The 4th language

The 4th language

Lebanon is no doubt a multilingual society. In a lot of ways, it’s different from other countries with multiple official languages because there is not much separation between them. It’s not uncommon at all to hear two or three languages used by the same person in the same sentence. It goes against everything you’ve ever read about language learning (in children especially), makes learning to speak Arabic difficult, and I have my theories on how it effects a child’s overall language development and communication skills, but that’s for another post.

I love that my children are surrounded by and exposed to so many languages. English is for sure their first and strongest language. They also speak Lebanese Arabic (with varying degrees of success), and learn formal Arabic and French in school. The girls have recently discovered that French is a secret language they can use in our house when they don’t want Mom or Dad to understand. This makes me both proud and absolutely livid when they start whispering to one other, plotting away in French… usually when I’m in the middle of a lecture or meting out some (well-deserved, of course) punishment.

But then we have their 4th language. We first noticed it a few months after Isla started school way back when… but thought that she was just mimicking her friends while retelling us a story that happened during her day. But, no. We have now decided that this is a full on language, that we (at first begrudginly, but now lovingly) call “School English.”

because apparently you can’t share whatsapp voice messages… so a video of it playing will have to do

I discovered to my horror that this is how Isla talks to everyone at school – friends and teachers and janitors – when we went to an open house and she raised her hand to answer a question. At first we tried to correct it, but then realized that she was communicating in a way that she felt she would be best understood… thick accent, wonky grammar and all. So we’ve embraced it now as our children’s newest language. It’s amazing to see how fluidly they can all three switch between English and school English, depending on who they are talking to. Even Luka, who is only a few months into his first year of school, is getting a good grasp on it.

Curious if this is more pronounced because of our context… where our kids are spending the majority of their school day being taught their first language by non-native speakers… or if it’s a pretty typical TCK trait?

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.


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.

TBT: Second English

TBT: Second English

TBT Post!

Because the promise I made to myself to blog once a week is apparently too hard to keep… instead of something new enjoy this randomly selected old post, originally published on March 21, 2014

beautiful feet: the blog version

Even though she was born and raised in Lebanon, Isla’s first and strongest language is English.

Honestly, we expected her to be both fluent in English and Arabic by this time.  We do live, after all, in an Arabic speaking country, and both her Daddy and I speak Arabic (though not fluently… yet! :))

There are two main reasons her English is much stronger.  One, Beirut.  English is so prevalent here, and Isla is clearly a foreigner, so people just assume she doesn’t speak Arabic.  Even though we insist that people use Arabic so that she can learn, they rarely do.  So her Arabic input has never been high enough.  When someone asks her a question in Arabic, she replies in English and they understand her, it just reinforces to her that she doesn’t actually need Arabic.

The second reason is her personality.  She is shy and she’s a perfectionist…

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Vacationing with a TCK

Vacationing with a TCK

Every month we send out a picture of the month update.  Our August update about our vacation got a lot of responses from friends of ours who also live overseas and are raising Third Culture Kids.  I thought I’d share it here too, as it’s a better forum to dialogue and share ideas (though most of the conversation around my blog posts happens over on facebook :))


Lazy days on the beach, hours in the playhouse, riding horses, chasing dogs, books with grandparents and laughing with cousins.  Our time in the States was exactly what we needed.  We were able to put aside worries about finances, security, and the stress of every day life and just enjoy.  We returned to Beirut last week feeling rested and rejuvenated.  We were exhausted of course from the flights and the jet lag, but our souls felt so fresh and ready for another year of ministry in Beirut.

We played the part of the hermit really well on this trip.  One of the big reasons we decided to only spend time with our families this month was for our kids’ sake.  Our girls (and Luka eventually) are classic third culture kids (TCK).  They are being raised in a country different from where their passport says they are from, and they’ve never spent more than a few months at a time in that passport country.  They think they are Lebanese, but they don’t truly fit in, but they don’t fit in in the States either.

One characteristic of TCKs is they way they make friends and build relationships.  I’ve heard it illustrated well by thinking of a swimming pool.  Typically, when you meet someone new, you hang out in the shallow end.  You may be there for weeks or months, maybe venturing into the deep end for a brief moment before heading back to shallow waters.  After trust has been built, you might spend more and more time in the deep end with your new friend, but it takes time to get there.

That’s not the case for TCKs.  They intuitively know that time is short, so they jump right in deep end.  That can be awkward for people from one culture, but when TCKs get together it’s the most natural thing in the world to do.  It’s how they relate.

What does this have to do with our summer vacation?  Our girls go deep quickly.  A visit to a friend’s house results in a new best friend that they just can’t imagine their lives without. And as we drive away, the question inevitably gets asked, “when can we play with her again?”  The answer “in two years” or “when you are six” results in tears and a huge sense of loss for our tenderhearted children.

Loss is a part of life, we know, and our kids will need to learn to navigate it.  When we are back in the US next summer for Home Assignment, they are going to gain and lose a lot of new friends. But we decided that for this vacation, we were going to limit that for them.  So we sequestered ourselves with our families, letting the girls really go deep with people that they could wake up and see again and again.  Of course it was hard when we left.  Isla bawled her way through security lines in multiple airports and Ruby whined her way halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. But they know that we’ll skype soon, family will come visit, and we’ll be back to see everyone “after Ruby turns 4.”  :)

We are so grateful to you all for understanding, for the way you cared so well for us from afar while we were visiting and for your continued prayers and support!

A TCK’s home

A TCK’s home

In the course of a year, we don’t travel a lot.  But when we do travel, it’s often epic trips, including several countries, states, many planes and even more beds for my children to sleep in.  I actually used to keep track of how many flights Isla had been on, but lost track around 30…. and I’m pretty sure that was before Ruby was even born.

We aren’t experts at all.  Our oldest is only four years old, and so I know her identity as a third culture kid is still very much developing.  She’s actually lived in the same apartment her entire life!  But we already see her struggle with who she is.  She finally understands that she isn’t Lebanese, but she can still be “from Lebanon” and traveling is definitely in her blood.

One of the things we do whenever we travel to help the kids transition… even if we’ll only be in that place for a few days… is let them unpack their things and organize their space as soon as they arrive.  I think it helps them settle a bit into the hotel, room, house, wherever and gives them a bit of ownership of their current “home.”

So the first things we did when we arrived to our vacation house in Cyprus was to let the girls unpack their things.  We stayed in a house that caters towards children, so we didn’t have to bring much with us besides clothes and a few of their toys.  Bed, baby gates for the stairs and pool, play house, toys were all provided… and all those things immediately became “my bed, my baby, my scooter, my stroller.”


It didn’t really even cross my mind that 2 year old Ruby might be a bit confused.  I loved her sing song voice piping up from the back seat as soon as we turned into the neighborhood… “home again, home again, jiggity jig!”  And I should have gotten a clue when she got really concerned about Caleb turning in the rental car key.

But nothing prepared me for her reaction when the taxi pulled up to the door of our apartment in Beirut.  “Home again!” I sang out, and when I opened the taxi door and she saw where we were, she burst into tears!  Not the whiny, hungry kind of tears, but the truly heartbroken, sad kind of tears.  “No!  Want real house!”  She settled down a bit as we trudged up the stairs, but when we opened the door to our apartment, she sat on the floor in the entryway and just wept.  It was the saddest thing ever.

She’s fine now… Rediscovering her Barbies, stroller, dress ups and a random birthday card she got in the mail just before we left made everything better.  But we’ll definitely be doing a lot more verbal processing with this one in the future!!

TCK in transition. But not really.

TCK in transition. But not really.

We’re taking a little vacation tomorrow.  So excited to have nothing to do but sit on the beach, swim in the pool and of course, take a trip to Ikea!

The girls are excited too… it’s been really interesting to see Isla “prepare” for this trip.  Our little TCK is getting to be a pro at transitions.  We’re so thankful that our organization takes the time to teach our kids how to come and go well, and how to find their identity when they don’t seem to fit anywhere.  But I think Isla is taking things a little overboard.

This trip isn’t a big deal.  A 30 minute plane ride and we will be gone less than two weeks but Isla just can’t comprehend that and she’s making her way across the transitions bridge.  She wanted to start packing her carry on a few days ago.  She collected all her dress ups, her jewelry and a picture of her with two of her friends from school so that “she won’t forget them.”

She’s so wound up about traveling that she is literally out of control of herself.  She can’t sleep, her emotions are all over the place, she’s just not herself.

When we actually do have big transitions coming up, we try our best to help her navigate them well… to leave well, to thrive in the chaos, etc etc.  But this?  This is just a vacation!  Not quite sure how to help her out here. Maybe some time in the sun is just what she needs.  :)


A child’s culture shock

A child’s culture shock

There’s no question that reverse culture shock is a real thing.  We experienced it in the minutes we got off the plane in Denver and were overwhelmed with how friendly people were – talking, smiling, asking questions… it felt weird and suspicious and strangely annoying.  Because we are aware of the phenomenon of feeling a bit out of place in our home culture, we are able to talk through and laugh about it when we feel so rushed because the waitress brings us our check before we’ve even finished eating or I how I felt strangely claustrophobic the first time I got behind the wheel and drove a car.

But our girls don’t get it.  They just know things are different and strange.  They don’t have the ability to process the experience the way we do, and to make things even harder, Lebanon is their normal.  Caleb and I are coming back to the place we have spent most of our lives, but for them it is the complete opposite.  This is Ruby’s first time in the States and Isla has spent a total of about 4 months of her entire life in America.

Sometimes the things they notice are funny.  Isla heard a neighbor’s garage door open and thought it was a bear.  She wonders why all the houses here are “so small” because they aren’t nearly as tall as our building in Beirut.  They both are soooo sick of driving in the car – Ruby actually grabs onto the side of the car door to try to keep herself out of the carseat.

Isla hated her first church service because she didn’t know any of the songs because they were in English.  She was upset about the second church we visited because she went straight to Sunday School and missed the songs in ‘big church.’  She meets new friends and then is crushed when my answer to when we will see them again is “maybe when you are six.”

Life as a TCK is full of loss, and even though we are only here for a summer, we can tell Isla especially is feeling that, though she can’t quite process and verbalize it.  She did tell us yesterday that she really wanted to go home to our house in Lebanon.  She misses her Rapunzel dress, her princess hair and her friends from school.

We’re trying to talk through things a lot to help her process.  She is having loads of fun, but at the same time, we can really see her struggling with the adjustments this time around.

One of the untalked about benefits of life as a TCK…. when you go to about the lamest parade ever, it’s still super exciting because until about 10 minutes before it started, you didn’t even know what a parade was!!!

(and for the record, we had lots of fun with our friends… even though the parade was a bit cheesy! :))