#Iamanimmigrant

I wonder.

I wonder about those who cannot walk in another person’s shoes. Those who only see the opportunities taken, but cannot see the price paid.

I wonder about those who feel so threatened by people like me they can only respond with hate. Oh, I know, not really people like me. I am the right sort of immigrant. But, I am still an immigrant.

I wonder if they have ever thought what that would entail.

I wonder if they have ever walked off a plane, out of a railway station, and looked around, lost, no landmarks they recognise. And not with the excitement of a few days to bumble around a city, but with the knowledge this is your home now. Find your way, make it work. This is where you stay.

I wonder if they have had to register people’s surprise, when they open their mouth and begin to talk. Oh, you’re one of those.

I wonder if they know how it feels to stand in a queue, at the shops, the post office, mentally rehearsing the conversation you need to have once it is your turn. Hoping it stays on predictable tracks.

I wonder if they have ever felt the hopelessness of not being able to make yourself understood. I wonder if they know the moment the conversation moves beyond you; if they have ever felt that blank stare on their own face, searching their mind for words and grammar they don’t have, only for it to be met with a flicker of irritation.

I wonder if they know how exhausting even a trip to the supermarket can be. What it feels like to stand in front of all the cleaning products, trying to guess from the pictures which is the one you want. How bewildering the selection of flour can seem. How sometimes you buy something and get it wrong, or you don’t buy, only to find out later you were looking at the right thing after all.

I wonder if they know how it feels to be the person who spends too long reading the signs: the notices up at daycare, the notices to residents of your apartment block. This is, I suppose, what it is like to be functionally illiterate, lacking the access to information everyone around you takes for granted.

I wonder if they know how unpredictable the world can seem, when all the little social rules are so clearly ingrained, and yet so impenetrable to you. That nobody ever knows you didn’t know until too late. The sort of clothes your children are supposed to have, what to take with you to parties, what foods you are supposed to eat and when. That every public holiday is a surprise.

I wonder if they know what it feels like to have a child more fluent in the local language than you. The pride, mixed with frustration at not being able to follow them into conversations they want to have.

I wonder if they realise that these language problems are fleeting and generational. Adults will manage and muddle through and if allowed children will integrate easily. Bi-lingualism is not a threat. It is a skill, an asset, a bridge between worlds.

I wonder if they know the nagging question I ask myself. Is it worth it? So far from ‘home’, from family? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

I wonder if they understand that we make new homes. We grow to love places that were not ‘ours’ to begin with.

I wonder if they know the doubts. The way parents question themselves, as they watch their children assume a new identity. Will they be accepted?

I wonder if they know how it feels to watch their child play with their friends; the funny-sounding parents as important as who does or does not have a cat, less important than who does or does not like to dig holes with you. I wonder if they know how it feels to think that all it takes is media hype and careless words for your children to discover that they were not welcomed after all. Merely tolerated.

I wonder how it would feel for that toleration to disappear. To find decency is no longer required. To find yourself put up for public judgement and the verdict is you are not welcome.

I wonder.

Satins, and lace, and silks

I bought a dressing gown last weekend.

Maybe some people buy dressing gowns all the time; perhaps they have a selection of them in their walk-in wardrobes. A summer one, a winter one, a holiday one.

I have just one. One I’ve had for a long time.

It was green and full length. One of those towelling ones. Not a nice silk one. A practical one. It has lasted me a long time. Cold Wellington student flats, our first cold English flat, our second cold English flat, our cold Australian winters, and our warm Danish apartment. Many many night wakings, up and down hallways to children. And now it was looking decidedly frayed.

Frayed is an understatement. The shoulder had a huge hole. Disgracefully big.

I bought a new one. Another practical one. Turquoise.

It is funny the things that stick in your memory. I remember buying my old dressing gown. I bought it at Farmers in Lower Hutt. I bought it with my mother.

I must have been about 16. My mother took me shopping to buy a good dressing gown that would last a long time. Thanks to surgery that required checking if my growth plates had fused already, I had had the disappointing news I was going to remain the shortest member of my family. So there wasn’t any danger we’d buy something I’d grow out of.

I think 17 years is good going for a dressing gown.

My mother would be the first to laugh and say ‘it was a just a dressing gown’. But she’d also give me one of those little side hugs, not a big cuddle, but a squeeze from next to me. Throwing her arm over my shoulders and giving my arm a rub while she did it. I do miss those.

Life has a funny way of just keeping on going. We keep going and, as is normal and natural, we collect experiences. We change in subtle ways, and big ways. My life has changed in some very big ways in the last two years. I never would have predicted being where I am today. My mother would never have predicted it.

Our lives were threaded together in complicated, beautiful ways. Now I have to manage without her. A new dressing gown feels like the fraying of one more thread. Another tie dissolved. It is sad, but it is also normal and natural and healthy.

Nobody wants to end up like Miss Havisham.

So we cut the ties and dust the cobwebs away. I keep her with me in other much more important ways. But this week, in which we mark two years since her death, when I hung that new dressing gown on its hook, it crossed my mind.

I felt it pull at my heart. I heard the thread snap.

A Room of One’s Own

When I was pregnant people always told me I would have no time for reading once my child was born.

‘Haha!’ They would gloat ‘You’ll be too exhausted. You’ll be too busy. You’ll be too emotional. You’ll be too engrossed watching them sleep. You’ll start watching Grey’s Anatomy so you can obsess over romantic crises and medical mishaps because your poor widdle Mummy brain won’t be able to do anything else.’

I hated it. And in my expectant new parent state I didn’t know what to expect so I kind of believed it.

One of my earliest memories is my mother reading James and The Giant Peach to my older sister and me. I remember the day my sister stormed into my bedroom at bedtime demanding I learn to read in my head; a revolutionary idea that changed my life. I remember the library visits multiple times a week. I remember the librarians, and I remember that they got to know us. I remember how they helped us to choose new books as we grew into the older reading sections of the library. I remember getting to go to a bookstore and choosing a book for myself, My Friend Flicka, to take on holiday. I remember reading crappy books like the Babysitter’s Club, and great books like Charlotte’s Web and A Wizard of Earthsea. I remember my mother handing me Pride and Prejudice from her bookshelf, telling me how wonderfully Jane Austen crafted sentences. I remember the hours I have spent in second hand bookstores building a collection that has travelled around the world with me.

So when people told me I wouldn’t have time to read, I wonder if they realise they were telling me I would lose something so important to me, something that is part of my sense of self.

It was bullshit.

My family knew me well, and for my birthday, just two weeks after my son was born I was given a kindle. I could hold it and feed at the same time! And say what you like about Amazon being an evil monopoly that treat authors badly (I’m sorry Margaret Atwood!), and a massive money pit (pro tip # read free classics. Luckily I like a good Victorian novel) to me, at that point in my life it was a sanity saver.

I know a lot of people don’t read a lot when they have small children. That’s fine. I’d never judge that. I understand being tired and exhausted and the words swimming on the page in front of you. Sometimes I am too tired to read for long. I find however, ten minutes reading in bed, maybe with a piece of chocolate (ok, pieces) ends the day on a good note. It gives my brain a chance to relax. To step back from all the cares and worries of the day. I find a place that is bigger than the world of a story, space that is bigger than the gaps between the text. It is somewhere that belongs to just me.

I hate to say it. It’s Me-time.

Parents (let’s be honest here – mothers) are constantly told the importance of me-time. The world veers between telling us we should be completely fulfilled with the joys of raising children. Oh, how I love endless piles of washing! Oh how I enjoy picking duplo off the floor! Oh the cooking as I balance a toddler on my hip! Or telling us we need to squeeze in some time for ourselves. And that last bit – it’s actually true.

As much as the phrase ‘me-time’ makes me cringe it is important to not get completely subsumed by family life. Whether it is going to the gym or running, a sewing project, a *cough* blog, or a monthly night out, whatever, it is important. It’s unfair to go around expecting people to give every moment of their life to their families. It is unfair to new mothers to joke about how their life is over, they can never have anything for themselves ever again. No seriously. It is really unkind. It is also healthy for our children to learn that we have interests of our own.

The metaphorical Room of my Own might feel quite far away, spending all day with a 13month old in 74m² apartment. My night time reading is somewhat liable to be interrupted by crying or a pre-schooler who wants the potty and is not able to wait while I just finish my paragraph. But, sometimes when my son is at daycare, and my daughter has a nap, I ignore the washing, the dishes, the duplo, and I sit and write or read. For a long time people told me I should try and sleep, but I would just lie in bed awake, thinking about how sleep deprived I was. But, a book, words on a page. They too refresh me, nourish me. I can lose myself and find my thoughts.

Bliss.

Nobody is taught language.

The perils of raising a bi-lingual child (when you are not)

Your child will engage adults in conversations you are not capable of following.
This is especially fun when the adults then turn to you and you just have to leave them hanging, or mumble something you hope makes sense, but judging from their reactions usually doesn’t. But don’t worry…

Your child will explain things
They will learn to carry on the conversation by explaining ‘my Mum doesn’t speak good Danish’. They will also occasionally pass on this factoid to other children at their daycare. As for the woman who said hi to them in the supermarket, why not tell her too? How about that guy who just happens to be sitting in the bus stop at the same time as you, it’s probably good information to pass on to him.

Auto-correction is always at hand
No need to go look at phonetics in a dictionary. Your three year old will be ready and willing to correct your pronunciation at any time.

Don’t forget they are only three
But don’t take their word for it. This can lead to embarrassing errors. After mixing up fro and frø, my son told us he had eaten bread with frogs in it. Seeds, he meant seeds.

Reading is a great way to learn
Reading together will boost both your vocabularies. It is great bonding and snuggling time. Just don’t forget the auto-correcting. Reading will suddenly turn stressful as you are unable to produce the desired level of fluency.
‘Kan du finde kurven?’
‘No. Kurven.’
‘Kurven.’
‘No. K-Uurven.’
‘Whatever.’

Enjoy children’s TV together
There is no better boost to your ego than being able to follow the plot of Postman Pat/Per. You can almost convince yourself you have the language skills of a three year old. As long as you are only listening and not trying to join in the conversation that is. And if you get a bit lost by the intricacies of why exactly he misdelivered the post (again), and why he is still considered a local hero just for sorting out the mess he started, don’t worry. I’m sure if you watch it often enough you’ll understand the complexities of Greendale society eventually.

Worry about children’s TV
But beware, if you leave the TV on for something you don’t know well, you may find yourself sitting there wondering if this show really is age appropriate? It can be hard to tell sometimes. If this happens, don’t panic, just switch it off abruptly, and deal with the following tantrum in a calm and respectful manner.

Sometimes you will have to explain things to them
They won’t understand everything, so they may still call on you for help. Leaving you with the conundrum of whether or not to translate ‘lort’ so they can keep up with the other pre-schoolers. Hint: it involves bodily, uh, excretion.

Pass the buck
When your child calls names at daycare, be sure to disapprove. But secretly console yourself that they definitely only learnt that word in one place. And it wasn’t at home!