From Global Mom: A Memoir
We were moving to a Heartland Homeland and in many ways the American Dream Land. A 30-minute drive south from Randall’s company’s headquarters, it is a bucolic, historic swath of Americana with 200-year-old farm houses. . .
. . .and snaking stone walls surrounding horse farms and apple orchards. . .
. . . a place known, as my new neighbor dressed in a Phillies T-shirt told me, for its Blue Ribbon schools and Blue Ribbon beer.
Despite that appealing description, there were early indications the adjustment was not going to be so easy. Parker was immediately called “Frenchie” at a middle school that had a two percent rotation rate, meaning that people were born there and schooled there and never moved away. Next to zero international influx.
Our children were mortified when everyone but them knew to stand in perfect unison at the beginning of the school day and recite, “Verbatim, Mom,” Claire said through gritted teeth later, an “Allegiance chant,” Parker cut in, all gluey and glum. “I had to lip sync, Mom,” he went on.
They had never heard it. Never knew it existed. And how would they? But they knew the Norwegian and French national anthems by heart, and I suggested they teach them to their classes as compensation.
Then the girls on the elementary school playground were tittering in a tight clump about someone named Lizzy; her clothes, her hair, the way she talked, what she did this week and the week before and what she might do next week. And Claire, a month into this new world, interrupted to ask, “So. . .who’s Lizzy? Is she new here at school like me?” To which all the girls stared. And laughed.
“Lizzy McGuire, Mom,” Claire told me later, not crying, but looking stern, like an anthropologist who’s just spotted a member of an endangered species. “Lizzy, M-C-G-U-I-R-E. We have got to get American T.V.”
And Dalton was having his own adjustment issues, not spitting at children this time around, thank heavens, but doing other things his teacher was trying to manage. “Twenty-two years as a teacher, Mrs. Bradford, and I have to tell you I’ve never seen anything quite like your dear Dalton.”
At thirteen, Parker would have probably been riding the plate tectonics of an identity crisis anywhere, but here he was trying wardrobes and body postures and accents in order to fit in. When asked were he was from, he never mentioned a word about his real upbringing, would no longer speak anything but English with us although we’d always hopped from Norwegian to French to English in our home, in our private conversations, to keep secrets as a family when on the streets. It seemed he’d made an overnight decision to be a new person.
“Where, Parker? Where’d you just tell that guy at the gas station you were from?”
“Fully” he tipped his head on which he now wore a flat-rimmed cap tilted strategically off to one side. “Fullydelphia.”
My son — maybe you remember him from barnepark and the Versailles Club du Basket? — had morphed in the course of exactly 0.6 minutes, into a boy from the hood. From the Fully hood.
After having written an essay for entrance into an honors English course for his school, Parker reported to me later how it had gone.
“So, ça va, mon cœur? How’d it go?”
“’Salright, I guess. I finished the thing. Wrote a good full three pages.”
“Sounds good! What did you write on?”
“Eve? As in Eve . . . Adam and Eve—Eve?”
“Yuh. Eve.” He was adjusting the hat and letting his oversized pants bunch sufficiently around his untied basketball shoes. My boy from Fully. Where’d this kid materialize from?
“As in, you wrote about the Bible story? Or, uh, what?” I kept smiling, taking it easy, knowing that I was now in a country where the separation of church and state is at times maybe a bit smudgy. But. . . Eve?
“They gave me three choices to write on,” he said, “And I picked, ‘Describe the life and accomplishments of your favorite First Lady.’”
“And Eve. . .She was the—”
“The First Lady.”