Monday, December 10, 2007

Thank goodness for Thanksgiving!

After Halloween we were straight into Thanksgiving, the second Thursday in November. I had never really understood this festival, which seemed too close to a traditional Christmas lunch. Did they do it all again on the 25th December? It soon appeared that Thanksgiving was a family get-together, and that made me feel terribly homesick, smelling all the turkey and stuffing, and seeing all the grandparents at school and seeing central Chicago empty as families went home to family.

It was our first family holiday of the school year, well just a couple of days off, but better than nothing, but we all felt sad; the kids disliked school, I missed Malaysia a lot and Jacques was not too happy at work either. Winter had arrived, and we were cold, and had to rush out and buy skiwear and boot for all of us.

To cheer up we went to the Chicago Thanksgiving parade. Chilled to the bone, with only a Starbucks for warmth, we watched the floats and balloons line up and go down Michigan Avenue. Later on in the day we were invited to eat with Elisabeth and David, our new French friends who had lived in New York and enjoyed celebrating Thanksgiving. The food was gorgeous, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, real gravy and pumpkin pie, and the five kids played nicely together. It was cosy and we felt good. Even though the school and life was not what we have expected at least we had good company. Thank god for friends I thought.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Limousine

My parents came at the beginning of November to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday. They loved Chicago, and seeing it from a tourist view it did seem quite charming too. We visited the town, zoo, Navy Pier and around the lake. The children were delighted to have guests and showed them around.

On my Dad’s birthday we had a surprise, we told him we would eat at the Rainforest café downtown, and would call for a taxi. It was a long black limo for eight. Dad was surprised and we all climbed in for a cruise around Chicago as night fell, we picked up Jacques outside his NBC building office and were dropped off at the red-carpeted Rainforest café. It felt good! I was proud to have hosted his birthday and it made up for all the family tensions we had had in 2005.

My parents were relaxed, they liked America, were great with the kids and helped with the homework in the evenings. They could walk to the schools to pick up the kids and so their time with us was refreshing for me and I felt miles better and began to think we had made a good decision to live in America. The week went too fast though and before we knew it they were heading back to England. We were left, alone, wishing Grandpa and Nanna could be around every night for the school pick-up or to read the kids a story…

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Sweetest Halloween ever…

I have always loved Halloween, and was delighted to see the effort the Americans put into this festival. It started in September, with pumpkin patches in the local city-farm, weekend Fall Parties in the parks and stuff to buy everywhere…before long we had a collection of twenty decorated pumpkins and thanks to the cheap imported junk from Walgreens we had a decorated house like never before.

The local neighbours around Lincoln park competed for who could have the most decorated house. Round the corner from us a competing trio of huge Gothic style houses showcasing witches and wizards who moved, ghostly yhands sticking up out of the garden, spider webs everywhere and spooky lighting. It was like a theatre and I was amazed no-one stole the whole lot…

On the 31st October each class had a party. Gabriel went as Batman and was promptly told he could not wear a mask (rules, rules…) so I dried his tears and grabbed some black paint and painted a mask for him. Nina was a witch. Marc was Shrek, with borrowed green tights and green face-paint. After school we invited our French friends for a gouter, or afternoon snack, with some decorated cupcakes. Around 6pm as it got dark we went out trick-or-treating as a group. I thought it would be short half-hour trip…

Houses were bursting with activity, and kids trailed in and out with huge bags. The occupants were often in costume, some funny, some scary, and handed out generous portions of wrapped sweets (or candy as Gabriel would say…). I was stunned at the sheer proportions of it all, how much could they get? With all our coat-pockets full and our plastic bags over-flowing I tried to get them home, but the lure of sugar, lights and so many dressed up people was addictive and we didn’t get home until 9pm…

Six months later when I spring-cleaned the front hall cupboard I found a whole bag of candies, unopened and forgotton! And as a bitter-sweet reminder Nina had to have five holes filled in by the dentist, that I was sure was linked with the Halloween excess….

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A good class mom…

Being a mother is taken very seriously in America. You are asked almost immediately which team you play for: Working Mom or Stay-at-Home Mom. The Working moms all looked overdressed in suits and busy as they picked up their kids, while answering their Motorola and driving a tank. The Stay-at-Homes wore trendy sports clothes and always had a huge Starbucks in their hand, or in the drink holder of the trendy stroller they were pushing with their new baby or toddler. They liked to jog with strollers around Lincoln Park, often with a dog attached, running along too.

So, for me, it was a tricky question, since I work and stay-at-home. I don’t dress chic, but I am not sporty either and I hate jogging. We don’t even have a car as a status symbol or a posh address, which confused them. When I said that I was English with a French husband living in America, they could not categorize me and gave up.

I felt miles more comfortable with the French mamans, who looked well-dressed even at eight in the morning, didn’t overdo the sports thing, went to cafes for their coffee, and had much better conversation anyway. But I felt I should try with the Americans, so I offered to do a class trip to the Botanical Gardens with Nina's 2nd Grade class.

The trip was over-booked, eight mothers for about 25 kids, and we had to sit in threes on the antique yellow school bus. The moms were excited, proud to have been selected and trying hard to be better than anyone else. Instead of going round as a group we were split into groups of three, and we rushed off, trying to give our kids the best school trip ever. Nina was clingy, but I understood why, the American girls all had a Best Friend. The two French-American girls in her class had no interest in Nina, probably because they already had a Best Friend in another class, or perhaps didn’t want to seen speaking French with Nina in class, which was frowned on. I saw that Nina was terribly lonely and missed her KL friends. And I felt the same way.

The only mothers in the whole school who talked to me for more than five minutes were divorcees. They were incredibly candid and open about their situation, telling me more than I wanted to know. I guess we both felt somewhat excluded from the perfect Lincoln life the moms were trying to have.

Monday, December 03, 2007

No more butts, we’re English!

Gabriel was becoming more American by the day, while Marc, Nina and I were getting more English! The three of us visibly winced when we heard the way the Americans pronounced things, and the spelling tests were a test for all of us. Who says ‘color’ has to spelt like that? Why such a half-hearted attempt to change the spellings, since the vast majority of words stayed as tricky as before?

Meanwhile Gabriel started saying ‘butt’ instead of ‘bottom, and ‘I want to go potty!’ inside of toilet. He talked about pants, when he meant trousers. He put his rubbish in the ‘trashcan’ and asked for the ‘restroom’ in restaurants. Gabriel would ask for a ‘juicebox’ from the ‘icebox’, called me ‘mom’ instead of Mummy and so on…

I hated it and resented every single change to the language I had once taught. Although I had always discussed the differences with my TEFL students I had not realized how different America and England was.

At school shows or class assemblies the whole school would sing the National Anthem. I could cope with that, mouthing along while the chap next to me sang his heart out. But then I found out the kids had to sing it every morning at school. I asked Marc and Nina, 'Do you sing along?'‘No.’ they replied together. ‘We are English.’

Gabriel’s class were usually out at play when the school sang at 8.15am, but if it was rainy or cold they assembled around the class loudspeaker and with one arm over their little chests (I kid you not) sing that Star-spangled song. I would collapse into laughter watching them sing so seriously, like they had won the Olympics! Of course, I was told off by th teacher for moving while it was on (you could not walk through the corridor or barely breathe while it was playing either) and for showing a bad example to the children...