O.k., I won’t make any excuses for this post: It’s about my girls and it’s bound to get sentimental. The move to Shanghai has been life-altering for all of us. When we first told the girls that we were moving to China they cried for hours and were inconsolable for the next couple of days. It broke our hearts, and Karen and I were somewhat surprised at the vehemence of their objections . The girls (being eight and ten at the time) had numerous concerns about China, including the potential lack of: Friends, family, school, activities, house, dog, bikes, ice cream — the big stuff. They were so serious about their objection to the move that Cassidy even began negotiating with her friends parents about the possibility of staying with them for the next several years, even moving monthly from house to house until we returned.
So we worried that our girls might never adjust to living in China, spending our whole time here sad and pining for their “old life.” And I will say that the move has been the hardest undertaking we as a family have ever done. The girls have experienced many emotions since arriving (as have Karen and I), including loneliness, fear, anxiety, and sadness. They have pointedly made clear that they badly miss their friends, school, extended family, teachers, TCBY, Mr. Fitz (Cassidy seriously queried me on whether or not Walt could come to Shanghai and be principal at Concordia), and many other things from “back home.” Stephanie, until recently, even put off having play dates here because she felt she was being untrue to her friends at home.
But almost three months into this mad adventure, I feel safe in saying that the girls have made it through with flying colors. Do they miss their friends and life back in Michigan? Yes, like crazy people. And every chance they get they communicate back with as many people as they can in whatever medium they can (including through this blog). But they now have many friends here as well, of numerous nationalities, including Chinese, Australian, Korean, and American. They are also starting to have as many play dates in Shanghai as they regularly did in Grosse Pointe. I’ve met many of their friends and, like their friends in Michigan, they are wonderful kids that my girls will hopefully stay in touch with for the rest of their lives.
And so I gotta give it to my kids, they have jumped in to China with all they have, head first, while hanging on to their wonderful life back home. Food, friends, school, after school activities, travel — Cassidy has been to more places in China than I have — speaking mandarin, shopping, sightseeing, they are doing it all. They are also succeeding wildly in school (proud dad alert) and focus very hard on their studies and a relatively obscene amount of homework. I received a note from Stephanie’s teacher Mrs. Meyer the other day, saying that she is her “go to” student when she needs to get the class focused because she’s “always on task.” (Just like her dad when I was a student….).
And at their request, the girls have either started, or continued, the many after school activities they did in Michigan. Stephanie is in her school choir, as well as doing ballet, gymnastics, and yoga. Cassidy is in her school choir as well and doing Kung Fu and yoga. The girls finally seem close to being as fulfilled here in Shanghai as there are in Michigan, and that’s all I care about. There is a rhythm now to their life that they like and trust and that allows them to be kids here, just like back home. This is the sappy part of the post, but I am so proud of them I could burst. They have proven themselves to be strong, resilient , beautiful, joyful children, with the ability to take any situation and thrive in it. And now I’ll stop with the maudlin crap.
To families who face the life-altering move to another country, and are worried how their children will handle it, I would say trust your kids ability to adapt, it is amazing how resilient children can be. Also, utilize all the resources you can to give your kids some remnants of their life back home and ways to communicate with friends and family. For Shanghai, we were so fortunate to have friends who came before us and shared the numerous resources available. The ladies do Yoga and Kung Fu at the Community Center Shanghai, which has many other activities and resources (communitycenter.cn). Stephanie does gymnastics through Active Kidz Shanghai, another great organization that offers many other activities (activekidz.org). And the girls do music, and Stephanie ballet, through their school, the awesome Concordia International School (concordiashanghai.org). We found a couple of these places through two great Shanghai resources, Shanghai Family Magazine (shfamily.com) and That’s Shanghai magazine (thatsshanghai.com). Participating in these activities has been crucial to the girls success and happiness in China.
We are flying back to Michigan for Christmas this year and the girls are so excited to see everyone. Several expats here have told me it’s a bad idea to bring the family home your first Christmas because the kids can get “buyers remorse” about China. I asked my kids if they thought going home would make them not want to return to Shanghai. Stephanie looked at me and said “no dad, we still have to go to Australia.” And Cassidy chimed in “yeah dad, and skiing in Japan. We can’t go home yet, we still got things to do!” And I smiled to myself thinking, that totally rocks. And they do.