Friday, September 19, 2014

"How can I help?": Practical things you can do for a travelling roadshow family

“On the road again!  Just can’t wait to get on the road again!  The life I love is [insert travelling occupation here], I just can’t wait to get on the road again!”  ...sang Willy Nelson, blithely.  But Willy Nelson, as far as I know, wasn’t 7 months pregnant, wasn’t travelling with 2 small children, wasn’t processing the wonderful and terrible experiences of several years in a country far from home, and didn’t have crowds of people posing complex, interesting and life-changing questions to him at every place he went.

There’s a certain beauty about the travelling roadshow life which Willy Nelson may have been touching on when singing about his (presumably) carefree, childless whimsies around his favourite destinations.  We do love aspects of this life.  Meeting great people in every place, people who do hard work behind the scenes, people who love us before they even know us, people who pull together to make things happen.  People who share a vision and a dream and a spirit.  Our sense of "family" grows at each stop.

And we do enjoy the best touristy attractions of each place we visit, too.  For us at this particular stage of life, this centres around the majestic and awe-inspiring variety of playgrounds freely available in Australia.  Hopefully one day it might stretch to include theatres, museums, bushwalking (nature hikes for the non-Aussies), chocolate factories, and other cultural delights... aaahhhh...

But anyway – to return to the original thought behind this post – travelling around as a working lifestyle has its many and various challenges.  And so, as part of our presentation package, we often invite our Aussie-based co-workers to help out in practical ways if they are so moved.  This week, I’ve had a couple of people come up to me and say, “What can I do to help in practical ways?”  And I’ve replied, from the depths of my needs, “Oh!  Umm.  I can’t think of anything right now.  But, thank you!”  And of course, this isn’t very helpful.  So, as tends to happen, now at 3am and, without that person’s phone number, I have some ideas.  And here they are.

1. If you offer help but the person doesn’t know what they need right then, leave your name and phone number with them.

Seriously!  This has to be the most important one.  One man did this for us – it showed a lot of love, and genuineness behind his offer.  We ended up dropping in on him one evening to print some documents we needed for a presentation the next morning – what would we have done without him!  Some needs you just can’t predict, but when they come, it’s great to have someone to call.

If you have a skill, also leave us your card.  Health professionals, handymen, mechanics, lawyers, IT gurus, hairdressers... it’s really nice to know a friendly face to call if we find ourselves in a tight spot while in your area.

2. Have mercy on the children!!!

The kids, oh, think about the kids!  This is the biggest one for us, and probably for any travelling roadshow family.  These precious little mites have just transitioned from who-knows-where, to a land where you feel comfortable and free and normal.  But to them, it’s stimulation overload.  What do (most) (western) kids need when they are processing a thousand new emotions and stimuli?  Calm and loving attention! 

I hope you see the problem here.  In roadshow families, the parents are in high demand everywhere they go. Running seminars; preaching; being invited for lunch and plied with interesting questions; being prayed for at length; being stopped in the shopping mall to chat; being telephoned several times a day.  Sometimes in a large gathering where we’ve each been happily engaged with people, afterwards we look at each other and say, “Oh, oops!  I hope someone has the kids!” 

Kinda funny once or twice, but do this 2-3 times a day for a week, however, and you have a family on the brink of spontaneous combustion.  So, how can you help care for the kids during the flurry and excitement of travelling roadshow life?  Some ideas:

  • If you plan to engage both parents, consider arranging some calm and loving attention for the kids too.  For example, when you invite a travelling roadshow family for a meal, or to an event, you could plan to spend a bit of quality time with the kids, or even perhaps invite one extra person whose job it is to pay exclusive attention to the kids.  Either way, the kids will be stoked to have someone “on tap” for a while, and the mum will love you because she won’t be trying to juggle all through the event, and feel like she’s dropping balls on both sides of the table, both semi-neglecting the kids and jumping randomly into a conversation she doesn’t quite follow.  (OK – so this is just as much about me as the kids – it may as well be admitted now.)  She won’t have to grill her husband about all the important bits she missed while driving home, when the kids in the backseat are in prime attention-seeking desperado/tantrum/hyperactivity mode.  Speaking of the car trip home – if the kids have been calmly attended to, the parents will feel relaxed, and ready to engage the kids meaningfully about all the fun things they did at the event (and the lovely people they met there).  Heaven’s own light will beam into that car trip home.  OK, well... at least it will have a chance.

    Incidentally – entertaining kids who have lived in developing countries may not be too hard.  Backyards are prime entertainment value.  Grass.  Plants.  Pets.  Books and stories.  Toys (but not too many whizz-bang toys at once – it can be overwhelming, and make overstimulated kids go even crazier).  Games.  Bubbles.  Textas.  Ripping up paper.  Water.  Music.  If combined with calm and loving attention, any one of these things can give hours of entertainment.

    If you have more resources available: a craft, cooking, play with them on a playground, take them to a cafe for hot chocolate, or a museum – anything age-appropriate which doesn’t involve screens or high-impact food.  Believe me, the parents are already employing both these child-management tools to the absolute maximum allowable, and then some.  Too much TV, and too much sugary deliciousness, makes kids go weird and wild.  So, having a chance for the parents to talk to people together, without sending the kids into psycho-orbit as a price tag, really is a rare thing, and a joy untold.
  • Talk to the kids!  If they can talk, and want to, ask them about their life overseas, their life in Australia, and their ideas about things.  “Why are we going here?” our 4-year-old asks.  “Because the people here pray for us and for the people in Indonesia, and they want to know all about what we’ve been doing there!” we reply excitedly.  So, please engage them about it – they know you know they’ve been there, and it’s such a huge thing in their life but so rarely mentioned in conversations with them.  One man said to Liam, “What’s one thing you like about living in Indonesia?”  I could have kissed his feet.  A little direct engagement goes a loooooooong way – and even a toddler is old enough to benefit from it.
  • On the other hand, one travelling-roadshow mum of older kids said that her kids did want to be talked to, but not necessarily about the other country.  They just wanted to be treated as "normal" and not have their third-culture weirdness emphasised all the time.  All things in moderation...!
  • If only one parent shows up to an event, let that be OK.  Chances are the other parent would have loved to be there - but the kids' needs are important, and introverted kids can especially suffer if they have to be with people too often (even the nicest people).
  • And finally, one thing to avoid:  Try not to ask them, “Do you remember me?”  (I know, it slips out so easily!)  If it was before yesterday, and they only met you once, they won’t remember you; and this question puts them on the back foot.  Say, “Hi, I’m Melinda!” (if, of course, you are indeed Melinda) and, if you like, “You came to my house last week and played with the lego.”  This kind of introduction is a little more positive for them and helps them orient themselves.

    Same goes for the adults, actually.  Whoops, did I say that out loud?

3. Provide food (and a seat)

One downside to long-term life on the road is the kitchen and snack situation.  Takeaway and packaged science-experiment type foods tend to win the day, for convenience’s sake.  Offering to drop over a meal made out of real-world ingredients, some basic groceries for when they arrive, or some home-baked wholesome snacks can be very helpful, especially if you’ve checked for allergies and intolerances first  :)

At other times we’ve enjoyed talking to people so much that we never make it to the food table. We’ve been invited places for afternoon tea and never made it to the table because we’ve both been in interesting conversations, from 30 minutes before the event was meant to start, to well after the remaining food has been whisked off into the back rooms, or given to the dog.  It’s better not to just come up and say, “Come and get some food!”  because we’ll likely stop and chat to someone else on the way.  People are irresistable like that.  So, it’s best if you either get us a plate of food yourself, or physically drag us over to the table, fending off the would-be conversationalists until we are safely ensconced with our sausage, and have had time to swallow at least one mouthful.

Incidentally, we sometimes spend a lot of time standing up talking, often while juggling a plate of food (if we got that far), a cup of tea, a toddler who wants to be picked up, and another small child who is asking us questions at knee-height in a noisy room.  Inviting us to sit down somewhere while we chat is a good idea.  Speaking as a pregnant woman, of course.

4. Give us tips

What’s the best place to eat in your area?  Where’s the best beach, park, mountain or playground?  Who sells the cheapest bananas?  Where can you pick up a couple of groceries without walking 15km around a supermall to find them?  A good running spot?  A little local knowledge goes a long way.  Mrs GPS may be wise, but she doesn’t compare to an actual person in terms of helpfulness.  We’ve had quite the number of bumsteers from her (and her cohort Mr Google), but recommendations from knowledgable local residents goes a long way.

5. Climate control

When we arrived in Australia in winter, wearing our tropical garb, we were straight away donated a huge bag of winter woolies.  What would we have done without them?  One beautiful friend literally gave me the coat off her back!

Shopping can be stressful for new arrivals back into the West.  Being given weather-appropriate clothes/shoes can be great; or blankets, or a heater... 

6. Car & house needs

Hotels are expensive and not particularly convenient (especially if there's no kitchen!).  Staying with people is wonderful, but exhausting.  Is there someone you know going away for a week or two?  Or could you go away for a week or two?  A furnished, empty house is a beautiful thing for a travelling family.

Holiday houses can be a lovely offering to weary travellers too, giving a week of recuperation time between tightly-scheduled weeks.

Some people also need a car.  Borrowing a good sized, reliable car is wonderful.  Or they may need help buying one before they arrive, and selling it after they leave.

7. Give us your phone number

Did I mention this already?  Oh yes, so I did.  Well, it’s the best one, and deserves mentioning again. Voila!  You have been helpful to the maximum, and given the traveller a potential lifeline when it is most needed.

It’s time to sign off, but please add your comments... if you’re a travelling roadshow member, what practical help did you need?  What practical things have people done to help you?  If you’re a practical helper, what have you done, and what would you like to do if you had the chance?

Just a final word – not everyone can or needs to help in these ways, and this certainly is NOT a list of what we expect as we travel around.  It’s just a starting point for those who want to help, but, when you asked, you got a blank, “Errrrmmm... Hmmmm... I can’t think of anything right now...”

1 comment:

  1. I've been in the role as a helper and a recipient of help. I've valued a list of potential babysitters. If a few closer churches can each provide a list it's even better. Information needed is name, phone, email (so you can send a request to multiple people in one go) and possible days and times they'd be available.

    I have another perspective on children as my children are between 10 and 14. They don't want to be a celebrity and they're wrestling with identity and always being different wherever they are. The fact that they live in a different country is not the defining thing about them. Show interest in them as normal rounded people and don't just ask questions that focus on their oddness.