Tuesday, March 22, 2016


I can still hear the music of an eerie yet beautiful climb of the violin leading into a strong and defiant, "TRADITION!"

After my high school did the musical Fiddler on the Roof, we boarding students sang the songs ad nauseam while we walked around the dorm, each song spurring on another. I have no doubt it was due to their contagious melodies but the more I live amongst TCKs and their families the more I am convinced that those songs may be meant for crowds like us.

List I made this year of Family Christmas Traditions
In my family, Christmas Traditions have grown a bit into a fun-loving, warm and cuddly monster. We were gone at school for most of the year so we didn't have time or opportunity to have traditions for any other holidays or moments which led to the time we did have as a family at Christmas being cherished and often christened as momentous by a plethora of actions. The worried face I have in this particular photo is due to being far from family, far from the familiar, but suddenly finding myself very close to the holiday with so much to accomplish without any knowledge of how.

The list isn't all about the little goofy things we enjoyed so much that they have become tradition. It is compiled of German traditions from my Dad's family,  special things from my Mom's Finnish family, pieces from my brothers and extended family, even little hints of left over dorm traditions. Some traditions were born from when we were children, others are rooted in the more modern times. And a surprising amount were founded in where we lived, or how we lived in different countries, which we have brought with us to each and every following country and Christmas season.

No matter where they are from, each tradition is special to me and this last Christmas, away from family, hit me hard. The traditions mean a lot to me.

Another TCK (grown up now and raising TCKs of her own) told me about a fantastic tradition they have involving pizzas and picnics and basically it's made of all things lovely and delicious. It was a tradition squeezed from a hard time but it has become hard to find a way to squeeze this tradition into the everyday life they know now. They do, but it's hard and looks different sometimes.

I think traditions are really important to TCKs. There is so much change in our lives, so many things we have to adjust to, so we hold on to the little things we can, in the midst of it all. Traditions are really important. They let us depend on something. They let us feel we have some sort of control or some sort of steadiness in our lives. I always tell parents of TCKs and in doing so, remind myself that it is really important to have traditions in your family that you keep no matter where you go. Everything else might change but your kids will settle into those traditions and even in a new place they will feel like they are home. 

But how great is that tree, right?
So, this last Christmas I found myself drowning in a busy schedule and with no time for traditions. I don't even think I sang the song once! (What a terrible Grandma Tzeitel I've become.) I was emotionally wasting away. After a pointed and tearful talk with a friend of mine, I realized it was time to make room for some traditions. I dragged my husband to the store to try to buy things you aren't supposed to have in Indonesia, like molasses (which turned out not to be molasses at all) and held back tears when the Ace Hardware store didn't have Christmas lights but remedied the situation by indulging in a few cookie cutters. I attempted the 4 hour long process of making Finnish Biscuit alone for the first time and cut out and frosted about 30 German Love Cookies made with whatever it was I bought that wasn't molasses mixed with a random amount of (vaguely) brown sugar. I bought candles for an Advent wreath I didn't have and set up a host of bamboo angels with no manger scene to sing over. Our house was decorated with left over church decorations after the Christmas Eve service and we taped a paper star to the top of our hand made wooden tree.

Because, quite frankly, TCKs are raised to adjust, but also, somewhere in the constant making room for others' cultures, we need to learn the importance of making room for our own. I had to let myself mourn what I didn't have this year and then dried my tears and made the most of what I did. And when I think about it, our greatest family traditions were born out of adjusting to changes and places around us. I'm starting to think that maybe all the best ones are. 

So make room for your traditions: let that goofy song, the puzzles or foods, the sayings and ideas that follow you, beat on steadily to the rhythm of h-o-m-e.


What are your family's favorite traditions? Which ones were born out of change and which ones lasted through change?

Monday, March 14, 2016


I opened the window to see if I could catch a glimpse of what was happening outside. Then I breathed in deep and grinned. My eyes watered and the smell of the people taking a stand outside swept into our home. With the grin still on my face I turned to my husband.

He frowned.

"It smells like tear gas and tires burning. It makes me homesick, " I sighed.

He shook his head. "That's not normal, Maia. Close the window."

Not normal. That phrase crops up often, in words or in glances, when I am explaining things about how I grew up. Only seeing my parents on holiday. Watching the government crumble around me, several times. Living within walls topped with shards of glass. Eating soup with the chicken foot sticking out of it. Watching ash cover the city like snow.

My response is always the same. For us, it WAS normal.
Normal hardly means anything to me anymore. I understand the concept but I am always aware that my normal is someone else's strange. Normal is based highly on perspective.

The first move back to the U.S.A. that I was old enough to be fully aware of I remember being really confused. I expressed to my parents that the houses felt exposed or wrong. You could see the front doors. Some of them were wide open. "Where are the walls?" It didn't feel normal.
Meanwhile, here in Indonesia, where I live now, a student began to explain why people had gates around their houses I thought to myself, Of course they have gates around their houses! Why wouldn't they?

I occurred to me that many new teachers might not be used to that kind of thing. That it might not seem normal.

My husband said something to me about students having to get visas renewed and how frustrating that must be. Then it was my turn.

"I just realized that you went your whole childhood never having to renew a visa or your passport. Wow. That's kind of weird. For student's here, visa and passport renewals are just... normal."

TCK lives are rich with experiences and one of my favorite byproducts of that is being able to see the world from a different perspective, being able to step into other people's "normal". It is such a wonderful gift that is definitely worth sharing. I love hearing other forms of "normal life" around me. What would it be like to grow up interacting with the same 60 people over and over? What would it be like to grow up in that neighborhood, with those people, those traditions, those customs? You start to realize:

Everyone is a little strange. But it's okay. That's normal.

Okay, some of us might be a little stranger than others
What feels like "normal" to you? What customs or lifestyles seem strange?