I grew up in Croatia before moving to North America when I was 13, so I didn’t get my full dose of American culture until a big part of my childhood was over. Becoming a parent in the United States has often felt like being a foreigner all over again. Here are six things that have stood out on my journey as a European mom in America:
- Twinkle what? Because I didn’t grow up on this continent, I don’t know most American nursery rhymes or children’s books. When I go to Mommy and Me yoga classes, where the baby tree pose is accompanied by a nursery rhyme, I’m the clueless mom who doesn’t know what verse comes after “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” Same goes for children’s books. It’s only recently that I learned about what a certain brown bear sees and what a hungry caterpillar eats. The good news is that I’m experiencing many things at the same time as my 8-month-old daughter. I was just as amused when I heard about wheels on the bus going round and round, and just as bored when I heard it the 20th time.
- Baby talk. I don’t know if this is exacerbated by the fact that I learned English as a Second Language, but I’m constantly googling definitions of baby-related terminology. Did people really know what a bunting bag was before they had a baby? Is a security blanket providing them with round-the-clock police protection? And which hopeless romantic came up with the “lovey?” I am now mastering Baby as a Third Language – splat mats, nipple shields and all. I now know that teething is a verb, a letdown can be a good thing, and having a baby who is creeping does not necessarily mean your baby is a creep.
- Class confusion. Speaking of baby talk, I am completely confused by the age requirements and general characteristics of daycare, preschool, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, early childhood, magnet, charter… I never learned these terms growing up in Croatia, so in order to avoid figuring out what they mean, I may just wait until I can enroll my daughter in college. I went to university in the United States, so at least I know what’s involved there.
- Conversion confusion. Speaking of confusion – while I have gotten used to Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, in order to survive as a parent in the United States, I have regularly had to resort to using all kinds of conversion tools. When my daughter’s pediatrician tells me how many ounces of milk she should be drinking, I have no clue what that means without an app. When I’m told about her weight and height in pounds and inches, I give a blank stare until this is explained to me in percentiles. I can handle that.
- European wives’ tales. Eastern European grandmothers really excel in this category. Your kid’s got fever and congestion? Soak their feet in vinegar and rub some olive oil on their chest. Sure, they’ll smell like a salad, but you want them to get better, don’t you? Speaking of olive oil, my mom seems to think it has SPF powers, as she suggested I slap it on my then-5-month-old on a scorching July day. All new moms learn how to handle grandparents’ advice, and coming from a different culture means getting a double dose of it.
- Crepes, anyone? I don’t know how to make chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, brownies or other American staples. For birthday parties and bake sales, I show up with crepes loaded with strawberry jam or Nutella. I plan to introduce my daughter to octopus and black risotto before chicken fingers and mac and cheese. Just this week, I made her some salmon puree and was relieved that she went to town on it. Seafood to Croats is like milk to a newborn. My daughter may have an American passport, but I’m glad the Croat in her is already showing through.
Vesna Jaksic Lowe is a first-time mom who lives in New York City. After a career in journalism, she has spent the last four years working in non-profit communications.You can find more info on her web site or follow her on Twitter.
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