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Ask Me Monday: How do I handle unwanted attention toward my kids?

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How do you handle all the attention your cute little blonde kiddos receive and how do you teach them to appropriately and kindly respond?

Thanks for asking this, Jodie!

This question articulates with two different topics, in my mind: personal physical boundaries vs. cultural sensitivity and “stranger danger.” When people are interested in my kids, it’s usually harmless…there is often face-touching or hair-petting, so I gently tell the person that my kids don’t like that (I also taught my kids to say “no thank you” in Kreyol). Since people are eager to participate in American culture, I try to suggest a high five or a fist bump. Haitians can also be somewhat intrusive into my parenting (in my opinion), and that’s harder for me as a mom.

For example: we took a tour of a business where they make jewelry. They had different areas where they were assembling the different parts. There were probably ten different rooms, and in every room, someone said, “Your son’s shoes are on backwards.”

I know my son’s shoes are on backwards. He knows his shoes are on backwards. They’re Crocs, and they’re not that tight-fitting, so he likes them that way. It is not a battle I want to fight…so to these nice ladies, I just smiled and said, “He wants them like that.” They laughed. So I laughed, too.  And that’s okay: they don’t have to understand. In each room, I had my kids say “Bonjou,” which is polite.

Should I have made him switch? Maybe. Sometimes I do, if I don’t want the attention. But it’s ultimately his body–if it’s uncomfortable, he’s smart enough to fix it. And that’s a value I’ve tried to teach my kids: it’s your body. You don’t have to let anyone touch it. I’ve taught them what parts are private without using euphemisms. In my opinion, it is absolutely okay to politely correct someone who’s bothering you…at any age.

I don’t allow my kids to be held by people I don’t know (in any context). If this is happening, I just dramatically rush on over and say, “Oh, my little treasure! You found my treasure!” This makes people laugh and distracts them from the fact that I’m taking the kid away.

Taking pictures is harder. I can’t really prevent it, but it does bother me. The other day, I was out with my youngest getting a special snack in a restaurant, and I know there was a man taking video of us. She was facing away from the man, but she wanted to trade seats with me, so I said no. Then I stared at him, so he knew I realized what was happening. He stopped. Haitians I’m friends with know that it’s okay to take pictures of my kids as long as they don’t end up on social media.

When Jodie asked her question, I assumed she was thinking of her context (Indonesia) instead of mine, so I asked my friend Barb Dukes who served for many years there to weigh in. I’m going to go ahead and share her thoughts, because I think they are gold.

How well I remember my youngest son trying to deal with the cheek pinching and hair touching he received when we were in Indonesia. My kids were toe-heads when they were little. He was angry about all the attention. He’d smack at people who tried to pinch his cheeks. I really didn’t want him to hate Indonesians as a whole just because of that “improper-to-us-but-proper-to-them” behavior. I ended up intervening for him any time I could. If I was holding him and someone went to pinch his cheeks, I would say, “He doesn’t like to get pinched” and put my hand up to deflect them. People were very receptive – I never had anybody get upset. I might elaborate, depending on the person and the situation, explaining that strangers were scary to him or that he was tired of the attention. I always let the people know that as his mama, I was happy for their attention, but I wanted him to love all Indonesians, not be scared of them! 

I love her heart here–because I’m sure that’s what they want, too! They’re trying to be friendly, not offend. I want my kids to love Haitians and have close relationships–but all healthy relationships are based on honesty and trust. Go ahead and explain!

If you have a blonde daughter, the next time this will come up is when she gets older. It’s not so funny then. It wasn’t cheek pinching, it was cat calling. In this situation I took a firmer stance. First of all, she wasn’t allowed to be out in public without at least 2 other people – and I preferred that one of those people was a guy. If she went shopping, I went too. And I didn’t shop – I hovered around her. I gave looks to the guys who were contemplating mischief that said “You will only get to her through me.” I stayed right next to her. I laughed and talked and had a good time, but always with my eyes roaming around. If some guys made a rude cat call I responded to him. I wouldn’t let them get away with it, I called them out.

I think she’s really wise to take preventative steps and set some boundaries. And here’s where I want to talk about “stranger danger.” I don’t think it’s a helpful idea. Our kids are constantly meeting strangers, both here and in the U.S. while support raising. And frankly, very few of those people are a risk: 90% of kids are abused by someone they know. So instead, we’ve taught our kids about “tricky people”: kind adults who aren’t what they seem to be. “Tricky people will try to ask you for help to find their dog. But since when do grownups need help from kids? They shouldn’t. Tell them to find an adult to help them, and then go find your mom or another lady who looks like a mom (having kids with her is a clue).”

Do you have a family password? My kids get shuffled off on people more often here without family around to help…would they believe Mom had sent a stranger to pick them up if there was a problem? This happened to me once as a kid–my cat had been hit by a car and they were trying to save her. I sort of knew this lady, but I wasn’t sure, until she leaned down and whispered, “The password is peanut butter.” Suddenly, I remembered the system we’d set up, and I knew it was safe to jump in the car.

Yes, teach your kids to be kind, but also teach them to be aware of schemes. It’s downright Biblical.

You’ve got this, mamas.

Ask Me Monday: Keeping Traditions Alive Overseas

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Yes, it’s time–it’s Ask Me Monday! I know, I know, this is the one thing you look forward to all week, but you have to wait until Monday. Because Ask Me Wednesday just sounds silly.

This week’s Ask Me Monday comes from my beloved sister:

What fond childhood activities or treats (I.e. Bike riding, ICECREAM/popcicles, Saturday morning pancakes) have been able to maintain or had to alter or had to abandon for the sake of being overseas? (I know I’m not a missionary momma but I’m good at being curious!!)

Traditions are really important to me. I really struggled when we first moved here with feeling removed from my traditions. Many of my traditions were food-related, since food and culture go together like peanut butter and…well, you get it. Here’s how my life has changed in this regard in the last seven years:

*Saturday morning pancakes. I got a copy of the More with Less cookbook when David and I married, so that’s always been my go-to. The ingredients are easy to get, and it’s simple enough to make a big batch of the mix and have it ready to go…or at least, it was, until we went gluten-free and refined-sugar free. Can I just say that baking gluten-free overseas has to be one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced?! Even what’s available is often outside my budget. But I love the tradition so much, and I wanted my kids to remember eating pancakes with me…so after a LOT of trial and error, I do have a pancake recipe now using coconut flour. And even David will eat them. That’s saying something, folks.

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*Friday pizza night. My mom gave me an amazing recipe, which I loved…until I tried Chicago-style pizza when I was at Wheaton. Some tweaking, some adjusting, and it was pretty close…and then, the gluten-free lifestyle hit. But again, we survived! I actually think this recipe is genius: it has good flavor and the ingredients are simple. However, it does require more cheese, so I know it may be out-of-reach for some. It doesn’t always have pepperoni (the deli guy was out! Don’t worry, my kids’ faces made him feel terrible about it), but thanks to my Whole30, I know how to make sausage, and that usually suffices. As some may recall, my cast iron pizza pan is one of the things I can’t live without overseas. Below, you can see the gluten version I make for my guy, who eats gluten-free dinners six days a week without complaint. He’s so great.

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*Ice cream and popsicles. We make our own. It’s the best. I make a chocolate coconut milk ice cream that we all love, and the best part is that you don’t even need an ice cream maker! The coconut fat freezes really hard, so even if your freezer is a bit wimpy like mine, it still comes out solid. But I do have an ice cream maker, which I also love, partly because you only have to freeze the can–you can crank it by hand when it’s time to churn–and partly because it doesn’t require any special ingredients like rock salt. So nice. I got this book of ice cream recipes for Christmas one year, and the mango sorbet is seriously amazing. We also make popsicles with mangoes and passion fruit or peach juice (or kombucha if you’re a hippy like me) using this popsicle maker. I like the size of the pops since they’re small (and therefore make less of a mess when they get forgotten on kitchen table), but several sticks broke and they don’t seem to sell replacements. We cut down some drinking straws and were good to go. No one keeps mama from her popsicles. 

*Carving pumpkins. We did that this year! The pumpkin was green! And it wouldn’t stand up on its own! But we did it!

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*Riding bikes. Trisha had also asked a similar question about how we get outside and go for walks in the city. And the answer is…we kind of don’t. This has been one of the hardest things for me about living here. I’m the kind who would take off and go to Tryon Creek State Park just because during the week. I love the outdoors. There’s a large, walled property at a church near here, and they have a play structure that we go to…but since you have to drive to get there, we don’t go very often. We tried to take bikes, but the path was too rough. So we bike circles around the car in the garage. And you know what? My kids are happy with that. That’s all they really know. We go on imaginary hikes where we pretend that the dogs are bears and their pee puddles are rivers we have to cross. Just keeping it real, folks. 

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And for myself, I pick a 5K to run when I go on furlough. I even register as early as they’ll let me, because I can print out the logo and hang it above my treadmill and promise the part of me that’s suffocating that it will breathe again. And yes, I hear how dramatic that sounds. I don’t care.

I think it’s a valid way to talk to yourself. There’s going to be things you give up, even if it’s just for a season. If you can hold out hope, there’s a lot that you can get back…but it takes time, effort and creativity. I wasn’t doing all this when I first got here. My first Christmas in Haiti, my tree was a piece of string I laced between nails in a concrete wall in a triangle shape. But I hung ornaments on that thing like it was a Douglas Fir fresh from the farm. And now I have a fake tree that I mostly love.

Traditions are what make us feel at home. They’re hard to lose. Here’s some that I really miss:

*Driving around looking at Christmas lights at night. Not a thing here.

*Sledding. Snowball fights. Snowmen. Watching snow fall while drinking cocoa. Snow. Snow. Snow.

*Fourth of July picnic at the high school and fireworks that fill the sky.

*Being able to go to the library. Yes, that was a tradition in my house.

But new traditions also make us who we’re becoming and help us bond as a family. Here’s some new traditions that I really love:

*We play the Wii on Friday nights. All of us. It is often an exercise in patience, especially for the big people, but even my two-year-old can skydive.

*We look at the stars on our balcony. The kids have recently decided we should do this regularly before bed. Living in one of the darkest countries in the world has its benefits.

*Around Easter, we buy a kite. We stink at flying them, but it’s local thing, and it’s fun to try.

*We tape up paper snowflakes on our walls all winter long. This year, my four-year-old even helped me cut them out. Subsequently, some of them are purple.

*We make soup joumou, a spicy beef-pumpkin soup on New Year’s.

*We write in a special book to record moments at Christmas and Thanksgiving. They both have a page for each year, and the Christmas one has questions to answer and a place for pictures.

Don’t discount the new traditions that are out there, waiting to be discovered, things that will be uniquely yours as your kids get older. It’s ok to look for replacement traditions when the old ones just aren’t happening.

You’ve got this, mama.

Ask Me Monday: How do you explain poverty to your kids?

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I live in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Need presses in on us, and at times, it is suffocating. I don’t say that for pity; I say it because it’s true. Haitians don’t want your pity, either. They’re a proud people who love their country, and many wouldn’t leave even given the opportunity.

That’s the backdrop for this week’s Ask Me Monday question from my friend Kristine:

How is it to be surrounded by poverty 24/7 and raising your children alongside it? How do you help them handle it when you go out and meet people and have many people lacking basic needs?

 

I don’t know if I’m the best mama to answer this question. I may be wrong, but I think I’m a bit unorthodox when it comes to being honest with my kids–I tell them too much. It’s still a difficult conversation, whatever age your kids are.

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In some ways, poverty feels normal to my kids. It is what they know. Of course people come up and tap on our car windows, asking for money; they’re hungry. Of course people build houses in the flood plain; they have nowhere else to go. When the interactions happen, here’s a few things I try to impress on them:

  1. God cares for the poor and will take care of them. God calls himself the defender of the orphan and the widow. He cares deeply about justice and their well-being. He takes care of us, he takes care of them…and sometimes, he uses us to take care of them. But we can’t always help, and in those instances, we pray for God to provide for them. That’s a gift we can always give.
  2. We treat everyone with respect. Haitians love to laugh, so many times, if someone’s asking for money, I can joke with them a little and complain about how my kids eat too much and now I’m broke. We all know it’s not true, but it’s a kind way to refuse the request and build relationship. It’s very easy to get tired of hearing it, and frankly, it’s socially acceptable for me to be rude to them or ignore them completely. But I try to make eye contact, express sympathy, listen to their story. I try to model a soft heart. If it were me, that’s how I’d want to be treated.
  3. Teach compassion. If I were in need, I’d ask me, too. Those window tappers? They’re not trying to bother us or scare us, they’re just in desperate need. I try to help them see past the behavior to the root cause.
  4. God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith. Whenever I can, I try to esteem Haitian believers in front of my kids. I try to shift the focus from what they don’t have (money) to what they do have (faith, a good work ethic, artistic talent, wisdom, physical strength, etc.)And honestly, it’s not that hard. Their faith puts me to shame on a regular basis.
  5. I respect their desire to give. If they want to take toys to the orphanage down the road, we do it. If they want to share a banana with a random guy as we’re driving home, I let them. I think it helps them feel like they’re part of our ministry, too. There’s two young men who regularly come to our house for food, and I have the kids help me carry it to the gate and hand it to them. We focus on helping people we know, and the kids know that. Culturally, that’s appropriate here. Do what’s appropriate where you live: maybe that means setting up a fund at the church and letting the pastor distribute to those with real needs. Maybe that means you give a little to everyone who asks. Maybe that means you save special projects to hire people who ask for work. Here’s what I know: it’s more blessed to give than receive.

And this is one of the big reasons that we take regular trips off the island every year. That type of need all around is heavy. You start to forget that it’s not your fault. You start to forget that you can’t fix it all. You feel helpless, yet responsible. A friend put it well: “The need is not the call.” I’m called to help in specific ways, but I simply can’t help everyone, and I don’t need to feel guilty about that. Sometimes I do anyway, but I don’t need to. Giving without boundaries leads to resentment and burnout.

My kids aren’t really old enough to ask why poverty exists, but when they are, I think it’s a good opportunity to talk about systemic oppression and the role of sin in all our lives. Plus, Jesus said it’s an incurable problem–it’s part of life, no matter what we do. We will help when we can and leave it in His hands when we can’t.

These are tough issues and good questions! I wish I had better answers for you. I pray God gives you the words as you talk to your kids.

You’ve got this, mama.

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