Tuesday, October 2, 2012

When Is 'Hug an Immigrant Day'?

"Sometimes I think you have to march right in and demand your rights, even if you don't know what your rights are, or who the person is you're talking to. Then on the way out, slam the door."
Jack Handey

Yeah, it's like that.

Being an immigrant makes me feel really stupid sometimes. And then lonely. Like I need a hug. But then I get over it remembering why I'm here and how awesome it is to live here. Really. Let me pull a few snippets of conversations I've had this week:

"How was your weekend?" fellow Taekwondo mother asks.
"It was relaxing. We mostly stayed in our neighborhood. Though the holidays can be a bit rough because there is a cafeteria across the street from us and they like to play loud music," I responded. A saint was recently celebrated, so work & school were suspended for the day. I trust that there are other activities than the ones I witness to celebrate saints: drinking & provocative dancing. But that is currently the extent of my knowledge.
"How late do they play their music?" she's concerned.
"Usually until 2 am."
She gasped, "You should call the police."
"Wait, what? What will they do?" I'm entirely confused. I thought this was something you just made peace with, otherwise someone surely would have done something about it by now, right?
"They come and make them turn down the music. Two in the morning is ludicrous."
I agree.
"Oh," I said, slightly doubtful, "I had no idea they did that." And I'm still skeptical. What I really want to know, however, is can the police make them play a wider variety songs? The 15-or-so in their repoitoire is getting a bit old. My kids know all the words. And I have no idea what most of the lyrics mean. You see? Stupid.
"Hows it going?" a friend who I ran into at the park asks.
"Yeah, good. It's been extra hot at our house today since the power has been out since 10 am, though," I respond.
"Oh. You don't have an inversor?" An inversor is back-up energy provided by several car batteries and is a bit costly.
"No, you?" I ask.
"Yes, but we're in a 24-hour electricity zone," she says.
"Then why do you have an inversor?" I'm confused.
"For when the power goes out. It goes out for maybe three hours twice a week," she informs me.
"Oh. Ours is about the same. But that's not 24 hours is it?" I raise an eyebrow, fairly certain I remember how many hours are in a day.
She just smiled. I'm not sure what that means.
You see? Stupid.
I asked another mother of small children who her kids' dentist is. She gave me his phone number. That was easy enough.
I called the number. Turns out it was the dentist's personal cell phone number. I've never had that happen before.
I was able to finally connect with his office and make an appointment for the kiddos on a Tuesday at 9:30 am. We'd just keep them home from school that day. Afterall, they hadn't been to the dentist in a little over a year. Yikes.
Josh took the kids to their appointment while I had my weekly work conference call.
The following is a phone conversation while they were still out:
Me: "Hey, how was the dentist?"
Josh: "We got into his office finally. He looked at me funny and then asked which of us was here to see him. I told him you made appointments for both the kids."
Me: "Yeah?"
Josh: "Then he said he was an orthodontist and doesn't usually put braces on kids."
Me: "What?! I used the word dentist with every single person along the way, including him. An orthodontist?"
Josh: "Yeah. So, I'm at an actual dentist's office now who Mr. Orthodontist recommended. Can you take the kids tomorrow at 5?"
Me: "Sure thing. Thanks, love."
You see? Stupid.
"So, apparently I'm the class president," Max tells me as we're leaving his school, headed home.
"What does that mean?" Do they do that sort of thing in 2nd grade?
"I don't know," he shrugs.
"Well, being a president sounds like a lot of work. What do you have to do?"
"I don't know," he shrugs again.
He came to me a few days later.
"Mom! You were right. Presidents do have more work. My teacher gives me more homework than the other kids."
"Huh," is all I've got. Really?
We have a lot of conversations like that. Or the other way around where he asks me and I respond, "I don't know." It's the reality of being in a place where it's not as easy as picking up a brochure and learning about any given topic. I can't help but think I'm doing my children a bit of a disservice by not knowing more about how things work here. While other parents here are wisely answering their youngin's questions, I'm pulling out the "I don't know" card willy-nilly. Maybe it'll mean that they'll grow up to be comfortable with ambiguity, which is not something Americans are generally good at in the first place. I'm slowly letting go of the need to know the who, what, where, when and why of every situation I'm in. Don't get me wrong, I still ask or analyze with Josh. I'm just not as frustrated when clear answers aren't available. They're usually not. Or at least not to me.

But what will more likely happen is what I saw in lots of immigrant families I worked with in the US: the kids are showing the parents around. Soon enough, my kids will know more lingo, what certain gestures mean, why you should do certain things in certain places and not in others, and any number of things that I can't even imagine because I am an immigrant and always will be. I can be bilingual, but I will always struggle to be bicultural. My kids, as current trends suggest, will have both in the bag in no time at all.

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