Fourier Analysis is a mathematical tool which can do a number of things: separate out signals from noise; help identify patterns or trends in data; filter out all unwanted data and focus on a single signal; use approximations to make generalizations; make approximations of real world signals (think electronic music); combine harmonics to get a stronger signal. That's what I'll be trying to do here!! Won't you join me with your comments?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"Where Do I Belong?"

I knew it was coming, but the question I have dreaded is now here...

I knew when I had children that this might be an issue. I knew in raising them to be "children of the world" that this would come up. I had hoped I would have an answer by now, but I don't. My oldest daughter (12 in October) has now hit the age where she needs to "belong". I am American. My husband, with an Italian last name, is 1/4 Italian, 3/4 German, but was raised in Germany and doesn't speak Italian. When his Dad was a young man in Nazi Germany, it was not good to be "different", so he stopped speaking Italian, cultivated a neutral German accent, and has never spoken Italian in front of his children. Our daughters were born in the Netherlands and their early school years at the creche (Dutch day-care/ nursery school) and first years at primary were all in Dutch. They have a number of Dutch friends and participate in sports and after-school activities that are all in Dutch.

We have adapted our lives to help them "fit in". Birthdays and holidays were celebrated in "Dutch style" with slight modifications (future blog on how I resolved the problem Sinter Klaas vs. Santa Claus). But they have also had exposure to German and American culture. We visit the German grandparents and cousin for a weekend about every 6-8 weeks. Last summer was the first time we had a vacation in the US longer than 2 weeks, and it really helped improve their English.

Three years ago, after being very disappointed with the education they were (not) receiving at their Dutch public school, I placed both girls in a semi-private "International School". I vetoed their going to the "American School" or the "British School" for a number of reasons, but primarily because neither would support the multi-culture that is their homelife. We had/have the option of the German school, but that is a lot further away so I felt the IS was the best option.

Both girls have thrived. They both have a mix of friends, and speak at least 2 of their languages every day. German is used less often, but they speak it fluently at home with their father. Though the school has the usual financial and organizational problems, there is a wonderful open environment where all cultures, beliefs and religions are accepted. It is a small school (20-25 kids per class) with a wide mix of nationalities. My DDs have joined in celebrations of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and Christian holidays. And they have picked up various words in 8 or so other languages. As a parent this sounds wonderful, and I am of course thrilled with the rich environment they have at their doorstep.

But puberty is now upon us. And while there is not really an issue of "fitting in", my oldest child is now trying to understand who she is. This first came up earlier in the year when each of the children was to do a project on his or her "home country". I was faced with the tearful tantrum accompanied by the wail "I don't have a home!" Boy did this pierce me to the heart! I identify with this feeling as it accompanies my darkest homesickness bouts. I have lived much longer as an adult in Europe than I lived in the US. And while we have a wonderful house that I got to help design and personalize, at times I still don't feel like it's my "home".

While we overcame the earlier crisis with a long discussion of how she had at least 3 "home" countries and she could pick whichever she wanted for her project, I knew the problem was not solved. And then this morning, almost out of the blue, she cuddled in my arms and said in a small voice, "Mom, where do I belong?"

Now I know that part of this is coming from the angst that is present in all pre-teens/teenagers. Those answers she will have to come up with on her own and will take some time. But the part that I have to help her with is the part that I too struggle with, and I am at a real loss. How can I help her forge her identity when my own is so fuzzy at times? How do convince her at how blessed she is with the advantages she has, how it is so wonderful to have perspective and understanding of so many countries? How do I help her forge a confidence and a feeling of "home"? How do I give her a feeling of being "rooted" when I feel myself that I am almost "rootless"? My worst bouts of homesickness came after being in Texas for 3 weeks by myself, surrounded by family and friends, and I could not explain why everything felt so "wrong". There definitely is something to the old saying that "You can't go home again".

So this evening I face a delicate diplomatic discussion that has repercussions that a UN ambassador can only remotely imagine. I know it won't be the last, but it is a very important beginning. I am helping to shape the future outlook of a child of the world. Your prayers, good wishes, advice and wisdom are more than welcome on this.

11 comments:

This Eclectic Life said...

I think that pre-teens would ask the question "Where do I belong?" even if they had only lived in one country. It's been a long time since I had a pre-teen, though. Later today, I'll mention this on my blog, and maybe some ex-pats will see it and can come commiserate with you. Hopefully someone wiser than I am will be able to advise you

Robin said...

The issues aren't quite that level at our house, but as an American who moved to Israel nearly 20 years ago I can tell you that it pierces my heart every time my son asks why we have to live there (and he was born there), why we don't live closer to grandma and grandpa, and announces that as soon as he grows up he's moving to the States.

These are really hard issues, and I think they can sometimes bring to the forefront a lot of our own insecurities and guilt. I don't have any easy answers for you (or for me), but I can certainly empathize with the dilemma and will be back if (and hopefully when) I come up with something more useful to say.

I have to go pick up my kids soon, but I'll be back for a better look around later.

Welcome to the (blogging) neighborhood :).

Jenn in Holland said...

Though we are not a multi-national family such as you, nor have we been expats for even close to the same amount of time, we definitely feel those same type of things. And I wonder often as I watch the teenager and the tween in this household, if we did the "right thing" for them by coming here. I know it was a good thing in so many ways, and like you said I can clearly see the benefits to living an international life, but still it's painful when the angst and homesickness hit. And so very hard to explain to them that "going home" would likely not feel any better. So much of what they feel they would feel anywhere, but still I wonder. And I worry.
And I have no answers. Only your very same questions.

anno said...

Discovering where one belongs is a lifelong process. Maybe that's not exactly comforting, but it doesn't make it any less true. And perhaps it is a good thing to know.

From my perspective (annual mid-school-year moves every year from K-7th grade), you've provided enormous stability, and a rich possibility space for your daughters to find their place in the world.

FWIW, I've often thought someone should encapsulate memories from 7th grade and sell them as birth control: So you want to be a parent? Remember this? You'll get to do it again!

Best of luck to you -- I hope all goes well!

The Rock Chick said...

As a mom of four teenagers, I can tell you that they all feel like this at times. My neighborhood and school district is extremely diverse and when we have International Night where kids are supposed to bring in clothing, music, artwork, money, etc. from their cultures, my kids, being like 7th generation Americans are always clueless what to bring despite being in America.

It certainly sounds like your home life is well-grounded and the kids have a strong foundation. With their family and with those who love them is where they belong!

Stacy said...

Coming your way via Shelly, your top comment. I have four kiddos, and we have lived overseas for 10 years in various places in Asia. My daughter graduates this year. One thing that has helped us is going to an international school. EVERYONE is in the same boat, so they are the same because of their differences. ha!

I think the hardest question for our kids to answer is "Where are you from?" It can mean passport country, where they have lived, where they consider home.... too many answers to that question.

For us, the kids feel at home where ever we are. We have moved and traveled so much that home has meant the family itself, rather than a place.

That said, our kids love each place they have lived, and wouldn't change it for the world. They love speaking Chinese, and enjoy knowing firsthand about so many different cultures. Middle school is rough, but they come out so proud of what they have learned on the other end!

soccer mom in denial said...

This doesn't help but she belongs every where. The world is so lucky to have her and her sister living the life they do. There are so many US kids who think "the world" is their town and the mall.

I'm sure that response now, but maybe later.

Annie said...

I live in the States and always have. So I lack the experience of an international lifestyle, but have been through the teen years with 3 girls and they are most heartbreaking (and frustrating) from 12 to 14.

She belongs wherever her parents and siblings are, and she was born and raised there, but her heritage is a rich one - with German and Italian ancestry and whatever your own genealogy has to offer. Most of us will only dream of visiting where our ancestors emigrated from - your daughters get to see it every couple months.

Perhaps working on her family tree will help her see that we come from all over, but home is where family is. And as long as you are all together - she is "home" and she belongs right there.

And should none of that comfort her - just love her to pieces and wait - because a young girl's worries change quite quickly and as soon as you figure out one, she'll have another... but that's just what raising children is all about, right? Helping them overcome their concerns one at a time and showing them how to someday figure out the answers for themselves.

Jen said...

I've had a very mixed background, both ethnically and in terms of religion. I grew up feeling very much "Where do I belong?", but I realize as an adult I belong to it ALL. It's ALL home to me and all to be celebrated.

My ds has some of this (he's 14) because we've had a series of exchange daughters and a Danish "son" coming to live with us for a year at a time and then returning for many visits. Who are family and who are "family"? Sometimes the biology is less strong than the found family.

Anyway, it's part of what makes our world strong, I think. Anno turned me on to your blog - it looks wonderful!

Rosemarie said...

I am new here by way of This Eclectic Life. This is a full post and now I can see why those before me have lengthy comments.

Where do I start? You...your feelings of not feeling rooted perhaps should be shared to the point that in every season of our life there is some form of wanting or desire that hasn't been met. And, that's healthy! God forbid that children should think everything is always perfect and if you’re not feeling great or happy something is wrong.

Next, share with her that though she feels like a nomad now, in years to come this international upbringing will be her foundation for a career and networking, which could catapult her into business and charity opportunities that she never thought possible. I'm all about positive talk and speaking into our children's lives, and seeing farther than they could dream currently. Give her the canvas and let her paint her dreams.

Does she journal? This would be a perfect time to introduce this outlet to let her share her deepest desires and struggles. If she wants to share be open to it, but if not let that be her personal place.

It was well worth the effort to come by for a visit.

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Miscellaneous Matters

Fourier Analyst said...

Wow! So much wisdom and inspiration! Thanks so much to you all. Check out the update on this on Tuesday.

Thanks especially to Shelly for the "link love". As you see it brought some new readers and great comments.

Welcome to all my new readers and I hope to see you here again soon. Special thanks to Anno, Rock Chick, Stacy and Jen as I used your wisdom to shape my conversation with DD1.

It is sure comforting to know that you are not alone in the adventures of child-rearing!