15 Things I Want Tell My Graduating Third Culture Kid Seniors

Five years ago I wrote a post, 15 Things I Want to Tell My Third Culture Kids. I’ve been writing my kids letters and telling them things for years. When they return to school every three months, they return with packets of letters. One for each week, usually written on the back of a photograph of people and places they love. I’ve written them verses, prayers, quotes, poems (so much Mary Oliver), song lyrics, and rambling mom-junk. And we talk. So, they know this stuff. But, too bad for them, their mom is a writer and sends some of that mom-junk out to the wide, beautiful world.

I wrote this several weeks ago, a lifetime ago.

You can always come home. Home might not be this house but home is always this family. Come rejoicing, come weeping, come whole, come broken, come lonely, come with packs of friends, come in silence, come and spill it all. This table, meaning the table I’ve set in my heart for our family, always has room.

You can never go back. There is no rewind on life and no redoing spent years. You can’t go back, even if you come back. In You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe wrote, “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.” Keep going. Djibouti will keep going and changing, too. When you meet again, whether this country or the people you have known on the continent, know that you will have to reintroduce yourself and re-explore the other and rediscover who you can be together, or from a distance, now. You might want to go back, you might think things were better or easier or simpler back when…that’s nostalgia. That’s saudade. That’s okay. Those days were good and beautiful and hilarious and I can testify to that. They are part of you now, in your very being, the fabric of what makes you, you. But you can’t live them again. Hold them, honor them, and live into the now and the new.

Guard your heart, your mind, your soul, your body. Be wise, be discerning. Make good choices. Be patient, take your time. Stay in touch with old friends. Don’t sink into social media or the internet or porn or alcohol or consumerism.

But don’t lock it up. Don’t shut the door to keep out what might feel like overwhelming American culture. Don’t be afraid to be tender and loving. Don’t cling so fast to friends far away that you don’t have space for new friends. Be vulnerable, in the appropriate relationships.

Don’t treat Americans with contempt. Even, especially, when they have no clue what a ‘Djibouti’ is. Hear them out, learn their stories, ask inquisitive questions.

Don’t be afraid to be who you are. All that Djibouti awesomeness. All that Kenya awesomeness. All that you awesomeness. You can blend it up however you want, but don’t be ashamed or embarrassed or too proud. Be you.

Be honest about what you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. People might think it is strange that you don’t know something they think is normal American life, but most of the time, they will also enjoy helping you and you never know what friendship might come of it. Be humble.

Explore and be curious and savor. Think of your college campus or your new city as though you have just moved abroad, which for all practical purposes, you have. Think of American English as a new language, restaurants as exotic local fare, a trip downtown as an exciting cultural exploration. Try stuff. Try broomball. Try downhill skiing. Try snowball fights. (Don’t try licking the flagpole in January). Try saying “oofdah.”

Seek out a trusted advisor with whom you can be completely transparent and ask for cultural guidance. Here gender and race conversations look different. Here poverty, justice, corruption, wealth, privilege these things look different and are talked about in different ways. It will be hard and you might feel confused sometimes, but try to learn to contextualize your conversations and learn from the people around you. Conversations in America have changed since mom and dad lived there and we can’t be specifically helpful in this regard because we are often confused, too. In this same vein, seek out a counselor, a trained professional, who understands cross-cultural issues.

Find a strong, healthy, joyful, creative, supportive, purposeful spiritual body to be part of. Maybe a church, maybe a campus group, maybe a small group of friends. Explore who you are, spiritually, apart from mom and dad.

Root yourself. You might be tempted to flit around and there will be potentially appropriate times to leave – to transfer or to study abroad – but don’t move just for the sake of movement. Settle in, make a home, even a dorm home, connect with people, invest in your community.

Call home. Text. Facebook message. Send photos. When you do, be honest. Goods and bads. Talk us through it. We’re transitioning, too. We miss you like whale sharks would miss the sea.

I am eternally grateful that we have had the honor of sharing this life abroad with you. Djibouti hasn’t always been easy, but what is easy? No place is easy. The way you love this small, fascinating nation blows my mind. You have embraced it, the heat and the dust, French school and Djiboutian best friends, Papa Noel and Eid Mubarak, volcanoes and ocean, with exuberance. And it has embraced you back. This is a rare thing. Including you, I can count on two hands the number of non-Djiboutian American children who have spent their lives, from toddler-hood to graduation in this country, and you have loved each other well.

You are not alone. You can cross the sea, go to the highest mountain, the lowest volcanic lava tunnel, you are not alone. God is with you, cliché and true. But also, all the people who have loved you and taught you and coached you and prayed for you are with you. You don’t leave friends or family behind, not when they have invested in you. They have become part of who you are, part of your character and your stories. You know this, from the Open Houses that we had/will have. We need to have them on two continents, with letters from people in dozens of other countries, because love and support is coming at you from all corners of the globe.

Live here and now. They might be hard words to live in and I’m still learning how to do this well. Right here, this now. And then this one and then this one. Pay attention to your here and your now and feel it. This actually builds new pathways in your brain. Did you know that? How you choose to receive and embrace each moment matters. Make it good, even the hard ones. Learn from them. Savor the good moments. Laugh when you want to, cry when you want to. Get angry and feel wonder. Here. Now.

Okay and a couple bonus, obligatory things:

I love you. I’m proud of you. Always and forever, to the moon and around to Djibouti and back around again.

What do you want to say to your graduating senior, TCK or not?

Read suggestions on helping TCKs transition to university in Finding Home.

Find more wisdom for graduating TCKs here.

When Twins are TWINS

First, they were TWINS. Then, they were twins. Now again, they are TWINS.

I have two seniors this year, you guys. Two. Twins. That means 2/3 of my children are launching. I get to play the roles of double the proud mama and double the sad almost empty nester.

There was a time, ages 0-4 or so, when I looked at the two and thought TWINS. Everything was crazy-fun-double. Double diapers, double flu, double stroller, double diaper bag, double breastfeeding (good thing we’re designed with two for that), double naptime, double bedtime kisses, double giggles.

Then, from ages 5-17, it mostly felt like I imagine any other family feels with two kids close in age. They were the same age, so we still had double birthday parties and double parent-teacher meetings where I couldn’t be in both classes at once, and other twin parenting foibles, but for the most part, I didn’t feel that same double whammy of TWINS. I felt the single, massive double whammy of being a mom of two.


Graduation day looms. In significant ways, graduation day has already passed. The twins were recently home for the final break, their last time in Djibouti as ‘children’ living under our roof. But the official graduation day is later, in July.

And now, I’m feeling it again.


Of course, we will feel it when we look at the university bills, although again, that feeling and the financial amount is similar to having two kids close in age.

But when it comes to them moving out, moving on, taking the next big leap…I’m telling you, its TWINS.

At first it was a double hello and a double addition to my life. This time, it is a double goodbye and a double subtraction.

I know, I know, they aren’t disappearing, they will still call and visit (or else!) But still, they are moving out. As they should. As is appropriate and good and I’m so stinkin’ proud of them.

But two at once…

We didn’t ease into this parenting thing and we aren’t easing into the empty nesting thing. And I’m feeling it.

I know we still have one at home, okay? Just to be clear. But back in the days of pregnancy, people said going from two children to three is a shock to the system because the kids outnumber the parents. And the kids outnumber the number of hands of one parent.

No one told me going from three children at home to one would be equally a shock.

People talk a lot about twin pregnancies and twin toddlers and twin temper tantrums. No one told me anything about twin graduation ceremonies. Its almost as if, if you survive the early years in tact and with joy, you can almost forget you have the unique blessing of raising twins.


People say, “Twins, lucky you, one pregnancy and one delivery and two babies.”

Not true.

I am lucky. I’m lucky I get to be the mom to these two kids (plus another!). That’s where I lucked out. I did not luck out on delivery day or during pregnancy.

I was sick enough for two pregnancies, got enough stretch marks for two, went on bedrest for two, and delivered through two distinctly different body orifices. Yes, one was born vaginally and one was born via c-section.

Like I said, we aren’t about doing things the simple way.

People say, “Twins, two for the price of one.”

Not true.

At least not when it comes to university tuition.

People say, “Twins, launching two at a time is a great transition for them.”

Not true.

Okay, maybe true. For them. Maybe, I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them. They aren’t going to the same school and they’ve had to wrangle for our attention while filling out applications at the same time and FAFSA passwords get mixed up and things are confusing.

And anyway, great, if it is great for them. That’s awesome. But its also sad for me, for us. At the same time, yes, it is double the joy. I’m so excited for what is next for our kids. They’re ready. All this mixed emotions. No one told me graduation would feel so much like a swirly for the heart.

Sometimes I’ve wondered if I’m being overly dramatic, if sending kids to university isn’t such a big deal. Then I listened to a podcast and a mom said that when her daughter didn’t respond to texts or phone calls after two days, she and her husband drove to her daughter’s campus and found her to make sure things were okay. This daughter was at a school twenty-five miles away.

I’m sending my kids to schools a 30-hour flight away, 7,670 miles away, give or take. On a continent they have essentially never lived on. Two kids. I don’t think I’m freaking out, this blog post is nothing. Maybe I’ll show you my freak out later, maybe that will remain private. We’ll see how brave I feel later, how vulnerable I want to be.

In any case, I think I’m allowed a period of transition and that period involves sadness and loss.

Times two.

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