Expat Sat: Something Gained…Mamahood

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing and publishing to expat writers around the globe.

Last week I wrote about something lost (my ability to park a car) that contributed to something gained (the fact that I no longer care so much about fitting into a clearly demarcated parking spot—literally and metaphorically).

This week, as we move into Mother’s Day, the opposite: something gained…with a shadow of loss.


While living in Shanghai, my husband and I adopted our daughter from Vietnam. Like many couples that grapple with infertility, our journey to parenthood was long, tricky, and *&#(% frustrating. But on September 26, 2008, when the nanny at my daughter’s orphanage put her into my arms for the first time, I knew I would have moved mountains, parted seas, climbed beanstalks, chased down giants, wrestled tigers, and waited forever for her. (If you’re interested in reading about our first days as a family, click here.)

So each year since, on Mother’s Day, I close my eyes a gazillion times and quietly chant “Thank you, thank you, thank you” to whatever powers that be. But as I do, I also thank Tully’s birth mother back in Vietnam because I know I am not alone in this journey of growing this amazing child.

Each year as Tully gains a little more conscious understanding about what adoption means, I know that we scooch a little closer to her conscious understanding of the fact that in addition to me…Mumma…she had a birth mother…a woman who carried her in her womb before having to make the excruciating decision to give her up for adoption. And I know that no matter how much we prepare, that’s going to hurt and will be a thing for which Tully will have to find a peaceful place in her gorgeous heart and head.

This hit home yesterday when Tully brought me a Mother’s Day gift she made at preschool. Her teachers had printed a mommy poem on a piece of paper and tied the paper to a jar of homemade body scrub the kids had made.

A line in the poem reads: “And you gave life to me.”

Which just isn’t so. That honor belongs to her birth mother.

And I thought, wow, in a couple of years when Tully “gets” this poem, that line is going to have all kinds of connotations and will point to the fact that in this particular way, Tully is different from most of the kids in her class.


But when we get there, we’ll manage it with love and honesty. And probably tears and lots of talking.

Right now, my job is to ground Tully in her truth and our truth as a family. In our love.

Each night before bed, Tully now asks me to tell her “her story.” For kids born to biological parents, this is their birth story. For Tully, it’s her coming home story. Her adoption story.

“Two times,” she says every night before I begin.

“Two times,” I agree.

And then I tell it…just as she asks…two times…adding bits and pieces as I feel she’s ready.

It’s a beautiful story. A happy story. A sad story. A funny story. An adventurous story. A true story.

So happy Mother’s Day to all moms out there in the world. Motherhood is a shared experience…in more ways than one.



Q4U: Expats / Repats / Globetrotters: As I’ve written these two posts about things gained and lost, I’ve realized that very little in life has one without the other. What have you gained (with a touch of loss) during your life as an expat?


Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Katia Novet Saint-Lot

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.

Today, please turn your listening ears to Katia Novet Saint-Lot, author of the children’s book Amadi’s Snowman. If you haven’t read Amadi’s Snowman, get on it…especially if you have kids. Published in 2008 by Tilbury House, it tells the story of a boy in Nigeria who just can’t understand why his mom wants him to learn how to read but who eventually learns to love words through some very surprising encounters. Katia is a lifelong expat (currently living in Bangladesh) who has a pretty special understanding of culture and who can translate that understanding onto the page.

Here’s what Kirkus Reviews said about Amadi’s Snowman: “Purposeful, yet without the heavy didacticism of some books on the topic of literacy, this tale shines a welcome light on cultural differences.”

Let’s hear what Katia has to say about her writerhead. (Sshh…no talking in the back.)

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

Pressure, deadlines, challenges–most likely a throwback to my journalist days. Free writing, if only I remembered to do it more often. Sometimes, the process is long-winded, slow, and convoluted. Other times, inspiration strikes, and…bang, it happens. There is no blue print. No recipe that works each and every time. I’m working on being braver. Good writers are incredibly brave. Writing means facing your demons. It means pushing yourself, and at the same time, letting go. It means trusting the process, your characters, their story. It means getting out of the way. It means a lot of things that I fail to remember on a daily basis. But then, I relax, I forget myself, forget to worry for a second, or to try so hard, and…SURPRISE!

I do most of my writing at my desk, on my computer. But sometimes, I need a change of scenery. I commute to the couch in the living room, the one broken in the middle (second time) because my daughter thinks it’s a trampoline. I take a notepad, a pencil, my notebooks. And I doodle. I draw these strange series of elaborate loops, or endless geometric patterns. I get lost in them.

I would like to be able to take my laptop to a library. It’s not been possible so far. Also, I’m a bit of an hermit. I can easily stay home and not go outside for days. Today, for instance, I jumped up at 2.45 PM and ran to the shower so I could get out of my pajamas before my daughters walked through the door.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

Depends who does the interrupting. If it’s a what, I will most likely swear copiously in two or three languages–and throw the dried-up pen across the room, of course. A computer crash will have me going through a lot of unflattering colors until I dissolve into anguished sobs (I’m not good at back-ups). The guys spitting constantly outside my window, here, in Bangladesh, also spark some interesting and most unladylike grunts and comments. Phone I easily ignore, unless it’s a call from my kids’ school. My daughters? There also, it depends whether I hear them or not. If it’s serious, I will. I seem to know the difference instinctively. It helps that they have powerful lungs, too. If it’s not, I’m known to go deaf for as long as I need to be. But the person most responsible for interrupting my writerhead is myself, I’m afraid, and have a self-sabotaging propensity to procrastinate.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

In a recent blogpost, I mentioned a little witch named Scribbly who wanted to write the perfect novel. When we were looking for a name for my first online critique group, I suggested Scribbly. My writer friends preferred Scribblers, but Scribbly was born, and I wrote a story where I imagined a simmering cauldron. One day, after a lot of simmering, sizzling, chopping, skimming, work and effort, a fragrant ribbon of words finally danced out and onto Scribbly’s page.

A large cauldron, round, blackened, full of magic and mystery. A cauldron like Mary Poppins’ bag, bottomless. You never know what it will yield. Have it sit on a flame, always (the cauldron, not the bag). A slow fire, or one that rages and spits sparkles around. Keep throwing ingredients into the cauldron. The brew must cook and stew–always (something I had a very hard time achieving for a few months after we moved to Bangladesh).


Katia Novet Saint-Lot is the author of Amadi’s Snowman, illustrated by Dimitrea Tokunbo (Tilbury House, Publishers). She thrives on diversity, and feels very privileged to have a family hailing from France, Spain, Haiti, and the U.S., two beautiful daughters, and an expatriate life that has taken her to seven countries, and counting. A translator by trade, she tries to carve more and more time for her writing, and is currently working on several picture books, and one YA novel set in India. Finding an agent, at this stage, would make her very, very happy.

You can visit her website, her blog, or follow her very sporadic tweets (@scribblykatia).


Mojo Monday: Susan Boyle’s Crescendo

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, and help you get your mojo on.


Susan Boyle’s very first performance on “Britain’s Got Talent” back on January 21, 2009 when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables.”

I f’ing LOVE watching this performance. And I do…often…whenever my mojo shows the slightest sign of moping. By the time Susan hits that crescendo on the word shame, my mojo is rocking. And I am ready to write. (Or run a marathon. Or climb Mt Everest. Or sprout wings and fly. Or…)

Unfortunately it’s not possible to embed the video here (embedding is blocked) so you’ll have to click the link below to get to the site.

So go…watch…dream…and feel that crescendo from the inside out.

Get your mojo on!

Just click here.



Photo: By Deborah Wilbanks (OTRS submission by Deborah Wilbanks) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons