It was before Cian was born that we first tossed around the idea of teaching internationally. We even flirted (briefly) with moving abroad first and having our children outside of the country. Since this would have caused our parents to commit Balinese puputan, we derailed the idea. Nonetheless, if the children were to be born in the US, we wanted to move when we thought we had hit the “Goldilocks” year: not too young for them to miss out on the experiences or to be unsafe and not too old where we would have to painfully pull the roots they had grown living in the States. As our kids are just shy of two years apart, there is a present but narrow window when that takes place. I still have no idea if we chose the time correctly.
Much has occurred to our family since we started our new lives in Jakarta. Here are the first thoughts about what we’ve noticed:
Kids the age of Cian and Áine are incredibly adaptable. Perhaps it’s because they have no real expectations besides why we didn’t buy their favorite brand of chicken nuggets. Within a few weeks since we arrived, they settled into their new routine without any real catastrophe. In fact, most difficulties with the kids had more to do with Sarah going back to work, which was inevitable had we stayed in the States. Áine has seamlessly woken from naps in bizarre places like bat caves (“Oh, look! Bats!”) and in my arms white water rafting (“Oh, look! Those guys are in a boat!” pointing to our friends on the raft down river not realizing she was rafting, too) without blinking an eye. Cian plays happily with kids at school and home who barely speak English. When I asked him if he noticed that he looked different from his friends, he had no idea what I was talking about. “Never mind,” I said.
Indonesians adore children, especially bule children. We can’t go anywhere without people waving and trying to get attention from the kids. Their cheeks are stroked wherever we go, which is mostly tolerated unless the kids are hungry or tired. In the States when a family shows up at a restaurant, you can almost taste the displeasure coming from the service and those being served that we had brought children into their dojo. Here, we walk by restaurants and the waitresses almost beg us to come in. If we arrive at a mall and the kids run off in excitement, I know that in moments everyone nearby will corral them back to us. We were at the Jakarta Zoo surrounded by all sorts of exotic animals and the Indonesian zoo-goers were fawning over and taking pictures of Cian and Áine. I imagine them going home and showing their friends pictures from their day trip- “…and these are two white kids we saw at the zoo.”
Having a nanny has made our kids a little, well, royal. Cian seems to have forgotten how to pick up his toys and Áine wants to be carried wherever she goes. Don’t get me wrong- having our kids get the individual attention and knowing they are in great hands is terrific, but we are seeing the effects of having a servant on call. We tried to explain the ever-present “time out chair” and what not to tolerate, but discipline just doesn’t fit into the Indonesian nanny culture. Nannies are a regular sight in middle/upper class Jakarta. On the weekends you often see a couple shopping with their kids cared for by their nanny 20 feet behind. Our nanny can’t figure out why we only have her Monday through Friday and send her home as soon as we arrive from work.
- In Indonesian, sir is pak and miss is mbak. By itself, it’s used frequently as a polite title for people you encounter. For the kids, all male Indonesians are named pak and all female Indonesians are mbak. They use it in the third person, making it sound as if we’re in a country of clones. At home: “Pak came to fix the air conditioner today”. At the mall: “Pak showed me where the toilet is”. At school: “Pak put my backpack on the bus”. I’m hoping the kids realize that Pak is not always the same Pak.
Our fellow teachers at the school have become an extended family. We live, work and vacation with them, and everyone helps to raise all the teacher kids, whether single, couples, or parents. Teachers are referred to by our first names (Mr. John and Ms. Sarah) by the teacher kids, which sets us apart from everyone else. There is no hesitation from any of us to praise them when they’ve made good choices or reprimand when they don’t. For example, if a group of us meet at the pool, we take turns goofing around with the kids in the water and “Cian, no splashing” comes from the first person to notice it. A welcome and surprising blessing of international teaching.
- We haven’t drank from the tap since August 1 of last year. Drinking water is from a water cooler, much like how you would see in an office where employees go to gossip. When water is out, they deliver it from the kiosk in the basement up to our apartment from a simple phone call. Our cooler has a shelf underneath with plastic kid cups, so Cian and Áine help themselves when they need. The other day, we were watching an American sitcom on Nickelodeon and when one of the characters filled his glass from the faucet, both kids gasped. “Now, he’s going to get sick,” Cian said. That should be a shocker on our visit to the States this summer. Cian will probably keep filling his cup and drinking in excitement until he wets himself and Áine will absolutely refuse and dehydrate.