Today is another country, especially for parents

by CJ

Anyone with a child has no doubt discovered that parenthood is like being in a foreign land. Local customs are obscure. The humor’s not humorous. The native dialect is hard to understand. In my case, as both a foreigner and a parent, I have a double dose of strangeness. There are many things about raising a child in the U.S. that confound me yet, whilst it seems okay to puzzle over the cult of parenthood, it seems less gracious to criticize my host country’s culture. Sometimes I don’t know who or what to blame.

As a purely random example, let’s discuss teacher appreciation week.

Poppy’s daycare has asked us to create a bulletin board in the hallway to show how much we love our teachers. In principle, I have no problem with that. After all, Poppy’s teachers are magus-like in their ability to calm my child. Without making it look hard, these two tantrum-wranglers are socializing her in a way I’d never have the confidence to do myself. I more than appreciate Poppy’s teachers, I depend on them. Yet doesn’t an appreciation week sound a bit contrived?  Surely I won’t be the only person scribbling a note of appreciation at the last possible moment, turning my genuine admiration for them into a hollow gesture? Doesn’t the whole thing sound a bit, well, twee?

On the other hand, the appreciation drive is also a great opportunity to teach Poppy about gratitude. I want her to be a decent, warmhearted little girl and though she seems to be lost in the tunnel-vision of toddlerhood, perhaps she’ll also be receptive to these character-forming prompts? Moreover, if I don’t partake of appreciation week (I probably will) and if I don’t share this blog post with Poppy’s teachers (I definitely won’t), they’ll never know how much I think they rock.

So is Teacher Appreciation Week corny or constructive? This bemused foreigner doesn’t know what to make of it.

Of course, my bemusement may also arise from the fact that I’m three decades out from my own experience of childhood. Perhaps my parents dashed around my nursery school with demonstrations of love for my teachers … and I simply forgot. After all, that the past is another country is as true to a native-born American as it is to an African-born hybrid like me.

Indeed, it would be grounding for me to find parallels between my upbringing and Poppy’s, but that seems impossible. To compare my childhood in the civil war politics of Zimbabwe to Poppy’s childhood in America’s economic gloom of today, is as futile as comparing marmite with peanut butter & jam (PBJ).

Thus, as I venture into this strange new land of parenting without a cultural compass to guide me, I don’t know whether my opposition to certain things are because I’m foreign, I’m new to parenting, or I’m just a colossal grump. Am I the only one, for example, to resist holiday-themed clothes, to dislike that toddlers exchange Valentine cards, to dread the day that I’ll have to be a room parent, to hate the thought of putting my first grader on a school bus by herself, and to think know that PBJs really are vile?

Or do all parents in all cultures and in all epochs feel that they’ve woken up in another country, one that’s unfamiliar and very far away?