I recently posted this photo of my twin children on my Facebook page with the caption “Where two oceans meet…” The double entendre was on purpose, albeit private since I only shared the fact that the location was Cape Point, South Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet – a turbulent mix of sea change and wind that nurtures one of the richest and most diverse floral kingdoms in the world. (United Nations Environment Program)
As I watch my children together against this backdrop, the second meaning hits me with a certain beauty and clarity.
How do I nurture the two vastly different oceans that are my children in a way that will allow them to thrive and flourish in their inseparable and sometimes turbulent emotional mix of differences and growth? How did Mother Nature do it in Cape Point?
As I reflect and take my cues from the natural environment around us, what I see is the ebb and flow of calm and storms, much like the children’s daily lives together. The strong winds that come can break each of my children where they cannot bend. On Cape Point where trees break from the wind only small shrubs grow, but those shrubs abound with nesting seabirds, small animals, and flowers that are hard as wood. Resilience blooms here.
Those same winds and storms carry foreign nutrients from far away that once calm, blanket the landscape with new and unexpected influences on the life that abounds there. Whether the impacts are negative or positive on the land, maelstroms don’t abide by what Cape inhabitants want or need. They either create rich and remarkable new species among those who adapt and embrace the new, or they can uncompromisingly destroy what tries to hide with futile resistance. Life always finds its own way.
The western seaboard of Cape Point is pummelled by Atlantic waves into jagged high cliffs that are hardened and worn and immovable. The eastern waves lap against a gentler bay that slope the yielding sandy beaches, although wayward and changing with each season. These two coasts are my children.
What Mother Nature is telling me is that life is not always safe and warm, that motherhood and nurturing for my children’s growth comes with uncontrollable forces that can either be seen as destructive or enriching. That while looking at this scene through either of these lenses and trying to focus on what will become of them is futile and indeterminate. I cannot see the future. I do not know how they will grow. All I know is that my love for each of them will always be as deep as their two oceans.
How do you approach raising two (or more!) different children?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Dee Harlow, a mother of twins currently living in Lesotho. You can also find her on her blog Wanderlustress.
This month marks our third anniversary of living in Jakarta. Considering how empty our house was when we first arrived here, I am staggered at how much stuff we have acquired in that short time.
We initially started out with garden chairs as living room furniture and took our time furnishing our new space. Though the house isn’t exactly cluttered, it feels full – and I feel daunted by the sheer volume of STUFF that seems to fill every closet and drawer.
It’s the never-ending tide of cheap party favors, orphaned toy and game parts, and plastic galore. It’s the piles of paper: children’s artwork, old receipts, and unfinished magazines. It’s all the things I never use or wear, the boxed objects I might use one day and the stock of (US-bought) items I think I can’t live without.
Moving from the US to East Timor 5 years ago was a great opportunity to clear things out and scale back. Although I did feel a little sad watching an expectant dad cart away our twins’ disassembled cribs the night before we moved, it felt good to sort through our accumulated belongings and assign categories: donate, sell, ship or store.
Donating unwanted items was easy. I arranged for a pick up with a local charity group, stacked everything on my porch and it was all magically whisked away. We sold our car and other big items, sent friends home with plants and other housewares and shipped our edited possessions to Dili.
Everything else went into our storage unit. A few years later I visited it for the first time and was amazed by what we’d deemed worth keeping at the time. I randomly peeked in a few boxes and found…sweaters. Lots of sweaters. What was I thinking? It was winter at the time and we didn’t know how long we’d be away, but still.
We also stored our furniture, though we recently realized that the cost of storing it for the last five years has probably exceeded its value. While visiting the US, my husband spent a day digging out furniture and giving it all away – couches, tables, lamps, washer/dryer…everything. I was thousands of miles away at the time but it felt fantastic.
Leaving East Timor prompted a similar purge. And yet here I am again, feeling the urgent need to reduce and simplify.
Here in Jakarta, this process isn’t as straightforward. While it’s fair to say that nothing will ever go unused, getting rid of unwanted items isn’t as simple as piling them on the porch. I frequently give outgrown kids’ clothes and shoes to friends or neighbors, donate household items to women’s association charity shops, or leave things out to be upcycled by our handcart-pulling bin man.
Last month my children got involved and we went through their toys, books and clothes and filled 10 bags with donations for a local orphanage. Though it was good for them to be part of this process, I would also really like for them to see where their donations are going and consider giving back in other ways (time, money, materials etc.).
Although I will never be a minimalist (or a light packer…), I’m committed to scaling back and am hopeful that this is a first step toward living with less.
A quick internet search reveals hundreds of creative ways to de-clutter, organize and simplify our homes – and ultimately our lives. We are told that having too much stuff is draining and overwhelming us, that we are wasting too much time and money managing our things and that getting rid of all this stuff can make our lives richer and happier.
All of this may be true, but for me the bigger question is about how to acquire less stuff in the first place.
Clearly I don’t have the answer yet, but it’s definitely something I would like to explore and practice – starting now.
Please share your strategies and tips to get me started!
How do you minimize/manage the “stuff” in your house and life? Do you have any tips for living with less?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Shaula Bellour.
From the window, I can hear high-pitched giggles and the sound of wellington boots on garden path gravel.
My daughter is next door with her new neighbor friend, pretending that the garden shed is an animal rescue center and the backyard chickens are actually wild monkeys. My son is bouncing on a trampoline with the friend’s big sister and I can see their carefree bodies flying above the wheat fields, in the shadow of the village church.
It’s past their usual school-night bedtime, but the sun is still high and we’ve stopped keeping track of these things anyway. Evidence of the day’s activities is scattered on the grass: badminton birdies, a rainbow of half-finished loom band bracelets, a decorated cardboard lean-to and sticky signs of an earlier snail race.
Both kids return with dirty feet and ice cream on their faces and I’m pretty sure they forgot to wash their hands after petting the donkey across the road. But it’s okay. It’s the summer holidays in rural England and it feels like the stuff childhood is made of. The only catch is that it’s not where we live…
Life is a series of trade-offs.
Back in Jakarta, we’re on our way to school and my children want to know why we don’t live in England. “Well…because we live here”, I respond simply, feeling a sharp pang of guilt. I go on to explain that day-to-day life in England would probably be different than the idyllic summer version. For example, instead of playing all day, they would have to go to school and soon the long sunny days would turn cold and wet. “That’s okay!” they chirp, happily unconvinced.
Luckily the conversation shifts and together we watch the city float past our car window. The daily mosaic of life here is colorful, chaotic and always fascinating. We read shop signs, point out our favorite kaki lima food carts and compete to find the most interesting motorcycle cargo…from pallets of baby chicks to enormous balloon bundles.
We talk about their new school classes and where all the children are from, realizing that there are nearly as many nationalities as students. We think about where we might like to travel for their half-term break and marvel at how lucky we are to be so close to so many amazing destinations.
Life is a series of trade-offs.
Sometimes, I feel sad about the fact that our children are growing up so far away from their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. But then I am also reminded that since our family is both British and American, we will always be far from someone we love regardless of where we live. We do the best we can to stay connected and are grateful for the precious time we get to spend together.
Occasionally, I see photos of my friends’ frolicking children and feel a twinge of regret that my own kids are missing out on the places and experiences I enjoyed as a child growing up in the US.
But then I examine my own assumptions…does their childhood need to resemble my own for it to be good? Of course not. My children may not learn to ski anytime soon, but they are seeing and doing so much more than I ever dreamed of at their age.
Life is a series of trade-offs.
I tell myself that we are lucky to enjoy the best of both worlds. But in reality, we can’t have it both ways.
This is the path we’ve chosen and there are limitations as well as benefits. Accepting these trade-offs brings a certain kind of relief and shifts the focus — emphasizing what we have instead of what we’re missing.
It’s a process, but I’m getting there.
How do you and your family balance life’s trade-offs?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Shaula Bellour.
Photo Credit: ClairOverThere. This image holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.
My family and I have just returned home to the United States after living in Laos for the past two years. We’ve been back in the States for 1.5 weeks and the highlight of my day today was a successful trip to a clearance sale at the local used children’s clothing store here in Denver, Colorado.
For $200 U.S. dollars, I bought 50 pieces of clothing for my 4.5-year old boy and girl twins to last them (hopefully) for the next three years, when we will be living in Lesotho.
No, you’re not reading typos (WMB editors are awesome). Yes, that’s $200 for 50 pieces of clothes including: jeans, pants, shorts, collared shirts, t-shirts, cute shirts, dresses, skirts, leggings, pajamas, and swimwear, sizes 5 – 8. All are like new, and many top quality brands, which some of you might recognize: Gymboree, Hanna Andersson, Mini-Boden, Garnet Hill, Gap, Carter’s.
I’ve been shopping for used children’s clothing ever since my kids were born. Heck, they’ve been living mostly in hand-me-downs from relatives and friends and this store’s used clothing.
They’ve been happy. I’ve been happy. And we’ve all received compliments on their cute clothes. I really wouldn’t do it any other way.
Sure, I see loads of advertisements, storefronts and catalogs filled with great stuff I’d love to buy, and can afford to buy. But my practical sensibilities and appreciation of value for money mostly always stops me…
”They grow so fast.”
“It’ll just get dirty or torn up.”
“Hey, those are adult clothing prices!”
As they say, “Waste Not Want Not.” Or, “One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure.”
When I was living and working in Singapore as an investment banker, single, no kids, I was a spendthrift. Not a care in the world, except to ensure I saved for my pension.
I used to give my housekeeper handbags and shoes from the back of my closet that had gotten moldy in the extreme humidity, and she would always be delighted to receive these items that I thought were in state of trash-worthy grossness.
Weeks later, I would compliment her on her great purse or shoes and she would say, “These are the ones you gave me Ma’am.” Seriously. I felt like a fool. All I had to do was wipe them clean and put on a coat of leather polish. Silly, young, spendthrifty me.
Now I make sure our belongings are well cared for so they can last, or so they can be passed on and re-used. In Laos, used items purchased or made in America were highly coveted and sold fast. Everyone from our housekeeper, gardener, guard, colleagues at work and folks on a “buy & sell” Facebook site, gobbled up everything that wasn’t typically available locally or across the border in Thailand. Mostly because it was either cheaper, or better quality.
Consumer products sold throughout Asia tend to be of very low and questionable quality, and often not available at all in Laos.
Coming back to the land of plenty and choices, I still try to maintain the same mindset. Things can be valued for much more fundamental reasons than merely being new, or beyond the marketing image of “need” or status or image.
Sure, we can bring in the extreme perspective of the garbage dump cities all of the world where people and children actually live off of, and even earn a living from garbage. And our gut reaction is to think about how we can help them and change their situation, and feeling with a passion that something must be done about them, when in fact, it starts with us.
If we can change our habits and our mindsets, if we can demand less, if our values can put a limit on the things we accumulate versus things we re-use, then…
Who knows? Who knows what the solution is to uber-consumerism? Everyone all over the world seems to want it. Our demand for it makes it thrive. It’s not completely wrong, yet somehow it doesn’t seem right.
What does seem right to me is $200 for 50, and I’ll stick with it for as long as I can.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our mother of twins writer, Dee Harlow, currently in transit to live in Lesotho. You can also find her on her blog Wanderlustress.
Photo credit attributed to Mark Frauenfelder. This photo has a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike license.
Out of the blue, my daughter recently asked “Mommy, who is your Daddy?” “My Daddy is Grandpa”, I said. “Do you remember him? We visited him in the desert.” “No, Mommy. Can we go to the desert again, so I can remember him?”
This breaks my heart.
Growing up, I always had a close relationship with my Dad. We are kindred spirits in many ways, and he has had a big influence on the shape of my life.
When I was 14, my parents separated, and my Dad moved to San Francisco. I loved visiting him there and experiencing the world beyond my suburban life – touring the city together while he listened, offered perspective and treated me like the adult I was becoming. After my friend backed out of our planned graduation trip to France – my first overseas experience – my Dad encouraged me to go by myself. Buoyed by his confidence, I took the leap…and thus began my traveling life.
Over the years he expressed only enthusiasm for my far-flung travel plans and showed up to philosophize over wine in Paris and fresh roasted coffee in Eritrea. Between adventures (and sometimes jobs), his home was a welcoming safe haven.
I always thought my Dad would make a wonderful grandfather. He is a gifted storyteller, seems to know everything about everything and even has a Santa Claus look about him – white hair, smiling eyes and a jovial laugh.
However, until now he has played a very hands-off role in my children’s lives.
In the years after the twins were born, we visited each other a handful of times. As a new mom, I had less time for keeping in touch – and my adventure tales were decidedly less riveting – but he was still just a phone call away, and I often took advantage of my rare alone time (usually while walking the dog) to give him a ring.
After moving to Asia 3 years ago, communication has dwindled. These days we might get an occasional email, but there are no skype chats, phone calls, letters, or birthday presents to unwrap. When you live far away from family, these are the things that keep us close – the quick IM exchanges, silly video chats, emailed notes and drawings, and slightly dented packages with exciting postmarks.
Luckily, my Mom and my British in-laws make a great deal of effort to keep in touch and up to date on our daily lives, which I am so grateful for. Our kids know, love and miss them and it’s a joy to watch their relationships grow and thrive despite the miles between us.
Three out of four grandparents isn’t bad, yet, I still feel disappointed by the Grandpa gap in our lives.
Everyone is missing out ,and I feel sad that my fantastic kids don’t know my equally fantastic Dad and that he doesn’t know them. Ultimately, though, their grandfather-grandchild relationship belongs to them. I can encourage this special bond, but I can’t create their connection or force them to know and love one another.
I also feel disappointed in my Dad’s hands-off role in my own life since having kids. Just because I am now a parent doesn’t mean that I don’t still need my own parent. Though I’m now living in the big wide world that he encouraged me to explore, all of the same advice applies. And sometimes I still need it.
In a few weeks we will drive our little family to the desert to visit my Dad for the first time in 2 years.
My hope is that my Dad and my children will have time to get to know each other and create some special memories during our short visit. For myself, I hope to reconnect with an open heart and commit to communicating better going forward.
Life is simply too short.
How do you maintain relationships with family when living far away? Has your relationship with your parents changed since you became a parent?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Shaula Bellour in Jakarta, Indonesia. Her blog, Notes From a Small World, is currently on hiatus but she promises to return to blogging soon.
Photo credit to Kihoon Park. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.
Brody’s first day of school in the Netherlands.
There are things in life that I have never found intimidating. Specifically with my own education. I come from a family where I was the first to go on to college and eventually graduate. I filled out my paperwork, I applied for student loans, and I made sure that everything I had to do was taken care of, either in person (waiting outside of the counselor’s office for hours on end) or through mindless games of guess-that-phone-extension with the registrar. My parents didn’t know how to help me and that was OK.
In light of this over self-confidence when it came to taking care of myself and my education- I never thought much about the education of my children. Back in the States my oldest started a toddler program two years ago- three days a week for a couple of hours just so that his new twin brothers and I didn’t suck the life out of him. Finding the right school (easy, it was a friend’s suggestion), enrolling, and becoming a part of the program was no big thing.
In essence- everything has been easy with regard to early education up until now. My family and I moved from South Carolina to The Netherlands in November of last year. I wasn’t in a ‘rush’ per say, to get the boys into a preschool program, but I feared expat isolation, lack of friends and exposure to their new culture.
When we went house hunting, our biggest concern was what kind of schools were in the area. It had to be very close to home (walking distance) and they had to welcome us. Outsiders. Americans in this small Netherlands village. (more…)