Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mighty Resilient Girls

I've decided that it's time to brag on Jenna and Heather, our two younger daughters.  These girls have seen more change in the last 12 months than many kids experience during their entire childhood.

Moving Day, Hendersonville, TN

In one short year, these kids have lived on 3 different land masses:  China, the U.S. and Japan.  They attended 3 separate schools, each one distinctively different.  They went from school at home to a public middle school in Tennessee, and now they attend a private international school populated by high-achieving Asian students in the suburbs of Tokyo, Japan.

Had I mentioned that during this inaugural semester in Japan, the girls spent the initial four months living in near-Spartan conditions, sleeping and studying on the floor?  Evenings were spent time-sharing on Mom and Dad's laptops, as so much of the day-to-day activity and communication came by way of digital technology.  They entered the school at a time when most students' friendships were already cemented from the previous semester.  They had to hustle to catch up with their fellow students who'd already gotten a six-week head start on Science Fair projects.  To Jenna and Heather's credit, they got theirs done in 3 weeks' time with a minimum of supplies at home!


Method of conveyance has evolved from place to place as well.  In China, the girls merely walked down the hall to the living room (occasionally in their pajamas!)  In Tennessee, they walked down the street to catch a neighborhood school bus.  Now in Japan, they commute 45 minutes one way: walking 15 minutes to the train station, then taking a 15-minute train, then walking a final 10 minutes to get to school.  They perform the reverse commute at the end of every day.  Needless to say, with heavy backpacks, these girls get a workout 5 days a week.

They have weathered several bouts of illness, mostly upper respiratory, since arriving in their new host country.  This is pretty typical for families that move overseas and must get acclimated to a new environment replete with unfamiliar pollens, allergens and germs.  Since we had not yet found a family doctor, they had to blaze a new trail into the world of medical treatment.  At Jenna's clinic, the doctor merely performed a visual ear/nose/throat exam followed by an x-ray, and he promptly dispensed antibiotics.  Heather wasn't so lucky; her doctor came from the "old school" (even wore the headpiece with the reflector disk on top!) and he was very fond of poking, probing and aspirating out of Heather's ears, nose and throat!  Eeewwww!

School has presented unique challenges at each location.  In China, school was a challenge because Mom was their primary teacher.  The independent daughter resisted Mom's every attempt to teach and explain new content.  The more dependent of the two relished Mom's involvement so much that she paid scant attention to her online instruction, knowing that Mom would explain things much more clearly when the lesson was over and it was homework time.

School was a challenge in Tennessee because the middle school operated on what seemed to me, ungodly hours.  The girls had to catch a bus at 6:30 a.m., which meant they had to wake up at 5:45!  They adapted well to this ugly schedule by making their lunches the night before, and pre-positioning their backpacks.  That way, all that was needed in the drowsy early-morning hours was to prepare breakfast and get themselves out the door.

At the Christian Academy in Japan, school is a challenge because of the rigor of their coursework.  Heather is writing reports in MLA format -- in the sixth grade!  Jenna has written numerous reports, created several powerpoints, and given multiple oral presentations in one semester.  Jenna also struggled with math because they placed her in Algebra I (second semester) with only a semester of Pre-Algebra under her belt.  She spent much of the semester just trying to stay afloat in math.

Jenna's Middle School "Encapsulation"

The hardship has actually proven beneficial to each of the girls.  In the case of the independent one, she realized that it's probably okay, maybe even desirable, to ask Mom for help on her work.  In the case of the dependent daughter, she gradually took more and more ownership of her learning.  She stayed for an hour after school each day at the school's Learning Resource Center in order to get organized and obtain assistance on her homework.  We expect both girls to get excellent grades when it's all said and done on June 11th.  

Good grades are great, but that’s not all that matters.  We received a very complimentary remark from a teacher who had been observing the girls over the course of the semester.  In this teacher's words, "Jenna and Heather are such a blessing to CAJ.  First of all, they don’t give in to peer pressure.  Secondly, they were able to make friends in the middle of the school year, and their friends were actually the ones that were in need of friends themselves."  What a gift!

Sarah's Mom prayed for 3 yrs. for a friend like Jenna
Heather and Aiah

Another intangible that doesn't show up on the report card is CAJ's Wall of Honor.  Students are singled out during the year for displaying godly character in ways that benefit their fellow students.  The hallways at CAJ are covered with painted handprints, each one bearing a student's name, the year, and the character trait that the student was recognized for.  Heather received recognition midway through the semester for displaying the attribute of Encouragement, and very recently, Jenna was recognized for displaying Courage.

Jenna just graduated from 8th grade this past weekend, which means high school is upon us once again.  It's hard to believe that it’s here so soon, but she's ready.  Heather will begin 7th grade with more confidence in her self-management skills, plus greater familiarity with a routine that involves multiple teachers, multiple classrooms, and increasingly complex schoolwork.

At Jenna's Graduation

We give thanks to God for taking our girls' experiences, challenges and hardships and using them to create resilient, intrepid young ladies.  We know this will serve them well in later years as they're stretched by circumstances, tried by trials, and occasionally ambushed by the unexpected.  Bravo, Jenna and Heather!

Heather in Choir at Jenna's Graduation