Around Town / Moments / Thoughts

America: It’s Everything it Ain’t Cracked Up to Be

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I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy a blissful, stress-free American summer, without at least the briefest pains that come with repatriation.

Next week I’ll write about culture shock overseas but today my mind is more consumed with the funk of culture shock’s fraternal twin, the oh-so-creatively-named “reverse culture shock.”

It’s not so bad.  It comes and goes, in between the euphoric bouts of joy I feel for an early morning run across Key Bridge and measuring the visibility of the fantastic views in miles rather than feet, eating fresh salads, and enjoying friendly conversations with the cashiers at the nearby Safeway.

But its still there:

I visit the temple of my crunchy, hippie yuppie religion: Whole Foods and I worship at the alter of fresh, organic produce.  I rejoice in the ability to feed Will foods that I feel really good about him eating.  And then I get my receipt and realize just how unrealistic it would be shop here regularly, in the long-term, on Chris’ salary alone.

I walk through Georgetown pushing my wonderful little second-hand umbrella stroller because it really is easier to use, and I realize what a tourist I look like in a sea of expensive designer strollers with big wheels and cup holders and what else, GPS navigation?  I don’t know, but I’m surprised to find that I actually care, just a little bit, about not fitting in.

A friend of Chris’ mother invites us to lunch at her house and we gladly accept her invitation to pick us up at the metro station near her house.  Then, she calls back, ‘what about the car seat?’

I had completely forgotten about it.  My MIL has been in China even longer than I was and asks me if a car seat is really necessary.  Yes, I tell her.  In America it is.  So together we wrangle Will’s giant convertible car seat through the metro and install it in her friend’s car for the ten minute journey to the house.  In doing so, I realize that there is no way I could have managed such a trip by myself.  Car seats in America are necessary, but so too it seems, is having one’s own car, at least once kids are involved.

In the morning, as I walk around Rosslyn with Will strapped to my chest or sitting in his apparently uncool but comfortable stroller, I look at all of my peers around me, dressed in dry-clean-only trousers and compulsively checking their smart phones as they make their way into gleaming (and well-built!) office buildings.  I don’t wish to be one of them, but I realize that-had we not left for China and embarked on a lifestyle in which having kids couldn’t conflict with my career because I no longer had one-I might still be one of them.   And that’s weird to think about.  Not bad, just weird.

I go for a quick run at twilight, passing more of my peers also out on a quick post-work, pre-dinner jog.  Except instead of cursing the after-affects of pregnancy on one’s knees, ankles and bladder, the other girls are probably mulling over a situation at work, or thinking about what to do with the upcoming weekend.

Then I pass a man and a woman holding a little girl just a few months older than Will and I smile and pick up the pace, eager to get back to my boys at home.

I love America.  I love the sales at the grocery stores,  I love the crazy, weird, new flavors of Cheerios (Peanut Butter!) and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Greek Yogurt!) meant to entice us to buy more food than we really need.  I love the restaurants, I love the fresh air.  I love the farmer’s markets and the smooth, wide sidewalks.  I love the newspapers and the free press.

I even love our totally boring and beige temporary apartment because-oh my gosh-everything works in it.  I love the green grass and the beautiful parks.  I love drinking tap water straight from the faucet and I love that I don’t worry about Will doing the same. I love the patently American blend of awkwardness and friendliness that pervades our public spaces.  One minute my fellow metro riders and I are studiously ignoring each other, and in the next a conversation somehow erupts out of the silence.  Suddenly strangers are talking like old friends.

I love America, and if I had the choice between never coming home, or spending a few months in this wonderful country every few years, pshh it’s not a question, I’m thrilled to be here.  It takes a little getting used to again, but I think with enough pints of Ben & Jerry’s and boxes of pre-washed salad greens in my arsenal, I’ll make it through somehow.

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(gratuitous Will photo just for fun!)


8 thoughts on “America: It’s Everything it Ain’t Cracked Up to Be

  1. Georgetown is hardly representative of DC, let alone America! If anyone is going to be Judgy McJudgerson, it’s going to be there. Haha. I do always find it funny to compare the absolute silence on Metro during rush-hour commutes to the chattery chaos on weekends. Or “off-peak” hours, as they’re calling it these days.

  2. I just love DC and everytime I go back to America I find it so refreshing to be able to stroll around with the boys on the sidewalks without disking getting ran over by a motorcycle or bajai. I hope you keep enjoying the next few weeks!

  3. I had to laugh about the car seat… I wouldn’t even think about letting our son ride in a car without a car seat in the US but here in India, he’s been riding in my lap for a month now. Not that I like it but we’ve had to use cabs and most of them don’t even have seat belts, so you can’t really put in a car seat…

  4. Me too about the stroller thing! I actually love my cheap umbrella stroller but detest my giant stroller system from Craigslist. We never use it in Benin but I brought it for our trip back to the U.S. because the carseat pops in which made for easy airport transport. Anyway, I was so embarrassed lugging that thing around DC, which was odd because I’m not usually so materialistic. I was seriously considering buying a fancy stroller until fortunately I talked some sense into myself (“this makes no sense, you’re going back to Benin where you have no need for a stroller, particularly one that costs half your nanny’s annual salary”). What’s that all about? I think for me it was partly mourning not getting the experience of being a new mom in the states with fun play classes, mommy groups, playgrounds, etc. Somewhere in my brain the fancy stroller seemed a part of that.

  5. alex! I hear you on so many points! I also have a totally obnoxious craigslist stroller. I’ve used it maybe 3 times here in Luanda. I plan to resell it once we return next year… But the mommy groups, playgrounds, heck- even green grass, I think I was looking for some weird little splurge before we left to validate my new mama experience perhaps?? who knows.
    Great post, Danielle- smooth, wide sidewalks and prewashed spicy salad greens are what I miss the most too…swoon. OH- and cheese. I really miss cheese. Enjoy yourselves!
    BTW- how do you carve out the time to blog so prolifically? I’m considering hiring someone so I can just start getting back to my studio. Any secrets?

    • SO glad I’m not the only one with the weird stroller complex!

      On blogging, I don’t know if what I do would work for everyone because everyone’s baby and everyone’s creative process is different but basically I’ve kind of made the decision that writing is what I want to do for a day job and so I treat Will’s naps as my “work time” and all I do for the hour or 90 minutes I have while he sleeps is write. I give myself 5 minutes to have a snack and veg on the interwebs and then I get to work. I’ve started working on submitting pieces for publication but I find that blogging is a really useful “warm up” exercise for me, it gets my creative juices flowing and so, after I’ve done a little work on a post for this blog, I switch to a non-blog piece and then I’ll switch back and forth as the ideas come together in my head.

      As for how do I have time to blog while Will naps? Well this is where it gets different probably for every baby but I think its really important for Will to a) see me doing chores around the house so he can learn how things work and b) to have short chunks, 20-30 minutes where I am watching him but he is playing independently without me influencing what he does or how he plays. I still spend the majority of his playtime on the floor with him (especially since he is cruising so much now and I need to be right there with him to make sure he doesn’t get into trouble) but I also take advantage of those short bursts where he is happily sitting, playing by himself to do things like make the bed or straighten up the house. I also try to turn chores into an activity for him. When I brush my teeth, I hold him and let him “brush his (non existent teeth) with his baby toothbrush (which he loves doing). I fold laundry while he plays with the clothes and we talk about how to wear different pieces of clothes, etc. This works for us, but obviously not everyone and certainly, once Will stops napping I’ll definitely need help in the childcare department in order to devote time to “work.”

      Oh, and I don’t watch TV. I know a lot of people don’t either but for me at least it saves me a good hour or two every night that I can write instead of vegging out:)

      Also, I think writing is easier to “get into” than going into a studio! A computer is always there, its easy to transition from email to word processor. It must be a lot harder to physically get up and enter your creative space!

  6. Pingback: The Culture Shock Post is Coming…I promise! « Hot Pot

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