Sunday, April 08, 2007

Parenting Across the Pond

I was on the phone with my Mum the other day when it came up that she didn't know what an owie was. At that moment I realized that while I consider myself a Mum rather than a Mom (oh the horror), I am an American parent.

I kid myself by telling Anna to say ladybird instead of ladybug, zebra instead of zeebra, but in reality I am learning to be a parent in a foreign country, and the parenting vernacular I'm picking up is purely Californian. Obviously a lot of how you parent comes from what you already know, and how you were brought up, but I'm realizing a lot of it also comes from observation, picking up phrases and actions you see being used by the parents around you. As such, I've started saying 'owie' and 'good job' (bleurgh) and 'time out' without really knowing or remembering what the English equivalent is. Although I do have a sneaking suspicion that the British equivalent for 'owie' is 'walk it off'.

If I was an English parent I would say 'you've been very naughty' instead of 'honey can we talk about why you felt the need to express your anger with permanent marker '. I would say 'I'm really cross' instead of 'I'm really mad'. I do say 'you make me mad', but I mean it in the English sense which is 'you're driving me round the bend, I'm up to here with chuffing Melmo'. I feel stupidly panicked that I can't recall how to parent in English. We're going home for a visit in a few weeks and I'm going to have to stop myself from obsessively listening in on English parents talking to their children, trying to absorb their figures of speech so that I can fake it when I get back to the States.

You don't lose your accent or your pronunciation when you're an ex-pat, you lose your words, your phrases, your idioms. I hear things on BBC America and think 'wait a minute, I used to say that, what have I replaced it with and why don't I say it anymore?'. I now start most of my sentences with 'so' whereas I used to end them all with 'right', I fall short of saying 'so he was all, and I was all' but I'm sure it's just another five years away. I'm writing a book about an English girl who travels to America and I'm finding it hard to give her an English 'voice'.

Anna will have playdates, she will go to pre-school and kindergarten not nursery and primary school. She will eat 'string cheese' and 'PB&Js' instead of prawn cocktail crisps and cheese and pickle sandwiches, she will have 'recess' and 'extra credit' and then later will have to decide how to deal with 'cheerleading', 'homecoming', or 'sororities', all of which turn me cold. The American Revolution will mean more to her than just imperial overstretch. The idea that Anna is going to grow up with a foreign accent, in a foreign culture is stupidly terrifying, as if she's not going to be my daughter. It's almost like I'm sitting on a giant cuckoo's egg, one that's eventually going to hatch and say 'dude, we have like, totally nothing in common, and I like can't even unnerstand you, and can you like, not talk anymore OK?'.

It hurts and it's stupid. I see the future and I feel like I'm already losing my connection to her when we've only just started.

Walk it off Mrs. K!

1 comment:

Mikaela said...

As you would say, 'what the chuff - stop worrying!' Although, I guess that is pretty English of you to be a worry-wart. Just to put my 2 cents in, I think if you are just your fabulous self, no matter how influenced by the yanks you may feel, Anna will eventually want to connect with the English side of things. Maybe when she is 5, 15 or 35 - but it will happen just because she loves her mummy sooooo much, and because you are an amazing mum!