By the grace of God and with the expert coaching of my husband, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy boy in September. He was eight days “late,” but they come when they come. The labor was, of course, excruciatingly painful. But it had a beginning and an end – and a completely worthwhile reward. Some deliveries can ravage the body and leave you in bed, recovering with loads of stitches. That’s not uncommon. My first baby left me waddling about, careful not to disturb any fixed up tears as they healed. For any of my male readers, sorry. That’s just a fact of life (or, should I say, a fact of bringing life into the world). All that to say, I was able to walk fairly normally soon after this delivery. Hence, I was not uncomfortable leaving the house to participate in low-key activities like church or coffee at Café Stella (our latest great discovery here in Norfolk, Virginia, which is no secret to locals). Then someone told me I was resilient after birth because I was raised in Africa.
I don’t write about being a Third Culture Kid (TCK) very often. It is a part of who I am just as your childhood and how you were raised is a part of who you are. What is a TCK? It’s not a disease or disorder, like many other three-letter acronyms or labels. A TCK is someone who was raised in a culture different from that of their parents’. Say, for example, your mom was Swedish, your dad was Chinese, but you lived with your family in Peru from the time you were six-years-old. Classic TCK. Studies have shown certain positive attributes are common among TCKs. If I remember correctly, however, being ‘resilient after giving birth’ isn’t on the list. But that’s okay. I took the comment as a compliment. And it got me thinking. In what ways has my upbringing as a TCK shaped me, particularly as a mother?
Around the holidays, families turn towards home. I loosely define home as the location where my toothbrush is this particular night. My husband and I travel and move frequently. When we search for a new home, I have certain requirements of a house in order to make it the ‘home’ I desire. I like old houses. Old houses have character, which, to me, makes them feel more like a home. However, making a home the place of my dreams could quickly become an idolatrous pursuit. If I were to find my security in my ‘home’ and the safety, beauty and expression of my creativity that it displays, I think I would be crushed every time we move. The same goes for my ‘home’ culture, which is the general American culture. If I depend more and more on my home culture, its historic virtuous roots, and its developed economy for my security and safety and idolize it above other cultures, it would be difficult to live anywhere else. If I encourage those same values in my children, they will probably be devastated when we move back overseas.
If you ask me where I’m from, I want to say “earth.” But then you’d think I was being cheeky. But really, that’s how I feel. I could be comfortable living anywhere, but I don’t feel ‘home’ is a specific place. Not the kind of ‘home’ where you just want to set up house and stay forever. My weathered passport (with extra pages added) may have United States of America emblazoned across the front, and I may feel right at home eating rice with my fingers on the floor of a mud hut, but my “citizenship is in heaven.” That home is already being prepared for me. And that is the home I want my children to grow up understanding, appreciating and longing for.
I have heard of women giving birth in the middle of a rice paddy. The baby is pushed out, probably nursed, and then swung on mom’s back so she can continue working. That may be considered resilience. I was exposed to that kind of resilience – or, should I say, survivalism – when I lived in Africa. I’m sure the mom would have loved to give birth at home instead. Living at subsistence level, however, she is obliged to continue working in the field. I don’t think understanding that woman’s reality has particularly led me to be resilient after birth, as my friend’s comment implied. However, exposing my children to her difficult story and living in different cultural contexts, whether at home or abroad, may help them understand the realities of other people’s situations and the suffering and resilience that is the norm for many people on this earth they call home. I pray this ultimately helps instill them with hope in the glory of their eternal home.
There is no lack of information and resources online devoted to TCK issues and interests. Denizen Magazine, an online publication, is a great source of information on and for TCKs. One of my favorite articles in Denizen is “So You Think You’ve Met a TCK. . .” Marilyn Gardner at Communicating Across Boundaries also frequently posts thoughtful articles about her TCK experience as well as the experiences of others. These are just two among thousands of online resources about/for TCKs.