Fall has been challenging in the best of ways: crazy schedules for the kiddies + tough classes for me + long hours for the hubby = lots of growth. And on the topic of growth, I just realized that I never wrote about how the week of the family divided went (read this for context: https://foreignmom.wordpress.com/2019/08/30/letting-them-grow/).
So back during the first week of school —ages ago, I know— the older two kids and my hubby went on an adventure that took them to Oslo for half a day, Copenhagen for an overnight and Beirut and the Bekaa Valley for a whole week.
They went to visit the side of the family that gives them their last name. It sounds so far removed from their lives when put that way, but when we are separated by an ocean —and more importantly a different language— it is extremely hard to forge a connection with the family we only see through video apps and online photos.
I guess the main reason for the trip to my husband’s homeland was to find a way to shorten the distance, but the kids were very nervous to have to do this without me next to them. Clearly, I was just as nervous not to be with them and for the first time splitting the three children between the parents to take only two on a trip. However, it was very important for them to go on this adventure with their dad only.
My oldest, who’s nine, was so emotional when we said goodbye that I immediately had the need to call the whole thing off, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t keep them from having that very needed family time with their cousins and grand mother, their aunts and uncles, and very closely with their dad. So I wiped her tears off and swallowed mine and instead I took their photo as they waved from the car.
My youngest daughter came home from school to a much quieter house than usual and we too began our journey towards growth. Being away from her siblings, especially her brother, proved to be tougher than we both anticipated, but we kept the photos of our days apart flowing between both parts of the clan and this really helped. The ones in Lebanon were struggling to communicate with their elders, but found a unique friendship with their cousins, even when among the five of them they spoke in a mix of charades, Arabic and English, with a few interventions here and there of their handy interpreter: their dad.
My son, who is the epitome of the middle child, shined in the new environment. He was able to adapt like a chameleon to the different situations and places and let everyone –familiar and not– hug, kiss, and squeeze him to their hearts content. He enjoyed the food, playing video games with his older cousin, swimming, visiting the places from his dad’s childhood stories and made the best out of the trip. He also didn’t seem to mind that Arabic was around him 100% of the time without him understanding much of anything. He was the perfect companion to his big sister.
My daughter, who likes things done her way, was not so easily acclimated. For starters, she did not like how, strangers to her, would hug and kiss her at the first introduction. She was really bothered by the adults’ expectation that she would understand Arabic if they kept talking to her only in that. She was also more observant than her brother and noticed things like trash left on the beach and nobody concerned about the environmental effects, the way in which people drove with great disregard for stop lights and the fact that no one wore a seat belt. In other words, she missed the order and organization of her usual surroundings and could not find a way to simply be on vacation mode.
Here is were her brother came to the rescue with his ease and adaptability. He reminded her constantly of the fun times and served as her go to person to talk about the day’s challenges. He would then help her spin things around and find the positive. All of this I only know, of course, thanks to my husband who kept me up to date of their every adventure. He was a bit frustrated by our daughter’s reaction to his culture, so I had to remind him about her personality and about how we have always taught her to speak up when she didn’t feel comfortable hugging or kissing someone –I mean, she was just being the good rule-follower she has always been.
Despite the language barrier, my sister-in-law made every effort to keep my kids happy by organizing an endless list of activities and places to visit so that they could live and see the Lebanon that their cousins love. The same Lebanon that had been my husband’s home until his early 20’s. So they visited bakeries where they were allowed to bake meat pies behind the counter; they swam at the hotel where my husband waited tables in his youth; they spent time in the family home learning how to make goat cheese from their grandma; they toured the farm where their great grandparents housed their 14 children and where their dad spent the most magical of his childhood moments; and they met so many cousins, aunts, uncles and people who are important in their dad’s life as well as their very own family tree.
All while the little one completed her first week of kindergarten and got the royal treatment of being an only child for a while. Though she didn’t like the silence and wanted to have constant play dates, she loved doing all the things SHE and only she wanted to do. We ate her favorite food, we watched her shows and we had our own adventures. She learned to miss her siblings and dad without making it an obstacle to enjoy the things she had going on herself.
And me? Well, I learned to let go of my not-so-little kids –even if it was only for a short period of time. They needed to go see their (our) family at an age in which they would remember. It was important for them also to learn that they could also go to their dad to share their fears, happiness and anxiety. Apart we grew but coming back together we could translate this growth into conversations, travel anecdotes and into the reaffirmation that the five of us belong together no matter what we do or where we go.