I want to be soft again.

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Being a single mother is hard.

Not because single parenting is challenging, I mean it is. But because I used to be the soft one. I used to be the one who kissed the boo boos and who he ran to when he was hurt or upset. I wasn’t the primary disciplinarian and there was balance in the house. I could focus on him because other things were being taken care of by someone else.

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Sleep and the art of getting your kid to stop talking to you.

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Once upon a time, there was a child whom we adoringly refer to as “the boy”. He was a quiet fellow who would stare at you and silently judge you while eating his saltines and “nanners”. Because…well that’s what you do when you’re two: develop hyper-focused eating habits and judge everyone you meet.

Anyway, this kid was perfect. He played by himself and was able to use his imagination to play boxing or wrestling for hours with his stuffed toys. He allowed his mother to get work done or cook or clean when she was ever inclined to do so. Their relationship was awesome and often the envy of everyone in their immediate circle.

One day, the boy’s mother enrolled him in a school that encouraged his social and emotional development, because she realized that if this area of his personality wasn’t properly developed she might be raising the next Unabomber so she might want to do something about that soon.[1] Things went well at this school and the once reserved child who presented with behaviors that made his mother think he had Autism Spectrum Disorder[2] soon blossomed into a social butterfly.

The boy would come home and discuss all the wonderful things he learned at school and discussed with his friends and thought about telling her while he was at school but couldn’t because, well, he was at school. So the boy filled her in on all those thoughts she missed and talked and talked and talked until finally his mother threw herself out the basement window to end her misery. [3]

The end. 

The boy has grown into this wonderful and amazing extrovert who is able to socialize with anyone and discuss an array of topics even with strangers while standing in the immigration line at the airport. He has planned play dates with kids at the park and given them my number so that they can give it to their mother to plan.[4] He’s amazing and the school did exactly what I needed it to do during our time there. I couldn’t be more proud.

There’s only one problem. This boy’s mother is an introvert who doesn’t like people and values quiet and misses that silent, judgey child she once had. 

Emphasis on silent. 

So, as a defense mechanism I have developed strategies to get my child to stop talking to me and help take care of that ringing in my ears[5]. Now, these may or may not work for you, and I can’t really guarantee their efficacy with your own child, but they are definitely worth a try.

1. Pretending you’re asleep. I’ve done this on planes, trains, busses, hotel rooms, long Uber rides. It works 85% of the time. Hell, I did it last night. We were on the bus riding home from a friend’s sayonara party and he’s gabbing and sharing with me about how he didn’t know that Honda made motorbikes and he thinks it would be cool if you could modify motorbikes to have seat belts and he wonders how safe it would bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I slowly “dozed” off on him until he turned from looking out the window and noticed I was gone and directed his conversation back to the window and his reflection.

Alternatively, I’ve pulled the covers over my head and played with my phone under. You have to be careful though. Your child will remove the covers and ask you to unlock the iPad or for food or something so you have to make sure they are set up before hand, otherwise they will just wake you up.

2. Electronics. Shameless, I know. I typically limit the use of electronics but when I need sleep or just some time alone, I unlock the iPad and send him to his room. I am not ashamed to say I have used this often and judge me if you want to. I couldn’t care less.

3. Just leave. Take the trash out. Walk the dog. Go stand in the backyard and pretend to count the blades of grass. Just sometimes the act of leaving the room helps. I don’t recommend this for toddlers and younger children. Aside from the fact that you can’t really leave them in rooms alone for the fear (or ever present danger) that they will injure themselves and/or set something on fire, they also tend to follow you.[6]

4. Going to the bathroom. Much like the MTV series The Real World, the bathroom is off limits to voyeurs in our house. Which makes this the perfect place get some peace and quiet. If you have two bathrooms in your house, even better! This reduces the risk that your child will ask to use the toilet while you’re in there. Some children try to talk to you through the door, but I have trained him early to not do that. That rules sticks about 50% of the time.

You can also turn on the shower. That sometimes signals that I’m actually in the shower and therefore can’t hear him when he’s trying to talk to me. I’ve often just sat in there and read a book wasting precious hot water and getting a glorious steam bath. I’ve often resorted to actually taking a shower as well because he tried to come in and say he had to “use it”.

Much like the previous suggestion. This one doesn’t really work for toddlers and younger children, as they don’t really care about your privacy and the bathroom is fair game for them.

5. Melatonin. This one works wonders. It’s a natural hormone in your body that allows you to gently fall asleep at your request. You can slip it in their juice or tea and they are off to la la land in a few minutes. Increasing the temperature in your house and playing calming music will often speed up the effects of this one as well. It’s an amazing option.[7]

Again, I can’t really say if any of these will work for you. But they have helped me salvage some of my sanity dealing with this crazy child on a daily basis. I love him to pieces, but I do often long for the days when I wished he would talk so I could take it all back. I’m kidding. I love him. He’s amazing. But I need sleep.

Footnotes for entertaining commentary:

[1] The boy’s mother is a psychologist and often worried about the psychosocial effect anything will have on him. This hyperbole was perfectly normal for her.

[2] This part is true. When he was younger, the boy was not very verbal, would be hyperfixed on certain toys and foods, and rarely socialized with anyone outside of me and my partner. He would flip out if anything changed in the schedule without notice and would become fixated on why it changed. I was legit worried for a while.

[3] You can’t actually throw yourself out the basement window. It was a joke. She did not commit suicide.

[4] Still working on social norms and stranger danger with this kid.

[5] You know the one. That high pitched ringing sound you get when you come home from a concert or a really loud bar. That one.

[6] Also, some county and state statues kinda talk about how you’re supposed to supervise your kids and can’t really leave them alone for periods of time otherwise it could result in investigations and whatnot. You might wanna research the laws in your respective states before trying this one.

[7] I’m kidding. Don’t give your kid melatonin, please. Or if you do, carefully read the label.

24 hours in Abu Dhabi: Pt. 1

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This is a rant. I’m just gonna put that out there first. The TripAdvisor review will come later. I’m hot and stinky and really really tired, so this is what you get right now.

We begin our journey landing in Abu Dhabi Airport at 2:30AM. We left Narita Airport at 9PM, so I really don’t know what time my body thought it was by the time we landed. I didn’t sleep well, but the boy remarked that he “slept like a baby”. So I was already irked.

We landed 2 hours ahead of schedule, therefore we had to wait for the Good Samaritan we solicited to wake up and come get us. No biggie. We just enjoyed the wonderful sights and smells of the airport arrivals area until our electronics died. 

Oh, the smells…they were a-plenty!

I have to also mention that we are in the UAE during Ramadan. For those of you who don’t know, Ramadan is the month in which Muslims around the world fast from dawn until sunset, which can be up to 15 hours. This observance is in accordance to the five pillars of Islam and it is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement, and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are required to refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids (including WATER), and having sexual relations.  Most begin fasting as soon as they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy, without disabilities, and aren’t pregnant or in old age.

Breaking fast, which occurs around 7PM, is Iftar and all who care to can join in and break bread in a communal way that encourages connection and celebration. All over the city there were tents set up, providing a free meal for all those who wanted to take part. We were told that tens of thousands come to take part in Iftar in each of the many tents the government sets up.

For those of you who don’t know, we are not Muslim. But we are in a Muslim country that requires not only it’s citizens to observe Ramadan, but it is also law that any visiting non-muslim has to observe as well. This means, no eating, drinking, smoking, or whatever in public. Seriously, I saw someone get chased down for walking down the street with a bottle of water. They don’t play.

But I knew this ahead of time so to prepare I checked out websites and blogs that offered suggestions to get through the holy month as a tourist. You can eat at the airport, they said. Everything is okay as long as you don’t exit the building, they said. But they didn’t know that my flight would get in before anything really opened. Whatever. We waited.

We’re picked up and headed to a friend’s house. She was amazing and picked up some water and fruit to get us through the day. I ate that and the boy had waffles. This was around 6am. We relax in her house until it’s time for us to get dropped off for our first tour at 8:30. We have about an hour before we are picked up, so we check out the Starbucks she told us was open to serve us. At this point in the morning, the heat was already coming in at about 38 degrees (100.4 F) and we walked as fast as we could to get to the Starbucks.

We arrive and set to order our drinks and the boy’s donut. We’re all happy to be in the air conditioning and the guy making the drinks says something to me in Arabic. I look confused like “What did he just say?” The cashier goes “Oh, you can’t sit down”. 

Come again?

He goes on to explain that we can order, but we have to leave to eat it. So I ask, “How am I supposed to eat it outside of here without getting arrested?” He says “Oh.” Really. He just says “oh.” like he didn’t think about that part of the equation. He eventually says that we can hide in a corner of the place and eat and drink quickly so they don’t get in trouble. So I change my order to cold drinks for quicker consumption and we hide in our corner and scarf down everything. Even hide the evidence, making sure we aren’t still chewing when we leave.

Back to the heat.

We are picked up for our tour and see the amazing Grand Mosque and date market and heritage market where we saw how Emirates lived back in the day and all that. In the heat. At this point it was up to 45 (114 F). 114 fuckin degrees!!! 

For real. 

I’m not sure at what point things spontaneously combust, but I’m sure we almost got to that point. For the second half of the tour, the boy elected to stay in the van. He was like “I’m seriously over this shit”. He didn’t say shit, people. But his body language did. I was pissed because I brought an outfit to change into to be more modest and get into the Mosque, and was told that I was still showing too much clavicle and had to wear an abaya on top of the long dress and long sleeved shirt I was wearing. I was sweating in ways I could have never imagined.

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Anyway, after all that we are dropped off at 2pm to find food. We were hot, sweaty and irritable at this point. Mind you, we hadn’t eaten ANYTHING since 6am. Both of us were so over this day and regretting any life decisions that had brought us to the UAE in the middle of all this heat and fasting.

Walking to find the mall (that we were told we could find lunch) the boy is complaining and I told him that we might need to get the Subway that someone told us was open. He breaks into a tantrum about how he doesn’t want Subway and that he wants pizza or something.

I honestly don’t really remember what he said because once the tantrum started and I heard “I don’t want…” I snapped. Like seriously was about to grip him up and all I remember was shouting “LISTEN! I had to sneak and drink water in a bathroom stall, you really think we have options on where to eat right now?!?”

No, seriously. I had to sneak and drink water in the bathroom stall. Not the open bathroom, but in the stall. Same place where I, and many other folk, pee and other things. Among bacteria and other thoughts I don’t even want to entertain. I was NOT about to woof down a chicken leg standing over a toilet. 

I’m not above doing a lot of things, but that was one of them.

That was one of many arguments we had that day. We generally have a good relationship, but heat that intense makes it hard for anyone to be a reasonable human being.

Needless to say, we were not able to get food at that mall. So we ended up meeting up with another helpful friend who lived in a more “western” part of town and he took us to a restaurant that allowed us to sit and eat like the civilized people we are. However, we had to be sneaky. This place was covered in drapes and dining areas were behind the partitions. This place looked like you needed to knock three times with a password like it was Hernando’s Hideaway.

But. That burger was everything. Literally gave us life and the boy and I emerged better people after that meal.

Beyond that, everything was great. I bought some clothes to change into because I was sweating in places I shouldn’t have been. We were picked up again for our next tour and went on a dune safari and rode a camel. The boy attempted to dune surf and I laughed at him.

We ate BBQ and I smoked shisha for the first time. I’m still trying to figure out what it really is. The boy thought I was getting high. Look at his judgmental face:

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Overall, the day was amazing. There were some frustrating points and we were exhausted at the end of it all. Without thinking about it, we were up for 24+ hours from the time we arrived at the airport to the time we left at 2:45. We fell asleep as soon as we got on the plane and even slept through the food service. Insane!

This small stint in Abu Dhabi taught us a lot about ourselves and our relationship. We have bonded over the fact that we both hate summer officially now. 

We also have redefined what hangry means, have a new respect for anyone enduring this fasting month in or outside of the UAE, and an increased appreciation for the Muslim faith.

How to travel the world with your child and not lose your mind or end up with them in CPS when you get home.

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In other words: How do I make travel with my kid look so easy and effortless?

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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe | Spring Break

The long and short of it is: I only put the good photos online. Nobody wants to see the ones of us arguing or me crying in a corner because I am trying really hard not to book a flight back home because he’s being incredibly ungrateful and I’m frustrated and tired from booking so many countries in a small span of time.

*ahem*

Traveling with your kid can be amazingly rewarding and fun. You get to spend all of your time with your child and be solely responsible for teaching him all the wonderful things about the world. First hand. In real time.

He gets to see the Colosseum and the Great Wall of China; instead of just reading about it in the history books. He gets to eat sushi in Japan and green curry in Thailand. He gets to see actual African elephants IN Africa!

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Chobe, Botswana | Spring Break 2015

However, traveling with your child as a single parent brings forth its own set of challenges. You spend all of your time with your child and are solely responsible for teaching him all the wonderful things about the world. Just you.

There’s no time out or someone else to tag in when you don’t feel like exploring. Or someone there to occupy the kid so you can get in a good, uninterrupted bath after a long day of walking the city. And it gets even more frustrating when your child, who is usually open to new things and experiences, is super picky when you want to try Korean BBQ and they want pizza. And tries to pull a tantrum. And you argue and fight and eventually pull mommy rank because there is no freakin way you are eating pizza in freakin Korea and you don’t feel like rationalizing with the small crazy person.

It’s not all fun. It’s not all silly faces and jumping off benches for a great photo. Being in a hotel room with a kid who you pay extra money every month for him have his own space at home on a regular basis can be demanding, to say the least.

But there is a way you can survive that spring break trip with your tantruming toddler or social media addicted tween. There is hope, my friends.

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Bangkok, Thailand | Christmas 2015

Plan and schedule everything. Seriously.

When I travel alone, I usually just wing it and go where the wind takes me. With kids, you can’t really afford to do that. They will almost always elect to stay where the electronics and wifi are. Scratch that. Always. They will always want to be somewhere with wifi.

As much fun as this kid has on safaris and running around a foreign city, he gripes most of the time because I won’t allow him to take his iPad or that when he does have it, there is no wifi. So, to try to avoid the inevitable argument, I plan an itinerary for every day we are on that trip. Because I know it will happen, I make allowances for weather and just plain old laziness. And to help the boy not seem like I’m forcing him to do everything, I include him in the planning as well. I ask him to research three places he would most like to visit and we try to fit that in the schedule. Most of the time we end up at aquariums and arcades tho, but at least he feels like he has some control over the holiday.

You have to take these extreme measures and pretend you’re a travel agent scheduling every minute of the day for a group of senior citizens. Otherwise you will be sitting in the hotel room binge watching Netflix because you were tired of wandering the city for a day and didn’t see anything they recommended on Trip Advisor and have basically gotten lazy and tired because the effort just isn’t worth fighting the blazing sun.

Seriously. You have to figure out how to plan and have a schedule, otherwise you will get overwhelmed with trying to figure it out when you get there. Which isn’t really fun, let me tell you. That happened to me in Korea. Let my lack of preparedness be a cautionary tale for you.

Also, you owe it to your self to not be insanely stressed out during your trip. Your child will probably not thank you, but your sanity will. If, of course, sanity could actually thank you.

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Ayuthaya, Thailand | December 2015

Be flexible.

Here’s one thing I have learned, Murphy’s law is in full effect whenever you travel. So you have to learn to adjust when things don’t go as planned. It may snow in Korea and freeze you to the bone and have you end up in your hotel room all weekend watching Netflix. A monsoon may decide to come through your island vacation and maroon you to an island with only a volleyball as your friend. You gotta just learn to roll with it and dance in the proverbial rain.

In that flexibility, you have the power to change the course of your travel. You may not get to take that selfie with that famous tourist attraction, but you may find yourself in a random neighborhood having lunch with a local family and sharing stories despite the language barrier. It can happen.

Do your research.

I cannot stress this enough. You have to understand where you are going and not just wing it in an amazing country where you found a glitch fare. There are many countries who have policies on single parents bringing children across their borders alone. There are countries that are going through holidays that restrict not only its citizens from eating or drinking water in public, but also tourists (Ramadan Kareem!). There are countries that do not allow you to sunbathe in your two piece bikini no matter how beautiful their beaches are or where you are from. Burkini anyone?

You have to know what you’re walking into. Even when thinking about the potential safety and health issues that are present in any country, you need to know what to expect. This will save you lots of time and frustration when you show up at passport control and they ask for that notarized letter from your spouse or parenting partner indicating that you have permission to enter the country with your child. Or needing certain vaccinations to even enter the country. Real talk. This happens.

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Livingston, Zambia | April 2015

Let’s be honest: You probably won’t be #teamcarryon.

Traveling with kids require stuff. The younger they are, the more change of clothes and things to occupy them you will need. Seriously, kids are messing little beings who just attract dirt and noise and smells. You will have to check that bag. If you don’t, may the gods bless you and your minimalist minion.

Checking a bag isn’t so bad, honestly speaking. Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to explore the city during a long layover and having to put your bag in a locker or airport storage for the time being, or WORSE, drag it around with you because you’re too cheap to pay the $7. (Guilty!)

Even if the layover isn’t that long, it’s just easier to schlep through the airport to your connection without it and your kid and their book bag because they will probably ask you to hold theirs as well.

But you have to be mindful. Sometimes bags go missing. Or get damaged. Or a bunch of other horrible things that happen to bags in that Narnia between you and baggage claim. If you have to check a bag, make sure you have a change of at least undies, and at most a full outfit, in your carry on. Ensure all necessary medications and cash are with you and your electronics. Because, airport thieves are real.

Besides, the truth is you will probably buy a bunch of crap while you are on holiday and you will need another bag anyway. Might as well upgrade from that 22 inch and #checkdatish! That is, of course, if you have free check in. Makes no sense to pay a gazillion dollars for a checked bag. Even less sense for a checked carry on. That’s just stupid.

*cough* Spirit Airlines *cough*

Be realistic.

When my son gets annoyed at something, particularly insects, I tell him that they are only doing what they were created to do. I also use this reasoning when I hear of people getting upset at children on flights. Children whine and fart and poop and get irritable and are extremely particular about what they want when they want it. Much like adults who whine and fart and poop and get irritable and are extremely particular about what they want and when they want it.

When you travel with a child, no matter the age, there will be people who don’t have kids who will complain about the fact that tiny humans exist. Fuck em.

Travel with your child and explore all that this amazing world has to offer. But know that traveling with an irrational and unpredictable human comes with its challenges. Know that you will be frustrated and your trip might not go as well as you thought it would.

And also: shit will probably go wrong. You will probably hate most of your time in that country that looked so amazing in all the photos you saw on social media. I know. I will probably never spin in a custom-made dress with my mini me and Mykonos in the background. We’re not that glamorous. I just envy that stuff.

You gotta figure out what works for you. Your toddler and you may never climb Machu Picchu, but you can definitely go on a hike through El Yunque and find some pretty amazing waterfalls. Or if international travel is out of your bank account’s reach right now, you can find a way to explore your own city until it is. Don’t go breaking your bank or losing your house trying to keep up with the Kardashians. 10 times out of 9 they don’t pay for their flights anyway.

Do you, boo boo. And what is realistic for you, your family, and most importantly your budget. Because there ain’t nothing cute about getting back home and your lights are off. The ‘gram will have you living with your cousin.

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Phi Phi Islands, Thailand | December 2015

Know thyself. And thy child.

We like snacks. And we tend to get hangry when we haven’t eaten in about 3 hours. So I always have snacks, even on long plane rides where they feed you often.

I know my kid is more unpredictable than the weather in the Midwest, so I always have a back up just in case. I also know my child gets “bored” easily so I try to make sure things are happening at all times. But I also know he’ll eventually come around once we get going and I should never really have him make a choice DURING the trip. Again, he will almost always choose to stay in the room and then get mad because we didn’t do anything while on vacation. Been there, done that, don’t wanna do it again.

Knowing who we are and how we travel best helps me to prepare and plan. Occasionally I will try to get him to try new things, but I know my son and what he is open to and what he is not. This helps me to avoid conflict on what should be a nice and fun family vacation.

So know who you are and the type of traveler you are BEFORE attempting to recreate some cross-country schlep some lady did with her toddler strapped to her back. Stop trying to be these other people who have trust funds and just be you. The fact that you just want to travel with your kid is pretty awesome. Be the awesome and amazing family that you are.

But also…

Be present and enjoy yourself.

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Somewhere in New York | July 2015

Travel is supposed to be fun and relaxing. It’s about finding more about yourself and strengthening your connection with your family. About creating traditions and new experiences that can hopefully be passed on to future generations. What is the point of exploring these new worlds if you’re not here mentally to enjoy it? Answer: There is no point. You should have stayed your ass at home, that’s what.

If you do the research and a little bit of planning, you are sure to enjoy whatever time you have with your family wherever you are in the world. You can’t always plan for every little thing that could or couldn’t go wrong, so don’t even try. But know yourself enough to know what you can prepare for.

Parenting is hard. Single parenting is challenging. Traveling while being either of those is admirable and, not to boast but, a talent.

So, if you’re gonna do it, make sure you enjoy the hell out of it. Find a way to take some time for yourself also. Book a massage and get some time to yourself while your kid is with the hotel babysitter (they have those, you know). Enjoy that book while your son splashes around in the pool. Find a way to enjoy yourself on YOUR vacation. Because it is yours as well.

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Trickeye Museum | Seoul, South Korea | November 2015

I hope this helped. Please share your comments and additional suggestions below!

Happy travels this summer!

Update on life in Japan.

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I recently wrote an essay for mater mea, the online publication that has featured me to talk about my move to Tokyo. They reached out and asked for a follow up on our life here in Tokyo. It took me a long time to write this, because I was so occupied with adjusting and dealing with things, that I wasn’t able to reflect on all that has happened. That was part of it. The other part was it has taken me this long to actually sit and be still long enough to reflect. I’ve been moving so much and in such an emotional whirlwind, that I hadn’t allowed myself the space to just be still. Partly because I was afraid of what would happen.

So, one day I sat down and wrote this piece. It was published last month, but I wanted to post it here for you, who have been on this journey with me.

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When I made the decision to move to abroad with my son, I was completely unprepared. Sure I was aware of the culture shock, the challenges I would endure with jet lag and sleep deprivation. I even expected that I would go through extreme withdrawal from Chick-Fil-A. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how moving to this new country would forever alter my relationship with my son.

After being a single mother in the United States for years, being a single mother abroad is an entirely different ball game. You become proficient at making things happen and figuring things out on your own because you have no real choice. But here, not knowing a lick of Japanese, having zero knowledge of the area or the way things work, I was forced to rely on other people to help me with things I was accustomed to doing on my own. I had to learn how to ask for help, and that was hard for me and my ever-so-posturing ego. Being here made me realize that it was okay to do so because I can’t do everything by myself, no matter how much my pride gets in the way.

I’m going to be honest: the last six months have been somewhat of a struggle. I didn’t handle the stress well and it was challenging for both of us to adapt. Because neither of us was ready for what adjusting to Tokyo meant, our relationship took a hit.

To give a little context, Chris went to a progressive school when we lived in Philadelphia. It was a very relaxed environment that nurtured him as an individual and actively sought his feedback to structure his education. The school was pretty aligned to how I have been educating him since birth, so it worked for us both. When we moved to Tokyo, I enrolled him at the school that had a relationship with the school that I would be working. I researched what I could about this school from afar, but it was basically the tuition discount and close proximity that got the vote. But what I didn’t take into account was how the school would fit into our personal pedagogy.

In hindsight, the school couldn’t have been more on the opposite end of the educational spectrum. They were a traditional catholic school, enforced a uniform policy, and had a rigid schedule and homework policy. Some of Chris’ challenges at the school were keeping up with the pace of homework and testing (of which neither of us was a fan), adjusting to wearing a uniform daily, and the school had an issue with his locs. Attempting to abide by the school policy, I braided his hair back to keep it as “neat and kempt” as his then eight-year-old self could maintain on a weekly basis, but it became increasingly clear that there was a personal issue.

In addition to adjusting to this, Chris was showing signs of stress very early on. He was chewing incessantly on anything he could get his hands on, he was wetting the bed, and he was irritable and would basically freak out if anything changed in our schedule without notice. This was challenging – to understand the needs of my child had changed drastically. I’m not so sure I was ready for that. Chris was extremely stressed out, and it took a long time for us to learn how to communicate effectively again and for me to find a way to support him.

After the first week of school, I scheduled a meeting with his teacher to inform her of his challenges and see if we could work collaboratively on a solution. A distressed mother, seeking the help of a fellow parent, I found none. Instead, she took that opportunity to let me know how my child wasn’t measuring up to the “room full of Asians”, as she referred to them. Discussing with me all the educational challenges that I was already aware of, and informed her prior to his arrival, but failed to discuss interventions or solutions. Frustrated, I sought help from the assistant principal and, later, the principal – all with no avail.

After my fifth meeting with the school, it was becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to get anywhere and began to feel helpless and frustrated. Despite my appeals, they insisted that he was happy at school and that there was nothing to help, although I saw another child at home. I knew it was just Chris putting on a mask and keeping it together while at school, but then falling apart at home. It wasn’t until I saw how it was beginning to have an effect on his identity that I decided we needed another school.

During a conversation, I asked Chris how he felt about living in Japan. He told me that he liked it here, but he felt that his school wanted to change him. He went on to say that he was okay with the uniform and even how they learn in the school, but he was slowly beginning to feel that the individuality that was celebrated at his previous school was discouraged at this new one. This translated to his eight-year-old brain that he wasn’t liked and accepted for who he is. And as the person who has spent the majority of his life making sure he has a positive self-image despite the messages society sends, this was devastating to hear. I had to make a change.

After months of trial and error, we are on an upswing. I had to transfer him to a new school that could support him better with this transition. The commute to school is longer for him, but he is so much happier and lighter. On the way home from picking him up on his first day, I noticed he was so much more energetic and talkative. It was then I realized that no matter how resilient they can be, no child should have to carry a weight like that. Nor should any of us for that matter.

In all this, I’m learning to change the way I communicate with him. I’m learning to be more patient and remember to breathe when I feel things are out of my control. We are both realizing that this is hard for the both of us, but in Tokyo, we are all we got. So we’re working on being kinder with one another.

Despite the challenges we faced initially, I don’t regret my decision at all. I have realized that moving here, at this stage in his development, was the best decision that I could have made for us. He is living the childhood I always wanted for him. There is a sense of safety in Tokyo that doesn’t exist in the States. We feel no sense of caution when walking home at night or when taking public transit. We don’t flinch or hold our breath when encountering law enforcement. We don’t experience any aggression from the citizens here (maybe the occasional staring contest, but I always win). He has a supportive environment at his school now, and he is freer than he has been in a very long time. As a bonus, because of our location, we can explore Asia significantly cheaper than we could back home. Right now, I am content.

Sure, it is possible that by living here, he is experiencing a false sense of the reality that we may have to face if we go back to the United States. When he is a man, he may never know how to interact with police officers in a way that doesn’t make him seem intimidating or threatening (I don’t know anyone in the States who knows how to do this, actually). He may never learn to keep his hands in plain sight at all times and learn the phrase “If I die in police custody, I did not commit suicide.” I do take all of this into consideration. But you know what? I’m okay with that. Because my only focus as a mother right now is to create an environment where my son can be exactly who he should be at nine years old: a child. And I couldn’t care less on what continent that happens.

Lessons learned while mothering and traveling in 2015.

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Over the past year, I have traveled to more countries than I have in my entire life. 17 countries, 24 cities, and 4 continents to be exact. That’s a lot of traveling for me. And the boy went to 10 of those countries, and 12 cities with me.

He’s one well-travelled kid.

The beginning of my travel binge started when my grandmother passed away in the summer of 2014. I think it was just a tipping point for me to live my life and stop being a person who wished their life was different, but actually worked hard to make it different from what it ever has been.

In addition to increasing my country count, I’ve learned a lot about myself and the boy in the last year. Our relationship is growing and becoming increasingly stronger because of what we have experienced and endured together.

The mothering thing is ever evolving

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Livingstone, Zambia

As the boy grows older, the way I am with him changes. Still consistent in most of my methods, but he is one smart kid *pats back* and I have learned that I have to change my approach with him sometimes. I’m raising a critical thinker that I am challenging to question everything that doesn’t make sense. And sometimes that applies to me. I try hard not to invoke the “because I said so” when I’m frustrated with his questions. I want to encourage him to be inquisitive and search for answers instead of just accepting what is because some authority figure told him it was fact.

This is extremely hard when bad things happen. He wants to know why and I have to maintain honestly with him. I try to always tell him the truth about why we moved to Japan, why I sob at the injustices that are happening in the United States, and why I search for a feeling of safe outside of our home country. He is still wrapping his brain around this, but has a clear understanding of where I stand with most things because of this honesty.

We are both growing together, that I do realize. Just as he is a different child than when he was 5, I am a different mother to him. The way we interact is more intentional than ever before and our relationship is developing into something of mutual respect, love, and adoration of who the other is becoming.

The boy is more resilient than I could have ever imagined

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Seoul, South Korea

So this move to Japan was really just out of the blue as far as the boy is concerned. When I left him with my mom this past summer, he thought we were moving to Cambodia. Hell, so did I (and most of you). But things changed and I came back to the states with a whole other destination on the horizon.

When I told him I think he just shrugged and continued playing. Or come to think of it, he may have been like “What the heck?!?!” Either way, he didn’t really fight me on it. He just rolled with it and we kept it moving.

Even when we’ve traveled this past year, he has been so easy-going I couldn’t have asked for a better travel partner. Whether there are train delays or changes in the itinerary, we never complains. He eats airplane food and switches gears when things do go as planned.

This year of travel has tested us both, but this child of mine has shown that he can overcome almost anything and I’m so proud to be his mom.

I am one awesome chick

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Nairobi, Kenya

This year, I did some incredible things. I zip-lined across the Zambezi River with the boy, I flew in a hot air balloon in Ethiopia, came face to face with a mama elephant in Botswana, and had some pretty amazing adventures in Haiti – one of which involved being in the back of a police truck.

This past year challenged me in so many ways and I learned how to say yes for the first time. I embraced the moment and ended up having some pretty cool adventures and stories for years to come.

I never would have thought that I could have traveled this much in my life and moving to Japan is creating even more of a bad ass experience. This past year has shown me that I have more grit within me than I gave myself credit. And that I can do anything once I make the decision to do so.

I’m most comfortable when I’m uncomfortable

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Traveling isn’t easy. It’s not as glamorous as some may choose to show through social media. I’m even guilty of this. But this past year has shown me that when I am in the most uncomfortable of situations or the most unfamiliar, that is when I feel most at home.

It’s really hard to explain sometimes, but when I find myself in a country whose customs are alien to me, where the language is indescribable and the food is unrecognizable, it stirs something in me that makes me feel like my most authentic self. That I’m able to lower barriers and relax in a way that I’m not able to at home.

Maybe it’s the familiarity of it home. The routine and the lack of spontaneity. But being in unfamiliar places makes me feel most alive, I suppose. Or maybe it’s that I’m constantly searching for that feeling of home in other places.

Home is where we are

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Johannesbug, South Africa

One thing I’ve realized is that we can find home no matter where we find ourselves in the world. In Zambia we felt at peace and familiar with our surroundings. South Africa welcomed and embraced us like no other. Haiti brought me so much joy to see in the faces of those who call Port au Prince home. And India brought me back to myself in a way that I will never be able to explain or recreate.

I’m realizing that home is not where your family resides, but more about the experiences you have together.

I seem to always return to this concept of home when we travel. Among all the chaos, culture shock, new sights, smells, energies – something seems very familiar about it al. Instantly I recognize it and my surroundings. I connect with the language and the people of that country. Despite language barriers, the boy can always find a friend to play soccer with.

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Kliptown Youth Program, Soweto, South Africa

No matter where we are or where we go, we always find ourselves in the people and in our surroundings. I can almost always find the faces of my aunts and grandmothers in the women, whether it’s in Tanzania or Tokyo. We connect with the souls of those we encounter and in these connections we find home no matter where we are.

Making space

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Last night, I called the sitter and went to see Janet Jackson in concert. I’m glad I did. At one point I had to sit down and take it all in. Give myself permission to be an adult for the night.

I feel like moving here put me back in the place when I was first navigating being a single parent. Figuring out how to find the balance between giving the boy what he needs and also taking time for myself. It was a difficult transition and it’s challenging to be back in that space where I’m struggling to figure out the juggle of it all.

Part of the challenge for me is having to get used to asking for help. As a single parent, you get used to doing things on your own. You learn how to hustle and make it work. I got used to figuring things out on my own back home. Here, it’s been hard for me to let others help me, but I’m learning. It’s new to me also to ask for help. I’ve had to realize that I can’t always figure out things on my own and I’m learning how to navigate single parenthood here in Tokyo. Learning how to make space for myself while making sure the boy has what he needs as well. Still a learning process, but I’m making it work.

Last night, I danced and sang unabashedly. I screamed and cheered Janet on while she slayed the stage as her waist-length weave blew in the wind of her strategically placed fans on stage.

I forget to do that sometimes, and I miss it.

I’m trying to figure out how to make last night happen more often. I know that taking care of myself is part of taking care of my child. I know that I am no good to him if I am all over the place and have no means of an outlet. It’s time I make space for myself again.

I am proud of myself and the tiny accomplishments that have happened since moving here. Life here is still a work in progress, but we are making it work.