Communication is the process of creating understanding where two or more people are involved. What does is take for that to be effective? Talking and listening. Seems simple, right? We all know it’s not. So many things get in the way of the understanding space…personality, culture, family, tension, our world view, body language, tone, and the list could go on.
I’ll never forget a trip we took to Thailand in 2016 to visit family. It was the first time the cousins had been together in quite some time, so I was determined to take photos of anything and everything we did. Our first week was spent in Koh Chang. One day we found ourselves at a beautiful watering hole that, of course, had to be documented. I found a sweet family there with their twin daughters and asked, “Will you take a family photo?” They said yes, so I got my camera out and started preparing the settings. Once it was all set, I looked up to see this scene in front of me…
Someone once told me that the meeting place of communication is humor and humility. Obviously I wanted them to take a photo of my family, but I decided to lean into the humor at that moment and just go with it. They might have left that waterfall thinking I was so weird that I would want a photo of them with all my family, but then I wouldn’t have a fun story to tell.
But how about those times when the meeting place needs a little (or a lot of) humility? If we want to be people who are committed to creating understanding, then it’s going to take work, time, and a whole lot of humility. I find this hardest when what I’m trying to communicate is not what the other person is hearing or understanding. It can be easy to put the blame on them, because you can’t help what they hear. Right? Wrong. You can. Our intentions are not always understood because of all the things that crowd the understanding space. The only way we can move toward understanding is if we humbly dig in and commit to the process.
The first year that both kids were off to school we started a little tradition. Jeremy and I dropped them off for a day of learning and then skipped off to a brunch date. We absolutely love brunch, so it seemed fitting to celebrate this newfound freedom with one of our favorite things.
This year was a little different. It was our last first day of school. With a tinge of sadness, we decided to book end our tradition (over pancakes and eggs, of course) talking about all the fabulous memories and the things we’ve learned (so far) being parents to these two awesome human beings. In the moment, we each named one thing that we’ve learned.
Jen… “Love, respect, and value your kids. Listen to them. Learn from them. Have discussions with them. Elicit their opinions.”
Starting this when they’re young creates a great precedent for when they’re older. And if there’s one thing that teenagers want it’s that they want to be respected and valued. They don’t want to be treated like little kids anymore. Also, I find it fascinating (and a little scary sometimes) to hear what goes on in the mind of a teenager.
Jeremy… “Recognize the seasons.”
Parenting a five year old needs to look different than parenting a fifteen year old. That might sound like common sense, but’s it’s not easy to make those transitions in the midst of life. And just so you know, seventeen year olds don’t like to be talked to like they’re six.
I found it interesting how the one lesson we each named that day went hand-in-hand. Of course, there’s many more things we’ve learned, and if you asked us today what the one thing we’ve learned is, we might name something else. There’s so many things to learn when it comes to parenting!
My phone made a “memories” album as it does every once in a while. This one was titled Four-Legged Friends. Some were sad reminding me of our sweet Snowy. Some had me rolling my eyes at the sight of Bandit, the very weird cat that made us his family. Can’t believe I actually took a photo of him! Then there was a brief appearance of River, the rabbit who helped us realize that we are not rabbit people. Pepper made an appearance as well, the sweet stray who now lives with our friend in South Africa. Ironically, most of the photos were of Posey, the crazy Jack Russell who traveled via airplane so she could live the good life with us in America.
This dog is crazy as evidenced by the handful of photos that graced my Four-Legged Friends album. They made me chuckle and maybe they will you, too. Or you can laugh at me, that I’ve become THAT person who dedicates an entire blog post to a dog. 😜
It was 20 years ago this month that Jeremy and I first stepped foot in South Africa. While America was celebrating its independence, we were flying over an ocean to a land that would, unknowingly, capture our hearts forever. I’ll never forget that trip in the Summer (or Winter if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) of 2000. South Africa was a much different place then. Death was everywhere due to HIV/AIDS. Children were raising children. The images in front of me were so different than any I’d ever seen or experienced before. They were images that prompted us to take action, leading us on a journey that forever changed our lives.
After many travels back and forth to South Africa, in 2007, we moved our family from the East Coast to Africa. I’ll never forget watching the doors of the shipping container being closed and locked up as our belongings spent the next few weeks in transit to our new home. We were really doing this. Joshua had just turned 5, and Emma Grace was 2. They were about to learn what it was going to be like growing up in a culture they were not born into.
Those first few months in South Africa were filled with adjustment as we moved in. There were so many things to learn…quick exchange rate calculations at the grocery store, driving on the other side of the road, driving a manual, speaking English so people can understand. I remember loud and clear the day that I realized we couldn’t live temporary. We had to make South Africa our home like we were going to be living there forever. We couldn’t have this short-term mindset. We had to be in it for the long haul.
And that we did. We raised our kids there. We built amazing friendships there. We created memories. We had life experiences, both joyous and heartbreaking. We lived life and truly made it our home.
It was one year ago this month that we decided it was time to move back to the states. I believe it was the right decision, but it’s still so hard, because a piece of home is still in South Africa. It’s why I have yet to unsubscribe to my South African grocery store weekly deal emails, why I can’t bring myself to get rid of my favorite plant pots over there, why I cherish weekly calls with my friends in South Africa. I miss the people most of all (although a cold Appletizer on these hot Texas days are high on the list, too 😊). We spent years building a culture and an identity. Man, I miss those daily interactions.
Living in South Africa I learned that I will never think like an African, but moving back to the states, I feel like my thinking doesn’t fit in with my American identity either. I feel hyper-sensitive to things I see and hear. Processing through it feels exhausting at times. Sometimes I think this journey that we set out on so many years ago wrecked us, both in very good and very challenging ways. But I press on to make Texas my home just like I made South Africa my home those many years ago. I just wonder why it feels so much harder than it did 13 years ago.
Yesterday we decided to take a drive to Sunspot to the observatory there. I couldn’t find online if it was open, but I thought the drive would be nice, and we could at least see the observatory from the outside. Plus, the best views of the Tularosa Basin are from Sunspot and the drive there. Well, winding up the mountain made a backseat passenger feel carsick. The observatory was closed. You couldn’t even drive in to see it. And the best viewpoint of the basin along the road? Only Jeremy and I got out to look. It was not at all what I had planned for the day. I realized, though, that there was a point in time where a day like yesterday would have put me in a serious bad mood. Feeling responsible that we couldn’t see the observatory, burdened by the bickering from the backseat, wasting gas to drive nowhere. Over the years, though, and especially living with teenagers, I’ve learned to let those things go, because plans don’t always go smoothly. Sometimes you just have to make the best of the moment, and be responsible for your own attitude, because you can’t control the attitude of others.
In an effort to redeem our two hours in the car, we stopped at a local bakery for a cookie. I’ve always said chocolate makes everything better. Yesterday it sure did. Walk in a good attitude, and eat some chocolate today, friends.