To the immigrant parents I grew up with:

Dear immigrant parents of childhood friends,

Hi. How are you? Have I told you lately your English is incredible?

It was really fun growing up with your kid. Maybe I’m still even friends with your kid. Most of my friends from childhood had immigrant parents it seems. It really felt that way, at least.

To the point where I kind of felt like an outsider myself. The all-American. None of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. I’m not complaining. Or bragging. But I just always felt like an outsider in my own community. A big part of that was my family’s religious status, too.

Anyway. I just wanted to say – I watched you as a kid. Not in a creepy way. In a curious way. The way words rolled off your tongue; the words had different edges to mine. The way you’d sometimes mention a story about back home where you grew up. The way occasionally I heard you speak another language, only for you, it wasn’t the second.

The way so many of you had groups of friends with the same background and you’d get together. Everyone there spoke your first language and I didn’t understand, or understood a little because it was my second language. Or how a group of people from different countries could still commiserate over the Old Country, even if the nationalities were unique to each of you.

I always wondered what that was like. To be from somewhere else.

Now I’m here. Somewhere else. And I’ve got kids. Kids with immigrant parents. And  I’m so caught up in my own tangled ideas about being an immigrant, labeling ‘whereyoufrom,’ speaking words with different edges, making it, that on some days, I could just cry.

And some days, I do.

They say, you can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends. But when you’re an immigrant, sometimes it’s the opposite. You get thrown in somewhere where people talk like you, and slowly build what becomes your family.

I guess you guys did that, too. I remember there always being someone at a party or event, labeled as ‘my cousins… I mean, not my real cousins, but my cousins.’

I get it now. Even if we’re not totally there yet.

I also get, after eight years, that it’s ok to melt into your own people for a few minutes sometimes. It’s ok to show your kids that there are so many parts to what make them whole.

That they can feel comfortable with different crowds.

I don’t want to hold my kids back. I have a lot of my own crap to work out. I worry about it a lot.

But once in a while, I have this thought:

That for you, parents of my childhood friends, it’s now thirty or so years later…

…and your kids have done just fine.

 

P.S. – Seriously, your English was always amazing. I appreciate it so much more now. Even if, upon request, I did sometimes explain the slang.

#ImmigrantParentProblems.

So, for just a minute, humor me.

I make an ongoing effort to forget how hard this is. I swallow a lot in order to make the daily grind seem easier. And I try to push away my lucky, amazing, beautiful problems because I know so many people have much worse challenges: poor health… empty wallets… loneliness… family strife… career drama…

But for just a minute, this is about me.

Living here – living anywhere – without your family backbone support is tough. There’s no way around it and there’s no way to sugar-coat it. When people leave Israel after having kids, citing ‘we needed to be closer to our family’ I have no response. I get you. This challenging existence – becoming a parent and making all the pieces fit, every single day – I imagine it would be fairly difficult even with your parents in the same country. City. Community. Street.

But to do this alone… especially when neither of you have parents or aunts or uncles or siblings or cousins or childhood friends nearby. To know every day you’re coming home and it’s all you. All the time.

If you’re going to go out, it’s a babysitter that eats up half your going-out budget. It’s a babysitter who, let’s face it, you’re going to constantly be wondering if the kids are ok for her, if she’s able to put them back to bed, maybe we shouldn’t stay out that late because it’ll be too much for everyone else.

To not be around your family as everyone grows older, changes, morphs into the next chapter – including your kids, including your parents, including the family culture you grew up with. Or even the opportunity to create your own.

To not have any of that family lifestyle. To be naturally independent but then forced to be independent.

To watch as so many people in this society around you do have it. That it’s an integral part of it.

Well, I don’t like to whine too much; I did choose this, it’s now complicated, and let’s face it, I want to raise my kids here and not where I grew up.

But it’s hard. And I’m allowed a few emo days now and then.

Ahem. I now pronounce the self-pity party over and I’m left with this container of amazing, creamy Israeli ice cream in my favorite flavor.