My husband and I wanted to live and raise our kids overseas for a number of reasons, some of which include the fact that we can teach in schools that don’t have metal detectors or annoying standardized tests determining whether or not we are “good’ teachers, free tuition for our kids (we are, after all, poor teachers!), and awesome travel opportunities. Yep, we can get on a local budget airline and be in Singapore or Thailand in less time and (with the price of gas in the US these days) with less money than driving up to a cottage in my home state of Wisconsin.
And that? Totally rocks. My 19-month-old daughter has already lived in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, has visited Singapore and will be spending the summer in Thailand. My four-year-old has already had to have new pages put into her passport and has visited four continents so far- four! That is one continent less than the number I have visited, and the difference in our ages is WAY more than I care to admit here in public.
There are some unexpected limitations to raising your kids overseas (please don’t even get me started on the horrors of 24+ hour flights home for visits. Just…don’t. Because I may start to shake uncontrollably and end up huddled in a ball on the floor in the corner. I wish I were kidding. But I’m so not.). However, there are also some unexpected benefits that we didn’t even consider when we decided to make the move to expat living, the biggest of these being the lack of commercial advertising.
Yes, they advertise overseas- you’ve all seen those ridiculous commercials and ads featuring Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston hawking things like Heinneken and Rolex watches, for which they get paid millions of dollars (seriously? MILLIONS of dollars? That is one of the great imbalances in the world). However, one thing you just will not see very much of overseas is advertising toward children. We’ve lived in Malaysia, Qatar and now Indonesia, and we have YET to see even one commercial for any type of breakfast cereal or toy. I swear, it’s true! People in the US don’t believe me when I tell them that, because they just cannot begin to even FATHOM watching a TV show without their kids begging for something.
A few summers ago, we spent a month in the US, and I think the television was turned on for all of FIVE minutes when we’d already seen ads for SpongeBob sponges (and please explain to me why anybody in the world would spend $10 on a sponge for their kids. Because all I can think is if you are paying that kind of money for something that is usually one of the cheapest items on the grocery list, then you deserve to be targeted by Big Corporations), about 8 different kinds of cereal (NONE of it remotely healthy), and a bunch of toys that I’d never heard of, all of which were made of plastic and made really horrible noises.
It was a nightmare. One I am glad I only had to experience for a month. And it wasn’t even Christmas, which I imagine is obnoxious enough to drive relatively normal people to a level of insanity that can only end with them throwing their televisions out the window.
I’m not going to say that my daughter doesn’t ask for things. Yes, she comes to the grocery store with me and EVERY TIME asks for some chocolatey cereal with a cartoon on the box (EVERY. SINGLE. TIME), and she wants a Barbie for her birthday. No, she really really really really really REALLY wants a Barbie. Girl has simply GOT to have a Barbie. On a side note, we are currently investigating the least offensive Barbie available, so as to not start our 4-year-old down a path that her dad is convinced will inevitably lead to a starring role on “Toddlers and Tiaras”. So far, Veterinarian Barbie is taking the lead, but if anyone has any other suggestions, I am totally open to them. Librarian Barbie would be awesome…
Anyway, so no, we are not immune to childhood begging, but we have it on a much smaller scale, and it comes not from commercials, but rather from seeing her friends in class with these things. Plus, due to the fact that her classmates and friends come from many different countries, cultural differences prevent any trends from blowing too out of proportion.
Another example is the fact that my kids have been to McDonald’s exactly ONCE in their lives. That one time was when we were at the Science Center in Singapore and there weren’t any other attractive options for a quick lunch. Being vegetarians, I got the TWO things that are quasi-vegetarian on the menu (because I am not gullible enough to actually believe that those fries and pies are cooked in 100% vegetable oil. And I am pretty gullible. So that is saying something.). I took them to the table and…Kaia wouldn’t touch any of it. Skye ate some of the fries, but then again, Skye is a french fry freak and would eat fries that were coated in dirt, I am convinced of that.
Now, I am certainly not going to get on some high horse and try to come off as someone whose kids have such sophisticated palates that they will not DEIGN to eat something as low-brow as fast food, because I think I’ve shared enough of my kids’ eating habits to be called out as a big, fat liar within 20 seconds of making that statement. It’s just that we never eat fast food, and they are not aware of what they are missing because they are not bombarded with commercials and ads everywhere they go.
I’ll also clarify here that the reason WHY we don’t eat a lot of fast food is because we are vegetarians, and there just isn’t a whole lot on the menus to make it worth our while. Not because, you know, fast food just isn’t GOOD ENOUGH for M’Lord and M’Lady. Because I do love myself an Egg McMuffin on occasion, and there are certainly times when a chicken soft taco or McNuggets do sound pretty darn good to me. Pretty, pretty darn good. But alas…
One time, Jabiz and I were walking with Kaia in the mall, and walked past the McDonalds sign. Kaia looked at it and said, “M! Look, Mama, M!” Jabiz and I shared a look of dread, wondering if this was where it all began- the demands for the Golden Arches, the indignation at the fact that she was not provided with free toys on a weekly basis, the craving for the nuggets whose meat is of VERY questionable origin…was this it?
“M is for Mommy!”
I cannot even accurately describe the relief and happiness that we felt in this moment, so I won’t bother trying. However, if you can imagine grown adults sobbing with elation while trying to hide this emotion from their child, for fear that she would wise up to exactly what was going on, that pretty much covers it.
“Yes, that’s right! M is for Mommy!”, and we continued to drill this point into her blond little head every time we visited the mall from then on.
“Look, Kaia! It’s the big M! The Mommy sign!” and she somehow never caught on. And she is pretty smart- way smarter than both of us. It’s not easy to hide things from her, but we manage it thanks to the wonderful lack of advertising overseas.
All that makes the 24+ hour flights worth it. Sort of.