were seeing and experiencing. They loved, of all the places we traveled, the late springs and early summers of Provence. That was a relaxed existence, slow and warm like the landscape and the light, unlike Paris where our teenagers had to learn to be alert and capable of managing the complexities of the big city on their own. Parker was especially fearless when it came to physically navigating the buses and rail systems in the city. He and Claire stuck together mostly if they went out on a Friday or Saturday evening, but if the occasion ever presented itself when Claire was somewhere in town alone, the two had a habit of texting each other non-stop.

bigfooty

bigfooty

Like my teenagers, I was also navigating a convoluted and intoxicating city. I’d long since conquered parallel parking in a spot which by all physical measures was too small for my vehicle, and I knew exactly which underground parking lots in town would accommodate my Renault van. I also knew which ones would leave me wedged inextricably in a corner, nine other motorists stacked up behind me, unable to turn in any direction at all, so I finally had to exit my car and walk from driver’s window to driver’s window, asking if, one-by-one, they could reverse into the street so I finally could, too.

redbubble

redbubble

I relished, at this point, swirling several times around the Étoile, or the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe that is an enormous vehicular vortex of twelve converging roads like spokes on a wheel, or rays from a star. It was my favorite place to drive in all the city. Why? Because it embodied the French concept, the “Système D,” “D” being short for débrouiller, which means to manage – or better, to slug one’s way through. I was debrouillling well, so to speak, and was so grateful to see my family was, too. Given the learning curve we’d ascended, this was plain gratifying.

**

(Stay tuned for more Paris. . .)

DOUBLE KA-BOUM! ONE YEAR BLOG ANNIVERSARY & GLOBAL MOM RELEASE!

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flickr

But first.

A moment of silence.

Make that a two week moment. . .

Since this blog’s inception exactly a year ago, I’ve never lapsed like this. Two full weeks (and that’s rounding down) since my last post? You long-time followers know me (long-time followers, back me up on this one): loyal as a Retriever, here ev-e-ry week, mostly twice a week, often three, on occasion four.  Consistent with my replies to your (delightful, insightful and appreciated) comments. Offering you, I hope, reading well worth your valuable time spent visiting here.

Then?

Two weeks of nada.

(You brand new blog-followers, are you wondering what on earth you signed up for?)

Sure, I could spend a lot of time and space here explaining about the reasons for the

two week

cricket

chirp

solo.

I could tell you about the great PR team that’s picked up Global Mom and wants a few more weeks to set things in place before its release, now at July 15th. I could also tell about getting the news that a prominent publisher who’s been reviewing another major manuscript of mine for over a year has now changed its mind and will not be taking it on. I could write all about my 24 hours of subsequent moroseness unaided either by sleep or by Swiss chocolate. About my new position leading the young women of my church throughout the Geneva region, which includes parts of France. About my many concerns with my own precious teenagers.  About the several public addresses I’ve given in the last two weeks alone.  About the book my husband and I are now going to write together, coming to you in 2014. About the big presentation I need to get in shape for an international women’s conference in a few months.  Oh, sure, I could spend this whole pretty page writing about all this. . . and more. . .

But instead of loading you will all those “Abouts” I’ll just get back to work.

So.

Eh-hem.

Welcome to Y2 at Melissa Writes of Passage.

And. . . Welcome to the final count down for Global Mom: A Memoir.

Global Mom Cover (large) 2

Now: Big virtual group hug.

Poland (March 2013) 049

Global Mom: Doggy Crêpe

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continued from last post, “Wednesdays With The Louvre”):

. . .I saw to it that a woman in a Louvre children’s bookstore hung my boys’ two best completed works on the official corkboard. We laughed in the van that their artwork now hangs in the Louvre. . .

**

credit: 123rf

credit: 123rf

We were loaded in that same van in late December. “Just a few minutes more and we’ll be there, guys.” The ruse was that we were on our way to pick up an English exchange student stranded in a village. She was, I told the family, homesick over Christmas. I’d gotten the call just yesterday. We had room. We could invite her to our place and make her at home. Not exactly what the boys had had in mind for the holidays, but they were used to having houseguests and were actually curious since Claire was especially excited.

“She’s sharing your room, right Claire?” Dalton asked, since he and Luc already shared and sharing with Parker wasn’t an option.

“Yeah, that’s the plan.” Claire threw me a glance in my rear view mirror.

“She’s adorable, I think, from what Claire and I could tell in the pictures I got on line.”

Parker perked up from the half-doze his earphones were lulling him into. “Cute?”

“Really petite. Curly reddish hair. Her name is. . .What was her name again, Claire?”

“Josephine. I’m sure you’ll love having her for the holidays.”

credit: 123rf

credit: 123rf

The skies were that typical grisailles gray of Parisian winters when we pulled up to a farm, its old stone wall crumbling in large chunks, its pastures muddy. Claire and I said we’d run inside to get Josephine, no problem, you guys just wait here and we’ll be right back out.

“Wait! Where’s she even going to sit?” Luc was worried.

“Don’t worry!” Claire called back over her shoulder, hopping from dry spot to dry spot on the stone walkway leading her way to the front door of the old dog breeder’s home. “I’ll have her sit on my lap!”

That was the way we introduced Josephine the English Cocker Spaniel to our family. She was the size and color of powdered cinnamon when Claire, cupping the ball of fur in her two hands, brought her promised puppy out to where she held her up to show her brothers through the van window. Only a few weeks old, we could have wrapped her in a crêpe.

Claire finally gets her puppy

Claire finally gets her puppy

And that was the way we were introduced to le monde du chien à Paris, a world that rivals the world of Parisian fashion, politics or gastronomy. Josephine was Joey to the kids. On the paper to register her for the French authorities, however, she was Velvet Josephine Dalton Bradford, “Velvet” because this was dog year “V” in France, (the last year was “U”, the next would be “W”, and so on), so any dog born, named and implanted with a state-prescribed chip in that year had to be given, by law, a name beginning with “V”.

(There was a moment when I wondered if Norway’s Name List office had alerted France to the arrival of a certain Bradford family, a bunch of name renegades, who might try to slip in an unacceptable first letter. A holdover vowel from last year, or worse, a preemptive consonant from the next year.)

Puppy Josephine waddling the sidewalks on her leash incited more conversations than had Luc William Bradford as an infant in his mammoth Norwegian perambulator cruising the ancient Marché in the heart of Versailles.

“But Madame,” the lady at the produce line in Rue Cler leaned over her artichokes, “Has she had her second round of vaccines yet?”
“Madame, you must dress your dog properly for this cold weather.” I listened patiently to the woman I’d crossed as she walked her well-dressed Shitzu around the Esplanade des Invalides. “Here, the business card for my own designer. All natural fabrics, no polyester, colors to flatter your little one’s eye coloring.”

The lady at the bus stop with a nervous Yorkshire Terrier on her lap had been watching me with Joey for a few minutes. “I must give you the name,” she whispered, “of our therapist who treats our Goliath with massage, lymphatic drainage and reflexology.”

And to think: no one had proposed cranial manipulation to help newborn Luc potty train.

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“Oh-la-la-la-la, Madame Bradford,” my veterinarian said, his bushy brows twitching. I had brought Joey to this practice in the Avenue de la Bourdonnais adjacent to an entrance to the Champs de Mars, which spreads its 60 lovely acres from the Eiffel Tower to the École Militaire. “This,” the doctor said, “is a hunting dog.” He struck both his hands on his boney knees for emphasis. “And this,” he stretched his arms in a wide arc above and behind his head, “is a city. A hunting dog and a city are not an easy combination. But you are in the seventh arrondissement. This is your village en ville. So run her, Madame,” he said, pointing toward the window that looked out onto the Champs du Mars. “Run her here as often as you possibly can.”

Every other morning, Claire and I ran (or stumbled all over the leash) with Joey through our village in the city, just like the doc said. This meant jogging from our apartment, up Cognac Jay, across the top of Avenues Rapp and Bourdonnais, down Rue de l’Univérsité behind the Musée du Quai Branly and around the circumference of the Champs.

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This Monsieur le Docteur R. was someone straight out of a movie. I wanted to visit him not only for my dog, but to take notes on his hand gestures, his swift gait, his flamboyant bedside manner. Take the eyes, hair and enthusiasm of Christopher Lloyd from “Back to the Future”, mix that with the height, lankiness and intensity of Jeff Goldblum from “Jurassic Park,” and swirl in Einstein. You have our dog’s doc.

“Alors, ma p’tite,” le Docteur spoke to our hound in a disciplined French, bending low to look her straight in the eyes, “I do not know what you are eating, but you must now keep a close eye on your ligne.” I had to check right and left to make sure he wasn’t talking to me, since there was this certain history of French doctors patrolling my waistline. But no, he was off-siding to me only because I was my pet’s food-dispenser, and Joey was going to be spayed, which operation would change her metabolism. A chubby Cocker, I was advised, is (gulp) an ugly Cocker. “If she puts on weight,” he whispered so as to not upset Joey, “her mental health will suffer more than her physical health does.” A week later he performed the operation, and as if to make sure she wouldn’t suffer post-op spread, he put Joey in a turn-of-the-century canine corset for a month.

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After her bandages were removed, we tried our best to run her and keep her out of the cookie jar. But Joey was domestic. She spread. And she became, as domesticated dogs can, quasi-human, sleeping right where Claire felt any pure bred hunting dog would be most useful, most at home in Claire’s arms where both got used to their three hundred thread count element.

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It’s no exaggeration to say that we were all in our element. Our mini solar system’s orbit was aligned; everyone was whirring in his or her deep groove, with life unfolding in a peaceful, predictable pace although the universe itself showed intermittent signs of mounting devastation. There were louder and louder anti-American and anti-French sentiments being lobbed back and forth, acts of terrorism, and escalating tensions between races and religions in Paris herself, which led to acts of arson and threats of a worse kind in the periphery of the city. We were reminded every day in the papers that life, as the planet itself, is a fragile and tenuous place. But in the immediate cycle of our family’s life, in its rhythms and patterns, things were briskly routinized, colorfully calm. Camelot.

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(To be continued. . .)

Global Mom: Our Daughter With The French Name

From Global Mom: A Memoir

The following I wrote in my journal:

The hardest moment was in our bedroom tonight. We’d already told P by himself, which was a good move. We knew he’d be ecstatic. But C just finished doing Marian the Librarian in “The Music Man” and just last week we promised her a dog. Finally, the dog she’s waited a decade for. For D and L, we would just announce the choice when we’d make it, not discuss it, so we didn’t involve them at first.

Claire as Marian

Claire as Marian

Claire living her dream: horses

Claire living her dream: horses

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Piano teacher down the street

Piano teacher down the street

Big yellow American school bus also down the street...and a 6 minute drive to school

Big yellow American school bus also down the street…and a 6 minute drive to school

Free range living

Free range living

Did I mention a cottage and lots of open space. . .for a dog?

Did I mention a cottage and lots of open space. . .for a dog?

...Or for a little brother?

…Or for a little brother?

P and C were sitting on our sofa. We told them we had big news but wanted to discuss it. This isn’t final, kids, we said. Want to get your reactions. And when we told C, she immediately glazed over then her eyes welled up. P put his arm around her, and she just started crying, crying. “I don’t want to go back to that hard life. This is easy, good, perfect. I want to be here. I want to STAY HERE!” And she fell into P’s arms, bawling. I think I gave R an evil look, and I know I lipped to him, “This means no go.”

We kept trying to reassure her. We haven’t said yes to a thing, we said. We’ve just been asked if we could and we are free to say no, we said. We’ll never do something that makes all of us miserable and that Heavenly Father does not encourage us to do. We walked around and around the back yard, C between us, our arms wrapped around her shoulders, listening as she cried out all the reasons why this was all bad, all wrong. “All bad, all wrong,” she kept crying, stopping to catch her breath, to bend over and then shake herself upright. It broke my heart. I wanted to weep, too, but held it in. I was believing her.

I felt how selfish it would be to pluck them out of such bounty and ease, and I had just hung red geraniums on the wrap around porch, gorgeous! Why would we ever head to where things were, as Claire knew, much harder. The edges, harder. The expectations, harder. The language, harder. The traffic and school and rules and sky and air and everything, she said, HARDER.

Inseparable, these two

Inseparable, these two

What happened when Claire went alone into her room is something Randall and I didn’t ask or hope for. We sat, nauseated and sweaty, conflicted and brokenhearted, hands between knees, rocking back and forth on the edge of our bed. So what? we said to each other, if the company has an “acute” and “special” need? So what if that need is, as they assert, “tailor made” to be filled with Randall’s expertise? So what if this would only be “a couple of years” and then we could come right back to the home and the huge yard and the cul de sac on the hill and corporate headquarters where Randall, having done this, overseeing his function in the company’s largest subsidiary outside the U.S., would be “very well-positioned”, as he was told, to take on the job that his whole career had been grooming him for, the top and final level.

So what? I said.

So what? he said.

So what?

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And Claire knocked on our door.

She wanted to talk. She came with news that became a turning point and a landmark to which our whole family would refer for years to come. She sat with us on the bed and told us she’d run while holding back tears to her girlfriend down the road. That friend, whose parents were in the middle of a horrible divorce, reassured and comforted Claire, and listened as her new friend cried. Claire had then come back home to kneel at her bed and pray. Not for an answer — to move or not to move, that was not the question — but simple comfort in this hurting moment. It was then that she felt warmth and heat wrap around her twelve-year-old shoulders and a voice (she felt it, she didn’t hear it), told her clearly that though this would be really hard at the beginning, over the long run it would be the best thing for the family.

Yes, she should, we should, move to Paris.

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Global Mom: Going Home, or How to Be Present. Fully.

From Global Mom: A Memoir

We were moving to a Heartland Homeland and in many ways the American Dream Land. A 30-minute drive south from Randall’s company’s headquarters, it is a bucolic, historic swath of Americana with 200-year-old farm houses. . .

Early American home, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Early American home, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

. . .and snaking stone walls surrounding horse farms and apple orchards. . .

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. . . a place known, as my new neighbor dressed in a Phillies T-shirt told me, for its Blue Ribbon schools and Blue Ribbon beer.

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Despite that appealing description, there were early indications the adjustment was not going to be so easy. Parker was immediately called “Frenchie” at a middle school that had a two percent rotation rate, meaning that people were born there and schooled there and never moved away. Next to zero international influx.

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Our children were mortified when everyone but them knew to stand in perfect unison at the beginning of the school day and recite, “Verbatim, Mom,” Claire said through gritted teeth later, an “Allegiance chant,” Parker cut in, all gluey and glum. “I had to lip sync, Mom,” he went on.

They had never heard it. Never knew it existed. And how would they? But they knew the Norwegian and French national anthems by heart, and I suggested they teach them to their classes as compensation.

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Getting to know Philadephia

Getting to know Philadephia

Then the girls on the elementary school playground were tittering in a tight clump about someone named Lizzy; her clothes, her hair, the way she talked, what she did this week and the week before and what she might do next week. And Claire, a month into this new world, interrupted to ask, “So. . .who’s Lizzy? Is she new here at school like me?” To which all the girls stared. And laughed.

“Lizzy McGuire, Mom,” Claire told me later, not crying, but looking stern, like an anthropologist who’s just spotted a member of an endangered species. “Lizzy, M-C-G-U-I-R-E. We have got to get American T.V.”

Dalton's first ever American soccer league: The Guppies.

Dalton’s first ever American soccer team: The Guppies.

And Dalton was having his own adjustment issues, not spitting at children this time around, thank heavens, but doing other things his teacher was trying to manage. “Twenty-two years as a teacher, Mrs. Bradford, and I have to tell you I’ve never seen anything quite like your dear Dalton.”

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At thirteen, Parker would have probably been riding the plate tectonics of an identity crisis anywhere, but here he was trying wardrobes and body postures and accents in order to fit in. When asked were he was from, he never mentioned a word about his real upbringing, would no longer speak anything but English with us although we’d always hopped from Norwegian to French to English in our home, in our private conversations, to keep secrets as a family when on the streets. It seemed he’d made an overnight decision to be a new person.

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Where, Parker? Where’d you just tell that guy at the gas station you were from?”

“Fully” he tipped his head on which he now wore a flat-rimmed cap tilted strategically off to one side. “Fullydelphia.”

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My son — maybe you remember him from barnepark and the Versailles Club du Basket? — had morphed in the course of exactly 0.6 minutes, into a boy from the hood. From the Fully hood.

After having written an essay for entrance into an honors English course for his school, Parker reported to me later how it had gone.

“So, ça va, mon cœur? How’d it go?”

“’Salright, I guess. I finished the thing. Wrote a good full three pages.”

“Sounds good! What did you write on?”

“Eve.”

“Eve? As in Eve . . . Adam and Eve—Eve?

“Yuh. Eve.” He was adjusting the hat and letting his oversized pants bunch sufficiently around his untied basketball shoes. My boy from Fully. Where’d this kid materialize from?

“As in, you wrote about the Bible story? Or, uh, what?” I kept smiling, taking it easy, knowing that I was now in a country where the separation of church and state is at times maybe a bit smudgy. But. . . Eve?

“They gave me three choices to write on,” he said, “And I picked, ‘Describe the life and accomplishments of your favorite First Lady.’”

“And Eve. . .She was the—”

“The First Lady.”

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What I Will Really Miss About Singapore

Fifteen days and counting. Right now is always about the point in an international move where my brain flips into hyper-list-making mode, its primitive way of revving up my otherwise sluggish neurotransmitters. My iPad, lap top, Excel, iPhone and Post It lists are supposed to save me from missing vital cues during this stretch between point of departure and port of entry. They remind me to sell this. Clean that. Huck this. Turn off this. Turn on that. Find this. Lose that. Cancel that. Warn them. Beg her. Petition him. Close these. Open those. Wrap these. And stack everything (and everyone) else right over there, thank you.

One such list awoke me in the middle of the night and I’ll tell you, it was a rowdy roll call. It never let me go back to sleep again. After a typical tropical storm blasted open my eyelids at 3:00 a.m., and before I could close them again, I was busily scrolling down this list: What I Will Really Miss About Singapore.

For the next several days, I’ll post my list for you, (gathered from 3:00 to 5:45 a.m. and noted point-by-point on green Post Its) here. It’s by no means exhaustive and with the exception of #1, (which is the thing I’ll miss most, I think), these things aren’t necessarily listed in any specific order. But it gives you an idea. . .

#1. Diversity. The first night our family arrived in Singapore we spent wandering through the muggy, teeming streets of Chinatown. It was there where Dalton predicted in one simple phrase what we would gradually discover over our two years living here. On his left was a Buddhist temple. A few steps farther, a Hindu temple. Even farther, a mosque. Finally, a Christian church. From each of these doorways poured people dressed like extras from either the Chinese, Bollywood, Middle Eastern or the Midwestern movie, and a cascade of inscrutable languages poured out with them. My teenager turned to me and said, “This place is like living every day in Universal Studios.”

Raising the Red Lantern in Singapore’s Chinatown

And he wasn’t so far off. Singapore is craaazily diverse. Its population of about 5 million packed into no more than 224 square miles is composed of multiple cultures. The official languages are English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, its dominant religions Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism. But there are dialects and splinter groups of all that, too. Walk any given road and you will see turbans next to Red Sox baseball caps, head scarves next to Hermès scarves, Punjabi suits next to Chanel suits, ninja abayas along side Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirts. In my neighborhood alone, there are Chinese-speaking Malaysians, Malay-speaking Indians, Tamil-speaking Indonesians, Filipinos, Germans, Canadians, Koreans, Japanese, Mainland Chinese, Irish, Australians and Kiwis, a Texan or two, and some pretty serious looking guys who look like native Singaporeans (whatever that looks like) but who don’t speak at all. Instead, they carry machine guns. They are the guards outside the home of Goh Chok Tong, former prime minister of Singapore, who is reported to have said that with all these cultures converging in one tiny place, Singapore is not a nation, but a “society in transition.” I’ll go for that.

Sultan Mosque in Singapore’s Arab Street

As I wrote, there is a Chinatown, Arab Street, Little India, and Peranakan corners. (Peranakans are, as I understand it, Malaysians with deep Chinese roots.) There is a Goethe Institute as well as an Alliance Française. There are German, Canadian, French, Swiss, and Dutch schools, not to mention the several international schools offering instruction in Chinese and English. Nearly 40% of the population is made up of “foreigners” like us, or like the truckloads of workers who are, my friend from Mumbai told me, mostly Indian themselves, here to work the heavy construction jobs that drive this city-state into the stratosphere. Or at least into the clouds.

I love that I can assume that just about everyone I meet on the street speaks at least two, if not three or four or more languages. (Now, if only those languages were on my own list. . .) I love that we get to celebrate all these flamboyant Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian festivals, that Hari Raya and Puasa and Chinese New Year and Deepevali now mean something to my children. I love that my own religion is set in a global context, and that my children see themselves—white, English-speaking and Christian—as a minority, that we absorb the truth that being any of those things is not the only valid mode of existing is this world. Living in the mix of such diversity reflects the true proportions of this planet we live on. There is immeasurable worth in that, I think, and should train us, I hope, to respect cultural codes and celebrate (and not denigrate) such differences.

Here’s where such cultural exposure gets real:  When Luc recently celebrated his 12th birthday, his 12 friends were like a mini United Nations with Luc as the only fair-haired kid in the bunch. What struck me also, is that as we made the guest list and I quizzed him about these friends, Luc never once mentioned that one was African or Thai or Indian, that they looked brown, yellow or any color at all. (He did, however, casually mention dietary restrictions: “You’ll know who Ali is, Mom. He’s got the biggest eyes and is Muslim, so, you know, he doesn’t do pork.”) And when I asked Luc after the party to help me write thank you notes to each gift-giver, Luc didn’t describe them racially. Instead, this gift here? It was from the kid who is the fastest in the class, and that one was from the funniest, the other one was from the smartest. And this last gift? It was from the one who could do the loudest arm fart.

So maybe not exactly like the U.N.

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© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.