So here I am, down to the wire, trying to meet a self-made deadline of one post a month to my TCK Talk Blog. The bad news is, I don’t have much time. The good news is, I have spent much of my time this month on something that is quite important to Third Culture Kids: creative connections.
For Third Cutlure Kids, distance can be an enemy. Grandma and Grandpa live on a different continent from their current home country, and friends are spread so far and wide around the globe that it might be easier to surgically implant GPSes to keep track of them all. Although they may often think of those far away, actually making the effort to keep in touch can take a backseat to all of the other multitude of tasks that fill their days. But it is important for these transient life-style individuals to make some effort to create and maintain lasting connections. Here is a quick look at some of the ways I have recently found the time, and thoroughly enjoyed doing so. I hope they might prove helpful and that you might share further ideas for creatively connecting.
Getting Creative with College: I have written before that my daughter is in her first year of college on another continent. Overall, it’s gone incredibly well, but it’s also important to assure our co-ed TCKs that far is not forgotten. Here are some ways to help.
1. Care packages – Anyone who ever went to college remembers how fun it was to get something in the mail. I’m ancient enough to have gone to university before devices were the extension of our fingertips that they’ve come to be now, and I used to love peeking into my mail slot and seeing the colorful envelopes that meant a friend had written to me. Packages were even more exciting. Sending some special treats or favorites from home periodically helps to remind our college kids that they are cared about and not forgotten. You can find relatively small and inexpensive items that don’t cost a ton to ship. I have sent my daughter small reminders of home this year including a computer cloth of the Viennese subway system she grew to know and love, and Lachgummi chewy candies that were a favorite.
2. Holiday gifts – Being apart for special days can be difficult for this group. I became “besties” this year with a guy at a local bakery that delivered birthday cakes to my daughter’s campus. After many e-mails and a couple phone calls, we parted with “same time next year” and he delivered a personalized cake to my daughter’s dorm door. Add to that some wrapped (yes, I sprung for this added service) favorite movies, games, books and needed winter-wear from Amazon, and she knew her birthday was far from forgotten. Little holiday decorations to make a dorm room festive are also appreciated around the holidays, but avoid festive holiday scented candles which are fire hazard no-nos in the dorms (yes, I learned from experience – sending candles, that is, not burning down a dorm).
3. Time Checks – The number one unexpected challenge/creative opportunity for us this year was one we didn’t think of or plan for. The reality that for 18 years of her life, the time before bedtime was a time of connection. Starting with baths, then bedtime stories, then “tire them out at the end of the day” insane dancing, and morphing in the end to watching a favorite show together, joking and chatting, my daughter was quite used to easing out of the stress of the day and into sleep, with some together time. And she truly missed this. Considering the six hour time difference, her bedtime was my middle of the night, and I am a mom that doesn’t do well on lack of sleep. So we created a ritual. One day a week (typically her Tuesday night and my Wednesday morning), I set the alarm earlier than my typical 6 am rising time, and she finishes her work and settles down for the night. We Facetime each other for the start of my day and the end of hers, and this creative connection allows for her to have a time when we can reflect on her day together, and when I can start mine with the warm-fuzzies of spending time with a daughter who still wants to spend this special time with me.
4. Walking in their Footsteps – I really think, and have heard from friends, that it’s important to make somewhat regular visits. This may vary from family to family, but this year, I dropped my daughter at college at beginning of the year, and my husband made parents’ weekend. Literally walking in your child’s university footsteps can really help in relating. I get it when she talks about the challenge of navigating the steps from upper to lower campus in snow or can visualize the clear, blue-green waters when she mentions running at the Res, and my husband knows the restaurant where she spent a birthday dinner with friends, because he took some of them there on his visit. Having this common knowledge of their day to day life and surroundings is beneficial to a student who is far away.
5. Reading Relationships – My daughters and I share a love of literature. We’ve started Middle School book clubs together, recommended favorite reads to each other, and had our own three person book club last summer as one of our ways to connect before college claimed one of us. Over Christmas break this year, I found a small collection of Alice Monro short stories translated to German. I’ve been working a bit this year to improve my German skills, my college girl voiced concerns about maintaining hers, so I thought it a win/win situation to purchase this small book and share it. On my bus and Strassenbahn (streetcar) trips in to see my clients in Vienna’s first district, and during my break between them in beautiful Central Cafe sipping my Melange coffee treat, I read the stories, highlighting passages that are meaningful or words I need to look up. I write little comments on the pages or at the end of the story regarding a title choice, plot twist, interesting image. Soon I will send the book to my oldest daughter so she can peruse the pages and hopefully think of me, as I have thought of her, while doing so. Trying to maintain a common interest you enjoyed while together can make the distance seem less far.
Focus on Friends and Family – Another opportunity for creativity is staying in touch with far-away friends and extended family. I’ve had the recent pleasure of being mindful of the unique minutes that I can take to share with these special people in my life.
1. Pay it Forward – The first of the year saw an incentive on Facebook that inspired me to reach out to some people in my life. I answered and then posted a Pay it Forward pass-along that requested five people to answer the post and receive a surprise from the person posting. In return, they were to share the post so that five more people received a special surprise, etc… It has been such fun and so rewarding to think of these people while coming up with a small token of appreciation for the connection; a pack of Vienna playing cards to tie my new home to an old tradition, a warm scarf for a cold Midwestern winter, a do-it-yourself chic-flick package complete with movie, popcorn and bubbly, and more. It just takes a little bit of time and effort to remind others that they matter in our lives.
2. Sharing by screen – A common thread on this post is technology, and I’ve written before about the joys of technology for TCKs and their loved ones. The ways to quickly and creatively connect digitally are countless. I play Words with Friends with my two aunts and mother and can picture them sitting in their favorite chairs, next to a trusted canine friend, taking a breather from young grandkids, or typing away with a fresh new manicure color, every time I received their new word choice. Brief messages of “lame letters” or “good one” may seem like nothing much, but I can hear their voices saying those words and feel a bit closer to them. The quick messages sent on the chat option can also help me feel a little more in the loop.I may have to wait at times for my Ipad, but Snapchat is a way my youngest has found to stay in touch with the multitudes of people she’s had to wave goodbye to over the years, and to share her quirky personality, with funny faces and comic captions, across the miles. With the ability to share information instantaneously, and in so many fun forms, connecting by computer (or pad or phone) is a definite plus for TCKs.
3. Kicking it old school – So going back to those college days with the colorful envelope peeking out of the mail slot, a treasured high school friend of mine who was a huge correspondent in college, surprised me last year with a snail mail birthday greeting. He fondly remembered our days of scribbling out our college dramas and working hard to “out humor” each other, and wanted to recreate that. We now exchange the occasional old fashioned letter and, again, I love to see a colored envelope in my mail slot. I have another great friend who drops me an occasional post card from her travels. We have a history of meeting up for getaways here and there, and she lets me know she’s remembering our excursions by sending me a note from other ones. I just dropped her a post card from a recent destination this week, trying to let her know how much I appreciate this small gesture to keep us connected.
So I apologize for losing track of time a bit, and not writing sooner on this blog. Please know I’ve been thinking of all of you and am happy to have now found the time for yet another form of creative connection.