When a Fellow Expat Mother Reviews Your Book. . .

Ute Limacher-Riebold has a profile that makes one’s eyes pop, glaze over, wink twice, then close with reflection and a bit of – oh, I don’t know – Global Mom reverence. I’ve quietly followed her blog for a while, then recently dared to drum up an offline connection.  Ever since, I have been greatly enriched by our cross-cultural interaction. One of those times where I am indeed grateful for the power of social media.

expatsincebirth

Let me introduce Ute before you click over to her blog, where she has (voluntarily, without my request or prompting!) written a thoughtful and thorough review of my recently published book.

firenzemoms4moms

firenzemoms4moms

Born in Switzerland, she spent her childhood in northern Italy, attended university in Switzerland (completing a PhD in French medieval literature), worked there in the Department of Romance Studies, scooted down to Florence for professional reasons (and had a baby son there), scooted back up to the Netherlands (where her twin daughters were born), and now maintains a rich treasure of a blog, Expatsincebirth.

scienceillustrated.com

scienceillustrated.com

Yes, as you guessed, Ute is a polyglot.  She masters German, Italian, English and French, and in turn considers herself a comfortable coalescence of all of these cultures.  No doubt her Dutch is nearly as impeccable by now, and she, her husband and her children (all multilingual, as well) are flavored by the Dutch language and culture, too.  Her life experiences offer a strong model for the kind of nomadic, borderless living that is becoming more and more common.

mondial.infos

mondial.infos

I’ll be returning in future posts to Ute and similar writers and mothers. Their global outlook and multicultural life experiences will surely inspire a holistic view of how to navigate this fascinatingly diverse and ever-shrinking world.

**

Do you know families like this, who move between countries, cultures and languages?

Are you one? Tell us about it.

What do you imagine the costs are for such fluidity?

The benefits?

If you happen to live a more localized life, what things would be hardest to sacrifice to have such global experiences?

And what about localized living would you not mind giving up?

Moved Around, Ripped Out, Messed Up: Has This International Life Damaged My Children?

This year it hit me broadside.

Standing in my entryway, eagerly opening up holiday greeting cards from around the world, I held a family Christmas collage from a friend in my hands. There they were: the crowds of folks gathered for one child’s wedding; a smiling circle cheering another child’s academic achievement; lines of friends there for another child’s community concert. I skimmed the lines about neighbors and friends who rushed in when there was a crisis, and wiped my forehead, now pumping hot blood, astonished by my gut reaction.

Pain. Pain for my children.

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I knew my friend was only sharing her normal, everyday life.  What I read wasn’t shimmering with the exceptional, not in her mind, I’m sure.  It was an obviously normal life to her, probably, a life spent in one spot with lifelong connections, familial solidarity and children held sturdy by that kind of  ballast.  Skimming, though, I saw strong, bold lines that plumb through layers and layers of years and years of rock solid support and shared common experience.

Then, as if someone pulled the plug on the parquet floor beneath me, that sensation hit. And I sank.

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It’s there, in that sunken place, that I developed a T.I.C.K.

Or at least I developed the concept of one and made up the acronym for it.

T.I.C.K.? You’ve probably never heard of it, although maybe you’ve heard of a TCK, or a Third Culture Kid. That’s a child who’s spent the dominant portion of her upbringing in a culture/language/geography other than that of her parents.

TICK is something else, and may be a little more complicated than a TCK. A TICK is a Transient International Composite Kid.

That, ladies and gentlemen, would be my bundle.

Of joy.

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Not only are my kids TCKs, (they’ve spent virtually all  their developmental years in a culture/language/geography other than their parents’ native one), but they’re TICKs, too, having spent their entire lives moving and moving. And moving again. And not merely from one side of a city to another. Nor from one side of a state nor side of one country to another.  They’ve moved from one side of the cultural spectrum to another: Hong Kong, Norway, two different locations in France, America, Germany, Singapore, and now Switzerland.

What does that kind of perpetual and far-flung transience mean for a child? For a teenager? For a young adult? It means multilingual proficiency (about which I’ve just written.)  It means adaptability, flexibility, courage, ability to make friends with your corner lamp post. It means resilience. It means, as many TICKs will tell you, an unusually tight bond as a family. (You’ve gone through quite a lot together). It can mean various positives like increased tolerance, motivation, independence. It can mean you know many things firsthand that others know only virtually.

Unquestionably, there’s a lot gained from traipsing through so much diversity and upheaval. But lately. . . I am tallying the costs. And they are painful to me.

What might those costs be?

Let me give you an idea by showcasing just one of our four, Dalton Haakon Bradford.

DSC_5857

Dalton is now seventeen, a “Year 12” in his international bilingual school here on outskirts of Geneva, or, according to the US system, a high school junior.  In these 17 years, he’s attended a Norwegian preschool…

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A French bilingual preschool…

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An American international kindergarten, an American public 1st grade, a French bilingual primary school…

073A German international school…

088a Singapore-based American international school, and now the Swiss bilingual school from which he will graduate a year from now.

I’m no mathematician, but I’m adding up 8 different approaches to academic instruction, and 4 distinct classroom languages. What you can’t see in that tally are all the friends made and lost. All the homes adapted to and emptied. All the programs begun yet suddenly dropped. All the teachers who had to get to know this kid from ground up, who didn’t know his strength or quirks or particular needs. All the opportunities to audition or compete or enter, lost because, whooops, we can’t promise we’ll be here for that. All the essential secrets held under the coat like a vat of churning lava, because there is no gathered context out of which strangers can interpret him.

June 2007, last vacation where the kids were all together in Provence

June 2007, last vacation where the kids were all together in Provence

Those kinds of costs. Let’s let our TICK speak about them for himself.

So, Dalton Bradford: What, in your opinion, have been the costs of this nomadic, international life? 

1) I’ve forfeited familiarity and comfort. More times than I can count, I’ve been the only new kid (or one of the few) in my class, and that has sometimes meant the only one not quite yet speaking the language of instruction. Seems I’m always in the figuring-out phase, just getting my mind organized in a new culture, not to mention a whole new school system and student body. This means my ramp-up time to becoming efficient in a new school costs me academic and social ease.

Versailles, France.

Versailles, France.

2) I’ve had to say goodbye to dozens of friends. Over a dozen times.  This is just hard. It’s gotten easier to keep in touch via FB and Skype, but still virtual’s not the same.  They just aren’t here with me. This repeated separation makes it harder to invest in relationships. I always know either I or they will eventually be leaving. OR, I feel I have to invest in relationships super quickly, because I never know how much time I’ll have. In my current school where there’s only a 7% turnover in the student body from year to year, I’m one of the few who hasn’t been here for most of my education, even all 12 years. That’s danged hard to penetrate.

Croissy-sur Seine, France

Croissy-sur-Seine, France

3) It’s so hard to get academic traction. When you’re not certain how long you’re going to stay in a country, it’s hard to plan on your academic curriculum.  When you can’t plan, you can’t count on completing courses or taking them through their end with certain teachers, then you also can’t commit to being around the next year for certain activities. This was so hard when we moved from Singapore, because I’d just made real strides in the theater department, had a fabulous French instructor, was cruising in Mandarin, and then we suddenly left. I’d banked on being  heavily involved in theater, French and Mandarin the next year. There’s hardly a theater department where I am now. And now I’m the one who helps tutor Mandarin.

Cosima Schwimmbad, München, Deutschland

Cosima Schwimmbad, München, Deutschland

4) Sometimes others hold back from investing in a friendship with you because they know you’ll be leaving anyway. I’ve heard this in church and school, that others who are locals expect we’ll leave soon anyway, and so why get close? Because of this, they sometimes keep their distance.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

5) Sometimes I question my identity. Am I American? European? International?  Who am I? I don’t know the first  thing about American TV, football, baseball, even a lot of the daily slang. But I carry a US passport and English is my mother tongue.  Where do I fit in, and where can I count on being understood? Where will my life experiences be valued and not criticized or pigeonholed? Some people who’ve never lived internationally assume all sorts of things about this “luxurious”, “pampered”, “exotic” lifestyle, and they also question your patriotism. (Once, I had to explain to a kid that an expatriate was not an ex-patriot. Yeah, like that was cool.)

Berchtesgaden, Deutschland

Berchtesgaden, Deutschland

6) Unlike kids who grow up their whole lives in one place, I struggle to advance and establish myself in extra curricular activities. For example, coaches or instructors or music teachers need to have known you from the year before in order to put you on a team or cast you in the play or in the orchestra.  I’ve been the new kid so much, I get passed up and can’t compete with the ones who’ve established themselves with coaches and mentors over years.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

7) Depending on where you go to University, you might get slammed with major culture shock. I remember how disoriented Claire [my older sister] was her first year at university.  She had a great time eventually, but she talked about always feeling she was looking at the experience from the outside-in. There were attitudes and even language usage she did not “get” at all.  After a year, thanks to a great roommate and some key professors, she had a positive experience. I wonder what the adjustment will be like for me.

Nesøya, Norge

Nesøya, Norge

8) You miss on certain maturation experiences growing up like this. Because I don’t live in one place, I can’t apply for summer jobs in the place in the US where I usually vacation only three weeks per year, so I don’t learn about that kind of responsibility like punching a time card, taking orders, reporting to a boss, earning and saving money. I won’t have  a driver’s license until way after the normal US kid has his, so sometimes when I visit the US I feel less mature than all those kids who’ve been driving and holding down jobs since they were 16. Some even get cars when they’re 16! That’s completely unthinkable in my world. (Getting a license in Europe takes private schooling, loads of money, and buying a car is many times more expensive that doing so in the US.)

Maasai village, Tanzania (Dalton's 16th birthday)

Maasai village, Tanzania (Dalton’s 16th birthday)

Dancing through the night of his Sweet Sixteen, with the Maasai

Dancing with the Maasai through the night of his Sweet Sixteen

9) My life experiences – learning languages, working through serial major changes, gaining cultural fluency, whatever– don’t necessarily translate into high college entrance exam scores. And my schools grade much much harder than most public US schools do. The classes are literally like college classes, and getting an “A” is rare, even for top students. What I’ve spent a lot of energy managing has at times been a distraction from the basics of schooling. It takes a lot of work just figuring out your life again after moving to a new country – finding the right teachers, getting the right group of friends, I’ve done math in three different academic styles with their different approaches to graphing stuff, even – and when you slap on top of that the fact that you’re being schooled in a whole new language, it’s…Well it’s just so much more complicated and demanding.  But you can’t explain all that on the SAT.

Making friends, Maasai village, Tanzania

Making friends, Maasai village, Tanzania

DSC_5388DSC_5352

Translator at juvenile detention center. Arusha, Tanzania

Translator at juvenile detention center. Arusha, Tanzania

10)My major loss is a secret to nearly everyone I know now.  When I was 11 years old I lost my oldest brother, Parker. I was there in the ICU when he took his last breath.  This huge part of who I am was unknown to the kids at the German school I walked into 2 weeks after my brother’s funeral. Ever since then, I’ve carried this loss with me, always among strangers. That is one of the hardest things in my life, and it hurts me every day in some way, even today, almost six years later.

Parker 9, Dalton 2, Claire 7

Parker 9, Dalton 2, Claire 7

Parker 15, Dalton 8, Luc 4, Claire 13

Parker 15, Dalton 8, Luc 4, Claire 13

It’s just so hard when the people all around you don’t know your story. I think sometimes about other kids who’ve lived in one place and who’ve lost favorite siblings, and what it must be like to just know that people around you know. They understand things about you that are the very core of who you are.  I’m so jealous of that. This thing that’s enormous for me is hidden from everyone in my surroundings. I hate that. An example: This year (another new school, right?), my English teacher announced a surprise writing assignment that had to do with death.  I totally choked. I froze and couldn’t even think straight.  I felt fuzzy and nauseated.  Normally, I’m a really strong writer – it’s my gift, many teachers say – but I went totally blank and cold.  I had to leave the room. Who can blame my teacher, though?

Brønnøya, Norge, June 2006

Brønnøya, Norge, June 2006

Like who can blame the biology teacher that first month Claire [my older sister] arrived at our new school in Germany? He held this big class-long debate on the ethical implications of sustaining life on a ventilator when a patient is in a deep coma. The debate went on and on, with students (who didn’t know Claire or her story) really getting into it. Didn’t Claire have to run out of the class, Mom, and throw up in the closest bathroom?

Yeah. Right. She did. You can say there are hard aspects.

**

Our two children still at home.

Our two children still at home.

It was February when I finally stored away my holiday greeting cards this year. I’d read through them a couple of times, mesmerized by the tokens of those distant, stable lifestyles my children will never know.  I took a breath. I put them away.  And just when that parquet entry floor began feeling a little sturdier beneath my feet, I discovered that what I’d thought were normal adolescent blips, were actually signs that my boys were having significant (read: what have we done moving our kids here?!) adjustment issues. These concerns shook our world so much, my entry parquet floor practically sprouted grooves.

I think I’ll have to write a sequel to Global Mom: A Memoir.

TICK Mom: A Confession

**

What else could you add to this list of costs of a TICK lifestyle?

What suggestions would you make to a TICK like Dalton?

What suggestions would you make to the parent of a TICK?

Do any of these costs surprise you? What do they reveal about what we know or don’t know about another’s life?

Wise Words on Words: Talking About Multilingualism

How many languages do you think are represented in this group shot with my friends?

How many languages do you think are represented in this group shot with my  friends?

In my recent post about How To Raise A Multilingual Child, I described a bit of our family’s 20 years of living in many different countries where, for the sake of survival as well as for integration (which is ever my goal; I always want to be mistaken for a native), we have learned to speak a number of languages.

This is no big deal. At all. Hardly worth licking your lips at when you’re a European or Asian or African.  My friends from those cultures just nod (and yawn) as I tick off what few tongues we’ve learned to speak. Why? Because they’re all speaking four or five as a matter of course.

Mmmm. Vegetarian Roti Prata at my favorite dive in Singapore.

Mmmm. Vegetarian roti prata at my favorite dive in Singapore.

(My dearest Indonesian friend back in Singapore speaks Bahasa and six other distinct Indonesian dialects.  She also makes her way through in Mandarin. And Hokkien.  To boot, our relationship is in English.)

In such a broad world context, there’s simply no getting snooty about speaking a couple of languages. In truth, these friends of mine from all over the place wonder out loud why my Mandarin isn’t a whole lot better.

The Yu Gong, or old men, gathered in Singapore's Chinatown.

The Yu Gong, or old men, gathered in Singapore’s Chinatown.

Back Camera

Disclaimer: I’m finding it hard to keep encircled by a Mandarin-speaking community while living here in French-speaking Switzerland.  And while in Singapore, I never lived in full Mandarin immersion. Yeah. That’s right. I have this whole long fancy list of excuses!

Cute hiking buddy (but poor conversation partners) on Bukit Timah Hill in Singapore

Cute hiking buddy (but poor conversation partner) on Bukit Timah Hill in Singapore

While I whip up some more posts on the pluses and minuses of multilingualism and nomadic multicultural living, you might want to stop in at Ute’s lovely blog

If you are serious about investigating expatriate life and learning what its foundational demands and rewards are; if you are a parent who longs to offer a broad world view to your children; if you just want to dialogue with someone who is a seasoned world citizen, then I suggest you stop in and chat with Ute.

Otherwise, there’s me. I love your visits, too!

Thank you for visiting the Bradfords. Here, and wherever we are in the world.

Thank you for visiting the Bradfords. Here, and wherever we are in the world.

Global Mom: Split Between Two Different Countries

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continuing from last post, “Ceiling Talk”…)

**

Despite the fact that Munich as a location was in many ways an ideal spot to drop us (we had roots there, as I’ve mentioned before, and were both German speakers), no one, including myself, could imagine leaving Paris. We had dug some serious grooves, as Kristiina Sorensen put it when I told her the news, and what place on earth could ever suit us as well as this place now did? So from that point in the early fall until the end of the school year, we conducted a test to see if living in one country—France— and working in another—Germany—would be not merely feasible, but preferable in terms of stability and consistency for the children. Randall lived during the weeks in a small hotel room outside of Munich, and I managed during the weeks with our four children and their four worlds of needs. We texted and called and emailed, stitched together our family with fiber optics, dangled in a world wide web.

kmmatrimony

kmmatrimony

Living in two different countries. One country for the employed person, another for the family, the occasional weekend together, if we were so lucky. More often, it turns into monthly or quarterly visits. Writing that today sounds so ludicrous it makes my fingers go rigid. But many families deliberately choose to do exactly what we were considering doing, and for the long haul. As I already knew from my circle of expatriate friends, more and more companies seemed to tacitly encourage such a thing. After all, with no family around to go home to, their employee could be counted on to work until or after midnight, could take international conference calls throughout the night, and be back at the office at 6:00 a.m., on Saturdays, on Sunday, on holidays.

Friends like the Sorensens and others from church and school and the neighborhood helped fill in some of the gaps when one has an absent father, and Parker, now an inch taller than Randall, became my right- hand man; a trusted, loving, fun and easy-going friend. Not a surrogate spouse, but my man-on-site who took care, literally, of some of the heavy lifting. He picked up brothers from their Parc Monceau school, carted heavy things up from the dusty cave, hauled the Christmas tree across town and up our building’s entry steps, and hauled it out again in January.

With the volleyball and basketball teams at school, Parker had to make his way by train or plane to sports trips all around Europe, the Mediterranean, and northern Africa, and at the same time he was pushing his way through the college application process. We saw Dad nearly every weekend for twenty-four or forty-eight hours, connected daily by every technological means known at the time, and kept extremely busy. Life was spinning as quickly as I had ever experienced it, the hum was rising, the date, June, 2007, drawing us ahead.

(Next post, we’re heading into the unknown. . .)

Global Mom: Ceiling Talk. . .Munich?

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continued from last post, “La Grande Gare Centrale”)

**

flickr

flickr

“And what about the smaller apartment in the 17th? Three bedrooms? Fifth floor? Not far from John and Renée? Should I make an appointment and see it? We ready for that?” That was me speaking from where I lay, covers tucked up under my arms, hands crossed thoughtfully on my abdomen, staring at the lights filtering through our drapes. This dialogue was happening nearly every night. It was Ceiling Talk as you know, and this was September 2006, and this was Randall and Melissa considering, as we had done in Norway, to just stay. To settle. To buy. To go native.

Randall was thriving at work and he could call this the end of his career and “coast on out,” as he put it. I was busy volunteering at our children’s two schools, singing in various venues, and seeing to the needs of the teenage girls and their teachers of our church in the greater Parisian area. This meant I was regularly going to Normandy, Chartres, and the small congregations throughout the city. In addition, I was writing small pieces for an international journal and compiling chapters of my own book. I had the application forms on my desk for taking courses at the Sorbonne. We were looking ahead to having Parker graduate and head off to college that June, and Claire was cruising along beautifully at ASP, too, with her locker right under her brother’s, a spatial closeness that symbolized nicely their unusually strong relationship. Dalton and Luc were gathering friends at EAB, fencing, singing in French choirs, collecting marbles, writing screen plays based on the Louvre. And Joey — may my crazy vet be praised — was finally, finally house trained.

So why move?

etsy

etsy

Unless the company, in October, approaches with a reorganization that would bump Randall from his position overseeing the French subsidiary to another post in the regional offices based in Munich from where he would oversee his function for all of Europe. Could he move immediately?

“No,” Randall said into the receiver. “We can’t move right now. The school year has just begun, our oldest child is a senior in high school; he has to finish out in this program. But,” he eyed me for the go-ahead nod from across our bedroom where he was receiving the phone call from headquarters, “I can move. I’ll move. Melissa and the kids will finish out the school year and follow to Munich in the summer. That is, if the family follows at all.”

parisgo

parisgo

(Come back tomorrow for our last months in Paris…)

Global Mom: La Grande Gare Centrale

flickr

flickr

First, a note to my readers.  As we advance toward the official release date set now for mid-July, I am pacing my posts in order to give you regular excerpts from the manuscript itself, updates on the publication process of Global Mom (the book), and vlogs featuring Global Mom (the Mom). The latter is to share with you what it’s like to navigate the many constant and weighty demands of this lifestyle we’ve chosen, which in this phase includes parenting the two youngest of our four (now high schoolers), integrating and trying to make a valuable contribution in yet another geography/culture/school system/place-we-call-home.

These are crowded but invigorating weeks ahead as we ready for the book to take off.  So I’m strapped in, tray table in upright position, stuff stowed in the overhead. Very glad you’re my seat partner, by the way, and not some snoring stranger.

Alright. Back to the book:

**

From Global Mom: A Memoir

Continued from two posts ago, “Toot-a-loo!”, where our family is now sinking deep into our years living in the heart of Paris.

**

 

mylearningtrains

mylearning

Out of 365 days on our family’s kitchen calendar, 281 were marked with visitors who stayed in our apartment. That’s not bragging. That’s fessing up. Our place turned into la Grande Gare Centrale, with its constant stream of bodies, roll-on suit-cases, extra mattresses, and fat stacks of Paris maps. Despite what that kind of traffic meant for predictable bed times and bathroom rights, the children learned to share their space, we made delightful connections with people from all over the world, and others got to experience Paris.

As is typical in many Parisian apartment buildings, ours was outfitted with rooftop garrets, or, in French, chambres de bonnes, or maids’ quarters. Our apartment was allocated two such rooms, hardly bigger than a walk-in closet each, but enough room for one set of bunk beds, a chair and a sink. In them we kept our frequent houseguests or visiting missionaries from our church. We grew especially close with some of these missionaries, who missed their families and homes and often ate around our long Norwegian table, hung out with and became like siblings to our teenagers, spent holidays with us, even went Christmas caroling with us to the homeless sleeping in tents along the Seine.

When missionaries were using the garrets, then other visitors were necessarily crammed into a back room with pink walls, a red futon, and access to a bathroom the size of a Parisian elevator, which sort of elevator is suited only for solo trips, not some convention of two.

If someone was abruptly left homeless, as happened to a newly arrived family of five from Boston, we took them in. The Sorensens had been jerked around, as is often the case, by Parisian real estate capriciousness. Translated, that means they’d found one apartment, signed a contract, and were geared to move in, then the owner changed his mind. So they found another apartment, signed a contract, were geared to move in, then this owner changed his mind. A cosmic joke? To the Sorensens it felt like one. But when I told the story to my drycleaner down Rue Malar, he hardly blinked. “I know,” he shrugged, “slippery as eels, these apartments,” and went on to ka-ching-ka-ching up my bill.

 

wikipedia

wikipedia

So the Sorensens (Greg, Kristiina, Rachel, Caroline, and Sam) were understandably less than charmed by Paris, and were repacking their bags to head back to Stockholm where they’d previously tried living Scandinavianly in a peaceful yellow country house on a quiet lake with a green row boat and a family of ducks. They rowed to the other shore to pick up fresh eggs, fresh milk, fresh gooseberries. They opened up their shutters to the sight of field flowers and climbing roses. They sun bathed on their quiet balcony.

This Parisian apartment yanking thing felt, well, yanky, if not uncongenial. But we convinced them to stick it out a bit longer—“Paris isn’t really hostile; she’s just playing hard to get. It’s a tactic.” And to help them stick it out, we took them in for a few weeks. This was a legitimate tactic, actually, to get them to move into our neighborhood, across our itsy bitsy street. When that actually happened, it was as improbable as it was magical. Our children conveniently matched in ages, and Kristiina and I discovered that we were suited to be more than friends; we were more like long lost sisters.

From [our] … tight corner of Paris and for what would be over four full years we lived there, we ventured broadly across and deeply into the town. The children found their favorite places to buy crêpes and gallettes (in Montmartre at the foot of the hill of Sacre Coeur and at the same crêperie every single time), where to grab the best ice cream cone, where to buy toys and CDs and shoes. I knew where to get great art supplies, kitchen ware, second-hand French books, fresh-cut hortensias, a decent hair trim, and where I could meet a friend for rose petal tea. I knew, above all, where to let myself get lost looking, for instance, for Gertrude Stein’s, Hemingway’s, Cole Porter’s, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, or Rudolf Nureyev’s apartments.

Randall found the ideal tennis partner, who rode a Vespa, too. They met at a court early Saturday mornings. When the season came, Randall enjoyed taking the children to the French Open at Roland Garros, the court-side tickets gifts from a generous friend. The boys knew every corner of the Jardin d’Acclimitation, Palais de Tokyo, the Esplanade des Invalides where they roller bladed and walked Joey. The man who ran the peddled racecar track tucked in corner of the Champs de Mars knew the boys by sight. We’d found the best comic book store in the Latin Quarter, the best art movies theaters the Reflet des Medicis or the Balzac, and knew what new releases in their VO or version originale were showing at the big Gaumont houses on the Champs Élysées. We knew how many steps it was to walk past Harry Winston’s windows to Fendi, or from Dior and Chanel, all on our walks to school up the Avenue Montaigne. That we did when weather was just the right shade of warm and Paris at her most ebullient.

At the bottom of that Avenue Montaigne, right next to what had been Marlene Dietrich’s apartment, was the clean white facade of le Theâtre du Champs Élysées, where Randall and I went every so often with or without the children to concerts. René Fleming. Cecilia Bartoli. Kurt Masur conducting. Sylvie Guillaume dancing. Or we went to the Salles Gaveau or Pleyel to hear Jessie Norman, J. J. Milteau and his jazz harmonica, the King Singers, or African percussion.

Not only were we delving into the city, but we were crisscrossing the country. With visiting relatives and sometimes friends, we made our way to the castles and beaches of Normandy. Then we discovered Brittany, with its seaside fishing villages and ramparts. With my parents as enthused travel partners trailing us in a rented green Punto, we penetrated the Charentes, Perigord, Dordogne, Bordeaux, the Pyrenées, and the Loire. We lodged, as you can in France, in troglodyte hotels, working farms, renovated monasteries, erstwhile castles, and some bring-your- own-toilet-paper youth hostels. There was almost no region of France we didn’t visit, and yet we always felt we’d scarcely scratched the surface.

All of this was an investment in our children who, at eighteen, sixteen, eleven and seven, could appreciate the things they were seeing and experiencing. They loved, of all the places we traveled, the late springs and early summers of Provence. That was a relaxed existence, slow and warm like the landscape and the light, unlike Paris where our teenagers had to learn to be alert and capable of managing the complexities of the big city on their own. Parker was especially fearless when it came to physically navigating the buses and rail systems in the city. He and Claire stuck together mostly if they went out on a Friday or Saturday evening, but if the occasion ever presented itself when Claire was somewhere in town alone, the two had a habit of texting each other non-stop.

bigfooty

bigfooty

Like my teenagers, I was also navigating a convoluted and intoxicating city. I’d long since conquered parallel parking in a spot which by all physical measures was too small for my vehicle, and I knew exactly which underground parking lots in town would accommodate my Renault van. I also knew which ones would leave me wedged inextricably in a corner, nine other motorists stacked up behind me, unable to turn in any direction at all, so I finally had to exit my car and walk from driver’s window to driver’s window, asking if, one-by-one, they could reverse into the street so I finally could, too.

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redbubble

I relished, at this point, swirling several times around the Étoile, or the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe that is an enormous vehicular vortex of twelve converging roads like spokes on a wheel, or rays from a star. It was my favorite place to drive in all the city. Why? Because it embodied the French concept, the “Système D,” “D” being short for débrouiller, which means to manage – or better, to slug one’s way through. I was debrouillling well, so to speak, and was so grateful to see my family was, too. Given the learning curve we’d ascended, this was plain gratifying.

**

(Stay tuned for more Paris. . .)

We Interrupt This List. . .

For the move.

Someone asked me yesterday how the move to Switzerland is going.  Innocent enough question.  But it took an hour to answer.  Poor friend, she was just showing interest — maybe like you are, showing up here, reading this blogpost, peeking in with your soft smile — and I left her quivering.

I promise not to do that here.

Although, take a look at the length of this post. Nowhere under an hour.

Before I explain in relatively measured terms “how the move to Switzerland is going”, I want to be clear about one very important thing.  Full disclosure, flat disclaimer: I come from Mormon pioneer stock.  With that history ever present in my consciousness, I, more than anyone, twinge at wimpy whiners.  My ancestors on both sides, paternal and maternal, were X-treme survivors. The Daltons, Glaziers, Huntingtons, Jacobsens, Johnsons, Leavitts, Abbots, Woodruffs— they all left their homes in central Europe, Scandinavia and Great Britain to cross the globe at the price of  unspeakable sacrifice for their religion and a new (but still brutally demanding) life in the American west.

My husband’s ancestors, come to think of it, were X-treme pioneers, too. Pilgrims, actually. In fact, if you know the name of William Bradford, (passenger on the Mayflower, governor of Plymouth colony, founder of Thanksgiving), you’ve met our Grandpa sixteen generations back.

All this blood tramps stoically through my family’s veins.

These are family, and they left family, home, health, belongings, safety, beautiful Danish coasts and French valleys and English countrysides, languages, loves, and lost their own lives along the agonizing trail leading to the wild blue yonder. Mothers never saw their sons again after kissing them on the cheek on a damp Welsh harbor. Fathers buried their daughters under the desert’s sagebrush. Children lost their little limbs when they froze in the brittle bed of a hand-hewn wagon.

I’ve read many of their journals. I’ve marveled and wept at their conviction and heroism. (And can anyone call it anything less than heroism?) I’ve read in one sitting Of Plymouth Plantation with my brows furrowed, wondering, “Were these folks even human?”

And I’ve cheered Wallace Stegner, who in his introduction to The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail, writes:

I should prefer to deal with the Mormon pioneers, if I can, as human beings of their time and place, the earlier ones westward-moving Americans, the later ones European converts gripped by the double promise of economic betterment and eternal life.  Suffering endurance, discipline, faith, brotherly and sisterly charity, the qualities so thoroughly celebrated by Mormon writers, were surely well distributed among them, but there also was a normal amount of human cussedness, vengefulness, masochism, selfishness, and gullibility.  So far as it is possible, I shall try to follow George Bancroft’s rule for historians: I shall try to present them in their terms and judge them in mine.  That I do not accept the faith that possessed them does not mean I doubt their frequent devotion and heroism in its service. Especially their women.  Their women were incredible. (Emphasis added. Shout-out mine.)

All this preamble to say that, as I tell you about our move from Singapore to Switzerland, I’m the first one to wag a firm finger at my pettiness.  Believe me.  Under my kind of family tree, any and all hardships shrink in the shadow.

But you might be curious anyway. After all, this blog is intended as a breeding ground for my book about living internationally for over two decades, and I can’t write about that without writing about The Moves.

This Move came at us a bit out of the blue. When Randall and I accepted the new post in Singapore, we had been in Munich for three years.  The understanding was that this job in Asia would last for several years, long enough, at least, to get our then 14-year-old, Dalton, who had already attended five different schools in three different mixes of languages, safely through his high school years.  To make matters worse (or better), both our boys had established important friendships with teachers and students here in Singapore—had gotten traction, let’s say—which for one son especially, was a tender, vital miracle. Safe to say they were thriving and remarkably, steadily happy.  A parent’s dream.

But what we’d dreamed would continue for our children’s sake did not, alas, happen.  Thus is life. The news that we were going to move at least two years sooner than promised hit our boys hard.  To give them a chance to catch their breath and let the swelling go down in their red eyes by school on Monday, we told them on a Saturday.

Luc called it a Sadder Day.

Almost immediately, Randall began doing two jobs at once, the one on this side of the planet, and the other one way over there.  This meant he was doing that 18 time-zones thing, a marathon he has long since mastered, though it does wear him down.  My man is King o’ the Red Eye, of leading meetings on 3 hours sleep spent on his side next to a stranger whose snoring he breathes in along with the germ-infested-cabin-pressured-recycled-air.  He’s the type who walks in the door at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, the dirt of Moscow or Prague or Buenos Aires still in the tread of his shoes, then spends the day loving his family, and, nine hours later, repacks his carry-on with his blood shot eyes closed and in half the time it takes to check for his passport while taxi’s waiting, he blowin’ his horn.

I write this to underscore that, just as the tectonic plates start shifting beneath our feet and when it would help for us all to be on the same one, we are, instead, doing it by Skype, 3:00 a.m. phone calls, texting.  My ancestors had none of this. Parchment and the pony express were the very best they could hope for. Think how SMS might have saved the martyrs of the Mayflower and the Mormon trail.

So here we are, texting our lists, negotiating our concerns and packing boxes throughout the three-month interim since Sadder Day. There have been micro-bursts of deadline-driven activities, all pulled by The Move, and they are getting closer together.  Like contractions. So here’s a quick-down of how labor’s going:

CLOCK IT BACKWARDS:  This means we start planning logistics from the end and work backward. We’ve researched and found that most Swiss or international schools begin end of August/beginning of September, and so we hope to be settled into a place by that date, which means we can function on a daily basis, even though it might mean out of cardboard boxes and which box, by the way, has all our shoes?

Getting there from zero takes one to two weeks, since I usually work maniacally, day and night, and often the kids work alongside me which makes for a party. So we want to be on Swiss ground with our goods delivered by the second week of August. This means sending off our goods 6-8 weeks before that date.

Which means the movers show up next week.

Which means everything must be sorted or sold or cleaned by then, and every last thing we own (down to the forks, extension cords and paper clips) must be itemized and, in some cases, measured and weighed.

Measured and weighed, you ask?  I learned this on one move where I estimated (instead of tape measured) the length of our beds and they were three centimeters too long for the only space meant for beds in the leeetle Versailles house we moved into. As a result, we were never able to fully close those bedroom doors. For three years, our feet poked out into the hallway.

You weigh things in case you have to employ a monts-meuble, (literally: furniture hoist, but it looks like an escalator without handrails) as we did in the heart of Paris, to get your things from street level up to the floor of your apartment. The movers need to know if your dresser requires the GRAND MONTS-MEUBLE, or the petit monts-meuble. Handy stats help expedite that kink in the move.

In order to have your things delivered to your future home, you need to have found and signed on that home. And to have that home, you need to determine where you will be living, the general geographic radius. To determine that radius, you need your children to be accepted in a school. So you get busy. . .

FINDING A SCHOOL:  For us, the school, as much as any other entity, has been the  geographic/gravitational center for our family’s life in each international setting.   Our children spend five days a week there, their circle of friends come largely (though not exclusively nor even primarily) from that community, and with the exception of the French school Dalton and Luc attended in Paris where parental involvement was not encouraged, I have spent a lot of time on those campuses as an active volunteer.

So finding a school is important.

It is also where we are sitting in a stalemate this time around.

Explanation: Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) is shaped a bit like a squashed croissant with Geneva at the far left end, Lausanne at about the half-way point, Montreux at the far right. The drive (without traffic) from Geneva to Montreux is 1 ½ hours.  Randall’s office (when he’s not in the air) is halfway between Geneva and Lausanne.

Before visiting Switzerland, and based on the best practical reasoning we could come up with, we targeted three schools; one close to Geneva, another close to Lausanne, another close to Montreux. We then used our trip of three weeks ago to visit each of them, talk with administrators and students, drive the roads and get a feeling for the areas. We applied to all three schools.

This means filling out applications, getting multiple letters of recommendation for each child, getting medical releases and detailed physician forms, having the kids write extended introductory essays by hand, getting photos taken, gathering school records for the last three years of school (which means requesting them from Munich), and finally having parent tours and interviews.

All done.

And we are still waiting to get acceptances. Acceptances are rather capricious, I am learning, and hinge on classroom availability, not academic ability or private donations. When a space opens up in a given class, the next person on the waiting list is slipped in, first come first sere, as tidy as a Rubik’s cube. Clickety-clickety-click.

You’d think.

Things aren’t quite as clickety as we’d hoped, because it could be that one son will be accepted, another not.  Will we put the boys in two different schools? Is that logistically possible? All three schools are at least a 45-minute drive from one another. What does that mean for transportation? How much do I love driving, (even if it is driving along the French Alps?)

Should I home school, if one or the other is not accepted in one of these schools? Or should we enroll one or both of the boys in local Swiss schools? It has been five years since they attended French school, and they’ve studied German and Mandarin in the meantime. Will their tongues be tied or even loosely knotted? Or will a bit of scrambling to get back up to speed in academic French be, in the end, a great thing? Knowing the tightly-coiled French system as I do, is it unwise to just drop a non-native teenager into its machinery? One that doesn’t have that certain DNA needed to fit into le gymnase? One thing is sure, that at Dalton’s stage with college applications looming, derailing him right now doesn’t seem prudent.  So  I have been surfing home-schooling sites, and am now well-versed in all the Swiss public schooling options lining the long and lovely Lac Léman.

No one can accuse me of not doing my due diligence.

Back to the issue: getting the boys accepted to one school.  This precedes another weighty factor, and that is. . .

FINDING A HOUSE: Did I mention the movers come next week?  And when they do, it is not only customary but it is preferable—even necessary—to know what your belongings will be dumped into on the receiving end. Why?

Let me take you back to the Goldilocks story of beds three centimeters too long.  Or taller tales, like, will there be a garage? A basement? A yard? Equipped bathrooms? Closets? Will there be a ventilation pipe coming through the wall just where the armoire must stand (since, holy schmoley, there are no closets)?

Will there be walls (for bookshelves or pictures) and not just windows? Windows (for the curtains I had to get for this home) and not just walls? Will there be a staircase so narrow, my child’s desk will not make the corner? Can I take the ping-pong table, last year’s Christmas surprise for the boys? Or must I take it, but only because it can double as dining table and master bed? Will there be a kitchen? (I have moved into two places where there was not one.  Just a water spigot and a lone light bulb dangling from a wire. We had to build).

Will there be room for a piano, or do I have to sell that family heirloom and pull out the electronic keyboard for the next five years? Will there be floors that need rugs, rugs that need cleaning, cleaning machines already on hand (washer, dryer, a mop), handy commerce, or a commercial dearth with the nearest loaf of bread a 20-minute funicular ride down a mountain?  Will the ceilings be too low for bunk beds, unless you can train your top-bunk child to slide in sideways and always sleep with his head turned sharply to the left?

Things like this. Details.

While in Switzerland three weeks ago, we visited as many homes as possible to get a feeling for all of the above.  There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us, and with my list of measurements and weights in hand, I am convinced we’ll be able to settle in just fine.  But the one place that will fit for one school won’t be available after next week.  The other place that fits for the other school will be gone after mid-month. And the home that fits for the third school will go to another party if we cannot finalize by the first of July.

Which we cannot do until, uh-huh, we know about a school. And if the schools grant an acceptance, they won’t hold that place indefinitely. They’ll want a commitment within a week of said acceptance.

Did I mention the movers?

My pioneer ancestors home schooled, which is looking really appealing right about now.  They also ate viper meat and slept under buffalo hides.  They also carried everything they owned in a rickety wooden wagon pulled by sickly oxen.  Or sicklier parents.

Poor, poor petty-full me.

Between now and a week from today, I am doing all I can to be ready.  Listing. Selling. Giving. Sorting. Cleaning. Measuring. Weighing. Waiting. Listing. Writing about listing. And Listing.

KEEP LISTS:

All my fan palms and blade trees are going to friends.

Books not touched in 20 years, going.

CD’s, loading.

Documents, color-coding.

Albums, consolidating.

VHS’s, finally hucking.

(I am quite sentimental, and my original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had to go, but not without a solitary, sniffly bang.)

And finally, here is where being a Virgo really kicks in. I put colored stickers on just about everything.  Slap me, but even pretending you have a system wards off the krazees when chaos overtakes your landscape.  So I’ll share:

CONCOCT A SYSTEM:

Blue sticker: Air shipment To live off of for the interval between your arrival and the arrival of your sea shipment, if it does indeed arrive, since it might end up at the bottom of the Panama Canal.  Which happens.

Green sticker: Sea shipment Remind me to tell you about our arrival in Rue du Colonel Combes and how the container had indeed made it across the ocean, but not without the ocean making it inside of the container.  What luck that all the movers were former fishermen from the coastal towns of Brittany, and for some reason some were actually wearing hip waders. Because when they opened the big metal door at the back of the truck, a briny cascade gushed out and turned our little street into a tributary of the Seine. More descriptions to come.

Red sticker: Suitcases for two months Before flying on to Geneva, we will move into temporary housing then fly from Singapore to the States, where we will spend two weeks preparing our daughter, Claire, for her entrance on August 1st into two months of intensive language training in preparation for her departure to Rome, Italy, where she’ll spend a year and a half as a volunteer representative for our church.  She will be packing strategically, for 18 months of hard work. The rest of us will be packing Kleenex.

Black sticker: Sell or give away It has been unfortunate when the movers have mistakenly wrapped up and loaded for shipment the tacky Oktoberfest beer stein with deer-antler handles, or the pressboard side tables purchased at Osco Bargain Barn when we were in college and $20 was a splurge, or the microwave so old and leaky, it could make hair sprout on your eyeballs.  The same movers left behind in a pile of “unclaimed junk” the irreplaceable framed photograph of grandpa Reed shaking hands with the Ayatollah, the wedding dress in an unmarked box, and all the bed linens.  Don’t let the dross fraternize with your valuables. For this one and only moment in your life, believe that segregation works. Mark ‘em.

Orange sticker: storage Keep a detailed list of what you put here. Take measurements. Take pictures. From all angles.  Be persnickety.  Think CSI. And keep them on file. You’ll thank me one day.

But I do not want your tacky beer stein as payment. Have one.

Still, if someday in a flea market in Duluth or Doylestown you should find a picture of a bald man with glasses shaking hands with the Ayatollah, you know how to find me.

AND KEEP IT ON FILE

AGAIN, KEEP EVERYTHING ON FILE

AND BACK UP YOUR FILES

Remember that you will simplify life by cataloguing the dimensions (and value and weight and condition) of your belongings.  You can avoid sawing off the end of your kitchen table legs (so it will fit under that pesky window ledge), as I had to do once.

Actually, it was only a darned centimeter, but I had to make it work, so I didn’t really saw them off.  I just filed them off.  So when people say to me, “Wow, you’ve managed all these moves. You must have so many files!”, I narrow my eyes and say, “You have no idea.”

So . . .off to managing the adventure of this life-on-the-move. This week our children are in final exams, Randall is in a neighboring hemisphere, and I am saying farewell to this fabulous city and to friends who have settled so deeply and broadly into my right ventricle, I feel the pressure, and it’s stretching my heart.  While we’re at it, the house is on the market again, so there are strangers visiting regularly with real estate agents. A miniscule inconvenience, I know.  My ancestors were being visiting by violated tribes of Apaches and herds of bison, just to keep things in perspective. It  means, though, that I have to be on hand in the house. And we’ve determined it is perhaps best I am clothed in something a bit more presentable than a bathrobe.

Oh, the demands.

**

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Diversity 101

Speaking of the enormously appealing diversity of Singapore, I stumbled into some today.  In a mall, of all places.

Out to buy some sports gear as a family, we heard music playing on the ground floor of Novena Shopping Center.  The musician in me was easily lured, and while the others stayed upstairs to grab some lunch, I bounded down the escalator, iPhone in hand, bee-lining it toward the source. It was traditional Cambodian music being performed live with a troupe of, you guessed it, traditional Cambodian dancers. This is what I captured:

Just think: this is your run-of-the-mill mall on an average hum-drum Saturday of your typical ho-hum week.

The Cambodian number finished to make way for the Thai troupe.  And this is what I captured:

I weaseled my way closer to get still shots of these elegant dancers.  I especially wanted a close-up of their impossibly delicate hands with those hallmark curved fingers, maybe a well-lit angle of their polished faces, those eyes dipped low, the permanently beguiling smile, but I never go it. Because as soon as I got close enough to snap that perfect shot of dancer #3, she slinked down off the performance platform and took my hand, whispering, “Come dance, Madame?”

So while my kids shrunk in a far corner of the upper mezzanine, mortified by their Mom —“You leave her alone for two minutes, and look what you get,” muttered Dalton with half a smile—this is what my husband captured:

You’ll think I’m over-romanticizing, but honestly, I cannot step through the door into this city without happening upon all sorts of encounters just like this.  Granted, the Subway sandwich franchise you see in these shots betrays how westernized, sanitized, and, for some tastes, neutralized Singapore seems. “Asia lite”, some call it.  Having now tasted a fair amount of “Asia-dense” to make the comparison, I guess I have to concede. There is some truth to that claim.

But if in one banal mall stop I can get my teenaged sons their 6″ Chicken Bacon Ranches and I can kick up bit of Thai dust with the likes of these lovely artists, I am content to accept a whole lot of Asia lite.

**

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

What I Will Really Miss About Singapore

Fifteen days and counting. Right now is always about the point in an international move where my brain flips into hyper-list-making mode, its primitive way of revving up my otherwise sluggish neurotransmitters. My iPad, lap top, Excel, iPhone and Post It lists are supposed to save me from missing vital cues during this stretch between point of departure and port of entry. They remind me to sell this. Clean that. Huck this. Turn off this. Turn on that. Find this. Lose that. Cancel that. Warn them. Beg her. Petition him. Close these. Open those. Wrap these. And stack everything (and everyone) else right over there, thank you.

One such list awoke me in the middle of the night and I’ll tell you, it was a rowdy roll call. It never let me go back to sleep again. After a typical tropical storm blasted open my eyelids at 3:00 a.m., and before I could close them again, I was busily scrolling down this list: What I Will Really Miss About Singapore.

For the next several days, I’ll post my list for you, (gathered from 3:00 to 5:45 a.m. and noted point-by-point on green Post Its) here. It’s by no means exhaustive and with the exception of #1, (which is the thing I’ll miss most, I think), these things aren’t necessarily listed in any specific order. But it gives you an idea. . .

#1. Diversity. The first night our family arrived in Singapore we spent wandering through the muggy, teeming streets of Chinatown. It was there where Dalton predicted in one simple phrase what we would gradually discover over our two years living here. On his left was a Buddhist temple. A few steps farther, a Hindu temple. Even farther, a mosque. Finally, a Christian church. From each of these doorways poured people dressed like extras from either the Chinese, Bollywood, Middle Eastern or the Midwestern movie, and a cascade of inscrutable languages poured out with them. My teenager turned to me and said, “This place is like living every day in Universal Studios.”

Raising the Red Lantern in Singapore’s Chinatown

And he wasn’t so far off. Singapore is craaazily diverse. Its population of about 5 million packed into no more than 224 square miles is composed of multiple cultures. The official languages are English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, its dominant religions Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism. But there are dialects and splinter groups of all that, too. Walk any given road and you will see turbans next to Red Sox baseball caps, head scarves next to Hermès scarves, Punjabi suits next to Chanel suits, ninja abayas along side Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirts. In my neighborhood alone, there are Chinese-speaking Malaysians, Malay-speaking Indians, Tamil-speaking Indonesians, Filipinos, Germans, Canadians, Koreans, Japanese, Mainland Chinese, Irish, Australians and Kiwis, a Texan or two, and some pretty serious looking guys who look like native Singaporeans (whatever that looks like) but who don’t speak at all. Instead, they carry machine guns. They are the guards outside the home of Goh Chok Tong, former prime minister of Singapore, who is reported to have said that with all these cultures converging in one tiny place, Singapore is not a nation, but a “society in transition.” I’ll go for that.

Sultan Mosque in Singapore’s Arab Street

As I wrote, there is a Chinatown, Arab Street, Little India, and Peranakan corners. (Peranakans are, as I understand it, Malaysians with deep Chinese roots.) There is a Goethe Institute as well as an Alliance Française. There are German, Canadian, French, Swiss, and Dutch schools, not to mention the several international schools offering instruction in Chinese and English. Nearly 40% of the population is made up of “foreigners” like us, or like the truckloads of workers who are, my friend from Mumbai told me, mostly Indian themselves, here to work the heavy construction jobs that drive this city-state into the stratosphere. Or at least into the clouds.

I love that I can assume that just about everyone I meet on the street speaks at least two, if not three or four or more languages. (Now, if only those languages were on my own list. . .) I love that we get to celebrate all these flamboyant Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian festivals, that Hari Raya and Puasa and Chinese New Year and Deepevali now mean something to my children. I love that my own religion is set in a global context, and that my children see themselves—white, English-speaking and Christian—as a minority, that we absorb the truth that being any of those things is not the only valid mode of existing is this world. Living in the mix of such diversity reflects the true proportions of this planet we live on. There is immeasurable worth in that, I think, and should train us, I hope, to respect cultural codes and celebrate (and not denigrate) such differences.

Here’s where such cultural exposure gets real:  When Luc recently celebrated his 12th birthday, his 12 friends were like a mini United Nations with Luc as the only fair-haired kid in the bunch. What struck me also, is that as we made the guest list and I quizzed him about these friends, Luc never once mentioned that one was African or Thai or Indian, that they looked brown, yellow or any color at all. (He did, however, casually mention dietary restrictions: “You’ll know who Ali is, Mom. He’s got the biggest eyes and is Muslim, so, you know, he doesn’t do pork.”) And when I asked Luc after the party to help me write thank you notes to each gift-giver, Luc didn’t describe them racially. Instead, this gift here? It was from the kid who is the fastest in the class, and that one was from the funniest, the other one was from the smartest. And this last gift? It was from the one who could do the loudest arm fart.

So maybe not exactly like the U.N.

**

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.