Some good thoughts here!
Mamas, meet my friend Tina. We were in Bible study together here in Haiti, and her words have spoken comfort to my soul for many years now. And now, she’s graciously agreed to share some wisdom with you, too! Enjoy.
When we came home for a year between stints in Niger, West Africa, I went to my best friend’s house where she showed me the beautifully detailed scrapbooks of her two girls. Each page had typical American experiences including July 4th parties, dressing up, T-ball, church retreats. Being a world away from enhancing your child’s memories with coordinated stickers, I started to feel weirdly disconnected until I started to cry. My poor friend was wondering what kind of strange I’d turned into when I blurted out, “My kids will NEVER have those kinds of experiences!”
I thought about how hard it was just to get their clothes clean, how they had no idea about movies and concerts their stateside peers were watching, and the fact that instead of neat uniforms and baseball leagues, they played soccer with a duct-taped flat ball in the street. Their Wodaabe peers were finding wives at 14 and their missionary kid friends were just as clueless about the states as they were. My children were in a “youth group” made up of maybe 10 people ranging from 6-18 and I remember their Sunday nights together involving games of Sardines.
Would they ever be able to make it back in the States? Would they be impossibly out of touch? Had I failed them?
My friend said something suitably comforting, and I moved on, but still struggled with doubts about our move to the Sahara with three sweet kids, and then later, to Haiti with my youngest, a girl of fourteen at the time.
The typical comment most missionaries say is, “They have a much richer life and perspective. They will thank you for the differences later.” I can agree with this, but like everything, it’s more complicated. Sometimes, they felt isolated and didn’t understand why certain things were so important. “Why does it matter if I wear shoes here? I don’t understand why people won’t just say what they mean. Who cares if my pants are this length? What’s funny to them isn’t funny to me.”
Sometimes they felt superior or inferior or just weird. Helping them through that wasn’t always fun. Again, doubts. Did we let them down?
Fast forward to three married kids, one with his own children. The long view back over the years is a luxury I don’t take lightly.
My overwhelming sense now is simply that God helped them. He brought people along who taught them how to make the culture leap, interpreters and patient friends who could bridge the gap. He gave them a groundedness and faith that was vibrant enough to withstand the isolation. They became very insightful about American culture and good at navigating it while holding on to their early experiences. And they became good friends to each other and to us. And they DID end up able to enjoy July 4th celebrations, league baseball and dances.
The same one who called us, called and sustained our kids. As they allowed Him to direct and love them, they grew into beautiful whole people. I think about those days as a young mom and wish I could have patted my hand and said, “It’s truly going to be alright, scrapbooks or not.”
Consider your hand patted, mamas. Mine included.
Even if your kids don’t have new clothes or hats…
Even if you can’t hide real eggs because they’d start to turn immediately in the heat…
Even if the Cadberry mini-eggs arrived pulverized and melted…
(please, a moment of the silence for the chocolate…)
You can celebrate the resurrected Son. You are celebrating him daily in how you care for your family; your life bears witness. But on this day, take a note from Jewish tradition and just do something–anything–different.
I was reading about Passover, and it was interesting to hear that the youngest child is supposed to ask what’s so different about this night. Because we don’t normally munch on bitter herbs, right? And the order of the meal is different, because the celebration is different. I know holidays outside our home culture can be hard, but there are so many ways to make this night different from all others. Just putting a tablecloth on the table can be enough (assuming you’re lazy like me and don’t usually use one). You don’t have to spend extra money if you don’t have it: cook breakfast for dinner or have a random smorgasbord of everyone’s favorite food. I love Barbara Reiney’s idea of simply putting a stuffed lamb on the table to symbolize Christ’s sacrifice. Pick flowers from your yard. Eat outside. But do something to mark the day he rose for you. Make sure they know it’s different; it’s not like every other day. This day, we stop and remember.
Oh, you’re so deeply loved, mama. He sighs over you. He delights to bless you. You are righteous by the blood of his beloved son and perfect in His sight…even if your meal doesn’t contain ham. Don’t stress the small stuff.
Oh, and just because it’s Friday (and a Good one at that), here’s some free Easter printables to brighten up your abode. I love the one with many languages proclaiming that he is risen indeed!
You’ve got this, mama.
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.