When the Mum Network asked for a commentary on the differences of raising kids in the US compared to Australia, my initial reaction was “how long is a piece of string?” Everyday, I seem to be faced with new challenges or obstacles, issues that are different from down-under. From the whole pregnancy process and Healthcare (you need a masters degree to understand Health insurance over here), to the education system we are about to embark on in the New Year – our three year old starts preschool in January. Summing it all up in a thousand words or less leaves me somewhat speechless trying to squeeze it all in ‘readers digest’ style. So I am going to kick-start my ramblings on life State side by telling you WHY we are living here in the first place –
WE LOVE AMERICA. There, I said it. If you had asked me this is how I would feel five and a half years ago before I moved from Sydney to New York, I would have laughed at you. Americans, I thought, were Bush-voting, gun-toting, rednecks or fame-hungry, boozed-up, reality stars. Everyone chewed gum and ate Twinkies in my pre-conceived America, and all blondes were either dumb or dumber.
I’ve come a long way.
So what happened over the past half decade, to make me change my mind? That I now am so proud to say I am raising American kids?
Anyone who is critical of the tradition of Halloween hasn’t experienced the sheer thrill of watching a three year old run between monumentally spooky houses with lights, graves, cauldrons, music, fog machines and C-A-N-D-Y!!!!! I am reliving my childhood, (the one I never had with dress ups!) on the 31st of October every year. The single night every year you are allowed to eat yourself into a sugar rushed, candy induced coma. And who doesn’t like dress ups?
The one holiday EVERYONE in the country celebrates. On the menu is usually sweet potato pie (marshmallows melted over sweet potato), turkey, mashed potato, salads, bean casserole (heavy on the bacon bits, easy on the beans), and oh the gravy and desserts (pumpkin pie!) As my husband explains it as his favourite holiday of all time – “I get to watch football all day, eat as much as I can and no one has to give anyone any presents”.
3. The Shopping
On any given day the shopping is a constant bargain – cars, clothes, and shoes – you name it – it is just cheaper. But the BIG one, the day after Thanksgiving, comes the BLACK FRIDAY SALES. A month before Xmas, retailers put the most ridiculous prices on everything, to clear their shelves. Sheer insanity, but brilliant for Christmas shopping. This is the one time of the year I would urge my friends and family to come visit. Experience a Thanksgiving and then shop until your suitcases are bursting.
My son at three is establishing a sound grasp of Spanish thanks to his Bolivian nanny, and her South American friends. His friends are Middle Eastern, Jamaican, European, Jewish, Muslim and Hindi. Some are even Catholic. We’re not special being Antipodeans here, and our children are growing up surrounded by a smorgasbord of cultures and languages – but they all have the common denominator of being American.
You get all four. They are reliable and most certainly predictable. Sure I have only lived in New York and the suburbs of Washington DC, but I LOVE the seasons the East Coast puts on. Like so many aspects of America, the weather is extreme as well – hot as hot can possibly be, and then cold that leaves your eyes watering and you wondering if your fingers will snap off. To quote my husband yet again – “There is no such thing as bad weather, there is only inappropriate clothing”. After a long, hot summer you actually get excited to pull out your sweaters, boots and hats, gloves and coats (in Fall, Winter and Spring editions). It makes for a nice change from sweltering, and when you know it is not going to last, it actually is a bit of a novelty. (Well for this seasoned Sydney-sider anyway).
6. The People
I LOVE American people. The further South you go, the better the manners. The men are true gentlemen and polite almost to a fault. And KIND! I have pulled up to the drive through at Starbucks with grouchy kids in the back seat on more than one occasion, (it’s too hard to lug the wee ones into the café but mommy needs her caffeine fix), only to have some random stranger in the car in front of me, pay for my latte. Who does that?
7. The Insanity
You don’t have 312 million people living in a country without a few nut jobs thrown in for good measure. Fully certified idiots, or people just acting like idiots, I love the characters and craziness that comes with living in a big country. Vive la difference.
Basketball. (Ice) Hockey. (American) Football. Lacrosse (the Mid-Atlantic region is a hot-bed). In Pro, College and High School versions, it all comes with an enormous fanfare of the National Anthem, hot dogs, beer and more characters. And, the biggest lesson I learnt from coming here and falling in love with baseball and hockey especially; rugby is not the only game in the world.
9. They love my accent
Despite my on off relationship with Sydney for eight years of my adult life, living in the UK, and South America, I have not been able to shake a slight Kiwi twang. I smile when (at least 4 times a day), a stranger will say to me, “I love your accent.” Living in Sydney I was the butt of many a ‘puss poor truck’, I could never order ‘fush and chups’ off the menu without the odd snigger (or ‘sux’). Here, I am actually glamorous. Seriously.
Wandering around the streets of New York last weekend, all rugged up because it was about -5 (in the sun) and despite my eyes watering due to the bite in the wind, I still marveled at how romantic a white Christmas is; all the lights, the trees, and the effort to make homes and shop windows incredibly special. I’m a kid again.
So there you have it. A little insight into why my husband and I are stepping up to become citizens next year – in time for the elections we will finally get to vote in. There are many faults with this country, but I’m not in the mood to discuss politics right now. There will be plenty of time for that in 2012. The festive season is upon us and I am too full of holiday cheer and goodwill. The only thing I’d change about this country is it’s proximity to my wonderful friends and family all enjoying their vacations right now in summer, we’d pop over for a shrimp or two in a heart beat.
Happy Holidays! (as we say here)
*Lisa is a native New Zealander who’s also called Australia home for a great deal of her adult life. Now settled in Virginia USA and married to a high flying corporate dude, Lisa is an an avid traveller, a travel writer and professional photographer (see her website HERE). She is also the mother of two young boys under three regularly be writing for The Mum Network and sharing bits of her life and how different it is in the USA.