Tag Archives: TCK family

The Hidden Value

Three days ago, I got a taste of something I haven’t ever had before in my life. I got a taste of what it’s like to fear for the life of someone you care about. I’ve lost people before, people in school, my grandmother, extended family, pets, but like all things in this world, they each hold a different weight on your mind. As a Third Culture Kid, loss is just part of life. You just sort of get used to it, and you get used to it at a very young age. If you don’t, it consumes you, because the life of a TCK is built upon the foundation of loss. Without it, we would never know how to let go, how to cease the moment of a new community, of a new culture, of a new group of strangers that are all waiting to call themselves friends. We would cling to the past, and miss the present, all because we had never bothered to find the key that opened the door to change.

I’ve found in my life that the abilities I gained in coping with loss as I grew up came hand-in-hand with knowing how to cope with death. Sometimes, people are there, and then one day, they aren’t. It doesn’t always work with losing people that are alive, and it doesn’t always work with losing people in death, either. But for the most part, the system doesn’t fail. You let go, not because you want to forget, but because you know that in holding onto something that is no longer there makes you miss living in the moment. The memories remain, the influence that person had on your life still making you who you are, but you acknowledge that there will be no more chapters in that specific book. Instead, you close it up, and start writing another.

By now, you have an understanding of my family dynamic. They are important because they are family, I was taught that by my First Culture Kid parents and extended family. Family is important. I don’t fully understand the reasoning, and I probably never will, but I know that in order to make my family happy, I must pretend to see that value and connection. And if it makes them happy, then to me it’s worth it, because though I sometimes do things that are spiteful or cruel, I am truly a good hearted person who doesn’t ever want to hurt anyone, unless they cause pain to the people I love. We all have our weaknesses, and attacking those that I love is simply one of mine. Beyond that, I generally don’t care to cause people harm.

Regarding family, though, my parents are by far the most interesting. They shaped me the most of all my other family members, I suppose. I mean, they did raise me after all, or at least raised me when I was at home. They taught me life lessons as best they could, and I learned the rest from the people I met around the world. But for the most part, my parents did a good job with me. They are good people, or try to be, but like me they have their flaws. My father was usually grumpy as we grew up, and we were never really that close. My mother was always there, but as I’ve grown and evolved and sunk deeper into my TCK upbringing, I have started to notice that there are many things about this world and the cultures within it she simply doesn’t understand. Her view of the big picture only extends as far as most FCKs views extend. It’s not her fault, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of by any means, it’s just a difference in our lives that makes it very hard for me to relate to her these days. We fight more than we should, but that’s because deep down, we are both fundamentally different thinkers. I believe that’s a good thing, though. We learn the most from those that are different to us. Mostly, we learn why we don’t believe what they believe, and why those beliefs are important to us. Without her knowing it, my mother’s drastically different views on the world have done nothing but strengthen mine by showing me more and more why I don’t believe what she believes.

I digress, however, because the point in today’s post is this: Though my parents have never been what I would call the closest people in my life, they certainly hold a lot more value in my heart than I ever knew. My dad, who I’ve always told people I love and respect, just don’t really know, is shockingly closer to my heart that I ever realized. I know this because three days ago, he came down with a sore throat. That sore throat turned into an infection, a bad one, in a matter of hours. He was feeling bad by 08:00, and by 13:00, his vocal chords had swollen to a point he couldn’t swallow, couldn’t take, and could hardly breathe.

My mother was out of town with my grandfather who is visiting from England, both of them in Lubbock visiting my younger brother, so I took my dad to the doctor, who told me to take him to the Emergency Room at the hospital. As soon as we walked in, he was admitted, plugged into an IV, fed fluids, put on a monitor, given steroids, antibiotics, and oxygen. They kept telling us it would be okay, but that ability to read people better than they know that most TCKs have kept tingling in the back of my mind. Something in their voices, their expressions, it just didn’t feel right.

At 21:00, Dad was still in the ER. I stepped out of his room and hovered nearby, listening to the nurses at the nursing station. I heard them saying that everyone was fine on the floor, except for the patient in room 22 who’s blood pressure and heart rate were high enough that he was risking cardiac arrest. They said he needed to remain calm under all circumstances or he could suffocate, or worse, slip into cardiac arrest. My father was the patient in room 22.

For the first time, I had to make a decision based on what I’d learned that could greatly shape the lives of many different people. I could call my mother and tell her it was much more serious than they thought, and she could be on the first flight back to Houston the next day, or I could bite my tongue and ride it out. I realized that these events would take place within the next 12-18 hours, so even if my mother knew, she would not return in time. Telling her would only panic her, and possibly cause her to speak to Dad and panic him too, which was the one thing the nurses said couldn’t happen. His heart rate couldn’t go up.

So I chose to say nothing.

My dad was moved to the Intensive Care Unit for two days. For the entire first night, he was high risk. His heart rate began to drop when they put some more medicine into his IV, but they were still worried his throat might close. I stayed with him a long time that night, and we didn’t talk, because he couldn’t. I simply handed him a bucket he was spitting into between reading my book while he slipped in and out of delirious consciousness. But in that silence, I got to understand his importance. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if people annoy you, or if you don’t understand the importance of family. Sometimes, there are just some people in this world that the tricks a TCK has learned in accepting loss just don’t work on.

My dad is one of those people, and now that he’s stable and grumpy again, I’m hoping I can go to sleep for the first time in over 48 hours.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

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Long Distance Love

As a Third Culture Kid, I see the world in a very different light to other, more ground-loving people. I’m a child of the sky. I love airplanes, love to fly, and love those 6+ hours in the air as I embark upon a transcontinental journey to a distant land. It’s blissful, freeing, and it gives me the sense that when I touch down and cross through that airport on the other side, I’ll be somewhere that isn’t the place I’m accustomed to. There’s so much excitement in those moments, going through immigrations, getting your bag, walking through customs, and then walking out into a sea of excited faces, of people waiting for those they love to step back into the country and back into their lives.

The arrivals terminal in any airport really is the happiest place in all the world. You’re never standing, waiting for someone and all of a sudden a nice big man comes charging forward and punches someone right in the face as they come through the gate. You only get the smiles, the little children sprinting at full speed towards their mother or father, the young couples finally reunited after however long they have been apart. It’s so beautiful, so perfect in every single way. And I know this because I’m a traveller, a Third Culture Kid that has walked through that gate countless hundreds of times. I’ve seen it first hand, from being reunited with family to being reunited with the woman of my dreams.

Like I said before, as a TCK, I see the world through a different lens to most. It’s small. Very small. So small in fact I can get to the other side of it in less than 24 hours. It’s so insignificantly small, in fact, that when I dated a girl 4,500 miles away from where I was living, it wasn’t the distance that bothered me, just the fact that I didn’t get to lie down next to her at night to go to sleep. To me, distance isn’t an issue. It never should be. I’m a global nomad, and I plan to stay that way. I will always be pushed and pulled around this planet, jumping from A to B, B to C, C to D, all the way down the line until I have to start using chinese characters instead of letters. It’s just the way I am.

So to me, that taboo of a long distance relationship, or LDR as I hear it called all to often when I’m in one, isn’t so much of a taboo. Instead, I think it’s the greatest test, the strongest evidence of whether or not you as a couple can stand to be together. If you can look at a LDR and think “I don’t care how far apart we are, nothing will ever stop me being beside you,” then you’ve got the makings of something spectacular. It’s that crucial flaw, one I’m guilty of and will never do again, of thinking: “I’ll see her in a month,” or “It’s only for another year,” that brings it all crashing down. The second you let that little idea crawl into your mind, you’re doomed.

The thing is, to a TCK, I don’t think a long distance relationship is that big of a deal. So many of our relationships are long distance, with networks of TCK friends scattered all over the world. It’s true, we are incredible at cutting people out of our lives when we move, of letting go of the past and starting again, but there’s always that network in the life of an adult TCK that never dies, that never fades, that’s always there despite how little you talk to them or how little you stay up-to-date on each-others lives. And so in a way, we are built to survive the distance.

The hard part is in realizing that not everyone else is. As wonderful as it would be for TCKs to find and marry other TCKs, the chances of it happening are slim to none. I’ve met thousands and thousands of people in the past six years, four and a half spent at university and one and a half in the adult world, and I can safely say that of those thousands, I’ve met no more than three TCKs. Three. That’s it. So the idea that we are going to stumble across a person we find captivating, beautiful, interesting, clever, and sexy who is a TCK just like us is slim to none.

So instead, we look for people that have characteristics of TCKs, ones that enjoy similar things. We hunt for the people that say things like “I’d love to live a life where I travel from place to place all the time,” or “I’ve never really had much of a family anyhow.” We look for people who are like us, slightly damaged and ready to live their life to the fullest by experiencing everything their is to experience.

The problem is, they aren’t TCKs. I have done this time and time again, looked for that girl that wants all those things. I thought I’d found her once, beautiful, smart, funny, gave me chills just looking at her. She wanted to travel, to see the world, to be brave and explore and never worry about anything else. And so we gave it a shot, with a 4,500 mile gap that to me meant nothing but to her meant everything. I saw it in her eyes, heard it in her voice, and so I would say those words that I knew, even then, were the words that called heartbreak up from the pits of hell. I said “we’ll see each other in a month,” and “we will get you out here soon, I promise.” I sang empty promises across the Atlantic Ocean, and in the end, heartbreak heard me calling and came to settle its score.

The truth is, as TCKs we will always be looking for someone to love, to build a family that we’ve never had and one that’s so unlike all the ones we know. We will look for like-minded thinkers, first culture kids who want what we want. But in the end, we must always remember that they are not like us. They do not see the world through the same lens that we do. They do not bear the weight of three, or four, or ten different cultures. They will never be as comfortable with distance and loss as we are. They will never stare heartbreak in the eyes, and say “you can hurt me all you want, but I will keep looking for her.” So remember, no matter how hard you try, do not believe that they see the world just as you do. Because the truth is:

They will never be Third Culture Kids.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

What if They’re Like Me?

I’ve been feeling exceptionally old lately, what with all my friends pairing up, getting married, expecting babies, having babies, being engaged, or buying property together. Through all of this, I’m still here, still single, and still without prospect. I can’t seem to bring myself to pursue anything. What with not having a place of residence, going to England for a month, and then having absolutely no idea where I’m going to end up, it seems very immature to pursue anyone who doesn’t understand what it means to be with me. Here’s the catch: All those people who know what it’s like to be with me have decided that it’s not the life they’re looking for. How can I not respect that?

So for now I’m living life in the classic Third Culture Kid nomad style; I’m living life alone and without attachment, going where I can whenever I can. But the funny thing is, that’s very counter-TCK in my books. I am extremely relationship dependent. There are three people in existence that I’ve ever truly opened up to, and all of them have been girlfriends. They know me better than anyone on this planet, with a level of detail and insight into my personality that if they were to share what they knew with other friends of mine, no one would believe them because it’s so starkly different to what everyone else knows.  So living life like this is a strange and uncomfortable experience for me, because currently, I have no one I can talk to that really understands what’s going on inside my head. And honestly, I don’t like it.

At the same time, however, I think it might not be a bad thing. I want to be with someone, find that life partner that completely understands me and this TCK brain built of chaos and confusion that exists in my head. But at the same time, finding that life partner means that I am going to end up with kids. And frankly, that’s absolutely terrifying. It’s not because I don’t like kids. Honestly, I love them. I would love to be a dad, really, truthfully. But if I were to have them, I will be forced to face the concern of turning out to be like me?

See, I’m a Third Culture Kid. I know that, I respect that, and the woman I marry will marry me because she loves that part of my life. But she chose it. She chose me. Our kids didn’t. So there are two options: the first is that I stop moving and keep them in one place, raising first culture kids and living a normal life. And even as I type this, I’m shaking my head negatively because I know so completely that I would never be able to buy a house and settle down and stay put. I’m getting nervous just thinking about, the idea of being trapped and tied down to a single location, of never getting up and moving to another country again. It simply isn’t an option.

That leaves only one alternative; If I were to have kids, they would end up being TCKs, just like me. I would live an expat life, take them around the world, and force them to have absolutely nowhere they can call home. I’ll throw them headfirst into the life-long crisis that is being a TCK, and leaving them to learn how to deal with it just like I did. And honestly, as an adult I still don’t have a clue how to handle a lot of the aspects of my TCK upbringing.

The way I see it, it’s like religion. People who take their kids to Sunday School breed nice little Catholics. They are forcing a belief on youthful and malleable minds. You can argue all day long that it’s not forcing at all, that faith is a choice, but when you teach something to a child, developmental psychology has taught us time and time again that even the most irrational beliefs are almost impossible to shake if they were taught at a young enough level. Kids believe their parents completely. It’s how they learn to survive. So for that very reason, I will never take my kids to church. Until they are old enough to know that it’s a belief, not a law, they will not go. They can then make the decision when they’re older if they want to believe, and if they do, then off they go without a single complaint from me. It’s their life, and they should be happy with it. But they should get to choose.

And there in lies the greatest problem. If I were to have kids, I would take away their choice to be a TCK. I would force something upon them that will change them so completely, so fundamentally, that I would hate myself for doing so. And though I love being a TCK, I understand all the drawbacks. Sure, I got a hundred skills and experiences from what I’ve been through, but I’ve lost my family, my homeland, and the ability to keep my partners happy. And maybe that’s just me. Maybe my kid’s personalities would make them more resistant to the crazy that grows inside of me with every passing day. But what if that’s not how it ends up?

What if they’re like me?

Foreign People

Family has an interesting connection to Third Culture Kids. I can’t speak for all of us out there, but the heavy travelers, the ones like me that bounced around their entire lives without ever going back to their birthing-country, family has always been one of those things we looked at through a dirty window. It’s out there, we know what it is and how different cultures treat it and interact with it, but the smudges on the glass make it impossible to really get a clear picture of what it all means to us as TCKs.

For readers of The Illusive Home, you’ll be aware that I was dating an English girl a while back. She was cousin’s best friend. I wrote in one of the chapters of The Illusive Home that I couldn’t help but push her away, as if I were testing her resilience to my ever-changing life. She wasn’t the first I’ve done that to. In fact, I’ve done it to everyone I’ve ever loved and thought “I could see myself with this one for the rest of my life.” They all get pushed away. Needless to say, they all end up leaving, too.

I’m telling you this because, with my cousin’s best friend, I began to notice something very interesting regarding the way I deal with family. See, my entire extended family lives in England. I, however, spent three years of my life there followed by short, once per annum visits back for a quick vacation of constant rushing. In that time, I would be lucky to see each cousin or aunt or uncle for more than a day or two. That’s one or two days per year that I would see these people. And yet to almost everyone else, family are those people you see all the time because they share in your lives. Not with me. Not with TCKs.

And like all TCKs that have grown up, I’ve started to wonder what life is like on the other side. It’s that whole “the grass is always greener” thing. I’m not sure it really is greener, but I am curious as to what the other side holds. So lately, with special thanks to the smartphone generation, I have been making a conscious effort to stay in contact with my cousins. WhatsApp and BBM are two fantastic tools for transcontinental communications. But that doesn’t change the fundamental truth of the situation:

TCKs that have constantly hopped around the world like myself don’t actually know their family. I know I’m supposed to be friends with my cousins, supposed to love them and hold them close and that if I say something bad about them it’s taboo because “they’re family,” but that really doesn’t mean anything to me. The truth is I really don’t know them. I will have conversations with my cousin Amy, the one I talk to more than the rest, and she’ll react to things in ways I would never expect. It’s like a loose cannon, or perhaps juggling active land mines. You never know when one is going to go off. It’s simply unpredictable. And that all comes down to the fact that where other families, where other cousins would grow up spending time with one another, I did not.

So the grass may be greener on the other side. It may be bouncier and softer and much more fun to roll around in. But the truth is, it really doesn’t matter, because the kids that are running around and playing in it will never know what the grass is like on my side, either. We are separated by an impassable wall. I will never know what it’s like to grow up around family, and they will never know what it’s like to grow up around the world. That’s just the way it works, and it doesn’t make me any less proud to be a TCK.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener