Tuesday, April 20, 2010

To Asparagus, With Love

As anyone reading this blog can tell, I am sometimes conflicted about being an International Mama. On the one hand, I love that my kids will (hold thumbs, touch wood) be trilingual and have a broad view of life and the world. On the other hand, I am afraid that they may feel rootless and on the periphery of all cultures, as I often do.

This weekend, though, I felt a renewed joy at being an International Mama. All because of a bunch of asparagus.

When I first arrived in Paris from NYC in May 2001, I dropped off my bags at the apartment my law firm had rented for me and then jetted off to work on a case in Frankfurt, Germany, where I would remain for the next two weeks. I remember those two weeks in Frankfurt as being cold and gray, but I was enchanted anyway. I was in Europe! I was going to live in Paris! Everything was delightful and strange –the way people actually sat down and had lunch together (instead of eating alone at your desk as we did in NYC), the heavy, old-fashioned room key that opened the door to my hotel room, the excessively long, impossible to pronounce street names. But the weirdest, most wonderful thing I recall about these first two weeks in Europe was that I happened to arrive in the thick of asparagus season.

Before that time, I don’t think I ever gave a thought to asparagus having a season. Hell, before that, I didn’t give a thought to any food having a season, except for maybe cantaloupe and watermelon. But if you ever spend time in Germany in late April and May, you’ll not soon forget spargel season. It seemed like a festival. Asparagus was everywhere, on every menu, overflowing on every market stand. Mostly the thick white variety, but also slim green stalks too. I ate it with pasta, on pizza, and drizzled with butter. At the end of my first week, my new boss took me to a restaurant that offered a spargel special, where your appetizer, main course, and dessert all featured asparagus. Out of curiosity (mainly about the dessert), I ordered it. It was asparagus cream soup, asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, and asparagus sorbet. It was all fairly tasty but that was it for me and spargel. I did not eat another stalk of asparagus for the rest of the season.

Anyway, last Saturday, I was grocery shopping with my kids on the fabulous rue Montorgueil (another reason I’m happy to be an International Mama), when I saw the market shelves loaded with asparagus. I felt a burst of happiness. Instantly they transported me back to those days when Europe was so new to me, like a gift I had just unwrapped. They reminded me of how (before culture-shock set in) I was eager to immerse myself in new cultures and new languages. They reminded me that I chose this confusing, exhausting and exhilarating expat life. Most of all, they reminded me that I’m not just standing on the periphery of someone else's culture, looking in from the outside. So many aspects of German and French culture - like looking forward to eating asparagus in the spring -have seeped into my life and become a treasured part of it. I may not be fully integrated into French or German culture (or American culture for that matter) – but I am creating a family culture that draws from all three of the countries that influences our lives. This gives me hope that my kids will be the global citizens that everyone insists that they will be, finding strong roots in their hodgepodge family culture.

I bought three bunches of asparagus that day. Later, when my husband saw them in the refrigerator, he shouted joyfully “Spargel!” like a little kid who wakes up remembering that it’s his favorite holiday. I cooked them that night (steamed with olive oil, parsley and a chopped hard-boiled egg) and together, my family and I savored the taste of spring.

Friday, April 16, 2010

International Maman?

So. The last time I checked in, I was 7 months pregnant, had just put LK in a French garderie, and was all teary and anxious about him growing away from me into a French world that I know nothing about.

These days, the baby on the inside has been outside for 8 months old. LK adores the garderie. And I am happy and proud that my son comes home singing French songs that I don't know. But something happened yesterday that got me feeling reflective and moody about our international life.

It was a small something. Really small. All that happened was that the baby (Pup) grabbed ahold of my pant leg to pull himself up and LK, who still gets a bit jealous, pushed at Pup's hands, shouting, "Ne touche pas Maman!" (Don't touch mama!)

For a moment, I was filled with pride (well, not about the pushing and shouting part). This was the first time I'd heard LK say a full sentence in that wasn't just a repeat of something he'd heard at the garderie. Then two things hit me: (i) he was speaking to his little brother in French, and (ii) he had referred to me Maman.

It's not so surprising that LK spoke in French to his brother. After all, French is the language he hears spoken to little kids the most and it's the one (I assume) he speaks with his peers. Still, it was both awesome and strange to think that my boys' chosen language might be the tongue of neither my husband nor myself. But even odder was hearing myself referred to as Maman. 'Cause I gotta to say, while it amuses me to think they might choose to speak French between them: I don't want to be Maman.

There are many lovely things about being a mother, but one of the things I love best is hearing LK call me, "Mama." I never tire of it. Even when he's calling "Mama!" at 3am. Even when he's screaming, "No, Mama!" in the middle of tantrum. Even when I'm on the telephone and suddenly he needs my attention urgently, and says, "Mama? Mama? Mama? Mama? Excuse me...Mama?"

To him, I suppose, it's just my name. But to me, it feels like an endearment. A verbal hug and kiss. But hearing Maman on the other hand....I feel nothing. He might as well call me Mary or Julie or some other name that isn't mine. If he called Maman! in the middle of the night, I suppose I'd still get up. But I also might just poke Dawg and say, "Your turn."

Seriously though, I doubt that the boys will ever end up calling me Maman. But when they speak in French, they might think of me as Maman. They won't think it sounds bizarre as applied to me. It'll just be what they call Mama in French. This makes my brain whirl. It seems so odd to me that they will have some emotional connection to the word Maman, when I - the person they're referring to - has none.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

La Rentrée

Hello? Anybody there?

* blows dust off of blog *

I'm coming back.