This week we celebrated a year of living in the US. For me it was a homecoming after 18 years of living abroad in both London, England and in Beijing, China. For my husband and children it was the first time that they have lived here. The children all have both American and British passports but it takes more than a passport and vacation visits to really identify with a nationality or culture.
As we reflected on this milestone over the weekend, I realized that one of the unexpected pleasures of being back has been the fact that I am now able to share so many experiences from my own childhood with my children. My friend, and fellow American expat, Meghan Peterson Fenn, wrote a book called Bringing Up Brits,
that my family and I were featured in. In the book Meghan deals with the subject of missing out on these shared experiences when you raise your children abroad. Of course you are creating new and different memories and experiences but there is something very nice about being able to connect on this level with your children.
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The past year has been a time of re-engaging with my own history thanks to some very simple, yet very American, experiences that I am so happy my children will also be able to call their own. For example the fun, excitement and sense of purpose that setting up a lemonade stand brings. When we arrived last summer and immediately began looking at houses to rent we pulled into our current neighborhood and there was a lemonade stand, all set up and ready to go at 9:30 in the morning. My children had tried to do this before in England, after enjoying the experience while visiting their American cousins. Let's just say the response there is not quite the same as it is in the US. When my children set up their first lemonade stand here they made $50! My husband marveled at the fact that people turned around and went out of their way to stop and make the kid's day with a sale and often suggested that they simply "keep the change". You can always recognize a past lemonade stand vendor.
Catching fireflies has been another moment that brought back vivid memories of long summer nights. I had often recounted stories of catching fireflies as a kid but my husband and children had never seen one. Fireflies certainly are one of the magical features of an East Coast summer. Driveway basketball hoops, Sno-Cones, ice cream vans, days spent at the community pool and at the beach, running around the neighborhood barefoot, the novelty of putting on a pair of jeans after months of wearing shorts. These are all such simple pleasures which were a feature of my childhood and are now a feature of theirs. As a result of these now shared experiences I feel more understood as an individual, since I am no longer just wistfully reminiscing and recounting experiences that they can't relate to firsthand.
The other night my son Cole asked for the "yellow mustard" and asked me to put it on his hot dog with specific instructions that it had to be "after the ketchup". I almost burst into tears, it sounds so funny recounting it now but "yellow mustard" is most definitely an American thing and my kids had never liked it. When out of the blue he requested it I thought "he's really becoming an American!" Like I said, it is always the simple things.
So here's to coming home and the unexpected surprises that the experience brings.