We are THOSE parents. The parents who didn’t show up to the birthday party. The parents who left early. The parents who didn’t send money. You know the ones…
One of the hardest things about doing what we do is that we are no longer living in a culture where we know all the rules. We don’t always understand the unwritten norms, the subtle innuendos, or how to do things the ‘right way’. Because we’re the immigrant parents. We’re the parents who didn’t grow up here. We’re the people who are sitting in the parent meeting with a classroom full of other parents and we’re trying desperately to keep up with the vocabulary. Except for the two parents who are a doctor and a dentist, we probably have more years of higher education and more degrees than anyone else in the room – yet we are definitely struggling to keep up and we leave every meeting with more questions than when we walked in.
My first realization of this was several years ago, back in Peru, when my daughter was beginning her foray in to the education system. Just registering her for school was a challenge. I suddenly realized that there was a huge difference between every day conversational Spanish and professional level Spanish vocabulary. The next big hurdle was the school supply list and the shopping that ensued. Guess what, folks – there are MANY different words for specific types of papers and pencils and notebooks, none of which were taught to us in language school! So, there I was, THAT parent… the one who is standing in the school supply aisle looking confused and bewildered and asking the five year old to help translate the list. The one that finally, in a fit of desperation, after an hour of confusion, just hands the entire list to the sales person and says “Help me, please.” Yep, that was me.
Need I remind you that I was a school teacher for 15 years?! A Master Teacher, at that! I was Team Leader. I was the Science Department Head. I was a trainer for student teachers and was a mentor to new ones as they began their careers. Yet, there I was, in tears in the school supply aisle, begging a five year old for help and surrendering my list and my cash to a sales girl.
Y’all… being the immigrant parent IS NOT EASY! It’s a huge blow to your dignity and identity. It’s constantly being the parent who doesn’t get it. It’s constantly praying that you can ask an intelligent question without embarrassing your kid or yourself, all the while realizing that you are a highly educated person back in your home culture. But here, in your new culture, you’re THAT parent… the one who doesn’t ever understand and makes a gazillion mistakes. The one who’s child is having to translate the permission slip before you sign it, because the vocabulary is WAY above your pay grade.
I’m thinking about this today because I’m having yet another one of those moments. It’s probably the umpteenth one in the last few weeks. Two weeks ago, I sat in another parent meeting and listened to the instructions for the 3-day field trip. Once again, I caught most of it, but still managed to miss enough that I was forced to ask questions to other parents around me. Thank Goodness, there is one parent in the class who is always super nice and willing to help me understand and fill in the gaps. Who makes sure that I heard the part about packing a sack lunch or sending an extra drink. And still, I miss things and I make mistakes.
This weekend, our daughter was invited to a surprise birthday party for a church friend. The birthday boy was turning 16. My only information for this party came through a text message invitation to my daughter. She was to bring 3 euros to help with a group gift. Be at the church at 7pm. That’s it. So, we thought, "teens, gathering at the church = good deal" and we planned to go out on a little date night while she was at the party. It wasn’t until we went to pick her up that we realized there were other parents there. Hmmm. Then, the next day at church, one of the parents was fussing because so few people came to support the party. Then another parent was complaining that people were so busy with their own agendas that they didn’t come – just sent their kid. Oops…I think that’s me. Once again. The unwritten rules bite me in the booty.
THOSE parents (*eye roll, sigh*).
Today, our daughter is receiving an award at school. The award ceremony is mid-day. She tells me that it is only for students and teachers, it’s an in-school assembly – no parents are invited. She swears that she doesn’t have to dress up or anything, her gym clothes are fine (it’s PE day). And yet, here I sit, praying that I’m not missing something; praying that we aren’t proven to be THOSE parents again today. Again, I’m feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing, like I’m failing at parenthood. Even though I have lived in the Spanish-speaking world for 10 years now, I still don’t always get it. No amount of cross-cultural teaching and language school can prepare you for the unwritten rules.
Being an immigrant parent is hard.
*UPDATE: We didn't miss anything - hallelujah! It really was an in-school awards assembly and there really were no parents there. All is well with the world... this time.
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!