A stationary rock grows moss...or something? Isn't that an expression? An old Chinese proverb???? I could google it, but, well. Whatever.
I'm traveling again, visiting my aunties and collecting some wonderful Grannieisms for you all. Believe me, I have a few shockers in my back pocket. Anyway, all this means that I'm going to be out of theinterwebular loop for the next several days.
However, if you're jonesing for some Stella cuteness (because obviously you are, I mean, knowing what we are up to clearly is a major and significant issue at the forefront of EVERYONE's mind) do not despair.
Mummy in Provence is a fab blog (fablog?) for all you granola-friendly multi-cultural minded mums.Ameena (an English-Egyptian Dubai-born France-living granola entrepreneur rockstar) writes about baby-led weening, Elimination Communication, and third-culture kids. She also has a weekly feature exploring the myrid cultural differences to be found in the way different cultures go about birthing babies.
Also, in case you missed it, my first NSEW: Expat Dispatches post wherein I feign having thoughtful insights, parenting wisdom and a large vocabulary. Check it, bitches.
Surely all parents can agree that there is a nugget of truth to that familiar expression, "I was the perfect parent before I had kids." In my case, it is more a boulder than a mere nugget.
I've had baby fever since as long as I can remember. In fact my first word was BABY. I started my parenting research at the tender age of 12, reading my parents' copy of "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk" and dreaming how I would be an unerring progenitor with flawless technique; my perfectly adjusted children the envy of parents everywhere. And then I got knocked up the week we moved to Japan, and suddenly everything changed; for expat parenting is nothing if not an exercise in being flexible and adjusting your parenting ideals*.
At first I resisted the notion of adjustment and flexibility. An unhappy trifecta of homesickness, culture shock, and pregnancy crazysauce had me flailing for control of the fundamentally uncontrollable process of growing a baby. I was convinced that everything, from pre-natal care to nursery decoration to cloth diaper purchases had to be done exactly by the (North American) book. Ultra-sounds at every OB visit? WRONG! For that is not the way it is done at home! Japanese cribs? Obviously a DEATH TRAP for babies, and therefore we must purchase one from Canada at great personal, emotional and financial expense. Thus went my line of reasoning.
I continued in this manner, until about three weeks before my due date when it dawned on me, "you know, it's a lot of work resisting the Japanese system. I’m tired. These guys deliver healthy babies every day. I need to trust them." And so I did. And when the arrival of our daughter was imminent I agreed to procedures and interventions that would not likely have been administered in Canada, but you know, it was FINE. The world did not stop turning. And I was happy.
These adjustments, of course, continue as Stella grows. I'm introducing food to her diet that, if I lived in a whole-grain, raw-honey, crunchy granola mecca, I would not otherwise allow past our threshold. We make do with what is available and Stella occasionally eats white bread. I drop Stella off at daycare, where I am not allowed to enter the baby room and settle her before I leave. But that's the way it's done in Japan, and I value my working time too much to bristle at this.
I'm sure that as Stella grows, and as we find ourselves in new and different surroundings, our choices will continue to be shaped by the culture around us, and we will grow more flexible as time stretches our beliefs. Will I permit her to eat shark fin soup? Or walk to school on her own at six years old? Or start pre-school at three? Who knows? It will depend entirely on the circumstances we find ourselves in. So in that way, expat parenting is a lot like life; you grow and change and accept things you once held as unacceptable. Raising children in a cross-cultural context forces parents to make these adjustments and accommodations more deliberately. And I'm actually thankful for that.
*I've been at this for OVER A YEAR, so obviously I am an expert, OKAY!?
I have to admit that I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Pretty, pretty, pretty proud indeed. I stepped onto the scale and saw a number that I haven't seen since long before pregnancy. And oh boy was I thrilled. I thanked my mother's good genes, just to show my humility, but smugly told myself that my healthy eating habits and weekly (?) runs around the park were paying off.
I boasted of my success on twitter, proudly announcing that after six months, I was back in my skinny jeans. I bragged about it to Mr. Chef. I thought about changing my Facebook status to declare to the world my triumph over the baby weight, but decided it was to boastful so instead I daydreamed about the new wardrobe possibilities that were now open to me.
On the weekend we were invited to a Christmas Party at a local orphanage, and so I put together a cute little outfit that was modestly preppy, yet stylishly quirky, and was feeling good. There was fun, there were games, and some delicious cakes were decorated. As the party was winding down, some of the girls gathered around Stella and me. They spoke next to no English and I speak no Japanese. We were making do, muddling through a conversation, until they asked me a question. It was not one of the questions that I am routinely asked by strangers admiring my cute foreign baby. So I leaned in closer, squinted in concentration, and tried to decode their message.
They repeated the question.
I stared blankly.
Finally someone started to mime. Arms cradling, rocking a baby. Then stretching out, mimicking a large, pregnant belly.
"Yes, yes," I replied, "Stella was in my belly! Yup, she's my baby. I know, I look pretty good for having just had a baby. But you know, its because of my healthy lifestyle and..."
Oh, wait. That is not what they mean. They're pointing at my mid-section. They're holding up two fingers. Two babies, they're saying. They're asking me if I'm pregnant with another baby. Shit.
Not so skinny after all, you jerk.
Life as a foreigner in a foreign land can be truly wonderful, full of adventure, awe, surprises, delight, and inspiration. It can also be incredibly confounding. Like playing a guessing game where every question is rhetorical and you'll never get a clear "yes" or "no."
When talking to people I find myself questioning whether the message I received was the one which was intended to be communicated. Did that "yes, maybe" mean yes, maybe, or did it actually mean "HELLS NO!"? What, exactly, did he intend to signify when he sucked air though the side of his teeth and paused after I asked a question? Did that laugh and sideways glance mean, "Oh boy, you're funny" or was it more of a, "Oh my GOD, this is so uncomfortable! Doesn't that barbaric foreigner know she just stepped on a minefield of taboos there?"
I'm sure that this is true wherever expats might find themselves, but I feel that this sense of bewilderment is especially strong as a foreigner living in Asia. Especially when you are fresh off the boat, and don't yet have a feel for the rhythms of language in your new country. Quite often hilarity (or, in my case, bat-shit-crazy hormone-soaked, tear-streaked tragedy) ensues.
Like last year. Around this time, actually. I was both newly arrived and newly pregnant, hormonal and homesick. A bad combination. Craving a taste of home and armed with a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, I planned to comfort myself by revisiting tastes of my childhood. All I needed was a carton of milk.
Off I trundled, to the grocery store. Inspecting all the different varieties of milk available to me, but unable to read the labels, I resorted to a decision-making process that has served me well in the past: choose the one with the prettiest package. Ooooooh, this one has happy cows on a mountain pasture! Its just like Switzerland! This one is the milk for me!
Returning home, and ready to indulge my pregnancy cravings, I poured the milk into the pot thinking, hmmm...it's a little thick. But that's okay. I'm sure it's just because the cows who made it were extra happy. Or perhaps its Jersey milk. Happy-mountain-cow extra-thick Jersey milk. Delicious.
Upon tasting, however, I realized just how wrong I was. The soup was sour and completely inedible. For my milk was actually yoghurt. Down the drain went the soup, along with my dreams.
What I lost in food-based mood stabilizers, I gained in perspective: I now feel just a little closer to understanding what it must be like to be illiterate.