How to Taiwan with Kids

Upon hearing that I took four kids 7 years old and under (including an 8 month old) by myself for a month, most people immediately say, “You’re so brave!” This is usually immediately followed by, “How do you do it?”

Well, the short answer is, “With a lot of yelling.”

The long answer takes a lot of time (and a lot of swears) but because I’m a giver, here is how I personally get through it (and without any alcohol, too!).

1) Ask for help.

I cannot reiterate this enough.

Do not be a jerk. Do not let pride get in your way. Either ask for help or accept help when people who love you offer.

I will be honest. I was offended and pissed off at my mother when she told me she didn’t want to go to Taiwan in the summer but was only going to help me on the plane (even though I did not expect her to come – NOR DID I ASK). She just could not fathom how my children would go to the bathroom.

I tried to explain that Cookie Monster (7.5) and Gamera (5.75) could go by themselves. I really would only have to help Glow Worm (~4) and as for myself, I have gone to the bathroom plenty of times with Sasquatch (8 months) strapped to my body.

I was a little less offended that my cousin rearranged his travel schedule to the US in order to accompany us on the trip back.

Either way, I felt as if they were saying I was not a capable person. After all, don’t I take care of my four kids every day?

But you know what? FUCK MY PRIDE. My mother and cousin were helpful. And I accepted their help (despite internal grumbling).

Even though my mom ended up not sitting next to us on the plane (and only checking in once for about a minute), she was still helpful at the airport, going through customs, and when we moved into the apartment. She helped me at bedtime for the ten days she was there.

THAT IS NO SMALL MATTER.

Plus, my kids got to spend extra time with her – and she is so wonderful with them. They got to hear stories and just laughed and laughed and laughed.

And on the way back, I forgot that since we did not have a direct flight, we would have to go through customs with all our luggage then recheck them in for our domestic flight.

I could not have gotten it done without my cousin there. It was hard. SO HARD. (I was still recovering from the flu and I just could not manage all our luggage along with all my children.) I am SO GRATEFUL he was there. Even a minor thing such as him being there allowed me to go to the bathroom without worrying about my kids being alone.

As for during our stay, several times, my cousins would bring food over (both in terms of dinner and in terms of fruit and snacks). They also lent me supplies that I needed for the kids’ school so I didn’t have to buy them. Super helpful!

2) Make a packing list at least a month (or two) in advance.

That way, you have enough time to order stuff on Amazon or go to a physical store and buy. And of course, anything you forget to purchase, you can most likely buy in Taiwan. It is, after all, a developed country. The only problem is that everything is in Chinese.

THAT IS A REALLY BIG PROBLEM. (If you are mediocre like me.)

Here’s a pic of my packing list. Obviously, YMMV.

3) Know your limits.

If you are going to be single parenting it in a foreign country (or really, anywhere – and quite frankly, even if you have a partner in the picture), you really need to know your limits.

You have to be brutally honest with yourself about your capacity and ability to handle shit. BECAUSE SHIT WILL HAPPEN.

So, I know that I have a really low tolerance for sightseeing stuff – especially with so many wiggly and crappy kids. I also hate eating out with my kids. Or really, doing ANYTHING with my kids.

As a result, we saw nothing. We ate out at ONE restaurant. We avoided anything that I hated doing. If I knew something would piss me off if the kids were with me, I would either not do it or only do it when they were in school.

I also made sure I got enough sleep because I know that when I’m sleep deprived, I am even meaner. And because I have a low noise tolerance level, I was okay with the kids having a lot of screen time. Like, A LOT of screen time. Because that is the only time they are guaranteed to be silent. Because their brains are rotting.

4) Be OK with feeling stupid. ALL THE TIME.

I am not kidding.

I spent 99.9% of the time in Taiwan feeling like an idiot.

It’s sad, really. I always forget and think that I’m fluent in Chinese when I’m in the US because really, my Chinese is pretty good. When I am in the US.

When I’m in Taiwan? MY CHINESE IS SAD AND JUST ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT I AM MISSING SOMETHING IMPORTANT.

I cannot wait until my children’s Chinese is better than mine so they understand what people are saying to us. Better yet. When they can read the Chinese so that we don’t have to speak to anyone.

I don’t know how to explain to people who have not experienced this, but ultimately, it’s not that we don’t understand Chinese. It’s just that everyone speaks so quickly. Or they use obscure terms. Or super polite terms. Or super official sounding terms. Or normal terms that our parents never saw the need to teach us. Or terms our parents didn’t know to teach us. Or terms they might have taught us but we never retained.

Couple that with my functional illiteracy, I end up asking questions that are obviously labeled and answered IF ONLY I COULD READ ALL THE WORDS. OR IF ONLY I COULD COMPREHEND WHAT THESE WORDS I CAN READ MEAN TOGETHER IN A SENTENCE.

5) Have a routine.

This seems silly but routines saved me.

They ensured that I remembered to do things like pack lunches, refill water bottles, had clean clothes, sunblocked and bug sprayed my children, and washed the dishes.

I mean, would these things have gotten done WITHOUT the routine? Yes. Of course. How could they not?

But my life was much less stressful because these routines became muscle memory and I didn’t have to expend as much brain power trying to make sure everything got done.

6) Appropriate footwear is key.

I am a big fan of kids having covered toes and sneaker like shoes because Taipei is an urban city and the last thing I want is for their flip flops or crocs to get caught in an escalator or snag on uneven sidewalks and then end up at the hospital to replace a toe.

So, I made sure we had shoes that were breathable, had sneaker like tread, but could dry quickly if they got wet in the rain or water. I chose to buy (affiliate link) Stride Rite Phibians. They’re boring and sturdy and get the job done.

7) Take out is your friend.

I don’t understand how some of my friends would physically bring their children to restaurants and then eat dinner during prime people eating time. That sounds like my personal version of hell.

Maybe it’s because I have never trained my children to behave in public. Or that there are too many of them. But by the end of the day, I can’t think of anything my children want to do less than sit still and quietly while waiting for their food (that they might not eat) and then eating it. (And also hoping there are forks because only one of my kids can use chopsticks.)

No, thanks.

Instead, I found a place by my kids’ camp and bought off their menu almost every week night (before even picking them up) and then we would eat it at home while they zombied out on iPads.

8) Indoor play spaces are also your friend. (But they are expensive.)

Look, maybe my feral children are unique, but they are used to a lot more space in the States and being at parks and running around to let out their boundless energy.

It’s not that there aren’t parks (and great parks) in Taiwan. It’s just that it’s hot and there are a lot of mosquitoes. Nothing makes a park less fun than a blazing sun that is trying to melt you and incinerate your body with fire. And when you’re hiding from the sun, eating you alive with evil, tiny black mosquitoes.

Nope. No thanks.

So, indoor play spaces are great.

9) Make sure your kids understand how to navigate a city.

Since my kids are born and bred in the sprawl of an American suburb, they are not used to the density of people, the pace of the movement, and the rules of city life.

So most of my stress was making sure my kids weren’t impeding the flow of traffic by coming to a dead stop in front of an elevator, turnstile, stairwell, escalator, MRT door, middle of a crosswalk – YOU NAME IT, THEY’VE JUST STOOD THERE LIKE IDIOTS WITH MOUTHS AGAPE.

Oh, I was also worried about them plummeting to their deaths from the 3-4 story high escalators.

Also? My kids are not quiet. Or well-behaved.

Taiwanese children apparently know that they’re supposed to be quiet and well-behaved in public and on public transportation.

So, other than trying to civilize my children, I also had to make sure I didn’t lose them among the crush of people on escalators, MRT trains, buses, and THE SIDEWALK.

10) Remember, your children get culture shock, too. And jetlag. My God, the jetlag.

You know how everything is hard and foreign and overwhelming to you? It’s the same (and perhaps moreso) for your children.

Be kind. And gracious.

If you can remember. (I often did not.)

11) Get internet access for your phone.

You can buy a SIM card with a Taiwanese phone number at the airport and/or at local telecom stores. Or, you can rent a hotspot. Either way, YOU NEED INTERNET ACCESS.

In Taiwan, you buy two separate services: talking minutes and data. You need to buy both, but data is VITAL.

How else will you find what foods, attractions, activities, and addresses are by you?

12) Google Maps and Pleco are your best friends. 

This is, of course, predicated on having internet access.

Google Maps has improved so much since I started going back to Taiwan three years ago. (Has it really only been three years?)

As long as you know your destination, Google Maps will tell you how to get there. Of course, you can always take a taxi – and Google Maps will tell you how long that will take.

But, it will also tell you how to get there (and how long it will take) via public transportation (MRT, bus, train, etc.) or walking.

Plus, now if you click on the bus numbers, Google Maps will show you all the other buses you could take, how many minutes until they arrive, how many stops there will be until your destination, and how much it will cost!

Just keep in mind that there is sometimes more than one bus stop in a given location. It took awhile for me to realize that the buses are grouped by each stop (logical) versus just listing all the possible buses you can take near you. You need to click on the separate bus listings to see all the other possible buses that are available to you.

Also, you can also change the date and time when you’re searching. This is important because if you search directions in the middle of the night, you might think there are zero to no options when in reality, during the day, there will be lots of options. Or, if you search during commuting hours but then travel on a weekend or during non-commuting hours, you will think you have more options when really, you have few.

Ask me how I know.

For the MRT, Google Maps will tell you which exit you take (there are many exits per MRT station) and trust me when I say, the longer you can stay within the air-conditioned confines of an MRT station and avoid the fiery ball of gas outside the better.

As for Pleco, unless you are native fluent and also functionally literate, YOU WILL NEED A GOOD TRANSLATION APP.

Some people prefer Google Translate. I prefer Pleco.

Plus, Pleco has OCR where you can just scan characters and it will tell you (for free) how to pronounce the characters (but not their definitions). That is useful if you understand Chinese but just can’t read. Not so useful if you don’t.

13) Don’t bother with car seats. 

If you are super worried, just take public transportation or walk. For the rides to and from the airport, you can call ahead and book a taxi that will rent you up to two carseats. (In this same vein, there are companies where you can rent pack ‘n plays and other baby things.)

Just keep in mind that no taxi will wait for you to install/uninstall a car seat – and even supposing you do find a taxi that will, are you really going to be walking around Taipei carrying a car seat along with your children?

Get over it. Kids here ride ON MOTOR SCOOTERS.

Anyhow, I hope this was helpful.

If you have a lot of time on your hands or just want more of me, here’s my Facebook Live video that discusses a lot of these same things (but unedited and with perhaps some more swears).

I Cut My Kids’ Screen Time and This is What Happened

Ok. I apologize for the click-baity title but honestly, I think we are all allowed one or two of these every year as a writer.

Anyway.

Look. We all know I’m a terribly mediocre parent.

Despite the fact that I homeschool my two older children, I really don’t do much with the kids and let them watch a LOT of iPad because that’s easier than actually dealing with them. It’s especially more convenient when I’m trying to put Sasquatch down for a nap and I don’t want the other three to run amok and be assholes and scream and interrupt me and come into the room and piss me off because FFS YOU KNOW THE BABY IS TRYING TO NAP —

Deep Breaths.

At any rate, you get the idea. My kids got upwards of 4-5 hours a day on the ipad, XBox, TV, phone, etc. I mean, you name it, THEY WERE ON IT.

And despite me not really noticing that my kids were more asshole-ish than usual (many of my friends have told me their kids become steadily assholier the more screen time they have), I’m sure all that screen time was not good for their brains or their eyes.

Ahhhh… Their eyes.

Here is the real reason why I cut back on their screen time.

Last year, Cookie Monster (7.5) and Gamera (5.75) both had to get glasses and they have to wear them when on iPads or reading or doing homework. I was bummed but not surprised because GENETICS, but other than making them wear their glasses, I did not change their behavior.

Why?

BECAUSE I’M MEDIOCRE AS FUCK AS WELL AS LAZY, OK?

And even though I have an optometrist friend who REFUSES to let her kids have ANY screen time due to her legitimate fears of their vision going bad – I mean, she deals with BLIND PEOPLE (literally) for her JOB – I STILL did nothing.

Because WHY WOULD I CHANGE MY BEHAVIOR at much cost to my convenience?

Well, after we came back from Taiwan (where my kids were ALWAYS on the iPad) and we ran into some of our friends again, I found out that they had DRASTICALLY cut out almost ALL screen time and were down to thirty minutes a day.

I almost barfed at the forced interactions with my children this would enable.

But the reason they cut down the screen time so much was because their nine year old son’s vision jumped from -100 to -400 in less than a year. LESS THAN A YEAR.

In case you need this in layman’s terms, THAT IS REALLY BAD.

And this scared me.

I spent the better part of my childhood mostly blind, wearing huge coke bottle glasses, hating any sports participation due to fear of getting my face smashed in by a ball, dealing with sweat and glasses (the WORST), having no peripheral vision (making sports REALLY difficult), hating swimming because I couldn’t see, and hating the outside because of the glare from the sun.

Though I had LASIK 17 years ago (OMG, SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO), I still have to wear glasses because I ruined my eyes again staring at computer screens and the iPhone in the dark. I mean, it’s nowhere NEAR as horrible (I was -925) but COME ON.

At any rate, I drastically cut down my kids’ screen time down to approximately 30 minutes on the iPad and then whatever TV I happen to watch (which isn’t very often).

Here’s what happened:

1) The kids rebelled. They’re still rebelling, a little bit.

Ok. The rebellion is a bit overstated. But they aren’t particularly happy about the restricted screen time – especially Glow Worm. Mostly because that is how I placated this child – with the iPad, his third parent. (I mean, YouTube taught him all his numbers, his letters, his colors, nursery rhymes and songs, and a ton of other things parents are actually supposed to teach their children.)

But I can deal with their grumbling because the longer I keep it up, the less they grumble. (And truthfully, I do give in to their grumbling a smidge – so that’s why I say APPROXIMATELY 30 minutes. What can I say? I’M WEAK.)

2) The kids are actually playing.

I mean, I know it’s super obvious. And I should have remembered that I have done this before. (Last year around this time, actually.)

But really! The children are actually playing. With our toys. With each other. With the baby.

And they’re funny. And fun.

I mean, they would occasionally play like this anyway, but it’s now for many hours every day now instead of every now and then.

For instance, the other day, the kids spent over an hour setting up several theaters of war between army men, dinosaurs, animals, and other toys. Then, Cookie Monster was busy fighting the battles. Gamera was selling concession stand snacks to the observers (Batman and Superman were watching from the doll house roof). Glow Worm was alternately playing waiter and grunt. Sasquatch was roaming the field randomly destroying things.

They have also played shockingly realistic live action MinecraftPlants vs. Zombies, and American Ninja Warrior. Sadly, it all involves beating the shit out of each other with their Minecraft foam swords and axes. And fists.

They are coloring and drawing and cutting and pasting stuff.

They’re playing with newly made play dough. (See? I can occasionally be fun.)

They have even brought out the board games to play with each other (and fight with each other).

They have spent an entire afternoon pushing Sasquatch around in a laundry basket up and down the upstairs hallway and then lifting him up like it’s a litter and calling him the king. (It is as cute as it sounds.)

They have also pushed him around in the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe (and at high speeds!) and included Sasquatch in all their shenanigans as they pretended to work in a drive-thru restaurant and judged each other’s cooking.

They are having the childhood I imagined them having.

3) They go to bed much easier.

I mean, I knew all about that blue light nonsense interfering with their sleep sensors or whatever, but I never really did much about it. I just assumed my kids were dicks at bedtime because kids are dicks at bedtimes.

NOPE.

They’re not perfect. But I’ll take this relatively painless bedtime over the hell on earth it used to be.

4) Taking care of Sasquatch is much easier because now, the kids aren’t on the iPad so they are playing with each other and with him.

He’s like their own live doll.

5) I keep forgetting (more like actively not doing) a lot of their homeschooling because they’re having such a good time playing with one another. I feel like a jerk interrupting.

6) They are speaking more Chinese to each other.

OMG THEY ARE SPEAKING MORE CHINESE TO EACH OTHER.

Totally an unexpected side benefit!!

Even though I told the kids they could only watch Chinese videos on the iPad, I know they didn’t always do so. (In fact, they rarely did so.) And I didn’t enforce the rule because I was lazy. So simply by cutting down the iPad to 30ish minutes a day drastically cut down their English exposure.

Don’t get me wrong. They still mostly play together in English. But I swear, they played with each other for at least an hour in Chinese the other day. Yes, yes. There was also English mixed in, but OMG THEY PLAYED TOGETHER IN CHINESE. AND I DID NOT HAVE TO MAKE THEM!

7) In addition, Cookie Monster has actually picked up BOOKS when he’s bored and VOLUNTARILY read Chinese books. (Don’t get too excited – he can only read Chinese. He can’t read English.)

8) But most importantly, I realized that the kids don’t really get bored. Oh, sure. They will ask for the iPad or TV or whatever, and for awhile, I felt guilty that they weren’t getting in their favorite games to get better. But then, I came to my senses.

I SHOULD NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT NOT LETTING MY KIDS PLAY AS MUCH VIDEO GAMES.

So now, I’m over it. And though they keep asking for the screen, they also aren’t really suffering over not having it.

I don’t know why I am always so worried that they’re not going to have fun without an iPad in front of their faces. I know in my brain that it’s ridiculous to have this worry. But nevertheless, I do.

It’s dumb.

And I really hope that I can stick to my guns and not get lazy and forget all about how awesome they are when they’re not zombies (unless, of course, they’re pretending to be zombies).

Do you severely restrict your children’s screen time? How is that working for your family? Let me know in the comments.

 

Raising an Advocate

I remember in my high school civics class, our teacher said that in general, children start off with their parents’ political beliefs, become more liberal in college, and then finally, when they make more money and become parents themselves, circle back to conservative.

After all, once you have more money, you are less sanguine about ways to spend that money and once you have children, you are less permissive in your attitudes about sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll – or thus the thinking goes.

It’s the political circle of life.

I don’t know if that is still the case from 22 years ago (OMG HOW HAS IT BEEN THAT LONG?), but for me, that has certainly NOT been my experience.

I find that for most people, they react to having children in one of two ways:

1) Double down and because of fear, circle the wagons and retreat more and more into conservative values – be it on money, religion, sex, drugs, etc.

They worry that the world is going to hell in handbasket and that there is a cultural war going on against “traditional” values and they do all they can to make sure laws stay as conservative as possible.

2) Realize that they want a better future for their children and out of fear (usually because their kids are or might be one of the disenfranchised or oppressed people groups), become more and more liberal and inclusive in their values – be it on money, religion, sex, drugs, etc.

They worry that their children will be oppressed if they don’t happen to fit in the “traditional” boxes and do all they can to make sure laws become as inclusive as possible.

It is no surprise, dear reader, that you will find that I am in the latter group.

As soon as I had Cookie Monster, I began my journey to become ever more inclusive of all peoples.

I want to take credit and say it’s because I’m just that progressive of a person, but truthfully, it was a gradual eye-opening, and a lot of it was born of fear for my child and future children and not so much out of the belief of equality for all.

Isn’t that the way most of us who are not affected by certain types of discrimination begin caring about people who are not like us? When we are all of a sudden, personally affected by a discriminatory law/system/situation? (This is akin to celebrities or people caring only about a disease after it affects them personally. Not a knock – because that is the human condition. Just an observation.)

The thought of my children being treated poorly, mocked, harassed, bullied, whatever because of their sexual identity, their preferences, their abilities or disabilities, their ethnicities, their anything – THAT ENRAGED ME.

This fear and rage at the possibility of my children being mistreated then turned into rage and fear for my friends and then for ALL people.

I evolved.

I admit. Right about the time I had Cookie Monster, I found out that one of my dear, dear college friends was bisexual (which wasn’t really that much of a surprise and I wasn’t really phased about it because hey, I’m progressive like that) as well as polyamorous.

And it’s not that I judged him for being polyamorous, but I judged.

I thought he was going through a mid-life crisis. Promiscuous. Behaving dangerously. Justifying non-commitment.

Which, hey. It’s his life. He should be able to live it however he wanted. I got that and knew that. But still. A hidden part of me (and to be honest, I’m sure it was obvious to him how I felt but he was too kind and merciful to point it out to me) was like, “This is weird and inappropriate and keep it to yourself already.”

And then, a high school acquaintance on Facebook began to share more and more about her life in a poly relationship. She is bisexual and has two husbands and several children and has been very open about her life in her blog (now no longer there for likely, family protection reasons).

She shared how she has been affected and treated and all her family’s suffering and pain as well as their love for each other and just like that – I cared about the poly community (her family in particular), and my mindset was changed.

All because of her bravery and willingness to be vulnerable.

I find her amazing. My heart aches for her. She and her family are so deserving of love and acceptance and the chance to be left alone and just be without commentary. They deserve affirmation of their love and the beautiful family they have created.

And truthfully, I know I was swayed because of their “monogamy” and family values oriented lifestyle.

But you know what?

Even if she was a promiscuous person and her family was “broken,” they deserve to live and love as they choose (or not choose, as this is the case).

And thus, through relationships with people, through reading anti-racism blogs – through reading LOTS of blogs actually – I found myself caring more and more about all types of people. (Even farmers through another friend of mine – which is weird because I never knew about the issues farmers and agricultural people encountered until I read her posts on Facebook and on her blog.)

Look at me blathering all over the place today.

I’m not sure I have a main point or lots of tiny points all pointing toward a bigger point in their pointiness, but this is just to say that all this liberalness, all this gradual awakening and anti-racism and inclusive parenting – that is a direct result out of fear.

I fear giving my children a world wherein who they are, at their very core, is not accepted and not allowed to thrive and live and be.

I fear that to this day, even though I would love my child and accept them if they happen to be LGBTQ, I secretly hope they aren’t because life will be SO HARD for them if they are and I worry that my mother, who is super conservative, may reject them or try to “convert” them to “straightness” and then I will have to cut off my mother, too.

I don’t want to live in a world where I have these fears. I don’t want to be a person who has these fears.

And I certainly do not want these things for my children.

I want my children to be be shameless – in the sense that they are nothing to be ashamed of – regardless of who they are.

And thus, I have become ever more and more liberal. More radical. More everything.

I am grateful for friends who are further along the advocacy road so I can model myself after them and join my voice with theirs.

I am grateful for these same friends (Hi, Mamademics!) creating curriculum celebrating black history as well as creating Raising an Advocate series for me to join and Facebook Stalk and over-post in. (Can you tell that I lifted the name of this post from her series? It’s because she is awesome and her series is awesome and I REALLY WANT YOU ALL TO JOIN.)

I am grateful that I am homeschooling and can thus apply these things that I am learning so that my children can be brainwashed into advocates themselves. (I bought the first twelve months of Black History is American History and am looking forward to teaching it to my kids.)

Won’t you join me in this journey of self-discovery and dismantling what we have accepted for so long (and often, obliviously)?

Let’s create the world in which ALL our children are loved and accepted no matter who they are.