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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Where Are You From?

Such a simple question, right?  We get it a lot.  I know it is our accents.  Folks here are always so happy to chat about where everyone is from.  Especially at our school, few have short answers. I am never short for words. What? you've noticed!?  Imagine what it is like to be the Mister! Sometimes that poor man's only reprieve is falling asleep. Not that that's always foolproof. And there seems to be no quick way to answer where we're from.  I answer something along the lines of our being Americans, Virginians who just moved from outside of Chicago (must get credit for enduring and then thriving in that weather and we loved it there so).

I think the question also can be a bit of "do you live here or are you on holiday?" (Alert: I will from here on out always refer to being on vacation as going on holiday. I love it. You may think it is pretentious but be warned that I'm sticking with it.) We don't get asked about being here on holiday as much now that I can work my chip and PIN card (coming your way, rest of the world!) and we have mostly stopped crying in public out of the frustration of being new. The first week we arrived we broke something (usually glass) in public for 7 straight days.  Mazel tov!  It was a bit uncanny and on occasion triggered the aforementioned public crying.  Europe is so compact for my family and in those first few weeks we seemed to have sprouted several extra children and each a few wayward limbs.  You've heard of the new book "French Kids Don't Throw Food"?  This was "Big, Noisy Americans Don't Control Their Bodies or Heaven Forbid Their Kids."  Conversely, this is why we were all positively giddy in a Target in October on our first trip back to the States. We could have pushed shopping carts 4 abreast. That felt foreign.

I'm thrilled to say that we're Americans who live here. I also am eternally grateful for everyone who has made us feel at home in London. I am eager to tell them how much we love it all.  I am positively indebted to the many, many people who have made us feel welcome wherever we land.  This wandering won't last forever but meanwhile, we pride ourselves in being good at being new and making our home wherever we are together.  We are from our home.

After sending all of our furniture and nearly every bit of our things ahead on a ship and living without for a few months, I thought I was very zen about possessions.  But reuniting with our things was great medicine and solace for nursing some heartbreak for having left and the trickiness of being new.  Our things are important. They've become our home.  It is the collection of our life story. Not fancy, but ours. The well-loved secretary was originally a china cabinet in our first apartment. We bought the boys' dresser at an antique store when we really shouldn't have because we weren't sure how jobs would pan out when (baby) Biggest Brother arrived. But I was hugely pregnant and nesting and it was still cheaper than buying one new. Our dining room table was an old display table from Marshall Field.  These all make up our home.  I didn't realize, though that our things could look like where we're from.  I'm telling you, this experience has made me think of everything differently and see even our belongings through fresh eyes.

Recently I hosted an American playgroup at our flat. One of the moms got teary leaving saying she felt like our home was "so American."  (The Mister said it was that most of our dining room wall is a giant old railroad map of the US.)  Our Greek landlord described it as "very Ralph Lauren!"  (Hey, folks at the Ralph Lauren on New Bond Street!  Need a hand doing your windows?  I keep hearing we have the same taste.  I understand from the proprietor of one of my favorite Portobello Road shops that you'd been in for store displays.  I'm willing to bet you had a bigger budget but can't brag for having found vintage lawn balls with Big Brother's monogram.).  If our belongings and our home look American I can only be happy.

No one has come over and said it looks Canadian. On occasion though, folks have asked if we're Canadian. That always makes me feel bad in a second fiddly sort of way.  I see the Canadians shuffling their feet, looking down and muttering, "No. We're neighbors. Sound a bit alike, though, 'spose?" while mentally chalking up another gripe against the red white and blue.

If where we are from is tricky for me to answer, it must be even more so for the kids. I am thrilled they are becoming so worldly, but eager to instill in them that they're Virginians first. Deep down, I know they all would understandably have slightly different answers about where they're from. Biggest Brother is the only one with clear memories of our life in Virginia and the 3 big kids are tied to our amazing old town in Illinois.  We all are, and that's fodder for another long entry.  And Baby Sister, despite having the pedigree of being born in a Midwestern hospital in a very chi-chi town, will have her first memories as a Londoner.  They play "shop" in "pounds" while pushing "trollies."  Big Sister, learning reading and phonics from the British, sounds the most British all of a sudden.  I envision someday asking patience of stateside teachers. The children may need time to drop the British spellings they're working so hard to learn as well as the countless funny words and phrases that have become their norm. Not to mention my insufferable notes when I wish them well on holiday. I pity those poor teachers suffering through my long winded explanation of where we're from.  Maybe I'll invite them over and show them that we're from our home.

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