Grandparenting from Afar

When we moved to Kenya we never even had it in our minds that within a few short years we would have a grandchild on the scene. Why you always look forward to it, you’re never quite ready for it. When our daughter Hannah and her husband Luke told us that they were expecting their first baby, we didn’t actually believe them. It’s the type of prank our family would play on each other. So even when we got off the Skype call, we didn’t quite believe it.

But it was true, and in March this year Isabella Rose was born.

I felt very privileged to be there a couple of weeks before she arrived, was there for the birth and for a month afterwards. But then we had to leave to return back to Kenya. We saw Han and Izzy one more time when we were in Australia but after that we weren’t sure when we would see them face to face again.

It could be years.

baby-hand

We are now on a journey of being grandparents from a distance.

It’s a common occurrence in the world we live in for grandparents to be on one side of the world so how do we manage it and still build a relationship with the most precious gifts in the world?

 

  1. Don’t feel guilty

It’s hard not to be there for every moment of their lives. You feel bad for not being there for birthdays or Christmas and if you were there they wouldn’t have to go into daycare because you ‘could have’ helped out.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to realize that even if you moved back to the same country as them, they might up and leave to go somewhere else. So are you just going to jetset around the globe following them? You have chosen to live where you are and they where they are.

 

  1. Use the internet to your advantage

For us, Skype is one of the best inventions ever. We might only get to use it once a week, but the fact that we can, is the fantastic. I’ve asked Han for a photo or video every day of Izzy, and she’s pretty good at sending it on Facebook. Sometimes it’s a report on how she’s been sleeping, other times on how she’s going with feeding. Even the smallest message makes us feel involved with Izzy. At times I just get on my phone and video myself or put some toys in from of the phone and make up stories for her. This morning I got back from a run and put a 30 second video of me filling in Izzy on what was happening today. It’s no big deal, but it helps with me missing her so much.

 

  1. It’s not a competition

It’s hard when your daughter and grand daughter are surrounding by their in-laws who get to enjoy ‘your family’ on a daily basis. When you find out that your grand child has been spoilt with lots and lots of gifts and you can’t do that because you’re a missionary and don’t have money for such luxuries. It’s very easy to get jealous.

But it’s not a competition between them and you. Your grandchildren are not objects. You can’t buy love and the best thing you can do is give them time. Things break, the best investment you can make is time. Let them show you their homework, art, favourite toy and just chatting. Even taking the time for them to sing their favourite song or preparing for a presentation. The fact that you’re making time for them is the most important thing.

october-foot

  1. Make the most of holidays

If you can’t get to your grandkids, invest into them and fly them to you. When Izzy was born, I made the decision that I wanted to be back for her first birthday. I have no idea how I will find the money for the ticket, but it’s important to be there. Izzy won’t remember it, but for Hannah, she needs to know that she matters to us. It’s been a difficult journey for her because she hasn’t had her parents around. I’ve got expat friends whose grandkids come at least twice a year to visit them in Kenya. Others fly to their other home each year or meet up with their kids and grandkids in a mutual country for a few weeks.

One of the dangers of volunteering overseas is that when you return to your home country, you need to spend a lot of time fundraising and you don’t spend time with family. On our last trip we said we would take April off and have a break. But, because of school holidays, we actually had to do many presentations during April. However, we still made time for family, which was a first. For Hannah’s birthday and Mothers Day, we made sure we spent it with the kids.

You can’t get time back. Go and make some good memories.

 

  1. Learn to celebrate

Look at what you do have and not what you don’t. Make the most of birthdays and Christmas, not just with a card or gift, but with the phone calls and messages on social networks. I’m keeping every video and photo that Han is sending through for a project for Izzy’s first birthday. I’ve also got some creative ideas for gifts for Christmas. We’ve sent clothes through but judging sizes is always a hard thing. Sometimes we’ve ordered books online that our kids grew up with and sent them through. Because we live far from them, when I’ve returned, I’ve taken the toys that Han had when she was little. That way if anything untoward happened to us, at least she has memories of us. My grandmother gave me a porcelain love heart when I was small, so when Izzy was born, I gave that to her. It might not seem much right now, but I have nothing left from my mother, so it’s nice to leave something small with Izzy.

 

What have been some of your experiences of grand parenting from a distance?

october-disney

 

When You Have A Disability

This week I’m going to share what it’s been like for Liz while living here and also what it’s like for other kids in Kenya with disabilities.

Liz is classified as being mildly mentally disabled, along with speech and language disorders. That means she can’t produce sounds correctly and she has trouble sharing her thoughts, ideas and feelings. There’s no known cause and at this stage, we’re not worried about that as much as where we head to in the future. We tell people that Lizzie has Aspergers, because she strongly exhibits many of the characteristics of the spectrum.

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If you want some examples, she didn’t learn to do her shoe laces until she was about 17 and to this day doesn’t have the finger strength to do them tightly. Liz struggles when it comes to understanding her left and right. When talking with her, you will notice she won’t look you in the eye and sometimes blurts out something that has nothing at all to do with the general conversation.

When people look at Liz today they have no clue of her (or her familys) journey to get her to this point. The endless tests, reports, requests for assistance, occupational therapy, speech therapy, special needs classes – it goes on and on.

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There were two critical times in her life that deeply impacted us. The first one was when we were informed of her ‘condition’. We were distraught, and in those days there wasn’t as much information at hand (think pre-internet). The other time was when she was a teenager and could see her sister doing all the normal things teen do (get a job, have friends and a great social life). Liz was depressed for quite a few months and it was awful to go through. But go we did. With some help of some amazing youth leaders, life came back into Liz.

Then we moved to Kenya.

It’s not easy for a kid like Liz to make friends here. She likes to wear jeans and a tee shirt, and a tee shirt and jeans. If she has to wear a dress you think you were sentencing her to jail. She won’t ever be able to drive. It’s unsafe for her to catch public transport. She can’t get to youth events during the week because it’s a 90 minute drive each way.

And her volunteering options are slim.

For the past 4 years Liz has been helping at a pre-school about a 5 minute drive away. When we returned from travelling they said they wanted her back. One week in they said they didn’t need her any more. Let’s think about that one, you don’t want free labour????

liz-2

Now we’re in the very long process of trying to find somewhere else for Liz to volunteer. It’s hard to convince people that her amazing personality is a bonus to their workplace. Give Liz the same role day in, day out and she handles it really well. Okay, she’s not great in a crisis situation, but thankfully that doesn’t happen very often.

Last week we took Liz to Riding for the Disabled. I was hoping it could be something Liz could volunteer at. It was also something she went to when she was small so it was good to give back. The kids who came were from a special needs school run by the government. These were severely disabled kids. When they were carried off the bus, they had to wait their turn by being put in a car seat. To me most looked like they had cerebral palsy. The teachers were amazingly patient with them and everyone worked together to get the kids their turn on the horses.

When I look at them I worried about their future. Unless you have money here then kids like this will end up staying at home by themselves and maybe a neighbor coming by to give them some food while the parents are out looking for work. They will be neglected and end up with more health problems because of a lack of money. Some will end up being abandoned.

There’s no government support for them, nothing at all.

On the side of the road you’ll see the odd person in a wheelchair or placed on the ground to beg. On a couple of the roads blind people and their carers will be there with a cup in their hands asking for some change from drivers. For most families though, disabled children are ignored, not given hope, and alas they don’t have much of a future if you don’t have money.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some compassionate people who are visionaries here in Kenya to transform the lives of children with disabilities. There’s a long way to go for these kids but at least it’s a start.

For Liz, her future is bright. I just hope the kids we see at places like RDA get the same chance.

liz

Honour Thy Father

Yesterday it was Father’s Day in lots of countries, including Kenya. Our youngest daughter lives in New Zealand and it doesn’t happen there until September.

So in honour of all dads (and single mums) I’m writing this blog, but especially in honour of Pete’s dad – Alvin Crean.

Dad is in hospital and we are all unsure of how much longer he’ll be with us. At 83 his heart is just holding on. It’s been a tough week for all of the family, we all knew it was going to happen but it doesn’t make it any easier.

It’s hit Pete really hard being so far away from everyone. The last time he saw his dad it was exactly 2 years ago. It was to say goodbye before we moved to Kenya. Pete knew it would be the last time he saw his dad, so it was extra special. Yesterday we did get to make him a video and then speak to him which was really good.

There’s some quite famous Creans across the world. One of them was Thomas Crean, an explorer that went to Antarctica with Ernest Shackleton. In fact this year there was a huge festival in his name held in Wellington, New Zealand. It looks like they originated from Ireland and made their way across the world.

The family crest

The family crest

There’s even a ‘Creans Road’ named after Pete’s grandad in Waihi.

roadIn 1960 Pete’s dad married his mum (Alma). She already had 4 children from her previous husband who had passed away. That’s a huge thing to take on 4 kids that aren’t your own. Then, Pete and his sister were taken in when their birth parents abandoned them. Pete and Dawn were just a toddler and a baby.

It takes a lot of courage to take on 6 children with none of them being biologically yours. It wasn’t always a peaceful household and Pete has lots of colourful stories about his upbringing.

Pete liked living where they did because their house was on the fenceline of the school. In fact, it was only a few years ago that his parents moved out of there to a more rural setting.

The Crean house in Tokoroa

The Crean house in Tokoroa

Our girls loved visiting their grandparents little lifestyle block. There were pigs, dogs, chickens and lots of parrots. Pete’s dad loves birds. Even now at 83 he keeps birds in the back yard. One of our regrets is that he didn’t get to come to Africa and see the amazing wildlife here. He would’ve really liked that.

One thing I really respect about Pete is that he honours his dad. He doesn’t agree with everything he did or said but the fact that he took in so many and provided for them and calls them ‘all of his kids’ says a lot. On our wedding day, 26 years ago, Pete made sure during the speeches that his parents were given the due respect and thanks. Although it’s a blended family I’ve never heard anyone say ‘step brother’, ‘step sister’ or his dad say ‘they’re not MY kids’.

December 1987

December 1987

Some handy things Pete’s dad has taught him (purposely or not):

  • Work hard/play hard
  • Provide for your family even if you have to get 2 or 3 jobs
  • Always be hospitable (be ready with that cup of tea)
  • Every kid is special, they are not an accident
  • Treat animals well
  • It’s okay to argue with your spouse but work it out cause you still have to live with them

Pete and his sisters at the bar

Pete and his sisters at the bar

Whether you’ve had a good relationship with your dad or a real crappy one, take whatever lessons you can and use them in your own family. We choose the environment we have within our family, we don’t have to repeat how we were brought up if we want it to be different.

family

Pete with Mum and Dad

The word ‘Crean’ means ‘heart’. I would say that my husband has learned through his life experiences to have a heart for people. He is compassionate and kind, especially to those who are downtrodden and rejected by society. He chooses to honour his parents through his lifestyle.Dad’s heart might not have much longer to keep beating but he can be assured that the hearts, thoughts and prayers of his family will be with him now and always.

 

 

 

Daughter of a Missionary

To be honest, when mum asked me to write this blog post it was just after I had a huge blowout at her about how much I dislike (to say the least) the fact that they live on the other side of the world and had given up their lives to help those in need. People often look at missionaries and volunteer workers and say how wonderful it is that they have given up their lives to help those in need and that it’s such a heroic act. It seems that people don’t often think of the practical things like the sacrifice the rest of their family makes for this to happen. When mum and dad told me that they had decided to move to Kenya I thought that it was a “nice idea” for them to do something different. I had lived overseas before and knew that I would survive without them. But not long after they left for Kenya I felt like my right arm was chopped off. I think this was because I knew they weren’t coming back easily. After a few months of them being over in Kenya I was struggling a lot and decided to move back to New Zealand where all my extended family are.

all of us

Here are 5 things I have learned over the past year and a half:

  1. You’re allowed to miss them

I miss the daddy daughter coffee dates, the ability to live at home (DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE AWESOMENESS OF BEING ABLE TO LIVE AT HOME! Seriously though, I miss it quite a lot and wish I hadn’t taken it for granted), the painful but great back and neck massages mum gives, the long walks on the beach talking about life with my parents, family outings, special moments with my sister (which were few and far between since we were always arguing), and the list goes on. At first I felt guilty that I missed them because they were doing “such an amazing thing” but then came to realise that it’s my right as their daughter to say I miss them.

  1. Most people don’t understand

No one tells you how empty life can be without family. No one tells you how hard it is to organise skype dates between different time zones. No one tells you how scary it is when you hear of bombings and disasters that are just around the corner from where you know your parents are. The matter of the fact is no one tells you because no one really knows until you’re in the same situation. I don’t actually know anyone else who is a missionary’s kid.

Dad's 3 girls. Not sure how he puts up with us!

  1. Your parents are irreplaceable

The other week I was thinking about the future. What is going to happen when I get married one day? Is my dad going to be able to afford to come to my wedding and walk me down the isle? (He has no option; he’s going to be there whether he likes it or not thank you very much!) When I have my first child is my mum going to be able to be there to hold my hand through the ordeal? How often will they be able to see their grandkids? I don’t want my kids to miss out on having their crazy Crean grandparents around. There is no one who can ever replace my parents in those moments.

  1. Make “other family”

Throughout my life when travelling I have learnt to make other people my “other family” when mine aren’t around. Since living in New Zealand I have somehow managed to find Luke, my prince charming. (Awww!) His family, the Rutlands, have become my family, not because its kind of what happens when you get in a relationship, but because I chose for them to be. His dad, Andrew, takes me for driving lessons, makes me laugh, and gives me great advice. His mum, Sharon, (it’s a weird coincidence that our mums have the same name…) takes me for coffee, gives me hugs and talks with me about life. His sisters, Amy and Hannah, (another weird name coincidence which gets very, VERY confusing) have become my other sisters whom I can laugh with, argue with and cause mischief with. And his gran is one of the coolest gran’s around! I couldn’t do life here without them. I can’t say thank you enough to them for being so supportive and loving me like their own.

Mum and I Skype each week and we message each other all the time.

  1. Accept the fact that there is no such thing as normal anymore

As a missionaries kid you have to learn to modify your thinking of the basic things. What do you do at Christmas time, Fathers Day, Mothers Day, your birthday? Who do you spend those days with? Everyone else has his or her families.

The 4 of us in the US. I left them to come back to Aussie. They went to Kenya.

I’ll tell you a secret: every other day I feel like calling my parents and telling them that I hate the fact that they chose to live in Kenya and that they should come back and live close to me. But I know deep down that this is what my parents are called to do. I know they wouldn’t be happy just living a “normal” life in Australia or New Zealand. And even though most of the time it sucks not having a normal family, I am really proud and glad that they are doing what they love.

This is us on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii before I went to school there.

 

The Biggest Sacrifice Of All

There are many ancient religions where children were sacrificed on behalf of their parents. These include the Incas, Moabites, Phoenicians and Islamists.

Usually it was to appease a god, please them or in the hope of better crops.

Even today child sacrifice continues around the globe. ‘There are many indicators that politicians and politically connected wealthy businessmen are involved in sacrificing children which has become a commercial enterprise.’ (Wikipedia)

What made me think of this gruesome event was when our daughter stomped off to her bedroom last night yelling ‘that’s it, I’m packing my bags and getting the next flight home!”

While it may not mean a lot to the average person to us it was a huge thing. Because we had decided to move to Kenya our youngest moved out of home and then moved country to New Zealand where she hadn’t lived for 11 years. Our oldest (Liz) came with us.

Literally she had no choice. Liz is a special needs young adult and cannot live by herself. She is a high functioning Aspergers. Most people don’t even know because she is so friendly, has the best smile, cooks wonderfully and is adventurous. Liz has no worries about jumping on a plane to travel from Kenya to Australia, as long as she has her paperwork printed out and in order. If you ask her how her day was, her answer will always be ‘good’.

So for her to say what she did really hit hard.

People think it’s ‘so wonderful’ what we are doing (working in Africa) but there is a flip side to it that most don’t even think of.

Our kids sacrifice for us to be here.

There are days when you wonder if that sacrifice is really worth it. They have to give up friends, family, jobs and the convenience of the only life they’ve known. There is a huge difference between visiting somewhere and living there.

For Liz she has totally lost her friendship and support network and doesn’t have the ability to rebuild that. There are no great social services for those with a disability here. Getting to a church event during the week is a 90 minute drive each way – and that’s on a good day. Art classes are exorbitantly expensive. Volunteer positions for her are just about zero. Then, there’s the fact that she has to fly back to Australia every 3 months to keep her disability pension.

As parents we really do feel we have sacrificed our kids for this mission.

It happens around the globe time and time again. It’s an extra thing when you have a child with a disability because their future doesn’t look quite as bright as it did before.

We now have to make a decision to whether she stays here or has to return to New Zealand and see her only every few years. Right now the thought of that is too much to bear.

girls

So when you hear of people working in developing countries take a moment to think about how it impacts their family both for the good and bad. There are those working for a large NGO that cater for their housing, transport and kids schooling, then there are small development workers like us who scrape by on their friends donations. Either way, at some stage they either have to return to their home country for their children’s education or they have to say goodbye to them, unsure of when/if they will see them again.

Skype and social networks never replace a real relationship, but it sure beats the old days before they were invented.

Our kids have been blessed to be involved in humanitarian work in several countries, seen many places in the world that others only read about and have had an impact in changing communities. I believe it has changed them and made them better and bigger minded people. I don’t regret investing in them to travel, it has been worth every dollar spent.

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future” John F Kennedy

 

Why I Hate Glee

Millions worldwide are glued to their TV screens each week that Glee is on. When it first came out I thought it was a fantastic show, until the morals started sliding and anything and everything was permissible.

glee

Everyone is entitled to their opinions so I thought as a different type of blog I would express my thoughts and some of the things we can actually learn from the show.

Why I hate Glee:

1. Addiction to it by millions is an understatement

Enough said on that one. Anything young people plan their life around, they have to move their schedule for, or you can’t skype them during that time, is annoying.

 

2. It’s so unreal

Think about it, these guys never go to the toilet, look way too old to be in school, have to do jobs at home or have to do the dishes. It’s escapism to the max! Mostly though, that’s why we like to be entertained, to take us to a totally different place from our every day lives. It would be interesting to see the ratings for National Geographic compared to Glee. I wonder if Sir David Attenborough watches Glee after spending years out in the freezing cold with the penguins?

 

3. The kids rule the parents

There doesn’t seem to be any sort of boundaries put in place or repercussions for when the kids play up. It gives the kids watching the show the impression that’s how life should be. People actually believe that what they see at the movies and on TV is real. Just ask my students.

 

4. Teachers have no self control

Either they are complete Nazi’s like Sue Sylvester or a total walkover like Will Schuester or the flaky Emma Pillsbury. There doesn’t seem to be any balance in between. They’re busy dealing with manipulation, affairs or break ups. If the teaches have no self control how do they expect the kids to. What happened to teachers specialising in education to ensure a good future for our kids?

 

5. Kids have no self control

I know the show is about the kids and not their parents or lack of them, but my goodness, if every single child in the world acted like these kids, I might as well give up my job. It’s true, the average age for a young person to have their first sexual encounter is 17 (for many, much younger) and we all know how hormonal driven young people are but do we really need to relive it on the screen? With all the sexually driven advertising, pre-schoolers being sexualised and full on sex scenes in movies, do we need to hear about it all again? Why can’t we be talking about commitment, sticking in there when times are tough, give and take, relationships and strong marriages?

 

6. The writers wanted to have something for both adults and kids to watch

You must be kidding? Sure, as a parent I really want my kids watching a teenager losing his/her virginity and a whole show dedicated to it (NOT). The show is so well packaged and marketed we have to ask ourselves – what values as a family do we hold? Does what we’re watching support those values?

 

Lessons Learned

  • Parents, keep an eye on what your kids are watching
  • Talk to your kids about their choices in life, in a Biblical perspective
  • Your kids might not tell you, but they feel safe when you put in boundaries and keep them
  • Limit their TV time (when was the last time you read with them?)
  • If you’re an educator, you need to carry yourselves responsibly because young people are looking up to you

 

Why I like Glee

  1. They sound great when they sing

The actors do really well at fitting in their lines, choreography and songs that go into the show. The sound good, they look good. That is it.

Lessons Learned

  • We should learn to sing more, enjoy life more and hug our kids more

Each episode costs 3 million dollars to produce with 22 episodes per season. I leave it up to you to decide if this is the best investment of that amount of money.

25 Years and Still Going Strong

Aside

Well, officially, we haven’t been married for 25 years until December 5th, but because we are leaving the country in a week we thought we’d renew our vows in front of our Aussie family.

We both cried in front of a crowd of 40 people, telling each other how much we cared and how grateful we are to God for how far we’ve come.

So, I thought I’d write something a little different this week and talk on commitment. It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey to get where we are, but one thing I’ve learnt is that without sticking in there, you won’t get great results.

Commitment is treated as a swear word in this day and age. It seems old fashioned, narrow and judgemental.

So, here’s a few pointers for keeping your relationship the best it can be:

  1. Remember, he/she is your best friend.
  2. Laugh lots.
  3. Go out on a date night once a week. When you have kids, take them each out on a date every couple of weeks.
  4. Find similarities, don’t focus on the differences.
  5. Make it a win, win situation.
  6. Forgive fast – don’t let it drag on and on.
  7. It’s nothing like on television – Hollywood is a false world.
  8. Remember that your spouse, or any other relationship won’t 100% fulfil you – that’s God’s job.
  9. Make your spouse a priority.
  10. Have fun – all work and no play is a bad idea.
  11. Don’t try and change them to fit into your mould – the world would be boring if we were all the same.
  12. Realise that you don’t have to like 100% of everything that your spouse does.
  13. Keep your walk close with God, it’s the key to everything.