Tag Archives: teenagers

Today We Celebrate! The Trailing Spouse Keeping the Family Together

Today we celebrate! All of us trailing spouse moms and dads, who have chosen to follow their spouse’s/partner’s careers over their own, who have sacrificed to keep their family living at one place.

Today is not about what we’ve missed out on but what we have tried to create. A home, a family, a sense of security for the ones we love and a sense of knowing that we will always be there for one another.

We don’t know what direction our families’ lives will take in the future but we all try to do our best to shape our tomorrows. We may or may not succeed but we have to give it the best we’ve got. We all make our choices and some of us choose to put family first because we believe that is the best thing for us. That it’s better for our kids if our family stays together, providing more time to spend together.

Thanks to the visitors from Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) and, later, reiterated by the Director of our school, I now know that research has shown that one of the strongest factors “in protecting young people from getting into trouble with alcohol or other drugs are positive relationships with parents.” Again, according to research, if parents are uninvolved in their child’s life, it increases the likelihood of children becoming problem drinkers (http://www.fcd.org/content/resources/newsletters.asp).

There are varied norms in different countries and many different types of families all around the world. By and large, they are all very happy and successful. I am simply stating that involvement with kids is paramount to any society where people organize themselves in families, whatever the shape, size and nature of family it may be! Yes, parenting can be accomplished from a distance but many of us trailing spouses have chosen to keep our families close.

So when you are asked for the umpteenth time as to where do you work, what do you do all day, give a broad smile and answer “I work very hard at home!”

FCD Educational Services is a nonprofit substance abuse prevention organization http://www.fcd.org/content/index.asp

Expat Adventures - Supermom. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner

Expat Family Adventures. Just call me Supermum. Or better yet, don’t.

Expat Adventures - Supermom. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partnerMy children seem to think I have superpowers. On the surface, this seems flattering – all shiny lycra, comic-book stories and a movie where my character is played by Angelina Jolie.

The practice is somewhat different. It involves the assumption that any challenge can be presented at the very last minute, and a solution can magically be presented from the kitchen, the filing cabinet or presumably, a body orifice.

It’s my own fault. During their formative years, I took to carrying one of those enormous mail-sack versions of a handbag that every mother seems to get stuck with. (How men manage to ‘do’ childcare with just two pockets is a long conversation for another day.) No matter what the challenge, I had the emergency response kit tucked in the bottom somewhere. Hungry? Have a packet of (slightly furry) raisins. Thirsty? Sippy cup. Bored? Book, toy cars, Polly Pockets. Bacteria for science project? Remains of a mouldy sandwich wedged in the mobile phone pocket. Frankly, that bag had everything but a silky cape, and I have the spinal issues to prove it.

Time and location have not altered the reality. I have ranted at length about the challenges that expat life adds to the table – creating a family tree (with copious photographs) on a timescale that even DHL’s international service and a second mortgage can’t fix. Failure was not an option, so with some cavalier use of Google images, my children now both have illustrated family timelines with a little creative license. If using extras to fill the places of the stars when they are indisposed is good enough for the Oscar ceremony, it’s good enough for me.

2012 has seen the blossoming of the Wiggy One, with a sudden interest in socializing, traveling the world and even going to college conferences (gasp). For many of you, this may seem like a normal stage of teenage growth and not cause for disturbance, but as Wiggy’s time-honored strategy for adapting to a new environment involves adamantly refusing to speak to people for the first three months, it is quite the sea change. Predictably, as with anything new, he fails to understand the timescales necessary for certain tasks to be completed, and relies on the superpowers yet again.

This time, it was bureaucracy. So startled were we in his interest in going to Turkey and Greece with his history group that we failed to realize that his passport and visa were tied up in the Green Card application process. Not only were we not in actual possession of his passport (with accompanying visa), but the aforementioned passport was only valid for another 4 months. Entry into Turkey required 6 months validity. Re-entry into the US would the require a new visa. We had 8 weeks to achieve all of the above, 4000 miles away from the nearest passport office.

Thus ensued a frenzy of activity; tracking down non US passport photos (Costco, for those of you in a similar predicament, are helpful, quick and cheap. And are really happy to do retakes..), filling in forms, finding UK citizens to countersign  (no easy task when they are required to have known you for two years, and we move every three..) and spending days at in line at the Post Office spending a fortune on tracked, insured, countersigned, personally delivered, gold-plated, fingerprints and inside leg measurements required for delivery type postage.

We managed it, with a mere two weeks to spare, thanks to the efficiency of the US Immigration Service and the British Embassy in Washington DC, and the Wiggy One trooped off to pastures new with a newly minted Green card and passport and instructions to never, ever let them out of contact with his skin. I would have staple-gunned them to his torso if I could.

I must give credit where it is due. He had a very jolly time experiencing rather more of what Greece and Turkey had to offer than was advertised on the tour brochure (how does one inadvertently manage to book a 15 year old on a wine tasting tour??), and arrived back tanned, relaxed and carefree. Oh, and luggage free too.

Expat Adventures - Supermom. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partnerI should probably pay British Airways for the lesson to teenage global nomads. If it’s not in your hand, don’t count on it being there when you get to the other end of the journey, no matter what the airline might tell you. Sure enough, he arrived back on US soil, safe and sound, still clutching his wallet, passport, Green card and a book. And absolutely nothing else.

British Airways should have listened to mother..

Cross cultural communication and the International Dinner Lads. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation

Duck and Cover – Cross Cultural Communication and the International Dinner Lads

Cross cultural communication and the International Dinner Lads. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful RelocationYou’ve got to love teenage boys. When faced with a challenge, they take a long hard look at the problem, assess what needs to be done, and then choose the most complicated, messy and stressful way to achieve their goals. And then call in their mothers.

The problem of the moment was the latest Mandarin Project. The Wiggy One is lucky enough to have a fabulous Mandarin teacher who rises to the challenge of teaching a mob of reluctant teenagers a seemingly incomprehensible language with a serene smile and an endless supply of engaging teaching strategies. And while I am pitifully grateful to her skill in instilling a formidable array of Chinese words and characters into Wiggy’s somewhat distracted brain, the resultant enthusiasm sometimes backfires.

The latest project was the preparation, filming and sharing of a traditional Chinese dish with the rest of his class. As Wiggy is rather an expert at stir fries,  I was gently relieved. And then the teenage talent for self sabotage and grade suicide kicked in as his group opted for a more challenging culinary route. Peking Duck. From scratch. For 30.

The Other Half may have DIY limitations, but he has the patience of a saint. His after-work activities for the next three days involved sourcing ingredients from obscure locations, scouring the neighborhood for a duck of appropriate lineage and 3 hours spent in a Chinese supermarket desperately trying to decipher the Mandarin character for pancakes wraps.

I was left with the task of transporting three bodies (human), a bicycle and copious amounts of video equipment home from school, whereupon my Mother, the Feisty One and I spent the rest of the evening locked outside in the yard while teenage boys laid waste to the kitchen.

It didn’t get off to a great start. It took them 30 minutes just to remove the plastic bag that the duck was packaged in, a further 10 to recover the giblets, and another 20 to clean up the resultant blood now dripping down the counters and spattering the walls. For a dead duck, it put up a hell of a fight.

Having finally freed the bird, they now turned to YouTube for guidance on further preparation, at which point the strident English tones of Delia Smith filled the kitchen. I was a fan of Delia before, but had never fully appreciated her commanding presence and the power of her teaching skills. Across time, space, cultures and the internet, she successfully instructed Mandarin II’s version of the Three Stooges in the lost art of spatchcocking a duck. The woman is a genius, and should be put in charge of fixing the global economy immediately.

We watched transfixed from our chilly vantage point outside the window as they poked, prodded and skewered, then attached some of Feisty’s lilac knitting wool under it’s now alarmingly protruding wings wings and suspended it from the saucepan rack to dry. The strategy was partly successful; the draughts of air set off a dynamic swinging movement and relocated the moisture from the skin of the duck to the doors of the kitchen cabinets.

It also relocated the previously forgotten giblets from inside the carcass to the conveniently located frying pan below, causing hyperventilation in the surrounding males, and me to sourly suggest they avoid viewing childbirth videos any time soon.

Watching duck skin dry is second only to watching paint in terms of boredom, so after a brisk steaming, the unfortunate bird was slapped onto a roasting tray and stuffed into the oven, along with a pan of glutinous, faintly brown liquid, whose purpose was never fully explained, but was, apparently, vital to authenticity.

Up until now, all the videoing had focused on the action, rather than the words, and so the running commentary from Grandma (still shivering out on the decking) were able to be ignored. Now, however, there were orders for silence and stillness while the serious on camera presentation began.

The thing about Grandmas is that they have learned to ignore the raised voices of children and to carry on regardless. This served us well through the teething, tantrums and tale-telling years, but in the face of videography, it is rather a handicap. No sooner had they got to the final sentence of their monologue, than a face would appear at the window and ask “Have you really learned all those words in class?” or “Are you sure the duck is alright?”, quickly followed by “ooh, ooohh, I am sorry”, and a Fawlty Towers-esque comedy tiptoe out of shot. It was funny the first time; by the fifth the Wiggy One was set to explode and even the dogs were cowering.

Thank God for editing, and the power of practice. By the seventh take, the pressure of impending elder arrival and the need for some dinner had compressed their communication into short, speedy authentic sounding sentences and a confidence with the subject matter that only practice, repetition and frequent consultations with Google translate can foster. The golden brown, roasted to perfection duck that eventually emerged from the oven was a triumph of cross cultural communication.

I’ll say this for them. If they ever get to China, they will be able to impart some very useful culinary tips in flawless Mandarin, and providing the recipients are happy to shop, clean and watch from a distance in utter silence, they will get a mighty nice meal.

The bad news? This was the prerecorded version. We get to do it all again this week..


The Care and Management of Teenage Boys - Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation

The Care and Management of Teenage Sons

The Care and Management of Teenage Boys - Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation

It’s the weekend, and I thought you deserved a little break from all the intense debate that the 9 questions every expat spouse should ask series. The final part will be out tomorrow, but in the mean time, enjoy my the latest family foray into parenting advice. I don’t think Supernanny has anything to fear just yet..

My sister and I have recently been pondering the challenges of raising teenage sons. To be fair, I have the advantage here – not because I boast any special parenting skills, but because her son is eighteen months older than mine, and so I benefit greatly from advance warning of the inevitable crises. It helps.

She, however, has the upper hand in terms of professional training, for while I spent ten years as a college tutor developing the steely eyed gaze necessary to make 17 year old males give written account of their transgressions and the steps required to resolve them, she used to teach Kindergarten and so assumes a low level of understanding and even less compliance. She is also more familiar with chaos, incontinence and uncontrollable tantrums..

So here are our top three tools for managing the behavioral challenges of teenage sons; namely poor attention span, endless hours in the bathroom and the obsession with all things electronic. For the benefit of mothers everywhere, there is the comments section at the bottom for you all to add your own..


Dry wipe markers.

Ignore your local office supply store when they try to sell you and expensive board or piece of glass to accompany your dry erasable marker – teenagers  spend endless hours gazing in the mirror, so capitalize on this by writing any messages directly on the glass. Not only does it take more than a single push of a button to delete your instructions, you get the added benefit of introducing them to the world of household cleaning products at the same time. If at any time their attention begins to wander or their response rate drops, simply employ time-honored passive aggressive tactics by writing “I love you, by precious little boy” or “Don’t forget to kiss Teddy goodnight” just before his friends arrive.. Perfect

Pair of scissors.

When birthdays come around and gaming systems are requested, we feel a warm glow at the excitement lighting up their little faces. This warm glow quickly turns to a smoldering rage when we realize that we are now completely superfluous to needs, apart from routine cupboard and fridge filling, and the occasional bout of laundry. Thankfully for parents across the globe, Tesla’s wireless electricity system was never taken seriously, so every electronic recreation device requires some sort of periodic or consistent charge. Careful hiding of batteries can help, but for a more permanent solution, there are scissors. Let me tell you from experience, nothing gets a teenager’s attention quicker than a severed power cable. Just remember to unplug it first, okay?

Shower pebble.

When I was growing up, there was no such thing as constant hot water. We had an immersion hot water heating system that took at least 30 minutes to heat, and a very large metal bathtub. This meant that washing in the morning was done on a swift and conservative basis (which as the bathroom maintained a sub zero temperature, was no sacrifice) and baths were only ever taken in the evening, on a strict rotation.
It seems strange that at some pivotal moment during their development, boys switch from a hysterical loathing of personal bathing, to permanent residence in the bathroom. And while I am great advocate of personal hygiene in the adolescent male, the endless billowing clouds of steam from unattended showers and the massive utility bills begin to grate on my nerves. Hence the water pebble. This cunning device has an inbuilt timer which is preset by any adult who happens to read the instruction leaflet. It then sits innocently in the bottom of the shower, only triggered into action when the water starts running. It’s insignificant green pulse switches to a more insistent amber flash when you have two minutes left, until at that ‘time’s up’ moment, all Hell breaks loose in the shape of a pulsating red strobe more commonly seen on the roof of police vehicles..

The one we ditched..

Computer time limiter.

 I can’t compete with kittens on YouTube, bloopers on damnyouautocorrect.com, or the general insanity that is Facebook. What I can do, however, is set rules for the game. Enter, a genius program which allows you to limit the screen time they have access to. In an ideal world, I’d make them generate their own electricity using pedal power, but until that day comes, I’m comforting myself with pulling the virtual plug.

Update. I was wrong. Teenage boys are far more tech savvy than we can ever hope to be, and what starts out as a tool to manage them deteriorates quickly into a cyber battle for supremacy which parents inevitably lose. I have resorted to the a more effective, low tech solution (see “scissors”)..

Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress



Diddle Diddle Dumpling, My Son Tom.

Sons are funny creatures. I should know, I have one, and I think I may be of embarrassment to him. It doesn’t help that I constantly broadcast his less competent moments on this blog, about which he is endearingly long-suffering. So I thought it was about time I redressed the balance. Because although I seem to spend every waking minute talking to him in a high-pitched voice, and most of our conversations revolve around grades, mass Xbox slaughter and the odd school project, he still has the capacity to make me laugh out loud, and then take my breath away with his kindness. And then just as I start to go misty eyed, I’ll open the fridge and discover that yet again, he has drunk all of the milk and is now mercilessly teasing his sister.

We have a firm belief in our family that in terms of children, you get what you’re given and make the best of them. It’s held true for Tom. From the minute he was born, he watched the world, and waited to see what it would bring. He didn’t want to be picked up and held, and cuddling resulted in a sturdy arm pushing you away so that he could turn around and see the room. He’s still the same today. His early years were spent carefully observing the world and only joining in when he fully understood the rules of the playground. Repeated relocations have not changed his fundamental make-up – he spends the first months or years of each move learning how each new world works, and is agonizingly (for us) solitary until he decides who his new friends will be. But his choices for friendships have always stood the test of time, and with each move, the time between arriving and settled gets shorter.

He’s grown from a sturdy eight year old to a 5’10” young galumph, who now gets to do all the heavy lifting. The last year has seen the most speedy growth, and he still hasn’t quite figured out where he ends, and the wall / door/ person next to him begins. It was a strange sensation after a lifetime of ‘hold my hand’ or ‘stay close by’ to have to physically move him to arm’s length when walking after being ‘run over’ by him three times in the previous ten minutes. And yet despite his testosterone-fueled choice of field sport, he is the one that can be found gently stroking Murphy, the blind, deaf and ancient dog that has traveled along with us. Or sitting motionless on the couch in cramped contortions because he doesn’t want to disturb a friend’s youngest daughter who has fallen asleep while curled up next to him.

He has a great ability to laugh at himself. His teenage moments have been all at once insulting, infuriating and hilarious, but if you can hold on to your temper and tongue and keep smiling at him, eventually his lengthy tirade on your failings runs out of steam and hears himself.  And a wry smile will creep across his face, and inevitably makes him laugh. Most of his early pictures show a great grin and a huge twinkle in his eyes, and for the early expat years, they were replaced by a cautious watchful expression. But with impending adulthood, his twinkle is back, and with it a confident, dry humor that’s accuracy has been honed by the years of watching the world.

Next week’s final exams are looming, and with them the return of the ‘parent as dictator’ role. But just for now, I’m going to remember how lucky I am to have a son that I not only love, but really, really like. I might even tell him that I love him. Loudly, in the school parking lot…




Teen Social Networking Infographic

It’s no longer just putting pen to paper – like many expat and TCK kids, mine rely on social networking sites to keep in contact with friends around the world. But while we keep track of them in the real world, Zonealarm’s infographic outlines just why we should be doing the same in the online one.
Other Resources:

The “No Fair” Rules of Parenting

There is a code of parenting solidarity, that guides our behavior in those early years. It’s there for a reason – to provide a large group of people who will provide support, comfort, alcohol and surveillance services through your child’s teenage years. For those of you who may not be familiar with this unspoken code, here it is…

Thou shalt not post pictures of home-made birthday cake excellence on Facebook, so that my children spot them and spend the next ten years bringing up my own birthday cake inadequacies.

Thou shalt not point out that your child is walking and talking while mine has spent the last three hours with his hands down his trousers.

When spying my child indulging in antisocial activities in public, thou shalt utter the words “her mother will be very cross when she finds out about that”; implicitly underlining that a) I am the all seeing, attentive parent, and b) I have high behavioral standards. It is irrelevant whether you believe this or not, and extra credit is given for saying it when other parents are present.

When spying my child inappropriately dressed, thou shalt sing out in a helpful tone “Would you like me to call your mother to drop off your sweater / trousers / anything that doesn’t look like a Britney Spears outfit?”, thus communicating to the child that a) she’s busted; b) you are willing to go there; and c) there are eyes everywhere. Extra credit is given for not telling me about inappropriate attire unless there is a repeat occurrence.

When my teenage child makes an inappropriate remark, thou shalt enter into a lengthy and awkward story about your own teenage angst, preferably with reference to kissing. The mental picture of adults ever indulging in such behavior is enough to silence any outburst, and serves as a cruel and unusual punishment which rarely has to be repeated.

When my child comes looking for sympathy about my latest parenting gaffe, thou shalt listen kindly and then retell the story about how said child once had diarrhea next to the deli counter in a crowded supermarket, and until roles are reversed, the balance was still tipped in my favor.

When my child comes looking for support in opposition to the latest parenting policy, thou shalt listen sympathetically, nod furiously, make noises of agreement, and then reiterate policy without the benefit of parent type shrieking. Extra credit is given if child thanks you for being so reasonable and fails to notice that it is the same policy.

When my child leaves home, thou shalt not mention how many times I uttered the words “I can’t wait for them to leave home” and instead hand over tissues and gin to drown my sorrows.

Should my child get married, thou shalt attend the wedding without publicly mentioning the pant fumbling, the diarrhea, the inappropriate clothing or the teenage years. Extra credit is given for having photographic evidence for use in ensuring timely Christmas visits etc.

When my child has children, thou shalt smile and enjoy the show..


The 10 Hidden Benefits of Teenage Sons

I have just go off a ten hour flight with my family, most notably in close proximity to the Wiggy One, who spent the entire time wriggling, twitching, fidgeting and generally preventing me from getting any sleep whatsoever. However, in the spirit of positive parenting, I have put together a list of reasons why teenage sons may be a blessing, not a curse.

1. After years of lugging children, pushchairs, travel cots and change bags around, finally the tables are turned, and you have someone to carry your luggage, shopping etc. Even if they do make annoying whining noises the entire time.

2. You never again need to worry about leaving the house without an honest opinion on your appearance. Often unprompted.

3. You have a constant free source of feedback on how you could improve your driving technique, from the convenient location of the passenger seat.

4. Your morning preparation time is cut in half, as the bathroom is monopolized for the entire hour between 6.30 and 7.30 am. Credit should also be given for your newfound savings on cosmetics, grooming products and shampoo.

5. You gain an extra 2 hours every day as you rediscover the hours after 10pm, waiting for their return. Despite the fact that they have a cellphone, a voice plan and unlimited texts, all of which you pay for, but never seem to be on the receiving end of.

6. You only have to clean the fridge out once in a blue moon – most of the time, it looks like a plague of locusts has passed through.

7. You no longer need expensive gym memberships – all your exercise needs are taken care of in thrice weekly marathons around grocery warehouses, with the accompanying bending, hefting and carrying to meet the never-ending dietary requirements of the adolescent male.

8. You never need worry about other siblings poor behavior passing you by – not only will you have real time, on the spot notifications of any infractions, but you will have regular reminders in comparison to their own unblemished behavior.

9. You finally have someone who can resolve complicated problems with internet connectivity. And then absorb the entire bandwidth with medieval world domination.

10. You get to use the words “I can’t wait for you to have children” and really mean it. Just not for a long, long time.