Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Domestic Enemies of the Ex-Pat Mom

This awesome post was submitted to us by our friend Jay. She is a (somewhat voluntary) stay-at-home-mother to two (mostly) darling little boys, almost 4 years old and 15 months old. Once a professional with an interesting paying job, she now spends her days payless, begging interesting small people to pee and poop and scanning the skies for potentially laundry-soaking rain clouds in an English speaking country that is not the US.

We proudly present the:

Domestic Enemies of the Ex-Pat Mom
or, International Enemies of the Ex-Pat Mum

I am an American who met and married a foreign national while he was working in America. We made the move back to my Husband’s Home Country [HHC] last year with our two kids, now a pre-schooler and a toddler. Let me say from the outset that most of the people here in my adopted country are wonderful and really cool. Sometimes they’re even delighted to meet an American. Thus the following list, with perhaps the exception of evil Laundry, involves a tiny but very annoying fraction of what I deal with on a regular basis.

#1 The Accent: Like most Americans abroad, the accent gives me away every time. When I’m alone and silent I can sometimes blend in, but I have to talk to/at the kids when I have them around which is, like, always, so I might as well have an American flag tattooed on my forehead. This can cause “The Look” whereby everything about me, my kids, my possible purchases, etc. are summarily judged and found to be American and, thus, inappropriate and wasteful. My cart is full because I have a family of 4; my 3-year-old is halfway down the next aisle because I’m still trying to find the peanut butter; and I have no backlog of staples such as flour and coffee because I just moved here, Judgy McJudgersen. I’m also not in your local store to spread Truth, Justice, and the American Way (well, not today, anyway), I just want to get my groceries and get out with my kids and my sanity intact.

#2 Perceptions of American weight: If one more person brings up the “American obesity epidemic” while pointedly looking at my *skinny* children, I’m totally gonna square up, international incident-style.

#3 Cultural differences: These can range from tiny to thorny, peculiar to profound. Oh, the weirdness that is discovering baffling behavior like going barefoot on the playground is being *encouraged* at preschool. Things like paper towels have only recently become cheaper so most hostesses still only buy paper napkins on special occasions and then only the really nice, expensive kind, thus ensuring that they will get twitchy when seeing my 3-year-old with one.

#4 Laundry: I’ve stepped back into the mid-20th century. I don’t have a dryer. Anyone here who does won’t admit to using it, probably because local TV commercials equate using a dryer to being a baby-seal-hating environmental terrorist. So, it’s a clothesline for me -- a clothesline on the edge of a rock cliff that leads to the backyard. Now, it is pretty standard here for the laundry room be outside only access, but, through a weird quirk of taste, our landlord decided that a spa bathtub was more important than a laundry room, so we don’t have one at all.

Yep, our washing machine is ON THE BACK DECK. It is, at least, convenient to the cliffy clothes line. So, to do laundry I have to a) wait for naptime b) strap the toddler in the stroller on the back deck and/or c) wait until my husband comes home. No laundry room also means no safe, away-from-curious-toddler place to put a clothes rack, so if it rains for more than a day or two my family runs out of clean, or at least dry, clothes. And one random rain shower can ruin an entire day’s work. At least I can take comfort in the image of Randy freezing his backside off trying to steal my socks…

#5 Shopping: As a kid myself, they were a mere inconvenience; now dealing with them as an adult I’ve become convinced blue laws were written by men who didn’t have to shop and certainly didn’t have to shop with children. Where I live, most stores on most days close at 6 pm. Let’s let that sink in. No more popping out to Target alone after the kids go to bed, because the stores are closed before my husband even gets home from work. On top of this, most significant stores occur in large shopping centers with large, multi-level parking structures.

On top of THAT, there is a curious and arbitrary division of what stores sell which items. I cannot seem buy deodorant, toilet paper, and [reasonably-priced] diapers in the same store. I have to go to three different stores, with two kids in tow. Inevitably we’re out long enough that everyone needs to be feed and/or be watered and/or pee and/or play. At least the shopping centers have parents’ rooms. Using the teensy outdoor restrooms at “downtown” stores with a toddler and a preschooler involves contortions, swearing, indecent exposure, and a bucket of hand sanitizer.

Also, stores seem to have not mastered the art of ordering enough of basics such as mittens or pajamas or oatmeal. So I have to go to multiple stores on multiple days with multiple kids jabbering at them with my American accent to for-the-love-of-pete-just-stay-with-me-while-I-figure-out-if-they-have-deordorant-here-don’t-put-that-in-your-mouth-where-did-you-go-no-we’re-not-going-to-play-now-get-back-here-put-that-down...

#6 Visas: In America, my husband needs a visa. Here in HHC, I need a visa. The kids are dual citizens. There are mountains of paperwork, copious fees, and ridiculously long phone calls with voice-recognition software that does not, in fact, recognize a single word that comes out of my American mouth but loves to register random choices at the sound of my children squabbling. The crux of all this, is, however, that it doesn’t matter which side of the stay-at-home/working mother debate I’m on, I’m not allowed by HHC government to work yet. I can’t even volunteer because I can’t afford childcare because I don’t work.

#7 International moving [or, how to replace all your stuff while still paying for your old stuff]:
Take a look around your children’s bedrooms and imagine paring down their possessions, including clothes, to 2 suitcases each. How do you explain to your two-year-old that they will have to live without most of their beloved toys, stuffed animals, and books for many months? By the time our stuff actually arrives, I doubt my older son will remember half of it and will be too old for the rest.

Of course, he’s already been traumatized by having to leave it behind in the first place. Meanwhile all the possible hand-me-downs I carefully laundered and boxed for my younger son are now inaccessible, so I’ve had to buy the toddler all new clothes anyway. And while we’re waiting for our stuff we still need “luxuries” like dishes, highchairs, tables, towels… I have no idea where I’m going to put our old stuff once we finally get it!

#8 Regional DVD coding:
Between us we have a TV, 1 new DVD player, 3 computers, and lots of kid DVDs. The old, comforting DVDs from America that my 3-year-old loves won’t work on our TV or the grandparents’ TV because local DVD players won’t play American region DVDs. DVDs from our local library won’t play on our computers without intimidating warnings that we have X number of times to change our minds before a region will be selected FOREVER. Trying to watch DVDs becomes a crapshoot of which screen to use at which time in whose house, and someone is bound to end up in tears [usually me.]

All in all, it’s an adventure that I probably wouldn’t trade, and my husband is happy to have his children immersed in his culture for a change. Now if I could just get the local Target to sell T-boxes…

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011

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