Family goals

Family goals

Our family goals are pretty simple this year: no broken head/face bones in 2019, please.

broken nose, 2017
broken skull, 2018
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On choosing a school

On choosing a school

It’s that time of year… where moms in our expat chat groups find themselves in a panic because they’ve just found out that NOW is the time to have their 2 year old start interviews in order to register for school next year.

It’s not quite as simple as heading down to the neighborhood public school with your water bill to prove you live in the district. There are a lot of options, and you have to decide it while your baby is still in diapers!

So what do you need to consider when choosing a school for your child?

Language

This often comes as a surprise – Arabic is not the educational language for most private schools in Lebanon. So the first question you need to ask yourself is which language do you want your child educated in – French or English?

We chose an English medium school, which means our children take Math, Science, English of course, and all their specials (PE, art, etc) in English. Arabic is taught as a language, as is French, and eventually (starting grade 4 for us, this depends on the school and the system) social sciences such as history and geography are taught in Arabic.

For us, this was an easy choice – neither of us speak French and we wanted to be as involved with our kids’ education as we could be. For others, the language you choose might not be quite as simple.


We love that our kids school starts French every day from the first year!

Cost

You need to decide on your budget for education. School fees can range anywhere from $3,000 – 20,000 per child per year. Be aware that the fees change depending on your child’s grade, sometimes doubling from kindergarten to grade 12, so it’s a good idea to ask for fees for each grade to make sure the school will still be in your budget in a few years.

Make sure to also ask about other supplemental fees (books, stationary, uniform, activities, etc) and whether the school offers discounts for siblings.

Another aspect of cost to consider is the atmosphere that comes with a school being very expensive or very cheap. How comfortable are you or your kids in different socioeconomic groups and what comes along with that?

Location

This is a huge consideration that I can’t stress enough… in our opinion, the closer you can be to the school the better! Traffic in Lebanon is notoriously terrible and inconsistent. It could take you 20 minutes to get to your kids’ school or an hour and 20 minutes with no rhyme or reason. Of course all schools have buses at an additional cost that will save you time on the road, but not necessarily your kids.

We’ve always lived within walking distance of school, and it’s honestly been the best decision we could have made. That’s not always possible of course, but location should definitely be something you consider as you choose a school for your kiddos.

Curriculum

This is the piece of the equation that we didn’t really do a lot of research on – because we had no idea we needed to! Not only do you have several languages to choose from, but there are multiple educational systems each with different curriculum, requirements and theories of education.

Every school in Lebanon is required to offer the Lebanese curriculum. But if your child has a foreign passport, you have the option of registering for the French Bacc, High School, or International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

The school we chose for our kids only has the Lebanese system. When we chose it seven years ago, all we really knew about it was that it meant our kids would have to do Arabic with all the native speakers (as opposed to taking a special Arabic for foreigners class) and they would have to sit for the government exams in grades 9 and 12. We wanted our kids to learn Arabic, and figured that because they were born here, they should be able to do what any other child can do, academically speaking. And that has proven to be true.

What we didn’t realize were all the other things that entail being enrolled in the Lebanese system. It’s not only about the curriculum, but educational styles as well as values play a huge role in the education your child will receive. For example, the Lebanese system is very math/science heavy, rote memorization is still highly valued, and the brevet (grade 9 exams) are notorious for putting a lot of pressure on students to memorize a lot a lot a lot of useless information. Some kids will thrive in that kind of system, others won’t. For us it’s not a question anymore of IF our kids can do it, because we know they can, but more of a question of if we WANT them to. We love our school, but the jury is still out on how long our kids will continue there.

I’d highly recommend doing research on the different systems – what does the IB offer? What classes will a student in the high school program take? What are the education styles employed in the French bacc system. I wish we had known more about the options, although to be honest, we likely would have ended up at the same school because of it’s location and cost. (And we are very happy there, thankfully!)

Other important questions to ask

Of course every family will put different value on the 4 major considerations – maybe budget is not an issue because your employer will cover your kids’ tuitions, or maybe you only have a Lebanese passport so the Lebanese system is your only option. Every school has it’s pluses and minuses and what makes one family happy will drive another up the wall. But the choice can be overwhelming, especially if you are new in the country or didn’t go through the school system here yourself. A few other questions to ask once you’ve narrowed down your choices are:

  • What kind of special education services are offered? (Not all schools are equipped for or will accept kids with special needs)
  • What kinds of activities are offered both during the day or after school?
  • When do kids start having homework? How much per day? (This might be a question better asked of parents with kids in the school than the school itself)
  • What place does religious education have in the school? You’ll find a wide range – from not religious at all (including Christmas/Ramadan celebrations) to mandatory chapel or religion classes.
  • What percentage of the school are expats?
Our kids go to an Orthodox school. This year they added optional religious education to the curriculum for Christian students. (Photo from the school’s facebook page)

I was reading a report recently that one of the main reasons that expats return to their passport country is because of children’s education issues. While there is no perfect school, and you will find things you love and hate about any school, finding a school that is a good fit for your family will go a long way in making your experience as an expat in Lebanon a positive one.

For those of you here in Lebanon, what have I left off? Any questions you would add?


Getting a late start in school

Getting a late start in school

I was on a blog break when Luka had his infamous school interview. The school changed the interview process a bit – now the kids head up to the classroom alone while the parents fill out the paperwork downstairs. I get the idea behind it, but I also think it is quite traumatic… and you don’t want a child’s first experience of school to be negative!

It wasn’t an issue for us – Luka was so so ready for school. I actually had to downplay the interview quite a lot because he still had to wait nine months before his first day. We got to the lobby and while I was still greeting another mom I know, he was halfway up the stairs. Apparently he played a little basketball and the teacher asked a lot of questions. When I tried to quiz him about the type of questions, his response was consistently the same: “blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Part of the reason he was so comfortable was that he’s been doing school pick up since a was just a few days old. He knows the campus, he knows the teachers, he knows the kids. But the bigger reason is, he’s a year older than the girls were.

The cutoff date to start school here is January 31. This is set by the ministry of education each year. There are a few schools that set an earlier date, but most follow the ministry. This means that your child can start his first year of kindergarten when he is 2 years and 8 months.

Luka has a late November birthday, so instead of starting him when he was 2-almost-3, we decided to wait an extra year and start him at 3-almost-4. Best decision ever.

I get a lot of pushback – mostly from moms who decided to start their kids on the early end: “It depends on the child!” And my response in my mind is always, “no, it doesn’t.”

I’m not saying that a kid who starts on the early side is destined to fail. Isla is one of the youngest in her grade (if not the youngest!), and she’s excelling academically. Ruby started at 3.5 years and is doing great socially.

But the difference in awareness of a 2 year old, a 3.5 year old and an almost 4 year old is huge. The girls did fine, they were generally happy, but they cried every morning for weeks. They came home exhausted, needed naps but couldn’t have them, and just in general seemed so young to be in school all day.

Luka has been a totally different story. He understood what school was, he was itching to go. First day, he waved good-bye and marched up the stairs so so happy. No tears, no looking back. Days 2, 3, and 4 were more difficult… because most of the class spent the whole day crying for their moms. Which you would expect from a class full of 2 year olds! He’s frustrated because he wants to do school things, but other kids were crying and scribbling and throwing their food on the ground.

We could have started him straight into his second year of kindergarten because of his age which would have been a smoother start, more like what Luka was expecting school to be like. But, because they start French and Arabic from the first year, I wanted him to get the full benefit of the three years of KG before starting the much more serious first grade. So much research says that it’s much better for kids (especially boys) to be on the older side of their class, so we decided to start him from the first year, even though it means he’s more than a year older than some of his classmates.

The one thing I wish I would have done was had him skip the entire first week. He’d miss a lot of the crying and tantrums, which up until this point have been the only source of stress in his school experience.

Can a child do well in school if they are young? Of course. But I’d start Luka late a million times over again, and if I could go back in time and delay the girls’ start, I’d do it as well!

Back to blogging and a giveaway!

Back to blogging and a giveaway!

It’s been 2.5 years since I last blogged. At the height of my blogging days, I was getting thousands of hits a day with readers all over the world. That’s exhilarating in a way, but at the same time it’s incredibly stressful. My posts ranged from silly to sweet to deep to controversial, and the latter two often brought out the masses. And I discovered that the more strongly I believed in the cause I was blogging about, or the more vulnerable I was being in my struggle to do life in Lebanon or readjust to America, the more the attacks came. People can be mean from behind a computer screen, but I discovered that it’s not just strangers, but supposed friends as well that are seemingly out to draw blood.

So I tried to scale back, tried to blog about funny cultural mishaps or triumphs in the kitchen. But when bombs were going off in our neighborhood and pain and suffering were at our doorstep, writing fluff pieces felt disingenuous. So I just stopped writing.

But I’ve been itching to get this baby up and running again. I have no idea where it will go…. but I expect it will be a little light and a little not, because isn’t that how life is? Frivolity walking down the sidewalk hand in hand with suffering. Lemons and lemonade. We can’t live our lives ignoring big issues, but we also can’t feel guilty for enjoying a day at the beach.

I’m very excited to kick off the return of my blog with a giveaway because, let’s be honest, no one gets offended by a giveaway!

Part adventure, part mystery, part fairy tale, The Keeper and the Compass is the first book of the Keeper Chronicles written by my dear friend, Katie. It’s suitable for ages 10 and up and will delight both the young and not so young. Plus that cover art is just gorgeous. More info on the book can be found here. I’ll be giving away one copy of the book, shipped to anywhere in the world!

Giveaway is open until Sunday morning, 7am Beirut time. You can enter by clicking on the link to Rafflecopter below. Every day you check the Rafflecopter, you can a free entry, plus an extra one for commenting on the blog and another for visiting Katie on Facebook. Best of luck!

Giveaway is now closed!



When your shopping can make a difference

When your shopping can make a difference

‘Bu’ arrived in Lebanon at the age of 19 with a simple dream – to dress nicely.  The chance to work seemed to be the first step to fulfilling that dream.  It got her out from under her alcoholic father’s hand and away from the piece of canvas that was her family’s only shelter from the Sri Lankan elements.

A chance to work.  To support her family.  To break the cycle of poverty.  To fulfill her dreams.

Those dreams were dashed when she arrived in Lebanon.  As with many domestic workers, her passport was confiscated upon arrival.  She was never paid for her work, barely fed, and refused all contact with her family.

For a year she lived like this.  And then one day she picked up a phone to call her neighbors back home, hoping to hear a familiar voice, to pass on a message to her family.  When her “madame” found out, she grabbed a kitchen knife, forced Bu against a wall and stabbed her just below the neck.  Fearing for her life, Bu fought back, and is now serving a life-sentence for murder.  She’s been in prison for 19 years.

Bu’s story doesn’t end in a prison cell.  In the midst of the darkness her newfound faith has given her comfort, peace, and hope.

A friend of mine has also helped give Bu a sense of purpose.  She and some other prisoners (both from Lebanon and abroad) have started making soft soled shoes for babies and small toddlers.  Not only is it a source of income – many of these women still have families depending on them – but the act of working, of creating, of doing something worthwhile is life changing for those whose futures seem hopeless.

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Soft soled shoes are actually the only kinds of shoes my kids have worn until they were about 18 months old.  Barefoot is best for early walkers, and these shoes bend and flex like a bare foot would, while protecting little toes from cold hard floors or dirty sidewalks.

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The shoes come in three sizes. Size 1 comes with felt soles and is perfect for a new baby.  Size 2 and 3 have genuine leather soles and fit pre-walkers and walkers.

Shoes are $15 a pair and come with a gift bag.
Pick up is in Hamra or Mansourieh.
To order, contact Steph at arabkiwi@yahoo.com or WhatsApp 009613242914

Between two worlds

Between two worlds

Originally written for our May 2016 Picture of the Month email update

Living between two worlds is exactly what the month leading up to Home Assignment feels like.  There is so much to do to prepare for a summer in the US – buying plane tickets, hotel and rental car reservations, taking prayer card pictures, preparing presentations, getting Luka onto a one nap schedule, because c’mon, who has time for two naps, and the list goes on and on.

But of course we can’t only focus on our summer.  Ministry is still happening.  Safe Haven girls need to be taught, papers from class at ABTS need to be graded, Sunday School curriculum is still being written, sweet refugee children are eagerly awaiting their weekly music class.

There is also all the work needing to be done in order for us to be gone for three months.  Preparing games, crafts and homework for the Safe Haven summer program, arranging for someone else to teach a capstone course at ABTS, getting the house ready for guests to use this summer.

Add to that all the end of year craziness, a bazillion birthday parties, science fairs, final exams, end of year shows… I know you all can relate!

Oh yeah, there are also three children, who for some odd reason keep needing to be fed!  :)

It’s a lot.  We are busy.  Sometimes I look at my calendar and can’t decide if I should cry or laugh.  But to be honest, we can do busy like this for a limited time.  We are actually pretty good at busy.

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What surprises me every time we get to this stage of Home Assignment prep is how hard it is emotionally.  We were at a birthday party last weekend, and when I took the picture above, I was laughing at my crazy little girl in her fancy dress at the top of the tree, while all the little boys stood shouting at her from the ground to come down!  It’s not safe!  You will fall!

But as I looked at the picture later, it represents so much of what life feels like in this transitional stage.  Even though we are only leaving for the summer, it’s different than a family vacation.  It’s a big transition for us all.   And in preparation for the changes, I find myself disconnecting emotionally.  While normally a birthday party is a great time to connect and get to know other parents better, I kinda just want to climb that tree and sit and watch from afar.

It’s a normal part of this life… the back and forth, never really fitting in anymore, but it still surprised me when I realized it was happening again.  So I fight it, I force myself to stay engaged, to live in the present, and to leave well… knowing that it’s going to be a whole long summer of transitioning between hellos and good-byes.  I’m reminded of when Jesus was on His way to heal the sick little girl, but was stopped by the woman who needed His help.  He stopped.  He engaged.  He gave that woman all of his attention even though a little girl on her death bed was waiting for him.  It’s a great challenge to all of us… to focus on what or who is in front of us, no matter what our to do list looks like.

Perspectives on safety

Perspectives on safety

I was at a play place a few weeks ago chatting with another mom about our summer plans.  She made an off-hand comment about how play places like the one we were in made her nervous and how nice it must be to spend the summer in a safe place like America.

At that particular moment, I couldn’t see any of my three kids, including my one year old.  They were all climbing or bouncing or playing somewhere in the jungle gym in front of us.  In America, I would NEVER let my children out of my sight.

One of the conversations we will be having soon with our girls is how to interact (or more appropriately NOT interact) with strangers when we travel.

Random man kissing your child on the cheek and giving her a piece of candy in Beirut?  An everyday, socially acceptable occurrence.

Random man kissing your child on the cheek and giving her a piece of candy in America?  Call the police.

This guy?  Total stranger.
This guy? Total stranger.

When we are back in the States, one of the most common questions we get asked is about safety.  These days I very rarely feel unsafe in Beirut.  The last time we were in America, we took the kids to see a movie.  The theater was empty except for another family and about halfway through the movie, two teenage boys came in and sat down in the front row.  My heart began to race and immediately I started thinking about what to do if they started shooting at us.  My brain was telling me that they were probably just bored and theater hopping, but my pulse was telling me a different story.  After about five minutes, they left giggling and it hit me like a wall of bricks.  In that moment I felt more scared for my safety in America then I do in Beirut.

It’s a weird thing.  And I blame the media almost entirely for it.  What stories do you read in the news about Beirut?  Bombs and violent protests, right?  And what are we hearing right now from America?  Rapists in the bathrooms and child traffickers in Target.  Seriously.  I’ve spent two thirds of my life living in the USA, and yet there is a small part of me, in the deep deep recesses of my mind that is actually nervous about taking my kids there.

It goes back to what I’ve blogged about before – that what is known is more comfortable, it feels more safe, it’s easier to relate to.  I can’t even begin to describe what a strange feeling it is to realize that in so many ways Beirut is becoming more “known” to me than the US.  I felt this in a way when I moved back to America after living overseas for a few years when I was young.  I didn’t know what clothes were cool, what bands teenagers my age were listening to, what TV shows were popular.

But this – where I feel “safe” –  hits at a deeper, more primal level.  It throws me off.  It shakes up my thoughts on my identity.   But in the midst of all the inner turmoil, I can’t help but be thankful for a God who is always there, even in a scary place like… America.